Posts Tagged ‘Transactive Memory’

The Psychology of Technology

September 16, 2017

At the centerpiece of technology is the internet. This is the seventh post based on “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. There is a distinction made in human memory between information that is accessible in memory and information that is available in memory, but not at the moment accessible. A similar distinction can be made for information in transactive memory. Information that can be readily accessed, say via Google for instance, is accessible in transactive memory. However, information that requires more than one step to access is in available transactive memory. Obviously, the amount of information available in transactive memory is enormous, so only information that can be quickly accessed is in accessible transactive memory. So a hierarchy of information knowledge is
accessible personal memory
available personal memory (information that is personal memory but is currently inaccessible)
accessible transactive memory (information readily accessible from technology or a fellow human)
available transactive memory (information that can be found with sufficient searches)

This hierarchy can be regarded as an indication of the depth of knowledge.

Someone who can communicate extemporaneously and accurately on a topic has an impressive degree of knowledge.

Someone who refers to notes is dependent on those notes.

Whenever we encounter new relevant information we are confronted with the problem as whether commit that information to memory, or to bookmark it so it can be accessed when needed. Too much reliance on bookmarks can lead to superficial knowledge and unimpressive presentations.

Dr. Betsy Sparrow and her colleagues at Columbia University studied the ability to remember facts and unsurprisingly discovered that we were much better at knowing where to find the answers to our questions than we were at remembering the answers themselves. She dubbed this the “Google Effect.”

Social media began with email, but this is fundamentally one to one communication. Facebook is the medium for widespread communication. Moreover, there is the business of friending and liking. This tends to be taken to extremes. One cannot have hundreds of meaningful friends, and the continuous seeking of approval through likes can become problematic.

Smartphones are smart because the computer is in the phone making it smart. More than seven in ten Americans own one, more than 860 million Europeans own one, and more than half all cell phone owners in Asia have at least one smartphone if not more. More photographs are taken with smartphones than with digital cameras, and more online shopping is done via smartphones than through standard computers. Smartphone users pick up their phone an average of 27 times a day, ranging from 14 to 150 times per day depending on the study, the population, and the number of years that someone has owned he smartphone—and the number of years that someone has owned the smartphone—those who have owned a smartphone longer check it far more often than those who have recently obtained a phone. Frequently, there is no good reason for them to do so; 42% check their phone when they have time to kill (which rises to 55% of young adults). Only 23% claim to do so when there is something specific for them to do. Feelings of loneliness appear to underlie at least some of this apparently non-needed use of technology (see the healthy memory blog post “Loneliness”).

Multitasking, task switching, and continuous partial attention are serious problems. Remember that we cannot multitask. What is apparently multi-tasking is the rapid switching between or among tasks, and there are attentional costs in doing this switching. Multitasking occurs in every sphere of our world, including home, school, workplace, and our leisure life. Moreover, this is not just limited to the younger generation. One study followed a group of young adults and a group of older adults with wore biometric belts with embedded eyeglass cameras for more than 300 hours of leisure time. Younger adults switched from task to task twenty-severn times an hour, about once every two minutes. Older adults switched tasks seventeen times per hour, or once every three to four minutes. Former Microsoft executive Linda Stone termed this constant multitasking, “continuous partial attention.” This could also be termed half-keistered information processing. Attention is not being distributed optimally.

© 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.

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The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged)

July 1, 2017

“The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone” is an important book by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. An earlier healthy memory blog post with the same title as the book has already been written. That post was based on a summary of the book done by Elizabeth Kolbert for the New Yorker. Having now read the entire book, HM feels that this volume deserves more detailed attention.

Drs. Sloman and Fernbach are cognitive scientists. Cognitive science emerged in the 1950s to understand the workings of the human mind. It asks questions such as “how is thinking possible?” What goes on inside the brain that allows sentient beings to do math, understand their mortality, act virtuously and (sometimes) selflessly, and still do simple things, like eat with a knife and fork? Currently no machine, and probably no other animal, is capable of these acts.

The authors write, “The human mind is not like a desktop computer, designed to hold reams of information. The mind is a flexible problem solver that evolved to extract only the most useful information to guide decisions in new situations. As a consequence, we individuals store very little detailed information about the world in our heads. In that sense people are like bees and society a beehive: Our intelligence resides not in individual brains, but in the collective mind. To function, individuals rely not only on knowledge stored within our skulls, but also on knowledge stored elsewhere: in our bodies, in the environment, and especially in other people.” In the lingo of the healthy memory blog, information not held within our individual brains, is stored in transactive memory. The authors conclude, “When you put it all together, human thought thought is incredibly impressive, but it is a product of a community, not of any individual alone.”

The authors make a compelling argument that we all suffer, to a greater or lesser extent, from an illusion of understanding, an illusion that we understand how things work when in fact our understanding is meager. Unfortunately, we are not adequately aware of the shortcomings in our understanding. We think we understand much much more than we actually do. Readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware of the risks of having absolute beliefs, that all beliefs should be hedged with some reasonable degree of doubt.

The authors note that history is full of events that seem familiar, that elicit a sense of mild to deep understanding, but whose true historical context is different that we imagine. The complex details get lost in the mist of time while myths emerge that simplify and make stories digestible in part to service one interest group or another. There is a very interesting book by James W. Lowen titled “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook got wrong”. He argues that history as taught in the public schools is basically propaganda advanced by the school board selecting texts. HM found this book most instructive. People should be recalled for a defective education, but reading this book is more practical.

It is also important to remember that the study of history is dynamic. New research yields new interpretations of history.

The authors write, “Thought is for action. Thinking evolved as an extension of the ability to act effectively; it evolved to make us better at doing what’s necessary to achieve our goals. Thought allows us to select from among a set of possible actions by predicting the effects of each action and by imagining how the world would be if we had taken different actions in the past.”

It is unlikely that we would have survived had we been dependent on only the limited knowledge stored in our individual brains. The authors write,”The secret to our success is that we live in a world in which knowledge is all around us. It is in the things we make, in our bodies and workspaces, and another people. We live in a community of knowledge.”

But not all of this is knowledge is accurate, meaning that there are degrees of belief and some knowledge is faux. Understanding that our knowledge is not golden can offer us improved ways of approaching our most complex problems. Recognizing the limits of our understanding should make us more humble, and open our minds to other people’s ideas and ways of thinking. The authors note that It offers lessons about how to avoid things like bad financial decisions, and can enable us to improve our political system and help us assess how much reliance we should have on experts versus how much decision-making power should be given to individual voters.

The authors write, “This book is being written at a time of immense polarization on the American political scene. Liberals and conservative find each other’s views repugnant, and as a result, Democrats and Republicans cannot find common ground or compromise.” The authors note, “One reason for this gridlock is that both politicians and voters don’t realize how little they understand. Whenever an issue is important enough for public debate, it is also complicated enough to be difficult to understand.” They conclude, “Complexity abounds. If everybody understood this, our society would likely be less polarized.”

Neuroscience is much in the news as there have been many exciting developments in the field. Little is currently being written about cognitive science, although there are exciting and relevant new findings in cognitive science. The following is directly quoted from “The Knowledge Illusion: ”Our skulls may delimit the frontier of our brains, but they do not limit the frontier of our knowledge. The mind stretches beyond to include the body, the environment, and people other than one’s-self, so the study of the mind cannot be reduced to the study of the brain. Cognitive science is not the same as neuroscience.”

© 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.

This is the 1,000th Healthymemory Post

June 3, 2017

As the title attests this blog is dedicated to healthy memories. The blog’s subtitle is Memory health and technology. Here technology refers to transactive memory, which is information that is stored outside our individual biological memories. So transactive memory refers to information stored in the memories of our fellow humans as well as in technology. Technology ranges from paper to computers to the world wide web. Transactive memory provides the means for memory growth which underlies memory health. This blog also addresses the negative aspects of transactive memory which range from erroneous information to outright lies. As several posts have indicated, lies on the internet have become a highly profitable business.

The early days of this blog featured many posts on memory techniques under the category mnemonic techniques. Memory techniques specifically improve memory performance while also affording healthy exercise for the brain. If you are unfamiliar with these techniques you might want to peruse and try out some techniques. Practically all known techniques have been posted, so that is why you need to view older posts. For a while meditation and mindfulness was discussed under the memory techniques category, but they have mostly been moved to Human Memory: Theory and Data. Although these techniques are important and beneficial to memory, they are not commonly regarded as mnemonic techniques.

One of the most important posts in this blog is “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.” “The Myth of Alzheimer’s” by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D. and Daniel George, M.Sc. is an important book. The myth is that Alzheimer’s is a single disease, and that a drug will be developed that serves as a silver bullet and eradicate Alzheimer’s. Whitehouse is no crackpot. He knows whereof he speaks. Note that he has a Ph.D and an M.D. Although he is now working as a clinician, he spent many years at the forefront of research on drugs to mitigate or eradicate Alzheimer’s disease (AD). He was a prominent researcher who was well funded and promoted by drug companies. When he became convinced that a cure for Alzheimer’s was not forthcoming, he turned his efforts to treatment.

What constitutes a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. However, there are people who are living with these defining features, but who do not have the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s. People have died with these Alzheimer features who never knew that they had the disease.

Research indicates that a healthy lifestyle, social activity, and cognitive activity greatly decrease the prospect of suffering any cognitive or behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The explanation offered for those with the physical characteristics but no cognitive or behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s is that they have built up a cognitive reserve.
The healthy memory blog strongly recommends a growth mindset, meditation and mindfulness as being extremely important in thwarting dementia. Central to a growth mindset is to continue learning till the end of one’s life. Beyond thwarting dementia, these activities provide the basis for a fulfilling life.

The vast majority of posts do not deal directly with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This is an exciting era for cognitive neuroscience and this blog endeavors to keep the reader up to date on much of this research. Of course, using technology to foster a growth mindset remains an important topic, and the problem of lies and misinformation being spread by technology is always a concern to the healthymemory blog.

© 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.

Healthy Memory Revisited

April 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Book to Be Read with Caution

September 23, 2015

And that book is, A Whole New Mind:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink.  First of all, one should be suspicious of any book making such an outlandish claim, but perhaps outlandish claims sell books.  I’ve heard that this book is being used in an introductory psychology class.  I find this to be especially disturbing.  I think Introductory Psychology is a very important class.  I wrote the Correspondence Course, Introductory Psychology, for the University of Utah before I left and continued teaching it for several years.  Using Pink’s book in an Introductory Psychology Class would seriously handicap students taking more advanced courses in psychology, and would not provide foundational information about Psychology to be a good citizen and to live a healthy, productive life.

First of all, here is a very coarse description of the two hemispheres of the brain.  The left hemisphere processes language, is logical, and is a serial processor.  The right hemisphere is intuitive, wholistic, and engages in parallel processing.  This is a crass oversimplification, and the functions of the two hemispheres can be reversed in certain individuals.

Pink argues that past successes have been due to left hemisphere processing, that is responsible for logical thinking which is germane to scientific, engineering, and business success.  However, his claim is that computers can now do those tasks better.  He also notes that many computer tasks are being outsourced to countries whose labor costs are much lower.  But humans are better at tasks that require empathy and the interaction with other humans.  This last statement is true.  Pink and others claim that there will be sufficient demand tor these tasks that there should be no fear of being replaced by computers.  Therefore right-brainers will rule the future.

The claim that empathic skills will be in  sufficient demand such that right brainers will always be employed is a common theme.  The next post will review another book The Second Machine Age:  Work Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies  by Erik Brunjolfsson & Andrew McAfee of the MIT Sloan School of Management, will also argue that there is a definite need for the empathic skills at which humans excel.  However, they also make a strong case that there will be a significant unemployment problem and discuss ways of dealing with it.

Throughout history humans have used both hemispheres using the different hemispheres as appropriate.  Intellectuals apparently make heavy use of their left hemispheres, and artists heavy use of their right hemispheres.  The goal should be to use our Whole Mind, that is both hemispheres, to best advantage.  Computers provide support, we call this transitive memory in the lingo of the health memory blog.  Nevertheless, the ultimate processing, making decisions, needs to be done by humans using both hemispheres.  The left hemisphere has an especially important role to play in the the control of emotions, which is important to the development of empathy.

Nevertheless, there is some virtue to Pink’s book.  He includes many exercises that focus on developing skills in which the right hemisphere dominates.  This is commendable.  Developing right brain skills is a worthy goal, always remembering that the whole brain needs to be used, and one hemisphere should not be used to the of the other.

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

Let Me Think It Over

August 19, 2015

“Let me think it over”  is something we should say to any proposition other than the most trivial.  Included here are conversations with ourselves.  If we have an idea we should think it over before acting on it.  Whenever we read, hear. or think of something we are only accessing an extremely small portion of our memory.  Our conscious awareness is quite limited and the vast majority of cognition occurs below our level of awareness (See the healthy memory blog post, “Strangers to Ourselves”).  Moreover, the amount of information we are able to access at any given time is quite limited.  Trying to recall something or thinking about something at a different time should yield some new information.

Think of your brain as a large corporation.  You are the CEO at its executive headquarters.  Most of this corporation is below your level of consciousness.  So not only is information stored, but information is also processed at this nonconsciousness level.  After you have finished your initial consideration of a topic, other parts of this corporation will continuing processing.  Allowing time to think something over allows this nonconscious processing to occur.  Perhaps the best example of this nonconscious processing occurs after you have tried, but failed, to remember something.  Some time later, perhaps the next day even, what you were trying to remember pops into your conscious awareness.

Memory theorists speak of accessible memory, which is information we can easily remember.  Then there is information which we cannot access at a particular time, which is nevertheless available in memory.  It might become accessible during another recall attempt, or after detailed search and processing by your unconscious memory.   This is called available memory.

Then there is also transactive memory.  Transactive memory is memory that is not stored in our own brains, but exists in the brains of fellow humans or technology.  So we can speak of accessible transactive memory which is information we cannot recall but we know how to look it up or whom to ask.  Available  transactive  memory is information that we know exists, but that we need to conduct some research to find it.

I have lost money because I failed to think something over.  Had I just done some quick research on the internet i would not have spent money on unnecessary repairs.  I fear this has happened more than once.  I have suffered undesirable consequences from failing to ask someone making a proposal, or from failing to adequately think over my own ideas.

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

Ipad for Transactive Memory

March 25, 2015

Remember that transactive memory consists of all memory that is resident outside of ourselves. So memories held by our fellow beings are part of transactive memory. Memories resident in technology, be it paper or electronic, are all types of transactive memory. Unfortunately, one of my many shortcomings is my lack of systems for organizing my information. I have articles I stored as a graduate student that I have kept in boxes and moved them along within me whenever I moved. Unfortunately,the probability that I will ever find them again is close to nil. We are currently living in temporary quarters while I home is being remodeled. The remodeling will provide more space and bookshelves. These are much needed, because there were times when I could not find a book I read, but I knew it had information I needed to review. In these cases it was frequently more expedient to reorder the book from Amazon.

I was excited by the invention of the Kindle and other electronic readers. I purchased a Kindle and liked it. It was especially useful for cruises as I did not have to pack so many books. Neverthelesss, I found the display to be too small, so I used in sparingly. My recent purchase of an iPad eliminated the display size problem, but initially I did have problems regarding the logic of the interface. Several consultations with Apple Geniuses solved these problems and I am now a most satisfied user even though I use it primarily as a reader. An earlier post related by experiences using it at the APA convention (see the healthymemory blog post “Attendance at the 2014 Convention of the American Psychological Association). Frankly I find it easier doing email and writing with my laptop. The potential of the iPad is large, but it is unlikely that I shall avail myself to most of it.

From now on electronic versions of most written material will be preferred. Most books will be purchased on Amazon and downloaded to the Kindle app on my iPad. The iPad mitigates many logistical problems and provides an easy way of accessing information I am still in a learning process and my appreciation of the iPad as a device for transactional memory is growing.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Organizing Our Homes

December 7, 2014

Organizing Our Homes is the title of a chapter in Daniel J. Levitin’s book The Organized Mind. His subtitle for this chapter is “Where Things Can Start to Get Better”.   I am probably more in need of the information in this chapter than any of the healthymemory blog’s readers. But my problem is primarily motivational in that although I know the systems for effective organization, but I don’t implement them. Unfortunately, Levitin does not provide any motivational advice. Perhaps one day some disaster will occur that will provide me the motivation for implementing these practices.. One practice I do strictly follow is to keep my most important items in the same place. Individual items might be in separate places, but each important item is always kept in the same place. When I travel or move to a new place, one of my first actions is to decide where these important items go. If I want to be sure to remember to take my umbrella on a given day, I place it in a conspicuous place on my way out. However, even this precautionary measure has sometimes failed.

Levitin uses the four system for remembering important items. Every time he leaves the house he checks that he has four things: keys, wallet, phone, and glasses. The number four is significant as we are constrained by the number of items we can hold in our working or short term memories. George Miller’s original number was 7 plus or minus 2. However, that number has shrunk over the years, and is currently down to four. If he needs to remember something else before leaving the house, say to remember to buy mild on the way home, he will either place an empty mild carton on the seat beside him in his car, or he’ll place the carton in his backpack. Of course a note will be do, but some reminder is needed so the note will not be forgotten.

The problem of misplacing items and being unable to find them is ubiquitous. Levitin writes about Magnus Carlsen the number one rated chess in the world when he was 23. He can keep ten games going on at once in memory without looking at the board, but he says, “I forget all kinds of other stuff. I regularly lose my credit cards, my mobile phones,keys, and so on. Actually all of these memory failures are the result of failing to attend where the object is being placed. Moreover, enough attention needs to be devoted to the object so that the location of the object will later be remembered.

Levitin also discusses the concept of affordances. The term is used in the sense that the environment affords you to do something. One of the best examples of affordances are the plates or handles that are placed on doors. The plate affords the pushing of the door. The handle affords the pulling of the door. Unfortunately, these affordances are frequently misplaced. For example, you try to push a door that has a handle on it and it does not move. Once I was following a lady out of the building. She tried to push a handle and then apologizes for being stupid when it did not move. I explained to her that she was not the stupid. Instead it was the architect of the building or the installer of the door who was stupid. The renowned psychologist B.F. Skinner elaborated on these affordances. If you have letters to mail put them near your car keys or house keys so that when you leave the house their affordance reminds you to take them. The goal is to off-load the information from your brain into the environment by using the environment itself to remind you of what needs to be done. So the idea is to use the environent as a type of transactive memory.

To people who argue that they are not detailed-oriented, that they are a creative person or some such. Levitin provides some good examples from Joni Mitchell, Stephen Stills, John Lennon. Michael Jackson even had a person on his staff titled the chief archivist. Organization was essential to these creative people.

Levitin provides these three general rules of organization..

      1. A mislabeled item or location is worse than an unlabeled item.

      2. If there is an existing standard, use it.

      3. Don’t keep what you can’t use.

Personally I have much difficulty with this third rule.

Levitin devotes a section to the digital home where he recommends organizing by devices, where special devices perform special tasks. He has another section on the storage of information in different types of media and the advantages and disadvantages of each. He notes, rather discouragingly, that digital files are rarely readable for more than ten years. He notes that within the spreadsheet Excel you can link any entry in a cell to a document on the computer. So financial documents for a given year could be in a PDF file linked to a cell in a spreadsheet.

Above all, do not multi-task while you are organizing. He notes that just having the opportunity to multitask is detrimental to cognition. Glenn Wilson of Gresham College in London calls it infomania He has done research that demonstrated that being in a situation where you are trying to concentrate on a task, and an e-mail is sitting unread in the inbox can reduce the effective by 10 points. He has also shown that cognitive losses from multitasking are even greater than the cognitive losses from pot smoking.

A neuroscientist at Stanford, Russ Poldrack, found that learning information while multitasking causes the new information to go to the wrong part of the brain. The information goes into the striatum, a region specialized for storing new procedures and skills, not facts and ideas. Absent the distraction of TV the information goes into the hippocampus, where it is organized and categorized in a number of ways so that it is easier to retrieve.

Moreover, there are metabolic costs to switching attention. Shifting the brain from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel needed to stay on task. The rapid, continual shifting when we multitask causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain compromisisng both cognitive and physical performance. In addition, repeated task switching leads to anxiety , which raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain which in turn can lead to aggressive and compulsive behavior. In contrast, staing on task is controlled by the anterior cingulate and the striatum ,and once we engage the central executive mode, staying in that state uses less energy than multitasking and actually reduces the brain’s need for glucose. .

One of the Biggest Advances in Neural Enhancement

December 3, 2014

In the introduction to The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin he mentions that one of the biggest advancements in neural enhancement occurred only 5,000 years ago. That was the development of a written language. This development took considerable time. First there were primitive notes taken to record important items that were too important to be forgotten. Then there were likely primitive forms of accounts for transactions. Unfortunately, there are no records that I know of that can trace the development. In spite of writing being one of the biggest advances in neural enhancement, it was not immediately recognized as such, nor was it accepted as being beneficial by one of the foremost Greek philosophers of the time, Socrates. Socrates was worried about what was lost in terms of vocal tone and expression, things that were in speech or conversation, but were lost in written language. Fortunately the resistance of Socrates and others gave way, for written language is certainly a requirement for a civilization to advance.

In the terminology of the healthy memory blog, written language is an example of transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to information that is not recorded in one’s own biological memory, but is accessible from the memories of fellow human beings or from some artifact of technology. In this sense written language is a neural enhancement, and a very important as we are biologically constrained regarding the amount of information we can handle. Technology enables us to overcome evolutionary limitations, evolution being a very slow process.

Levitin writes that two of the most compelling properties of the human brain and its design are richness and associative access. Memory is rich in the sense that a large amount of information is in there. Associative access means that our thoughts can be accessed in a number of different ways by semantic or perceptual associations. So related words, smells, category names, or an old song can bring memories to our awareness. Even what are apparently random neural firings can bring them up to conscioussness. Being able to access memories regardless of where they are located is called random access like we experience on DVDs and hard drives and contrasted to data stored on a videotape.

The healthymemory blog likes to distinguish different types of associative access. Information that we know or know where to find quickly is termed accessible memory. Information that we know, but are not sure where to find it, is termed available associative memory. Some Google searches or more primitive forms of looking for information (old library card catalogs) are examples. Potential memory is all the information currently available in other human beings or in some type of artifact, be it a book, database, or in Wikipedia.

Given all this potential or available information in transactive memory, the problem becomes one of being able to access it quickly. Here the issue involves the organization of this information so that it can be more readily accessed. Levitin refers to this as conscientious organization. Systems are important as are different types of databases and search engines. More specifics will be found in the future chapters of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, some of which will be discussed in future healthymemory blog posts.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Memory, Attention, Consciousness

November 30, 2014

I’ve just begun reading The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin. I’ve already realized that I should have read this book some time ago, and it is already clear that I am going to recommend it. Usually I do not recommend books until I’ve completed reading them, but I am making an exception in this case. It is already clear that much of the advice will involve transactive memory. Before proceeding with advice providing posts, I feel compelled to write a post on memory, attention, and consciousness. These three topics are central to the healthymemory blog, and although Levitin does not necessarily provide new information, I think that his treatment of these topics deserve special consideration.

Here is how Levitin begins Chapter 2 on How Memory and Attention work, “We live in a world of illusions. We think we are aware of everything going around us. We look out and see an uninterrupted picture of the visual world, composed of thousands of little detailed images. We may know that each of us has a blind spot, but we go on blissfully unaware of where it actually is because our occipital cortex does such a good job of filling in the missing information and hence hiding it from us.

“We attend to objects in the environment partly based on our will (we choose to pay attention to some things), partly based on an alert system that monitors our world for danger, and partly based on our brain’s own vagaries. Our brains come preconfigured to create categories and classifications of things automatically and without our conscious intervention. When the systems we’re trying to set up are in collision with the way our brain automatically categorizes things, we end up losing things, missing appointments, or forgetting to do things we needed to do.”

Regular readers of the healthymemory blog should know that memory is not a passive storage system for data. Rather it is dynamic, guiding our perception, helping us to deal with the present and project into the future. Fundamentally it is a machine for time travel. It is not static, but constantly changing, with the sometimes unfortunate consequent in our being highly confident of faulty recollections. Memories are the product of assemblies of neurons firing. New information, learning, is the result of new cell assemblies being formed. Neurons are living cells that can connect to each other, and they can connect to each other in trillions of different ways. The number of possible brain states that each of us can have is so large that it exceeds the number of known particles in the universe. (I once asked a physicist how they computed this number of known particles and he told me. I would pass this on to you had I not forgotten his answer.)

Attention is critical as there is way too much information to process. So we need to select the information to which we want to attend. Sometimes this selection process itself demands.substantial attention. Moreover, switching attention requires attention, which only exacerbates attentional limitations when multitasking.

Consciousness has been explained as the conversation among these neurons. Levitin has offered the explanation that there are multiple different cell assemblies active at one time. Consciousness is the result of the selection of one of these cell assemblies. In other words, there are multiple trains of thought, and we must choose one of them to ride.

A critical question is how to employ our limited consciousness effectively. One way is the practice of mindfulness meditation to try to achieve a Zen-like focus of living in the moment. This can be accomplished through a regular meditation regimen. However, we should not neglect the short time application of this mindfulness. We need to apply this Zen-like focus when putting things down (your keys, important items), so you’ll remember where you put them. Also do not neglect uses of transactive memory and put notes in planners, on calendars, or in your electronic device so you’re sure you’ll be able to access them.

Happy Thanksgiving 2014!

November 25, 2014

We, homo sapiens,have much for which to be thankful. I often question whether we are worthy of our name. Nevertheless, we have much cognitive potential for which to be thankful. I believe that the best way of giving thanks is to foster and grow this potential throughout our lifetimes.

Consider our memories, which are de facto time travel machines. We travel into the past and into the future. Actually we travel into the past, to retrieve what we have learned, to cope with the future. We have both experienced and remembered pasts (see the Healthymemory blog post, “Photos, Experiencing Selves and Remembering Selves”). We can go back in time before we were born via our imaginations and transactive memory. Similarly we can go forward into time via both our imaginations and transactive memory (transactive memory are those held by fellow humans and by technological artifacts such as books and computers).

When human minds are put to best use via creativity and critical thinking, tremendous artistic, scientific, engineering, and cultural feats are achieved. And we each have individual potential that we should do our best to foster and grow throughout our lifetimes by continuing to take on cognitive challenges and to interact with transactive memory (our fellow humans and technology). We should not retire from or give up on cognitive growth. And we should assist our fellow humans who are in need to grow their individual potential. This is the best means of giving thanks!

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gone to the 2014 Meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA)

August 6, 2014

There will be a brief hiatus in new blog posts while I attend, assimilate, and perhaps write some new blog posts. However, with 500 plus posts already posted, I think there is plenty to read and consider in the meantime. The category mnemonic techniques contains not only techniques for directly improving memory, but also posts on mindfulness and meditation. The category transactive memory has posts on how to use technology and interact with our fellow humans to promote memory health and to grow cognitively The category Human Memory Theory and Data has posts on the fascinating and relevant topic of human cognition.

Please use the healthymemory blog’s search block. You might be surprised by the diversity of topics you will see covered.

The 500th Blog Post Has Been Passed

June 25, 2014

It was passed several posts ago. I wanted to continue the sequence of posts based on Greenwood and Parasuraman’s, Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind.before making the announcement.

Just as its title indicates, this blog is dedicated to building and sustaining healthy memories. Post are divided into three main categories. Human Memory: Theory and Data includes posts on memory and cognition. The Mnemonics Techniques category includes not only traditional memory techniques but also posts on meditation and mindfulness. The Transactive Memory category has posts on how interactions with technology and our fellow human beings can foster a healthy memory.

If I had one post to recommend to read it would be “The Triangle of Well Being” Entering “The Distraction Addiction” into the search box, will lead you to posts on how not only to cope with technology, but also howto use it to your advantage. Entering “Davidson” will lead you to many posts about mindfulness, meditation, and how to develop an effective emotional style. You can find posts on memes by entering, appropriately enough,  “meme”, into the search block. You’ll also find posts on economics. You might be surprised by some of the topics you’ll find covered. Give it a try.

