Friday, January 28, 2022

The stories we imagine while listening to music depends on our culture.

Margulis et al. (text from their introduction)
....compared quantitative measures of narrativity (the likelihood that an excerpt of music triggers a story in listeners minds) and narrative engagement (how vivid and clear the events of the story are in listeners minds) for a large set of musical excerpts from Western and Chinese musical traditions for listeners in the same three distinct geographical locations as the present investigation—two suburban college towns in the US Midwest and one rural village in the Chinese province of Guizhou. Results showed that people in all three locations readily narrativize to excerpts (i.e., narrativity scores were quite high) with varying levels of narrative engagement for both Western and Chinese instrumental music; moreover, people do so with about the same degree regardless of location. Notably, however, although both excerpt narrativity and narrative engagement scores were highly correlated across the two US locations, they were not correlated (not predictive) for cross-cultural comparisons between listeners in both of the US locations and the remote rural village in Guizhou.
Here is the article's abstsract:
The scientific literature sometimes considers music an abstract stimulus, devoid of explicit meaning, and at other times considers it a universal language. Here, individuals in three geographically distinct locations spanning two cultures performed a highly unconstrained task: they provided free-response descriptions of stories they imagined while listening to instrumental music. Tools from natural language processing revealed that listeners provide highly similar stories to the same musical excerpts when they share an underlying culture, but when they do not, the generated stories show limited overlap. These results paint a more complex picture of music’s power: music can generate remarkably similar stories in listeners’ minds, but the degree to which these imagined narratives are shared depends on the degree to which culture is shared across listeners. Thus, music is neither an abstract stimulus nor a universal language but has semantic affordances shaped by culture, requiring more sustained attention from psychology.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Our brains have multiple representations of the same body part.

Here is a neat finding. Remember your elementary biology textbook picture of the homunculi in our somatosensory and motor cortices? The small human figure spread across the surface of the brain, with a cortical location for each part of the hand or other body part? Matsumiya shows that when we direct our eye and hand movements to the same body part these two movements are found to be guided by different body maps! Here is his abstract:  


Accurate motor control depends on maps of the body in the brain, called the body schema. Disorders of the body schema cause motor deficits. Although we often execute actions with different motor systems such as the eye and hand, how the body schema operates during such actions is unknown. In this study, participants simultaneously directed eye and hand movements to the same body part. These two movements were found to be guided by different body maps. This finding demonstrates multiple motor system–specific representations of the body schema, suggesting that the choice of motor system toward one’s body can determine which of the brain’s body maps is observed. This may offer a new way to visualize patients’ body schema.
Purposeful motor actions depend on the brain’s representation of the body, called the body schema, and disorders of the body schema have been reported to show motor deficits. The body schema has been assumed for almost a century to be a common body representation supporting all types of motor actions, and previous studies have considered only a single motor action. Although we often execute multiple motor actions, how the body schema operates during such actions is unknown. To address this issue, I developed a technique to measure the body schema during multiple motor actions. Participants made simultaneous eye and reach movements to the same location of 10 landmarks on their hand. By analyzing the internal configuration of the locations of these points for each of the eye and reach movements, I produced maps of the mental representation of hand shape. Despite these two movements being simultaneously directed to the same bodily location, the resulting hand map (i.e., a part of the body schema) was much more distorted for reach movements than for eye movements. Furthermore, the weighting of visual and proprioceptive bodily cues to build up this part of the body schema differed for each effector. These results demonstrate that the body schema is organized as multiple effector-specific body representations. I propose that the choice of effector toward one’s body can determine which body representation in the brain is observed and that this visualization approach may offer a new way to understand patients’ body schema.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Using big data to track major shifts in human cognition

