Thursday, December 02, 2021

What is a DAO? Who needs humans?

A DAO is a Decentralised Autonomous Organisation. My son pointed out this intriguing and also somewhat terrifying video to me. Like Mark Zuckerberg's corporate "Meta" fantasies another step towards tearing our evolved biolgical bodies and social brains away from the organic tactile contacts with each other for which they were designed.


Wednesday, December 01, 2021

The Science of Hugs?

Schultz describes an entertaining bit of work pursuing the obvious done by Düren Guys hugging each other use their arms differently than women do, more frequently doing a crisscross hug (on the left) than a neck-waist hug (on the right), most likely because the neck-waist hug feels a bit more intimate.

Without prompting the students on how to hug, the researchers found the crisscross style was more common, accounting for 66 out of 100 hugs. The preference for crisscross was especially prevalent in pairs of men, with 82% of 28 observed pairs opting for the style. Neither emotional closeness nor height had significant effects on the style of hugging; however, the researchers note that most participants were relatively close in height, and they guess that neck-waist might be more common when heights differ more drastically.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Cannabis use during pregnancy correlates with cortisol, anxiety, aggression, and hyperactivity in young children.

Sobering results from Rompala et al.


Cannabis use is becoming more prevalent, including during developmentally sensitive periods such as pregnancy. Here we find that maternal cannabis use is associated with increased cortisol, anxiety, aggression, and hyperactivity in young children. This corresponded with widespread reductions in immune-related gene expression in the placenta which correlated with anxiety and hyperactivity. Future studies are needed to examine the effects of cannabis on immune function during pregnancy as a potential regulatory mechanism shaping neurobehavioral development.
While cannabis is among the most used recreational drugs during pregnancy, the impact of maternal cannabis use (mCB) on fetal and child development remains unclear. Here, we assessed the effects of mCB on psychosocial and physiological measures in young children along with the potential relevance of the in utero environment reflected in the placental transcriptome. Children (∼3 to 6 y) were assessed for hair hormone levels, neurobehavioral traits on the Behavioral Assessment System for Children (BASC-2) survey, and heart rate variability (HRV) at rest and during auditory startle. For a subset of children with behavioral assessments, placental specimens collected at birth were processed for RNA sequencing. Hair hormone analysis revealed increased cortisol levels in mCB children. In addition, mCB was associated with greater anxiety, aggression, and hyperactivity. Children with mCB also showed a reduction in the high-frequency component of HRV at baseline, reflecting reduced vagal tone. In the placenta, there was reduced expression of many genes involved in immune system function including type I interferon, neutrophil, and cytokine-signaling pathways. Finally, several of these mCB-linked immune genes organized into coexpression networks that correlated with child anxiety and hyperactivity. Overall, our findings reveal a relationship between mCB and immune response gene networks in the placenta as a potential mediator of risk for anxiety-related problems in early childhood.

Monday, November 29, 2021

An artificial neural network that responds to written words like our brain's word form area

Interesting work from Dehaene and collaborators:  


Learning to read results in the formation of a specialized region in the human ventral visual cortex. This region, the visual word form area (VWFA), responds selectively to written words more than to other visual stimuli. However, how neural circuits at this site implement an invariant recognition of written words remains unknown. Here, we show how an artificial neural network initially designed for object recognition can be retrained to recognize words. Once literate, the network develops a sparse neuronal representation of words that replicates several known aspects of the cognitive neuroscience of reading and leads to precise predictions concerning how a small set of neurons implement the orthographic stage of reading acquisition using a compositional neural code.
The visual word form area (VWFA) is a region of human inferotemporal cortex that emerges at a fixed location in the occipitotemporal cortex during reading acquisition and systematically responds to written words in literate individuals. According to the neuronal recycling hypothesis, this region arises through the repurposing, for letter recognition, of a subpart of the ventral visual pathway initially involved in face and object recognition. Furthermore, according to the biased connectivity hypothesis, its reproducible localization is due to preexisting connections from this subregion to areas involved in spoken-language processing. Here, we evaluate those hypotheses in an explicit computational model. We trained a deep convolutional neural network of the ventral visual pathway, first to categorize pictures and then to recognize written words invariantly for case, font, and size. We show that the model can account for many properties of the VWFA, particularly when a subset of units possesses a biased connectivity to word output units. The network develops a sparse, invariant representation of written words, based on a restricted set of reading-selective units. Their activation mimics several properties of the VWFA, and their lesioning causes a reading-specific deficit. The model predicts that, in literate brains, written words are encoded by a compositional neural code with neurons tuned either to individual letters and their ordinal position relative to word start or word ending or to pairs of letters (bigrams).