The Brain

March 11, 2014

Within the triangle of well-being (see the immediately preceding post) it is important to have some understanding of the brain, as that is the organ that the mind needs to control and grow. All of the following are estimates:1

  • There are 1 million neuronal connections formed every second.

  • There are 100 billion nerve cells in the brain.

  • It computes 100 trillion instructions per second compared to the 25 billion instruction per second done by a typical desktop computer.

  • There are 500 trillion synaptic connections in an adult human brain.

Moreover, there are trillions of glial cells providing support.

It is also important to know that neurogenesis occurs throughout the entire life span and involves the differentiation of neuro stem cells into fully mature neurons in the brain.

This brain is one tremendous device we have. Unfortunately, the brain frequently seems to have a mind of its own. And it requires dedicated focused attention for the brain to grow and fulfill its potential.

Transactive memory is a resource consisting of the memories of our fellow humans. These memories can be accessed through direct personal relationships or through technology. Technology brings us the wisdom of the ancients. It also allows us to profit from the mistakes of our predecessors.

Mindfulness and meditation help our minds control our brains including our emotions. They also develop our attentional powers so we are able to grow and achieve in desired directions.

Our brains are a terrible thing to waste. But our minds can prevent our brains from being wasted.

1Huang, G.T. (2008). Essence of thought. New Scientist, 31 May, 30-33.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Triangle of Well-Being

March 8, 2014

The Triangle of Well-Being is a chapter in Daniel J. Siegel’s superb book, Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind. This triangle of well-being is a three pointed figure that is a metaphor for the idea that mind, brain, and relationships are each part of a whole. The notion is that this triangle is a metaphoric map that signifies one reality with three interdependent facets. The triangle represents the process by which energy and information flow. This process changes over time. Relationships are the sharing of this flow. The brain refers to the extended nervous system distributed throughout the body that serves as the embodied mechanism of that flow. The mind is an emergent process that arises from the system of energy information flow within and among people. A critical aspect of the mind is the emergent process of self-regulation that regulates that from which it arises.

So the mind can regulate and change the brain, which is the process of neuroplasticity. The energy information flow within us, our thinking and behavioral process, along with our communication with our fellow human beings can produce resultant changes in the brain for better or worse. The worse part is when maladaptive emotions, thoughts, and behaviors occur. The better part is when we acquire new knowledge, modulate our emotions, and foster beneficial and enjoyable relationships.

Siegel is a psychiatrist who is the Co-Director of the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. He uses this conceptual treatment both in his treatment of psychiatric patients and in the development of healthy mindfulness. His pocket guide goes into great detail regarding the parts of the brain and how they are modified in the process.

Permit me to elaborate on this triangle using the lingo of the healthymemory blog. Interpersonal relationships are part of transactive memory, but transactive memory includes technology as well as live interactions among individuals. Books and other technical media allow us to establish relationships with humans who have long departed. Admittedly, these relationships are uni-directional, but they are nevertheless valuable. We can also establish relationships through technology with living individuals throughout the world, and these relationships are definitely bi-directional.  Relationships among groups are omnidirectional. Such relationships can be valuable, but they need to be distinguished from relationships in social media, such as Facbook, where “friending” can be largely superficial.

Interpersonal Neurobiology

March 4, 2014

The Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind by Daniel J. Siegel is a valuable and fairly unique book. I find the text especially relevant as it fits well with the philosophy of the healthymemory blog. Dr. Siegel posits a Triangle of Well-Being, more of which will be written in the subsequent post. It consists of three components: a mind, a brain, and relationships. The mind is an emergent phenomena that emerges from the sophistication of the brain and is represented in our conscious mind. The brain includes not only the physical brain, but also the entire nervous system. Relationships refer to our relations and interactions with fellow human beings. In the lingo of the healthy memory blog, this concept of relationships is captured in the category of transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to the memories of our fellow human beings and to the memories resident in technology. But be aware that these memories available in technology are the result of memories of fellow human beings. Thanks to technology, we are privy to the thoughts of the ancient Greeks, as well as all the great philosophers and scholars throughout the course of recorded time. This also includes the memories of people from diverse cultures speaking diverse languages. The key concept here is that we can and should use our minds to control and develop our brains to best advantage. This is not always easy as the brain often appears to have a mind of its own. But mindfulness techniques are there to help us control and develop our thinking, as well as control our emotions. Using the mind in this way allows us to exploit the neuroplasticity of the nervous system throughout our lives. Similarly, our minds can interact with our relationships to foster those relationships so that they achieve maximum benefits.

The Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology does not have chapters. Rather it has numbered entry points with titles, but there is no requirement to follow the numbers. The guide is written so that you can enter at any numbered topic you find to be of immediate interest and start reading. Each entry point has several terms that are nodes in a larger interconnected network. There are 168 nodes in this nodal network. The nodes and other important general terms are italicized for ease of reference throughout the text. They can be found with brief definitions in an annotated index. The nodes serve as a bridge to read different entries so that you can interweave the conceptual framework as you move in and out of the different entries to satisfy your own personal interest.

There Will Be A Brief Hiatus in New Posts on the Healthymemory Blog

February 6, 2014

Not that you should notice. There are well over 450 posts here. That should be plenty to read, ponder, and practice. As its title, suggests this blog is devoted to the development and growth of healthy memories. You can find techniques for improving memory and controlling attention. In addition to specific memory techniques, there are posts on meditation and mindfulness. Posts in the category of transactive memory discuss how technology and interactions with our fellow humans contribute to memory health and help us grow our memories. There are also many posts on human memory and information processing. Mental growth and development should be a goal we work towards our entire lives. The earlier this is started, the better, but it is never too late. The development of a cognitive reserve is one of the best measures one can take to avoid Alzheimer’s and dementia. Use the blog’s search box to search for topics of personal interest. You will likely be pleasantly surprised by what you can find.

Happy Thanksgiving 2013!

November 27, 2013

This is the time of the year when every healthy member of homo sapiens should give thanks for our cognitive resources. The best way of giving thanks is to keep our memories healthy and to continue to develop and grown our cognitive resources throughout our lives. The healthymemory blog is devoted to developing and growing our cognitive resources. There are well over 400 posts devoted to this end.

Perhaps the first step here is to understand our memories and how we process information. The first category of posts, “Human Memory: Theory and Data,” includes posts on theories of memory, how memories work, and how our memory impacts our lives.

The second category of posts, “Mnemonic Techniques” does include specific techniques for improving memory. But it also includes topics that will enhance our memories and our lives. Included here are topics on meditation and mindfulness.

The third category of posts, “Transactive Memory” contains posts on how to use technology and interact with our fellow human beings to enhance our memories and our lives. There is a series of posts on contemplative computing.

Please use the healthymemory blog search block. Enter topics of interests in the block to find posts on these interests. You might be surprised what you find.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Engage with the World

October 16, 2013

Engage with the world is the seventh principle of contemplative computing.1 Engage with the World complements very nicely the fifth principle of contemplative computing, Extend Your Abilities. They both involve transactive memory. Whereas Extend You Abilities focused on using the memory resident in technology to enhance your cognitive growth, Engage with the World, focuses on engaging with you fellow humans to enhance your cognitive growth. Remember that transactive memory includes both memories resident in technology (both electronic and conventional such as books and journals), and in your fellow human beings. Engaging with the world implies both that we will receive knowledge from our fellow humans, but that we shall also contribute knowledge to the store of human knowledge. Do not underestimate yourself. You have knowledge to contribute. If not, acquire additional knowledge so that you can add your own unique contributions. These contributions might be additions/corrections you make to Wikipedia, or contributions you make through your own blog. It might even be information you pass on to individual humans. Remember that social interaction is a key component of a healthy memory.

When engaging, please keep the following in mind.” Engaging with the social world isn’t just interacting, it’s about putting people rather than technology at the center of your attention. For some, this involves applying Christian or Buddhist precepts to their virtual interactions and using media in ways that let them be spiritual presences, not just social ones, and see the spark of divinity in everyone”.2

The first six principles of contemplative computing have been discussed in the immediately preceding healthymemory blog posts. The next blog post will discuss the final principle of contemplative computing.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction.

2Ibid p. 225.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Extend Your Abilities

October 9, 2013

The fifth principle of contemplative computing1 is to Extend Your Abilities. Readers of the healthymemory blog should realize that this is one of the healthymemory themes. It comes under the rubric of transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to knowledge that is resident in technology, ranging from the world wide web to conventional texts, as well as knowledge that is resident in our fellow human beings.

Some of what we know is resident in our individual minds, our brains. There is other information that we know, cannot recall, but know how to find. This is referred to as accessible transactive memory. That is, we know how to find and access it quickly. Then there is information that we know exists, but cannot find or access readily. This is referred to as available accessible information. This is information that we are fairly confident we can locate given enough time and searches. Finally, there is potential transactive memory. This is all the knowledge and information that is available on earth. As individuals, our task is to transfer some knowledge from accessible transactive memory to our individual minds and brains. Then we need to transfer some knowledge from available transactive memory to accessible transactive memory. And, finally, there is this vast store of information and knowledge that is currently unknown. Although we can hope to learn only a fraction of this information, this is still a matter of extending our abilities.

We are constantly confronted with the epistemological question, how well do we need to know something? Do we need to know it well enough so that we can expound upon it without notes? Perhaps knowing how to access it quickly will suffice. Or perhaps, we only need to know that it exists, and that we can find it if we search long enough for it. It would be a mistake to put too much knowledge into any one of these categories. The percentage placed in each, will be a matter of individual choice. But we still should have the goal of upgrading the storage category for a certain amount of this knowledge. And we should always be extending our knowledge into the potential transactive memory category. This is all a part of extending our abilities and growing cognitively.

The first four principles of contemplative computing have been discussed in the immediately preceding posts. The next three principles will be discussed in subsequent posts.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

4 Ways to Fight Alzheimer’s

June 1, 2013

This post is largely based on the article by Dr. Gary Small, “Four Ways to Save Yourself From Alzheimer’s Disease1. There is also a book by Dr. Small, The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. The prospects for either a cure or a vaccine to prevent Alzheimer’s are becoming increasingly dim (see the healthymemory blog post, “An Update on the Prospect of a Cure for Alzheimer’s). However, there is much we can do to decrease significantly, if not avoid completely, the ravages of Alzheimer’s. This post outlines 4 ways to fight Alzheimer’s.

One way is to engage in physical exercise. The Mind Health Report notes that strength training can improve cognitive function and brain health. It also cites a study that found that walking briskly for just 20 minutes a day can lower the risk for Alzheimer’s. Walking 40 minutes a day, three times a week has also been shown to be beneficial (see the healthymemory blog post, “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus”). Walking is not the only beneficial activity. Jogging, swimming, and other activities pump oxygen and nutrients to brain cells. Try working these activities into daily routines.

Another way is to manage stress. Stress cannot be eliminated, nor should it be. But too much stress is harmful and increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. Cortisol-induced stress has produced temporary impairment in memory and recall abilities. Fortunately, stress can be managed. According to the Mind Health Report article, “…Dr. Helen Lavretsky at UCLA showed that tai chi can improve markers of inflammation in the blood. She also reported that functional MRI scans showed that meditation actually strengthens neural networks in important brain areas controlling cognition.” There are many healthymemory blog posts on meditation. Actually, meditation is a subtopic of the more encompassing concept of mindfulness. (enter “meditation” or “mindfulness” into the search block of this blog).

` A third way is to eat appropriately. From the article in The Mind Health Report: “For optimal brain performance, combine antioxidant fruits and vegetables with healthy proteins. Researchers at Columbia University have shown that when our diets emphasize proteins from fish and nuts along with fruits and vegetables, the risk of Alzheimer’s disease decreases compared with the risk from diets emphasizing read meat and butter and fewer fruits and vegetables.” For healthymemory blog posts on the benefits of diet enter “diet” into the search block.

The fourth way, and the way emphasized in the healthy memory blog,is through cognitive exercise. Mnemonic techniques are techniques that not only improve memory performance, but also provide beneficial cognitive exercise (See the healthymemory category “mnemonic techniques”). The healthymemory blog category, “Transactive Memory” has posts on how to employ technology and our fellow human beings in building and exercises our memories. Social relationships and interactions are important to a healthy memory. The “Human Memory: Theory and Data” healthymemory blog category provides posts on human memory and behavior., and neuroscience. You will note that the category is widely construed as human memory is at the bottom of all issues involving humans. All posts go to the goal of building a “cognitive reserve” to fight Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is never too early, or too late, to build this cognitive reserve.

1Small, G.D. (2013). Four Ways to Save Yourself From Alzheimer’s Disease. The Mind Health Report, May.

Healthy Memory’s 400th Post

May 21, 2013

It is difficult to believe that this is the 400th post on the healthymemory blog. These posts have covered a lot of territory. The primary focus of the healthymemory blog is memory. Memory is central to all human processes, both personal and collective. Consequently, an understanding of memory is useful, if not essential, to us as human beings. The healthymemory blog is devoted to cognitive growth. This is important both as a means to human fulfillment and for the building of a cognitive reserve. A cognitive reserve provides the best means of warding off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Consequently, the healthymemory blog should be of primary interest to Baby Boomers, but, in fact, it should be of interest to everyone. The study of human memory is fascinating and cognitive growth should be a goal of everyone, regardless of age.

Blog posts are divided into three categories. The largest is Human Memory Theory and Data. This category includes posts on human memory and everything that human memory touches. The category mnemonic techniques includes specific techniques for improving memory. These techniques can also provide cognitive exercise to foster memory health. The topics of meditation and mindfulness are also included as both meditation and mindfulness foster healthy memories. The subtitle for the healthymemory blog is Memory Health and Technology. This includes transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to extensions of one’s own memory in technology and fellow human beings. It includes posts on how technology can be used to foster cognitive growth and how interactions with our fellow human beings are essential to memory health.

In short, there is much to read here. Older posts are not out of date. Just enter topics of interest to you in the healthymemory blog search block to find posts of interest to you. You just might be surprised.

Microsoft and Its Annoying, Costly Upgrades

April 10, 2013

I’ve about had it with Microsoft and the so-called upgrades of its operating systems and applications. Not once have I been able to perceive any benefit. But there has been precious time lost and aggravation. Out comes an upgrade and suddenly I am unable to perform functions that I have long performed. Moreover, it is not easy to find the new procedures for performing these functions.

The impacts of these upgrades on business, government, and organizations are pernicious. Time is money and the inability to perform long used functions, and the need to learn new ways of performing these long practiced functions are costly in addition to being extremely aggravating. In psychology we would call this an A-B, A-C negative transfer paradigm. Yet business, government, organizations, and individuals continue to suffer in silence. It’s outrageous.

When buying a new computer it should not come with a pre-installed operating system. The purchaser should be offered a choice of operating systems, and older versions of software should still be able to run on new operating systems. The same requirements are needed for applications. As for applications, I’ve found the offerings at http://www.openoffice.org to be superior to those of Microsoft. Moreover, they are free, although it is in our own interest to offer support. I believe that Firefox is regarded as a superior browser. Mozilla also has an email program, Thunderbird. If you have not yet done so, I encourage you to visit their website at www.mozilla.org. Businesses, governments, and other organizations should also avail themselves of these options.

Even if upgrades are needed from a systems perspective, the interface that confronts the user should remain as identical as possible. The Dvorak keyboard is known to be superior to the standard QWERTY keyboard, yet there has been a wise decision made not to convert whole scale to the Dvorak keyboard. A similar attitude needs to maintain with respect to the interfaces of operation systems and applications.

Software companies should be required to support all versions of their products or be subject to fines and lawsuits. As you have already ascertained, I regard most upgrades as ripoffs, impure and complex.

Should we march on Washington, D.C., or the Microsoft Campus in the state of Washington? I am not suggesting that we carry torches and pitchforks as if we were attacking Dr. Frankenstein‘s castle, tempting as that might be. But orderly demonstrations would be in order. To quote from the movie, Network, “We’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this anymore!”

More on Avoiding Collapse

March 3, 2013

Preceding posts have been on Costa’s The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse. The immediately preceding post has been on Insight, a cognitive capability that Costa believes could prevent collapse. This post expands on that theme. Insight is closely related to creativity, and there have been many healthymemory blog posts on creativity (just enter creativity into the Search Box on the healthymemory blog).

The central thesis of Costa’s The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse is that societies collapse as a result of beliefs not keeping up with facts. She writes of five supermemes that threaten civilization. They are: Irrational Opposition, The Personalization of Blame, Counterfeit Correlation, Silo Thinking, and Extreme Economics. These supermemes result in defective cognitive processes and unhealthy memories. We need to be aware of them in both ourselves and others. When appropriate, challenge others you find fostering these supermemes. The reality is that the solutions to the vast majority of our problems exist, but these supermemes operate to prevent their implementation.

These supermemes are types of unhealthy memories. And they are unhealthy memories that threaten civilization. They need to be stamped out.

Transactive memory is one of the major topics of the healthymemory blog. There are two types of transactive memory. One is technological, and includes conventional technology, paper publications, and modern technology of electronic publication and communication. Many of the solutions can be found there as well as the technology for collaborations and discussions that lead to these solutions. Our rapidly changing and increasingly complex societies requires collaboration and team efforts to reach solution. Social interactions are important to maintaining a healthy memory, and interactions among many, many healthy memories are what is needed not only for our civilization to survive, but also for our species to survive.

In addition to the supermemes, one of the risks is the amount of misinformation that is available. What is particularly alarming is that there is ample evidence of concerted efforts by vested interests to disseminate misinformation (See the healthymemory blog post, “The Origins of Misinformation). This willful manufacture of mistaken beliefs has earned its own term, “agnogenesis.” The comic strip Doonesbury introduced an online service, myFacts, that would provide you with facts that would support anything you believed or wanted to support. Although Doonesbury is a comic strip it is portraying a parody of an underlying reality. One needs to be on the alert for these efforts.

There is an increasing realization that being cognitively active is important not only to reduce or preclude the effects of dementia as we age, but also to allow us to participate effectively in our complex society. Costa writes of businesses, analogous to gyms and health centers designed for our bodies, that are set up like exercise facilities, but the exercises and workouts are designed to sharpen our minds. The digital brain health market is expanding at a rapid rate. Just enter “Healthy Memory” into a search site such as duckduckgo.com to find a wealth of resources (enter Healthy Memory Blog to find the current blog). Brain fitness will also return a wealth of sites. Many of these sites are commercial, but others are free. Readers who have found worthwhile sites are encouraged to enter these sites and their reviews as comments to this post.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Quiz

January 23, 2013

The healthymemory blog will be going on a brief hiatus. There are over 350 blog posts to peruse, so there is plenty of material to consider in the absence of new posts. You can test your knowledge of just a small percentage of the material covered by taking the test below. If you want to check your answers or to look up the answers, use the search block for the healthymemory blog.

What are the seven sins of memory?

Agnogenesis

Dumbledore Hypothesis

cognitive reserve

Flynn Effect

fluid intelligence

How to remember numbers

What tragedies have resulted from failures in prospective memory?

How can you improve your prospective memory?

How can you remember names?

What are the five dimensions of personality?

What is meant by emotional style?

What types of meditation are there?

What does psychological science have to offer law and the justice system?

What are some effective study techniques?

What makes a nation intelligent?

What are some solutions to the excessive costs of a college education?

What is Gross National Happiness (GNH)?

What are the two basic types of transactive memory?

What are the distinctions among accessible, available, and potential transactive memory?

How many friends are too many?

Are we incurable Infovores?

How can we cope with complexity?

What are folksonomies?

What are some common sense techniques for improving memory?

An Update on the Unnecessary Costs of Higher Education

January 16, 2013

Here is an update of these unnecessary costs from the Washington Post.1 Previous healthymemory blog posts (enter “Costs of a Higher Education” into the search block) have complained about the increasing increases in the costs of a college education at a time when technology should be bringing these costs down. It is especially ironic when prestigious universities are making some of their courses available online for free, the so-called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). Although this content is available for free, course credit is not offered, nor is there a prospect of a diploma being offered upon the completion of these courses. Now some universities are offering, for a fee, certificates for completing these courses. According to the article “For a fee of less than $100, a student who takes a class in genetics and evolution from Duke University on a MOOC platform called Coursera—and agrees to submit to identity-verification screening—could earn a “verified certificate” for passing the course.” “For $95, a student in an online circuits and electronics class affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through the MOOC Platform edX will be able to take a proctored exam this month at one of thousands of test sites around the world and earn a certificate.” What is not clear is whether at some time in the future these certificates would lead to college credit and a degree. Technology provides manifold opportunities for the autodidact, but the degrees provide the desired end-states of these formal curricula.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs on this topic is that I have met some people who have college degrees, but on the basis of their work, writing, and conversation, it is difficult to believe that they have these degrees. I have also met people with excellent, writing, work, and conversational skills, who do not have college degrees. I think we need to have an organization or organizations that provide tests and evaluations to determine the level of competence in different subject areas. Presumably, nominal fees would be involved, but this would allow the true autodidact to benefit fully from her self-educational efforts.

1Anderson, N. (2013). Online classes will grant credentials, for a fee.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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 Holidays 2012!

December 22, 2012

Besides the wish expressed in the title, all I have to offer you is this healthymemory blog. It consists of more than 350 posts devoted to the topic of growing and maintaining a healthy memory. It has blog posts on memory, how it works, and how it malfunctions. Posts explain how to improve memory performance with mnemonic techniques, and through both human and technological transactive memory. These posts are divided into three categories:

Human Memory: Theory and Data

Mnemonic Techniques

Transactive Memory

Clicking on those categories listed on the sideboard yields the pertinent posts.

Are there specific topics of interest to you? Just enter them into the search box and see what the healthymemory blog has to offer. You might be surprised on the wide range of topics covered. Try entering “emotions,” or “intelligence,” for example.

Human Transactive Memory

December 5, 2012

Transactive memory refers to memories that are available to you but are not present in your own biological memory. Transactive memory is one of this blog’s categories. However, most the posts in this category are about technical transactive memory. Memories that you can retrieve via the internet, the computer, books, and paper are termed technical transactive memory. Actually most of the research into transactive memory has been in the area of human transactive memory. Many of the results from this research have not been particularly surprising. For example, couples who remembered together rather than independently were able to recall significantly more than those who remembered individually. There are also frequent reports of someone losing their long-term partner all of a sudden experiencing a rapid memory decline, as if they’ve lost part of their mind.1

Shared memories provide the foundation for long term relationships and are a source of enjoyment and comfort throughout our lifetimes. I have so many precious memories of my family and friends that I can recall and enjoy. For the goal of keeping our memories healthy and continuing to grow them, fostering human transactive memory is especially important. There are two reasons for doing so. First of all you are expanding and enhancing your own memory. And you are also fostering social relationships, which are also important for a healthy brain and memory.

Marilu Henner of Taxi fame, and is one of the few elite individuals with a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, and the author of Total Memory Makeover (see the Healthymemory Blog Posts, “The Importance of Memory,” and “Who Has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and What Can She Tell Us?”). Her family planned and attended events that they continued to remember and share after they occurred. She also discusses memory games that are fun for families.

So grow your social relationships and your transactive memory. Reminiscence and share fond memories with others, challenge each others’ memories, and play memory games.

1Weir, K. (2012). Shared Recall. New Scientist, 6 October, p.37.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Another Risk in Cyberspace

December 2, 2012

Victor Mayer Schoenberger noted the common and well publicized concern regarding billions of Facebook messages, the more than 300,000 daily tweets plus private e-mail accounts with their messages, photos, and videos. However the concern usually expressed regards violations of privacy and, perhaps, identity theft. Schoenberger was concerned what it can do to Thanksgiving if the warmth and joy is lost when we keep being reminded of every mistake, every quarrel, every disagreement.1 Schoenberger concern extends far beyond Thanksgiving and has written a book on the topic: Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age.

In the lingo of the Healthymemory Blog, this is a problem with technical transactive memory. Technical transactive memory does not decay or transform, in contrast to human transactive memory that does decay and is modified every time it tried to recall something. People complain about what they forget. Although it is certainly true that we forget information that we want and sometimes need to recall, much forgetting is adaptive. This is especially true to relations with our fellow humans. Hurtful and embarrassing items are forgotten. This forgetting makes it much easier to forgive and forget.

It is very important to remember this when sending something into cyberspace. It could lead to embarrassing and possibly indictable information becoming public. It could reunion friendships and create new enemies. Now who needs more enemies? Unfortunately, technology frequently has the opposite effect. When there is a computer between people and the target of their animosity, sometimes the vitriol is unfortunately increased. This is what happens in flaming.

We should think and behave carefully when sending anything into cyberspace, remembering that it is literally “for keeps.” So to avoid losing friends, gaining enemies, or being indicted, be careful and circumspect about what you send to cyberspace!

1Meyer-Schoenberger, V. (2012). Washington Post, B2, Sunday November 25, B2.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Memory in Old Age: Different from Memory in the Young?

November 18, 2012

This blog post was motivated by an article in Scientific American Mind, “Memory in Old Age: Not a Lost Cause.”1 The article notes that older people retain their vocabulary, their knowledge about the world, how to perform routine tasks, but become worse at recalling recent events, short-term memory, and prospective memory (remembering to do things). While all this is correct, it is also the case that memory failures in older people are attributed to their age. They are referred to as senior moments and are sometime taken as warnings of incipient Alzheimer’s Disease. It should be remembered that memory failures are common at all ages and that while there is some decline in memory, not all memory failures in the elderly are attributable to aging.

The article provides techniques for remedying and mitigating these losses. They describe a variety of mnemonic techniques, which has its own category of posts in this blog, and external aids, which are referred to in this blog as transactive memory. These techniques are thoroughly covered in the Healthymemory Blog. You can also do a search on Prospective Memory. Of special relevance is the Healthymemory Blog post, “Prospective Memory and Technology.” The Scientific American Mind article also mentions the importance of physical and cognitive activity, recommendations you will also find in the Healthymemory Blog. The beneficial effects of nature, meditation, and social engagement were omitted from the Mind article, but are topics found in the Healthymemory Blog.

What strikes me is that these techniques benefit everyone, not just elderly. We should not wait until we reach old age, start becoming sensitized to our memory failures, fearful of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, before using these techniques and improving our memories and cognitive performance. These techniques should be introduced, as appropriate, beginning at home and in pre-school, throughout our formal education, and be part of a process of lifetime learning.

Most everyone has become knowledgeable and fearful of the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles of Alzheimer’s. A final diagnosis of Alzheimer’s awaits an autopsy confirming the presence of these plaques and tangles. What is not well known is that their have been autopsies of cadavers whose brains had these amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, but who had not exhibited any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s while they were living. The explanation for this finding is that these people had built up a cognitive reserve that enabled them to overcome these physical manifestations of Alzheimer’s. So whatever your age, if you have not started yet, START BUILDING YOUR COGNITIVE RESERVE!

1Arkowitz, H. , & Lilienfeld, S.O., (2012). Memory in Old Age: Not a Lost Cause, Scientific American Mind, November/December, 72-73.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Truth Decay

November 11, 2012

Truth Decay is the title of an intriguing and important article in the New Scientist.1 The author writes that when his grandfather was in dental school he learned that there were 48 chromosomes in a human cell. This was regarded as an established fact. But in 1956 Joe Hin Tjio and Albert Levan discovered using an improved and more accurate technique that there were only 46 chromosomes in a human cell.

