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Saturday, September 24, 2022

"How to Think"

apropos of so-called "deliberation science"
OK, this author is all over it.

...keywords are always dangerous, always threatening to become parasitic on thinking, but they do some of their most wicked work when they take the form of unacknowledged metaphors. This is one of the great themes of that seminal book by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By. In an especially important passage, they discuss the consequences of one of the most deeply embedded metaphors in our common discourse, the one that identifies argument as a form of warfare. Their examples:
Your claims are indefensible.
He attacked every weak point in my argument.
His criticisms were right on target.
I demolished his argument.
I’ve never won an argument with him.
If you use that strategy, he’ll wipe you out.
He shot down all of my arguments.

The identification of argument with war is so complete that if you try to suggest some alternative way of thinking about what argument is—It’s an attempt to achieve mutual understanding; It’s a means of clarifying our views—you’re almost certainly going to be denounced as a wishy-washy, namby-pamby sissy-britches.

We fixate so immovably on this notion of argument as war in part because human beings, generally speaking, are insanely competitive about everything; but also because in many arguments there truly is something to be lost, and most often what’s under threat is social affiliation. Losing an argument can be a personal embarrassment, but it can also be an indication that you’ve sided with the wrong people, which means that you need to find a new ingroup or else learn to live with what the Marxists call “false consciousness.” (It was in hopes of avoiding this choice that Phelps-Roper cut off communication with David Abitbol, but, as we saw, she had already crossed a kind of social and intellectual Rubicon.)

So yes: argument can indeed be war, or at least a contest in which it is possible to lose. But there’s another side to this story: what is lost not in an argument but through passive complicity with that militaristic metaphor. Because there are many situations in which we lose something of our humanity by militarizing discussion and debate; and we lose something of our humanity by dehumanizing our interlocutors. When people cease to be people because they are, to us, merely representatives or mouthpieces of positions we want to eradicate, then we, in our zeal to win, have sacrificed empathy: we have declined the opportunity to understand other people’s desires, principles, fears. And that is a great price to pay for supposed “victory” in debate.

If we look more closely at the argument-as-war metaphor, we’ll see that it depends on a habit of mind that is lodged very deep in our consciousness: the habit of dichotomizing…

Jacobs, Alan. How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds (pp. 96-98). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
"We shouldn’t expect moral heroism of ourselves. Such an expectation is fruitless and in the long run profoundly damaging. But we can expect to cultivate a more general disposition of skepticism about our own motives and generosity toward the motives of others. And—if the point isn’t already clear—this disposition is the royal road that carries us to the shining portal called Learning to Think." [pg 147]
This book is just packed with sobering wisdoms.
The dangers of too much trust in and reliance on words

The title of this chapter comes courtesy of Thomas Hobbes, the great seventeenth-century political philosopher. Early in his masterpiece, Leviathan, he writes, “Nor is it possible without letters for any man to become either excellently wise, or, unless his memory be hurt by disease or ill constitution of organs, excellently foolish. For words are wise men’s counters—they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools. Translating Hobbes’s point into contemporary English: Literacy (“letters”) is an extraordinary invention because of its power to amplify existing traits. By reading, a man already having some wisdom can gain far more; but it is equally true that reading can make a man already inclined toward foolishness far, far more foolish…

…It is easy to become captive to words, to treat them as though they truly and fully convey genuine knowledge—as though they are real cash money, legal tender, accepted everywhere at their face value, rather than mere counters.

Words are immensely seductive, in ways we don’t often recognize. Their power can perhaps most clearly be seen in young children, who become fascinated by new words and look for every possible opportunity to use them. Now, in fact, adults are no different in this respect: we just have learned to do a better job than our younger counterparts of obscuring our fascination, of pretending that a phrase brand new to us has been part of our word hoard forever. Oh, this old thing? But we turn the shiny new phrases over and over in our minds, as a miser fondles the coins in his pockets.

…Whenever we use a particular vocabulary—political, say, or aesthetic, or moral, or religious, or sociological—to describe a person, or a thing, or an event, we call attention to certain aspects of what we’re describing. But we also, as long as we look through the screen of that language, inadvertently hide from ourselves, become blind to, other aspects. Burke doesn’t believe we have a choice about whether or not to employ terministic screens: “We can’t say anything without the use of terms.” But for that very reason we need to work hard to understand how our terms work, especially how they “direct the attention”: What does this language ask me to see? What does it prevent me from seeing? And—perhaps most important of all: Who benefits from my attention being directed this way rather than that?
[How to Think pp. 89-91]
Sobering. I long-ago tested off-the-charts high on "verbal skills / reading comprehension." I can imagine Dr. Jacobs gently admonishing "yeah, just don't dislocate your shoulder patting yourself on the back." The nexus of verbal fluency and effective, beneficent thinking (and communication) is substantially more tenuous than I have long simply assumed. I stand admonished once again.
Dr. Jacobs concludes:
The Thinking Person’s Checklist

1. When faced with provocation to respond to what someone has said, give it five minutes. Take a walk, or weed the garden, or chop some vegetables. Get your body involved: your body knows the rhythms to live by, and if your mind falls into your body’s rhythm, you’ll have a better chance of thinking.

