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Sunday, October 30, 2022

Halloween 2022

In my Baltimore Sun today.

I again implore you to read Robert Draper's new book Weapons of Mass Delusion.
Cheryl and I spent the day together filling out our 2022 midterms ballots. Took us several hours. Nine days to election day. We'll be dropping our ballots off this evening.

Cheryl is serving as a volunteer Election Judge on the 8th. It will be a long day for her. She has to arrive by 5:45 a.m. and stay until everything is wrapped up and secured.

Friday, October 28, 2022

A Musky Friday

Yeah, but I have utter confidence that Donald Trump, once his @realDonaldTrump Twitler account is reactivated, can adroitly school Elon in the exquisite fine art of welshing on your debt obligations. Nobody Does It Better.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

As the U.S. 2022 midterm elections approach,

everyone would do well to read this bracing, timely book.
As a journalist, I have written books and lengthy magazine stories about the Republican Party for over two decades. Though I’ve done my best not to shade these accounts, I must confess that they’ve tended to bear the telltale influence of my father, a lifelong Republican.

At his best, Bob Draper epitomized the GOP’s best. He was an optimist and a man who went by the facts while following the guidance of his Christian faith. He trusted individuals while nurturing a healthy suspicion of authority figures. He was immune to cultism. He would not dream of cheating to get ahead or of blaming someone else for his shortcomings. And though I’m sure he viewed his life trajectory—marine, taxpayer, capitalist, family man, community servant—as that of an American patriot, he never once felt the need to say so, or to assert that someone who voted differently from him—as his wife of sixty-four years nearly always did—was therefore a socialist, a traitor, or human scum…

This book focuses primarily on the eighteen-month period after the Trump presidency when—if my father could have had his way—the defeated GOP would have obligingly retreated to its traditional mooring and, after due penance, sought to reclaim its valor as a party tethered to reason. Except, of course, that is not at all what happened.

What occurred instead is that the Republican Party plunged deeper into a Trumpian cult of compulsive dissembling and conspiracy mongering. It fell hostage to the party’s most fevered extremists, self-described “patriots” who habitually characterized their ideological opponents on the other side of the aisle as communists, traitors, and terrorists. It became anti-civility, anti-science, anti–law and order. It ostracized the few Republicans willing to upbraid the party’s descent into madness. Its leaders ceased to lead. Its longtime legislators—the “adults in the room,” establishment regulars, favorites on the K Street fundraising circuit—meekly receded into their tornado shelters, assuring themselves that the storm would pass soon. Meanwhile, its Democratic adversaries mostly abandoned the usual victor’s schadenfreude, instead regarding the Republicans with astonishment and outright fear.

In short, the Republican Party lost its mind. The mass migration from Reagan’s “Morning in America” to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” to the former president’s wild-eyed “Save America” is one in which the usual partisan differences gave way to an existential call to arms. Given that America has organized its entire governing system around the presumption of two healthy political parties, the GOP’s growing commitment to a funhouse-mirror version of reality would seem to represent a threat to the nation’s democratic experiment.

The period I chronicle here constitutes a moment when the this is not normal fretfulness accompanying the seemingly anomalous Trump era metastasized into this is dangerous and is not going away. Evidence of this alarming development would crop up across the country and throughout the greater Republican Party, from Florida to Washington state, from GOP presidential aspirants down to local precinct chairpersons. But the tension between the party’s reality-based wing and the lost-its-mind wing would most acutely reveal itself within the 211-member Republican Conference, the minority party in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This narrative therefore focuses in particular on the key actors in the House GOP at a moment of reckoning for the party. It is a moment I viewed mostly at close range—beginning with the morning of January 6, 2021.

Draper, Robert. Weapons of Mass Delusion (pp. xv-xvi). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
This book jumped my queue. I was deep into two books on Constitutional Law, and two on trial law procedure.
All of it goes to my abiding Jones regarding "Democracy and Deliberation Science."

I could hardly put Robert's book down. Eye-opening, infuriating, and depressingly worrisome, given what may be facing us shortly. Wonderfully written. Highly recommended.

apropos,  my episodic irascible 2 cents.

In the Epilogue, Robert Draper wraps up,
Amid the tangled threads of American life, only one strand, straight and true, stood out: evil. It was omnipresent, stable, and oddly stabilizing, a kind of dark lodestar to measure one’s worth against. So long as there was evil, there was righteousness. Identify evil, and the details did not matter. Facts did not matter. Lying was  justified. Theft was justified. Cruelty was justified. Violence was justified. In the never-ending war against evil, you could do no wrong.