It is the nature of science that facts change. Scientometrics is the field that studies how these facts change. The rate of change will likely surprise you. Thierry Poynard and his colleagues measured the churning of facts in two medical fields in which they specialized. Cirrhosis and hepatitis are two liver diseases. They took almost 500 articles in these fields from over a period of 50 years and gave them to a panel of experts to review. Each expert needed to rate each paper as to whether it was factual, out-of-date, or disproved.2 They discovered that 45 years after publication, 50% of journal articles had effectively decayed. They concluded that these articles had a 45 year “half-life.” Another study came to the same conclusion in a review of studies on surgery.3

The above studies were extremely pain-staking to conduct, so another method is used, and that is how long it takes for researchers to stop citing the average paper in the field. This technique is not as good as the failure to cite a paper does not necessarily indicate that the findings of the paper are no longer true. It could be that there are more recent and up to date papers, or that the journal’s focus has moved on to other topics. Nevertheless, this technique does provide an approximation. A study of Physical Review journals found that the half-life in physics is about 10 years.4 Half-lives also vary as a function of publication formats for different fields. In a study of scholarly books, physics has a different half-life (13.7 years), economics (9.4 years), which is longer than half lives of mathematics, psychology, and history.5 However, in journal articles, as opposed to scholarly books, the frontiers of hard science are overturned more rapidly than the frontiers of the social sciences.

The estimates of half lives and the rates of turn over in different publications and in different fields, although interesting, are not the main point here. The main point is that facts change and they change rapidly. For many years the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) was strongly recommended for all men over a certain age. Now it is only recommended for high risk groups and even then, only after consulting with their physician. I have been through many different ideal food groups in my life. At one time dairy products were supposed to be nature’s most perfect food. At another time the US had four basic food groups. Then there was a food pyramid that underwent multiple changes. Now there are five food groups. Advice on the consumption of fatty foods, carbohydrates and many other things change.

The purpose of this blog post is not to discredit science. At any given time, science provides the best facts for that time. But science is in constant flux, and what is factual today might not be factual at some future date. So remember that some of what you learned during your formal education might not be true today. This underscores the importance of lifelong learning, and lifelong learning fosters healthy memories.

1Arbesman, S. (2012). Truth Decay. New Scientist, 22 September, 37-39.

2Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol 136, p.888).

3The Lancet, vol 350, p.1752.

4Arxiv.org/abs/physics/0407137.

5College and Research Libraries, vol 69, p 356.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Could We Lose What Is in Cyberspace?

September 30, 2012

The preceding healthymemory blog post addressed the vast amount of information in cyberspace. Could we lose these information? An article in the Economist addressed this question.1

The task appears to be enormous. Consider the vast amounts of data discussed in the preceding post that is constantly changing and growing. Could it end up like the famed Library of Alexandria that was built in the 3rd century BC that is reputed to have every copy of every book in the world at that time? I suspect that this statement betrays a characteristic western bias. If the Library of Alexandria had a counterpart in the far east or books from the far east, please comment. Nevertheless, the Library of Alexandria was a tremendous repository of knowledge that burned to the ground sometime between Julius Caesar’s conquest of Egypt in 48 BC and the Muslim invasion in 640 AD. It is believed by some historians that the loss of the Alexandria library along with the dissolution of its community of scribes and scholars created the conditions for the Dark Ages.

Of course, it is possible that a nuclear holocaust or some astronomical event could cause the loss of cyberspace and a descent into another Dark Age. However, absent such a cataclysm the infrastructure is already in place for the historical recording and saving of cyberspace. The Internet Archive, http://archive.org/ is a free internet library capable of storing a copy of every web page of every website ever on line. The Wayback Machine, http://archive.org/web/web.php, allows users to view the library’s archived web pages as they appeared when published. The Open Library, http://openlibrary.org/, is working to provide a web page for every book in existence. They are offering 1,000,000 free e-book titles for downloading. Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/, offers 40,000 e-books that can be downloaded for free in any of the popular e-reader formats.

Cyberspace also provides a means of leaving memorials that will long outlast us and will possibly be used by historians and a wide range of scholars far into the future. A couple of healthymemory blog posts discussed this new type of memorial, “Transactive Memory and the Dearly Departed,” and “Online Memorials.” I hope to leave memorials like this for both my wife, who is a talented artist, and myself. I hope I’ll be able to justify my having walked the earth, but that is a tall order. I need to get to work!

1(2012). Lost in Cyberspace, The Economist Technical Quarterly, September 1, p.11.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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 Much Information Is There and What Does It Mean?

September 27, 2012

A recent article by Martin Hilbert was published in the Big Data Special Issue of the publication Significance: statistics making sense titled “How Much Information Is There in the Information Society”? Hilbert together with his collaborator Priscila Lopez tackled the task of estimating the world’s technological capacity to store, communicate, and compute information over the period from 1986 to 2007/2012. The complete collection of these studies can be accessed free of charge at

http://martinhilbert.net/WorldInfoCapacity.html

In 1949 the father of information theory, Claude E. Shannon, estimated that the largest information stockpile he could think of was the Library of Congress with about 12,500 megabytes (106). The current estimate for the amount of storage for the Library of Congress has grown to a terabyte 1012. During the two decades of their study the amount of information quadrupled from 432 exabytes (1018) to 1.9 zetabytes (1021). For our personal and business computation we are familiar with gigabytes (109). Next are terabytes (1012), then petabytes (1015), the aforementioned exabytes, and zetabytes. Yottabytes (1024) await us in the future.

Although these are measures of information in the technical sense, I prefer to think of them as data. I think of information in technical transactive memory as data. When it is perceived by a human it becomes information. When it is further processed into the human information processing system, it becomes knowledge. Suppose we all disappeared and the machines kept remembering and processing. What would that be? Perhaps sometime in the future machines will become intelligent enough to function on their own. There is a movie, Colossus: the Forbin Project in which intelligent machines take over the world because they have concluded that humans are not intelligent enough to govern. Then there is Ray Kurzwiel‘s concept of the Singularity, when humans and technology become one. However, coming back to reality, I think there would just be machines storing and processing information absent true knowledge. We need to use technology to help us cope with all these data and fortunately according to Hilbert computation is grown at a faster rate than storage.

Hilbert makes some interesting comparisons between technical processing and storage of information and biological processing and storage of information. In 2007, the DNA of the 60 trillion cells of one single human body would have stored more information than all of our technological devices together. He notes that in both cases information is highly redundant. One hundred human brains can roughly execute as many nerve pulses as our general purpose computers can execute instructions per second. Hilbert asks the question why we currently spend 3.5 trillion dollars per year on our information and communication technology but less than $50 dollars per year on the education of many children in Africa? I think what he is proposing is that we not lose sight of human potential. Although our brains and DNA have phenomenal processing and storage capacities, we only have access to a very small percentage of this information in our conscious awareness. The healthymemory blog makes a distinction among potential transactive memory, available transactive memory, and accessible transactive memory. Potential transactive memory is all the information about which Hilbert writes as well as information held by our fellow humans. Available transactive memory is that information we are able to find. And accessible transactive memory is that information we are able to access readily. The goal is that this accessible transactive memory grows into knowledge, understanding, and insight, as it is in these final stages where its true value is realized.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Can Social Networking Make It Easier to Solve Real-World Problems?

September 23, 2012

An article in The Economist1 raised this question. According to an article in 2011, Facebook analysed 72 million users of its social networking site and found that an average of 4.7 hops could link any two of them via mutual friends. This is even less that the Six Degrees of Separation popularized by John Guare in his play by the same name.

In the United States the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) staged the Red Balloon Challenge in 2009. It was trying to determine how quickly and efficiently information could be gathered using social media. Competitors were to race to find ten red weather balloons that had been tethered at random locations throughout the United States for a $40,000 prize. MIT had the winning team that found all ten balloons in nine hours using the following incentive-based system to encourage participation. The first person to send the correct coordinates of a balloon received $2,000. Whoever recruited that person received $1,000, and the recruiters recruiter received $500, and so forth and so forth.

DARPA staged a new challenge this year, the Tag Challenge. This time the goal was to locate and photograph five people each wearing unique T-shirts in five named cities across two continents. All five had to be identified within 12 hours from nothing more than a mugshot. The prize fund was $5,000. This time none of the teams managed to find all five targets. However, one team with members from MIT,the universities of Edinburgh and Southampton, and the University of California at San Diego did manage to fine three, one in each of the following cities, New York, Washington DC, and Bratislava. This team had a website and a mobile app to make it easier to report findings and to recruit people. Each finder was offered $500 and whoever recruited the finder $100. So anyone who did not know anyone in one of the target cities had no incentive to recruit someone who did. The team promoted itself on Facebook and Twitter. Nevertheless, most participants just used conventional email. It was conjectured that in the future smart phones might have an app that can query people all over the world, who can then steer the query towards people with the right information.

To return to the title of this post, Can Social Networking Make It Easier to Solve Real-World Problems, I would conclude, if the social problem involves finding someone or something, the answer would be yes. But I think that real-world problems typically involve collaboration of diverse people. In this respect one might argue that social media are actually a detriment to solving real world problems. Social media are good at bringing people of like minds together about something. If what is needed is collaboration among people of diverse opinions, this would not seem productive, and might very likely be counterproductive.

However, there still might be solutions using technology. Wikis provide a useful tool for collaboration. Another approach would having people of relevant, but diverse perspective could interact with each other anonymously using computers. Physical cues and identities would be absent. This would negate or minimize ego or group involvement and would be an exchange of information and ideas with the goal of arriving at a viable consensus. The number of people who can collaborate at a given time appears to be a constraint.

1Six Degrees of Mobilization, The Economist Technology Quarterly, September 2012, p.8.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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 Labor Day: Why Are We Working So Hard?

September 2, 2012

For Labor Day I think it is appropriate to repost “Why, With All This Technology Are We Working So Hard?”

When I was in elementary school the predictions were that due to technology we would have much more leisure time in the future. I’ll remind you that at this time it was highly unusual for married mothers to be working. In my view some of the technological achievements, particularly in computing and in broadband, have vastly exceeded these predictions. So I ask you, why are we working so hard? We’re working much harder than when I was in elementary school.

I would ask further what, exactly, are we producing? Suppose only those who provided the essentials for living and for safety went to work? What percentage of the working population would that be? Make your own guess, but mine would be less than 10%. So what is going on here?

Currently we are working hard to achieve an unemployment rate at or below 5%. We are finding that exceedingly hard to achieve. But should we be? Remember that the previous two occasions when the employment rate was at or below 5%, the economic prosperity was bogus. There was the dot com bogus, when people expected to become rich via the internet, only the path to these riches remained unspecified. Then there was the bogus finance/real estate boom where riches were created via bogus and unsubstantiated financial instruments. So why, absent some other fictitious basis for a boom, do we expect to get back to 5% unemployment?

To examine the question of why we are working so hard, I present the results of the following study.1 It found that being poor, is bad. Of course, this finding is not surprising. The surprising finding is that a household income of $75,000.00 represented a satiation level beyond which experienced well being no longer increased. And this was in high cost living areas. In other areas the number would be lower. And this was for experienced well being. Emotional well being might have carried additional therapeutic costs. So it is clear that we are working more for no real benefit. Why?

One reason might be the that the economic theorists who currently formulate policy are classical economists using the rational theory of man. Behavioral economists have debunked this theory. Moreover, computing GNP in terms of hard dollars might smack of objectivity, but reminds one of the drunk who is looking for his car keys under the streetlamp rather than in the dimly illuminated part of the parking lot where he dropped his keys. Economic measures should include such subjective, but relevant, measures as happiness and life satisfaction.

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

You also might visit or revisit the Healthymemory Blog post “Gross National Happiness (GNU).

1Kahneman, D., & Angus, D. (2010). High Income Improves the Evaluation of Life but Not Emotional Well Being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, 16489-93

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Solutions to the Excessive Cost of a Higher Education

August 22, 2012

This is a slight revision to an earlier post. It is thought that this post is especially relevant at a time when people are dealing with extraordinarily excessive tuition costs and excesive textbook costs.

When I attended college, the costs were affordable. Indeed, the tuition at some outstanding universities was free. Somehow the cost of a higher education has grossly escalated. Graduates end up with a ridiculous debt burden to begin their careers. And some cannot even begin their careers because they cannot find jobs!

How has this happened? Most public universities have undergone significant reductions from their respective governments. This is unfortunate. The most valuable resource of any nation is its people. And the failure of governments to underwrite the costs of higher education to leverage this potential is inexcusable. At the end of World War II the United States had incurred severe debts, yet it underwrote the large expense of the GI Bill that allowed millions of returning GIs to earn college degrees. I believe that the high growth of the United States after World War II was due in large part to the GI Bill. Any candidate arguing that this government support cannot be afforded due to debt is exhibiting a severe myopia that puts the country at risk.

Even so, these reductions do not account for all of the increased costs. And why the large increases at private universities?

Given the advances in technology, costs should have decreased, not increased. Textbooks should be available in pdf and electronic formats. Classes can be delivered over the internet resulting in very large economies of scale. Students, their spouses and parents, should not put up with this and should demand change.

Some esteemed universities are making public, via the internet, their course materials. The internet offers vast resources for learning. The opportunities for the autodidact are manifold. The problem is that although educational materials are readily available, the coin of the realm is the degree. These need to be offered by accredited colleges, and that costs money. The term diploma mill is pejorative and connotes certain types of colleges, but, in truth, all colleges are fundamentally diploma mills. They are in the business of selling diplomas.

Here is my proposal. We need a testing organization offering something like a GED for the different degree levels, but without the stigma of a GED. For example, lawyers have their bar tests, accountants have tests to become CPAs. The Graduate Record Examination offers advanced subject tests for virtually all college majors. We need accredited testing organizations to develop and administer these tests. Colleges might do this. In addition to hours completed, degrees could be offered on the basis of proficiency tests. Although tests would be involved, autodidacts would be rewarded for their efforts in providing their own education.

In my career I have encountered many individuals who have college degrees, but I still find it hard to believe that they have college degrees. Similarly I have encountered some individuals who have not attended college, and I find it difficult to believe that they have not attended college. I am not arguing that attending college is not a worthwhile activity. Rather, I am saying that it is not necessary to have attended college to manifest the benefits of a college education. It is what someone knows, and how well they communicate and think that is essential. I believe it was Robert Frost who said, “College is just a second chance to read the books you should have read in high school.” Should this be a misquote, please comment and correct me.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

iPads for Those Suffering from Dementia

August 4, 2012

When I was looking for an assisted living facility for my Mom, I found A Place for Mom to be quite helpful. The following post is taken from the Blog on the A Place for Mom Website, http://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/9-reasons-why-ipads-are-good-for-memory-care-residents/

According to the post the director of the Health Central Park Nursing Home, Judy Skelton, “It came to us as a happy accident. What started out as one resident’s curiosity turned into something that is helping them spell, track items, make choices and read words. It’s amazing.” Mice and other control devices sometimes present problems for elders, but they find the touch pad technology easy to use, and, what I found somewhat surprising, easy to navigate. Here are nine reasons why iPads enhance the lives of seniors:

1. They’re lightweight and carry like a book.

2. They interact with residents, provide excitement and open-up a new means of communication to those who can’t express themselves in the way they desire.

3. They can monitor an elderly person’s movements, habits, temperature in their home and remind them when to take their pills.

4. Their music and music library options help to trigger memories of the past through songs of their youth and family years.

5. They encourage socialization among residents with their games, varying apps, reading and Internet search features.

6. There are apps to help encourage mobility. For example, one app shows videos of animated figures performing activities of daily living such as climbing stairs. This help patients picture themselves doing these tasks, and even mimic the behaviors.

7. Computer access allows residents more frequent contact with their children and grandchildren of the Internet generation.

8. Email updates and downloaded photos are now pride of place in residents’ rooms.

9. They encourage residents to create simple graphics and pictures and exercise their creativity.

In short, they

help improve motor skills

provide memory stimulation and cognitive function

create a positive impact on the interaction of those with dementia

More formal studies are underway, but the initial informal studies are quite positive.

Progress Making Higher Education More Affordable

July 22, 2012

I was heartened by a short piece in Newsweek1 that addressed some concerns I raised in the Healthymemory Blog Post, “A Solution to the Excessive Cost of a Higher Education.” According the the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the costs of a higher education have skyrocketed 450 percent in the past 25 years. As I argued in my blog post, the proper use of technology should have decreased, not increased, the costs of a higher education.

Apparently, two professors of computer science at Stanford University, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng agree. They believe that the Internet should allow millions of people to receive first-class educations at little or no cost. They have launched Coursera, www.coursear.org, to make courses from first rate universities online at no charge to anyone. They offer full courses to include homework assignments, examinations, and grades. Go to the website to view the wide range of course offerings. It is worthwhile to note, that professors are not paid. So kudos to these professors who place education first and realize the potential of the Internet.

Ng and Koller made a class available at no cost online. The class in machine learning drew more than 100,00 enrolled students, 13,000 of whom completed the course. This result impressed not only Ng and Koller, but also such venture-capital firms as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and New Enterprise Associates, which together have invested $16 million combined in Coursera.

Providing free education is one matter, but as was pointed out in the healthymemory blog post, the money comes from the granting of degrees. The following is taken from the Coursera Website.

“…This Letter of Completion, if provided to you, would be from Coursera and/or from the instructors. You acknowledge that the Letter of Completion, if provided to you, may not be affiliated with Coursera or any college or university. Further, Coursera offers the right to offer or not offer any such Letter of Completion for a class. You acknowledge that the Letter of Completion, and Coursera’s Online Courses, will not stand in the place of a course taken at an accredited institution, and do not convey academic credit. You acknowledge that neither the instructors of any Online Course nor the associated Participating Institutions will be involved in any attempts to get the course recognized by any educational or accredited institution. The format of the Letter of Completion will be determined at the discretion of Coursera and the instructors, and may vary by class in terms of formatting, e.g., whether or not it reports your detailed scores or grades in the class, and in other ways.”

In my view they are not addressing this issue in a satisfactory manner. Some ideas regarding how to do so are offered in the healthymemory blog post.

1Lyons, D/ (2012). Cheaper Than Harvard: An Ivy League Education Online—For Free. Newsweek, 14 May, p.13.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Searching for and Evaluating Scholarly Articles

July 18, 2012

 If you are looking for scholarly articles on a topic, Google has a dedicated search engine, www.scholar.google.com. You can set up alerts to learn of new articles on topics or authors of interest. Although one can expect and will usually receive, higher quality information from authors extremely knowledgeable in their respective areas of interest, there are certain realities that should be understood. Refereed articles are articles that have been reviewed by several authors knowledgeable in the topic prior to publication. Prior to the internet era this refereeing was needed because paper publication was costly and journals needed to be selective. Typically, there were large delays between the submission of the article, its acceptance, and its eventual publication. There were also journals that did not use referees, that would publish articles for a fee.

With the advent of the internet, the cost of publishing articles and the time to publish articles have been drastically reduced. Yet the archaic artifacts from the print era persist. An author can disseminate an article as soon as she deems it worthy. Why delay the dissemination of information? Some argue that refereeing is still necessary. I’ve participated in this review process both as an author and also as a reviewer. I’ve had articles accepted, and I’ve had articles that I thought worthy that were rejected, but subsequently published by another journal and another review process. As a reviewer I’ve seen articles that I thought worthy of publication be rejected. I’ve also seen articles accepted that, while adequately done, made a questionable contribution to substantive knowledge. Published statistics on the review process are not impressive. Statistics on agreement among reviewers have typically been low. There is also a bar that the editor needs to set to assure that accepted articles have enough allowable pages to accommodate them. I find it odd that academics tend to be impressed by high rejection rates rather than forlorn about research that has gone unpublished. Academics also are keen on refereed journals. Personally, I can quickly ascertain whether an article is worth my time and I don’t need some reviewers editing or censoring the information that is available to me. I think one of the primary reasons academics are keen on refereed journals is that they can use the number of publications in refereed journals in making decision about whom should be awarded tenure. Otherwise, they might actually have to read articles written by tenure candidates.

I see little justification for the traditional institutions for publication. Research can be disseminated quickly via the internet and judgments made regarding the value of the research and on whether it should be ignored or put to good use. The problem is that big moneyed interests are involved. They are the publishers and the professional associations that sell publications. Typically authors and reviewers are not paid. Their efforts are pro bono. The editor might be given an honorarium, but the amounts of small. But the journals and professional books are expensive. And there is no need for them to be. They provide little of added value.

I am able to get online access to journals published by the professional organizations to which I belong for nominal rates. Others are typically quite expensive, as I’m sure some of you can attest. There is a quality online journal that anyone can access for free, PloS 1, Public Library of Science, www.plusone.org.Moreover, this is a referred journal. We should be able to access any research done with taxpayer support online for free. And I, personally, would be willing to forgo the referring requirement.

You should also be wary of biases in different academic disciplines. I’ll provide a couple of examples from my discipline, psychology. When I was a graduate student, there was a large controversy as to whether humans could learn to control their own autonomic processes, heart rate for example. Now it was well known and well documented that Buddhists proficient in meditation could do so. However, this did not constitute the appropriate evidence hard-nosed psychologists required. They wanted to see it done by some student fulfilling a course requirement in a one or two hour psychology experiment.

Shortly after I received my Ph.D and began working at the Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, I tried to replicate an experiment that I had read in the psychological literature. Although I was able to do so, I was only able to replicate the finding in the group that had General Technical (IQ) scores comparable to college students. The vast majority of reseach in cognitive psychology is based on research done with college students. Although one of the fundamental requirements for generalizing statistical results is that the population to which one is generalizing have been represented in the sample participating in the experiment. I have yet to see a finding in a psychology with the caveat that the results should be restricted to those representated in the statistical sample, college students, for example. I am a working statistician and I am constantly amazed how statistical requirements vary from discipline to discipline when the underlying statistics and their assumptions remain unchanged.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Commentary on Newseek’s Cover Story “iCrazy”

July 11, 2012

More specifically “iCRAZY: PANIC. DEPRESSION. PSYCHOSIS. HOW CONNECTION ADDICTION IS REWIRING OUR BRAINS” in the July 16, 2012 edition. The inside title is ‘IS THE ONSLAUGHT MAKING US CRAZY?” I have no quarrel with the research cited, nor with the thesis that there are problems that result from the manner in which people interact with technology. My problem is with the portrayal of humans as helpless victims of technology. Perhaps one can make an analogy with alcohol. Some users of alcohol become alcoholics while the majority of us are able to enjoy alcoholic beverages safely. However, a minority of users suffer from alcoholism. Where the analogy breaks down is in the relative benefits of alcohol and technology. The benefits of alcohol are personal enjoyment and, perhaps, some health benefits. However, the benefits of technology are so many orders of magnitude larger that the analogy breaks down. The Healthymemory Blog maintains that technology provides means of fostering cognitive growth and personal development as well as providing means of minimizing or eliminating the risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Most of the relevant Healthymemory Blog posts on this topic can be found under the category “Transactive Memory.”

I become infuriated whenever I read articles that portray humans as helpless victims of technology. The hype in the titles of the Newsweek activated my crap detector (see the Healthymemory Blog Post “Has the Internet Really Made the Assessment of the Reliability of Information More Difficult?”). If I may be given the liberty of distinguishing levels of “crap,” the reading of the Newsweek article raised the distinction from “garden variety” crap to “world class” crap.

We need to seize control of technology and use it to our benefit rather than to our detriment. The book Net Smart by Howard Rheingold provides good advice on how to do so. Indeed, the subtitle of the book is How to Thrive Online. See the Healthymemory Blog Post “Net Smart” for a review.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why, With All This Technology, Are We Working So Hard?

July 1, 2012

When I was in elementary school the predictions were that due to technology we would have much more leisure time in the future. I’ll remind you that at this time it was highly unusual for married mothers to be working. In my view some of the technological achievements, particularly in computing and in broadband, have vastly exceeded these predictions. So I ask you, why are we working so hard? We’re working much harder than when I was in elementary school.

I would ask further what, exactly, are we producing? Suppose only those who provided the essentials for living and for safety went to work? What percentage of the working population would that be? Make your own guess, but mine would be less than 10%. So what is going on here?

Currently we are working hard to achieve an unemployment rate at or below 5%. We are finding that exceedingly hard to achieve. But should we be? Remember that the previous two occasions when the employment rate was at or below 5%, the economic prosperity was bogus. There was the dot com bogus, when people expected to become rich via the internet, only the path to these riches remained unspecified. Then there was the bogus finance/real estate boom where riches were created via bogus and unsubstantiated financial instruments. So why, absent some other fictitious basis for a boom, do we expect to get back to 5% unemployment/

To examine the question of why we are working so hard, I present the results of the following study.1 It found that being poor, is bad. Of course, this finding is not surprising. The surprising finding is that a household income of $75,000.00 represented a satiation level beyond which experienced well being no longer increased. And this was in high cost living areas. In other areas the number would be lower. And this was for experienced well being. Emotional well being might have carried additional therapeutic costs. So it is clear that we are working more for no real benefit. Why?

One reason might be the that the economic theorists who currently formulate policy are classical economists using the rational theory of man. Behavioral economists have debunked this theory. Moreover, computing GNP in terms of hard dollars might smack of objectivity, but reminds one of the drunk who is looking for his car keys under the streetlamp rather than in the dimly illuminated part of the parking lot where he dropped his keys. Economic measures should include such subjective, but relevant, measures as happiness and life satisfaction.

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

1Kahneman, D., & Angus, D. (2010). High Income Improves the Evaluation of Life but Not Emotional Well Being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, 16489-93

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Has the Internet Really Made the Assessment of the Reliability of Information More Difficult?

June 24, 2012

This is a common complaint. Its justification seems simple enough. Anyone can place anything on the web. Prior to the web, some sort of vetting was involved before something went into print. The following is a quote from Ernest Hemingway cited in 1965: “Every man should have a built-in crap detector operating inside him.” Now this statement was made before the internet and Ernest Hemingway never experienced the internet. Unreliable or blatantly wrong information is nothing new. We’ve always had it with us. Perhaps one of the good effects of the internet is that it has sensitized us to be wary of the accuracy or reliability of information. Although it is true that the internet allows the communication of bad information to spread much faster, we also have more tools at our disposal to check the accuracy of information. For outright hoaxes there is www.hoax.com.

Rumors can usually be quickly checked out at www.snopes.com. The people sponsoring or running a website can usually be found by going to http://www.ip-address.org/tracer/ip-whois.php.

Usually the first step in looking for information about a topic is to go to www.wikipedia.org.

As this is a wiki, users can change information that they think is wrong. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that is vetted by its users. Moreover, it provides references to other sources, so people can bootstrap themselves regarding any topic. One should become aware of controversies and differing points of view. One source leads to another source and additional searches. The problem is that there is a cost in terms of time and attentional resources. How much time and attention one spends on a topic is a matter of individual choice. There is always more than can be learned and more that can be understood. Indeed, one can be easily exhausted just keeping up with new information.

One needs to estimate how well different topics are understood. One can be expert in very few, but have a glancing familiarity with many. This self-assessment can be difficult. My personal experience is that the longer I have lived, and hopefully learned, the more I am aware of my own ignorance. I felt much smarter when I graduated from high school than after I earned my Ph.D. Now after several more decades of learning and experience I am painfully aware of how little I knew when I first earned my Ph.D. compared to how much I know now. Yet, now I am even more painfully aware of how much I still don’t know. One of my favorite lines is from the play Da by Hugh Leonard. In a conversation between two academics, the elder responds to the statement by the younger that he is certain about his statement by saying something along the lines of, “after all my years of study and learning the only thing of which I am certain is that the incoming traffic in a public rest room always has the right of way.” So I am certain of nothing and try to weight my confidence in what I know in terms of my subjective probability of it being accurate. My personal interests and my assessment of the importance of the topic bear on how much more attention I will devote to the topic. Even if information is, as best as can be ascertained, correct at the moment, it could always change.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Net Smart

June 21, 2012

Net Smart: How to Thrive Online is a most welcome book by Howard Rheingold. A common theme for many articles and books is on the dangers the internet and its accompanying technologies. They argue that it is causing us to lose our ability to focus and concentrate on tasks; that technology is causing widespread attention deficit disorder. It is causing us to be isolated, connected with technology rather than our fellow humans. What I resent about these publications is that they make us seem like helpless victims of technology. This is not to deny that there are dangers that can result from the misuse of technology, but we can use them to our advantage so that we leverage technology to our own benefit rather than become helpless victims. Howard Rheingold informs us how to use technology to our benefit. In the lingo of the Healthymemory Blog, this is transactive memory. Transactive memory encompasses our fellow humans as well as technology. So does Rheingold’s approach to thriving online.