2. Value learning over debating. Don’t “talk for victory.”

3. As best you can, online and off, avoid the people who fan flames.

4. Remember that you don’t have to respond to what everyone else is responding to in order to signal your virtue and right-mindedness.

5. If you do have to respond to what everyone else is responding to in order to signal your virtue and right-mindedness, or else lose your status in your community, then you should realize that it’s not a community but rather an Inner Ring.

6. Gravitate as best you can, in every way you can, toward people who seem to value genuine community and can handle disagreement with equanimity.

7. Seek out the best and fairest-minded of people whose views you disagree with. Listen to them for a time without responding. Whatever they say, think it over.

8. Patiently, and as honestly as you can, assess your repugnances.

9. Sometimes the “ick factor” is telling; sometimes it’s a distraction from what matters.

10. Beware of metaphors and myths that do too much heavy cognitive lifting; notice what your “terministic screens” are directing your attention to—and what they’re directing your attention away from; look closely for hidden metaphors and beware the power of myth.

11. Try to describe others’ positions in the language that they use, without indulging in in-other-wordsing.

12. Be brave.
[How to Think p. 148]

Just got an Amazon suggestion. We shall see. Looks interesting.
Bought the book. Well into it. Very good.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

In his own words

former President Donald Trump on his imagined total, telepathic de-classification authority.

HANNITY: “Ok, was there a process, what was your process to de-class…”

TRUMP [interrupting] “There doesn’t have to be a process, as I understand it, and, you know, there’s different people say different things, but as I understand it, there doesn’t have to be—if you’re the president of the United States, you can de-classify just by saying ‘I’m, it’s de-classified,’ even by thinking about it, because, you’re sending it to Mar-a-lago, or wherever you’re sending it, and, there doesn’t have to be a process—there can be a process, but, there doesn’t have to be. You’re the president, you make that decision, so, when you send it, it’s de-classified. We—I de-classified EVERYTHING. Now, I de-classified things, and we were having a lot of problems with NARA—you know, NARA, uhhh, is a radical left group of people running that thing, and, when you send documents over there, I would say there’s a very good chance those documents will never be seen again. There’s also a lot of speculation, because of the severity of what they did, of the FBI coming in, raiding Mar-a-lago, were they looking for the Hillary Clinton emails, that were deleted but they are around someplace. Were they looking for spying on Trump’s—no, no, they may be saying, they may have thought that it was in there.”
Just when you think things couldn't get any more absurd. After I saw that Hannity clip, I went in and transcribed it verbatim for myself, not wanting to just rely on media reports. Unreal. Is it too early to start drinking? His lawyers are probably already bellied-up after that ill-advised verbal vomit.

If you’d like to listen to a full 19:41 of this painful Hannity stuff, click here.

BTW, Dr. Marcy Wheeler is all over the multiple Trump fiascos.

OK, then. That strikes me as dispositive.

During an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) took some shots at Donald Trump and suggested he may not be smart enough to know what should be kept secret and what shouldn't.

 Speaking with host Jake Tapper, the Democrat who sits on the Jan 6 House select committee investigating the insurrection, was asked about Trump's belief that he can declassify top secret documents just by thinking about doing it.

"That’s not how it works. Those comments don’t demonstrate much intelligence of any kind. If you could simply declassify by thinking about it, then frankly, if that’s his view, he’s even more dangerous than we may have thought,” he told the host.

Continuing in that vein, the California Democrat added, "People work hard to get that information. People put their lives at risk to get that information. That information protects American lives. And for him to treat it so cavalierly shows both what a continuing danger the man is, but also how very little regard he has for anything but himself."

"He could simply spout off on anything he read in a presidential daily brief or anything that he was briefed on by the CIA director to a visiting Russian delegation or any other delegation and simply say, ‘Well, I thought about it and therefore, when the words came out of my mouth, they were declassified,"' he suggested to the CNN host.


Wednesday, September 14, 2022

More new reading

apropos of so called "Deliberation Science"

Dr. Ahn's book has just been released. Kim Wehle's is fairly recent (I've read and cited her before). I'm reading these two side by side. Very illuminating. 
I'm deep into Dr. Ahn's book straight away. Chapter 2 (on "confirmation bias") alone was worth the price. She runs this outfit (below) at Yale.
This is likely to be a long post. Stay tuned. For now, among other prior posts, ponder Dr. Justin Gregg.

Also, older blog stuff, via searching "Critical Thinking."
Saw this touted on Twitter. Had to check it out. Only $4.99. Looks topically relevant.
Table of Contents

Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
I. Concept of primatology
II. Evolutionary trees
III. Power relations in animal societies
IV. Power relations in the tree of Homo sapiens
V. Comparing human and animal societies
VI. Evolution of human societies
VII. Politics within a society
VIII. Evolutionary foundations of conservatism and liberalism
IX. Evolutionary theory of politics: evidence and applications
X. Predicting politics in human societies
XI. Recap
About the Author
...Our nature will always lead us to compete for more resources. That is, to change “from primates to politicians” as part of our survival instinct. That fight is part of our day-to-day and makes us a true political animal. Not in the sense that Aristotle contemplated, but in the sense of a competition for power in which the only ethical principle that seems to be universal is the need for certainty of punishment.