Friday, November 26, 2021

Online spread of false information depends on cascade size

Juul and Ugander do an analysis of factors that influence the spread of false news, finding a central role for cascade size and suggesting that to limit the spread of false news, it may be enough to focus on reducing the mean “infectiousness” of the information.  


Do different types of information spread differently online? In recent years, studies have sought answers to such questions by comparing statistical properties of network paths taken by different kinds of content diffusing online. Here, we demonstrate the importance of controlling for correlations between properties being compared. In particular, we show that previously reported structural differences between diffusion paths of false and true news on Twitter disappear when comparing only cascades of the same size; differences between diffusion paths of images, videos, news, and petitions persist. Paired with a theoretical analysis of diffusion processes, our results suggest that, in order to limit the spread of false news, it may be enough to focus on reducing the mean “infectiousness” of the information.
Do some types of information spread faster, broader, or further than others? To understand how information diffusions differ, scholars compare structural properties of the paths taken by content as it spreads through a network, studying so-called cascades. Commonly studied cascade properties include the reach, depth, breadth, and speed of propagation. Drawing conclusions from statistical differences in these properties can be challenging, as many properties are dependent. In this work, we demonstrate the essentiality of controlling for cascade sizes when studying structural differences between collections of cascades. We first revisit two datasets from notable recent studies of online diffusion that reported content-specific differences in cascade topology: an exhaustive corpus of Twitter cascades for verified true- or false-news content by Vosoughi et al. [S. Vosoughi, D. Roy, S. Aral. Science 359, 1146–1151 (2018)] and a comparison of Twitter cascades of videos, pictures, news, and petitions by Goel et al. [S. Goel, A. Anderson, J. Hofman, D. J. Watts. Manage. Sci. 62, 180–196 (2016)]. Using methods that control for joint cascade statistics, we find that for false- and true-news cascades, the reported structural differences can almost entirely be explained by false-news cascades being larger. For videos, images, news, and petitions, structural differences persist when controlling for size. Studying classical models of diffusion, we then give conditions under which differences in structural properties under different models do or do not reduce to differences in size. Our findings are consistent with the mechanisms underlying true- and false-news diffusion being quite similar, differing primarily in the basic infectiousness of their spreading process.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Caution around the fountain of youth.

Lee et al. do a review "Antiaging diets: Separating fact from fiction" in Science Magazine. The link takes you to their summary, abstract, and a nice graphic. I pass on a Box 1 from the body of the article titled "reclaiming the term 'anti-aging'":
The phrase “antiaging” is greatly abused in popular culture, often for the purpose of marketing cosmetic procedures or unproven nutritional supplements purported to slow or reverse aging. This has the unfortunate consequence of creating confusion among the general public and diminishing the impact of legitimate scientific discovery. Here, we define “antiaging” as delaying or reversing biological aging by targeting the established molecular mechanisms of aging, which have been formalized as “hallmarks” or “pillars” of aging (93, 94). Effective antiaging interventions in laboratory animals increase both median and maximum population life span and broadly delay the onset and progression of many age-related functional declines and diseases. The latter effect is often referred to as “extending health span,” which is a qualitative term referring to the period of life free from chronic disease and disability (95). Recent studies show that at least some antiaging interventions, such as the drug rapamycin, can reverse functional declines across multiple tissues in aged animals (96). On the basis of this definition, there are as yet no clinically validated antiaging interventions in humans. However, there is some evidence consistent with antiaging effects for CR and related diets in humans as well as a small number of putative geroprotective compounds, including metformin and rapamycin (97).
93. C. López-Otín, M. A. Blasco, L. Partridge, M. Serrano, G. Kroemer, The hallmarks of aging. Cell 153, 1194–1217 (2013).
94. B. K. Kennedy, S. L. Berger, A. Brunet, J. Campisi, A. M. Cuervo, E. S. Epel, C. Franceschi, G. J. Lithgow, R. I. Morimoto, J. E. Pessin, T. A. Rando, A. Richardson, E. E. Schadt, T. Wyss-Coray, F. Sierra, Geroscience: Linking aging to chronic disease. Cell 159, 709–713 (2014).
95 M. Kaeberlein, How healthy is the healthspan concept? Geroscience 40, 361–364 (2018).
96 R. Selvarani, S. Mohammed, A. Richardson, Effect of rapamycin on aging and age-related diseases-past and future. Geroscience 43, 1135–1158 (2021).
97 M. B. Lee, M. Kaeberlein, Translational Geroscience: From invertebrate models to companion animal and human interventions. Transl. Med. Aging 2, 15–29 (2018).