The first chapter is titled “Attention: How to Control Your Mind’s Most Powerful Instrument.” Many Healthymemory Blog Posts have addressed this topic (try entering “Attention” into the search box.). The first step involves harnessing our own attentional processes and becoming more mindful.

Chapter 2 is titled “Crap Detection 101: How to Find What You Need to Know, and How to Decide if It’s True.” A major criticism of the web is how to determined the veracity of stuff posted on the web. Actually this problem is not unique to the web, as this skill is needed for evaluating texts, newscasts, and statements by friends and acquaintances. A less well-recognized problem involves finding this good information. Search is a skill in itself that needs to be learned to benefit fully from the offerings on the web.

Chapter 3 is titled “Participation Power.” It provides guidance on how to be an active participant on the web and explains the benefits of this participation.

Chapter 4 is titled “Social-Digital Know How: The Arts and Sciences of Collective Intelligence.” This chapter explains how interactions with your fellow humans can produce collective intelligence that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Chapter 5 is titled “Social Has a Shape Why Networks Matter.” This chapter explains how networks function and why they are important.

Chapter 6 is titled “How (Using) the Web (Mindfully” Can Make Your Smarter.” This chapter echoes an ongoing theme of the Healthymemory Blog, that Transactive Memory can help you grow your intelligence and enhance your cognitive health.

I highly recommend Net Smart. Although some future posts will be based on this book, particularly those dealing with developing and enhancing your memory and cognition, there is no way I can come close to doing justice to Rheingold’s superb volume.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

A Solution to the Excessive Cost of a Higher Education

June 13, 2012

When I attended college, the costs were affordable. Indeed, the tuition at some outstanding universities was free. Somehow the cost of a higher education has grossly escalated. Graduates end up with a ridiculous debt burden to begin their careers. And some cannot even begin their careers because they cannot find jobs!

How has this happened? Most public universities have undergone significant reductions from their respective governments. Even so, these reductions do not account for all of the increased costs. And why the large increases at private universities?

Given the advances in technology, costs should have decreased, not increased. Texts should be available in pdf and electronic formats. Classes can be delivered over the internet resulting in very large economies of scale. Students, their spouses and parents, should not put up with this and should demand change.

Some esteemed universities are making public, via the internet, their course materials. The internet offers vast resources for learning. The opportunities for the autodidact are manifold. The problem is that although educational materials are readily available, the coin of the realm is the degree. These need to be offered by accredited colleges, and that costs money. The term diploma mill is pejorative and connotes certain types of colleges, but, in truth, all colleges are fundamentally diploma mills. They are in the business of selling diplomas.

Here is my proposal. We need a testing organization offering something like a GED for the different degree levels, but without the stigma of a GED. For example, lawyers have their bar tests, accountants have tests to become CPAs. The Graduate Record Examination offers advanced subject tests for virtually all college majors. We need accredited testing organizations to develop and administer these tests. Colleges might do this. In addition to hours completed, degrees could be offered on the basis of proficiency tests. Although tests would be involved, autodidacts would be rewarded for their efforts in providing their own education.

In my career I have encountered many individuals who have college degrees, but I still find it hard to believe that they have college degrees. Similarly I have encountered some individuals who have not attended college, and I find it difficult to believe that they have not attended college. I am not arguing that attending college is not a worthwhile activity. Rather, I am saying that it is not necessary to have attended college to manifest the benefits of a college education. It is what someone knows, and how well they communicate and think that is essential. I believe it was Robert Frost who said, “College is just a second chance to read the books you should have read in high school.” Should this be a misquote, please comment and correct me.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Healthymemory’s 300th Post

May 30, 2012

There will be a very short hiatus until post 301. Still, there should be plenty of interest here. The Healthymemory Blog is for anyone interested in the processes of human memory and in maintaining and growing a healthy memory. As someone on the leading edge of the baby boomers, I think that this is one demographic group that should be especially interested. The three main categories are Human Memory: Theory and Data, Mnemonic Techniques, and Transactive Memory. Human Memory: Theory and data includes posts about memory experiments and theories about memory and related cognitive processes. Mnemonic Techniques includes posts about classic memory techniques, as well retrieval strategies and study techniques. Different meditation practices are also included here as they have beneficial effects on memory. Transactive Memory includes posts about how technology and interactions with your fellow humans can not only help in maintaining a healthy memory, but also how to grow your memory and enhance your life.

Interested in a specific topic. Try using the search box. Enter “retrieval” and see what you get.

Enter “dreaming” and see what you get. Enter “cognitive exercise.” Baby Boomers, try entering “retirement.”

Enjoy, and maintain and grow your memories.

Am I An Old Fuddy Duddy?

May 27, 2012

Personally, I am very large on technology. In my view, technology, properly developed and applied, can leverage human potential. That is one of the underlying views of the Healthymemory Blog, that technology can grow and enhance human potential (see the “Transactive Memory” category). Some of my primary interests and supposed areas of expertise are in human factors and engineering psychology. These areas are concerned with the interactions of humans with technology and in how technology can be designed so it can achieve maximum use. Had anyone asked me many years ago if hand held devices would become popular, I would have opined that they would not, because the keyboards and displays would be way too small. It’s a good thing that no one ever asked me!

I am thrilled by certain types of technology. Email is one of my favorites. In my world, there is no protocol involving email other than not to spam or otherwise annoy people with messages that are not of interest to them. So they can be short or long and can be sent at anytime. You do not have to be concerned about the time, because the recipient can view them at leisure. When you send an email there can be no question of what you wrote and when sent it. Of course, there is no guarantee that the recipient either read or understood your message. A few years ago I learned from a young lady that my protocol was out of date. If a message was short, email was inappropriate, whereas a text message was. I still do not understand why there was a need to complicate matters.

I don’t understand texting. I never text and I never read texts. When I receive a text message on my phone that I have received x number of text messages and asked if I want to read them now, I invariably respond “no.” These messages will never be read. I find inputting a text to be a nuisance. If time is of the essence, then I’ll phone. Otherwise, I much prefer waiting until I can get to a computer with a decent keyboard to texting.

So I have admitted to having a mobile phone. And I do like them, but mostly when I’m traveling. They most definitely should not be used when we are driving (see the Healthymemory Blog post “Phoning and Driving is as Dangerous as Drinking and Driving”), but I must confess to using the phone briefly while driving in certain situations. Although I have a mobile phone, it is not one of the smart ones. It is a rare circumstance when I have not gathered all the information I need before leaving my residence to go or do something. I was awarded one of those navigation devices for so many years of service with my company, but I have not installed it and my wife has no interest in my installing it. I like to have my directions in advance, with an accompanying map in the event that things go wrong. I don’t like getting my directions on the fly, particularly in the dynamic (or more accurately, chaotic) traffic in which I usually drive. Perhaps I am adapting to a diminished ability to multitask as I age. But even with a younger person at the wheel, I am not comfortable as a passenger when the driver is consulting the navigation gizmo in rapidly changing traffic. I suspect that some traffic accidents occur as a result of drivers interacting with their navigation devices.

There is a popular notion that due to the prevalence of all these devices, the brains of young people have been rewired for multitasking. Although young people might be more prone to multitasking, they do pay a cognitive cost (see the Healthymemory Blog post, “The Dangers of Multitasking”). It is important to realize that we are very poor at gauging our ability to multitask. There is an inverse relationship between the perceived ability to multitask and actual multitasking performance. So the unfortunate tendency is that those who are poorest at it, tend to do more of it.

To return to the title of this post, “Am I An Old Fuddy Duddy?” Am I missing out on technology that is of potential value to me? Or am I adapting my use of technology to my waning attentional abilities? Please enter your comments, recommendations, and advice.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

What is the Analogy Between Mental and Physical Exercise?

March 28, 2012

There is a clear analogy between mental, or cognitive, exercise and physical exercise. Athletes will engage in mental exercise that benefits their physical performance. So ice skaters and gymnasts will mentally rehearse their routines. Divers will run through their dives in their mind. Batters might imagine hitting that hanging curve ball out of the park. Physical exercise can enlarge your hippocampus (See the Healthymemory Blog Post, “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus”. The mental demands of memorizing and navigating all the streets of London enlarges the hippocampus of apprentice London cab drivers preparing for their licensing exam.

So both cognitive and physical exercise assist in keeping and enhancing a healthy memory. A modern society provides many devices that keep us from doing physical exercise, so some people decide to by pass these devices and walk to the store and climb the stairs to derive the benefits of physical exercise.

Similarly, there are many devices that help us avoid cognitive exercise. Spell checkers were discussed in the immediately preceding blog post. But we can rely on digital devices to relieve our memories of needing to remember phone numbers, addresses, or appointments. We can look up information as needed on the internet. So our cognitive demands have been reduced substantially analogous to our physical demands.

So why not consider eschewing some of this technology to afford cognitive exercise similar to taking the stairs rather than the elevator, or walking rather than driving to some destination? Use your personal memory rather than transactive memory. You will find a host of techniques for remembering information under the Healthymemory Blog category “Mnemonic Techniques.” There are also free websites to help you master these techniques see

http://www.neuromod.org/ and http://www.thememorypage.net/. Still, for very important appointments I recommend that you use transactive memory as a backup and either write it down or enter it into your digital device! (See the Healthymemory Blog post, “An Embarrassing Failure of Transactive Memory,” and “Another Embarrassing Failure of Transactive Memory)

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Do We Still Need to Know How to Spell?

March 25, 2012

Well, we need to know how to spell enough to give the spell checkers something with which to work. But beyond that, do we really need to know how to spell? Can’t we rely upon transactive memory (technology)? We could, but there are reasons why we might not want to.

One of these reasons is for mental exercise. The neuroscientist Richard Restak provided these observations he made while watching a spelling bee.1 He noted the looks of effortful strain whenever they were asked words in which the pronunciation provides little information regarding their spelling. Words like that are difficult because the contestant must activate a different part of the brain in order to spell the word correctly. These words activate areas of the brain that process word meaning, such as the frontal and parietal lobes, which process printed text. Regular words preferentially activate part of the superior temporal lobe that is devoted toe spelling of words in which the sound corresponds closely with the letters.

You might think that you left these spelling bees behind when you left school. Be advised that there are spelling bees for adults. The National Adult Spelling Bee is held yearly in Long Beach, California (www.adultspellingbee.com). Dr. Restak contacted the winner of the 2007 winner of the National Adult Spelling Bee, Hal Prince. He wasn’t especially interested in words or spelling until his early fifties. Here is the explanation Prince provided about his methods: “First, I went through the dictionary recommended by the Bee page by page. I made a database of words for drilling and also made tests of the words for listening while commuting or running. I borrowed or bought every book about words that I could find and went through them to find words that looked interesting.”

When Dr. Restak asked Prince if he attributed his success to a “gift” for spelling, Prince responded,”While I think that I do have a facility for words and spelling, I suspect that it’s more like a top10 percent rather that a top .01 percent. Mostly, it’s just a matter of being interested in words and taking the time to study them.”

So spelling can provide mental exercise and contribute to brain and memory health. Is there any other reason? It can contribute to your understanding of etymology (the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time). This, in turn, can increase your understanding of English (or whatever language you’re spelling in) and increase your communication skills.

Searching for “Spelling Test Online” in your browser will provide a variety of possible resources.

1Restak, R. (2009). Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance. New York: Riverhead Books., p. 132.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Rewiring the Brain

February 29, 2012

Research1 has shown that the use of the internet can result in the rewiring of the brain. Four neuroscientists at UCLA recruited 24 people ranging in age from 55 to 76 who underwent brain imaging while they did internet tasks. Twelve participants were termed net naïve, meaning that they went online just once or twice a week. The remaining 12 participants were termed net savvy, meaning that they went online at least once a day. All participants performed two tasks while their brains were being scanned. In the traditional reading task they read text on the computer presented in the format of a book. In the internet task, they performed a Web search and read content displayed on a simulated web page.

Both groups exhibited basically the same brain activity performing the traditional reading task. They used areas of the brain connected to language, memory, and reading. During the internet task, the net naïve group exhibited the same pattern of brain activity. However, the net savvy group exhibited additional areas of brain activity. These were areas associated with decision making and complex reasoning. Moreover, the net savvy group exhibited more than twice as much brain activity as the net naïve group, 21,872 voxels to 8,642 voxels of brain scan.

Subsequent research indicated that after just five days of Web training after the initial experiment, naïve brains began to work as savvy ones. So this rewiring takes place fairly quickly.

Some might argue, that although this result might be impressive, what is its bearing on a healthy memory. I would refer you to the healthymemory blog post, “Computer Use and Cognition Across Adulthood,” which shows the correlation between computer use and a healthy memory.

1Jaffe, E. (2012). Rewired: Cognition in the Digital Age. Observer, 25,2, 16-20. A Publication of the Association for Psychological Science.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Transactive Memory for Cognitive and Artistic Growth

February 22, 2012

Transactive memory includes memories/information that are stored in technology. The technology can range from paper to Cyberspace. So this blob post provides some examples. Consider the following link

http://cliptank.com/PeopleofInfluencePainting.htm

You do not need to “Click to Start” to use the web page. Scroll up and down and left to right to see the picture. When you mouse over an individual picture, the name of the individual pictured should be displayed. (Sometimes it is not displayed, you can see it in the lower left updating of the URL.) Clicking on the picture will take you to a reference, usually in the Wikipedia, telling you about the individual. So this is a good test of how much you know. It is also a good vehicle for increasing your knowledge.

The social aspect of transactive memory, that is memories of your fellow humans, can be explored by using this website to play a game. You could draw cards or straws to determine the order of play. The first person would move the cursor just below an individual. The other players would try to name the person. Naming the person would win one point. Naming the person and saying something indicating that you know something about the individual would earn a second point. Turns would rotate, with each player trying to pick relatively obscure characters that the other(s) did not know. However, in all cases, missing the name, not knowing anything about the individual, or a correct answer, the name and the reference would be checked. So if no one recognized the individual, both would learn something. The game could go on until a certain number of points were reached, or a time limit was reached. This game could be extended to multiple players. Of course, the first to respond correctly would be the only one rewarded points.

For artistic growth, go to http://www.artcyclopedia.com/museums.html

There you can explore museums and masterpieces throughout the world.

There are also some websites for learning and developing proficiency in mnemonic techniques. One is www.NeuroMod.org. Click on the Human Memory Site. Then click on the “read more” link under your preferred language. You can open up an account and record and track your progress. Another site is www.Thememorypage.net. Both of these websites are free. In addition to increasing your ability to remember, these mnemonic techniques also provide cognitive exercise (See the healthymemory blog post, “How Using Mnemonic Techniques Exercise the Brain.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

Computer Use and Cognition Across Adulthood

February 19, 2012

The results of the first national population-based investigation of the association between computer activity and cognitive performance across adulthood has been published.1 This study involved a large national sample (N = 2,671) of adults ranging from 32 to 84 years old. Cognition was assessed by telephone with the Brief Test of Adult Cognition.2 Executive function was assessed with the Stop and Go Switch Task.3 Individuals who used the computer frequently scored significantly higher than those who seldom used the computer. The variables of age, sex, education, and health status were statistically controlled so this result maintained across all these variables. Greater computer use was also associated with better executive function on a task-switching test. Again this result held up across the basic cognitive and demographic variables. So computer activity is associated with good cognitive function and executive control across adulthood and into old age. Individuals with low intellectual ability benefited even more from computer use.

Unfortunately, computer usage declines across age. Of course, the personal computer is a relatively new technology, one that was not available earlier in the lifespans of many. It is hoped that this will be less of a problem in the future for those who have had access to computer technology throughout their lives. There are issues with perceptual and motor decline as we age, and computer technology needs to accommodate them. It is not surprising that that people with lower income and less education are less likely to use computers. It would be good to develop programs for these people that provide not only ready access to computers, but also to training in their use.

And if you have a computer, use it, don’t lose cognitive functioning or executive control. The internet provides a good vehicle for cognitive growth. It includes a vast amount of transactive memory. The computer also provides a good means of interacting with your fellow humans, although it should not be the exclusive means of interacting with fellow humans.

1Tun, P.A., & Lachman, M.E. (2010). The Association Between Computer Use and Cognition Across Adulthood: Use It So You Won’t Lose It? Psychology and Aging. 25, 560-568.

2Tun, P.A., & Lachman, M.E. (2006). Telephone Assessment of Cognitive Function in Adulthood: The Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone. Age and Ageing, 35, 629-632.

3Tun, P.A., & Lachman, M.E. (2008). Age Differences in Reaction Time in a National Telephone Sample of Adults: Task Complexity, Education, and Sex Matter. Developmental Psychology, 44, 1421-1429. doi:10.1037/a00128456

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

My Mom’s Gone

February 8, 2012

My Mom has just passed away. Although she made it into her 100th year, she did not make it to her 100th birthday. I was blessed with two fine parents. Our home had lots of love and lots of laughs. My Dad passed when he was 62. He was riding his bicycle when his heart went into fibrillation. He died all too young, and his passing was especially painful for me and my Mom. A number of years ago we moved my Mom to be close by us in an assisted living facility. Although I was not aware of it then, I believe that the onset of dementia had already occurred. Over the years she lost more and more of her memory and more and more of her cognitive functioning. This was very sad. We are largely what we are able to remember. I would search for family memories that she could recall and try to relive them, but over time fewer and fewer were accessible from her memory. Her physical health also declined and there were periodic stays in the hospital. At her last visit to the hospital, it was recommended that she be transitioned to hospice care, as there was no hope of recovery and the only prospect was prolonging her misery. I visited her daily knowing that I was watching her die. The hospice did what they legally could to reduce her discomfort, but it was clear that her existence was not a happy one. So although I am sad to lose my Mom, I am glad that her suffering is over.

I have thought and continue to think about how my Mom’s mental decline could have been prevented or at least mitigated. Professor Stine-Morrow has an interesting theory of cognitive aging1 (also see the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Memory and Aging”). She thinks that as we age, we deploy our attentional resources less since we have compiled so much information that we can cruise along and think less. Her theory fits nicely in to Nobel Lauerate Danile Kahneman’s Two System View of human cognition (see the reason Healthymemory Blog Post, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” and search on “Two System View” for more posts on the topic). System 1 is fast and requires little mental effort. System 2 is slow and requires mental effort, which can be significant depending on the nature of the thinking.

So the view is that as we age we can become mental couch potatoes. There is a hardening of the categories regarding what we know and what we are willing to consider. To continue the analogy with physical exercise, engaging in System 2 processing , while effortful, provides mental exercise. In turn, this mental exercise might ward off or mitigate cognitive decline. The goal of the Healthymemory Blog is not just to ward off or slow cognitive decline, but to foster cognitive growth throughout our lives.

One way of looking at the Healthymemory Blog is as a tool for fostering System 2 processing. It is hoped that the blog posts themselves foster System 2 processing. The Mnemonic Techniques category includes posts that are specific to improving memory performance. In addition to improving memory performance, these techniques can also provide cognitive exercise. The Transactive Memory category provides posts describing how technology and our fellow human beings can foster System 2 processing.

The Healthymemory Blog is dedicated to my Mom. I am sorry that I did not do more for her. I hope to atone by providing information that will assist myself and others not only in avoiding or mitigating cognitive decline, but also to foster cognitive growth throughout our lifespans.

There will be a brief hiatus in Healthymemory Blog posts. But I trust there is plenty here to foster your System 2 processing.

1Stine-Morrow, A. L. (2008).  The Dumbledore Hypothesis of Cognitive Aging.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 295-299.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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.

A Cognitive Safety Net

January 22, 2012

Prospective memory is the memory “to do” list, that is the memory to do things. A number of Healthymemory Blog posts have addressed failures of prospective memory, some which have been personally embarrassing (“An Embarrassing Failure of Prospective Memory, and “Another Embarrassing Failure of Prospective Memory”), and others that are quite tragic (“Prospective Memory and Technology”), such as leaving a child unattended for a day in a car and returning to find that the child has died. Atul Gawande is a surgeon who has addressed the problems of medical errors during surgery. These errors are documented in his book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Frightening numbers of surgical errors have been taking place every year without being systematically addressed. Dr. Gawande and his fellow researchers have addressed them and come up with a solution that markedly reduces these errors, but only if it is employed. That is the World Health Organization (WHO) safe surgery checklist.

The solution is the humble checklist. Unfortunately, the checklist is too humble, resulting in it being ignored by highly esteemed professionals, such as surgeons. The checklist encompasses both types of transactive memory. It is an external prompt, which can employ one of the simplest technologies, ink or graphite on paper. It also encompasses the social aspect of transactive memory, the memories of fellow human beings. Although checklists can be used by single individuals, it is also frequently used by duets or teams, with each party being responsible for different items on the checklist. For example, a surgical team will introduce themselves to each other and identify the portions of the checklist for which they are responsible. Gawande also gives a detailed account of how checklists were used by Captain “Sully” Sullenberger and his crew in safely landing their airliner in the East River.

It is clear that I need to get my personal house in order and start using checklists. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right is highly recommended. It is both entertaining and informative, although perhaps a bit scary in its documentation of medical errors. But reading this book could save your life if you inquire whether they are going to use the World Health Organization (WHO) safe surgery checklist during your surgery. This checklist can be found at

http://www.who.int/patientsafety/safesurgery/en/

As for checklist applications, searches indicate that a variety are available. If you have any experience with these APPS, please leave comments.

Words With Friends

January 18, 2012

Alec Baldwin is responsible for a large amount of publicity going to the word game Words With Friends, www.wordswithfriends.com. So the Healthymemory Blog does not want to miss the opportunity to say that Words With Friends exemplifies both types of transactive memory, technical and human. As the Healthymemory Blog advocates both types of transactive memory for fostering both memory and brain health, it seems that a few words are in order given the opportunity that Alec Baldwin’s inappropriate behavior has afforded.

The game itself fosters vocabulary building, activates brain circuits searching through memory for appropriate words, as well as strategic thinking. All of which contribute to a healthy memory. Add to this the interaction with your fellow players that in itself is beneficial to a healthy memory.

It would be interesting to see brain imaging studies during the playing of Words with Friends. I would envision a large degree of activation of the hippocampus, the associative cortex, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The competitive aspect of the game might activate the amygdala. I would also wager that glucose metabolism would increase during the playing of the game, but would gradually decrease during the playing of the game as proficiency was gained.

It should be understood that this blog post in no way endorses the behavior of Alex Baldwin, and when the flight attendant tells you to shut down the game, shut down the game.

For readers who might not be so technologically oriented, I would suggest that an older form of technology, a scrabble board, would provide similar benefits.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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 Google Effect and Transactive Memory

January 11, 2012

A brief piece1 in Scientific American Mind reports on some of the results of experiments done by Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow. In one of the experiments two groups of undergraduates were presented with trivia statements. One group was told that they could retrieve this information later on their computers, and the other group were told that they could not retrieve this information on the computer. The former group exhibited worse recall than the latter group. This finding should not surprise anyone. Sparrow said that this finding does not mean that the internet is dumbing us down. Rather we are adapting to an internet world.

Readers of the Healthymemory Blog should realize that relying on the internet is an example of transactive memory. When we can readily access the information on the internet, that is referred to as accessible transactive memory. When we need to search for information on the internet, then that is an example of available transactive memory. All the information that is resident on the internet is part of the vast amount of information in potential transactive memory.

I can imagine tests in the internet age allowing students to bring their computers to class and to access the internet while taking essay examination. The capacity to find and assemble this information into coherent essays should easily be accepted as a valid measure of understanding. It is understood that the essays should include references and links to references.

Still, there are dangers to relying too heavily on transactive memory. There is useful analogy here to physical exercise. Currently, there is technology available to allow some of us to avoid all physical exertion. Unfortunately, making heavy use of this technology can have adverse effects on physical health. Similarly, placing too heavy reliance on transactive memory might have adverse effects on brain health. There are also questions regarding epistemology, how do we know what we know. A reasonable assumption is that information that can be recalled from our personal memories is more deeply encoded and better understood, than information we need to look up in some external source. Too much reliance on transactive memory can led to us becoming familiar with a large amount of information, without having anything akin to mastery with any of it. Whenever we encounter new information we need to decide how well we need to know it. Transactive memory is a great convenience. Committing everything to personal memory would slow us down and limit the breadth of our knowledge. There is this tradeoff between breadth and depth of knowledge that needs careful consideration.

1Casselman, A. (2012). The Google Effect. Scientific American Mind, January/February, 7.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. 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 Holidays from Healthymemory Blog!

December 24, 2011

The Healthymemory Blog will be taking a brief hiatus until 2012. Although there will be no new posts until 2012, there are 258 posts for your perusal. As its name implies, the Healthymemory Blog is devoted to the promotion of healthy memories. Posts are divided into three categories:

Human memory includes relevant posts regarding how memory works, its strengths and failures, as well as factors and practices that benefit memory.

Mnemonic techniques includes relevant posts on techniques that not only improve recall, but also provide beneficial brain and cognitive exercise.

Transactive memory includes posts on how to interact with fellow humans and to best use technology to promote cognitive growth.

The overall objective is to promote cognitive health throughout our lives, and not to just reduce or stop cognitive decline, but to continue to grow mentally as we age.

The Adverse Effects of Social Isolation

October 23, 2011

Lonely people have a higher risk of everything from heart attacks to dementia, and from depression to death. However, people who are satisfied with their social lives sleep better, age more slowly and have more favorable responses to vaccines. John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, an expert on the effects of social isolation, says that curing loneliness is as good for your health as giving up smoking. Charles Raison of Emory University studies mind-body interactions agrees with Cacioppo. He has said, “It’s probably the most powerful behavioral finding in the world. People who have rich social lives and warm open relationships don’t get sick and they live longer.”1

Although it is true that some people who are lonely might not take good care of themselves, Cacioppo states that there are direct physiological mechanisms that are related to the effects of stress. Cacioppo has found that genes involved in cortisol signaling and the inflammatory response are up-regulated in lonely people and that immune cells important in fighting bacteria were more active too. His conjecture is that our bodies might have evolved so that in situations of perceived social isolation, they trigger branches of the immune system involved in would healing and bacterial infection. On the other hand, people in a group might favor the immune response for fighting viruses, which are more likely to be spread among people living in close contact.

It is important to note that these differences relate most strongly to how lonely people believe themselves to be, rather than to the actual size of their social network. Cacioppo thinks that our attitude to others is key here. Lonely people become overly sensitive to social threats and see other people as potentially dangerous. In a review of previous studies that he published last year, he found that disabusing lonely people of this attitude reduced loneliness more effective than giving people more opportunities for interaction, or teaching social skills.2

Only one or two close friends might suffice if you are satisfied with your social life. Problems arise when you feel lonely.3 In the jargon of the Healthymemory Blog, this is largely a matter of transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to shared memories and of the knowledge one has of other memories. These memories can form as a result of person-to-person interactions or via means of technology, such as the internet. It should be noted that having hundreds of friends on Facebook would not necessarily indicate that you are not lonely. “What is important is the quality rather than the quantity of these relationships. An evolutionary biologist, Robin Dunbar, came up with a number he modestly named, “Dunbar’s number.” He bases this number on the size of the human brain and its complexity. He calculates that the maximum number of relationships our brain can keep track of at one time to be about 150 . This number includes all degrees of relationships. This is the maximum number of relationships. The number of close, meaningful relationships is much smaller. He estimates that we have a core group of about five people with whom we speak frequently. I find this absolute number a tad small, but to be in the general ballpark. At the other extreme there are about 100 people with whom we speak about once a year. The 150 number is an absolutely maximum of people we can even generously consider as friends. So Facebook users who have friended several hundred friends have essentially rendered the term “friend” meaningless.” (From the Healthymemory Blog post, “Why is Facebook So Popular?”, also see the Healthymemory Blog post “How Many Friends are Too Many?”).