Such certainty of punishment is not the responsibility of governments alone: society is called to demand justice, to pave conditions that allow fair and equitable competition.

Corrupt politicians, clientelists, despots, populists and other subgenres: these are not who betrays us. Society betrays itself, every time it allows the ascent of a leader without the right profile to provide adequate social governance. We betray ourselves as individuals and as a society every time we expect “someone else” to take control of the situation, or every time we turn a blind eye to the rants of the current heads of state…

The “evolutionary theory of politics” developed in this book explains the oscillations in leadership styles throughout history. Cycles of authoritarianism alternated with equity seem to be the natural response of the societies created by our species, in the face of the stress that our own technological advances represent.

Regarding the inevitable question of whether liberals or conservatives do a better job of governing, we could say that both ideologies are necessary, that rotation in power is good, and that the clear ideological definition of political currents enriches democracy. The balance between conservatives and liberals prevents liberals from making changes so fast that things get out of hand and end up in anarchy similar to the French revolution, just as it prevents conservatives from establishing a kind of monarchy that would return us to the obscurantism of the Middle Ages. Social progress depends on both ideologies for changes to take place gradually, at a speed that allows their assimilation by the majority in an atmosphere of social organization, without leading to chaos…

There is no doubt that our brain is complex, as is our biology. Our societies are even more complex since they are the result of the interaction between our biological characteristics and the evolution of the brain of the most intelligent animal on the planet.

But no matter how intelligent, sophisticated and complex we become, our ancestors will always be hanging around backstage in our DNA. Our politicians will always be primates, and primates will always be politicians.

[From Primate to Politicians, pp. 191-194.]
Brings to mind the question "Why do humans 'reason'?".  (Answer: To "win" the argument; the Pen is Mightier Than the Sword. —an evolutionary 'adaptive utility' riff.)

Recall my recent review of Justin Gregg's new book "If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal."
Here's a killer review by Rafia Zakaria in The Baffler.

I OWE CHICKENS AN APOLOGY. Not only have I been eating them until very recently, but I have refused to even consider the possibility of a chicken having any kind of inner life. This estimation was not made from a lack of interaction. As children, my twin brother and I purchased baby chicks from a street vendor. We did this unfazed by the fact that quite often, the chickens would die. Once, when we were nine, we had two that lived, a hen and a rooster. No one told us that we should probably get more hens. Not having any other female companions, the rooster exerted his attentions on the one chicken. She would lay an egg or two every day, much to our delight, but soon sickened and died. Then there was only an incel rooster who roamed our compound and terrorized the women. After a few ugly incidents, he was “given away” to one of the women who worked at our house. We were never told what happened to him, and I didn’t care. There is nothing worse than an incel rooster patrolling your house all day long.

Now, so many years later, I’ve found my way to animal behaviorist Justin Gregg’s brilliant new book If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity. Gregg’s chicken coop is “a huge enclosed area” with high rafters, because as an animal scientist, he knows them to be jungle birds who need perches on which to sleep at night. But it is not only the magisterial heights of Gregg’s discussion of chickens that stayed with me. I was struck also by Gregg’s description of his chickens’ varied personalities, one anxious, another friendly, and so on; he tells us that these chickens do have inner lives and thus a consciousness of themselves as distinct from others. Instead of the feckless creatures I (and most people) assume them to be, chickens have just the sort of intelligence that is necessary for their own survival. They don’t think like humans, Gregg tells us, because they do not need to.

Intelligence, in Gregg’s explanation, does not exist in the way SATs or other IQ tests would have you believe. Those tests quantify a certain kind of ability to process information. People who do not do well on such tests may have other kinds of abilities that simply are not being measured. Intelligence is not one easily definable thing; engineers working on artificial intelligence cannot agree on a definition of it. But what humans have is a tendency to ask why things operate in a certain way. In Gregg’s terminology, humans are “why specialists,” a proclivity that in natural selection terms is no advantage and perhaps even a liability. A narwhal swimming around in the sea, for instance, would never have the kind of mental breakdown that the German philosopher pondering nihilism suffered toward the end of his life. Animal intelligence is practical and does not get caught up in abstract thought. By and large, animals make calculations based on what they can observe; ideas such as “causality,” which lie at the crux of human intelligence, are outside their capacity for thought…
Read all of it. Excellent. Majorly. I was not aware of Rafia Zakaria. I am remiss.


Finished both Dr. Ahn's book and Kim Wehle's book. I was reminded of a number of others in my stash.

I think I'll continue this topic in a subsequent post. I'll leave you with this for now.