I want to pass on the first few paragraphs of a fascinating commentary by Simon DeDao on an article by Scheffer et al. that was the subject of MindBlog's 12/31/21 post. Motivated readers can obtain a copy of the whole article by emailing me.:
Scheffer et al.’s (1) exciting new work reports an historic rearrangement, occurring in the late 20th century, of the balance between reason and emotion. Its approach is part of a new trend in the psychological sciences that uses extremely large volumes of text to study basic patterns of human cognition. Recent work in this vein has included studies of the universal properties of gender representations (2), the rise of causal thinking (3), and a cognitive bias towards positivity in language itself (4). The goal of going “from text to thought” (5) is an attractive one, and the promise of the machine learning era is that we will only get better at extracting the imprints left, in text, by the mechanisms of the mind.
To establish their claims, Scheffer et al. (1) use principal component analysis to identify two major polarities of correlated vocabulary words in the Google Books corpus (6). The first polarity (PC1) tracks a shift from archaic to modern, in both material life (“iron” is archaic, “computer” is modern) and culture (“liberty” is archaic, “privacy” is modern). The second polarity (PC2) that emerges is the intriguing one, and forms the basis of their paper: Its two poles, the authors argue, correspond to the distinction between “rational” and “intuitive” language.
Their main finding then has two pieces: a shift from the intuitive pole to the rational pole (the “rise” of rationality) and then back (the “fall”) (1). The rise has begun by the start of their data in 1850, and unfolds over the course of a century or more. They attribute it to a society increasingly concerned with quantifying, and justifying, the world through scientific and impersonal language—a gradual tightening of Max Weber’s famous “iron cage” of collectivized, rationalized bureaucracy in service of the capitalist profit motive (7). The fall, meaning a shift from the rational back to the intuitive, begins in 1980, and is more rapid than the rise: By 2020, the balance is similar to that seen in the early 1900s. The fall appears to accelerate in the early 2000s, which leads the authors to associate it with social media use and a “post-truth era” where “feelings trump facts.” Both these interpretations are supported by accompanying shifts toward “collective” pronouns (we, our, and they) in the Weberian period, and then toward the “individualistic” ones (I, my, he, and she) after.
The raw effect sizes the authors report are extraordinarily large (1). At the peak in 1980, rationality words outnumbered intuition words, on average, three to one. Forty years later (and 100 y earlier), however, the balance was roughly one to one. If these represent changes in actual language use, let alone the time devoted to the underlying cognitive processes, they are enormous shifts in the nature of human experience.
1. M. Scheffer, I. van de Leemput, E. Weinans, J. Bollen, The rise and fall of rationality in language. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 118, e2107848118 (2021).
2. T. E. S. Charlesworth, V. Yang, T. C. Mann, B. Kurdi, M. R. Banaji, Gender stereotypes in natural language: Word embeddings show robust consistency across child and adult language corpora of more than 65 million words. Psychol. Sci. 32, 218–240 (2021).
3. R. Iliev, R. Axelrod, Does causality matter more now? Increase in the proportion of causal language in English texts. Psychol. Sci. 27, 635–643 (2016).
4. P. S. Dodds et al, Human language reveals a universal positivity bias. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 112, 2389–2394 (2015).
5. J. C. Jackson et al, From text to thought: How analyzing language can advance psychological science. Perspect. Psychol. Sci., 10.117/17456916211004899 (2021).
6. J. B. Michel et al.; Google Books Team, Quantitative analysis of culture using millions of digitized books. Science 331, 176–182 (2011).

Friday, January 21, 2022

What is working for you and what is not?

This post passes on to MindBlog readers the discussion topic for a Feb 6 2:00 p.m. (CST) Zoom meeting of The Austin Rainbow Forum, which I coordinate along with fellow Austinites Darrell Laremore and Charles Curry. If you are interested in attending the session please email

What is working for you and what is not? Are things as bad as most of the media suggest? We are freer, richer, safer than we have ever been before, yet anxiety and suicides are at all-time highs. What sets our ratio of hopelessness to hopefulness?  Do we have overactive fear, negativity, and blame biases?  Below is  a selection of background reading relevant to optimism versus pessimism. 

Maybe things are not as bad as we think

Most People are Good

Social Media isn’t the problem…We are.

Antidotes to anxiety and hopelessness

How to stay optimistic when everything seems wrong.

How to be more optimistic

The Compassionate Instinct

What can go wrong - the tide of bad news from our media

America Is Falling Apart at the Seams

The Mental Health Toll of Trump-Era Politics

Going Bananas in the Age of Anxiety

More optimistic long term views

 Hans Rosling: Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World - and Why Things are Better Than you Think.    (10 psychological instincts that mislead us, for example to excess fear, negativity, blame, etc. - The link takes you to the first of a series of four blog posts abstracting the main points of the book)

Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress   (The link takes you to a series  of posts abstracting the main points of the book).

Nicholas A. Christakis: Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society  

Can monitoring brain waves boost mental health?

David Dodge does an interesting article asking whether neurofeedback has delivered the mental health revolution it has been promising for decades. The bottom line is that no experiments with proper double-blind controls have been convincing, and positive results obtained in less rigorous experiments with small numbers of subjects could be due to placebo effects.
Well-heeled investors, including the former secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, continue to pour millions into neurofeedback companies that promise dramatic improvements to the ways our brains function...However, neurofeedback is still not accepted as a mainstream treatment within mental health circles — and the most robust research into the intervention so far suggests it is no more effective than a placebo.
Practitioners across the country use neurofeedback to treat conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, epilepsy and traumatic brain injuries. The Food and Drug Administration has cleared a wide range of neurofeedback devices to treat these and other conditions, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list it as an option in cases of ADHD in children, though they stop short of endorsing it.
Robert Thibault, a postdoctoral scholar at the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford University, notes that neurofeedback advocates point to peer-reviewed research that have “impressive results,” but most are not rigorous double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. Of the dozen or so such trials, all but one concluded that fake neurofeedback works just as well as real neurofeedback...neurofeedback therapy success stories are likely caused by the placebo effect and not the treatment. He suggested that the therapy’s success may have something to do with the “healing environment” that practitioners create in their clinics or the allure of using sophisticated brain-monitoring technology.
In many instances, an online course is all that is needed to earn the certificate required to operate one of the dozens of neurofeedback devices on the market...Some companies skip the practitioner entirely by selling pricey neurofeedback devices directly to consumers...While its effectiveness is still debated, neurofeedback is generally thought to be safe. Even critics admit there are few side effects or downsides for those who have the time and money.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

C.E.O.s are our heroes, at least according to them.