As Marjorie Taylor Greene’s former leader had almost done, and as her future leader promised to do, you could “blow the place up.”
[Draper, pp. 363-364]
Read it. Then make sure you cast your votes.
Really way past sick of all this stuff.
14 days to the 2022 midterms.
The Desecrations of Michael Flynn
The former national security adviser is fusing deranged political ideas with a mangled version of the Christian faith.
A prayer at a “ReAwaken America” event in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a few days ago, at which Michael Flynn appeared, captured the sensibilities of this moment: “Father God, we come to you in the name of Jesus. We’re asking you to open the eyes of President Trump’s understanding, that he will know the time of divine intervention. He will know how to implement divine intervention. And you will surround him, Father, with none of this deep-state trash, none of this RINO trash. You surround him, people that you pick, with your own mighty hand. In the name of Jesus”…

Flynn didn’t just claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump; he floated the idea of having Trump declare martial law and try to “rerun” the election. He suggested that the president should seize voting machines. And he said that the election involved “probably the greatest fraud that our country has ever experienced in our history.” At an event in Arizona last month, Flynn said, “Did you know that a governor can declare war? A governor can declare war. And we’re going to probably see that.”

Flynn has also asserted that COVID-19 was unleashed intentionally by global elitists in order to “rule the world,” “control humanity,” and “steal an election.” He has warned about the dangers of a “new world order” in which people such as Bill Gates, George Soros, and World Economic Forum Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab “have an intent to track every single one of us, and they use it under the skin. They use a means by which it’s under the skin.”

But it doesn’t end there. In a video deposition for the House committee investigating January 6, Republican Representative Liz Cheney asked this question of Flynn: “Do you believe the violence on January 6 was justified morally?” To which he responded, “Take the Fifth.” Cheney then asked, “Do you believe the violence on January 6 was justified legally?” Flynn responded, “Fifth.” And then Cheney asked this question of the former general: “Do you believe in the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America?”

“The Fifth,” Flynn replied.

“It was a surreal moment,” The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman wrote. “Here was a retired three-star general and former national security adviser refusing to opine on the foundational requirement of a constitutional democracy”… 
This stuff is not funny. 

 Sometimes, the lyrics just write themselves.

Gosar and Gohmert,
Boebert and Greene,
A neuron between them?
It remains to be seen.
Marjorie Taylor,
The QAnon Wailer,
Where She Go One
She Go All.

Loose Cannon Steve Bannon
Ain’t changin’ his shirts.
You can shove your subpoena
Right up where it hurts.
America’s Mayor
All drunk on his butt.
Is this a Great Country,

Weapons of Mass Delusion,
MAGA cult WMD.
Caught up in crass confusion,
Intifada behind ev’ry tree.
Weapons of Mass Delusion,
Don’t need us no danged evidence.
No need of our senses, we
Ain’t mendin’ no fences,
We still wanna hang ol’ Mike Pence.

Boebert and Gohmert,
Greene and Gosar,
Don’t forget JD Vance of
Hillbilly Ishtar.
And, the MyPillowGuy
Gots some packets for you,
If them Jewish Space Lasers
Won’t do.

Weapons of Mass Delusion,
MAGA brand WMD.
Nothin’ but crass confusion,
Just the price of the Land of the Free.
Ev’rybody, now:
“Let’s Go, Brandon,”
Aren’t y’all proud as can be?
Weapons of Mass Delusion,
MAGA cult WMD.

Words & Music by Bobby Gladd
Copyright © 2022, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

U.S. 2022 midterms draw nigh

I don't think it's possible to overstate the importance of the upcoming November 8th midterms. Make sure you vote.
OK, a momentary respite from all of our sociopolitical discord.

Jacob just posted an artistic animated visual rendering of this song.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Less than a month to the US midterm elections

My 2022 midterm ballot, iPhone shot
My wife and I will continue to spend hours vetting everything and everyone presented on our ballots. Do likewise. Our democracy itself is at stake this time. That is not hyperbole. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Science, philosophy, and "other ways of knowing"

as we consider "deliberation science."


JUST AS CONTEMPORARY agnosticism has tended to lose its confidence and lapse into scepticism, so Buddhism has tended to lose its critical edge and lapse into religiosity. What each has lost, however, the other may be able to help restore. In encountering contemporary culture, the dharma may recover its agnostic imperative, while secular agnosticism may recover its soul.

An agnostic Buddhist would not regard the dharma as a source of “answers” to questions of where we came from, where we are going, what happens after death. He would seek such knowledge in the appropriate domains: astrophysics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, etc. An agnostic Buddhist is not a “believer” with claims to revealed information about supernatural or paranormal phenomena, and in this sense is not “religious.”

An agnostic Buddhist looks to the dharma for metaphors of existential confrontation rather than metaphors of existential consolation. The dharma is not a belief by which you will be miraculously saved. It is a method to be investigated and tried out. It starts by facing up to the primacy of anguish, then proceeds to apply a set of practices to understand the human dilemma and work toward a resolution. The extent to which dharma practice has been institutionalized as a religion can be gauged by the number of consolatory elements that have crept in: for example, assurances of a better afterlife if you perform virtuous deeds or recite mantras or chant the name of a Buddha.