When we believe something to be true, we tend also to see the very process of arriving at it as clear and objective, and therefore the kind of thing we can achieve on our own; when we hold that a given notion is false, we ascribe belief in it to some unfortunate wrong turning, usually taken because an inquirer was led astray, like Hansel and Gretel being tempted into the oven by a wicked witch. And yet even the briefest reflection would demonstrate to us that nothing of the sort is the case: there is no connection between independence and correctness, or social thinking and wrongness...

Jacobs, Alan. How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds (p. 38). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Also (noted in a prior post):
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT the individual genetic and developmental differences that impact the sensory portions of our nervous systems, it’s remarkable that we can agree on a shared reality at all…

…Each of us operates from a different perception of the world and a different perception of ourselves.

A portion of the individual variation in sensory systems is innate. But those innate effects are elaborated and magnified with time as we accumulate experiences, expectations, and memories, filtered through and in turn modifying those very same sensory systems. In this way, the interacting forces of heredity, experience, plasticity, and development resonate to make us unique.

Linden, David. Unique (pp. 253-254). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.
…If you’ve ever doubted the significance of brain plasticity, rest assured that its tendrils reach from the individual to the society.

Because of livewiring, we are each a vessel of space and time. We drop into a particular spot on the world and vacuum in the details of that spot. We become, in essence, a recording device for our moment in the world.

When you meet an older person and feel shocked by the opinions or worldview she holds, you can try to empathize with her as a recording device for her window of time and her set of experiences. Someday your brain will be that time-ossified snapshot that frustrates the next generation.

Here’s a nugget from my vessel: I remember a song produced in 1985 called “We Are the World.” Dozens of superstar musicians performed it to raise money for impoverished children in Africa. The theme was that each of us shares responsibility for the well-being of everyone. Looking back on the song now, I can’t help but see another interpretation through my lens as a neuroscientist. We generally go through life thinking there’s me and there’s the world. But as we’ve seen in this book, who you are emerges from everything you’ve interacted with: your environment, all of your experiences, your friends, your enemies, your culture, your belief system, your era—all of it. Although we value statements such as “he’s his own man” or “she’s an independent thinker,” there is in fact no way to separate yourself from the rich context in which you’re embedded. There is no you without the external. Your beliefs and dogmas and aspirations are shaped by it, inside and out, like a sculpture from a block of marble. Thanks to livewiring, each of us is the world.

Eagleman, David. Livewired (pp. 244-245). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
How does all this stuff go to so-called "Deliberation Science?"

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Applied neuroscience updates:

Deep brain stimulation tx for opioids addiction; Neurotrainer partners up with LG.

My latest issue of Harper's just arrived.

Fascinating article therein by fine young Chicago-based writer Zachary Siegel.

On a bright summer day in July 2021, James Fisher rested nervously, with a newly shaved head, in a hospital bed surrounded by blinding white lights and surgeons shuffling about in blue scrubs. He was being prepped for an experimental brain surgery at West Virginia University’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, a hulking research facility that overlooks the rolling peaks and cliffs of coal country around Morgantown. The hours-long procedure required impeccable precision, “down to the millimeter,” Fisher’s neurosurgeon, Ali Rezai, told me.

Prior to operating, Rezai and his team of neuroscientists created a digital rendering of Fisher’s brain, a neural map that would help them place what looked like a pair of long metal chopsticks roughly six centimeters deep into his nucleus accumbens, a structure in the center of the brain. The nucleus accumbens, according to the latest research, is associated with processing reinforcement, motivation, and desire. It’s also where the most famous neurotransmitter, dopamine, gets released when we anticipate rewards from behaviors like sex, drug use, or gambling. Rezai, who thinks as much like a neural engineer as like a surgeon, described the nucleus accumbens as the brain’s Grand Central Station, a junction for “addictions and anxiety and obsessions.”

Once Fisher was anesthetized, Rezai bored two holes about the size of nickels into the top of his skull. Then he slowly inserted the long metal probes into Fisher’s brain, as if sticking a dull knife into a mold of opaque Jell-O. The probes were lined with four tiny round electrodes, each just over a millimeter in diameter, that were to deliver continuous electrical impulses to Fisher’s nucleus accumbens. The surgery is known, fittingly, as deep brain stimulation, or DBS.

The probes were connected to wires that ran under Fisher’s skin, beneath his scalp, behind his ear and down his neck, then into a pulse generator sewn into his chest below his collarbone. Imagine a pacemaker, but for the brain. Once the generator’s battery was switched on, low-voltage electricity began traveling up the wires and out of the electrodes resting in the nucleus accumbens. Rezai, the executive chair of the institute and the head of its DBS experiments, hypothesized that stimulating this region of Fisher’s brain would reduce his cravings and help him recover from a severe addiction to opioids and anti-anxiety pills that had persisted despite numerous treatments and life-threatening consequences, including multiple overdoses.