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Volatile hexadecanal emitted by babies could make men more docile and women more aggressive

Interesting observations from Mishor et al.:
In terrestrial mammals, body volatiles can effectively trigger or block conspecific aggression. Here, we tested whether hexadecanal (HEX), a human body volatile implicated as a mammalian-wide social chemosignal, affects human aggression. 

Using validated behavioral paradigms, we observed a marked dissociation: Sniffing HEX blocked aggression in men but triggered aggression in women. Next, using functional brain imaging, we uncovered a pattern of brain activity mirroring behavior: In both men and women, HEX increased activity in the left angular gyrus, an area implicated in perception of social cues. HEX then modulated functional connectivity between the angular gyrus and a brain network implicated in social appraisal (temporal pole) and aggressive execution (amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex) in a sex-dependent manner consistent with behavior: increasing connectivity in men but decreasing connectivity in women. These findings implicate sex-specific social chemosignaling at the mechanistic heart of human aggressive behavior.
From the author's discussion:
....what behavioral setting could underlie selection for a body volatile that increases aggression in women but decreases it in men? Or in other words, what could be the ecological relevance of these results? In this respect, we call attention to the setting of infant rearing. Parents across cultures are encouraged to sniff their babies, an action that activates brain reward circuits in women. Our results imply that sniffing babies may increase aggression in mothers but decrease aggression in fathers. Whereas maternal aggression has a direct positive impact on offspring survival in the animal world, paternal aggression has a negative impact on offspring survival. This is because maternal aggression (also termed maternal defense behavior) is typically directed at intruders, yet paternal aggression, and more so nonpaternal male aggression, is often directed at the offspring themselves. If babies had a mechanism at their disposal that increased aggression in women but decreased it in men, this would likely increase their survival. With the hypothesis in mind that HEX provides babies with exactly such a mechanism, we first note that infant rearing is the one social setting where humans have extensive exposure to conspecific feces, a rich source of HEX. We also turned to a recently published analysis of baby-head volatiles, yet in contrast to our hypothesis, this report did not mention HEX. We turned to the authors of that report, who explained that the published analysis was not tuned to the near semivolatile range of HEX. With our question in mind, they (now coauthors T.U. and M.O.) sampled an additional 19 babies, using gas chromatography (GC) × GC–mass spectrometry, and observed that HEX is one of the most abundant baby-head volatiles...

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Socrates, Diderot, and Wolpert on Writing and Printing

I have to pass on these quotes sent by one my Chaos and Complexity Seminar colleagues at the University of Wisconsin:
Socrates on writing, from Phaedrus, 275a-b
"For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise."
Denis Diderot, Encyclopédie, 1755
"As long as the centuries continue to unfold, the number of books will grow continually, and one can predict that a time will come when it will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from the direct study of the whole universe. It will be almost as convenient to search for some bit of truth concealed in nature as it will be to find it hidden away in an immense multitude of bound volumes."
Lewis Wolpert (1929--2021) Lewis Wolpert - Scientist - Web of Stories
"Reading rots the mind."