An interesting article by Peter Goodman, explains how corporations that claim to be serving the larger common good pay zero taxes. I suggest you read the whole article, which focuses on Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, and will pass on one passage that particularly struck me:
His philanthropic efforts have been directed at easing homelessness in San Francisco, while expanding health care for children. He and Salesforce collectively contributed $7 million toward a successful 2018 campaign for a local ballot measure that levied fresh taxes on San Francisco companies to finance expanded programs. The new taxes were likely to cost Salesforce $10 million a year.
That sounded like a lot of money, ostensible evidence of a socially conscious C.E.O. sacrificing the bottom line in the interest of catering to societal needs. But it was less than a trifle alongside the money that Salesforce withheld from the government through legal tax subterfuge.
The same year that Mr. Benioff backed the ballot measure, his company recorded revenues exceeding $13 billion while paying the modest sum of zero in federal taxes. Salesforce deployed 14 tax subsidiaries scattered from Singapore to Switzerland, moving its money and assets around in a masterful display of accounting hocus-pocus that made its taxable income vanish..Salesforce repeated the trick in 2020, paying no federal taxes despite reporting $2.6 billion in profit.
During President Bill Clinton’s administration, the Treasury Department opened up a loophole that enabled executives at multinational corporations to set up subsidiaries in foreign countries that beckoned with low taxes — Ireland was a popular choice — and then legally transfer their intellectual property there. Their new international outposts charged the rest of the corporation exorbitant licensing fees to use the intellectual property.
The net effect: On their American earnings statements, the wealthiest corporations looked like money losers, paying taxes accordingly.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Different circuits in the brain for reward seeking and novelty seeking.

Work by Ogasawara et al. is noted by Peter Stern.
Novelty seeking is a key feature of intelligent behavior and adaptive cognition. However, we know little about the circuits that regulate our attraction to novel objects for novelty’s sake. Ogasawara et al. discovered that a brain nucleus called the zona incerta was causally related to novelty seeking. A region in the anterior medial temporal lobe projected to the zona incerta and sent motivational signals required to control novelty seeking through the zona incerta circuit. A novelty-seeking task, in which monkeys were motivated by the receipt of novel objects, showed that this behavior was not regulated by the dopamine reward-seeking circuitry. This work provides evidence for a clear dissociation in the brain circuitry between reward seeking and novelty seeking.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Unlocking adults’ implicit statistical learning by cognitive depletion

Smalle et al. make the fascinating observation that inhibition of our adult cognitive control system by non-invasive brain stimulation can unleash some of our infant implicit statistical learning abilities - the learning of novel words embedded in a string of spoken syllables. This suggests that adult language learning is antagonized by higher cognitive mechanisms.  


Statistical learning mechanisms enable extraction of patterns in the environment from infancy to adulthood. For example, they enable segmentation of continuous speech streams into novel words. Adults typically become aware of the hidden words even when passively listening to speech streams. It remains poorly understood how cognitive development and brain maturation affect implicit statistical learning (i.e., infant-like learning without awareness). Here, we show that the depletion of the cognitive control system by noninvasive brain stimulation or by demanding cognitive tasks boosts adults’ implicit but not explicit word-segmentation abilities. These findings suggest that the adult cognitive architecture constrains statistical learning mechanisms that are likely to contribute to early language acquisition and opens avenues to enhance language-learning abilities in adults.
Human learning is supported by multiple neural mechanisms that maturate at different rates and interact in mostly cooperative but also sometimes competitive ways. We tested the hypothesis that mature cognitive mechanisms constrain implicit statistical learning mechanisms that contribute to early language acquisition. Specifically, we tested the prediction that depleting cognitive control mechanisms in adults enhances their implicit, auditory word-segmentation abilities. Young adults were exposed to continuous streams of syllables that repeated into hidden novel words while watching a silent film. Afterward, learning was measured in a forced-choice test that contrasted hidden words with nonwords. The participants also had to indicate whether they explicitly recalled the word or not in order to dissociate explicit versus implicit knowledge. We additionally measured electroencephalography during exposure to measure neural entrainment to the repeating words. Engagement of the cognitive mechanisms was manipulated by using two methods. In experiment 1 (n = 36), inhibitory theta-burst stimulation (TBS) was applied to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex or to a control region. In experiment 2 (n = 60), participants performed a dual working-memory task that induced high or low levels of cognitive fatigue. In both experiments, cognitive depletion enhanced word recognition, especially when participants reported low confidence in remembering the words (i.e., when their knowledge was implicit). TBS additionally modulated neural entrainment to the words and syllables. These findings suggest that cognitive depletion improves the acquisition of linguistic knowledge in adults by unlocking implicit statistical learning mechanisms and support the hypothesis that adult language learning is antagonized by higher cognitive mechanisms.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Children universally across societies enforce conventional norms but in culturally variable ways