An agnostic Buddhist eschews atheism as much as theism, and is as reluctant to regard the universe as devoid of meaning as endowed with meaning. For to deny either God or meaning is simply the antithesis of affirming them. Yet such an agnostic stance is not based on disinterest. It is founded on a passionate recognition that I do not know. It confronts the enormity of having been born instead of reaching for the consolation of a belief. It strips away, layer by layer, the views that conceal the mystery of being here—either by affirming it as something or denying it as nothing.

Such deep agnosticism is an attitude toward life refined through ongoing mindful awareness. It may lead to the realization that ultimately there is neither something nor nothing at the core of ourselves that we can put a finger on. Or it may be focused in an intense perplexity that vibrates through the body and leaves the mind that seeks certainty nowhere to rest.

IN A FAMOUS parable the Buddha imagines a group of blind men who are invited to identify an elephant. One takes the tail and says it’s a rope; another clasps a leg and says it’s a pillar; another feels the side and says it’s a wall; another holds the trunk and says it’s a tube. Depending on which part of Buddhism you grasp, you might identify it as a system of ethics, a philosophy, a contemplative psychotherapy, a religion. While containing all of these, it can no more be reduced to any one of them than an elephant can be reduced to its tail.

That which contains the range of elements that constitute Buddhism is called a “culture.” The term was first explicitly defined in 1871 by the anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Since this particular culture originates in the awakening of Siddhartha Gautama and aims to cultivate a way of life conducive to such awakening, Buddhism could be described as “the culture of awakening.”

While Buddhism has tended to become reductively identified with its religious forms, today it is in further danger of being reductively identified with its forms of meditation. If these trends continue, it is liable to become increasingly marginalized and lose its potential to be realized as a culture: an internally consistent set of values and practices that creatively animates all aspects of human life. The challenge now is to imagine and create a culture of awakening that both supports individual dharma practice and addresses the dilemmas of an agnostic and pluralist world.

Batchelor, Stephen. Buddhism without Beliefs (pp. 18-20). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
OK, I count myself fairly hardass on "scientific explanations," in light of my education and subsequent technical career (environmental radiation analytics, industrial diagnostics, health care analytics, & financial risk management). Nonetheless, from my 1998 essay on my late elder daughter's cancer struggle:
'Arrogant, narrow-minded, greedy, and indifferent?'

Is science the enemy? To the extremist "alternative healing" advocate, the answer is a resounding 'yes'! A disturbing refrain common to much of the radical "alternative" camp is that medical science is "just another belief system," one beholden to the economic and political powers of establishment institutions that dole out the research grants and control careers, one that actively suppresses simpler healing truths in the pursuit of profit, one committed to the belittlement and ostracism of any discerning practitioner willing to venture "outside the box" of orthodox medical and scientific paradigms.

One e-mail correspondent, a participant in the internet newsgroup, vented splenetic at length recently regarding U.S. authorities' alleged hounding, arrest, and imprisonment of alternative healers. He railed that law enforcement, at the behest of the AMA/FDA Conspiracy (a.k.a. the "corrupt AMA/FDA/NCI/ACS cartel"), had made the practice of alternative medicine illegal in the U.S. Moreover, he considered the fact that medical science can only claim "cures" for approximately 10% of the roughly 10,000 classified human diseases an a priori indictment of the mainstream profession.

I know: this is akin to the U.N. Black Helicopters/One-World-Government Conspiracy stuff of the not-too-tightly-wrapped. Still, I couldn't resist-- pointing out in (no doubt futile) reply that no one came with guns drawn and cuffs at the ready the night at Brotman Rehab when "Healing Angelite Crystals" practitioners-- devotees of India's Sai Baba-- came from Topanga Canyon to hover for hours in ceremony over Sissy (to the curious and wary befuddlement of the night shift nurses); neither did Security nor the medical staff at Brotman confiscate the goopy-looking herbal tonic we brought in, an elixir prescribed for Sissy by a Chinese herbal pharmacist doing business quite openly in Chinatown near downtown L.A.; nor would SWAT teams pounce on the backyard in the Valley where we took part in evening-long Lakota Souix "healing sweat lodge" ceremonies conducted by the venerable Wallace Black Elk; and finally, Wyndie, one of Sissy's highly skilled and effective physical therapists at Brotman did not have her certification revoked for counseling my daughter on the Hindu principles of the Chakras and efficacy of aromatherapy.

Moreover, I had to respond, the fact that we can only cure 10% of known diseases implies nothing regarding the quality of mainstream medical research and practice, unless the alternatives industry can provide hard, "case-mix adjusted," scientifically valid data showing their methods to effect consistently and significantly better outcomes-- which they cannot (a dearth of peer-reviewed studies being a central characteristic of "alternative" practice). Additionally, I asked, can anyone even cite historical curative percentages from 30, 50, or perhaps 100 years ago? Indeed, even such statistics would prove problematic-- "shooting at a moving target," as it were-- in that more subtle and clinically unresponsive maladies continue to be discovered and classified while the easier to treat are dealt with more readily. And, classificatory observation is easy compared to the work and resources required to effect cures; we should expect that identification will outpace remedy. Finally, 50 years ago death certificates listing demise from "natural causes" would today likely have identifiable diseases recorded as the cause of death.