Monday, November 22, 2021

Fluid intelligence and the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system

Tsukahara and Engle suggest that the cognitive mechanisms of fluid intelligence map onto the locus coeruleus–norepinephrine system. I pass on their introductory paragraph (the link takes you to their abstract, which I think is less informative):
In this article, we outline what we see as a potentially important relationship for understanding the biological basis of intelligence: that is, the relationship between fluid intelligence and the locus coeruleus–norepinephrine system. This is largely motivated by our findings that baseline pupil size is related to fluid intelligence; the larger the pupils, the higher the fluid intelligence. The connection to the locus coeruleus is based on research showing that the size of the pupil can be used as an indicator of locus coeruleus activity. A large body of research on the locus coeruleus–norepinephrine system in animal and human studies has shown how this system is critical for an impressively wide range of behaviors and cognitive processes, from regulating sleep/wake cycles, to sensation and perception, attention, learning and memory, decision making, and more. The locus coeruleus–norepinephrine system achieves this primarily through its widespread projection system throughout the cortex, strong connections with the prefrontal cortex, and the effect of norepinephrine at many levels of brain function. Given the broad role of this system in behavior, cognition, and brain function, we propose that the locus coeruleus–norepinephrine system is essential for understanding the biological basis of intelligence.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Drifting nerve assemblies can maintain persistent memories

A prevailing model has been that a memory in our brains is stored in a specific set of nerve connections, that, like a book in a library, stays where it belongs. Over the past few years, however, it has become more and more clear that 'representational plasticity' may be the norm. A recent article by Kossio et al. proposes a contrasting memory model (motivated readers can obtain the whole article from me):
Change is ubiquitous in living beings. In particular, the connectome and neural representations can change. Nevertheless, behaviors and memories often persist over long times. In a standard model, associative memories are represented by assemblies of strongly interconnected neurons. For faithful storage these assemblies are assumed to consist of the same neurons over time. Here we propose a contrasting memory model with complete temporal remodeling of assemblies, based on experimentally observed changes of synapses and neural representations. The assemblies drift freely as noisy autonomous network activity and spontaneous synaptic turnover induce neuron exchange. The gradual exchange allows activity-dependent and homeostatic plasticity to conserve the representational structure and keep inputs, outputs, and assemblies consistent. This leads to persistent memory. Our findings explain recent experimental results on temporal evolution of fear memory representations and suggest that memory systems need to be understood in their completeness as individual parts may constantly change.
Here is an explanatory graphic from the article:
Assembly drift and persistent memory. (A) At two nearby times a similar ensemble of neurons forms the neural representation of, for example, “apple” (compare the blue-colored assembly neurons at the first and the second time point). At distant times the representation consists of completely different ensembles (blue-colored assembly neurons at the first and the third time point). Due to their gradual change, temporally distant representations are indirectly related via ensembles in the time period between them. (B) Parts of a thread possess the same form of indirect relation: Nearby parts are composed of similar ensembles of fibers, while distant ones consist of different ensembles, which are connected by those in between. (C) The complete change of memory representations still allows for stable behavior. In the schematic, a tasty apple is perceived. At different times, this triggers different ensembles that presently form the representation of “apple”; see A. Assembly activation initiates a reaching movement toward the apple, despite the dissimilarity of the activated neuron ensembles. Memory and behavior are conserved because the gradual change of assembly neurons enables the inputs (green) and outputs (orange) to track the neural representation.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Our brainstems respond to fake therapies and fake side effects.

