Sunday, November 19, 2017


Whether it is Microsoft's "One Drive" or Apple's "iCloud", somewhere my friend's picture is out there.  With the right password and the right software, I can get a specialized computer, a "server", to send me a digital copy of the picture by email.  There are other ways to see the picture and none of them are the original.  

What is the original?  Da Vinci used a paintbrush to dab oilpaint onto canvas but I pressed a button on a modern tablet, letting the light from my friend stream through a lens onto a bit of hardware that is sensitive to the light.  That little bit of hardware is inside my tablet and nobody even wants to see it.  It doesn't look like my friend at all.  However, the collection of electronic signals can be used by other hardware and software to make a display that looks just like my friend.  The collection of electronic signals is itself useless except as a guide for display hardware.  The collection itself stays on a Google Photos computer.  I don't even know where that computer is.  Even something as mundane as my shot of him has probably been copied and deposited on some other backup servers somewhere.  I am not worried about losing my photo even though I don't know where it is.  I don't need to know.  

We can say that the photo is in cyberspace, that it is "in the cloud."  Several large corporations are interested in getting me to use their cloud, their cyberspace to store my photos.  I could have several archives in various clouds and not actually know where any of them really are. Just as there used to be no word on the street, no gossip, before language began, there used to be no cyberspace.  But now there is.  

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Fwd: Very intelligent people make less effective leaders, according to peers and subordinates

I thought you might like a little psychological research results.  Bill
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Subject: Very intelligent people make less effective leaders, according to peers and subordinates

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Very intelligent people make less effective leaders, according to their peers and subordinates

Highly intelligent people tend to make good progress in the workplace and are seen as fit for leadership roles: overall, smarter is usually associated with success. But if you examine the situation more closely, as does new research in the Journal of Applied Psychology, you find evidence that too much intelligence can harm leadership effectiveness. Too clever for your own good? Let's look at the research. Continue reading →

A 30-minute lesson in the malleability of personality has long-term benefits for anxious, depressed teenagers

There are many effective psychological therapies to help teenagers with depression, anxiety or other mental health problems. Unfortunately, for various reasons, most teenagers never get access to a professional therapist. To overcome this problem, some researchers are exploring the potential of brief, "single-session" interventions that can be delivered cheaply and easily to many at-risk teenagers outside of a clinical context. In The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Jessica Schleider and John Weisz at Harvard University present extremely promising results from their trial of a 30-minute computer session teaching depressed and anxious teenagers that personality is malleable. Continue reading →

Moderate alcohol consumption improves foreign language skills

Alcohol is not exactly known for its brain-boosting properties. In fact, it impairs all kinds of cognitive functioning, including working memory and the ability to ignore distractions. So it really should make it harder for someone to speak in a foreign language.
However, as Fritz Renner of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and colleagues, point out in a new paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, "contrary to what would be expected based on theory, it is a widely held belief among bilingual speakers that alcohol consumption improves foreign language fluency, as is evident in anecdotal evidence from numerous discussions in social and popular media." And in welcome news for holiday drinkers (not to mention language students) everywhere, it turns out that, at least at moderate levels, this belief seems to be right. Continue reading →

Contrary to stereotypes, study of hedge fund managers finds psychopaths make poor investors

If you're a psychopath who's good with numbers, you could make the perfect hedge fund manager. Your lack of empathy will allow you to capitalise blithely on the financial losses of others, while your ability to stomach high-risk, but potentially high-return, options will send your fund value soaring…. Well, that's the story that's been painted by popular media, folk wisdom and Wall Street insiders alike. The problem, according to a new paper in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, is that hedge fund managers with psychopathic tendencies actually make less money for their clients. Continue reading →

Can evolutionary psychology and personality theory explain Trump's popular appeal?

