Saturday, November 12, 2016

USC/Los Angeles Times Daybreak poll

I did a study of reading comprehension for my masters thesis in 1981. I used a methodology that had just been introduced by Prof. Daniel Kahneman. I asked people to rate how certain they were about the information they’d just read instead of simply answering yes-or-no/true-or-false type questions. If they read an article about a traffic accident in town that said: "... one of the drivers was taken to the hospital but shortly released" …they rated on a scale of 0 to 100 how certain they were someone was injured. Since the answer may be something less that 100% …the rating scale was more representative of the reading material and turned out to be a better predictor of reading ability. 

Flash forward: Arie Kapteyn, a student of Daniel Kahneman, used a similar methodology in the USC/Los Angeles Times Daybreak poll to predict the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. He asked respondents to rate how committed they were to their candidate of choice as well as how likely they were to vote (also on a scale of 0 to 100). He included all respondents (not just those likely to vote). He then factored-in commitment-level and likely-to-vote ratings and found that it predicted the outcome better than the national polls including Fox and CNN. It consistently ranked Trump ahead of Clinton by 4 points in the months leading up to election day. Surprised the hell out of everyone, including the author of the poll, and validated the methodology for predicting political races as well.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Lifespan Development

Development doesn’t stop at adulthood like I once thought; it keeps going. Lifespan development  proceeds by a process of resolving conflicts and overcoming obstacles. This means:
  1. Resolving the conflicts between the teachings of my parents and what I find to be true. For instance, they used to tell me: ‘if mistakes can be made -they will!’ I found out later that this was a fallacy of mistaking what’s possible for what’s probable. Just because something is possible doesn’t make it extremely likely to occur. Now I can either decide to modify this teaching or reject it. That’s up to me. Sometimes it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution (that’s what I think they were really trying to say). It doesn’t do me any good to reject everything my parents taught me or get stuck quarreling about one thing or another.
  2. Resolving differences between the way things are and the way I want them to be (or expect them to be). The direction I want to go in may not be the same as the one my employers want.
  3. Resolving the conflicts between my immediate biological or sexual needs and socially acceptable means of satisfying these needs (courtship and dating for example).
  4. Integration: Learning doesn’t stop after school -it changes. Now it’s more like a process of integration –accepting new information and modifying previously held beliefs. Clinging to previously held beliefs is a way of blocking development. Receptivity to the thoughts and ideas of others, without going instantly judgmental, is the first step to integration and ongoing development.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Bayesian AI

Bayesian Program Learning BPL: probability-based program that is able to deal with variation during recognition tasks –like the ability to recognize a Segue from different angles or embedded in scenes of differing complexity, after seeing it only once in a magazine. Traditional AI required storing many occurences of an object or event ( E ) and many occurences of ‘not E or ‘variations of E’. In order to correctly identify E under different conditions.

                  E plus ( €, ∑, £, Æ, È, Ę, Ǝ, Ǯ, ʒ, Ξ, Σ, З, Э, Ѥ, Ѱ, ₣, ₤ ,€, 8)

  •   A 3-year old can correctly identify an event ( E ) with 95% accuracy after seeing it only once – an example of single-trial learning.
  •   Traditional AI can identify event ( E ) with only 75% accuracy with only one stored     occurrence. P(H/D) where event ( E ) is the hypothesis (H) and (D) is a stored data-point.
  •   Bayesian AI can identify an event ( E ) with 95% accuracy after one occurrence.
Bayes recognition is probabilistic –it compares the probabilities of getting E from different variations and contexts of ( E ) and returns the highest value P(D/H). Bayes probability comes closer to human recognition memory during single trial learning. (LA Times)

Monday, June 23, 2014

the gag reel

I know memory isn't a passive record of events.  It's more like an ongoing re-construction. When this happens, I consistently get the order of things wrong.  I often confuse what happened one time for something that happened another time.  Last night I was watching a gag reel from season five of Parks and Recreation. In an early scene, Andy asks his young wife April if she's pregnant. April responds saying: "Nooo, we've talked about this ..and what do I always tell you? We're going to wait till we're 50 to have children ..!" In another scene, Andy and April are giving Ben advice for a successful marriage. Andy asks April what other tips they can give him (that she heard from a friend). April replies: "She said 'don't pull out till I scream'!" Now, at the end of the reel, what do I remember?  In the first scene where they talk about having children ..I remember April saying: "Nooo, we've talked about this ..and what do I always tell you? 'Don't pull out till I scream'!" I put the dialogue from the other scene  here. It wasn't until I replayed the gag reel that I realized my mistake. Although my recollection didn't follow the actual order of events made sense and even retained some of it's humor.  Perhaps we remember semantic-relationships better than chronological order.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Pioneers of sight

 Watching a hawk circle the canyon overhead starts out as packets of light or ‘photons’ striking my retina. How these photons strike the retina and which pathways they activate in the brain tell me what I’m seeing. Photons landing in a specific orientation will travel pathways that construct its’ form (bird). When they hit adjacent areas in succession I’m informed of its’ motion and direction. And the length of time between hits tells me its’ speed. None of this was known before 1968 when David Hubel and Torten Wiesel first announced their research findings. And it wasn’t until 1981 that it was generally accepted and they earned the Nobel Prize in Neurophysiology and Medicine.