1From “Trust People” in Heal Thyself by Marchant, J. (2011), New Scientist., 27 August, p. 35.

2Cacipoppo, J. (2010). Annals of Behaviorl Medicine, 40, p. 218.

3This part of this post was based heavily on the article by Marchant in the first footnote above.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why Have Our Brains Shrunk?

October 12, 2011

According to an article1 in the New Scientist in the past 10,000 to 15,000 years the average size of the human brain compared to the human body has shrunk from 3 to 4 per cent. The question is why. One explanation for this shrinkage is that the brain has evolved to make better use of less gray and white matter. Some genetic studies suggest that our brain’s wiring is more efficient than it was in the past. However, another explanation is that this shrinkage is a sign of a slight decline in our cognitive abilities.

David Geary of the University of Missouri-Columbia believes that after complex societies developed, the less intelligent could survive on the backs of their more intelligent peers. Previously, the less intelligent would either have died or failed to mate. It appears that this decline might be continuing. Studies have found that the more intelligent people are, the fewer children they have. Today intellectual and economic success are not linked with larger families.

It is interesting to speculate whether this trend will continue or perhaps even accelerate given the widespread use of technology. Is this technology making us smarter by giving us greater access to computations and to external storage (transactive memory)? Or is it making us dumber due to our increasing reliance on technology? At one time multiplication tables needed to be memorized. Now the use of calculators is widespread. At one time more information needed to be committed to memory. Now it can be looked up.

There is even the suggestion that at some point we might no longer need our biological brains. Ray Kurzweil contends that there will be a singularity in the future when our biological brains are replaced by silicon brains (See the Healthymemory Blog Posts, “Are Our Memories Becoming Too Dependent on Technology,” “Achieving the Max in Technical Transactive Memory,’ and “Brain, Mind, and Body”). These questions are interesting to ponder.

1Robson, D. (2011). A brief history of the brain. New Scientist, 24 September, 40-45.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Is Texting Bad?

September 21, 2011

This post was motivated by an article in Newsweek1. According to a recent survey done by the National Endowment for the Arts, the proportion of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 who read a book not required at school or at work is now 50.7%. This is the lowest for any adult age group under 75. Twenty years ago this was 59%. The difference in reading ability between the 15 year-olds in the Shanghai district of China and those in the United States is as big as the gap between the U.S. and Serbia or Chile.

Another article2 reported that SAT reading scores had dropped to the lowest point in decades. Nationally the reading score for the Class of 2011was 497. Last year it was 500 and it was 530 in 1972, which was the last year for which these comparisons are possible. This article notes that more students are taking the test and this could account for some percentage of the loss.

Many variables are involved here. Texting is just one of them. Personally, I have difficulty understanding the popularity of texting. I don’t do it. I have a large number of text messages on my phone which are unread and which shall remain unread. The internet and the vast amount of information in cyberspace is another. Although there is much junk on the internet, there is also an enormous amount of useful information on substantive topics. I think the problem is that the junk is accessed much more frequently than the substantive content. By necessity, texting needs to be short. So, although it has the virtue of conciseness, it sacrifices depth and breadth. Moreover, I am led to believe that most of the content is trivial.

So there is much to be said about conventional books. Perhaps electronic books should be added. They also have the virtue of breadth and depth plus the added benefit of search functions, but I am not aware of any research on the topic. If you know of any such research, please point me to it.

I was amused by the recommendations made by the author of the Newsweek article. They were all from what is regarded as classical literature. I have nothing against the classics, but in today’s world to be a truly informed citizen, one needs to read books in both the natural and social sciences, mathematics and computing, business, economics, religion, and history, for perspective. Frankly, I find little time for fiction, but reading should also be done for recreational purposes. There is simply too much good to read. A healthy dosage of quality periodicals and newspapers is also needed.

1Ferguson, N. (2011). Newsweek, Texting Makes U Stupid. September 19, p. 11.

2Chandler, M.A. (2011). SAT reading scores drop to lowest point in decades, 14 September.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Alzheimer’s and Transactive Memory

September 7, 2011

According to the authors of The Myth of Alzheimer’s,technology and social interaction play an important role in mitigating its risk.1 Readers of the Healthymemory Blog should know that transactive memory includes the information stored in technological devices and in our fellow human beings. Hence transactive memory plays an important role in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Technology ranges from the simple book to the vast area of cyberspace. Dr. Whitehouse jokingly refers to the book as a multi-neurotransmitter lexical enhancement device. Both giving and receiving information from our fellow human beings is a healthy means of social interaction.

The remainder of this blog post lists online resources provided in The Myth of Alzheimer’s.

www.eldercare.gov provides information on community organizations offering programs that stimulate, thought, discussion, and personal connections.

www.themythofalzheimers.com is an online community that shares stories of dementia. The hope is that it will foster acknowledgment of the complexity and multiplicity of the many narratives of dementia and the stories of individual lives which make them up and that this will diminish the tyranny of dementia.

www.storycoprs.net records the life histories of elders and stores them in the Library of Congress.

www.duplexplanet.com is a site designed to portray the stories of elders who are in decline.

www.memorybridge.com is the site of an organization with a mission to foster intergenerational communication and facilitate relationships between younger persons and people with dementia

www.storycenter.org is the website of a nonprofit organization that assists young people and older adults in using tools of digital media to craft, record, share, and value stories of individuals and communities in ways that improve all our lives

www.elderssharethearts.org is a web site that affirms the role of elders as bearers of history and culture by using the power of the arts to transmit stories and life experiences throughout communities

www.alz.org is the website of the Alzheimer’s Association. There is a network of local chapters that provide education and support for people diagnosed with AD, their families, and caregivers. Chapters offer referrals to local resources and services, and sponsor support groups and educational programs. The site also offers online and print publications

http://adcs.ucsd.edu is the website of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS) which is the result of a cooperative agreement between the National Institute of Aging and the University of California at San Diego to advance the research in the development of drugs to treat AD

www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers is the website of the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center. It provides information on AD, caregiving, fact sheets and reports on research findings, a database of clinical trials, reading lists, and the Progress Report on Alzheimer’s Disease. It also provides referrals to local AD resources

www.caps4caregivers.org is the website for the Children of Aging Parents, a nonprofit organization that provides information and referrals for nursing homes, retirement communities, elder-law attorneys, adult-day-care centers, and state and county agencies. It also provides fact sheets on various topics, a bi-monthly newsletter, conferences and workshops, support group referrals and a speaker’s bureau

www.caregiver.org is the website for the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), a non-profit organizatin that offers support services for those caring for adults with AD, stroke, traumatic brain injuries, and other cognitive disorders. They also publish and Information Clearninghouse for FCA publications

www.nhpco.org is the website for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), a nonprofit organization working to enhance the quality of life for individuals who are terminally ill and advocating for people in the final stage of life. They provide information and referral to local hospice services. The provide information on many topics including how to evaluate hospice services

www.nia.nih.gov is the website for the governments lead agency for research on AD. It offers information on health and aging, including an Age Page series, and the NIA Exercise Kit, which countains and eighty page exercise guide

www.nlm.nih.gov is the website for the National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest medicl library with six million items (and growing), including books, journals, technical reports, manuscripts, microfilms, photographs, and images. A large searchable health informationo database of biomedical journals called MEDLINE/PubMed is accessible via the internet. A service called MEDLINEplus links the public to general information about AD and caregiving, plus many other sources of consumer health information. A searchable clinical trials database is located at

http://clinicaltrials.gov

www.wellspouse.org is the website of the Well Spouse Foundation, a nonprofit organizatin providing support to spouses and partners of the chronically ill and/or disabled. It maintains support groups, publishes a bimonthly newsletter, and helps organize letter writing program to help members deal with the effects of isolation.

1Whitehouse, P.J., & George, D. (2008). The Myth of Alzheimer’s. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gone to the Annual Meeting of the APA

August 3, 2011

APA stands for the American Psychological Association. I’ll be meeting friends and colleagues and attending presentations and symposia. I hope to bring back some interesting content for the Healthymemory Blog. There will be a brief hiatus in blog postings while I attend the meeting, assimilate the material, and decompress. Then, too, I need to produce the posts.

In my absence I would remind you that there is plenty of material already on the Healthymemory Blog for your perusal. There are more than 200 posts that provide information on human memory, mnemonic techniques, and transactive memory, which includes the memories of fellow humans and the wealth of information available via technology.

The objective of this blog is to promote brain and memory health, and to maintain and grow effective cognitive functioning. The primary audience for this blog are the baby boomers. I am at the leading edge of the baby boomers, so I have a great deal of personal interest in this topic. I hope, however, that the Healthymemory Blog has general interest. I find these topics fascinating and want to share them with others of all ages. Besides, we all need to be concerned about effective memories throughout our lives, not just when we are studying in school, or later in life when we are concerned about warding off dementia. Our memories define who we are, and they are key to both a successful and a fulfilling and enjoyable life.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Augmented Reality Glasses

July 31, 2011

An article1 describes the development of glasses that allow the wearer to read the emotions from the face being viewed. They are the result of research done by Rosalind Picard of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. The glasses use a vision algorithm to analyze 24 points on the face of the person being viewed. Head gestures and facial expressions (e.g., head tilt, lip part, pucker, smile, frown) are integrated over time to identify facial emotions (e.g., confused, agreeing, disagreeing, tinkering, concentrating, interested). These analyses are rolled up and portrayed as a traffic light system: red=negative, amber=neutral, green=positive. These are displayed on the glasses via an earpiece and LED traffic lights providing a summary of information about how the person you are talking to is responding. Eventually a full range of information could be displayed graphically, although its display would be challenging.

Unfortunately no data were providing regarding the performance of these glasses. Did they miss or misread cues? Perfect performance strains credulity, mine at least, so I would like to have seen some data. However, it does seem clear that the augmented glasses improved upon our normal unaugmented performance. They also used auditory inputs that use variations, in the pitch, tone, clip, and volume of the voice. These auditory inputs were recorded using in a small electronic badge that hangs around the neck. It was called the “jerk-o-meter.” This provided good feedback to users regarding whether they were being obnoxious or too self-effacing. They also provided good feedback to group performance regarding who was talking too much and who was being ignored.

The commercial world has expressed substantial interest in these devices. Some were interested in trying to identify units of speech that make a person sound more persuasive so that they could be taught to sales representatives to make them more persuasive. Research has also indicated that wearers retain some ability to read emotions after they removed the glasses.

Although the business case for this technology is clear, there are questions that should be raised regarding their general use. In our normal unaugmented state we can misread facial expressions. These misreadings can lead to problems in personal interactions. Would these augmentations increase our accuracy and enhance personal interactions or would we become too sensitive so that more tiffs broke out. Sometimes we do need to suppress the expression of our feelings to avoid offending people or precipitating an argument. These augmentations would make this suppression more difficult. There is much for careful considerations and discussion here.

1Adee, S. (2011). Your Seventh Sense. New Scientist, 2 July, 32-36.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Problem with Google Alerts

July 20, 2011

As I have a blog titled Healthymemory it should not be surprising that I have a Google Alert for the topic Healthy Memory. I find it both surprising and depressing that I receive so few alerts. I am even more depressed as most of these alerts are from hucksters hawking some new miracle product for solving all your memory problems. In the past, occasionally, but only occasionally, I would be alerted to one of my posts to the healthymemory blog. Now one might think that, given the title of my blog, I would receive an alert to all my posts. But that is not in the case. It is only in rare cases that I receive an alert. I have tried to determine what types of posts would provide me an alert. Although the title to my blog is the healthymemory blog, one might content that not all posts are directly on this target. But even posts that are clearly directly on the topic are typically missed. Nor are my posts that receive a high number of hits more likely to generate an alert.

Recently I did receive an alert for the post “Glial Cells and Alzheimer’s Disease.” Although this might have been regarded as good news, when I clicked on the link, it took me to the first page of the blog, to my most recent posting. To get to the actual article I would have needed to do some searching.

There is a serious problem here if one is looking for quality posts on a specific topic. It seems that the Golden Rule is at play here. He who pays the most money is the one who sees material returned in searches or alerts. Frequency is supposed to be the primary driver, although the specifics of Google’s search algorithms are a well kept secret. But it is clear from pop culture that frequency and quality are often at odds with each other.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why is Facebook So Popular?

July 10, 2011

I am definitely confused. No only is there an enormous number of individual users, but companies, societies, organizations, television programs, and many other entities also feel a necessity to establish a presence on Facebook. Although most of these entities have good websites, they still feel compelled to maintain a Facebook presence.

Personally, I find regard Facebook to be an annoyance. It can be difficult to use, and I see little value in it. I have loads of requests from people I don’t know who indicate that they want to friend me. Early on, I consented because I did not want to be rude. Even now I worry that I might refuse the request of someone I did know long ago. I still accept requests from people who have been recommended by someone I know. But I do this only not to offend a true friend. I know of nothing that ever develops from this “friending.” With the exception of birthday greetings I receive from old acquaintances, I have seen nothing of value on Facebook. Just one inanity after another. I worry about people who do engage extensively in these activities.

I asked a friend of mine, who is extensively knowledgeable about cyberspace and who apparently spends significant time there, what he thinks about Facebook. His response was, “Never have touched it.  Who wants to be “connected” to everybody out there?!  Not me!”

I think he raises a good question. An earlier Healthymemory Blog post entitled “How Many Friends are Too Many?” addressed that very question. An evolutionary biologist, Robin Dunbar, came up with a number he modestly named, “Dunbar’s number.” He bases this number on the size of the human brain and its complexity. He calculates that the maximum number of relationships our brain can keep track of at one time to be about 150 . This number includes all degrees of relationships. This is the maximum number of relationships. The number of close, meaningful relationships is much smaller. He estimates that we have a core group of about five people with whom we speak frequently. I find this absolute number a tad small, but to be in the general ballpark. At the other extreme there are about 100 people with whom we speak about once a year. The 150 number is an absolutely maximum of people we can even generously consider as friends. So Facebook users who have friended several hundred friends have essentially rendered the term “friend” meaningless.

MIT social psychologist Sherry Turkle contends that social networking is eroding our ability to live comfortably offline.1 Although she makes a compelling argument, it is not the technology that is to be blamed, but rather how we use the technology. After all, the technology is not going to go away. There might be underlying psychological, genetic, or epigenetic substrates that contribute to the problem. Facebook, itself, can be regarded as providing affordances that contribute to this abuse.

1Price, M. (2011). Questionnaire; Alone in the Crowd. Monitor on Psychology, June, 26-28.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Are Our Memories Becoming Too Dependent on Technology?

June 22, 2011

My recent attendance at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) brought this question to the forefront of my mind. Traveling to the meeting on the metro, many, many people were engrossed with their mobile devices. Although people were meeting, greeting, and conversing at the convention, many were interacting with their mobile devices. Even during presentations at the convention, attendees were still working with their mobile devices. Now in the lingo of the Healthymemory Blog, these mobile devices are examples of technical transactive memory. Concerns with technical transactive memory are not new. Socrates was concerned that the introduction of the Greek alphabet would lead to the decline of civilization. As technology has advanced through the printing press up to today’s cyber technology, people have continued to raise these concerns. Although all these advancements in technology have lead to advances in civilization, I still think it prudent to ask if our memories have become too dependent on technology.

The major risk is that the capabilities of our personal biological memories will decline. This loss would be analogous to the loss in physical fitness and increase in obesity that has resulted from technological advances that have reduced our physical activity. We, or at least some of us, engage in physical activity in an attempt to reduce these losses in our physical fitness. Do we need to engage in similar activities to exercise our biological memories? (See the Healthymemory Blog posts, “Moonwalking with Einstein,” “How the Memory Champs Do It,” “Remembering Poems,” “The Talented Tenth,” and “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Bottom Line”).

There is the view that eventually transactive memory will supplant our biological memories (See the Healthymemory Blog post, “Achieving the Max in Technical Transactive Memory.” Ray Kurzweil maintains that in the future there will occur a singularity in which biology and silicon will become one. This is highly speculative and it might never occur, so don’t give up on your personal biological memory. Carefully consider what it means to you and what you might want to do to maintain and enhance it.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Joy of Theorizing

June 19, 2011

“The Joy of Theorizing’ was the title of Daniel Wegner‘s William James Fellow Award Address, which he presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science (APS). Wegner’s forte is developing theories and, as the title implies, he enjoys it. He has developed four theories of note. Action Identification is a theory of what people think they are doing. Ironic Process Theory is a theory about how our minds turn against us to produce unwanted thoughts. Apparent Mental Causation is a theory of how our minds create the feeling of conscious thought. Clearly Wegner’s thinking on this topic is at odds with Michael Gazzaniga‘s (See the Healthymemory Blog Post “We Are the Law: The Human Mind, Free Will, and the Limits of Determinism”). In my view his most valuable is his theory of transactive memory.

It should not be a surprise that transactive memory is my favorite theory as it is one of the healthymemory blog categories. Wegner proposed two types of transactive memory. One type refers to external technical storage (note pads, books, journals, computer files, the internet, etc.) The other type refers to our fellow humans. Now both types of transactive memory are important, and the healthymemory blog discusses both types. But it is only the second type of transactive memory, fellow humans, that he has developed. Moreover, this is the only type of transactive that has received attention from other researchers.

I have taken it upon myself to develop the former concept of transactive memory as I think it is an important concept, particularly in our technological age. Historically, technical transactive memory has undergone several stages. One of the first steps was the development of the alphabet. Few people realize that Socrates  fought against the development and adoption of the Greek alphabet. For Socrates, it was only human transactive memory that mattered, and the reliance upon this external crutch would depreciate human transactive memory. Socrates was wrong about this, as external storage allowed the advancement of the human intellect to new levels. The printing press was another technical development that caused a major leap in transactive memory and the enhancement of the collective human intellect. Today we have the internet which comprises yet another major leap in transactive memory.

I think it worthwhile to distinguish different types of transactive memory. Accessible transactive memory refers to information that we cannot recall, but know how to find quickly. This information can be resident in other humans, in a library, or in cyberspace, but we can access it quickly. Available transactive memory refers to information that we know exists, but cannot find it quickly. So we need to find someone who know the information, or search for it via technical means or on the internet.

Whenever we encounter new information we need to decide is this worth knowing. If it is, then we need to decide whether to commit it to memory or to some form of external storage. Bookmarking, or Favorites, provide a means of making this information accessible if we do not need to remember it. If we don’t take these actions, then we are confronted with the possibility of knowing the information exists, but being unable to find it so we have to search for it.

Potential transactive memory refers to all the information and knowledge resident in other humans or available in some technical storage medium. I term it potential as this information offers the potential for cognitive and social  growth.

I have been disappointed that Wegner never developed his concept of technical transactive memory. I have also wondered why he did not develop what I regard as a valuable concept. Now I think I understand. Wegner’s strength lies in his breadth of theorizing, not in its depth. He prefers moving on to new areas rather than mining further the brilliant concepts he has developed.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What Makes a Nation Intelligent?

June 5, 2011

There were many outstanding presentations at the recent meeting of the Association for Psychological Science (APS). One of the best of these outstanding presentations was one by Earl Hunt with the title, “What Makes a Nation Intelligent?” This was his James McKeen Fellow Award Address. Hunt, who has a rich and diverse background in Physics, Business Administration, and Computer Science as well as Psychology, is currently a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Washington.

One of his primary interests is intelligence, and he published a book last year on the topic titled, appropriately enough, Human Intelligence. The approach he takes to intelligence is that of a cognitive psychologist rather than the traditional psychometric approach to intelligence. The psychometric approach provides estimates of the percentage of intelligence that is inherited versus the percentage of intelligence that is a product of the environment. The psychometric approach is primarily descriptive and offers few ideas for improving intelligence with the exception of eugenic approaches. The cognitive approach is interested in the cognitive processes that underlie intelligence as well as artifacts and interventions that can improve intelligence.

That is not to say that the psychometric approach is useless. Hunt points out that the correlation between IQ and occupational success is about 0.5 (the coefficient ranges with 0.0, no relationship, to 1.0, a perfect relationship, with a positive or negative sign indicating whether the relationship is direct or inverse). He said that this relationship is about twice as high as various personality measures. IQ tests measure what IQ tests measure, which is what is easy to measure. They’re good at assessing tasks that require speed, but they tend to miss culturally important skills.

To return to the question “What Makes a Nation Intelligent?”, one of his responses is cognitive artifacts. One example of such a cognitive artifact would be written records (e.g., cuneiform tables, papyrus, paper), where both business transactions and ideas could be recorded. I would call these examples of technical transactive memory, he calls them explicit artifacts. Hunt also uses the term implicit artifacts to refer to communication systems and personal trust. I would call these examples of human transactive memory. Regardless of what they are called, they are essential to a Nation’s intelligence.

Nation’s also need to respond to and adopt beneficial new ideas. Ideas spread along the Silk Road Trade Route and countries along this trade route tended to benefit from this intelligence and prosper. However, their needed to be an openness to new ideas. Japan initially closed up and ignored new ideas in favor of their own traditions. This was also true of China and Korea. These countries did not prosper until they opened up to new ideas from foreign cultures. This increased their respective national intelligence and led to increasing prosperity.

So what contributes to a nation’s intelligence? Of course there are explicit and implicit cognitive artifacts, but factors such as nutrition and environmental pollution cannot be ignored. Nutrition is essential to the development of intelligence, whereas environmental pollution degrades intelligence. The family and a formal education system are important. As Diane Halpern noted, “You learn to do what you practice doing”

Cultures, such as the Jewish culture and Northeast Asian cultures, that place a heavy emphasis on education do well on intelligence tests. Although there are sleight differences in mathematical performance between males and females, this gender effect is overwhelmed by practice. In other words, females who work at mathematics to very well on mathematics.

Hunt noted that when three outlier countries were removed, they was a correlation of 0.65 between IQ and financial success. As he put it there is an interaction between intelligence and financial success, the rich get smarter and the smart get richer.

Hunt advocates the creation of a cognitive elite, which he defines as college graduates. But he lists the obstacles to fostering this cognitive elite such as:

Lack of trained teachers and equipment.

The economic costs of a college education (this needs to be affordable and not require the acquisition of heavy financial debts).

The opposition of education aimed at modern cognitive skills.

The opposition to scientific ideas such as the opposing to vaccination because it is not in the Koran (or in our society the opposition to vaccination based on faulty scientific evidence and reasoning).

His conclusion: It is possible, although difficulty, to create better interactive environments to improve national intelligence.

Taking Advantage of Nature to Build a Healthy Memory

June 1, 2011

This post is intended to encourage readers to take advantage of pleasant warm weather to build a healthy memory. Research indicates that nature offers benefits in restoring those attentional resources that are essential to effective cognitive functioning (See the Blog Post, “Restoring Attentional Resources”). Research has also indicated that walking enhances brain health and memory performance (See the Blog Post, “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus”).

So be sure to take advantage of the good weather and take some nature walks. I walk with my wife and she is frequently asks me questions about birds, insects, various animals and plants. My typical response is “I don’t know, you should have married an ornithologist, entomologist, zoologist, or botanist. Such an answer is not beneficial either to her or me. Better I should try to find the answers using transactive memory and look them up on the internet or in a more conventional reference. That enables me to grow my own memory and to satisfy my wife’s curiosity (of course, she would benefit by undertaking the same activity). I could benefit further by studying up prior to these walks and perhaps using mnemonic techniques to memorize content and to amaze my wife with my mastery of these esoteric topics.

There is also a potential social benefit here. My wife and I comprise a very small, but compatible social group. By joining larger groups, more people are engaged which is beneficial to both physical and cognitive health.

So we should be sure to take advantage of the opportunities that nature affords us.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Two Brains, One MRI Scanner

May 18, 2011

The New Scientist reported that Ray Lee of Princeton has developed the first dual-headed fMRI scanner.1 Up until now these machines had been unable to handle more than one brain at a time. And for reasons that I don’t understand (because I don’t understand the technology), they cannot synchronize two or more scanners to scan different individuals at the same time. Although they can scan people in different machines and link them by video. But Lee has designed his scanner that scans two brains at the same time in the same scanner.

In one of the first tests, Lee asked couples to face each other and to blink in unison. The fusiform gyrus, which is involved in facial recognition, was tightly correlated in the two brains. He also had couples embrace, which revealed similar synchronous brain activity.

James Coan of the University of Virginia has some interesting ideas on how to use this device. He notes that “People distribute neural processing across multiple brains when solving problems. …You essential contract out part of a given problem to someone else’s mind. Lee’s work would give us the opportunity to see two brains reacting to a problem simultaneously.” Using the terminology of the Healthymemory Blog, this activity involves transactive memory, memories that are stored in someone else’s brain.

Many of our activities involve, either implicitly or explicitly, transactive memory. When you are trying to communicate with somebody or some group, successful communication requires that the material be pitched at the appropriate level. This entails knowing something about what the other party(ies) knows. When you are trying to persuade somebody, it is extremely helpful to know what that person knows and believes. And it games, you are constantly trying to decipher what the other person is thinking. Transactive memory is a big player in many activities.

1Ferris jabr (2011). At last, an MRI scanner for the man with two brains. New Scientist, 29 January, 12. 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Is Googling Sufficient?

May 11, 2011

Googling has become synonymous with internet searching, but is googling sufficient? What about other search engines? I did a search using the keywords “healthy memory” on google.com, bing.com, yahoo.com, and ask.com. The first item returned was the same for all the search engines. After that, discrepancies appeared, although there was notable commonality among the four lists. I found it disturbing that all four searches also returned urls for foam mattresses. I also was disturbed, but not surprised, to see that the healthymemory blog was not among the items returned on the first page. This similarity in search results is not surprising as the search algorithms are quite similar and apparently companies can buy their way to a higher listing. I find it particularly annoying when you search for a tax form for a particular state and still see commercial firms at the top of the listings. It would be nice to have a search engine that did not allow firms to buy their way to the top of the listings. If anyone know of such a search engine, please comment.

I have maintained a standing query on Google to send me notices of entries on healthy memory. The returns I receive are slim. I find this depressing because I think this would be a topic of general interest, particularly among baby boomers who are facing the prospect of losing their memories. For a while I did receive notices occasionally about postings I had made to the healthymemory blog. Google changed some of its search criteria and I have not seen a single return regarding the healthymemory blog since. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a hot topic. Its objective is to recommend keywords that increase the probability of your blog or website being picked up by a search engine. I would like to increase the readership of this blog. But I don’t want to compromise it by trying to work “Lindsay Lohan” into my postings, nor do I have the resources to pay for high placements. On the other hand, I have little difficulty finding most of my published professional papers on the scholar.google.com search engine.

So how does one find websites and blogs like healthymemory? Using Google’s blog search, blogsearch.google.com, has some chance of catching one of healthymemory’s postings. Using the regular google.com the following query will yield healthymemory postings

wordpress.com:healthymemory.

The bottom line is that search engines are driven by a sites popularity and by commercial payments. Quality, by itself, does not come in to the search. So users need to use their wits, multiple search engines, and clever search strategies.  

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Search Tips from a Google Scientist

April 27, 2011

Transactive memory refers to information that is not resident in one’s own biological memory but resides externally. This external source could be human, a knowledgeable person whom you ask. Or the external source could be technological. Technology can range from a note on a postit pad, to someplace in cyberspace. Memory theorists make a distinction between information that is accessible and information that is available. Memories that are accessible are memories that can be recalled with little or no effort. Available memory is a superset of accessible memories (all accessible memories are available). Information can be available, but not accessible at the moment. Often we know that we know something, but just cannot recall it. Metamemory refers to our knowledge of our own memories. Sometimes long after we have expended great effort in trying to recall something, it will suddenly pop into our minds. Your brain can continue to search after you have abandoned your conscious attempts.