Here is the abstract from a Journal of Neuroscience paper by Crawford et al. titled "Brainstem mechanisms of pain modulation: a within-subjects 7T fMRI study of Placebo Analgesic and Nocebo Hyperalgesic Responses":
Pain perception can be powerfully influenced by an individual’s expectations and beliefs. Whilst the cortical circuitry responsible for pain modulation has been thoroughly investigated, the brainstem pathways involved in the modulatory phenomena of placebo analgesia and nocebo hyperalgesia remain to be directly addressed. This study employed ultra-high field 7 Tesla functional MRI (fMRI) to accurately resolve differences in brainstem circuitry present during the generation of placebo analgesia and nocebo hyperalgesia in healthy human participants (N = 25; 12 Male). Over two successive days, through blinded application of altered thermal stimuli, participants were deceptively conditioned to believe that two inert creams labelled ‘lidocaine’ (placebo) and ‘capsaicin’ (nocebo) were acting to modulate their pain relative to a third ‘Vaseline’ (control) cream. In a subsequent test phase, fMRI image sets were collected whilst participants were given identical noxious stimuli to all three cream sites. Pain intensity ratings were collected and placebo and nocebo responses determined. Brainstem-specific fMRI analysis revealed altered activity in key pain-modulatory nuclei, including a disparate recruitment of the periaqueductal gray (PAG) – rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) pathway when both greater placebo and nocebo effects were observed. Additionally, we found that placebo and nocebo responses differentially activated the parabrachial nucleus but overlapped in their engagement of the substantia nigra and locus coeruleus. These data reveal that placebo and nocebo effects are generated through differential engagement of the PAG-RVM pathway, which in concert with other brainstem sites likely influence the experience of pain by modulating activity at the level of the dorsal horn.

Snippets of Bach

To give MindBlog readers a bit of a break from brain and mind posts, I want to point out that the New York Times has a great series of articles that present roughly five minutes of music chosen by artists and composers to make you fall in love with different genres of classical music: piano, opera, cello, Mozart, 21st-century composers, violin, Baroque music, sopranos, Beethoven, flute, string quartets, tenors, Brahms, choral music, percussion, symphonies, Stravinsky, trumpet and Maria Callas. 


The most recent installment presents the stirring, consoling music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the grand master of the Western classical tradition.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Coevolution of tool use and language - shared syntactic processes and basal ganglia substrates

Thibault et al. show that tool use and language share syntactic processes. Functional magnetic resonance imaging reveals that tool use and syntax in language elicit similar patterns of brain activation within the basal ganglia. This indicates common neural resources for the two abilities. Indeed, learning transfer occurs across the two domains: Tool-use motor training improves syntactic processing in language and, reciprocally, linguistic training with syntactic structures improves tool use. Here is their entire structured abstract:   


Tool use is a hallmark of human evolution. Beyond its sensorimotor components, the complexity of which has been extensively investigated, tool use affects cognition from a different perspective. Indeed, tool use requires integrating an external object as a body part and embedding its functional structure in the motor program. This adds a hierarchical level into the motor plan of manual actions, subtly modifying the relationship between interdependent subcomponents. Embedded structures also exist in language, and syntax is the cognitive function handling these linguistic hierarchies. One example is center-embedded object-relative clauses: “The poet [that the scientist admires] reads the paper.” Accordingly, researchers have advanced a role for syntax in action and the existence of similarities between the processes underlying tool use and language, so that shared neural resources for a common cognitive function could be at stake.
We first tested the existence of shared neural substrates for tool use and syntax in language. Second, we tested the prediction that training one ability should affect performance in the other. In a first experiment, we measured participants’ brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging during tool use or, as a control, manual actions. In separate runs, the same participants performed a linguistic task on complex syntactic structures. We looked for common activations between tool use and the linguistic task, predicting similar patterns of activity if they rely on common neural resources. In further behavioral experiments, we tested whether motor training with the tool selectively improves syntactic performance in language and if syntactic training in language, in turn, selectively improves motor performance with the tool.
Tool-use planning and complex syntax processing (i.e., object relatives) elicited neural activity anatomically colocalized within the basal ganglia. A control experiment ruled out verbal working memory and manual (i.e., without a tool) control processes as an underlying component of this overlap. Multivariate analyses revealed similar spatial distributions of neural patterns prompted by tool-use planning and object-relative processing. This agrees with the recruitment of the same neural resources by both abilities and with the existence of a supramodal syntactic function. The shared neurofunctional resources were moreover reflected behaviorally by cross-domain learning transfer. Indeed, tool-use training significantly improved linguistic performance with complex syntactic structures. No learning transfer was observed on language syntactic abilities if participants trained without the tool. The reverse was also true: Syntactic training with complex sentences improved motor performance with the tool more than motor performance in a task without the tool and matched for sensorimotor difficulty. No learning transfer was observed on tool use if participants trained with simpler syntactic structures in language.
These findings reveal the existence of a supramodal syntactic function that is shared between language and motor processes. As a consequence, training tool-use abilities improves linguistic syntax and, reciprocally, training linguistic syntax abilities improves tool use. The neural mechanisms allowing for boosting performance in one domain by training syntax in the other may involve priming processes through preactivation of common neural resources, as well as short-term plasticity within the shared network. Our findings point to the basal ganglia as the neural site of supramodal syntax that handles embedded structures in either domain and also support longstanding theories of the coevolution of tool use and language in humans.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Freedom From Illusion