From Kanngiesser et al. in PNAS:
Humans, as compared with other animals, create and follow conventional norms that determine how we greet each other, dress, or play certain games. Conventional norms are universal in all human societies, but it is an open question whether individuals in all societies also actively enforce conventional norms when others in their group break them. We investigated third-party enforcement of conventional norms in 5- to 8-y-old children (n = 376) from eight diverse small-scale and large-scale societies. Children learned the rules for playing a new sorting game and then, observed a peer who was apparently breaking them. Across societies, observer children intervened frequently to correct their misguided peer (i.e., more frequently than when the peer was following the rules). However, both the magnitude and the style of interventions varied across societies. Detailed analyses of children’s interactions revealed societal differences in children’s verbal protest styles as well as in their use of actions, gestures, and nonverbal expressions to intervene. Observers’ interventions predicted whether their peer adopted the observer’s sorting rule. Enforcement of conventional norms appears to be an early emerging human universal that comes to be expressed in culturally variable ways.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Transcranial stimulation of alpha oscillations up-regulates the default mode network

Interesting work from Clancy et al. on the brain's default mode network that carries out our self referential rumination: Significance
In the brain’s functional organization, the default mode network (DMN) represents a key architecture, whose dysregulation is involved in a host of major neuropsychiatric disorders. However, insights into the regulation of the DMN remain scarce. Through neural synchrony, the alpha-frequency oscillation represents another key underpinning of the brain’s organization and is thought to share an inherent interdependence with the DMN. Here, we demonstrated that transcranial alternating current stimulation of alpha oscillations (α-tACS) not only augmented alpha activity but also strengthened connectivity of the DMN, with the former serving as a mediator of the latter. These findings reveal that alpha oscillations can support DMN functioning. In addition, they identify an effective noninvasive approach to regulate the DMN via α-tACS.
The default mode network (DMN) is the most-prominent intrinsic connectivity network, serving as a key architecture of the brain’s functional organization. Conversely, dysregulated DMN is characteristic of major neuropsychiatric disorders. However, the field still lacks mechanistic insights into the regulation of the DMN and effective interventions for DMN dysregulation. The current study approached this problem by manipulating neural synchrony, particularly alpha (8 to 12 Hz) oscillations, a dominant intrinsic oscillatory activity that has been increasingly associated with the DMN in both function and physiology. Using high-definition alpha-frequency transcranial alternating current stimulation (α-tACS) to stimulate the cortical source of alpha oscillations, in combination with simultaneous electroencephalography and functional MRI (EEG-fMRI), we demonstrated that α-tACS (versus Sham control) not only augmented EEG alpha oscillations but also strengthened fMRI and (source-level) alpha connectivity within the core of the DMN. Importantly, increase in alpha oscillations mediated the DMN connectivity enhancement. These findings thus identify a mechanistic link between alpha oscillations and DMN functioning. That transcranial alpha modulation can up-regulate the DMN further highlights an effective noninvasive intervention to normalize DMN functioning in various disorders.

Friday, January 07, 2022

Twitter amplifies the political right more than the political left

You should read this open source editorial in PNAS by Susan Fiske "Twitter Manipulates your feed: Ethical considerations," a commentary on the article by Huszár et al., "Algorithmic amplification of politics on Twitter," in the same issue. Here is the Huszár et al. abstract:  


The role of social media in political discourse has been the topic of intense scholarly and public debate. Politicians and commentators from all sides allege that Twitter’s algorithms amplify their opponents’ voices, or silence theirs. Policy makers and researchers have thus called for increased transparency on how algorithms influence exposure to political content on the platform. Based on a massive-scale experiment involving millions of Twitter users, a fine-grained analysis of political parties in seven countries, and 6.2 million news articles shared in the United States, this study carries out the most comprehensive audit of an algorithmic recommender system and its effects on political content. Results unveil that the political right enjoys higher amplification compared to the political left.


