Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Feeling bad is not bad.

MindBlog is passing on the link to each of Arthur Brooks' biweekly articles in his series "How to Build a Life". This latest installment deals with negative emotions, using them to grow and develop resilience rather than pushing them away. It is more difficult to summarize in a tidy way as I have some previous installments in the series. I suggest you read the whole piece. I will note the last two paragraphs:
One last thought: In 2019, the comedian Stephen Colbert was asked in an interview by CNN’s Anderson Cooper about a plane crash that killed Colbert’s father and two of his brothers when he was 10 years old. Cooper quoted a previous statement by Colbert that he had learned to “love the thing that I most wish had not happened.” He asked Colbert to clarify this extraordinary remark. “It’s a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering,” Colbert replied. “I don’t want it to have happened … but if you are grateful for your life … then you have to be grateful for all of it. You can’t pick and choose what you’re grateful for.”
Colbert’s words resonated deeply with me, and perhaps they do with you, too. No normal person skips merrily into a tragic loss, nor usually seeks out even minor discomfort. But those things find us, over and over again in life. This is especially true today, in the era of COVID-19. The meaning from this pain, and the benefits it can bring to our lives and society, comes from how we choose to use it.

MindBlog's half-sour pickle recipe

This posting falls under the "random curious stuff" category mentioned in the title box of this blog. At the social/musical at my Twin Valley home on June 29*, several people asked for the recipe for the half-sour pickles we had served with gazpacho as a garnish. Here it is, the result of several trials to get them the way I like them. Not guaranteed to please all....

Deric's final half sour pickle recipe:

-2 lbs pickling cucumbers
-1 bundle of dill heads and stalks
-Wash cukes and dill, cut dill stalks to ~2-3 inch lengths, cut ends off cukes, slice cukes lengthwise if they are large.
-layer dill and cukes in container (~2 quart jar or plastic container)
-pour in water to cover, then pour this water into quart (4 cup) measuring cup to determine its volume, i.e. the desired volume for the pickling mixture to be added (should be ~ 4 cups).
-add 1/4 cup sea or kosher or pickling salt to 2 cups water, dissolve
-add 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar (or other very mild vinegar), 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, 3-4 whole coriander seeds, 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, 4-6 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped.
-add water to obtain the volume determined above (~4 cups) while mixing thoroughly and pour over pickles.
-rotate jar or container at intervals to mix thoroughly, leave two days at room temperature, until a few bubbles start to appear, then put in refrigerator.
-pickles should be ready to eat after ~ 4 days, flavor improves over two weeks.

*(Note: I just made this recipe a few days ago from pickling cucumbers in our garden at my Austin Texas home.  Then I came across this post from 6/29/2008...done after a social occasional at my former Wisconsin home,  and decided to re-post it here.  As I look back over old posts during my COVID-19 mandated leisure, I notice that I used to do many more personal posts like this.)

Monday, June 29, 2020

The pandemic has put history on fast-forward.

Edited clips from Ross Douthat's NYTimes Op-Ed piece, suggesting that:
...when the coronavirus era finally ends, there will be a Rip Van Winkle feeling — a sense of having been asleep and waking to normality, except that we will have time-traveled and the normality will resemble the year 2030 as it might have been without the virus, rather than just a simple turn to 2021 or 2022.
-Key cultural institutions will have been increasingly consolidated and concentrated, academia and journalism especially
-Institutional churches will have faced falling donations and shrunken attendance, accelerating decay that awaited them with the next decade’s worth of generational turnover.
-In politics, what was likely to be a slow-motion leftward shift in politics, as the less-married, less-religious, more ethnically diverse younger generation gained more power, will have been accelerated nationally by the catastrophes of the Trump administration, putting states in play for Democrats five or 10 years early.
-In corporate America, there may have been trends toward both consolidation and dispersal. The former, because even federal intervention probably won’t prevent small businesses from going under, the second because the remote-work experience, pandemic fears and possibly-rising crime rates may encourage more companies to disperse talent back into the heartland for the first time in two generations.
...only this last one seems like a hopeful sign that post-pandemic America might become less sclerotic, less decadent than the America of 2019. If one wanted to be especially optimistic, one could add that maybe — maybe — a corporate dispersal will reduce social stratification, and help create new intellectual, journalistic and even religious centers.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Vote-by-mail has no impact on partisan turnout or vote share

Some factual data from Thompson et al. which we can be sure will be ignored by those trying to suppress voting by opposing mail in ballots:  