A friend who attended the lecture I gave last Sunday (A New Vision of how our Minds Work), and mentioned in a Monday post, sent me an article from The Buddhist Review "TRICYCLE" by Pema Düddul titled "Freedom From Illusion". If you scan both texts, I suspect you will find, as I do, a striking consonance between the neuroscientific and Buddhist perspectives on "Illusion." 

From the beginning of the Düddul article:

A shooting star, a clouding of the sight, 
a lamp, an illusion, a drop of dew, a bubble, 
a dream, a lightning’s flash, a thunder cloud: 
this is the way one should see the conditioned.
This revered verse from the Diamond Sutra points to one of Buddhism’s most profound yet confounding truths—the illusory nature of all things. The verse is designed to awaken us to ultimate reality, specifically to the fact that all things, especially thoughts and feelings, are the rainbow-like display of the mind. One of the Tibetan words for the dualistic mind means something like “a magician creating illusions.” As my teacher Ngakpa Karma Lhundup Rinpoche explained: “All of our thoughts are magical illusions created by our mind. We get trapped, carried away by our own illusions. We forget that we are the magician in the first place!”
Compare this with my talk's description of predictive processing, and how what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell are largely simulations or illusions about the world. Here is a summary sentence in one of my slides, taken from a lecture by Ruben Laukkonen, in which I replace his last word, 'fantasies,' with the word 'illusions.'
Everything we do and experience is in service of reducing surprises by fulfilling illusions.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Computational evidence that predictive processing shapes language comprehension mechanisms in the brain.

Having just posted a lecture on predictive processing that I gave two days ago, I come across this fascinating work from Schrimpf et al.:  


Language is a quintessentially human ability. Research has long probed the functional architecture of language in the mind and brain using diverse neuroimaging, behavioral, and computational modeling approaches. However, adequate neurally-mechanistic accounts of how meaning might be extracted from language are sorely lacking. Here, we report a first step toward addressing this gap by connecting recent artificial neural networks from machine learning to human recordings during language processing. We find that the most powerful models predict neural and behavioral responses across different datasets up to noise levels. Models that perform better at predicting the next word in a sequence also better predict brain measurements—providing computationally explicit evidence that predictive processing fundamentally shapes the language comprehension mechanisms in the brain.
The neuroscience of perception has recently been revolutionized with an integrative modeling approach in which computation, brain function, and behavior are linked across many datasets and many computational models. By revealing trends across models, this approach yields novel insights into cognitive and neural mechanisms in the target domain. We here present a systematic study taking this approach to higher-level cognition: human language processing, our species’ signature cognitive skill. We find that the most powerful “transformer” models predict nearly 100% of explainable variance in neural responses to sentences and generalize across different datasets and imaging modalities (functional MRI and electrocorticography). Models’ neural fits (“brain score”) and fits to behavioral responses are both strongly correlated with model accuracy on the next-word prediction task (but not other language tasks). Model architecture appears to substantially contribute to neural fit. These results provide computationally explicit evidence that predictive processing fundamentally shapes the language comprehension mechanisms in the human brain.