Content on Twitter’s home timeline is selected and ordered by personalization algorithms. By consistently ranking certain content higher, these algorithms may amplify some messages while reducing the visibility of others. There’s been intense public and scholarly debate about the possibility that some political groups benefit more from algorithmic amplification than others. We provide quantitative evidence from a long-running, massive-scale randomized experiment on the Twitter platform that committed a randomized control group including nearly 2 million daily active accounts to a reverse-chronological content feed free of algorithmic personalization. We present two sets of findings. First, we studied tweets by elected legislators from major political parties in seven countries. Our results reveal a remarkably consistent trend: In six out of seven countries studied, the mainstream political right enjoys higher algorithmic amplification than the mainstream political left. Consistent with this overall trend, our second set of findings studying the US media landscape revealed that algorithmic amplification favors right-leaning news sources. We further looked at whether algorithms amplify far-left and far-right political groups more than moderate ones; contrary to prevailing public belief, we did not find evidence to support this hypothesis. We hope our findings will contribute to an evidence-based debate on the role personalization algorithms play in shaping political content consumption.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Higher performance and fronto-parietal brain activity following active versus passive learning

From a brief open source PNAS report by Stillesjö et al. that has a nice graphic of the fMRI data supporting their observations:
We here demonstrate common neurocognitive long-term memory effects of active learning that generalize over course subjects (mathematics and vocabulary) by the use of fMRI. One week after active learning, relative to more passive learning, performance and fronto-parietal brain activity was significantly higher during retesting, possibly related to the formation and reactivation of semantic representations. These observations indicate that active learning conditions stimulate common processes that become part of the representations and can be reactivated during retrieval to support performance. Our findings are of broad interest and educational significance related to the emerging consensus of active learning as critical in promoting good long-term retention.

Monday, January 03, 2022

The Power of Us

A recent New York Times essay by Jon Mooallem, "Is life better when we're together?" is worth a read, and references work of Packer and Van Bavel described in their new book "The Power of Us." Their experiments, a continuation of work started by psychologist Henri Tafjel in the 1970s, illustrate how our social brains are programmed to organize us into "us" and "them" groups on the basis of sometimes completely arbitrary and trivial criteria, as in assigning a study group of subjects into groups A and B on the basis of a coin toss.  Tafjel's work is also referenced in another excellent article by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker, "How Politics Got So Polarized."  She reviews a number of recent books in this area, and also notes the phenomenon of "false polarization" - views of the extremes predominate as the moderate majority of people withdraw from the fray of commentary.

Here are some clips from the Mooallem article, the first noting Tafjel's experiments on high school students in Bristol, England.

...biases locked in right away. Overwhelmingly, people in Dr. Tajfel’s experiment gave more of the money he put at their disposal to members of their own group than the other. Moreover, they were bent on creating as large a disparity as possible, even when offered the option of maximizing the amount of money for everyone, at no cost. Their behavior seemed vindictive, “a clear case of gratuitous discrimination,” Dr. Tajfel wrote.
Since then, other researchers have run their own minimal group experiments, pushing those findings further. Dr. Packer and Dr. Van Bavel have split people into leopards and tigers, for example. Others have gone maximally minimal and divided people into group A and group B. Still, the pride — the readiness to connect — is always there. When you tell people they’re in group A, Dr. Packer says, those people are reliably psyched to be in group A. Stick leopard people in a brain imaging machine and show them a picture of a stranger, and their brain activity changes if they know that the stranger is a leopard person, too. Their positivity toward other leopard people increases and even supersedes racial biases that cut the other way.
Dr. Packer and Dr. Van Bavel call the minimal group studies “among the most important studies in the history of psychology.” They demonstrate that “the human sense of self — your gravitational center — does not stay in the same place. With a flip of a coin, people constructed entirely new identities in a matter of minutes.”...The rewards of this kind of connectedness wind up driving all kinds of wonderful human behavior, sometimes less obviously than we’d assume.
But it also leads to the behaviors shown by the insurrections of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
It’s hard to imagine more antisocial behavior than attempting to undo a democratic election with mayhem and violence. But the insurrectionists were doing it together, and pretty joyously, it seemed — snapping selfies, posting them to Facebook with stupid jokes in real time. It was, within their community, a prosocial activity, too.
When a system appears to be malfunctioning, indifferent, reckless or corrupt, that’s a kind of disaster, and people are likely to come together and respond, for better or worse...Some will be volunteers, and some will be vigilantes. But both may be reacting to a similar feeling of free fall, of tumbling. This doesn’t make them morally equivalent; in the end, morality is what keeps them from being equivalent. I know it’s important to keep drawing that distinction, to keep calling it out. I also know it’s not enough.

Friday, December 31, 2021

The rise and fall of rationality in language

Fascinating language analysis from Scheffer et al. that illustrates over the past decades a marked shift in public interest from the collective to the individual, and from rationality toward emotion:  