Purveyors of medical quackery should fear the hot breath and hard heel of competent authority, but I see no evidence of suppression of alternative therapy methods that are not certifiably fraudulent. All manner of "unproven" substances are sold quite openly at retail, both in the health food stores and in the national chain outlets; all that need accompany the product is the legal boilerplate disclaimer acknowledging an absence of FDA blessing, along with the inoculating phrase 'dietary supplement.’…

For the bulk of the alternative healing industry, the real frustration has nothing whatever to do with clinical and political repression, and everything to do with lack of access to the pockets of third-party payers. While such may be a very real economic problem for health care consumers and the vendors of alternative products and services, it has little to do with clinical "narrow-minded arrogance." Peer-reviewed studies of the unpatentable epigallocatechin alone have, after all, somehow found funding hundreds of times thus far. ["One in Three."]
I read "Buddhism Without Beliefs" repeatedly while sitting at Sissy's bedside daily during her final months.

It helped keep me sane.
I keep the original hardcopy close at hand, and also have it in my Kindle stash.

In the mid-late 1990s, while caring for my terminally ill daughter in Hollywood, I recall reading that there were more MRI machines deployed in the Los Angeles area than in the entire nation of Canada, the inference being that the American economics of hugely expensive sense-extending diagnostic imaging technologies such as MRI units, CAT scanners, cardiac dynamic stress test machines, etc tended toward the economically problematic. Every medical institution feels compelled to have them to be credible, competitive Players in the market, but everyone also needs to keep them all profitably humming, with viable billable payers at the end of the back office line. And, every additional install exacerbates the billable utilization problem. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Well consider a brief true story from several decades ago, written by surgeon and writer Dr. Richard Selzer:

On the bulletin board in the front hall of the hospital where I work, there appeared an announcement. “Yeshi Dhonden,” it read, “will make rounds at six o’clock on the morning of June 10.” The particulars were then given, followed by a notation: “Yeshi Dhonden is personal physician to the Dalai Lama.” I am not so leathery a skeptic that I would knowingly ignore an emissary from the gods. Not only might such sangfroid be inimical to one’s earthly well-being, it could take care of eternity as well. Thus, on the morning of June 10, I joined a clutch of whitecoats waiting in the small conference room adjacent to the ward selected for the rounds. The air in the room is heavy with ill concealed dubiety and suspicion of bamboozlement. At precisely 6 o’clock, he materializes, a short, golden, barrely man dressed in a sleeveless robe of saffron and maroon. His scalp is shaven, and the only visible hair is a scanty black line each hooded eye.
He bows in greeting while his young interpreter makes the introduction. Yeshi Dhonden, we are told will examine a patient selected by a member of the staff. The diagnosis is as unknown to Yeshi Dhonden as it is to us. The examination of the patient will take place in our presence, after which we will reconvene in the conference room where Yeshi Dhonden will discuss the case. We are further informed that for the past two hours Yeshi Dhonden has purified himself by bathing, fasting, and prayer. I, having breakfasted well, performed only the most desultory of ablutions, and given no thought at all to my soul, glanced furtively at my fellows. Suddenly, we seem a soiled, uncouth lot.
The patient had been awakened early and told that she was to be examined by a foreign doctor, and had been asked to produce a fresh specimen of urine, so when we enter her room, the woman shows no surprise. She has long ago taken on that mixture of compliance and resignation that is that the facies of chronic illness. This was to be but another in an endless series of tests and examinations. Yeshi Dhonden steps to the bedside while the rest stand apart, watching. For a long time he gazes at the woman, favoring no part of her body with his eyes, but seeming to fix his glance at a place just above her supine form. I, too, study her. No physical sign nor obvious symptom gives a clue to the nature of her disease.
At last he takes her hand, raising it in both of his own. Now he bends over the bed in a kind of crouching stance, his head drawn down into the collar of his robe. His eyes are closed as he feels for her pulse. In a moment he has found the spot, and for the next half hour he remains of us, suspended above the patient like some exotic golden bird with folded wings, holding the pulse of the woman beneath his fingers, cradling her hand in his. All the power of the man seems to have been drawn down into this one purpose. It is tell patient of the pulse raced to the state of ritual. From the foot of the bed, where I stand, it is as though he and the patient had entered a special place of isolation, of apartness, about which a vacancy hovers, and across which no violation is possible. After a moment the woman rests back upon her pillow. From time to time she raises her head to look at the strange figure above her, then sinks back once more. I cannot see their hands joined in a correspondence that is exclusive, intimate, his fingertips receiving the voice of her sick body through the rhythm and throb she offers at her wrist. All at once I am envious -- not of him, not of Yeshi Dhonden for his gift of beauty in holiness, but of her. I want to be held like that, touched so, received. And I know that I, who have palpated 100,000 pulses, have not felt a single one.
At last Yeshi Dhonden straightens, gently places the woman’s hand upon the bed, and steps back. The interpreter produces a small wooden bowl into sticks. Yeshi Dhonden pours a portion of the urine specimen into the bowl, and proceeds to whip the liquid with the two sticks. This he does for several minutes until a foam is raised. Then, bowing above the bowl, he inhales the older three times. He sets down the bowl, and turns to leave. All this while, he has not uttered a single word. As he nears the door, the woman raises her head and calls out to him in a voice at once urgent and serene. “Thank you, doctor,” she says, and touches with her other hand the place he had held on her wrists, as though to recapture something that had visited their. Yeshi Dhonden turns back for a moment to gaze at her, then steps into the corridor. Rounds are at an end.
We are seated once more in the conference room. Yeshi Dhonden speaks now for the first time, in soft Tibetan sounds that I’ve never heard before. He has barely begun when the young interpreter begins to translate, the two voices continuing in tandem – a bilingual fugue, the one chasing the other. It is like the chanting of monks. He speaks of winds coursing through the body of the woman, currents that break against barriers, eddying. These vortices are in her blood, he says. The last spendings of an imperfect heart. Between the chambers of her heart, long, long before she was born, a wind had come and blown open a deep gate that must never be opened. Through it charged the full waters of her river, as the mountain stream cascades in the springtime, battering, knocking loose the land, and flooding her breath. Thus he speaks, and is silent.
“May we now have the diagnosis?” A professor asks.
The host of these rounds, the man who knows, answers. “Congenital heart disease,” he says. “Interventricular septal defect, with resultant heart failure.”
A gateway in the heart, I think. That must not be opened. Through it charge the full waters that flood her breath. So! Here then is the doctor listening to the sounds of the body to which the rest of us are deaf. He is more than doctor. He is Priest.
I know, I know, the doctor to the gods is pure knowledge you’re healing. The doctor to man stumbles, most often wound; his patient must die, as must he.
Now and then it happens, as I make my own rounds, but I hear the sounds of his voice, like an ancient Buddhist prayer, its meaning long since forgotten, only the music remaining. Then the jubilation possesses me, and I feel myself touched by something divine.
[1976: Richard Selzer, MD, Mortal Lessons: Notes on the art of surgery]