Monday, November 08, 2021

A MindBlog lecture - A New Vision of how our Minds Work

Yesterday I gave a short talk to the Austin Rainbow Forum discussion group that I started up with several other members of the Austin Prime Timers in January 2018. As I promised at the outset of the talk, which was fairly intense, I am now putting a PDF of the lecture text and slides on my website, and here am passing it on to MindBlog readers who might be interested in having a look. Here is the second slide of the talk, listing its topics:


It’s Quitting Season

I want to pass on two articles with the similar themes of people taking stock of their lives and deciding to stop making themselves unhappy. The piece by Crouse and Ferguson is a video, by and directed towards, Millenials, with the following introductory text:
It’s been a brutal few years. But we’ve gritted through. We’ve spent time languishing. We’ve had one giant national burnout. And now, finally, we’re quitting...We are quitting our jobs. Our cities. Our marriages. Even our Twitter feeds...And as we argue in the video, we’re not quitting because we’re weak. We’re quitting because we’re smart...younger Americans like 18-year-old singer Olivia Rodrigo and the extraordinary Simone Biles are barely old enough to rent a car but they are already teaching us about boundaries. They’ve seen enough hollowed-out millennials to know what the rest of us are learning: Don’t be a martyr to grit.
I feel some personal resonance with points made about a whole career path in the piece by Arthur Brooks, To Be Happy, Hide From the Spotlight, because this clip nails a part of the reason I keep driving myself to performances (writing, lecturing, music) by rote habit:
Assuming that you aren’t a pop star or the president, fame might seem like an abstract problem. The thing is, fame is relative, and its cousin, prestige — fame among a particular group of people — is just as fervently chased in smaller communities and fields of expertise. In my own community of academia, honors and prestige can be highly esoteric but deeply desired.
I suggest you read the whole article, but here are a few further clips:
Even if a person’s motive for fame is to set a positive example, it mirrors the other, less flattering motives insofar as it depends on other people’s opinions. And therein lies the happiness problem. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the 13th century, “Happiness is in the happy. But honor is not in the honored.” ...research shows that fame ...based on what scholars call extrinsic rewards... brings less happiness than intrinsic rewards...fame has become a form of addiction. This is especially true in the era of social media, which allows almost anyone with enough motivation to achieve recognition by some number of strangers...this is not a new phenomenon. The 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said fame is like seawater: “The more we have, the thirstier we become.”
No social scientists I am aware of have created a quantitative misery index of fame. But the weight of the indirect evidence above, along with the testimonies of those who have tasted true fame in their time, should be enough to show us that it is poisonous. It is “like a river, that beareth up things light and swollen,” said Francis Bacon, “and drowns things weighty and solid.” Or take it from Lady Gaga: “Fame is prison.”
...Pay attention to when you are seeking fame, prestige, envy, or admiration—especially from strangers. Before you post on social media, for example, ask yourself what you hope to achieve with it...Say you want to share a bit of professional puffery or photos of your excellent beach body. The benefit you experience is probably the little hit of dopamine you will get as you fire it off while imagining the admiration or envy others experience as they see it. The cost is in the reality of how people will actually see your post (and you): Research shows that people will largely find your boasting to be annoying—even if you disguise it with a humblebrag—and thus admire you less, not more. As Shakespeare helpfully put it, “Who knows himself a braggart, / Let him fear this, for it will come to pass / that every braggart shall be found an ass.”
The poet Emily Dickinson called fame a “fickle food / Upon a shifting plate.” But far from a harmless meal, “Men eat of it and die.” It’s a good metaphor, because we have the urge to consume all kinds of things that appeal to some anachronistic neurochemical impulse but that nevertheless will harm us. In many cases—tobacco, drugs of abuse, and, to some extent, unhealthy foods—we as a society have recognized these tendencies and taken steps to combat them by educating others about their ill effects.
Why have we failed to do so with fame? None of us, nor our children, will ever find fulfillment through the judgment of strangers. The right rule of thumb is to treat fame like a dangerous drug: Never seek it for its own sake, teach your kids to avoid it, and shun those who offer it.

Friday, November 05, 2021

Variability, not stereotypical expressions, in facial portraying of emotional states.