The post-truth era has taken many by surprise. Here, we use massive language analysis to demonstrate that the rise of fact-free argumentation may perhaps be understood as part of a deeper change. After the year 1850, the use of sentiment-laden words in Google Books declined systematically, while the use of words associated with fact-based argumentation rose steadily. This pattern reversed in the 1980s, and this change accelerated around 2007, when across languages, the frequency of fact-related words dropped while emotion-laden language surged, a trend paralleled by a shift from collectivistic to individualistic language.
The surge of post-truth political argumentation suggests that we are living in a special historical period when it comes to the balance between emotion and reasoning. To explore if this is indeed the case, we analyze language in millions of books covering the period from 1850 to 2019 represented in Google nGram data. We show that the use of words associated with rationality, such as “determine” and “conclusion,” rose systematically after 1850, while words related to human experience such as “feel” and “believe” declined. This pattern reversed over the past decades, paralleled by a shift from a collectivistic to an individualistic focus as reflected, among other things, by the ratio of singular to plural pronouns such as “I”/”we” and “he”/”they.” Interpreting this synchronous sea change in book language remains challenging. However, as we show, the nature of this reversal occurs in fiction as well as nonfiction. Moreover, the pattern of change in the ratio between sentiment and rationality flag words since 1850 also occurs in New York Times articles, suggesting that it is not an artifact of the book corpora we analyzed. Finally, we show that word trends in books parallel trends in corresponding Google search terms, supporting the idea that changes in book language do in part reflect changes in interest. All in all, our results suggest that over the past decades, there has been a marked shift in public interest from the collective to the individual, and from rationality toward emotion.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Senolytic therapies for healthy longevity

An article on increasing longevity by getting rid of senescent cells (cells that have stopped dividing and generate products that accelerate aging) has been languishing in my queue of potential posts for over a year, and I want to finally give it a mention. (This continues the thread of MindBlog posts over the years that have dealt with anti-aging supplements. You can enter 'resveratrol' in the search box in the right column of this blog to get a sample. I've reported on several self experiments, none of which ended all that well. A 2008 post on my experimenting with a resveratrol supplement generated a comment thread that has continued for many years.)

Here is the abstract of the review article by Jan M. van Deursen in Science Magazine:

The estimated “natural” life span of humans is ∼30 years, but improvements in working conditions, housing, sanitation, and medicine have extended this to ∼80 years in most developed countries. However, much of the population now experiences aging-associated tissue deterioration. Healthy aging is limited by a lack of natural selection, which favors genetic programs that confer fitness early in life to maximize reproductive output. There is no selection for whether these alterations have detrimental effects later in life. One such program is cellular senescence, whereby cells become unable to divide. Cellular senescence enhances reproductive success by blocking cancer cell proliferation, but it decreases the health of the old by littering tissues with dysfunctional senescent cells (SNCs). In mice, the selective elimination of SNCs (senolysis) extends median life span and prevents or attenuates age-associated diseases (1, 2). This has inspired the development of targeted senolytic drugs to eliminate the SNCs that drive age-associated disease in humans.
A few clips from the article:
Much of our current knowledge about the properties of SNCs is based on experiments in cultured cells, largely because SNCs in tissues and organs are difficult to identify and collect. One key characteristic of SNCs is that they are in a state of permanent cell-cycle arrest....SNCs produce a bioactive “secretome,” referred to as the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). This can disrupt normal tissue architecture and function through diverse mechanisms, including recruitment of inflammatory immune cells, remodeling of the extracellular matrix, induction of fibrosis, and inhibition of stem cell function . Paradoxically, although cellular senescence has evolved as a tumor protective program, the SASP can include factors that stimulate neoplastic cell growth, tumor angiogenesis, and metastasis, thereby promoting the development of late-life cancers. Indeed, elimination of SNCs with aging attenuates tumor formation in mice, raising the possibility that senolysis might be an effective strategy to treat cancer.
The article proceeds to outline several different efforts to identify senolytic drug targets. It notes that:
...natural products with anticancer properties, such as quercetin and fisetin, and quercetin in combination with the pan-tyrosine kinase inhibitor dasatinib, have been reported to eliminate SNCs in vitro and in mice [M. Xu et al., Nat. Med. 24, 1246 (2018); M. J. Yousefzadeh et al., EBioMedicine 36, 18 (2018)]. Although quercetin, fisetin, and dasatinib are often referred to as senolytics, it should be noted that they each act on a myriad of pathways and mechanisms implicated in diverse biological processes. This makes it difficult to decipher how these drugs eliminate or otherwise impact SNCs and to attribute any therapeutic or detrimental effects they may have in clinical trials to senolysis.
A brief google search on these flavinoid antioxidant compounds (found in fruits and vegetables...strawberries, watercress, cilantro, etc.) finds a large number of "Life Extension" dietary supplements featuring them. There is no data on their effects on senolysis or life span in humans.