Significance
In response to COVID-19, many scholars and policy makers are urging the United States to expand voting-by-mail programs to safeguard the electoral process, but there are concerns that such a policy could favor one party over the other. We estimate the effects of universal vote-by-mail, a policy under which every voter is mailed a ballot in advance of the election, on partisan election outcomes. We find that universal vote-by-mail does not affect either party’s share of turnout or either party’s vote share. These conclusions support the conventional wisdom of election administration experts and contradict many popular claims in the media. Our results imply that the partisan outcomes of vote-by-mail elections closely resemble in-person elections, at least in normal times.
Abstract
In response to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), many scholars and policy makers are urging the United States to expand voting-by-mail programs to safeguard the electoral process. What are the effects of vote-by-mail? In this paper, we provide a comprehensive design-based analysis of the effect of universal vote-by-mail—a policy under which every voter is mailed a ballot in advance of the election—on electoral outcomes. We collect data from 1996 to 2018 on all three US states that implemented universal vote-by-mail in a staggered fashion across counties, allowing us to use a difference-in-differences design at the county level to estimate causal effects. We find that 1) universal vote-by-mail does not appear to affect either party’s share of turnout, 2) universal vote-by-mail does not appear to increase either party’s vote share, and 3) universal vote-by-mail modestly increases overall average turnout rates, in line with previous estimates. All three conclusions support the conventional wisdom of election administration experts and contradict many popular claims in the media.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The University Is Like a CD in the Streaming Age

Having lectured in university classrooms for about 40 years, but not since 2005, I am blown away by changes in the academy that technology has wrought since then. In an Atlantic article, Michael D. Smith, Professor of information technology and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University, describes how colleges, like the entertainment industry, will need to embrace digital services in order to survive. I pass on a few clips, and suggest you read the whole article.
Universities have long been remarkably stable institutions — so stable that in 2001, by one account, they comprised an astonishing 70 of the 85 institutions in the West that have endured in recognizable form since the 1520s...That stability has ... bred overconfidence, overpricing, and an overreliance on business models tailored to a physical world. Like ... entertainment executives did, many of us in higher education dismiss the threats that digital technologies pose to the way we work. We diminish online-learning and credentialing platforms such as Khan Academy, Kaggle, and edX as poor substitutes for the “real thing.” We can’t imagine that “our” students would ever want to take a DIY approach to their education instead of paying us for the privilege of learning in our hallowed halls. We can’t imagine “our” employers hiring someone who doesn’t have one of our respected degrees.
But we’re going to have to start thinking differently.
...this past semester, the coronavirus pandemic transformed distance learning from a quaint side product that few elite schools took seriously to a central part of our degree-granting programs. Arguments for the inherent superiority of the residential college experience will be less convincing now that we’ve conferred the same credentials—and charged the same tuition—for education delivered remotely.
Do students think their pricey degrees [from prestigious private universities] are worth the cost when delivered remotely?
The Wall Street Journal asked that question in April, and one student responded with this zinger: “Would you pay $75,000 for front-row seats to a Beyoncé concert and be satisfied with a livestream instead?”
...the core mission of higher education...in my view...is simple: As educators, we strive to create opportunities for as many students as possible to discover and develop their talents, and to use those talents to make a difference in the world.
By that measure, our current model falls short. Elite colleges talk about helping our students flourish in society, but our tuition prices leave many of them drowning in debt—or unable to enroll in the first place. We talk about creating opportunities for students, but we measure our success based on selectivity, which is little more than a celebration of the number of students we exclude from the elite-campus experience. We talk about preparing students for careers after graduation, but a 2014 Gallup survey found that only 11 percent of business leaders believed “college graduates have the skills and competencies that their workplaces need.” We talk about creating diverse campuses, but, as recent admissions scandals have made painfully clear, our admissions processes overwhelmingly favor the privileged few.
What if new technologies could allow us to understand the varied backgrounds, goals, and learning styles of our students—and provide educational material customized to their unique needs? What if we could deliver education to students via on-demand platforms that allowed them to study whenever, wherever, and whatever they desired, instead of requiring them to conform to the “broadcast” schedule of today’s education model? What if the economies of scale available from digital delivery allowed us to radically lower the price of our educational resources, creating opportunities for learners we previously excluded from our finely manicured quads? Might we discover, as the entertainment industry has, a wealth of talented individuals with valuable contributions to make who just didn’t fit into the rigid constraints of our old model?
I believe we will, but that doesn’t mean the residential university will go away. Indeed, these changes may allow universities to jettison “anti-intellectual” professional-degree programs in favor of a renewed focus on a classical liberal-arts education. But as this happens, we might discover that the market for students interested in spending four years and thousands of dollars on a broad foundation in the humanities is smaller than we believe—certainly not large enough to support the 5,000 or so college campuses in the United States today. Soon, residential colleges may experience a decline similar to that of live theaters after the advent of movies and broadcast television. Broadway and local playhouses still exist, but they are now considered exclusive and expensive forms of entertainment, nowhere near the cultural force they once were.
But remember, just because new technology changed the way entertainment was delivered doesn’t mean it impeded the industry’s underlying mission. Instead of destroying TV, movies, and books, new technologies have produced an explosion in creative output, delivered through the convenience, personalization, and interactivity of Kindle libraries, Netflix recommendations, and Spotify playlists. Despite—or maybe because of—the digital disruption we’ve recently lived through, we’re now enjoying a golden age of entertainment.
Whether we like it or not, big changes are coming to higher education. Instead of dismissing them or denying that they’re happening, let’s embrace them and see where they can take us. We have a chance today to reimagine an old model that has fallen far behind the times. If we do it right, we might even usher in a new golden age of education.

MindBlog statistics.