A year ago, Donald J Trump, a man with no political or military experience, defied expectations, winning the election to become the 45th president of the United States. Nearly 63 million voted for him, including, and in spite of his reputation for sexism, over half of all white women. In an open-access paper in Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, Dan McAdams, one of the world's leading experts in personality psychology, proposes an explanation for Trump's popular appeal that is grounded in evolutionary psychology, personality theory and the social psychology of leadership. Continue reading →

Editor's pick: 10 hellish psychology studies you'll be glad not to have participated in

Many psychology studies involve nothing more challenging for participants than sitting down with a short paper questionnaire and ticking off agreement or not with a series of anodyne statements. This post is not about that kind of research. Here, we take a tour of some rather more arduous and quirky experiments from the psychology archives. After giving their consent, participants in these studies were prodded, embarrassed, disgusted, scared, teased, bored and more (though not at once). It was all in the name of science, to better understand the darker, less pleasant aspects of being human. We salute the men and women who volunteered their minds and bodies to take part. Their pain is our gain. Continue reading →

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Friday, November 17, 2017

What women and girls are good for

They are good for everything. In fact, there is some question if they have left a fair amount for boys and men to be good for.  You may be aware that they are central in the continued existence of our species.  Beyond that, there are all sorts of areas of society that women and girls are advancing in.  You name it: dentistry, police, science, technological invention and production, politics.  Look into it and you will probably find women and girls on the march in that area, too.  

Here in town, we have some outstanding young athletes.  One of them is a swimmer who has been setting records.  A photo of her beaming appeared in the paper.  I went to throw out old newspapers and her smile again leaped off the page.  I wanted to thank the sports photographer for that excellent picture.  I looked up the photo and of course, I was met by pictures of young women athletes.  It may be because I am an elderly man that all those bright smiles affect me so deeply and so immediately.  I could feel good health shooting into me.

I was impressed years ago while reading "The Face of Battle" by John Keegan to learn that ancient generals found that they needed to keep women away from the battlefields if they wanted to keep the troops' attention on fighting.  Just a glance at a girl or woman could turn the soldiers away from the task of gutting each other. Just yesterday, I attended a talk on De Waal's book "The Bonobo and the Atheist".  We may not want to go the lengths the bonobos do using sex to quiet and soothe. And, it is isn't fair to task women and girls with the responsibility for keeping the spirits of all humans up.  Males have the responsibility and tools to work on their own spirits and moods.  But, it does seem that women and girls have special powers to brighten the day.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Mind matters

So, we enter the murky but important area of the human mind, specifically the matter of beliefs.  Like the "Little Engine that Could", we believe we can do it.  Does that belief really increase the chance of our doing it? Alternatively, we doubt that we can do it.  Will holding that belief decrease our chance of doing it, whatever it is?

This is a murky area because there are many unknowns.  For instance, how can I know if I really believe I can do it?  Even without grasping that my mind and my brain are complex, I can think or say or write the words "I can do it.  I know I can" while suspecting I am kidding myself.  I have hopes of impressing the little red-headed girl so maybe I am saying that I believe I can do it while below that, I am doubting my ability.  Besides ability, I know that simple luck matters in nearly everything.  Sometimes I have good luck and sometimes I don't.  Maybe I won't get the breaks this time.

I am interested in the subconscious mind in me and in others.  I have read "The Hidden Brain" by Vedantam and it alerted me to the rapid, elaborate processes that go into my being influenced by factors I am not aware of.  I learned more from "Incognito" by Eagleman.  Now, I am on to "Before You Know It" by Bargh.

A heartening, real-world demonstration of using unconscious affiliations for self-betterment occurred about ten years ago at a high school in my area. At the beginning of the school year, Yale researchers gave at-risk students who were struggling in math a fictitious New York Times article about a student from another school who had won a major math award. There was a little "bio box" at the top of the article. In that box, for half of the students in the class, the birthday given for the award winner was made to be the same as for the student, although no mention was made of this fact. For the other students, the award winner's birthday was a different month and date from theirs. That was all the experimenters did, just a small, invisible tweak to create a link to the student's own identity. In May of the following year, at the end of that school term, the researchers looked at the final math grades for all the students in the study. And lo and behold, the students who had shared a birthday with the award winner had significantly higher final grades in math than the students who did not have the same birthday as the winner. Those who had the same birthday felt more similar to the award winner, and this carried over to their belief about their own math ability, with positive effects on their level of effort for the rest of the school year.