For decades, addiction and overdose deaths have been skyrocketing across the United States—and particularly in West Virginia, which has been dubbed the epicenter of the overdose crisis and consistently has one of the highest death rates in the nation. Patients like Fisher have been deemed “treatment-resistant,” meaning conventional approaches have failed to bring about lasting recovery. Medication, therapy, inpatient and outpatient care—Fisher has tried it all. Deep brain stimulation, which before this trial had never been tested in the United States to treat addiction, was a last resort...
"What kinds of treatments work? How do you properly address a catastrophe like the one in which the United States finds itself, where overdose deaths now kill more than a hundred thousand people each year?"

Yeah. Recall my citing of this book several years ago.

Back to Zachary:
Neuroscientists, as is their wont, generally understand addiction as a disorder of the brain. Drugs are said to hijack neural circuits and scramble the brain’s most critical reward pathway. Years of neuroimaging studies purport to show hot spots in the brains of addicted people; experts like Nora Volkow claim this is empirical evidence of physiological abnormalities. Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the federal agency funding WVU’s phase 1 DBS trial, has called addiction “a disease of free will.” The addicted brain, after years of exposure to drugs, Volkow argues, loses capacity to make “free determinations.” Thus people like Fisher, despite their best, clear-eyed intentions to quit, return to drugs again and again. This research suggests that one should not shame or blame a person who is struggling, because they are not in complete control of their own decision-making. We don’t punish and criminalize people who are sick; yet for decades, addiction has existed in a kind of limbo between criminalization and medicalization...
...James Mahoney, a neuropsychologist who directs addiction research at the WVU neuroscience institute, said that he and his team are constantly asking: “Why here?” How did West Virginia come to be the center of the overdose epidemic? “It’s so multifaceted,” Mahoney told me. “It’s not just biological, obviously. Substance use is so self-reinforcing because it works really well. It’s able to remove people mentally and psychologically from stress.” He went on to list a few of the factors at play: “economic despair, health literacy, educational attainment, all of that going back through Appalachian history.”...
As one wrassling with my annoying Parkinson's dx for a number of years now, I found the following quite interesting.
The first time I met Rezai at the neuroscience institute in Morgantown, he had just finished a brain implant procedure on a patient with Parkinson’s disease. As soon as the battery was switched on and the brain received its first electrical impulses, the patient’s debilitating tremors and shaking improved. In such cases, it’s clear that the stimulation, in some sense, has worked. Testing the effects of DBS in patients who struggle with drug addiction, meanwhile, is a much thornier endeavor...
DBS for Parkinson's is a more mature technological tx than I'd realized. Not sure I'm sufficiently addled yet for that kind of full "bore" intervention. I recently conferred with a doc at Hopkins regarding their new "MRgFUS" tx (Magnetic Resonance-Guided Focused Ultrasound). I cited it in a post back in March. It's now FDA-approved, but no one covers it, so I'd be looking at about $15k cash out-of-pocket.

Back to Zachary...
“Most contemporary accounts of DBS therapy give the impression that it is the inevitable consequence of scientific discovery and medical progress,” John Gardner, a sociologist, wrote in the journal Social Studies of Science. “The history of DBS is, in fact, complex.” Gardner’s history shows that DBS continues to be tested by medical device companies seeking new use cases—that is, new markets—for their own technologies, despite the treatment’s spotty track record. What’s driving this expanding search? When I reached Gardner by phone in Australia, he told me that our “neuro-obsessed” culture offered fertile ground for testing brain-stimulation technology, as “we like to think of behaviors and social problems in terms of their neural correlates.” Gardner points to a murky nexus of “entrepreneurial” neurosurgeons aligned with medical device companies that lobby government agencies responsible for deciding whether all this hardware is safe to put inside human beings.

The biggest and most profitable of the device companies, Medtronic, trademarked the term “deep brain stimulation” decades ago while marketing its device as a treatment for pain, says Gardner, who notes that DBS has been a genuine medical breakthrough for movement disorders. But medical breakthroughs must also be profitable. “DBS for [Parkinson’s], then, has proven highly lucrative for Medtronic,” Gardner wrote. “The company is attempting to replicate some of this success by developing DBS as a treatment for other conditions.” This includes addiction. Medtronic is listed as a “collaborator” on WVU’s phase 1 trial. A spokesperson for Medtronic told me that this role means the company provides the hardware for the trial and not much else. This year, incidentally, Medtronic posted $435 million in second-quarter earnings from its neuromodulation division, which sells the DBS hardware...

And, what happens if your implant vendor goes belly-up? Surgically remove the DBS hardware?

Back to Zachary. He is to be commended for his candor:
At one point during my tour of the neuroscience institute, Rezai invited me into a windowless room where I donned a pair of VR goggles that placed me in what looked like a college kid’s messy apartment. I saw old boxes of pizza and drug paraphernalia strewn about the room, as well as crushed beer cans and lines of white powder splayed on a wooden coffee table. “There’s a Mountain Dew,” Rezai said, chuckling.

Alongside DBS, virtual reality is one of the many technologies used at the Morgantown lab to try and grasp how addiction works at the physiological level. A type of exposure therapy, virtual reality has been used to help combat veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder relive the horrors of war in a controlled clinical setting. VR simulations for addiction attempt something similar. Instead of a Humvee, the scene is a seedy apartment.