I'm a complete dunce at paying attention to or understanding the number of people who make use of Deric's Mindblog, which started in 2006. Yesterday I clicked on "analytics" in the blogger platform I use (the bottom graphic), and also looked at what feedburner.google.com says about traffic at mindblog.dericbownds.net (the top two graphics). In the all time history the latter reports ~5.5 million page views, while the former reports ~1.8 million. Whatever.... I'm doing this post to show these numbers for my future reference (click to enlarge figure). 


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Stephen Wolfram - Computation All the Way Down

I not sure I really grok this, but if you want big thinking, here you go...... This edge.org link takes you to Wolfram's whole essay. Here's the abstract:
We're now in this situation where people just assume that science can compute everything, that if we have all the right input data and we have the right models, science will figure it out. If we learn that our universe is fundamentally computational, that throws us right into the idea that computation is a paradigm you have to care about. The big transition was from using equations to describe how everything works to using programs and computation to describe how things work. And that's a transition that has happened after 300 years of equations. The transition time to using programs has been remarkably quick, a decade or two. One area that was a holdout, despite the transition of many fields of science into the computational models direction, was fundamental physics.
If we can firmly establish this fundamental theory of physics, we know it's computation all the way down. Once we know it's computation all the way down, we're forced to think about it computationally. One of the consequences of thinking about things computationally is this phenomenon of computational irreducibility. You can't get around it. That means we have always had the point of view that science will eventually figure out everything, but computational irreducibility says that can't work. It says that even if we know the rules for the system, it may be the case that we can't work out what that system will do any more efficiently than basically just running the system and seeing what happens, just doing the experiment so to speak. We can't have a predictive theoretical science of what's going to happen.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

10 reasons why a 'Greater Depression' for the 2020s is inevitable.

Try to hang on to any threads of optimism you might still have as I summarize,from an article in The Guardian by Nouriel Roubini, 10 ominous and risky trends:
-Soaring levels of public and private debts, and their corollary risks of defaults, all but ensure a more anemic recovery than the one that followed the Great Recession a decade ago.
-The demographic timebomb in advanced economies with ageing societies means more public spending (and debt) allocated to health systems.
-Deflation risk is increasing as COVID crisis creates massive unused capacity, unemployment, and commodities (oil, metals) price collapse, making debt deflation likely, increasing insolvency.
-As central banks run monetised fiscal deficits to avoid depression and deflation, currency will be debased and accelerated deglobalisation and renewed protectionism will make stagflation all but inevitable.
-Income and wealth gaps will widen as production is re-shored to guard against future supply-chain shocks, accelerating the rate of automation and downward pressure on wages, further fanning the flames of populism, nationalism, and xenophobia.
-The current deglobalisation trend, accelerated by the pandemic, will lead to tighter restrictions on the movement of goods, services, capital, labour, technology, data, and information.
-A populist backlash against democracy will reinforce this trend, as blue collar and middle class workers become more susceptible to poplulist rhetoric, scapegoating foreigners for the crisis, and supporting restriction of migration and trade.
-A geostrategic standoff between the US and China will cause decoupling in trade, technology, investment, data, and monetary arrangements to intensify.
--This diplomatic breakup will set the stage for a new cold war between the US and its rivals (China, Russia, Iran, North Korea) and because technology is the key weapon for controlling future industries and pandemics, the US private tech sector will be increasingly integrated into the national-security-industrial complex.
-A final risk that cannot be ignored is environmental disruption, which, as the Covid-19 crisis has shown, can wreak far more economic havoc than a financial crisis.
These 10 risks, already looming large before Covid-19 struck, now threaten to fuel a perfect storm that sweeps the entire global economy into a decade of despair. By the 2030s, technology and more competent political leadership may be able to reduce, resolve, or minimise many of these problems, giving rise to a more inclusive, cooperative, and stable international order. But any happy ending assumes that we find a way to survive the coming Greater Depression.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Why have stocks been rising.?

I pass on clips that cook down the main points from Derek Thompson's recent article that makes several clarifying points:
The COVID-19 crisis is simultaneously thrusting Americans into the pre-urban homestead economy of the 1830s, re-creating the Depression-era joblessness of the 1930s, and pulling forward the virtual economy of the 2030s. We are living in the weirdest economy ever.
Reason 1. ...the economy is not really “broken,” a global pathogenic pulse...has suddenly interrupted an otherwise normally functioning economy. That means we can’t solve the economic crisis until we solve the public-health crisis. That’s why stocks have jumped...every cheery vaccine headline is a corporate-equity stimulus.
Reason 2 ...this crisis combines an unprecedented shutdown of the physical economy with an unprecedented federal effort to distribute emergency cash to tens of millions of families...With millions of Americans earning more in unemployment than they were at work, personal income soared in April by 10 percent.
Reason 3 ...although retail is in the toilet, just about everything that has to do with housing is fine...The plague economy is extraordinarily unequal. Many high-income workers can afford to buy new homes because they are, for now, inoculated from the economic devastation by virtue of the fact that they can do their jobs from home...Digital technology’s insulation from the physical world might be the most durable aspect of this crisis...The at-home economy has diverged from the out-of-home economy. The stock market has diverged from the labor market. And the technology sector has, for now, accelerated into the future, breaking away from many other publicly traded companies.
...today’s economy is that of 1830, 1930, and 2030, all at once... What year will it be tomorrow?