Bargh, John. Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do (Kindle Locations 2445-2455). Touchstone. Kindle Edition.

Related to this subject of unconscious influences is the subject of the wonderful "Cure" by Jo Marchant, PhD ($7.99 in Kindle).  She discusses the twists and turns in medicine, cures, placebos and nocebos (believing that the juice or the nap or whatever will prevent me from winning).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How do you like your steak cooked?

I try to eat some every day.  Often, I have enough food to eat more than once a day.  That witty creator of smooth easy-to-take language, Hannah Holmes, in her book "The Well-Dressed Ape", compares many sides of humans with parallel aspects of other animals.  I have written with admiration about the book "Catching Fire" by Prof. Richard Wrangham.  That book has the same title as one of the volumes of the Hunger Games but it more rewarding, I think.  Wrangham emphasized that cooking has changed humans in many ways.  

I read that the lip area around the mouth in apes is much stronger than in humans and that without cooking to soften food, that lip area in apes is used to continuously stress and soften food, along with chewing.

Hannah Holmes has this to say about the subject of food and cooking:

If you're under the impression that cooking makes meat tougher, then you've never tried to eat a raw steak. I have, just to see for myself. It slithers between the teeth, crushing a little, but then squirting free. To reduce it to pulp demands minutes, not seconds, of chewing. And that was the flesh of a sedentary cow. Wild animals, who exercise their muscles all day, are tougher. The white-tailed deer Mom shot one fall when I was a kid comes to mind: The meat was dark, pungent, and as tender as automotive rubber. And that was cooked. Had I tried it raw, I expect I'd still have shreds of Mom's deer between my teeth today.

Holmes, Hannah. The Well-Dressed Ape: A Natural History of Myself (Kindle Locations 2553-2558). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Wrangham has similar comments.  Prof. Marlene Zuk in "Paleofantasy" emphasized that we are not constructed as were Neanderthals and we don't have access to the food that earlier hominids ate.  The plants have evolved and so have we.  

We need our kitchens and our stoves.  They serve us well.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

See what I mean?

See  what I mean?  Without today's tools, how would you and I know that today is the 131 anniversary of the hole punch?

Old wives and new tools

Thinking about old wives and ideas today.  I have a cold and in such a condition, I find that a decongestant and raw garlic are both helpful.  What got me to the point of taking a clove of fresh garlic, peeling it and cutting into pieces, swallowing it whole with some water?  Is it an old wives' tale that garlic helps fight colds?  Why do old wives have tales?  Do old women that are not wives have tales of their own?  What are they?  Do old husbands have tales?  Old bachelors?

These days, we are clearly in a new situation regarding knowledge.  We have access to all sorts of records, ideas, methods and sources that didn't exist just a short time ago.  I often try to emphasize with my friends that searching Google can be extremely helpful, not just for finding answers to questions but for forming better questions. But there is more: when searching for cold fighting techniques, consider searching YouTube by itself.  People like visuals and for many activities, seeing something done is far better than reading pages of text and trying to convert the markings into actions.  

But there is still more.  Just as asking an engineer about politics is likely to result in a different slant on many aspects of the subject from asking a kindergartner, hearing the voice tone and seeing expressions of attitude from a person who is on display visually could give me insights and clues that I don't get from reading a written explanation or suggestion.  I am frequently reminded of the difference in tone, surroundings, lighting and other background variables between my explorations in the graduate library and in the engineering library.  In both, I was interested in psychology, specifically the psychology and research results on individual decision making.   But the selection of books, the sort of writing differed in the two collections.

So, whatever you are wondering or wrestling, take notes of your thoughts, your memories and ideas and impressions you get from your searches.  Point your searches in different directions.  Don't try too hard or attempt to cover too much too quickly.  Meanwhile, time is going by and your cold may go away.

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