Friday, July 26, 2013

false memory

“Memory is not a passive record of things past. It's more like an ongoing construction-site, integrating and revising the past with events from the present and predictions about the future.”  [link]
How to plant a false memory by Dr. Susumu Tonegawa [link]: I’m skeptical. How is it possible to know what’s going on inside the head of a mouse ..let alone tell whether it’s true or not. I’m also intrigued. They say the fabric of memory is pliable and self-serving. It can be revised by the simple act of re-hashing things. Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus used to demonstrate this with eyewitness testimony. Neuroscientists have now replicated it with mice in a maze. Here’s how:
  1. They narrow down a set of brain cells that get activated whenever a mouse enters a new location. Unfamiliar territory evokes a ‘neo-phobic’ response, which adds staying power to novel experience.
  2. Then they create a new memory by stimulating the same set of cells and delivering an unpleasant jolt when the mouse enters a neutral part of the maze. The mouse ‘re-lives’ the experience of being in the location it explored before and couples it with the jolt. How do they know? The mouse avoids the location like never before.
They say memory serves as a road map to the future. However humans can play pretty loose with it .. reminiscing or ruminating about things ..which may make us more prone to revising the past. I don’t know if this has anything to do with it but I often recollect scenes from movies I enjoy. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of French films with the actress Audrey Tautou ..who I just adore. I also saw her in the movie ‘Da Vinci Code’ last night. This morning when Audrey Tautou popped into my head ..I mistook her for the character she plays in the movie. A character of potentially game-changing consequence to humanity. It felt eerie. It was just a flash but I’m wondering if this isn’t also some kind of false memory. Perhaps I’m overthinking it. I often blur the distinction between fantasy and reality. I know I confuse scenes from the movies with episodes from my past.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

quantum tunnelling

In space, the powers of creation and destruction work differently. Matter forms ..dissolves ..then reappears in  a   s l o w e r   m a n n e r.  Matter that makes up you and me. On earth we’re refreshed at such high speeds ..particles disappear and reappear in essentially the same place ..making our position more or less predictable from one instant to the next. In space, however, it’s so cold that things take a little longer ..when measured in nano-seconds. So, instead of the high-speed collisions we see taking place here .. in space, particles are refreshed by means of quantum tunnelling  [link]. This means we could wink out of one place one moment and reappear in another place the next ..kind of like looking at someone through a strobe light. And not only that .. this kind of delay lowers the probability of particles sticking together ..meaning there’s a good chance that we could dissolve in the process.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Eight foot woman

brings down the recording industry. 

Brilliant use of the Internet to create a meaningful music exchange

Monday, June 10, 2013

cyber space

Looks like a pair of ski goggles with a cheap and easy interface ‘app’ to a video game console is all it takes to bring virtual reality into focus [link]. They’re called ‘Rift’ headsets and they perform close to high-end simulators used in flight training. They use motion-detectors developed for mobile computing and head-tracking sensors developed by psychophysicists. The result is faster response-time with minimal lens-distortion, which means you get a seamless look at the action in cyber space. They’re made by Oculus in Irvine and now come ready to use with the video game ‘Hawken’ (Meteor Entertainment).

Friday, June 07, 2013

PTS prevention study

What makes some people less susceptible to PTS ..? Nociceptin receptors in the amygdala. Nociceptin (NOP) is a compound found at the synapse that acts like an analgesic. Nociceptin receptors are part of the amygdala involved in conditioned fear. According to neuroscientist Raul Andero Gali, we can prevent PTSD-like symptoms from developing.
Animal model of PTS

Traumatic   ~>    Fear-Response   ~>   Extinction
   Event                 Conditioning              Training  
During extinction training, some animals unlearn fear response (freezing) more rapidly than others. Persistence of fear in absence of danger is a characteristic of PTS. So, what makes some animals less susceptible to PTS ..?
Study 1 – naturalistic observation
Study found that those who unlearn the fastest were those whose Nociceptin receptors were most active. Nociceptin is a natural occurring opiate in the brain that’s thought to dampen consolidation of fearful memories 
Study 2 – experimental method
Animals that received a drug during conditioning that activates Nociceptin receptors  quickly learned to stop fearing the tone during extinction training. NOP receptors may interfere with fear memory consolidation, with implications for prevention of PTSD after a traumatic event [link] [link].