Friday, June 19, 2020

The molecular choreography of acute exercise

Reynolds points to work of Contrepois et al, who had 36 volunteers, age range 40-75, complete a standard treadmill endurance test, running at an increasing intensity until exhaustion, usually after about nine or 10 minutes of exercise. Blood was drawn before, immediately after, and again 15, 30 and 60 minutes later. The measured the levels of 17,662 different molecules. Of these, 9,815 — or more than half — changed after exercise, compared to their levels before the workout.

Highlights
• Time-series analysis reveals an orchestrated molecular choreography of exercise
• Multi-level omic associations identify key biological processes of peak VO 2
• Prediction models highlight resting blood biomarkers of fitness
• Exercise omics provides insights into the pathophysiology of insulin resistance
Summary
Acute physical activity leads to several changes in metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune pathways. Although studies have examined selected changes in these pathways, the system-wide molecular response to an acute bout of exercise has not been fully characterized. We performed longitudinal multi-omic profiling of plasma and peripheral blood mononuclear cells including metabolome, lipidome, immunome, proteome, and transcriptome from 36 well-characterized volunteers, before and after a controlled bout of symptom-limited exercise. Time-series analysis revealed thousands of molecular changes and an orchestrated choreography of biological processes involving energy metabolism, oxidative stress, inflammation, tissue repair, and growth factor response, as well as regulatory pathways. Most of these processes were dampened and some were reversed in insulin-resistant participants. Finally, we discovered biological pathways involved in cardiopulmonary exercise response and developed prediction models revealing potential resting blood-based biomarkers of peak oxygen consumption.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Nostalgia... Remember Disco??

On my current tour through old MindBlog posts I came across this one from Jan 24, 2018, done during my early snowbird years in Fort Lauderdale, good energy to recal:

I saw this video (So Many Men, So Little Time - Miquel Brown) during happy hour at the local bar (Georgie's Alibi) several evenings ago and was totally transported back to my days of disco dancing in the late 1970's, early 1980's, getting hot and sweaty, tearing off the shirt, etc. The same moves at my current age would probably be life-threatening. I'll bet a number of you remember this kind of energy...

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Jon Stewart weighs back in.....

I was struck by bits of clarity in David Marchese's interview of Jon Stewart. The interview was occasioned by the upcoming release of Stewart's satirical new movie "Irresistible." I want to pass on some clips of comments by Stewart that I made for myself:
Twenty-four-hour news networks are built for one thing, and that’s 9/11. There are very few events that would justify being covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So in the absence of urgency, they have to create it. You create urgency through conflict.
We continue to make this about the police — the how of it. How can they police? Is it about sensitivity and de-escalation training and community policing? All that can make for a less-egregious relationship between the police and people of color. But the how isn’t as important as the why, which we never address. The police are a reflection of a society. They’re not a rogue alien organization that came down to torment the black community. They’re enforcing segregation. Segregation is legally over, but it never ended. The police are, in some respects, a border patrol, and they patrol the border between the two Americas. We have that so that the rest of us don’t have to deal with it. Then that situation erupts, and we express our shock and indignation. But if we don’t address the anguish of a people, the pain of being a people who built this country through forced labor — people say, ‘‘I’m tired of everything being about race.’’ Well, imagine how [expletive] exhausting it is to live that.
There’s not a white person out there who would want to be treated like even a successful black person in this country. And if we don’t address the why of that treatment, the how is just window dressing. You know, we’re in a bizarre time of quarantine. White people lasted six weeks and then stormed a state building with rifles, shouting: ‘‘Give me liberty! This is causing economic distress! I’m not going to wear a mask, because that’s tyranny!’’ That’s six weeks versus 400 years of quarantining a race of people. The policing is an issue, but it’s the least of it. We use the police as surrogates to quarantine these racial and economic inequalities so that we don’t have to deal with them.
...there’s no oxygen for the campaign other than the oxygen that Trump’s Twitter feed puts into things. And no matter what, Trump has defined the terms of the fight. It’s going to be: What is America’s greatness? You have to fight on those terms, and that’s an opportunity to define what you believe is our greatness. Now, that’s not to say the political consultants won’t say to Biden, ‘‘You need to define your own lane.’’ But he doesn’t. The road is built.
What is broken about Washington isn’t the bureaucracy. It’s legislators’ ability to address the issues inherent in any society — and the reason they can’t address them is that when you have a duopoly, there is no incentive to work together to create something better. Plus, you have one party whose premise is that government is bad and whose goal is to prove that, which makes them, in essence, a double agent. All these things coalesce to make problem-solving the antithesis of what we’ve created. We’re incentivized for more extreme candidates, for more extreme partisanship, for more conflict and permanent campaigning, for corporate interests to have more influence on the process, not less.
‘‘The Daily Show’’ was a critique of the news and a critique of those systems [News intertwined with Entertainment]. If they’d taken in what we were saying, they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing now: creating urgency through conflict. Conflict has become the catalyst for the economic model. The entire system functions that way now. We are two sides — in a country of 350 million people.
I don’t think it [the news media] has ever had a good handle on a political moment. It’s not designed for that. It’s designed for engagement. It’s like YouTube and Facebook: an information-laundering perpetual-radicalization machine. It’s like porn. I don’t mean that to be flip...The algorithm is not designed for thoughtful engagement and clarity. It’s designed to make you look at it longer.
The media’s job is to deconstruct the manipulation, not to just call it a lie. It’s about informing on how something works so that you understand the lie’s purpose. What are the structural issues underneath the lie? The media shouldn’t take the political system personally, or allow its own narcissism to rise to the narcissism of the politicians, or become offended that the politicians are lying — their job is to manipulate.
...I think he [Trump] understands very well — and the right understands very well — that undermining the credibility of the institutions that people look to for help defining and making sense of reality is the key to bending reality to your will. It’s a wonderful rhetorical trick. He had a great one on Memorial Day weekend:‘‘We’re getting great reviews on our pandemic response. But of course, not getting credit for it.’’ The twisted logic of that: If you’re getting great reviews, I’m pretty sure that’s considered credit. It’s like saying, ‘‘I’m being praised, but of course I won’t be praised for it.’’ Language is utterly meaningless. Everything is placed into its category in the tribal war and who its real victims are: Donald Trump and his minions. Poor little billionaire president who can’t catch a break. It’s incredible. Are we all just extras in this guy’s movie? But I do feel as if his approach has worked for him his whole life.
There’s all this talk of being on the right side of history, but what does that mean? ‘‘The arc of moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’’ Who’s bending it? What are we doing to further that? If you just get rid of Trump, that doesn’t end this. It’s too easy to say: ‘‘I support this other guy. Therefore, I’m part of the solution.’’ Or: ‘‘You support that guy. Therefore, you’re the problem.’’ Now, that is in no way exculpatory to the supporters of those policies or that regime. My point was: What does that judgment get you? What is the accountability that we have for those who really do believe this is unjust but still accept the tacit societal arrangements?
...the view we get of the country is not accurate. We get the artifice of it, the conflict of it. I’m not naïve. I don’t think that true divisions and animosities and bigotry and prejudices don’t exist. We see that every day. But fundamentally, we are a resilient and strong and resourceful nation that has oftentimes overcome our worst tendencies — ‘‘overcome’’ is probably too strong a word. But our biggest problem as humans is ignorance, not malevolence. Ignorance is an entirely curable disease...You need to talk to people. Ignorance is often cured by experience, by spending time with what you don’t understand...In the same way that Trump’s recklessness is born out of experience, so is my optimism, because good people outweigh [expletive] people. By a long shot.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Rich and Poor