Similarly, transactive memory can be divided into three sets. The superset being potential transactive memory. Potential transactive memory includes all information stored in any form of technology and/or in any human being. Available transactive memory is information that you know exists and have probably accessed previously, but need to search for it know. Accessible transactive memory is information that you know how to access immediately without having to search for it.

So there are two circumstances when you have to resort to your search tool. One is the available case, in which the know the information exists, but have forgotten how to access it. And the other is the potential transactive memory case, in which you think the information might be available, but you are not sure. The APS Observer published a piece by a Google scientist offering search tips.1 The article pointed out that searching that there are similarities between searching on the internet and searching in your own mind. The author used the term “framing” the query. So a successful search involves finding the correct context and retrieval cue for the desired information.

Difficult search tasks are called “long tail” problems because they are tasks that require more than the usual number of searches to find. Most searches are accomplished quickly. But difficult searches can take a long, long time in to find the successful key term. These difficult search tasks are more commonly found in the technical literature. Popular searches tend to be easier. Once you have done a search on Google, you will receive a list of many potential responses. If you don’t find a good response on that first page of results, you can look at the left column for a variety of options. Clicking on “Search Tools” will provide a variety of options. Clicking on “related searches” will provide a list of searches made on this or similar topics. This can provide an aide for refining your search. It also might lead you to some serendipitous site with some interesting and useful information.

Google has an advanced search option that is quite easy to use. Many who have had bad experiences trying to search databases with arcane formulae might be scared off this option. It is quite easy to use. You can specify sites that contain all the words, you specify, some of the words you specify, and you can even include words that would exclude the site for consideration. There are also options on language, file type, and even reading level.

If you know the website where the information is located, you can put that in your search. For example if you were on google and looking for something on this blog you could simply enter

healthymemory.wordpress.com method of loci and you would be find a variety of listings specific to this topic and this blog.

1Russell, D.M. (2011). Making the Most of Online Searches. Observer, 24, April, 3-4.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Moonwalking with Einstein: the Bottom Line

April 13, 2011

The preceding five blog posts have been based on Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything1. This book relates an extraordinary example of participatory journalism in which the author trained himself in mnemonic techniques to the point where he was able to compete at the World Championship level. Historically humans have developed extraordinary memorization skills. With advances in technology, these skills have diminished as increasingly reliance is placed on external memory storage (transactive memory). The question is whether this heavy reliance upon external sources of memory is mistaken.

Foer explores this question in the Epilogue. One of the first decisions that confronted Foer was whether he wanted to continue to compete in national and world memory competitions. Given the extraordinary speed of his memory accomplishments, he did have the prospect of becoming a world champion. He had the option of a career change and become a professional mnemonist who would not only compete, but give exhibitions, provide training, write books and develop courses for memory improvement. He admits that his competitive instincts had been whetted and that this option was quite tempting. However, he decided against this, because of the time commitment required, and his desire to work primarily as a journalist.

So, was it all worth it? He tells of an incident when he met his friends for dinner that occurred after he had become an accomplished mnemonist. He returned home via metro and only then realized that he had driven to the restaurant! But he does understand why this happened (he failed to attend) and how it could have been avoided (to have paid attention). Even though he knows how to commit phone numbers to memory, he still finds it easier just to punch them into his cell phone. The following is a direct quote from the Epilogue. “The most important lesson I took away from my year on the competitive memory circuit was not the secret to learning poetry by heart, but rather something far more global and, in a way, far more likely to be of service in my life. My experience had validated the old saw that practice makes perfect. But only if it’s the right kind of concentrated, self-conscious, deliberate practice. I’d learned firsthand that with focus, motivation, and, above all, time, the mind can be trained to do extraordinary things.”

So, what is the importance of our own internal memories? To quote from the Epilogue again. “How we perceive the world and how we act in it are products of how and what we remember. We’re all just a bundle of habits shaped by our memories. And to the extent that we control our lives, we do so by gradually altering those habits, which is to say the networks of our memory. No lasting joke, invention, insight, or work of art was ever produced by an external memory.” And later, “Our ability to find humor in the world, to make connections between previously unconnected notions, to create new ideas, to share in a common culture. All these essential human acts depend on memory. Now more than ever, as the role of memory in our culture erodes at a faster pace than ever before, we need to cultivate our our ability to remember. Our memories make us who we are.”

Moonwalking with Einstein is an outstanding read. I have not done it justice. I highly recommend it.

1Foer, J. (2011). New York: The Penguin Press 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Achieving the Max in Technical Transactive Memory

April 10, 2011

As you probably know, if you are a regular reader of this blog, transactive memory refers to external memory storage. There are two varieties of transactive memory: human, where the information is held by other humans, and technical, where the information is held in some type of technology, be it paper, book, journal, computer file, or on the internet. In Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything1, Joshau Foer relates the story of Gordon Bell, who regards himself as the vanguard of a movement that takes the externalization of memory to its logical extreme. Bell is a seventy-three year old computer scientist who now works at Microsoft. He has advanced his ideas in his book Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything2. Bell has gone well beyond writing a book and has started to code and store all information that he can find and that bears upon his life. For the last decade, Bell has kept a digital “surrogate memory”, a lifelog, to supplement the one in his brain. He is keeping a record of anything and everything that might be forgotten. He uses a SenseCam, a digital camera, that dangles around his neck and records every sight and sound that passes before his eyes. He uses a digital recorder to record every sound he hears. Every phone call received by his landline is recorded and every piece of paper he reads is immediately scanned into his computer. A pack rat with boxes of stuff, he has digitized all of his photo, engineering notebooks, and papers. Today his lifelog takes up 170 gigabytes of memory and is growing at a rate of about a gigabyte a month. This includes over 100,000 emails, 65,000 photographs, 100,000 documents, and 2,000 phone calls.

Now as readers of the Healthymemory Blog know, storing information is half the battle. The other half is being able to retrieve, access, the information when it is wanted. This is the basic distinction between available and accessible memory. Just as information can be available, but not accessible in biological memory, information can be available, but inaccessible, from transactive memory. Bell has a search engine to accomplish this retrieval. However, to use this he needs to us his biological memory and senses to re-input it into his brain through his eyes and ears. His vision of the future is that there will be electronic chips implanted in the brain to accomplish this automatically.

A couple of issues need to be considered here. First of all is what is the utility of storing everything? Is this truly adaptive or is the efficiency of information retrieval being damaged by much extraneous and irrelevant bits of what might technically be regarded as information, but have little bearing upon knowledge.

An implicit assumption underlying Bell’s thesis is that information does not need to be attended to, it merely needs to be stored to be useful. I question this assumption. All that I know about memory is that information needs to undergo conscious processing for it to be useful. That is, it requires attention. Although it is true that out unconscious minds are constantly at work, and that information and solutions sometimes simply pop into consciousness, I would argue that at some time this information received conscious attention.

So the future that Bell sees, might not work as he thinks, and could even be counterproductive.

1Foer, J. (2011). New York: The Penguin Press.

2Bell, C.G., & Gemmel, J. (2009). New York: Dutton 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Moonwalking with Einstein

March 27, 2011

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything1 is one gem of a book. Its author, Joshua Foer, is one remarkable individual. This book was an exercise in participatory journalism. The memory of participatory journalism I have is George Plimpton‘s Paper Tiger. Back in the sixties George Plimpton convinced the Detroit Lions that they allow him to participate during the preseason. So he worked out as a quarterback and, if memory serves me correctly, took a couple of snaps during an exhibition game. He wrote a book about this time from which a motion picture was made. Although this was entertaining, it was a lark as Plimpton clearly participated in an activity to which he didn’t properly belong. Joshua Foer became intrigued about the competitive memory circuit after attending the World Memory Championships. After consulting with a variety of experts he decided to take it upon himself to train his memorization skills so that he would be able to participate in the U.S Memory Championship. This was a daunting undertaking. For example, the world memory champion, Ben Pridmore, is able to memorize the precise order of 1528 random digits in one hour. To become a Grand Master of Memory, of which there were 36 at the time the book was written, the following requirements must be met:

Memorize a list of 1,000 random digits in one hour.

Memorize the precise order of ten shuffled decks of cards in one hour.

Memorize the order of one shuffled deck in less than two minutes.

The memory championships involved a variety of tasks that are described in the book and each of them requires their own preparation. Joshua had what we would regard as a normal memory. He was willing to learn the mnemonic techniques that the experts employ and to bring them to the proficiency so that he would be a credible competitor at the U.S. Memory Championships.

Moonwalking with Einstein chronicles his journey from novice to participating in the championship in a most entertaining fashion. Along the way he addresses many interesting issues, issues that will be discussed in subsequent posts to the Healthymemory Blog. However, I would advise you against relying on this blog for learning the content of Moonwalking. I cannot do justice to the book. You would be missing a great read.

For the ancient Greeks mnemonic skills were an essential component of rhetorical skills. In pre-literate societies stories were memorized and historical records committed to memory by skilled memorizers. A skilled memory was essential to scholarship until the printed word became commonplace. Ever since then reliance has been increasingly placed on transactive memory, a term Foer does not use. Transactive memory refers to external storage media like paper, books, journals, storage media, the internet, and even fellow humans. Our brains remain biologically capable of doing what the ancient Greeks did. I should take pains to point out that although the title is Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, the book argues that remembering everything would be a mistake and might be a personal handicap. But it is also most likely a mistake to rely almost exclusively on transactive memory. The book states that on average, people squander forty days annually compensating for things that they have forgotten. Although the book is fairly well documented, I do have to regard this particular claim with skepticism. I would be willing to accept “ a lot” rather than the precise estimate. But there might be even more compelling reasons for making greater use of biological memory. The Healthymemory Blog argues that mnemonic techniques provide a good means of exercising our cognitive skills to include focusing attention, creativity, imagination, and recoding. They activate memory circuits and exercise both hemispheres of the brain.

1Foer, J. (2011). New York: The Penguin Press 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Will Baby Boomers Be More Vulnerable to Scams?

March 20, 2011

I recently read an article1 stating that the elderly are more prone to scams. Three reasons were given: More Trusting, Loneliness, and Memory Loss.

This made me wonder whether baby boomers will be more trusting. We were supposed to be more skeptical to begin with. My personal experience has increased this skepticism several orders of magnitude. For years I had been promising myself that I would read the annual reports that were sent to me as a stockholder. I was just starting to do this when the Enron scandal broke. That taught me that reading these reports was futile.

We have bought several homes in our lifetime. Each experience was traumatic to me. I worried about the debt I was assuming. However, I reasoned to myself that these mortgage companies would not make foolish loans or they would lose money. But one of the primary reasons for our recent financial crisis was that the mortgage companies did not care because they sold the mortgages to conglomerates that either did not know or not care what risk they were assuming. During our most recent home purchase I was amazed at the amount of debt that they would let us assume. Now I understand. They did not care if we defaulted because by that time the default would be someone else’s problem.

Then there is the financial crisis itself. It appears that deregulation and the scant enforcement of the regulations that existed were primary factors underlying the crisis. But the reforms that were passed were weak and in the view of most knowledgeable individuals, inadequate. Moreover, the recent elections indicate that it is even less likely that adequate protections will be provided.

Then there are the defaulted pensions. First were the companies that went into bankruptcy and defaulted on their pension obligations. I had thought that there were government agencies to assure that pension funds were adequately funded. Either there were not such agencies or these agencies were remiss in fulfilling their objectives. Now we have state and local governments revoking or modifying commitments that had been made to their employees.

So current events should have disabused baby boomers, at least, of being more trusting.

Peter A. Lichtenberg of Wayne State University’s Institute of Gerontology has said that his research indicated that loneliness or feeling undervalued that increases a senior’s risk. of falling for scams by 30 percent. Now Healthmemory Blog readers should realize that transactive memory involves the interaction with other humans. There are benefits here not only in the knowledge gained, but perhaps more importantly, in the interaction and building of relationships with fellow humans. The knowledge and confidence gained through interactions with both the technological and human aspects of transactive memory should also boost self esteem.

As for memory loss, the objective of the Healthymemory Blog is not only to forestall memory loss, but to promote cognitive growth. By continuing to learning about new topics and learning new skills memory health is promoted. Readers of the Healthymemory Blog should be aware of the benefits of nonconscious processing. Sleep on a decision before making it. Transactive memory involves interactions with both technology and fellow humans to build social relationships and to continue to grow cognitively. Mnemonic techniques are presented that not only provide a direct means of improving memory, but also provide a good means for cognitive exercise. Even if disease should strike, having a cognitive reserve should forestall the rate of progress of the pathology.

1Kirchheimer, S. (2011). Brain Games. Aarp.org/bulletin March, 26. 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Google Art Project

March 16, 2011

I find searching for online art frustrating. Most of the websites are commercial, and that is not surprising. Should any readers know of sites that are good just for viewing art, please leave comments. For the future, however, the Google Art Project1 bodes well. Google is using its “street view” technology. Frankly, I was freaked when I first saw my neighbor’s house when I did directions on Google. I have tried a few “virtual galleries” in the past, but have been disappointed. Navigating them was difficult and the art seemed to loose quality.

Google promises to remedy these shortcomings. The “street view” technology allows the viewer to stroll through a gallery or museum and browse. But the viewer can choose to zoom in on pieces of interest. A gigapixel process is employed. On average, there are 7 billion pixels per image. This is a thousand times more than the average digital camera. In the digitized version of Whistler’s “The Princess from the Land of Porcelain” it is possible to see the faintest trace of white paint Whistler used to make his subject’s eyes glisten, as well as the nubby, gridlike texture of the canvas. Clearly, Google is offering a much more vivid rendering of online art than has been previously available.

Julian Raby, the Director of the Freer Gallery said that “the giga-pixel experience brings us very close to the essence of the artist that simply can’t be seen in the gallery.” Brian Kennedy, the Director of the Toledo Museum of Art, said that these giga-pixel images can bring out details that might not be visible to ordinary museum-goers in a gallery, but that scholars would still want a three-dimensional view of art.

Kennicott, the author of the Washington Post article, gave the technology a mixed review. During the walk-through images often appeared to be washed out and grainy. Navigation also presented some problems. I think that Google is working on these problems.

So far Google has teamed up with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Frick Gallery in New York, the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art in DC, as well as museums in London, Madrid, Moscow, Amsterdam, Florence, Berlin, and St. Petersburg (Russia).

The Google Art Project is currently available, although it does require perseverance and the clicking on links on multiple menus. Go to google.com. Click the “more” link. Then click “even more”. Then click “labs”. Then you should find the Art Project Powered by Google. There is a video, click on learn more, explaining how to use the Google Art Project. You have the capability of saving paintings and building your own collection. We’re anxious to hear your comments and opinions.

1Kennicott, J.P. National Treasures: Google Art Project Unlocks Riches of World’s Galleries. February 2 Style Section, C1. also Washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/01/AR2011020106321_pf.html 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flash Seminars: A Good Idea

March 13, 2011

Laura Nelson is a senior at the University of Virginia. She has won a Rhodes Scholarship. She was disappointed in the paltry number of students who were interested in learning outside the classroom. It seems that the general attitude regarding higher education is its utilitarian value. You go to college to get a good job so you can earn more money so you can buy more expensive things. Articles are written analyzing whether the cost of a college education warrants its benefits. So education seems to be regarded purely in materialistic terms. When I taught college classes and asked students why they were taking the class, the typical answer was to get a job. Few students seemed to be interested in the actual topic of the class. But there is substantive value in a college education in terms of intellectual growth. This can lead to better jobs, but, more importantly, it can provide the basis for personal growth and for being a better citizen.

To redress this shortcoming, Laura and her colleagues came up with the idea of “flash seminars.”1 They would invite a favorite professor to present a seminar on a topic of interest. She would publicize the seminar via e-mail and students would come. And they did come, which belies the notion that all students are attending college solely for its utilitarian value.

It occurs to me that this activity can be extended beyond university campuses. It could be conducted in meeting halls, libraries, or even individual homes. A knowledgeable speaker or moderator could be invited and an announcement could be sent to potential participants. Of course, the topic would be included in the announcement with perhaps some relevant references and websites. Then attendees could do some advance research. There are so many benefits here from the perspective of intellectual growth and building a healthy memory. Both technical and human transactive memory are involved. The benefits are both intellectual and social.

The topics need not be esoteric. They can involve sports, the theater, movies, even social topics if you are willing to risk addressing contentious issues.

1Some of this blog post is based on the following article in the Washington Post. By Daniel De Vise. A U-VA student’s bright idea. B1 February 21, 2011 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

More on the Dangers of Information Overload

March 9, 2011

I recently read another article on the dangers of information overload. In my view there cannot be too many articles on information overload as this is a serious problem. This Newsweek article1 is quite good. It reported the reseach of the Director of the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University, Angelika Dimoka, who employed brain imaging (fMRI) techniques to examine how the brain respond people are trying to make decisions when they are severely overtaxed. She found that activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region behind the forehead that is responsible for decision making and the control of emotions, suddenly fell off when the information load increased. It was similar to a circuit breaker popping. Now activity in the parts of the brain registering emotional activity, the parts of the brain normally kept in check by the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, ran wild. So the research participants made stupid decisions and their anxiety levels soared.

The article also points out that this concern with information overload is not new. Leibniz bemoaned the “horrible mass of books which keeps on growing,” in the 17th Century. In 1729 Alexander Pope warned of “a deluge of authors covering the land.” But the problem today is many, many orders of magnitude larger, both respect to the amount of information and the rapidity with which it arrives.

The article notes that one reason for this limitation is the limited capacity of short-term memory. One way of looking at short-term memory is the number of items that we can attend to at one time. Here is where the Magic Number 7 Plus or Minus Two, created comes in. Actually subsequent research has indicated that the true magic number might be 5 or even lower. An important factor is the nature of the items to be remembered. It is prudent that you do not consider more options at a time than is warranted by your magic number. So if more items need to be evaluated, it is good to evaluate them in groups, with run-offs, if necessary.

Another ramification of this limitation in short-term memory is that recency trumps quality. So there is the risk of a poorer choice being made simply due to the order in which the options were considered. So in addition to considering options in groups, also consider the order in which the option was considered.

When the number of options is large, it is good to resort to transactive memory. That is, write things down, use a spreadsheet, whatever. Try to develop a systematic scoring system to evaluate options.

The Newsweek also mentions the neglected unconscious. Provide sufficient time to allow your unconscious mind to work for you. The article presents evidence supporting the benefits of unconscious processing. Also remember that making the optimal decision is often not realistic. Be satisfied with satisficing, the process identified by the Nobel Lauerate Herbert Simon. Be satasified with considering enough information to assure yourself that the decision is satisfactory and should not lead to disappointment.

1Begley, S. (2011). I Can’t Think. Newsweek, March 7, 28-33.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Pseudo-Limitations of Mnemonics

March 6, 2011

I’ve recently reread an article by Higbee, “Some Pseudo-limitations of Mnemonics.1” This article reminded me of the resistance that has, and presumably continues, regarding the use of mnemonic techniques. So I am using Higbee’s article to refute this limitations.

One pseudo-limitations is that mnemonics are not practical. There is much information to the contrary. Mnemonic techniques provide a good means of dealing with absent-mindedness, remembering people’s names, remembering numbers and dates, in learning foreign vocabulary, as well as in other educational applications.

Another criticism is that mnemonics do not aid understanding. Although it could be argued that mnemonics can aid understanding, it should be conceded that in learning a new subject there often is a problem of learning new vocabulary and terms that appear to be meaningless. Mnemonics provide a means of rendering the meaningless meaningful. So mnemonics can be quite helpful in the early stages of learning. As the student progress and as what was once meaningless becomes meaningful, the need for using mnemonics diminishes. No one advocates using mnemonics all the time. But for certain tasks and for certain stages of learning they can be quite helpful.

A third criticism is that mnemonics are a crutch. But so is writing something down, what the Healthymemory Blog terms using transactive memory. Yes, they are a crutch, but technology is also a crutch. There is a very interesting educational problem here. One might argue that with the proliferation of handheld computers, one need never remember anything provided they new how to look it up. That is a rather extreme position. There is likely an epistemological need to maintain some information and knowledge, other than knowing how to look things up, in one’s personal memory.

A fourth criticism is that mnemonics are a trick similar to the tricks done by magicians. Although both mnemonics and magic are a part of show business, that provides no reason for discounting either of them. Cognitive psychologists have started studying magic tricks to learn about human information processing. Mnemonics are used in show business, but they were essential to knowledge and oratory in the time of the ancient Greeks. They remained a central part of education until the ramifications of the development of the printing press and the availability manifested themselves. What happened was that technological “crutches” replace mnemonic “crutches.” There remains the question of how extensively these technological “crutches” should be used.

The Healthymemory Blog, being about healthy memory advocates the use of mnemonic techniqus as a mental exercise. Mnemonics involve creativity, recoding, visualization, and employ both hemispheres of the brain.

Please peruse the offerings under the “Mnemonic Techniques” Category. The blog post, “A Memory Course” provides a suggested order in which to read the Mnemonic Techniques postings.

1Higbee, K. L. (1978). Some Pseudo-limitations of Mnemonics. In Gruneberg, M.M., Morris, P.E., & Sykes, R.N. (Eds.) Practical Aspects of Memory. New York: Academic Press.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Learning on the Web (and Elsewhere as Well)

February 20, 2011

Most surfing done on the web is superficial. Consequently, little learning takes place.1 Readers of the Healthymemory Blog will already know that effective learning requires the spending of attention. Most of the time people scan text on websites instead of reading it closely. This is the appropriate technique if someone is just trying to find something of interest or relevance. However, if someone just scans the web, little learning will take place. Moreover, bad habits can be developed if someone is constantly enticed by “hot” topics or keeps moving from one url to another without slowing down to think about and process something of interest.

Nielsen (see the first footnote) reports the results of a paper by Karpicke and Blunt that was published in Science. They measured the amount of information people could remember a week after reading a scientific text. So these people were not reading online, rather they were reading a conventional text book. The experiment involved two groups of students. One group simply read the text. The other group completed an elaborate test after reading the text. The students who had completed the elaborate test after reading remembered 145% more content after a week than students who simply read the text and did not do anything else. It is interesting to note that the people who took the test actually thought that they had learned 15% less than people who had read the text but did not take the test. The reason the test-takers thought they had learned less was that the test-taking exposed the gaps in their knowledge, though undermining their confidence, whereas the group that had not taken the test remained ignorant of their ignorance.

The test-taking condition employed here was a retrieval practice test. This involves

  1.  Reading the Text
  2. Recalling as much of the information as they could on a free-recall test.
  3. Reading the text again.
  4. Completing another free-recall test.

There was another group that simply read the text four times. Although these people remembered more than the people who read the text only once, the recall of the group doing the retrieval practice test was 64% better than the group that just read the text four times. So replacing 2 rereads with 2 tests substantially boosted people’s week-later performance. It is reasonable to think that the retrieval practice group in step 3 was aware of any information they had missed during their recall efforts in step 2. The reread only group remained ignorant of these gaps in their knowledge.

Of course, much more effort is involved in the retrieval practice test. One is constantly confronted with the problem of how much attention should be paid to an item of information. Does it need to be stored in memory so that in can be easily recalled, that is, accessible in personal memory. Or does one only need to take note of it and make a note, bookmark, or tag it. This is what the Healthymemory Blog terms accessible transactive memory. This is information that you cannot recall, but can easily find. Oftentimes, we know that the information is someplace, but cannot remember where. In this case, we say it is in available transactive memory, in that we know it is there, but cannot readily access it, In these cases we need to look for it or search for it.

It should be noted that it can be advantageous to take a test on a topic before you read or study the material. Previous Healthymemory Blog Posts on the work by Roediger demonstrate provide evidence for the benefits of this practice (“To Get It Right, Get It Wrong First”, and “The Benefits of Testing”).

1Nielsen, J. (2011). Test-Taking Enhances Learning. Http://www,useit.com/alertbox/learning-recall.html 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Jeopardy, Watson, and Transactive Memory

February 17, 2011

The recent competition between expert human contestants and the IBM computer, Watson, raises some interesting questions. These questions relate to transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to information that is not stored in one’s personal memory, but resides in another human’s memory or in some technological artifact, such as the internet or a library. So consider the answers presented on Jeopardy to which the contestant, human or Watson, needs to find the appropriate question to ask. In the case of the Jeopardy competition, either the individual memories of the participating humans had to find the correct question, or a technological artifact, Watson, had to find the correct question.

Normally, when someone needs to find a piece of information, they can either ask someone, or look it up in a reference, or search for it with a computer. In either case they are relying on transactive memory. If they know that the information exists someplace, that is termed available transactive memory. If they know where to find or whom to ask, then that is termed accessible transactive memory.

Given the ready availability of technology, one question is whether humans need to commit any information to personal biological memory if they can simply look it up or search for it. Of course, if no human commits any information to personal biological memory, asking other humans will not be an option. I would argue that the answer to this question is “no” for a couple of reasons.

Given the philosophy of the Healthymemory Blog, a healthy memory requires mental exercise, and committing information to memory is a good means of providing this exercise. This is true if mnemonic techniques are employed. Mnemonic techniques employ both hemispheres of the brain, and require imagination, creativity, and recoding. Now some Jeopardy contestants might employ mnemonic techniques some of the time, but I doubt that they are a major activity. Jeopardy contestants read widely. For material to be remembered, it needs to be meaningful. So much knowledge on a wide variety of topics has been linked together in their brains’ memory circuits. This activity also makes for a healthy memory. Moreover, most of the topics employed on Jeopardy are not trivia. Most represent substantive learning. However, even the learning of trivia can be healthy to the brain, as it does exercise the brain and build memory circuits. Although one might argue that the time could be better spent, if the activity is enjoyable that should be justification enough.

Nevertheless, given the wide availability of technology, there is a serious educational question here. Historically, most learning has been assessed by determining how much material has been memorized via true false, multiple choice, fill in the blank, or essay questions. Is this still the best way to assess learning? Rather than assessing what knowledge has been memorized, might it be better to assess how well a student can use this knowledge. In this case, there might be no need for closed book tests, and students might be given access not only to their own notes, but also to the internet. Exam questions would require them to solve problems given access to all these resources. Of course, giving citations for the sources of material should be a requirement.

I don’t know the answer to this question. The stage of education and the type of material are relevant considerations. But testing does need to be reconsidered given the new technology.

When we encounter new information we are confronted with several questions. One is whether the information has any interest or relevance. If the answer is yes, then the question is how much attention needs to be paid to it. Does it need to be committed to personal biological memory? Or do I simply need to know how to access or whom to ask, when this information is needed? 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Google vs. Facebook Revisited

February 9, 2011

A number of blog posts back I expressed disappointment that Facebook had replaced Google in terms of usage. The stated grounds for my disappointment was that Facebook consisted primarily of superficial postings. True, they are enjoyable and fun, but little is learned and there is little cognitive growth. Although it is true that there are trivial searches on Google, a Google search is more likely for some useful point of knowledge. So, according to my line of reasoning, Google users were more likely to benefit from cognitive growth than were Facebook users.

In retrospect, I think that I might have been a bit unfair with my Facebook criticism, even though I did admit that many professional organizations are on Facebook. This blog post falls into the category of transactive memory. Now if you search for transactive memory on the Wikipedia (or you can search for it on Facebook that will link you to the Wikipedia) you will find that it is memory shared among a group. Actually the Healthymemory Blog is waging a rather lonely vigil by including the other meaning of transactive memory, namely, information that is found in all forms of technology (the internet, but also in conventional libraries). Although I do think that Google provides a more ready entry to transactive memory in the sense of technology, Facebook provides an entry to transactive memory in terms of memories shared with people.

I should also note that cognitive growth does not require delving into deep academic topics. For purposes of a healthy memory, information about sports and movies can form new memory circuits and reinvigorate old memory circuits in the brain. So the important point is to be cognitively active. In this respect Facebook can be quite helpful. It can serve as a resource for sharing information and collaborating with fellow human beings.