“We immerse somebody with addiction into a virtual environment, and then we’re testing the networks in the brain,” Rezai said. If somebody’s drug of choice was alcohol, Rezai explained, they could be transported to a bar where they’d hear the unmistakable sound of ice clinking against a glass. Any changes in a person’s heart or respiratory rate, eye movements, skin tone, or sweat glands could be an indication of the virtual experience triggering a reaction, maybe even a craving.

In this case, the test subject was me. Almost ten years ago, I turned twenty-three inside a treatment facility in Minnesota, where I was treated for an opioid addiction that had spiraled out of control. By now, the story of how I got addicted is boilerplate for a millennial: Pharmaceutical opioids like OxyContin were in abundant supply by the time I graduated from high school in Chicago’s north suburbs. I had experimented with the usual drugs that teenagers in affluent communities tend to, like Adderall and marijuana. It wasn’t until I tried an opioid at age seventeen that the proverbial clouds parted. The harsh, judgmental, self-effacing critic in my head finally quieted, and in the absence of that unrelenting mental cacophony, I was left with a feeling of soothing warmth and clarity like I had never felt before. It wasn’t that I loved the high, per se—I remember thinking, this must be what it’s like to feel normal.

Before flying out to West Virginia, I had mentioned to Rezai that I had my own experience with addiction, hence my sincere interest in his lab’s research. With the VR headset on, I looked up, down, and from side to side. The simulated drug den certainly resembled the dingy apartments I inhabited while using—there was a familiar sort of austerity that tends to accompany opioid addiction. I never needed much to be comfortable, mostly because opioids make you comfortable wherever you are, in whatever condition. That’s more or less the point...
This article is a fairly long read. Likely subscriber-paywalled. Well worth it, IMO. I've been a Harper's subscriber for decades.
NOTE: Some prior posts going to neural stuff—"Livewired"
"VR goggles?"

My wife showed me a news item last night about NeuroTrainer. We could not be more thrilled.
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 7, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- The LG Electronics North American Innovation Center, LG NOVA, has selected the Finalist companies for its Mission for the Future global challenge program. Representing multiple potential business paths in three industries, the companies will be working with the LG NOVA team to collaborate on new business ventures, alongside continuing to grow and scale their companies, qualifying for potential investment from LG and other investors within LG NOVA ecosystem to develop impactful solutions for people, communities and the planet.*

"This inaugural year of our challenge demonstrated how effective and powerful collaboration between technology startups and established corporations can help accelerate the innovation process," said LG Electronics Senior Vice President of Innovation Dr. Sokwoo Rhee and head of LG NOVA. "Congratulations to the Finalists and all the companies that participated in the Mission for the Future challenge. We look forward to the journey with these companies innovating for a brighter, more technologically advanced future."

The finalists were selected from an initial pool of approximately 1,300 applicants. They secured the top spot after working closely with the LG NOVA Entrepreneur-In-Residence team over a six- to nine-month period to build and test the proposals. Throughout the process, the companies had opportunities to meet with LG business teams and other investors within the LG NOVA ecosystem. Finalists were presented to LG Electronics Global CEO William Cho…

NeuroTrainer is a brain training and optimization platform deployed in VR to create immersive environments and training protocols that utilizes the scientific principles of neuroplasticity to enhance focus and cognitive performance. Expanding upon iQ3 capabilities, LG and NeuroTrainer will work together to add platform capabilities and enhancements designed to further refine NeuroTrainer as a powerful tool for corporate wellness and mental resiliency.
NeuroTrainer is the brain"child" of Dr. Jeff Nyquist (neuropsychology PhD, Vanderbilt). Husband of my niece April. He's been working on this project for years. Cited them on this blog multiple times.


Interesting that they've broadened their target market scope. "Out of the lab and into the living room." "A powerful tool for corporate wellness."
Cool. As long as the underlying science is bulletproof. Knowing Jeff—one of the smartest, most humane, ethical guys I know—I'd bank on it. (Full disclosure: I have zero financial interest at stake. Not "Talking my Book" here.)
I've had a permanent right-hand column blog link for NeuroTrainer for years (It's down there somewhere, LOL)..

Train from the neck up.

Hope this all bears significant fruit.



This caught my eye w/respect to the LG Nova Top Ten announcement. Notwithstanding that I am now retired and out of the Health IT fray (with tech views of rapidly abating utility relevance), nonetheless, I am a (cranky) Medicare bene currently with Kaiser-Permanente, and not a big fan of KP's telehealth visits. They're largely a waste of time.
See my old rants related to the "SOAPe Note."

Sounds good. We shall see.


I've repeatedly watched the "Friday Night Lights" movie (I have the DVD), as well as its slapstick knock-off cousin "Varsity Blues." I recently got around to binge-watching the Netflix TV version "Friday Night Lights" series. I thought "Dude, you've never read the book."

Rectified that. One of the best books I've ever read. Talk about evocative writing. And, both the movie and the TV series have done it great credit, in differing ways.