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Verbal fluency

The other day someone asked me what ‘verbal fluency’ meant. I wasn’t very convincing. So I did a little searching. Verbal fluency refers to the ability to quickly access your mental vocabulary.. selecting appropriate and discarding less appropriate words ..while speaking or writing. If you've ever struggled searching through synonyms in a thesaurus ..fell short of a witty comeback .. or failed to persuade someone of something you know well ..then you understand the importance of verbal fluency. Boosting or recovering a patients’ verbal fluency is one of the objectives of speech therapy. Verbal fluency eludes me a lot of the time. Oh well oh well..

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sexual development

“The onset of puberty is determined by a mix of genetic and environmental factors coming to bear on the hypothalamus of the brain.”  Margaret M McCarthy, Piece in the puzzle of puberty, Nature, February 2013.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Somatosensory awareness

Mindfulness starts with the body: Meditation has been practiced for over two millennia in Asian Buddhist traditions. It is said to involve the cultivation of experiential awareness of the present moment. This present-moment focus is thought to improve well-being by allowing individuals to become aware of sensations, emotions and thoughts that arise in the mind without judgment or reactivity. Over the last two decades, mindfulness-related treatments have become an increasingly common component of the healthcare system. A common set of mindfulness exercises have been shown to reduce distress in chronic pain and decrease risk of depression relapse. These practices require attending to breath and body sensations. Here, we offer a novel view. Somatic focus helps modulate 7–14 Hz alpha rhythms (brain waves) that play a key role in filtering inputs to primary sensory neocortex and organizing the flow of sensory information in the brain. In support of the framework, we describe our previous finding that meditation enhances attention in the primary somatosensory cortex. The framework allows us to make several predictions. In chronic pain, we predict somatic attention “de-biases” neuro activity, freeing up pain-focused resources. In depression relapse, we predict somatic attention competes with internally focused rumination, as internally focused cognitive processes (including working memory) rely on alpha filtering of sensory input. Somatic focus sensitizes practitioners to better detect and regulate when the mind wanders from its somatic focus. Enhanced regulation of somatic mind-wandering may be an important early stage of mindfulness training that leads to enhanced cognitive regulation and metacognition
From Frontiers in Neuroscience [ link ]

Monday, February 18, 2013

Buddhist parable

“I am going to give you big secret of the fountain of youth that will save you much money on cosmetics and plastic surgery: In stillness we do not age as quickly as those whose minds are constantly battling to hold their personalities together.”  ◊  Wing
Psychologists have reached the same conclusion. A large amount of mental activity is spent to making sure that what we say conforms to our personality. In a study titled Cognitive demand and self-presentation [link] they asked participants about a specific event. Participants often answered with an average case that best represented the image they were trying to maintain. That's a lot of work. Far easier to report an actual experience than compute an average.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bilingual advantage

“If you walk into a room, where a million things can attract your attention, how does your mind pay attention to what you need to pay attention to without getting distracted?”  [link]
Speaking multiple languages may be an advantage in more ways than one: a new study suggests that bilinguals are speedier task-switchers than monolinguals [link]. Task-switching has real-world applications ..the ability to mentally “switch gears” and refocus on new goals.It is a valuable skill that has numerous practical uses. You use it to shift attention from the wheel to the road while driving, or to switch gears between offense and defense in a team sport. Bilingualism has already been associated with a number of cognitive advantages, and now a 2010 study from Language and Cognition has investigated how bilingualism might enhance crucial task-switching skills in young adults  This study contributes to a growing body of evidence suggesting that bilinguals enjoy enhanced executive control compared to monolinguals. Executive control refers to a combination of cognitive abilities—including task-switching—that help you make decisions, control impulses, and plan thoughtfully. It’s long been thought that constant management and monitoring of two languages improves executive control—a belief that this Carnegie Mellon study supports.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Navigating memory

“Here we propose that mechanisms of memory and planning have evolved from mechanisms of navigation in the physical world and hypothesize that the neuronal algorithms underlying navigation in mental space are fundamentally the same as those that underlie navigation in  physical space.”
From: Memory navigation and theta rhythm in the hippocampus [link]
György Buzsáki and Edvard I Moser