Personally, I provide a poor example. The Healthymemory Blog does have a Facebook posting, but I have done nothing with it, so it is rather sparse. I am interested in any experiences readers of this blog might have had in using Facebook in learning about topics of interest and in sharing information regarding those topics of interest. Please leave your comments. 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Walking and a Healthy Memory

February 2, 2011

The Health Day Newsletter contained an article1 summarizing a news release from the November 29, 2010 meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. The research suggests that walking about five miles a week may help slow the progression of cognitive illness among seniors already suffering from mild forms of cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s Disease. The research also indicated that walking just six miles a week can help prevent the onset of disease.

Two appealing features leap out at me from this news. First is the cost. Walking costs nothing (unless you choose walking shoes or consider the minimal wear placed on shoes). Secondly, this is a reasonable regimen. Six miles is not excessively demanding, particularly when you consider that it can be spread out over an entire week.

3-D MRI scans were done to measure brain volume. After accounting for age, gender, body-fat composition, head size, and education, it was found that the more the individual engaged in physical activity, the larger the brain volume. Greater brain volume is a sign of a lower degree of brain cell death as well as general brain health. Cognitive tests were also administered and these also indicated improved cognitive performance in healthy individuals and lower losses in cognitive performance for those who already had begun to decline cognitively.

Physical activity improves blood flow to the brain, changes neurotransmitters, and improves cardiac function. It also lessens the risk of obesity, improves insulin resistance and lowers the risk of diabetes, and lowers blood pressure, All of these things are risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

Clearly the Healthymemory Blog endorses physical activity in addition to the mental activities advocated in this blog. These include mnemonic techniques and transactive memory. Transactive memory entails cognitive growth via technology and our fellow human beings.

1Regular Walking May Slow Decline of Alzheimer;s, http://consumer;healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=646656

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Can Early Retirement Lead to Memory Decline?

January 30, 2011

An article in the SharpBrains Blog1 noted that an article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives titled “Mental Retirement” stated that data from the United States, England and 11 other European countries suggested that the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memories decline.

Of course, the question to be asked here is “why?” A variety of possible causes come to mind. There is the social engagement and interaction that is found on most jobs. Or it could be the cognitive component of work. Or perhaps even the aerobic component of work. Or it could be the TV watching that increased subsequent to retirement.

None of these possibilities are mutually exclusive. They could all be working to different degrees depending on the job and the individual. The critical question is which of these activities have declined since retirement. So retirement per se is not the culprit, but certain changes that have resulted from the retirement.
Some people retire to second careers so that the nature and mix of the activities do not change significantly. Others become preoccupied with their hobbies and activities for which there was insufficient time to pursue when they were working. Unfortunately, others watch television and become couch potatoes and engage in minimal social activity.

The answer to the question posed in the title can be found in the title of the SharpBrains Blog Post “When Early Retirement Equals Mental Retirement and Memory Decline.” That is, if there is no mental retirement, then memory decline will be unlikely.

The Healthymemory Blog provides a means of preventing mental retirement through cognitive and social activity. Reading its blog postings provide information and data regarding human memory to include the effects of aging and the mitigation of these effects. It also provides information on mnemonic techniques, techniques specifically designed for improving memory. In addition to improving memory, these techniques provide mental exercise for both hemispheres of the brain. They also exercise creativity and recoding. Articles in the transactive memory category provide suggestions regarding how to use the internet not only to provide for mental activity, but also to achieve cognitive growth. An important component of transactive memory is social interaction. Although the Healthymemory Blog should be of special interest to baby boomers, it should have interest and value for all visitors.

1Http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2010/10/14/work-helps-maintain-the-brain/ When Early Retirement Equals Mental Retirement and Memory Decline by Dr. Pascale Michelon 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Costly Gadgets or Software Not Required for a Healthy Memory

January 26, 2011

The Healthymemory “Blog has consistently maintained that costly equipment or software is not required for a healthy memory. Indeed, that is one reason why memory techniques are recommended. Even transactive memory does not require a computer. Conventional storage media like books, journals, and magazines will suffice as well as your fellow human beings. Meditation can also provides a less costly beneficial activity in terms of monetary expense, but the time demands can be substantial. Research1 by Posner and his colleagues indicates that beneficial meditation need not consume excessive amounts of time.

The training technique is called integrative body-mind training (IBMT; or integrative meditation). This technique integrates body relaxation, breathing adjustment, mental imagery and mindfulness training, There was also a coach who could help each participant increase the amount of mindfulness experienced to maximize the benefit of each practice session. Comfortable background music was also employed. Forty Chinese undergraduates took this training for five days. Each session lasted twenty minutes. An additional forty Chinese undergraduates were assigned to a control group that was given a form of relaxation training.

Both groups were given a battery of tests one week before the training and immediately after the final training session. The Attention Network Test (ANT) measures the ability to resolve conflicting demands upon attention, in other words, selective attention. Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrix provides a measure of fluid attention. Measures of mood were also taken. A mental arithmetic task was used to present a stress challenge followed by measures of cortisol and secretory IgA, which provide indications of the body physiological response to stress. The two groups did not differ on any of these tests before undergoing training.

After training, the IBMT group showed superior performance with respect to conflict resolution. The IBMT group also showed better regulation of emotion. The IBMT group also performed better on the Raven’s Test indicating improvement in fluid attention. Five days of IBMT training reduced the stress response to the mental challenge especially after an additional 20 minutes of practice.

All-in-all, these are most impressive results given the limited total amount of IBMT training.

1Tang, Y.Y., Yinghua, M., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., Sui, S., Rothbart, M.K., Fan, M., & Posner, M.I.. (2007). Short-term Meditation Training Improves Attention and Self-Regulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. October 23, 104(43): 17152:17156. Published online 2007 October 11. doi: 10.1073/pnas.07067678104. 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Fluid Intelligence and Working Memory

January 23, 2011

Regular readers of the Healthymemory Blog should be familiar with the distinction between fluid and crystalized intelligence. Crystalized intelligence basically is a matter of what you know. Your vocabulary, for instance, reflects your crystalized intelligence. On the other hand, fluid intelligence reflects how well you deal with novel situations or solve novel problems. Absent pathology, crystalized intelligence does not decline significantly when we age. Fluid intelligence does decline with age. At times, crystalized intelligence can compensate for fluid intelligence. But ways of stemming losses in fluid intelligence as we age represent an important research problem.

Working memory refers to the information we can work with in what can be regarded as consciousness. In other words, it represents what we commonly experience as thinking. Working memory capacity has been found to bear a strong relationship to fluid intelligence. Now working memory itself can be divided into two factors: they are the number of components that can be maintained in working memory and the quality of those components. Recent research1 has indicated the role played by each of these factors. In a very clever, but complicated, experiment researchers were able to ferret out the respective contribution of each of these factors. They discovered that it was the number, and not the quality of the representations that played the important role in fluid intelligence.

Suppose that you are trying to solve some problem. There are a number of factors and potential hypotheses that need to be considered. How many of these can you keep in working memory at the same time. Of course, you can use transactive memory (write them down) to record the items that you cannot keep in working memory at the same time, but to bring them into working memory you need to move something out of working memory. So it would seem to be advantageous to be able to keep as many factors in mind at the same time when exercising your fluid intelligence. Now the quality of these representations is not important. So there might be an item with such poor resolution that you cannot recall what it is, but you know that it exists. Here you can use transactive memory to increase the resolution of the item. The important consideration for fluid intelligence was that you remembered that there was something else that was important.

Some interesting questions come to my mind. One question is whether the capacity of working memory can be increased. If the answer is yes, then I would like to know whether this might forestall or prevent losses in fluid intelligence as we age. If anyone knows of any relevant research on these issues I would appreciate your leaving a comment.

1Fukuda, K. Vogel, E., Mayr, U., & Awh, E. (2010). Quantity Not Quality: The Relationship Between Fluid Intelligence and Working Memory Capacity. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 17, 673-679.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year from the Healthymemory Blog

December 23, 2010

 

Enjoy the season, but consider making a New Year’s Resolution not to be a cognitive couch potato. Now “couch potato” has become a cliché for not going out and exercising. A cognitve couch potato is someone who does not exercise his cognitive abilities. Just as failures to exercise the body can lead to physical failures and premature and exacerbated effects of aging, the failure to exercise the mind can result in declines in cognitive performance and premature and exacerbated effects of aging. The Healthymemory Blog provides recent information on the brain and cognitive performance, and how to enhance cognitive performance and and avoid or reduce the effects of aging. Blog posts to this effect can be found under the category of “Human Memory: Theory and Data.” It also provides information of specific techniques used to improve memory performance, mnemonic techniques. Blog posts on the topic can be found under the category titled, appropriately enough, “Mnemonic Techniques.” The category “Transactive Memory” refers to the use of technology and your fellow human beings to grow cognitively. New technology, the internet for example and old technology, books and journals for example, provide the basis for cognitive growth. Moreover, interactions with your fellow human beings can aid not only cognitive growth, but also social growth. As you can see, there is a feast of offerings under each of these topics.

Sometimes I make the claim that you might be able to improve your memory over what it was when you where young. This is especially true it you have never used mnemonic techniques before. Mnemonic techniques might well improve your performance over when you where young. Similarly, you can learn new topics, perhaps even master another language and become someone who has managed to grown head and shoulders over what they once were. So do not become a cognitive couch potato. Either start or continue on the path of cognitive improvement over the coming year.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Healthymemory Blog Wishes You a Happy Thanksgiving!

November 24, 2010

And, of course, a healthy memory. The Healthymemory Blog pursues this objective via three themes. One is to provide theory and data about human memory and cognition. Another theme is to provide memory techniques and results bearing upon the effectiveness of these memory techniques and how they may facilitate a healthymemory. A third theme is called Transactive Memory. This theme explores how technology and our fellow human beings can enhance memory health.
     The author of this blog is at the leading edge of the Baby Boomers. Although this blog should be of special interest to Baby Boomers, it should be of interest to anyone interested in the workings of memory, in techniques for improving memory, and in how technology and fellow humans can enhance memory health.
     Look under “Categories” in the right hand border of this blog. One category, Overview, provides a general overview of the Healthymemory Blog that is quite similar to this current blog post. Human Memory: Theory and Data provides information about human memory and cognition. Mnemonic Techniques presents specific techniques for improving memory. It is also thought that employing these techniques, in addition to improving memory, provides exercise to the brain that promotes memory health. One can find an entire memory course under this category. The category, Transactive Memory, provides information on how our fellow humans and technology can promote brain health. You will also find here topics regarding how the internet works and problems and dangers regarding the internet.
     Just click on the category to get to your current topic of interest, Remember that blogs are presented in reverse order. So to get to the beginning of the category, you need to go the the bottom and start from there.
     You should be able to find something of interest. There are 151 postings for your perusal.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Coping with Complexity

November 17, 2010

I’ve just finished a book1 by Donald Norman that I highly recommend. (more…)

More on Dangers of the Internet: Are We Incurable Infovores?

November 14, 2010

An article1 in the New Scientist compels me to address this question. An analogy is made between our obesity problem and an internet problem. The problem of obesity, not only in the United States but in most advanced countries, is well known. One reason offered for this problem is that our evolutionary history has made us predisposed to crave fat and sugar. Long ago when food was scarce it was adaptive to consume these high energy foods. Unfortunately, now when such foods become easily accessible we tend to overeat them with the resultant obesity.

The New Scientist article argues that we are similarly predisposed to seek novel information because it was biologically adaptive. So we are infovores just as we are carnivores (more properly omnivores with the exception of those who have chosen to be vegetarians or vegans). And with the arrival of the fire hose of information provided by the internet we are being placed in danger from the consequences of information overload.

According to the article, in 2009 the global data traffic was around 15,000 petabytes (1 petabyte equals 1 million gigabytes). The projects is that this volume will exceed 20,000 petabytes this year and will grow to more than 50,000 petabytes in 2013. Of course, no individual will encounter even a small percentage of this information. And as is frequently argued in this Healthymemory Blog, one should use the internet wisely not only to avoid the dangers of addiction, but also to enhance the prospects for cognitive growth.

This article makes no mention of what percentage of this so-called information is quality information. I would not be surprised if a majority of this so-called information is incorrect and is not truly information. Then there is hateful traffic, which cannot be rightfully called information. I would like to see some breakdowns on estimates of the quality of the information on the internet. If anyone knows of any such sources on internet information quality, please provide the names, URLs, addresses of these sources in the comment box. I am thanking you in advance.

1Parsons, P. (2010). Ignorance is Bliss. New Scientist, 16, 38-39. 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Many Friends Are Too Many?

November 7, 2010

There are people who boast of having more than a thousand friends on Facebook. A blogger once indicated that he was following over a thousand blogs. Does this make sense? An evolutionary biologist, Robin Dunbar, has come up with an hypothesis that provides an answer.1

The hypothesis is called the social intelligence hypothesis. Dunbar notes that social relationships make demands on cognition that are reflected in larger brains. Apes and monkeys are social animals that have a particularly large neocortex, a region of the brain that regulates language abilities, emotion, and the awareness of others. Our social relationships are much more complex and that is reflected in an even larger neocortex. Our brains consume about twenty percent of our energy. Dunbar has come up with a number called, oddly enough, “Dunbar’s number.” He bases this number on the size of the human brain and its complexity. He calculates that the maximum number of relationships our brain can keep track of at one tine to be about 150 . This number includes all degrees of relationships. He estimates that we have a core group of about five people that we speak with frequently. Personally, I find this number to be a tad low. At the other extreme we have about 100 acquaintaces we speak with about once a year. Although we can quibble about these numbers, I would hang my hat on 150 being the maximum number of people we can call friends.

If you count the number of friends you have had over a lifetime, you might well exceed 150. But it is likely that most of these friends have dropped out and you no longer interact with them regularly. Of course, you are glad to see them again and are happy to chat up old times. However, human relationships take time and cognitive resources, so the number of true friends with whom you interact is limited. Although you might have more acquaintances, know more people, they are probably not adequately characterized as friends.

I would argue that there is a trade-off between the number of friends you have and the quality of these friendships. The number of true friends you have might be much lower than the 150 maximum, but they are likely of high quality. Again, the limitation is one of cognitive resources.

I would also argue that online friends can well be true friends. But they make the same demands on resources and you should spend your cognitive resources wisely.

1Dunbar, R., (2010). How Many Friends Does One Person Need? Dunbar’s Number and Other Evolutionary Quirks. Harvard University Press.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Beware the Irresistible Internet?

October 20, 2010

The title is taken from the New Scientist1. I turned their title into a question. One of the themes of the Healthymemory Blog is that transactive memory, of which the internet is a very large part, is good for you. It provides resources not only for maintaining a healthy memory, but also for personal growth and enhancement. Consequently, I might be unduly sensitive about articles that are critical of the internet.

One criticism is that people can become behaviorally addicted to the internet. A behavioral addiction is a recurring compulsion to act in specific ways which may be detrimental on the person’s well being. Psychiatrists, however, are not happy with the notion of a “behavioral” addiction. For them, addictions need to be physically based like alcohol or heroin addictions. So they use the term “impluse control disorder.”

The New Scientist article cites the case a court in Hawaii allowing a 51 year old online gamer to proceed with a case against NC Interactive. He claims that NC Interactive’s online game Lineage II contained insufficient warnings regarding its addictiveness (make that impulse control disorderliness for any psychiatrists reading this article). He claims to have spent 20,000 hours playing this game since 2004. I’ll leave it to the reader to draw conclusion regarding a court that would allow such a lawsuit to proceed, but I find it ludicrous to portray the user as a helpless victim.

I do not deny that there are people who, due to their abdication of personal responsibility, do engage in maladaptive behaviors (or impulse controls). And I am pleased that there are programs designed to help people get over these maladaptive behaviors (or impulse controls). But I believe that any effective program has at its core the willingness of people to accept responsibility for their behavior.

Although I am a strong advocate of the potential of the internet for cognitive health and personal development, I do not believe that all internet behavior is beneficial. In most cases, I think the result is the simple wasting of time; nothing dramatic like a behavioral or impulse control disorder. It is a good idea to conduct personal audits periodically to assess whether we are using are time wisely. I would include time spent on entertainment, recreation, or relaxation as time spent wisely, provided there are no adverse effects.

1Marks, P. (2010). Beware the Irresistible Internet, 11 September, 24-25.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Internet Risks?

September 26, 2010

A book being published this month, Surfing Our Way to Stupid”, by Nicholas Carr raises the common theme that the internet is making us stupid. One might wonder how this can be the case given that the global internet traffic for this year is projected to be more than 20,000 petabytes (1 petabyte = 1 million gibabytes). The complaint is that the effect of all this information is for us to juggle many bits of information instead of focusing on one thing. First of all, let us concede that being entirely preoccupied with one topic is not a good thing either. The complaint is that all this information forces us to dilute our attention onto so many topics that we do not achieve any depth of understanding on any one of them.

Apparently this book portrays us as being victims of the internet. If we are truly victims of the internet I would argue that the fault lies within ourselves and not with the internet. Now should you be someone who clicks on what is trending now, wants to know what is currently “cool,” and needs to know the current “buzz” on all these topics spewing forth, then I would strongly suggest that you get a copy of Surfing Our Way to Stupid and reevaluate yourself.

There will always be a conflict, with or without an internet, between breadth of knowledge (knowing a wide variety of topics) versus depth of knowledge (understanding a topic or topics in detail). We all have limited attentional capacities and need to spend our attention as we see fit. It is also wise to step back and assess whether we are expending our limited attentional resources wisely.

What is often missed in tirades against the internet is the ubiquity of links. Links provide the opportunity to explore a topic in more depth. Terms and topics that are unfamiliar can be clicked on to gain access to resources elaborating on this topics. Moreover, they can be used to increase our depth of knowledge in any topic of interest.

So the bottom line is that the problem is not the internet, but rather how we choose to use the internet.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Elder Wisdom Circle

September 19, 2010

The Elder Wisdom Circle is a group of more than 600 elders (aged 60 to 105) who dispense advice. The have a website, www.elderwisdomcircle.org, which is a large success. Although they provide advice to anyone who asks, most of the users are in the 15 to 35 age range. It is good to know that so many young people value and seek the wisdom of their elders. And it is good to know that there are elders willing to go on to the internet and dispense their wisdom. Given the age range of the elders, there are already baby boomers in the group. The percentage of baby boomers in the group should grow as the years go on.

Generally speaking, western cultures are not known for their appreciation of the wisdom of the elderly. Popular knowledge says that this appreciation is found in eastern cultures. But the wisdom of the elderly is worldwide and should be used. There is evidence that companies with a decent proportion of older workers are more productive that those that consist primarily of the young. This is known as the Horndal effect. The name of the effect comes from a Swedish steel mill where productivity grew by 15% as the workforce grew older. This is good news for aging societies.

However, for the elderly to be productive it is incumbent upon them to continue to learn as they age. Indeed, it is important for everyone to continue to learn throughout their lives. Elderly who become set in their ways and spend most of their time reminiscing about “the good old day,” will be limited in what they can contribute. But the elderly who continue to learn are invaluable. The older the person is the richer the context into which new information is incorporated. So it is not only how much knowledge one has as a function of age, but the richer context into which new knowledge is incorporated. 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Interesting and Inspirational Website

September 15, 2010

The Healthymemory Blog periodically revisits the www.fletchplatt.com website. There are two reasons for doing so. First of all, it is an outstanding website with access to many interesting resources. The second reason is the webmaster himself, Fletcher Platt Sr. Fletch is a retired automotive engineer in his nineties. He has remained active and engaged throughout his retirement. His website is but one example of this activity.

I encourage you to go www.fletchplatt.com, bookmark it, and spend some time exploring it. Although some topics should be of primary interest to the retired and the elderly, most should be of interest to many. Some are highly pragmatic, explaining how to get things done and how things work, while others are primarily of intellectual and artistic interest. There is much medical information as well as information on injury prevention. Fletch provides his own thoughts and ideas and invites his readers to engage in dialogue. One can look on the website as a vehicle for cognitive growth. Explore the website in both breadth and depth. You’re likely to become a regular visitor to some of the links, and the time you spend visiting the site and its links should lead to a healthy memory and cognitive growth.

Fletch has not simply gone on the defensive as he has grown older. He has been proactive and continued to grow personally and cognitively. Moreover, he has shared his growth via his website. This is a splendid example of transactive memory. Remember that transactive memory consists not only of all the information and knowledge store in technology, but also all the information and knowledge store in our fellow human beings. It is a vehicle for cognitive growth and enrichment. And Fletch and his website provide a splendid example. 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Stroke: Then, Now, and Tomorrow

August 11, 2010

This blog post is another in the series inspired by the book, The Scientific American Brave New Brain.1 That book presents a table contrasting the way the brain once was regarded, the way it is presently regarded and some conjectures about what tomorrow might hold. Formerly stroke damage was regarded as mostly irreversible. It was believed that if improvement was not seen after several months, it would never be seen. Unfortunately, this prognosis was dictated by the then current view of the brain, that brain cells cannot be replaced when they die and that the brain is hardwired and cannot be changed. The debunking of these views was covered in the preceding blog posts, “Neurogenesis,” and “Neuroplasticity.”

Given our current understanding of the brain regarding both neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, the potential recovery of stroke victims has become optimistic. Research and clinical results have confirmed this optimism. Now treatments are undertaken that would never have been considered under the previous views of the brain. Moreover, treatments are undertaken for much longer periods as it has been shown that stroke victims can regain functions even years after a stroke with ongoing therapy. A previous Healthymemory Blog post, “Transactive Memory: An Aid to Short and Long Term Memory and to Stroke Recovery,” expounds, as the title indicates, on how transactive memory can aid in stroke recovery.

According to Brave New Brain, the future will bring new technologies to prevent damage, renew damaged areas, and replace neurons. One particularly interesting project discussed in the book is the development of an artificial hippocampus. One cannot overemphasize the important role the hippocampus (actually there are two hippocampi, one in each hemisphere of the brain) plays. Perhaps important role is in the long term storage of memories. If the hippocampus does not function properly, new memories are no longer formed (enter “hippocampus” into the search box to find more Healthymemory Blog Posts discussing the hippocampus.).

One should not underestimate the difficulties this project needs to address. First of all, it needs either to identify information to be stored in long term memory or to have this information pre-identified. Storing everything in long term memory would be overwhelming and stultifying. Then you would need to learn how to code the information for memory storage. Finally, you would need to know where to send this information. It is likely that it would need to be sent to many places in the brain. Moreover, the where to send requirement would probably be determined or influenced by the kind of information to be stored. An effective artificial hippocampus probably remains something to be developed in the distant future, if it is ever developed. Nevertheless, it is an important structure, one that certainly warrants investigation. What is learned, even given the ultimate failure of the project, could be quite valuable in our understanding of how human memory works.

1Horstman, J. (2010). San Francisco” Jossey-Bass.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Can Transactive Memory Foster Healthy Relationships?

June 27, 2010

Readers of the Healthymemory Blog should know that transactive memory refers to memories stored outside one’s personal biological memory. There are two generic types of transactive memory: other humans and technology. Most of the research on transactive memory has involved other humans. For example, the role that transactive memory plays in team performance1, or the relationship between couples given the quality and nature of their transactive memory2. Not surprisingly, the quality and nature of transactive memory is beneficial in both cases.

An article in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine considered both types of transactive memory in a marital relationship.3 The author of the article hoped that by looking at the Web sites her husband had visited, she could learn something new about him. After looking at these Web sites she concluded that she had learned something new. She found that his internet searches quietly illustrated his affection for her. She also reciprocated by forwarding some of her favorite web sites to him.

The author recognizes the risks into looking into one’s partner’s online life. Boredom is one potential risk. Some sites could be unsettling. Or they could reveal that your partner avidly supported causes you didn’t believe in. Or that your partner wasted time on stupid things or was just really dull.

Fortunately her husband didn’t disappoint her. He also told her that he liked knowing what she was reading, and he felt that it helped him understand her better, but there still were limits.

Now this was a married couple in a successful relationship, but this viewing the web sites seems to have a good deal of potential for those considering entering into a relationship, or those in a relationship who are considering taking it to the next level. Tags on websites such as delicious.com can be used to explore not only specific topics, but also the interrelationships of those topics to gain further insights into your partner. The goal here is not to learn everything or to psychoanalyze your partner. Rather it is to gain insights into their interests and beliefs to assess your compatability. This has the potential for the early termination of relationships that are destined for failure. On the other hand, it provides further basis for developing those successful transactive memories characteristic of couples in happy, healthy relationships.

1Michinov, E., Olivier-Chiron, E., Rusch, E., & Chiron, B. (2008). Influence of Transactive Memory on Perceived Performance, Job Satisfaction and Identification in Anesthesia Teams. British Journal of Anesthesia, 100, 327-332.

2Wegner, D.M., Giuliano, T., & Hertel, P. (1985). Cognitive Interdependence in Close Relationships. In W.J. Ickes (Ed.), Compatible and Incompatible Relationships . New York: Springer-Verlag

3Hesse, M. (2010). Recent History. Washington Post Sunday Magazine, June13, 20-24.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

A Life that Leads to a Healthy Memory

June 7, 2010

Examples are most helpful in achieving goals. So I like to provide examples of people who lead lives that promote healthy memories. In previous blogs I’ve written about a remarkable senior citizen in his nineties, Fletcher Platt, Sr. I’ve provided his website, fletchplatt.com, not only as a valuable source of information, but also as an example of an activity that maintains and builds a healthy memory.

In the same vein I would like to introduce you to a friend of mine who is a fellow baby boomer.

We were both born in 1946 and are at the leading edge of the baby boom. When he married in 1968 he started keeping a log of the family’s activities. When children arrived he moved up to a monthly journal. Remember that this was in the time before personal computers. So this involved manual writing or using a manual typewriter. When the personal computer era arrived he transferred all this information to his PC. He also built this material by adding old photos. He found that this activity stimulated other memories. Sometime he used the internet to check the correctness of these memories to assure he was placing them in the right time period.

A few years ago he started to make a story beginning with his childhood and covering the years up till his marriage. He now has at least one page for every years since 1950. This makes sense, since he turned four in 1950 and our memories prior to age four are extremely sketchy, at best. He uses the internet to check on the things that happened during those years and this stimulates his memory further. It also increases the accuracy of his memory. He is able to check when Howdy Doody with Buffalo Bob aired, when Johnny Tremain appeared on Disneyland, etc.

So why does he do this? The simple answer is that it is enjoyable. And it is always good to capitalize on things that we enjoy that are good for us. This activity provides exercise for the brain. Memory searches trace circuits that have not been activated for a long time. These memory searches further consolidate memories. It also increases the accuracy of his memory. Not only are memories lost, our become more difficult to retrieve, over time, but they tend to drift and fill in the blanks with inaccuracies. So memories become more memorable, if you will, and in the process of consolidating these memories, the brain becomes healthier and less vulnerable to potentially damaging aging processes.

He is also transferring these internal memories to transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to the external storage of memories. This record is of interest to his family and friends. His grandchildren and his descendant of future generations will find this record interesting and worthwhile. Perhaps many centuries into the future, scholars will find this a valuable source in trying to understand how we lived and how we thought.

Another Embarrassing Failure of Prospective Memory

May 18, 2010

Readers of the Healthymemory Blog will remember that prospective memory is the memory to do things. Readers might also remember an earlier posting “An Embarrassing Failure of Prospective Memory.” This posting related the story of my forgetting a breakfast appointment with the Dean of the College of Behavioral Sciences. Readers of this blog should also remember that transactive memory refers to external storage of memories, be they on the internet, in a book, or on a calendar or list. I was so confident that I would remember breakfast with the dean that it did not provide any reminders of the appointment anywhere and consequently forgot the appointment. It was this overconfidence in my personal memory that led to this embarrassment.