San Paulo, Brazil.

Motion aftereffect demonstration

I'm passing this on, a rather powerful (practically hallucinatory) demonstration. Look at the center of the moving lines for 20 seconds and then at a picture on the wall. DO NOT TRY THIS IF YOU HAVE PHOTOSENSITIVE EPILEPSY!

Monday, June 15, 2020

As diversity increases, people paradoxically perceive social groups as more similar

From Bai et al.:

Significance
Globalization and immigration expose people to increased diversity, challenging them to think in new ways about new people. Yet, scientists know little about how changing demography affects human mental representations of social groups, relative to each other. How do mental maps of stereotypes differ, with exposure to diversity? At national, state, and individual levels, more diversity is associated with less stereotype dispersion. Paradoxically, people produce more-differentiated stereotypes in ethnically homogeneous contexts but more similar, overlapping stereotypes in diverse contexts. Increased diversity and decreased stereotype dispersion correlate with subjective wellbeing. Perhaps human minds adapt to social diversity, by changing their symbolic maps of the array of social groups, perceiving overlaps, and preparing for positive future intergroup relations. People can adjust to diversity.
Abstract
With globalization and immigration, societal contexts differ in sheer variety of resident social groups. Social diversity challenges individuals to think in new ways about new kinds of people and where their groups all stand, relative to each other. However, psychological science does not yet specify how human minds represent social diversity, in homogeneous or heterogenous contexts. Mental maps of the array of society’s groups should differ when individuals inhabit more and less diverse ecologies. Nonetheless, predictions disagree on how they should differ. Confirmation bias suggests more diversity means more stereotype dispersion: With increased exposure, perceivers’ mental maps might differentiate more among groups, so their stereotypes would spread out (disperse). In contrast, individuation suggests more diversity means less stereotype dispersion, as perceivers experience within-group variety and between-group overlap. Worldwide, nationwide, individual, and longitudinal datasets (n = 12,011) revealed a diversity paradox: More diversity consistently meant less stereotype dispersion. Both contextual and perceived ethnic diversity correlate with decreased stereotype dispersion. Countries and US states with higher levels of ethnic diversity (e.g., South Africa and Hawaii, versus South Korea and Vermont), online individuals who perceive more ethnic diversity, and students who moved to more ethnically diverse colleges mentally represent ethnic groups as more similar to each other, on warmth and competence stereotypes. Homogeneity shows more-differentiated stereotypes; ironically, those with the least exposure have the most-distinct stereotypes. Diversity means less-differentiated stereotypes, as in the melting pot metaphor. Diversity and reduced dispersion also correlate positively with subjective wellbeing.