For me, such an inferentially instructive tale goes beyond mere abstract epistemological interest -- achingly so. Several years prior to being diagnosed with fatal liver cancer, my daughter also had encounters with non-western medical diagnostic assessments, one of which might well have saved her life (and this father's now permanently broken heart) had she not blown it off. As I wrote in my "1 in 3" essay, ruminating on this aspect of "alternative medicine":
It was, after all, a Santa Monica Chinese practitioner of acupuncture and herbal medicine, one Dr. Yi Pan, who first called Sissy's attention to a problem with her liver several years prior to her HCC diagnosis. She'd been referred to him by a girlfriend for attention to a menstrual problem. Dr. Pan had a diagnostic acumen requiring no x-rays, CT scans, or blood tests. Yet, the internet medical fraud site dismisses traditional Chinese medicine as "ineffective," as do many other critics of alternative practices.
Tragically, Sissy summarily discounted his prescient admonition. I can only speculate wistfully on the implications of our having known three years earlier.
Indeed. Indeed.
BTW, "Philosophy," as it was defined for me in grad school, properly denotes "Love" (philo) of "Knowledge / Wisdom" (sophia). Not inscrutable, obtuse academic jargon. 

Monday, October 10, 2022

Is Putin gonna go there?

 And, if he does, what happens then?

Sunday, October 2, 2022

N=1: The Neuroscience of YOU

A scholar's debut book way worthy of your time and close attention.
The Amazon recommendation for this new release hit my inbox early in the week. I bit forthwith, after reading the sample. Happy that I did so.
Goes to my abiding Jones for information going to our persistent, worrisome (IMO), and worsening Exigent Priorities and the potentially mitigative / beneficent applicable role of so-called "Deliberation Science." (My cranky "so-called" scare quotes caveat is starting to ebb, but myriad salient questions remain.)

I like to let authors speak for themselves (they certainly know more than do I), so let us cut to the chase (final chapter):
How Two Brains Get on the Same Wavelength

In the book Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell takes his readers through a series of dramatic, real-world examples of misunderstandings between people that make two points very clearly: (1) Understanding other people can be really difficult; and (2) misunderstandings between people can have disastrous consequences. From Ponzi schemes to genocide, when we get it wrong—we really get it wrong. Is it any wonder that some of us are hesitant to explore relationships with others?

In this book, I’ve provided the background knowledge to help you understand the biological barrier that can drive misalignment between people. When two different brains, shaped by the confluence of their unique biology and life experiences, interact with each other in a shared environment, they do so through the barrier of the different subjective realities that they create.