I’ve just returned from an Alaskan Cruise with my wife. I had planned to take my blue blazer and my college jacket with me. Moreover, I had imagined placing both the blazer and the jacket in my bag when I thought about packing for the trip. We packed and left for the motel. The motel was a park and fly motel that solves the parking problem and also provides for extra winks for an early morning flight. When we unpacked in the motel, I was amazed not to find either the blue blazer or the jacket. I was certain that I had packed them. This was another example of overconfidence in personal memory. Unfortunately, imagining that you are doing something can be confused with actually doing it. Apparently that was what happened in this instance.

The remedy for this is another instance of transactive memory, a checklist. Unfortunately, I am not much of a list maker. There was a serendipitous end to this story. There was time to go to a mall and shop for the missing items. I ended up getting a fine sports coat and a fine jacket, as well as good prices on both. So sometime failures of prospective can be beneficial. However, others can be disastrous. See the blog posting, “Prospective Memory and Technology.” There you will find accounts of parents going to pick up their children only to discover that they had forgotten to drop them off. Under certain conditions, these children died.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Healthy Memory is Going On a Hiatus, But That Should Make Little Difference

April 30, 2010

There have been more than one hundred postings to this blog, so there is much to peruse. Although I do make an attempt to make new findings in human cognition available, timeliness is not an objective for the most part. The fundamental premise underlying this blog is that there is no magic road to a healthy memory.

Clicking on the About link in the sideboard will provide information about the blog and the blog’s author. There are three themes that this blog pursues.

One theme is that an understanding of human memory and cognition is fundamental to a healthy memory. Understanding how memory works and how well memory performs at different ages is important. It is also important to have a basic understanding of the basic limitations and shortcomings of human memory so that cognitive errors and biases can be recognized and compensated for.

A second theme deals with mnemonic techniques. Mnemonic techniques have been around since the Ancient Greeks. They are proven techniques that not only boost memory performance but provide exercise that fosters a healthy memory.

The third theme is called transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to those memories that are outside your biological brain. They reside in other human beings and in all types of technology from books and paper to the vast expanses of cyberspace. Transactive memory provides vast resources for cognitive and social growth as well as for a healthy memory.

You can being at the beginning (that is at the bottom of the blog postings as the most recent postings appear at the top of the blog) moving upwards reading blogs of interest. Be aware that to benefit fully from this blog, you need to do more than read the postings. You need to try and practice the mnemonic techniques and pursue topics in transactive memory that interest you.

Another strategy is to go by the links listed under Categories and pursue the topics of most interest to you.

Should these links not be visible on the sideboard, then reenter the healthymemory.wordpress.com url and redisplay.

New postings should be coming in a matter of weeks.

 © Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Transactive Memory Games

January 29, 2010

A healthy activity is for a group of friends to commit a body of knowledge to their collective group memory. Now suppose you and your friends enjoy baseball. You could plan a group activity to commit to transactive memory all the World Series winning teams and losing teams by year to include the winning league and the number of games played and the winning and losing managers. This information can be found by doing a Google search for world series winners. That will take you to the Wikipedia List of World Series Champions, which includes all the information listed above.

The initial question is how to divide up this task. This depends on the number in the your group and their respective interests and time to devote to the task. One way would be to divide this up by year. So you could divide the number of years by the number of people in your group and each memory of the group would be responsible for memorizing all the information on the rows corresponding to the years for which he is responsible. Or the task could be divided by columns, columns and rows, whatever the group can support.

Should your group be small, you could cut the task down to size by remembering only the winning teams or perhaps the winning and losing teams.

This is a healthy activity in terms of both cognitive health and social interaction. Your group can put on demonstrations and show at parties and perhaps even win some bets in bars.

The World Series here is just provided as an example. The basic paradigm is to find some information of mutual interest on the internet, or in the library, to divide the information and commit it to group, transactive memory.

In the same Wikipedia article on the World Series is a list of World Series appearances by franchise. This could comprise another compelling demonstration of transactive memory. Here people could pick their favorite teams.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Healthy Memory E-Learning

January 26, 2010

The January-February issue of the AARP Bulletin contained an article, FREE-Learning that provided a list of a wide variety of free educational resources on the web. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, has put nearly 2,000 academic courses online. These can be found at watch.mit.edu. MIT is not the only university to do this. Harvard has courses at athome.harvard.edu.

academicearth.org is a site that features lectures from multiple universities, as does researchchannel.org that features 3500 videos from a consortium of leading research and academic institutions. The popular site YouTube also includes educational content on its education “channel” youtube.com/education. videolectures.net offers video lectures from all other the world by distinguished scholars and scientists at conferences, seminars, and workshops. A consortium of public television and radio stations offers live and on demand lectures on forum-network.org. There is an annual conference with the acronym TED (Technology,Entertainment, Design) where the world’s top thinkers and doers give talks. These talks can be found at ted.com. If your interests are in history or if you are an aficionado of the History Channel, you can go to history.com.

For information about medicine and health, webmd.com, is a good source. healthcentral.com is another good source for medical information. The University of Maryland’s Medical Center’s website, umm.edu/videos, has many interesting videos on medicine.

For learning specific tasks or skills, wonderhowto.com is a good source. howcast.com is another good source of how to videos, including belly dancing.

All of this comes under the rubric transactive memory that is used in this blog. Transactive memory is the external record of all information, from the esoteric to the mundane, throughout the world. A key to healthy memory is to access and lean about some of this information and some of these skills. Maintaining a healthy memory requires active learning throughout the life span. When you stop learning, you stop growing, and your memory health declines.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. 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 Exercise and Transactive Memory

January 24, 2010

One of the basic ideas underlying the Healthymemory Blog is that the internet is one form of transactive memory that provides for cognitive growth and enhancement. Recent research indicates that simply performing web searches can be beneficial. An article in the January 10 Issue of Parade magazine related a presentation made at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. The article presented results regarding an experiment examining the brain activity in 24 adults. Twelve adults were daily internet users and twelve were “newbies” to the internet. The youngest was 55 and the oldest was 78. All participants spent an hour each day for a week performing internet searches. Each participant underwent two brain scans, one at the beginning and one at the end of the experiment. At the beginning of the experiment the bran scans of the newbies showed significantly less activity in areas involved in working memory and decision-making compared with the more experienced users. However, by the end of the week their brain patterns were quite similar to those of the old hands.

The authors of the study suggested that Internet searching may be used as a brain exercise in older adults. They speculated that doing so may even delay the onset of dementia.

The Healthymemory Blog is a strong advocate of using the internet and searching cyberspace for brain and cognitive health. It also believes that it is beneficial to go beyond searching the internet. It is good to take the results of those searches to bookmark or tag those of interest so that they become part of accessible transactive memory. Further interaction with topics of interest will also increase the accessibility of some of the information in your own biological memory.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. 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.

Transactive Memory: Both Human and Technical

January 18, 2010

Transactive memory refers to memories stored outside our individual biological memories. These are memories you can access either via fellow humans or via technology such as books, computers and the internet. An early blog posting, “Folksonomies”, wrote about the social bookmarking site, delicious.com. That posting focused on how delicious.com provided a means of categorizing and organizing information you have found on the web with tags. In addition to categorizing and organizing your own information, you could both make your information available to others and to search the tags to find additional information on designated topics.

In addition to serving as a technical form of transactive memory, delicious.com also has the functionality for developing and enhancing human transactive memory. This is done by forming networks on delicious.com. You form the network by inviting people to join. Moreover, in the process of using delicious.com you will likely find new people with similar interests and ask them to join your network. So delicious is a “people aggregator.”

Delicious also provides subscriptions, so you can subscribe to tags of interest. So it is also a “tag aggregator.” However, in the process of receiving subscriptions and aggregating tags, you are likely to meet new people of similar interests. Hence people aggregation and tag aggregation are mutually supportive.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. 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.

Waitpersons: Biological and Transactive Memory

January 16, 2010

A number of years ago a friend of my told me this story about an experienced cocktail waitress he knew in Las Vegas. She did everything from memory. She never wrote down drink orders. Moreover, when serving drinks she never “auctioned them.” “Auctioning” is the term waitpersons use when they need to ask which person ordered which drink. She was able to do this completely from memory, and she pulled it off without a hitch. Her complaint regarded new waitpersons. The new waitpersons could not do this. They continually botched drink orders so that the cocktail lounge developed a policy of writing down all drink orders. In other words, there was a requirement to use transactive memory, an external memory source. The experienced waitress was also forced to write down drink orders. She was livid.

A recent article in the Washington Post (Hendrix, “The old-school way of memorizing diners’ orders is fried,” January 12, 2010:A01, also search the “Transactive Memory” tags on delicious.com) relates a story about Richard Weber, a 20-year professional waiter. Until recently he never needed to take recourse to notes, to rely upon transactive memory. He did not use specific mnemonic techniques, but paid a great deal of attention to his customers, their orders, and where they sat. He did have a system for memorizing his customers at a table. The one sitting closest to the entrance was #1, with subsequent customers at a table being ordered with respect to how far theny where away from the entrance. Using this system he never needed to “auction” specific orders or drinks. He took great pride in being able to work purely from his own biological memory. Besides professional pride he does this to maintain his sharpness. He believes these activities provide mental exercise contribute to a healthy brain.

Perhaps it is ironic that it is technology that is forcing him occasionally to take notes, to take recourse to transactive memory. Apparently the Food Channel Cable has made many patrons aware of new dishes or ways of preparing food. Another waitperson, Timothy Glynn put it this way, “Whoever invented the Food Network should be shot. Everyone’s a chef now. Everyone wants something special done with their meal. It is getting so that you have to write it down.”

Let me make it clear that the Healthymemory does not want anyone shot. Rather, the Food Channel does provide a means, a source of transactive memory, that fosters new learning experiences that can promote brain health. Healthymemory advocates both exercising your biological brain through selective memorization and mnemonic techniques, and using transactive memory, external sources of information, to explore and acquire new knowledge.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. 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.

Google and Transactive Memory

January 12, 2010

The American Dialect Society has picked “Google” as the word of the decade (2000-2009). It is worth pondering the significance of this selection. “I think my life has been more affected by ‘Google’ than ‘9/11’” said one college student1. At first, this assertion might seem a bit extreme, but if you were not personally affected 9/11, it just might be true. Google has achieved such dominance in the market that it has become a synonym for internet search. For most of us, it has become a part of our daily lives. We take it for granted and perhaps fail to appreciate its larger significance.

Google is a tool that facilitates the accessing and searching of transactive memory that is located in cyberspace. It is helpful to distinguish three classes of transactive memory on the internet. Accessible transactive memory does not require Google. This is information that you cannot recall from your personal memory, but you do remember how to access via the internet. Google, however, is useful for available transactive memory. This is information that you know is on the internet. You might well have visited this site before, but it is not bookmarked and you do not know how to find it. Then it’s Google to the rescue. Potential transactive memory is truly vast. That is all the information available on the internet, which is a substantial percentage of all human knowledge. Potential transactive memory presents the enormous opportunity for cognitive growth. Google, along with other sites such as delicious.com, are key tools for accessing potential transactive memory and converting portions of it to available transactive memory, accessible transactive memory, or your own personal biological memory depending on how well you need to know this information.

In this light, Google is a key tool for an healthy memory and cognitive growth. As we age there is an increasing tendency to rely upon what we know and not to pursue new knowledge. We should pursue new knowledge as long as we live.

 1Zak., D. (2010). American Dialect Society picks ‘tweet,’ ‘Google’ as top words for 2009, decade. The Washington Post, January 9,2010;C01. Also search tags for “Transactive Memory” on delicious.com.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. 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.

Transactive Memory1 and Educational Testing

December 30, 2009

The most common criterion for learning in our educational system is whether you can remember certain information. Sometimes recognition memory is tested, as in true false or multiple choice tests. At other times recall memory is tested, as in fill in the blank or essay tests. These tests are carried up the educational hierarchy all the way to comprehensive written tests for Ph.D. qualifying exams. Open book exams are the exception and not the rule. And the use of crib notes can get a student into serious trouble.

Educators have tended to regard the proliferation of transactive memory (the internet, for example) as a threat to education. They fret about students plagiarizing text from the internet and their inability to recognize or identify this plagiarism. This blog posting will argue that the abundance and availability of transactive memory should be regarded as an opportunity rather than a threat.

When I taught introductory or lower level courses in college, I placed heavy reliance on multiple choice tests. The main considerations here were time and resources. Given an abundance of students and no teaching assistants, practical considerations dictate multiple choice tests. When I needed to construct make up tests for students who had missed scheduled tests for legitimate reasons, I made up essay tests. It is not practical to construct multiple choice tests for one or several students. Usually I was appalled when I graded these tests. Part of the problem often was poor composition skills, but the conclusion I drew was that the students had but the flimsiest grasp of the material. So students seemed to be learning much less than what I had inferred from their multiple choice test performance.

Now consider this new type of test in today’s world of ubiquitous transactive memory. Students would arrive at the exam with their laptops and would be given full internet interactivity. There would be no restriction on any materials they had prepared for the exam. They would be given a problem, perhaps more than one. And it is possible that these questions would be taken from a set of potential exam questions that the students had been given in advance. They would be required to answer the problem or problems to the best of their ability using all the resources at hand. The premise underlying this type of test is that the critical test of knowledge is how well you can use it rather than whether you can recall it by rote. Using the knowledge of others is not a problem as long as credit is given. Failure to provide sources would be heavily penalized.

What do you think of this new type of test for the 21st Century?

1Transactive memory, as presented in previous blog postings, is memory external to our personal selves. So this is memory resident in our fellow humans and in the vast expanses of technology, for example libraries and the internet.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. 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.

Transactive Memory and Travel

December 27, 2009

Transactive memory refers to those memories stored outside one’s own brain. So they can be stored in such technological devices as paper, computer, or the internet, or they can be stored in other individuals. Travel makes extensive demands on memory, so this post provides some ideas on how transactive memory can be effectively employed during travel.

For example, consider the trip to New York City, that my wife and I will be taking. There are a number of tasks that must be accomplished. The first is planning. We need to decide where to stay. Once that is decided, then we need to make the reservations. This is a responsibility that I take. I first discuss this with my wife and later, before actually making the reservations, I confirm them with my wife.

Another responsibility is transportation, how to get there. As my wife is the more frequent traveler to New York, she takes this upon herself. Of course, she discusses this with me, but she is the one who decides upon the mode of transportation and makes the reservations. She is responsible not only for transportation to and from New York City, but also for transportation within the city once we arrive. She does this because she is the more knowledgeable party.

Then we need to decide what to do while in New York. My wife, again being more knowledgeable of the city takes responsibility for the daytime activities. She is very knowledgeable about museums and the like. I take responsibility for the evening activities. We like to go to plays and I try to keep up to date on what is playing of potential interest. Of course, I consult with my wife before booking the shows we are going to attend.

Eating, we need to plan where to eat. Of course, all of this planning does not need to be done in advance. Some activities can be played by ear. But here, I trust the ear of my wife rather than my own.

Of course, technological transactive memory is also involved. Online resources are used to explore the alternatives and to make reservations. There are physical tickets and information on the reservations and the travel. The respective parties can be responsible for their respective holdings of physical transactive memory. This information can be held by both parties in the event that one party misplaces certain information. It is also possible to store this information online via email or some other source from which it can also be retrieved.

Regarding healthy memory in general, travel provides healthy exercise (both physical and mental). This post has already discussed some of the activities that are involved. And travel involves social interactions and new experiences that are also beneficial to healthy memory and effective aging.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Healthy Memory Wishes You a Merry Christmas

December 24, 2009

And, of course, a healthy memory. This blog is devoted to building healthy memories. It is based on three themes. The first theme is that it it important to understand what memory is and how it works.

The second theme is on specific mnemonic techniques for improving memory. These techniques serve two purposes. The first is obvious, they provide a means for improving memory. But they also require creativity, the formation of mental images, recoding, and the searching of brain structures that provide exercise for both hemispheres of the brain.

The third theme is on transactive memory, a concept that is not generally known or understood. Transactive memory refers to memories that are stored outside of one’s own personal brain. These are memories that can be found in technological artifacts, such as paper, books, computers, and the internet. It also refers to memories held by our fellow humans. Transactive memory provides a means for memory growth and enhancement. These sources are found not only in cyberspace and in technological artifacts, but also in our fellow humans. This latter source provides for social interactions and relationships, which are important for healthy brains and memories.

This blog also contains a holiday gift, a memory course. The syllabus for this course can be found in a post titled, oddly enough, “A Memory Course.”

Happy Holidays!

There is More To Healthy Memory Than That

December 12, 2009

When searching through cyberspace for healthy memory, or something along those lines, much will be found. Much of this will be in regard to food or some type of pill. Much will also be found regarding gadgets or software. Now food, diet, and a healthy lifestyle are important to maintaining a healthy memory. There are also useful gadgets and software that can aid in keeping memory healthy. But, as the title of this post implies, there is more to healthy memory than that.

This blog employs three themes to aid in achieving a healthy memory. One theme concerns theory and data regarding human memory. It is worthwhile to gain some understanding as to how human memory works. Included here is also some understanding regarding the physiology and structures of the brain that are important to memory. Moreover, the very activity of learning is healthful, so why should not some of that learning concern memory and the brain?

There is nothing new about wanting to build better memories. Indeed, as far back as the ancient Greeks memory techniques were a central part of rhetoric. Phenomenal achievements of memory have been recorded. However, with the invention of the printing press and the increasing availability of paper, memory techniques started to fall into increasing misuse. Today, with the smart phones, personal digital assistants, and the internet, one might conclude that we do not need to remember anything. Strictly speaking this is not quite true as one needs to remember how to use these devices and to look information up on the internet. Even so, it seems prudent to have some memory stored internally in our brains. Mnemonic techniques represent another theme of this blog. They do offer a means of improving memory. Beyond that, however, they require us, at a minimum, to exercise our imagination, to recode and relate information, and to use both hemispheres of our brain. These activities in and of themselves should foster healthier memories.

The third theme to this blog is transactive memory. Now transactive memory includes those types of external memory storage that led to the decline of mnemonic techniques. This might be a tad ironic, but it would be a serious mistake to ignore transactive memory and try to use mnemonic techniques to commit all information of interest to our internal memories. Transactive memory provides another avenue for a healthy memory. It does provide a backup to our internal memories. Something that is important should be written down or placed in some type of external storage. And it also provides a means of memory growth. There are so many things to discover and learn in cyberspace!

Transactive memory is not restricted to technology. It also includes other humans. Information discovery should not be restricted to cyberspace. Our fellow humans contain a wealth of information. We need to share information among ourselves. There is also a social benefit here that is important to all and is especially important to healthy aging.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. 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.

Transactive Memory: Means to a Healthy Memory and Brain

December 11, 2009

In human memory a distinction is made between memories that are available and memories that are accessible. Accessible memories are those that can be recalled right away without any difficulty. Memories can still be available but be inaccessible at the moment. So these are memories that you know are stored in your memory, but you cannot find them now. Later, or given the appropriate prompt or cue, these memories can become accessible.

Transactive memory refers to memories that are stored external to your brain. Books, computers, the internet, as well as other human beings are all types of transactive memory. Information that is accessible in transactive memory is information that you can locate or retrieve quickly. You know where it is. It is literally at your fingertips. Information can also be available but not accessible in transactive memory. This is information that you know is available someplace, but you do not remember how to locate or access it. If you are on your computer, this is when you use your search function.

There is yet another type of transactive memory. This is potential transactive memory. Potential transactive memory could include all memories stored in the world.  This would include both technological (paper and electronic) storage and biological (data held in human memories) storage. It is termed potential transactive memory because of its huge potential for enhancing an individual’s transactive memory. This is information that can be brought to different levels in either transactive memory, available or accessible, or personal memory, available or accessible. As the amount of information in potential transactive memory is truly overwhelming, one must be careful what to pursue. But purse, we must, particularly if we want to age effectively.

Remember also that your fellow humans are also a source of potential transactive memory. Learn from others. They provide the benefit of social interaction, which is beneficial to all, but which becomes particularly beneficial as we age.

 © Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Healthy Memory: Its Maintenance and Enhancement

December 1, 2009

The name of this blog is healthy memory. Accordingly, the objective of this blog is the maintenance and enhancement of memory. There are three themes to support this objective. One theme is about human memory, how it works, and some of the brain structures underlying memory. A second theme concerns mnemonic techniques, specific techniques for improving memory. The third theme is termed transactive memory. Transactive memory concerns memory that you can use, but is external to your personal biological memory. Transactive memory can be found in fellow humans and in technology. The assumption underlying this blog is that all three of these themes are important to the maintenance and enhancment of memory and provide the means to achieving a healthy memory.

First of all, if you want a healthy memory, you should have some understanding of exactly what it is. So under this theme some theory regarding memory is presented. Data on how memory works is also presented. When you read these articles you might discover that memory problems that you either have had or are just noticing as you age are common to all people of all ages. It is also important to understand what brain structures underlie memory, how they change as we age, as well as the compensatory mechanisms that occur as we age.

Mnemonic techniques are specific techniques for improving personal memory. These techniques serve two goals. One is that they provide the means of improving memory. The other is that the use of these techniques likely provide exercise to the brain that is important for its maintenance and enhancement.

Transactive memory provides yet another means of maintaining and enhancing memory. Teamwork and sharing of memory chores among your friends and family not only provides a means of memory enhancement, but it also provides for social interactions that are important to brain health. Making use of technology be it paper, a Personal Digital Assistant, or a computer is yet another means of maintaining and improving memory. Moreover, the internet provides a vast resource for cognitive growth and enhancement.

You can find the blogs under each of these categories. Unfortunately. one of the features of blogs is that they are organized in reverse chronological order. So to start at the beginning, you need to begin at the bottom and work your way up.

There is a comments section under each individual blog. You are encouraged not only to leave comments, but also to raise questions. I would like to have discussions with you and make this blog a. two way street. The more I know about you, the better I can target the blog to address your interests.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. 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.

What Do We Need to Know

November 22, 2009

This is the question we ask whenever we encounter new information, be it an article, a website, or whatever. If it is of no interest the answer is simple, no we do not need to know this and we proceed no further. The question becomes more difficult when the answer is “yes.” Then the question becomes “how well do we need to know it?” If it is of extreme importance or interest, then one decision might be to commit it, or the gist of it, to memory on the spot. Rarely do we encounter something of this importance or interest, but if we did commit it to memory we would need to devote some attention to its maintenance. Otherwise it could become lost from or inaccessible to memory. So it might also be a good idea to store it in some sort of transactive memory, either to save the file or to tag or bookmark it. If it is also of interest to an acquaintance you could also tell them about the item and why it is so important to you.

In most cases you would either save, tag, or bookmark the item. Should you fail to do so, at a later time you might recall there was something of interest or importance, but be unable to find it. So you need to take recourse to transactive memory frequently or you will be in a state of having a wealth of memories, but being unable to access it.

Essentially, you need to decide what level of effort the information affords. You cannot remember everything and to a large extent what you do remember depends on the amount of effort you expend. Although you could commit a great deal of information to memory, you would do this at the cost of remaining ignorant of other information (to say nothing of the free time lost). Some idiot savants commit enormous amounts of information to memory (remember Dustin Hoffman in the movie “Rain Man?”), but these people are often socially inept. So you want to learn thing, have social relationships, and enjoy life. And you do this by relying on transactive memory

This is an interesting question because it is asking what does it mean to “know” something? In most tests taken at school the standard is whether the information can be retrieved from memory. Sometimes, as in multiple choice or true false tests, the criterion is whether the information can be recognized. In fill in the blank or essay questions, the criterion is whether the information can be recalled. Usually one of the requirements for a Ph.D. that needs to be passed before you can do a dissertation is a comprehensive exam. Usually this exam is written and is an enormous closed book test on the relevant material in the subject in which you are trying to earn a Ph.D. That was true in my case in which I had to answer question without the aid of external supports (no lifelines!)

A reasonable question is whether this is the only criterion for knowing. Suppose you know where to find the specific material. So you know what the material is about and where it fits into some general scheme of knowledge. Does this not also imply that you have some knowledge about a topic? Does not having information in transactive memory and being able to access it also count as knowledge?

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. 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.

 

Blog

November 19, 2009

Blog is a contraction of the term weblog, a type of website. It is usually run by an individual posting regular entries. Technorati reported tracking more than 112.8 million blogs in June, 2008. One of the reasons there are so many blogs is that it is easy to start a blog. No technical expertise is required. For example, to launch a blog at wordpress.com, you basically fill out some forms, sign an agreement, all online, and you have your blog. There is no cost for beginning or maintaining a log at wordpress, although one can sign up for various add-ons and enhancements. But the free service offers a substantial degree of functionality and is easy to operate.

The vast majority of blogs are run as a hobby. Some are basically on-line diaries, others provide a ready means of sharing information with family, colleagues, or friends. Moreover, there are groups of blogs organized into blog communities like blogcatalog.com or mybloglog.com. Technorati.com is a search engine specialized for searching blogs. So you can use technorati.com to search of blogs that are of interest to you. A substantial number of blogs are commercial enterprises. They are bought and sold. Blogs can be viewed as a new publishing medium.

Blogs provide a tremendous opportunity. They can be started and maintained at little or no cost. And some do grow and become quite profitable. Of course, the competition is fierce. As a hobby, blogging is a cinch. As a business, blogging is demanding and can be quite frustrating.

Although I blog, I cannot say that I consult them much. There always is a potential problem of quality control with blogs as anyone can publish anything. Most blogs allow readers to comment, which does serve as a feedback mechanism. And one can come to know and trust different blogs. In my case, I have so much to read with respect to both conventional and on-line media, that little time is left for blogs.

Blogs can contain extremist views that become self-reinforcing because they attract readers of like minds. Here comments can serve to inflame further rather than to moderate extreme views or to correct erroneous information.

But blogs also provide a means of easily disseminating information. That is the objective of this blog, healthymemory.wordpress.com. The objective here is to disseminate interesting information about human memory, techniques for maintaining and enhancing human memory, and discussions of how technology can aid and enhance human memory. Readers can provide comments, which can be either feedback or questions. Readers are encouraged to do so. Reader input provides the information that helps me in improving this blog.

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. 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.

Transactive Memory Meets Human Memory

November 6, 2009

When you save a file on your computer you are saving information in transactive memory. Subsequently you are likely to want to retrieve information from transactive memory. When you remember that there is information that you want on the internet, then you need to retrieve this information from transactive memory. However, just as in the case of human memory, and this is analogous to the tip-of-the-tongue (TOT), you sometimes know, are virtually certain, that the information is there, but you cannot find or retrieve it.

In the case of a computer, you cannot remember either the folder, the file name, the URL, or tag, or bookmark. I have had the experience, on more occasions than I would like to admit, where I was absolutely certain when I saved the file that given the filename I had used and the folder in which I had saved the information virtually guaranteed that I would be able to retrieve it whenever I wanted to no matter how far into the future I attempted. But when I tried to retrieve the file I could not and had to resort to searching for it. I have had similar problems on the internet. When I left the information, the location was so obvious that I was certain I could find it again with no difficulty. Or when I had either bookmarked or tagged the information, I was certain to be able to access it. Yet I ultimately ended up searching for this information.

These failures are not transformational memory failures. Rather they are failures of human memory. These failures are well understood and their remedies are known. Key here is the encoding specificity principle. To retrieve information, you need to use the same retrieval cue, or think about it in the same way, when you try to retrieve it as when you stored it. It is also important to pay adequate attention to this information. I believe most of my retrieval failures are due to being overconfident at the time of storage. I was so sure that these were obvious that I did not pay adequate attention.

The basic principles of all mnemonic techniques apply here. Have a plan for both storing and retrieving the information. This plan will include a method for generating retrieval cues and for accessing these retrieval cues at the time of retrieval.

To this point the discussion has focused on the technological part of transactive memory, but the same problems can apply to the human component. You can forget who knows what. Ultimately failures to retrieve information from transactive memory, both of the technological and human varieties involve searching. Fortunately in the technological case, there are tools and these tools function rapidly. Unfortunately in the human case, searching can be both slow and embarrassing.

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. 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.