A wonderful diversion from the enervating Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin Follies.

And, Roll Tide today (wife's alma mater). They barely survived Texas, 20-19. As did my TN Vols vs Pitt, 34-27.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Rest in Peace, Queen Elizabeth

A long life, well and honorably lived. My sincere condolences to her family.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Theranos' convicted CEO Elizabeth Holmes back in the news.

Convicted on multiple significant fraud counts. Her attorneys have filed for a new trial. I guess we'll see. Color me dubious. The verdict did not hinge on the circumstantial evidence testimony of one now supposedly regretful witness.
The trial judge has reportedly denied her retrial request—"tentatively." Sentencing remains scheduled for October 17th. Further reporting has it that the Holmes lawyers have submitted a second retrial motion, on differing grounds.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Worsening droughts and water shortages

concomitant with record flooding

I continue to update my Excel sheet tracking and depicting monthly and yearly Lake Mead water levels. We lived in Las Vegas from 1992 through 2013. Loved it there. But, I would often joke that Vegas was "the next Anasazi ruin."

Ran across a cool interview article the other day.
As Colorado River Dries, the US Teeters on the Brink of Larger Water Crisis
The megadrought gripping the western states is only part of the problem. Alternative sources of water are also imperiled, and the nation’s food along with it.

This story first appeared at ProPublica. ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

The western United States is, famously, in the grips of its worst megadrought in a millennium. The Colorado River, which supplies water to more than 40 million Americans and supports food production for the rest of the country, is in imminent peril. The levels in the nation’s largest freshwater reservoir, Lake Mead, behind the Hoover Dam and a fulcrum of the Colorado River basin, have dropped to around 25% of capacity. The Bureau of Reclamation, which governs lakes Mead and Powell and water distribution for the southern end of the river, has issued an ultimatum: The seven states that draw from the Colorado must find ways to cut their consumption — by as much as 40% — or the federal government will do it for them. Last week those states failed to agree on new conservation measures by deadline. Meanwhile, next door, California, which draws from the Colorado, faces its own additional crises, with snowpack and water levels in both its reservoirs and aquifers all experiencing a steady, historic and climate-driven decline. It’s a national emergency, but not a surprise, as scientists and leaders have been warning for a generation that warming plus overuse of water in a fast-growing West would lead those states to run out.

I recently sat down with Jay Famiglietti, the executive director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, to talk about what comes next and what the public still doesn’t understand about water scarcity in the United States. Before moving to Canada, Famiglietti was a lead researcher at NASA’s water science program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and a member of the faculty at the University of California, Irvine. He pioneered the use of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites to peer into the earth’s mass and measure changes in its underground water supplies. The Colorado River crisis is urgent, Famiglietti said, but the hidden, underground water crisis is even worse. We talked about what U.S. leaders either won’t acknowledge or don’t understand and about how bad things are about to get.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start with the Colorado River because it’s in the news. The federal government has put some extraordinary numbers out there, suggesting water users cut between 2 and 4 million acre-feet of water usage starting this year — roughly 40% of the entire river’s recent flow. How could that possibly happen?

It’s going to be really hard. We’re looking at drastically reduced food production and the migration of agriculture to other parts of the country and real limits on growth, especially in desert cities like Phoenix. My fear is that groundwater will, as usual, be left out of the discussion — groundwater is mostly unprotected, and it’s going to be a real shit show.

Remind us how that happens. States and farmers cut back on the Colorado River, and California and Arizona just start pumping all the water out of their aquifers?

Yeah. This started with the drought contingency plan [the 2018 legal agreement among the states on the Colorado River]. Arizona had to cut nearly 20% of its Colorado River water. To placate the farmers, the deal was that they would have free access to the groundwater. In fact, something like $20 million was allocated to help them dig more wells. So, it was just a direct transfer from surface water to groundwater. Right away, you could see that the groundwater depletion was accelerating. With this latest round, I’m afraid we’re just going to see more of that.

Some of that groundwater actually gets used to grow feed for cattle in the Middle East or China, right? There’s Saudi-owned agriculture firms planting alfalfa, which uses more water than just about anything, and it’s not for American food supply. Do I have that right?

There’s been other buyers from other countries coming in, buying up that land, land grabbing and grabbing the water rights. That’s happening in Arizona.

What about in California? Groundwater depletion has caused the earth to sink in on itself. Parts of the Central Valley are 28 feet lower today than they were a century ago.

California passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014, which mandated an extraordinarily long time horizon: two years to form the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and then five years for each GSA to come up with its sustainability plan. So that’s now: 2022. And then 20 years to come into sustainability. My fear is that the slow implementation will allow for too much groundwater depletion to happen. It’s sort of the same old, same old.

But could it work?

I don’t think we’re talking about sustainability. I think we’re talking about managed depletion. Because it’s impossible to keep growing the food that we grow in California. It’s agriculture that uses most of the groundwater. The math just isn’t there to have sustainable groundwater management. If you think of sustainability as input equals output — don’t withdraw more than is being replenished on an annual basis — that’s impossible in most of California.