Yet the very brains that make it difficult to see eye to eye with someone else are the same ones that inspire us to try. And though it’s certainly truer for some more than others, our social human brains crave connection. From early caregiving relationships through the different types of intimate adult partnerships we form, our brains contain a host of built-in mechanisms that drive us to connect. And this makes good sense, given how central relationships are to our survival. In fact, forming connections with others is one of the most important brain functions of all.

I think George R. R. Martin got to the heart of this when he wrote, “When the snow falls and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives”—as a central part of the House Stark narrative in Game of Thrones. Because when times get tough, having close relationships is critical to our survival, even if most humans no longer rely directly on one another for things like warmth or hunting in packs. We have seen this play out over and over in health-related research, where the power of touch has been shown to help the brains and bodies of premature babies develop, and social support networks help buffer the health effects of chronic illnesses like AIDS. To put the importance of close relationships into a more concrete, health-related context, consider the results of a recent meta-analysis conducted by Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith. After analyzing data collected from more than 300,000 participants around the world, the authors concluded that lacking close interpersonal relationships was more than twice as strongly associated with early mortality as either excessive drinking or obesity.

And I’m sure that our understanding of the health risks associated with loneliness will increase exponentially as psychologists and healthcare professionals start to crunch the data collected from the massive “social isolation experiment” that the COVID-19 pandemic created. A quick search through the scientific literature using keywords “social isolation,” “pandemic,” and “health” returned more than 1,500 articles published in the last two years on this topic. Though I can’t quite get to the place of calling this a silver lining, each of these studies will contribute to our understanding of why interpersonal connection is a necessary component of healthy living, and which of the many ingredients of successful connections promote physical and mental health. But will they provide the recipe for forming healthy relationships?…

Prat, Chantel. The Neuroscience of You (pp. 287-289). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition
Reflecting to an earlier posting:

Excellent. Not kidding.
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.
We have a new winner in the "Best Place to Hide a $100 Bill From Donald Trump" awards.
How we become unique is one of the deepest questions that we can ask. The answers, where they exist, have profound implications, and not just for internet dating. They inform how we think about morality, public policy, faith, health care, education, and the law. For example: If a behavioral trait like aggression has a heritable component, then are people born with a biological predisposition toward it less legally culpable for their violent acts? Another question: If we know that poverty reduces the heritability of a valued human trait like height, should we, as a society, seek to reduce the inequities that impede people from fulfilling their genetic capacity? These are the types of questions where the science of human individuality can inform discussion.

Although investigating the origins of individuality is not just an endeavor for biologists—cultural anthropologists, artists, historians, linguists, literary theorists, philosophers, psychologists, and many others have a seat at this table—many of this topic’s most important aspects involve fundamental questions about the development, genetics, and plasticity of the nervous system. The good news is that recent scientific findings are illuminating this question in ways that are exciting and sometimes counterintuitive. The better news is that it doesn’t just boil down to the same tiresome nature-versus-nurture debate that has been impeding progress and boring people for years. Genes are built to be modified by experience. That experience is not just the obvious stuff, like how your parents raised you, but more complicated and fascinating things like the diseases you’ve had (or those that your mother had while she was carrying you in utero), the foods you’ve eaten, the bacteria that reside in your body, the weather during your early development, and the long reach of culture and technology.

So, let’s dig into the science. It can be controversial stuff. Questions about the origins of human individuality speak directly to who we are. They challenge our concepts of nation, gender, and race. They are inherently political and incite strong passions. For over 150 years, from the high colonial era to the present, these arguments have separated the political Right from the Left more clearly than any issue of policy.

Given this fraught backdrop, I’ll do my best to play it straight and synthesize the current scientific consensus (where it exists), explain the debates, and point out where the sidewalk of our understanding simply ends…
[pp 6-7]
I sorely want David to defy the odds and survive. Read his book and you will agree.
"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."
Yeah. I am reminded of some David Eagleman.
…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.

Some things that bedevil our thinking, particularly as it goes to persuasion and influence:

There is no first-person singular present-tense active voice usage of the word "wrong." No one ever says "I AM wrong."
[props to Kathryn Schulz]  Our aggregate default is that we're right about everything. To the extent that we continue to survive, that's an understandable assumption—as it pertains to minor, inconsequential issues, anyway, and it inexorably tilts us toward "confirmation bias."
Our education system mostly tells us there's one "right answer" to every question—lurking amid a boatload of "wrong ones."
And, those who quickly alight on the "right answer" get reinforced and nurtured as they move through the system.
Being wrong is not a synonym for being "stupid" or ignorant. 

Neither is "ignorant" a synonym for "stupid." But it's mostly epithetically spun that way; i.e., that you "ignore reality."

Humans "reason" to WIN the argument.

 Should truth happen along the way, so much the better. (See "Why Do Humans Reason?" by Sperber & Mercier) Evolutionary adaptive utility, "The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword."

He/She with the best story WINS!