Barrett and collaborators use a novel method to offer more evidence against reliable mapping between certain emotional states and facial muscle movements:
It is long hypothesized that there is a reliable, specific mapping between certain emotional states and the facial movements that express those states. This hypothesis is often tested by asking untrained participants to pose the facial movements they believe they use to express emotions during generic scenarios. Here, we test this hypothesis using, as stimuli, photographs of facial configurations posed by professional actors in response to contextually-rich scenarios. The scenarios portrayed in the photographs were rated by a convenience sample of participants for the extent to which they evoked an instance of 13 emotion categories, and actors’ facial poses were coded for their specific movements. Both unsupervised and supervised machine learning find that in these photographs, the actors portrayed emotional states with variable facial configurations; instances of only three emotion categories (fear, happiness, and surprise) were portrayed with moderate reliability and specificity. The photographs were separately rated by another sample of participants for the extent to which they portrayed an instance of the 13 emotion categories; they were rated when presented alone and when presented with their associated scenarios, revealing that emotion inferences by participants also vary in a context-sensitive manner. Together, these findings suggest that facial movements and perceptions of emotion vary by situation and transcend stereotypes of emotional expressions. Future research may build on these findings by incorporating dynamic stimuli rather than photographs and studying a broader range of cultural contexts.
This perspective is opposite to that expressed by Cowen, Keltner et al. who use another novel method to reach opposite conclusions, in work that was noted in MindBlog's 12/29/20 post, along with some reservations about their conclusions.

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

People mistake the internet’s knowledge for their own

Fascinating experiments from Adrian Ward:   


In the current digital age, people are constantly connected to online information. The present research provides evidence that on-demand access to external information, enabled by the internet and search engines like Google, blurs the boundaries between internal and external knowledge, causing people to believe they could—or did—remember what they actually just found. Using Google to answer general knowledge questions artificially inflates peoples’ confidence in their own ability to remember and process information and leads to erroneously optimistic predictions regarding how much they will know without the internet. When information is at our fingertips, we may mistakenly believe that it originated from inside our heads.
People frequently search the internet for information. Eight experiments (n = 1,917) provide evidence that when people “Google” for online information, they fail to accurately distinguish between knowledge stored internally—in their own memories—and knowledge stored externally—on the internet. Relative to those using only their own knowledge, people who use Google to answer general knowledge questions are not only more confident in their ability to access external information; they are also more confident in their own ability to think and remember. Moreover, those who use Google predict that they will know more in the future without the help of the internet, an erroneous belief that both indicates misattribution of prior knowledge and highlights a practically important consequence of this misattribution: overconfidence when the internet is no longer available. Although humans have long relied on external knowledge, the misattribution of online knowledge to the self may be facilitated by the swift and seamless interface between internal thought and external information that characterizes online search. Online search is often faster than internal memory search, preventing people from fully recognizing the limitations of their own knowledge. The internet delivers information seamlessly, dovetailing with internal cognitive processes and offering minimal physical cues that might draw attention to its contributions. As a result, people may lose sight of where their own knowledge ends and where the internet’s knowledge begins. Thinking with Google may cause people to mistake the internet’s knowledge for their own.

Monday, November 01, 2021

What the mind is - similarities and differences in concepts of mental life in five cultures

From Weisman et al., who do a fascinating study of cognitive structures 'from the bottom up', allowing data to give rise to ontological structures, rather than working 'from the top down' by using a theory to guide hypothesis-driven data collection. :
How do concepts of mental life vary across cultures? By asking simple questions about humans, animals and other entities – for example, ‘Do beetles get hungry? Remember things? Feel love?’ – we reconstructed concepts of mental life from the bottom up among adults (N = 711) and children (ages 6–12 years, N = 693) in the USA, Ghana, Thailand, China and Vanuatu. This revealed a cross-cultural and developmental continuity: in all sites, among both adults and children, cognitive abilities travelled separately from bodily sensations, suggesting that a mind–body distinction is common across diverse cultures and present by middle childhood. Yet there were substantial cultural and developmental differences in the status of social–emotional abilities – as part of the body, part of the mind or a third category unto themselves. Such differences may have far-reaching social consequences, whereas the similarities identify aspects of human understanding that may be universal.