Monday, December 27, 2021

MindBlog gets an extreme comment on Covid

I've debated on whether it would be better to ignore (and not amplify by passing on) an extreme comment of a sort MindBlog almost never receives. It is sent as a response to, but does not actually comment on, last Wednesday's post on the David Brooks article "What Happened to American Conservatism."  Although I am in complete disagreement with the comment's content, I've decided to pass it on because  it is an instructive example of the quality, style, stance and arguments of a fraction of America's population large enough to guarantee the continued generation of Covid variants that will maintain Covid as a chronic disease for the foreseeable future.  Here's the comment:
Re the "the human condition"... The TRUE human condition or world we live in is about 2 pink elephants in the room and has never been on clearer display than with the deliberate global Covid Scam atrocity — check out “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room –The Holocaustal Covid-19 Coronavirus Madness: A Sociological Perspective & Historical Assessment Of The Covid “Phenomenon”” at w w w d o t CovidTruthBeKnown d o t c o m 
“[…] when you do things to people against their will and force them it destroys their spirit, it destroys the integrity of their body. […]. Being an adult is meaningless if you cannot even protect the integrity of your own body.” -- Jennifer Daniels, MD, MBA, Holistic Doctor 
If your employer (even educational or federal employers) wants you to take a Covid vaccine give him/her one of these form letters of exemption found at w w w d o t lc d o t o r g/exempt 
By the way, with the letters of "omicron" an alleged Covid variant you can spell "moronic"...
And further speaking of stupid herd people not getting the glaringly obvious truth/ie not getting the constant onslaught of BIG lies of the official authorities, the world we live in and what the human condition is really is encapsulated in the following reality... 
"2 weeks to flatten the curve has turned into...3 shots to feed your family!" --- Unknown

Saturday, December 25, 2021

A musical offering.

For this day that was central in my Protestant Christian Texas childhood: a performance by the Netherlands Bach Society of the Gloria in Excelsis Deo from Bach's  Christmas Cantata BVW 191 first performed in Leipzig ~1742. There is joy in this music that transcends it’s religious origins. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

What Happened to American Conservatism?

I want to strongly recommed that you read David Brooks' article on conservatism in the January/February 2022 issue of The Atlantic. I read slowly though it three times, think it makes a compelling summary of our current political quandry, and wish that it offered more insight into possible ways out of our current predicament as we watch what seems to be an unstopable slippage back to pre-Enlightenment mentalities. Just a few clips of text towards the end of the piece:
...perhaps the biggest reason for conservatism’s decay into Trumpism was spiritual. The British and American strains of conservatism were built on a foundation of national confidence...By 2016, that confidence was in tatters. Communities were falling apart, families were breaking up, America was fragmenting. Whole regions had been left behind, and many elite institutions had shifted sharply left and driven conservatives from their ranks. Social media had instigated a brutal war of all against all, social trust was cratering, and the leadership class was growing more isolated, imperious, and condescending. “Morning in America” had given way to “American carnage” and a sense of perpetual threat.
...a pessimistic shadow conservatism has always lurked in the darkness, haunting the more optimistic, confident one. The message this shadow conservatism conveys is the one that Trump successfully embraced in 2016: Evil outsiders are coming to get us. But in at least one way, Trumpism is truly anti-conservative. Both Burkean conservatism and Lockean liberalism were trying to find ways to gentle the human condition, to help society settle differences without resort to authoritarianism and violence. Trumpism is pre-Enlightenment. Trumpian authoritarianism doesn’t renounce holy war; it embraces holy war, assumes it is permanent, in fact seeks to make it so. In the Trumpian world, disputes are settled by raw power and intimidation. The Trumpian epistemology is to be anti-epistemology, to call into question the whole idea of truth, to utter whatever lie will help you get attention and power. Trumpism looks at the tender sentiments of sympathy as weakness. Might makes right.
...the populist and nationalist forces are rising. All of life is seen as an incessant class struggle between oligarchic elites and the common volk. History is a culture-war death match. Today’s mass-market, pre-Enlightenment authoritarianism is not grateful for the inherited order but sees menace pervading it: You’ve been cheated. The system is rigged against you. Good people are dupes. Conspiracists are trying to screw you. Expertise is bogus. Doom is just around the corner. I alone can save us.
Trumpian Republicanism plunders, degrades, and erodes institutions for the sake of personal aggrandizement. The Trumpian cause is held together by hatred of the Other. Because Trumpians live in a state of perpetual war, they need to continually invent existential foes—critical race theory, nongendered bathrooms, out-of-control immigration. They need to treat half the country, metropolitan America, as a moral cancer, and view the cultural and demographic changes of the past 50 years as an alien invasion. Yet pluralism is one of America’s oldest traditions; to conserve America, you have to love pluralism. As long as the warrior ethos dominates the GOP, brutality will be admired over benevolence, propaganda over discourse, confrontation over conservatism, dehumanization over dignity. A movement that has more affection for Viktor Orbán’s Hungary than for New York’s Central Park is neither conservative nor American. This is barren ground for anyone trying to plant Burkean seedlings.
I’m content, as my hero Isaiah Berlin put it, to plant myself instead on the rightward edge of the leftward tendency—in the more promising soil of the moderate wing of the Democratic Party. If its progressive wing sometimes seems to have learned nothing from the failures of government and to promote cultural stances that divide Americans, at least the party as a whole knows what year it is. In 1980, the core problem of the age was statism, in the form of communism abroad and sclerotic, dynamism-sapping bureaucracies at home. In 2021, the core threat is social decay. The danger we should be most concerned with lies in family and community breakdown, which leaves teenagers adrift and depressed, adults addicted and isolated. It lies in poisonous levels of social distrust, in deepening economic and persisting racial disparities that undermine the very goodness of America—in political tribalism that makes government impossible.
To reduce the economic chasm that separates class from class, to ease the financial anxiety that renders life unstable for many people, to support parenting so that children can grow up with more stability—these are the goals of a party committed to ameliorating, not exploiting, a growing sense of hopelessness and alienation, of vanishing opportunity. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s brilliant dictum—which builds on a Burkean wisdom forged in a world of animosity and corrosive flux—has never been more worth heeding than it is now: The central conservative truth is that culture matters most; the central liberal truth is that politics can change culture.