Friday, June 12, 2020

The psyche is not inside us but between us.

I want to pass on a few clips from an article by psychotherapist James Barnes on the work and ideas of Donald Winnicott (1896-1971), a central figure in mid-20th-century psychoanalysis, whose theory was:

...radically at odds with the Freudian model and indeed the models employed by modern psychiatry and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)...he saw the area in between self and other as the proper domain of mental life and the place where it develops. He largely circumvented the subject-object dualism inherent in the Freudian model of mind (which both the Ego-psychologists and the Kleinians subscribed to) and espoused, or at least regularly insinuated, a fundamentally unitary conception of self and other...Freud and the schools that followed him saw any apparent continuity of self and other – an experience common to the infant, ‘psychotics’ and ‘regressed patients’ alike – as a narcissistic delusion that had to be confronted. By taking the continuity of self and other seriously, Winnicott flipped this picture on its head. He thought of it, in fact, as primary.

Winnicott believed that separate minds give way to experiential units – that subjects with minds emerge out of the domain of interpersonal relations: the ‘social matrix of psyche’... Thus, far from being separate, closed-off entities that somehow manage to figure out each other externally, we are, according to Winnicott, radically open beings in immediate contact with each other.

Winnicott expressed this idea enigmatically when he said: ‘There is no such thing as a baby … if you set out to describe a baby, you will find you are describing a baby and someone.’ His perspective is most relevant for understanding a baby’s experience with her parents, but it’s at the core of all experience, even though we don’t usually recognise it as such. Experience of the world and others is the primary given, and minds – rather than traversing an existing separation – are in a certain sense responsible for creating it. Effectively, this is an inversion of Freud’s dualistic model.

Winnicott’s divergence from subject-object dualism is perhaps most clearly illustrated by his firm belief that we never extricate ourselves from this transitional realm and its subject-object mix-up – nor would we want to. For Freud, and for reductive psychiatry and CBT alike, there is a fundamental assumption that objective states of affairs in an independent world are the basic truth of experience. Indeed, the models rise and fall with the veracity of this picture.

However, Winnicott had a very different vision. He wrote of culture – its artifacts and its activities – as extensions of the transitional phenomena of childhood, themselves rooted in the original mix-up with the parent. He thought that the very worlds we inhabit and take for granted are always partly of our own making. For Winnicott, it is only because the worlds we experience are coextensive with ourselves that they feel alive, alluring and psychically experienceable in the first instance, rather than like cold, mathematical structures, as scientific materialism would have us believe. In this way, Winnicott’s psychological paradox of subject and object becomes a philosophical paradox of idealism and materialism...These fundamental views now lie at the heart of what’s known in modern parlance as relational and intersubjective depth psychotherapy.

Barnes proceeds to argue that the one-person psychologies of the Freudian and cognitive behavioral therapy models have caused social damage, and that we would do well to go:

...back to Winnicott - to his vision of the psyche as intimately interpersonal and social in nature; to his centralisation of interpersonal trauma and deficit at the root of our suffering; and to his profound insights into the area in between, which come into focus when we do so.













Thursday, June 11, 2020

Making Us/Them Dichotomies More Benign.

I'm reposting this item from 2016 as particularly relevant to the present.... Interesting thoughts from Robert Sapolsky:
A truly discouraging thing to me is how easily humans see the world as dichotomized between Us and Them. This comes through in all sorts of ways —social anthropology, lord of the flies, prison experiments, linguistics (all those cultures where the word for the members of that culture translates into "People," thus making a contrast with the non-people living in the next valley). 
As a neurobiologist, I'm particularly impressed with and discouraged by one finding relevant to this. There's a part of the brain called the amygdala that has lots to do with fear and anxiety and aggression. Functional brain imaging studies of humans show that the amygdala becomes metabolically active when we look at a scary face (even when the face is flashed up so quickly that we aren't consciously aware of seeing it). And some recent work—solid, done by top people, independently replicated — suggests that the amygdala can become activated when we view the face of someone from another race. The Them as scary, and the Them being someone whose skin color is real different from our own. 
Damn, that's an upsetting finding. 
But right on the heels of those studies are follow-ups showing that the picture is more complicated. The "Other skin color = scared activated amygdala = the Other" can be modified by experience. "Experience," can be how diverse of a world you grew up in. More diversity, and the amygdala is likely to become activated in that circumstance. And also, "experience," can be whether, shortly before your amygdala is put through the brain imaging paces, you are subtly biased to think about people categorically or as individuals. If you're cued towards individuating, your amygdala doesn't light up. 
Thus, it seems quite plausible to me that we are hard-wired towards making Us/Them distinctions and not being all that nice to the Them. But what is anything but hard-wired is who counts as an Us and as a Them —we are so easily manipulated into changing those categories. 
So, I'm optimistic that with the right sort of priorities and human engineering (whatever that phrase means), we can be biased towards making Us/Them dichotomies far more benign than they tend to be now. Say, by making all of us collectively feel like an Us with Them being the space aliens that may attack us some day. Or making the Them to be mean, shitty, intolerant people without compassion. 
But, I'm sure not optimistic that we'll soon be having political, religious or cultural leaders likely to move us effectively in that direction. Just to deflate that optimism.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