Will we run out of water? Are we talking about 10 years or 100 years?

Yes. We are on target to. Parts of the Central Valley have already run out of water. Before SGMA, there were places in the southern part of the valley where I would say within 40 to 50 years we would run out or the water is so saline or so deep that it’s just too expensive to extract. SGMA may slow that down — or it may not. I don’t think the outlook is really good. Our own research is showing that groundwater depletion there has accelerated in the last three years.

Then what happens? What does California or Arizona look like after that?

It looks pretty dry. Even among water users, there’s an element that doesn’t understand that this is going to be the end for a lot of farming. Farmers are trying to be really efficient but also magically want the supply of water to be sustained.

We focus on the big cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas, but it’s farms that use 80% of water. They grow crops that provide huge amounts of the winter fruits and vegetables and nuts for the entire country. Is there any way that farming in California and Arizona can continue even remotely close to how it is today?

I don’t think so. It has to drastically change. We’ll need wholesale conversion to efficient irrigation and different pricing structures so that water is better valued. We’ll need different crops that are bred to be more drought tolerant and more saline-water tolerant. And we’ll probably have a lot less production.

What does that mean for the country’s food supply?

This is the big question. I don’t want to be flippant, but people don’t understand the food-water nexus. Do we try to bring more water to the southern high plains, to Arizona, to California, because if the food system’s optimized, maybe that’s the cheapest thing to do? Or does agriculture move to where the water is? Does it migrate north and east? It’s not just food production. What about the workers? Transportation? If we were to move all of our agriculture to northern California, into Idaho, into North Dakota over the next decade, that’s a major upheaval for millions and millions of people who work in the ag industry...
Read all of it. Bracing.
See also my lengthy aggregative post on the Western US Drought, written after I'd moved back to California from Las Vegas. 

Now I live in Baltimore, but there's no escaping climate change. In that regard, see also my "Covering Climate Now" posts.

One news item had 127F in Death Valley this weekend.

Uhhh... lest I forget: Flooding, anyone?
As I write, 1/3rd of Pakistan is under water, with more than 1,000 dead  The entire population of Jackson MS is without safe municipal water—because of record flooding that destroyed the water management infrastructure.
Europe’s mighty rivers are drying up in the climate-driven drought

Europe’s major rivers are shrinking under the most severe climate-driven drought in decades.

It’s distressing enough to see mighty waterways like the Loire, Po and Rhine reduced to a trickle in places.  But the ongoing drought is also revealing how much we depend on them for trade, energy and transport.

The Rhine’s evaporation is especially concerning. At the chokepoint of Kaub, near Frankfurt, it is expected to fall below 40cm on Friday. This would make it impassable for some larger ships carrying supplies of oil, coal and gas...
We're seeing similar problems in Asia.
"Zombie Ice?"

Lots of bad stuff looming.

Again, these travails can be multidimensionally adverse-feedback-loop reinforcing.


Award-winning YALE PROFESSOR Woo-kyoung Ahn delivers “A MUST-READ—a smart and compellingly readable guide to cutting-edge research into how people think.” (Paul Bloom)

Psychologist Woo-kyoung Ahn devised a course at Yale called “Thinking” to help students examine the biases that cause so many problems in their daily lives. It quickly became one of the university’s most popular courses. In Ahn’s class, students examine “thinking problems”—like confirmation bias, causal attribution, and delayed gratification—and how they contribute to our most pressing societal issues and inequities. Now, for the first time, Ahn presents key insights from her years of teaching and research in a book for everyone.

Ahn draws on decades of research from other cognitive psychologists, as well as from her own groundbreaking studies. And she presents it all in a compellingly readable style that uses fun examples from K-pop dancing, anecdotes from her own life, and illuminating stories from history and the headlines.

Thinking 101 is a book that goes far beyond other books on thinking, showing how we can improve not just our own daily lives and tackle real-world problems through better awareness of our biases but also the lives of everyone around us. It is, quite simply, required reading for everyone who wants to think—and live—better.

The tech elite have a plan to survive the apocalypse: they want to leave us all behind.

Five mysterious billionaires summoned Douglas Rushkoff to a desert resort for a private talk. The topic? How to survive The Event: the societal catastrophe they know is coming. Rushkoff came to understand that these men were under the influence of The Mindset, a Silicon Valley–style certainty that they can break the laws of physics, economics, and morality to escape a disaster of their own making—as long as they have enough money and the right technology. In Survival of the Richest, Rushkoff traces the origins of The Mindset in science and technology through its current expression in missions to Mars, island bunkers, and the Metaverse. This mind-blowing work of social analysis shows us how to transcend the landscape The Mindset created—a world alive with algorithms and intelligences actively rewarding our most selfish tendencies—and rediscover community, mutual aid, and human interdependency. Instead of changing the people, he argues, we can change the program.
I saw and read reviews on these soon-to-be-released titles today in Science.

I've previously cited Douglas Rushkoff's prior book "Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus" some years back. Adroit writer.