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Point is to Stop - a farewell to self help coaching

I want to pass on some points, paraphrase, and central clips from what is essentially a swan song offered by Mark Manson in his latest newsletter - a newsletter whose contents I have mentioned in a number of previous MindBlog posts. This Manson essay hits me between the eyes, because I'm very aware that one of my main motivations for doing this MindBlog since Feb. 2006, with it's 5,220 posts (and counting) is that it has turned out to be valuable self therapy for Deric (with this abstracting of Manson's current article being one example). 

He begins by referencing an older article noting that 

...the best way to judge the usefulness of self-help advice is by now many people eventually leave it behind.
He notes that people who seek out self help.. so with two different mindsets... the "Doctor People" ...look to a book, website or seminar to cure their emotional ails... the "Coach People"...want a mentor or coach..They want strategies, roadmaps, to know the right moves...the problem is that Doctor People see personal growth as information that is to be learned rather than a skill that must be practiced...Self-awareness, managing emotions, empathy, vulnerability are skills can take years to become somewhat good at them... Coach People are in it for the long haul.
But what the Coach People don't get is that the whole point is to eventually stop. It's to leave. Because unlike chess or basketball, there's no world championship for anger management. Nobody is going to give you a trophy for mindfulness...the skill curves are different...In basketball or chess, the better you get, the more effort is required to further personal growth, the better you get, the less effort is required to further improve...personal growth skills have positive feedback loops bakes into them.. like skiing takes a lot of effort to get some speed going, but once you're on your way, the most effective thing you can do to gain speed is nothing.
...what the Coach People miss is that the whole point of this stuff, the way to 'win,' is to one day be free of consciously having to think about it...At some point, you just have to live your damn life...Coach People who identify as the "personal growth" not only get trapped by it, but are likely to bore you at dinner parties with their stories about their ayahuasca retreats.

And, at this point in the article, Mason declares that he is going to leave behind his career as a Coach Person, move on from the self help world he started writing a blog about in 2008, the blog being his own therapy as "I tried to sort through my own shit." 

And now,

I'm no longer the guy at the top of the ski hill struggling to get going. I feel like the guy flying down, full speed continue writing about these topics feels like unnecessarily planting my poles into the snow...the standard roadmap for self-help authors when they produce a hit book is to spend the next 20-30 years regurgitating the same ideas over and over again in various formats, on various stages, cashing the checks as they go. To me that sounds about as interesting as sticking my dick in a light socket...I've spent a lot of the past few years anxious and insecure that I would "lose my audience," by stepping away from self-help content. It's taken me way too long to listen to my own advice and just not give a fuck.

Manson then describes how he plans to leave behind a repository (The Subtle Art School) of what he has worked so hard to learn the past ten years, and leave his blog as an archive for posterity. 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The active grandparent hypothesis

Lieberman et al. suggest that selection in humans for lifelong physical activity, including during postreproductive years to provision offspring, promoted selection for energy allocation pathways which synergistically slow senescence and reduce vulnerability to many forms of chronic diseases. Here is their abstract (motivated readers can obtain a copy of the article from me):
The proximate mechanisms by which physical activity (PA) slows senescence and decreases morbidity and mortality have been extensively documented. However, we lack an ultimate, evolutionary explanation for why lifelong PA, particularly during middle and older age, promotes health. As the growing worldwide epidemic of physical inactivity accelerates the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases among aging populations, integrating evolutionary and biomedical perspectives can foster new insights into how and why lifelong PA helps preserve health and extend lifespans. Building on previous life-history research, we assess the evidence that humans were selected not just to live several decades after they cease reproducing but also to be moderately physically active during those postreproductive years. We next review the longstanding hypothesis that PA promotes health by allocating energy away from potentially harmful overinvestments in fat storage and reproductive tissues and propose the novel hypothesis that PA also stimulates energy allocation toward repair and maintenance processes. We hypothesize that selection in humans for lifelong PA, including during postreproductive years to provision offspring, promoted selection for both energy allocation pathways which synergistically slow senescence and reduce vulnerability to many forms of chronic diseases. As a result, extended human healthspans and lifespans are both a cause and an effect of habitual PA, helping explain why lack of lifelong PA in humans can increase disease risk and reduce longevity.