Saturday, January 26, 2013

End of history illusion

“People regard the present as a watershed moment that will last the rest of their lives .. this ‘end of history illusion’ has consequences, leading people to overpay for future opportunities in light of their current preferences.” Daniel Gilbert 
This study examines the ‘end of history’ illusion [ link ]. A cognitive bias toward projecting present values and personal preferences into the future .. even when it’s clear that values and preferences change so dramatically. Guess that means I imagine myself willing to pay the same for concert tickets to see Lissie ten years from now .. even though I’m no longer that  interested in seeing someone like Sarah Bettens who was one of my favorites ten years ago.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Peer-mediated buzz

James Fowler, professor of psychology at UCSD, found that messages from our peers are more likely to initiate action than messages from a political committee [ link ]. Last year, Obama’s reelection committee learned the same thing [ link ]. They developed a system that leverages database technology and social-media to deliver their messages. In an instant, this system allows them to:
  1. mobilize grassroots support for White House concerns 
  2. provide White House support for local concerns
Apparently they took an extra step, conducted surveys ..and learned that nothing energizes participation better than ‘reciprocity’. Brilliant use of technology combined with Obama’s experience as a community organizer. Politically I’m independent and pretty damn naïve ..but I can see why this may give Republicans cause for alarm.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Puzzle Box

A fun way to learn to relax

Puzzlebox Orbit relies on EEG hardware from NeuroSky to capture brainwaves that signal attention and meditation. The more relaxed the player ..the higher and more controlled the helicopter goes [ link ].

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Decision making

Decisions are mostly intuitive, logical explanations
catch-up milliseconds later ~ Robert Sapolsky [ link ]

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Eyewitness testimony

Since 1975, Elizabeth Loftus has conducted research into the integrity of human memory. Her studies show that memory is not a video recording of things past. It’s suggestible and subject to laws of perception ..especially when we rely on it for eyewitness testimony [ link ].  Courtroom proceedings  back her claims. Convictions have been overturned due to faulty eyewitness testimony. Crimes are generally chaotic and the experience .. traumatic. In addition, the process of identifying suspects from a lineup or photo spread can be biased. The state of Oregon is the first to establish standards, based on these findings, to determine what qualifies as admissible evidence from eyewitness testimony [ link ]. For one, the eyewitness needs to be in a position to objectively observe the perpetrator during the commission of a crime ..not wounded or staring down the barrel of a gun. Two, lineups need to be conducted by someone who doesn’t know the identity of the suspect. And three, photos need to be presented sequentially, one at a time, the way we ordinarily run into people on the street ..not all at once.

Friday, November 23, 2012


GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system. It is responsible for lowering excessive activity in the brain. Sedatives and tranquilizers act by enhancing the effects of GABA. When the potency of GABA is elevated for reasons unknown results in a condition called hypersomnia or around-the-clock sleep, which can be very disruptive. It renders people unable to work or maintain relationships. Dr. David Rye found that a drug called flumazenil counteracts both tranquilizers and GABA in patients suffering hypersomnia. Furthermore it targets only people with high sensitivity to GABA while leaving people with normal GABA response alone ..meaning it gets closer to the root of the problem [ link ].

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Imagining things

People store and retrieve information based on self-interest, feelings and mirroring – or mentally simulating an activity. Kind of like watching a tennis match in preparation for a game. When presented with lists of character traits (adventurous, brave, compassionate) participants were asked one of five questions: 
1. what does it rhyme with (phonetic elaboration) 
2. what does it mean (semantic elaboration) 
3. can you identify with it (semantic self-referential processing) 
4. have you ever acted that way (episodic self-referential processing) 
5. can you imagine yourself acting that way now (self-imagining) 
Turns out question 5 (self-imagining) boosts recall more than any of the other questions [ link ].

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Resource-based attention

In an elegant ‘simulation’ of economic-class differences, researchers found that people with means (those in higher economic classes) don’t have to focus so much on their immediate needs and are more likely to consider the future cost of borrowing when making purchase decisions. On the other hand, people with limited means, who do have to focus on immediate needs, make better use of the resources they have but lose sight of the future cost of borrowing. As a result, they are more likely to become over-extended [ link ]. This means that no matter who you are, having limited resources alters the way you perceive and make borrowing decisions. They simulated economic differences by altering either the amount of time or the number of opportunities each group had available to make choices. The group with less time made better use of it when making purchase decisions than the group with more time. However, when they were allowed to ‘borrow time’ from future periods, at exorbitant cost .. these advantages diminish. This tells me that it’s not some innate ability to defer gratification that distinguishes rich from poor. When you have less to spend ..your attention is, by necessity, focused on the demands of the present situation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Level of stress

Locus-of-control affects levels-of-stress. People in charge experience less stress than those whose livelihood is in the hands of others [ link ]. Confidence in keeping their position helps .. even when the organization they lead .. suffers. They test lower for the presence of cortisol among other things.