Trial Lawyering 101. Prior to writing and movable type, stories were the whole ballgame. Hence, our evolved affinity.

Once you decide that X is right or wrong / good or bad, you cannot unring that bell.

A staple look-before-you-leap admonishment of mine back when I was teaching "Critical Thinking."

If, when it's all said and done, your logic is impeccable, and your facts and evidence are bulletproof, yet you remain unpersuasive, what have you really accomplished?''

Another classroom staple of mine. That one was "exceeding my brief" as it were, but my Sups never noticed or cared. Anyway, my overall teach-to-the-text priority focus as a piddly Adjunct necessarily had to be "OK, here's how this stuff works. Take it or leave it."
Another random observation. Even though I've taught collegiate "Critical Thinking," I've never much liked the phrase. Many students routinely came into my classes eager to be "critical" in the sense of being "contentious," "argumentative"—ready to throw down over their pet peeves and argue about stuff, "get shit off their chests." Sound familiar these days?

Way more to come. Gotta turn in.

…every single life experience changes your brain. Some of the changes are inconsequential and others are incremental. But on rare occasions, for better or for worse, a single event can change the way we work, forever.

This is an important note to take, before diving deeper into the neuroscience of you. The fact that something about your brain causes you to think, feel, or behave in a certain way does not necessarily mean either that you were born that way or that it can’t change. The truth is that your brain is a moving target. And most research linking brains to behaviors, like my work on the two hemispheres and reading skill, only looks at a single point in time—a snapshot, so to speak. With this kind of experiment, it’s simply impossible to tell how much of a particular brain design is stable or has been shaped by your experiences.
[The Neuroscience of You, p. 25]
Yeah, that squares nicely with the views of other neuroscience SMEs.


If you've not read Marilynne Robinson, do yourselves a serious favor. She rocks. (Delightfully, Alan Jacobs cited her in "How to Think." I'd already read her. Humblingly eloquent, bracingly scary smart.)

Uh, hel-LO?

"The only person who enjoys change is a baby with a wet diaper."
—Brent James, MD, M.Stat (a mentor)

More shortly. Into the single malt Scotch at the moment... 
  • Deductive logic (incl. Boolean logic?)
  • Inductive inference
  • Abductive inference
  • Fuzzy logic
  • Argument analysis and evaluation
  • Philosophy of science
  • Statistics
  • Data science
  • Game theory
  • Rhetoric
  • Linguistics (incl. semantics, pragmatics, semiotics, "Corpus Linguistics")
  • Psychology (developmental, cognitive, social...)
  • Sociology 
  • Cultural anthropology
  • Political science
  • History and systems of jurisprudence
  • Moral philosophy and ethics
  • Neuroscience

Not in any particular order here, nor mutually exclusive. And, what am I overlooking?
Behaviorlal Genetics?
…From the mundane activities, like estimating the angle your bike can turn at a given speed to the more profound decision points in life, like figuring out whether a particular choice will bring you more joy or more pain, your brain spends every waking moment engaged in elaborate problem-solving and decision-making algorithms. And of course, each brain goes about it a bit differently…

…In fact, every lived experience physically changes your brain, resulting in a brain that is fine-tuned for operating in the environments that shaped it. And I think you might be surprised to learn what counts as an experience from your brain’s perspective. Ultimately, these experiences fundamentally shape the way we see the world we inhabit as well as how we understand people and situations that we don’t have a lot of experience with.
[The Neuroscience of You [pp. 154-155]
Yeah. All of which bear on "deliberation." Ja?

"Deliberate" (adjective): intentional;
"Deliberate" (verb): to consider carefully, factually, rationally;
"Deliberation" (noun): the process of considering carefully, factually, rationally.
You encounter the word "deliberation." What typically first comes to mind, reflexively?

We can learn a ton from that.
My son recently did jury service.
OK, after "jury deliberations," what might we think of? "Supreme Court deliberations?" "Congressional deliberations?" (Skeptics might argue the latter to be a contradiction in terms.)
"Considering carefully." What constitutes adequate, consistent "care?"
Deliberation is a process of thoughtfully weighing options, usually prior to voting. Deliberation emphasizes the use of logic and reason as opposed to power-struggle, creativity, or dialogue. Group decisions are generally made after deliberation through a vote or consensus of those involved.

In legal settings a jury famously uses deliberation because it is given specific options, like guilty or not guilty, along with information and arguments to evaluate. In "deliberative democracy", the aim is for both elected officials and the general public to use deliberation rather than power-struggle as the basis for their vote…

In political philosophy, there is a wide range of views regarding how deliberation becomes a possibility within particular governmental regimes. Most recently, the uptake of deliberation by political philosophy embraces it alternatively as a crucial component or the death-knell of democratic systems. Much of contemporary democratic theory juxtaposes an optimism about democracy against excessively hegemonic, fascist, or otherwise authoritarian regimes. Thus, the position of deliberation is highly contested and is defined variously by different camps within contemporary political philosophy. In its most general (and therefore, most ambiguous) sense, deliberation describes a process of interaction between various subjects/subjectivities dictated by a particular set of norms, rules, or fixed boundaries. Deliberative ideals often include "face-to-face discussion, the implementation of good public policy, decisionmaking competence, and critical mass."