A perky bit of piano - Haydn Fantasia in C major, glitches included

I've generated almost 5,000 posts since this blog started in 2016 (before the first iPhone was released in 2017!, seems an aeon ago.) As a diversion during my self isolation until proper testing or a vaccine appears for COVID-19, I'm scanning through these posts from their beginning, and will be passing on a few. Coming across this bit of my piano playing perked me up yesterday, and I pass it on here, a Haydn fantasia.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

People aged 95 and older show stronger brain connectivity

Jiyang et al. have used resting-state functional MRI to compare 57 individuals aged 95-103 years old with 66 cognitively unimpaired younger participants aged 76-79. The centenarians showed more synchronized activation of left and right fronto-parietal control networks. Their abstract:

Highlights

We studied functional connectivity (FC) in near-centenarians and centenarians (nCC).

NCC showed stronger FC between bilateral frontoparietal control network (FPCN).

The stronger bilateral FPCN FC was linked to better visuospatial ability in nCC.

Abstract

Centenarians without dementia can be considered as a model of successful ageing and resistance against age-related cognitive decline. Is there something special about their brain functional connectivity that helps them preserve cognitive function into the 11th decade of life? In a cohort of 57 dementia-free near-centenarians and centenarians (95–103 years old) and 66 cognitively unimpaired younger participants (76–79 years old), we aimed to investigate brain functional characteristics in the extreme age range using resting-state functional MRI. Using group-level independent component analysis and dual regression, results showed group differences in the functional connectivity of seven group-level independent component (IC) templates, after accounting for sex, education years, and grey matter volume, and correcting for multiple testing at family-wise error rate of 0.05. After Bonferroni correction for testing 30 IC templates, near-centenarians and centenarians showed stronger functional connectivity between right frontoparietal control network (FPCN) and left inferior frontal gyrus (Bonferroni-corrected p ​= ​0.024), a core region of the left FPCN. The investigation of between-IC functional connectivity confirmed the voxel-wise result by showing stronger functional connectivity between bilateral FPCNs in near-centenarians and centenarians compared to young-old controls. In addition, near-centenarians and centenarians had weaker functional connectivity between default mode network and fronto-temporo-parietal network compared to young-old controls. In near-centenarians and centenarians, stronger functional connectivity between bilateral FPCNs was associated with better cognitive performance in the visuospatial domain. The current study highlights the key role of bilateral FPCN connectivity in the reserve capacity against age-related cognitive decline.

Monday, June 08, 2020

How Covid-19 stress scrambles our brains

The pandemic is providing an opportunity for a massive, real-time experiment on stress.  Even mild stress can impair the activities of the prefrontal cortex areas 'executive' functions that regulate our attentional focus and emotions. When this area grows more quiet more reactionary brain networks that it normally inhits (centering on the amygdalae) are unleashed. You should read the article by Laura Sanders that describes, with clear illustrations, experiments showing how our thoughtful planning activities are disrupted by stress.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Confront your decline head on.

I pass on another of Arthur Brook's biweekly essays in the Atlantic. This one notes that Much like contemplating death can neutralize the fear of it, it can help to acclimate yourself to the idea of losing professional skills before it happens. After describing the meditation called maranasati ("mindfulness of death") that consists of imagining nine states of one's own dead body, he offers a corresponding list to deal with decline...
I feel my competence declining.
Those close to me begin to notice that I am not as sharp as I used to be.
Other people receive the social and professional attention I used to receive.
I have to decrease my workload and step back from daily activities I once completed with ease.
I am no longer able to work.
Many people I meet do not recognize me or know me for my previous work.
I am still alive, but professionally I am no one.
I lose the ability to communicate my thoughts and ideas to those around me.
I am dead, and I am no longer remembered at all for my accomplishments.
The fear of death is much worse when it is an amorphous phantasm—something lurking menacingly in the shadows—than when it is a plain reality. And so it is with decline. Unacknowledged, it is scary. Acknowledged and contemplated, it can become a normal, natural part of life’s cadence.
It is true that Western society glorifies youthful beauty and the machinelike efficiency of homo economicus. But you don’t have to play along with our culture’s neurotic exercise in futility. Become the master who, when your social or professional standing is threatened by age or circumstance, says, “Don’t you see that I am a person who could be utterly forgotten without batting an eye?”

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Do you really want to make your own complex medical decisions?


Over the past several decades, the United States medical system has increasingly prioritized patient autonomy. Physicians routinely encourage patients to come to their own decisions about their medical care rather than providing patients with clearer yet more paternalistic advice. Although political theorists, bioethicists, and philosophers generally see this as a positive trend, the present research examines the important question of how patients and advisees in general react to full decisional autonomy when making difficult decisions under uncertainty. Across six experiments (N = 3,867), we find that advisers who give advisees decisional autonomy rather than offering paternalistic advice are judged to be less competent and less helpful. As a result, advisees are less likely to return to and recommend these advisers and pay them lower wages. Importantly, we also demonstrate that advisers do not anticipate these effects. We document these results both inside and outside the medical domain, suggesting that the preference for paternalism is not unique to medicine but rather is a feature of situations in which there are adviser–advisee asymmetries in expertise. We find that the preference for paternalism holds when advice is solicited or unsolicited, when both paternalism and autonomy are accompanied by expert guidance, and it persists both before and after the outcomes of paternalistic advice are realized. Lastly, we see that the preference for paternalism only occurs when decision makers perceive their decision to be difficult. These results challenge the benefits of recently adopted practices in medical decision making that prioritize full decisional autonomy.


Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Anxiolytic actions of oxytocin, unlike those of benzodiazepines, involve brain regions outside the amygdala


Significance

A potential new target for anxiolytic drug development is the oxytocin (OXT) neuropeptide system. An emerging question is whether OXT has similar effects on the neural microcircuitry of fear compared with clinically established compounds such as benzodiazepines. The present functional MRI study showed that both OXT and its benzodiazepine comparator lorazepam (LZP) reduced centromedial amygdala responses to fear signals. OXT, but not LZP, increased extra-amygdalar connectivity between the centromedial amygdala and frontoparietal regions. Thus, while both compounds inhibited the centromedial amygdala, OXT, but not LZP, elicited large-scale connectivity changes of potential therapeutic relevance.

Abstract

Benzodiazepines (BZDs) represent the gold standard of anxiolytic pharmacotherapy; however, their clinical benefit is limited by side effects and addictive potential. Consequently, there is an urgent need to develop novel and safe anxiolytics. The peptide hormone oxytocin (OXT) exhibits anxiolytic-like properties in animals and humans, but whether OXT and BZDs share similar effects on the neural circuitry of fear is unclear. Therefore, the rationale of this ultra-high-field functional MRI (fMRI) study was to test OXT against the clinical comparator lorazepam (LZP) with regard to their neuromodulatory effects on local and network responses to fear-related stimuli. One hundred twenty-eight healthy male participants volunteered in this randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled, between-group study. Before scanning using an emotional face-matching paradigm, participants were randomly administered a single dose of OXT (24 IU), LZP (1 mg), or placebo. On the behavioral level, LZP, but not OXT, caused mild sedation, as evidenced by a 19% increase in reaction times. On the neural level, both OXT and LZP inhibited responses to fearful faces vs. neutral faces within the centromedial amygdala (cmA). In contrast, they had different effects on intra-amygdalar connectivity; OXT strengthened the coupling between the cmA and basolateral amygdala, whereas LZP increased the interplay between the cmA and superficial amygdala. Furthermore, OXT, but not LZP, enhanced the coupling between the cmA and the precuneus and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. These data implicate inhibition of the cmA as a common denominator of anxiolytic action, with only OXT inducing large-scale connectivity changes of potential therapeutic relevance.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Your voice carries information about your upper body movements.

Fascinating observations by Pouw et al.:
Significance
We show that the human voice carries an acoustic signature of muscle tensioning during upper limb movements which can be detected by listeners. Specifically, we find that human listeners can synchronize their own movements to very subtle wrist movements of a vocalizer only by listening to their vocalizations and without any visual contact. This study shows that the human voice contains information about dynamic bodily states, breaking ground for our understanding of the evolution of spoken language and nonverbal communication. The current findings are in line with other research on nonhuman animals, showing that vocalizations carry information about bodily states and capacities.
Abstract
We show that the human voice has complex acoustic qualities that are directly coupled to peripheral musculoskeletal tensioning of the body, such as subtle wrist movements. In this study, human vocalizers produced a steady-state vocalization while rhythmically moving the wrist or the arm at different tempos. Although listeners could only hear and not see the vocalizer, they were able to completely synchronize their own rhythmic wrist or arm movement with the movement of the vocalizer which they perceived in the voice acoustics. This study corroborates recent evidence suggesting that the human voice is constrained by bodily tensioning affecting the respiratory–vocal system. The current results show that the human voice contains a bodily imprint that is directly informative for the interpersonal perception of another’s dynamic physical states.

Monday, June 01, 2020

An "Apostle's Creed" for the humanistic scientific materialist?


(Note: I have begun to slowly go though the posts on MindBlog, which began in Feb. of 2016, over 14 years ago.  Here I repeat the post that appeared on March 14, 2006.  I could have written it yesterday, without changing a word.)

The classical Christian apostle's creed, over 1600 years old and formulated soon after the writing of the New Testament, is a series of "I believe....." statements. Without thinking too much about it, I've decided to quickly write down a few sentences to suggest the very different creed that I follow. Here they are:

I believe the most fundamental content of our minds to be the sensed physical breathing and moving body, a quiet awareness that underlies our surface waves of emotions and thoughts.

I believe that this awareness can begin to experience a larger process, closer to the machinery that is generating a self, a process that observes rather than being completely defined by the current narrative "I" chatter of who-I-am or what-it-is-I-do.

I believe that this awareness can expand to feel its part in a a drama of evolving life on this planet and an evolving universe - a theater much more universal than conventional cultural or religious myths.

I believe that this awareness can enhance the depth, sanity, and sensed completion of each moment. It provides a sense of wholeness and sufficiency from which actions rise. It makes contact with other humans more sane and whole.