The origins of philosophical interest in deliberation can be traced to Aristotle’s concept of phronesis, understood as "prudence" or "practical wisdom" and its exercise by individuals who deliberate in order to discern the positive or negative consequences of potential actions…
Nicely stated.

Digression. Of relevance? a 2017 post of mine.

Another good Chantel Prat interview, at CUNY's Open Mind.

Yeah, it's all good.
More related posts: Define "Evidence." Define "Experts." Define "Science." Define "Normal."


Annie Duke's new book is out.
Relevant to the topic here.
We view grit and quit as opposing forces. After all, you either persevere or you abandon course. You can’t do both at the same time, and in the battle between the two, quitting has clearly lost.

While grit is a virtue, quitting is a vice.

The advice of legendarily successful people is often boiled down to the same message: Stick to things and you will succeed. As Thomas Edison said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Soccer legend Abby Wambach echoed this sentiment over a century later when she said, “You must not only have competitiveness but ability, regardless of the circumstance you face, to never quit.”

Similar inspirational advice is attributed to other great sports champions and coaches, such as Babe Ruth, Vince Lombardi, Bear Bryant, Jack Nicklaus, Mike Ditka, Walter Payton, Joe Montana, and Billie Jean King. You can also find almost identical quotes from other legendary business successes through the ages, from Conrad Hilton to Ted Turner to Richard Branson.

All these famous people, and countless others, have united behind variations of the expression “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.”

It is rare to find any popular quote in favor of quitting except one attributed to W. C. Fields: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.”

Duke, Annie. Quit (p. xviii). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
What's the joke? "Rehab is for quitters."
More sources keep coming to mind. This is a 2008 release. Sounds like today.

CERTAINTY IS EVERYWHERE. FUNDAMENTALISM IS IN FULL bloom. Legions of authorities cloaked in total conviction tell us why we should invade country X, ban The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in schools, or eat stewed tomatoes; how much brain damage is necessary to justify a plea of diminished capacity; the precise moment when a sperm and an egg must be treated as a human being; and why the stock market will eventually revert to historical returns. A public change of mind is national news. 

But why? Is this simply a matter of stubbornness, arrogance, and/or misguided thinking, or is the problem more deeply rooted in brain biology? Since my early days in neurology training, I have been puzzled by this most basic of cognitive problems: What does it mean to be convinced? At first glance, this question might sound foolish. You study the evidence, weigh the pros and cons, and make a decision. If the evidence is strong enough, you are convinced that there is no other reasonable answer. Your resulting sense of certainty feels like the only logical and justifiable conclusion to a conscious and deliberate line of reasoning. 

But modern biology is pointing in a different direction. Consider for a moment an acutely delusional schizophrenic patient telling you with absolute certainty that three-legged Martians are secretly tapping his phone and monitoring his thoughts. The patient is utterly convinced of the “realness” of the Martians; he “knows” that they exist even if we can’t see them. And he is surprised that we aren’t convinced. Given what we now know about the biology of schizophrenia, we recognize that the patient’s brain chemistry has gone amok, resulting in wildly implausible thoughts that can’t be “talked away” with logic and contrary evidence. We accept that his false sense of conviction has arisen out of a disturbed neurochemistry. 

It is through extreme examples of brain malfunction that neurologists painstakingly explore how the brain works under normal circumstances. For example, most readers will be familiar with the case of Phineas Gage, the Vermont laborer whose skull and frontal region of the brain were pierced with an iron bar during an 1848 railroad construction accident.1 Miraculously, he lived, but with a dramatically altered personality. By gathering together information from family, friends, and employers, his physicians were able to piece together one of the earliest accurate descriptions of how the frontal lobe affects behavior...

Burton, Robert Alan  (2008-02-04T22:58:59.000). On Being Certain. St. Martin's Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
Ahhh... Phineas Gage. Yeah. See Damasio, "Descarte's Error." You gotta care about "reasoning."
And: "Two Cheers For Uncertainty."
[Oct 8th] Couple more relevant reads...

Fine young writer. Spot-on observations.
And, then, through David, I run into these peeps.

The Center for Practical Wisdom was started by a group of scientists and scholars at the University of Chicago with an interest in human decision making that is concerned with how our decisions affect others. From Aristotle, our working definition of practical wisdom is practical decision making that leads to human flourishing. While much of the world, since Binet, the father of the IQ test, has focused on the importance of intelligence for society, intelligence is about solving problems without consideration for the impact of the solutions on others. By contrast, we think about practical wisdom or wise reasoning as considering value commitments that are concerned with understanding the impact of decisions on others.
OK, cool. I'm kinda late to the party here. Will have to get up to speed on this.

More shortly.