Category: Psychology Cognition

We’re from the government. Trust us.

| March 1, 2015 | Reply

If I may make a gross over-characterization. Both people on the left and right trust the government, but in different respects. People on the right trust law enforcement and the military. People on the left trust government-run social programs. Both are victims (as we all are) of confirmation bias.

Here is a sad story of gross malfeasance by the CIA, and attempts to make the information public. The whistleblower in this case, Jeffrey Sterling could be facing a stiff sentence for allegedly revealing that the CIA handed (to Iran) valuable information regarding the construction of a nuclear bomb to Iran.

Also discussed is the equally sad story of reporter James Risen spending substantial time in prison for protecting his sources.

In light of this frustrating set of revelations, the question arises: How are citizens supposed to know what their government is up to? Barack Obama has continued and even increased crack-downs on whistle-blowers and surveillance on members of the press. How are citizens supposed to stay informed. What is the means to rope in irresponsible law-enforcement? Given this event and these trends, the “answer” is that citizens should simply trust their government.

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Steven Pinker’s cognitive science quiz

| February 24, 2015 | Reply

How well can you answer these ten questions about cognitive science posed by Steven Pinker?

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Nation of skimmers rather than readers

| February 5, 2015 | 1 Reply

From the Washington Post, we learn that we are re-shaping our brains to accommodate the Internet.

Humans, they warn, seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online. This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia.

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Navy Seal guide to succeeding.

| February 1, 2015 | Reply

Eric Barker has offered another excellent batch of self-improvement advice, this time on the importance of grit. Here is the conclusion to his link-rich article:

Purpose and meaning. It’s easier to be persistent when what we’re doing is tied to something personally meaningful.
Make it a game. It’s the best way to stay in a competitive mindset without stressing yourself out.

Be confident — but realistic.

See the challenges honestly but believe in your own ability to take them on.

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Grit comes a lot easier when you’ve done the work to make sure you’re ready.

Focus on improvement. Every SEAL mission ends with a debrief focusing on what went wrong so they can improve.
Give help and get help.

Support from others helps keep you going, and giving others support does the same.

Celebrate small wins. You can’t wait to catch the big fish. Take joy where you can find it when good times are scarce.

Find a way to laugh. Rangers, SEALs, and scientists agree: a chuckle can help you cope with stress and keep you going.

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Lack of human connectedness as the cause of “addiction”

| January 22, 2015 | 1 Reply

This article at Huffpo argues that addiction cannot be found as internal chemical hooks, but rather as a symptom of human boredom and isolation:

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was — at the same time as the Rat Park experiment — a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about the head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

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How to stop procrastinating

| January 12, 2015 | Reply

I don’t know whether I’m a typical procrastinator. I avoid unpleasant and difficult tasks by doing difficult tasks that I enjoy. I’m not a time-waster, but the effect is the same: I repeatedly struggle to get finished with projects that I deem to be the most important.

I paused my “modified” procrastinating for a moment and decided to post on this summary by Eric Barker, who consistently does a good job of posting on self-improvement topics.

The take home is this, but do check out the article, which is filled with useful links:

  • You don’t need more willpower. You need to build a solid habit that helps you get to work.
  • Getting started is the tricky part. Turn that habit into a “personal starting ritual.” It can even have some fun to it as long as it signals that in a few minutes, it’s time to get cranking.
  • The most powerful habits change how you see yourself. Think about what makes you feel like someone who gets things done and make that a part of your starting ritual.
  • Eat chocolate with friends. Maybe not literally, but it’s a good reminder that you need both rewards and a support network to build rock solid new habits.

Here’s one other excellent article by Eric Barker, along the same lines:
How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips. I do like the idea of scheduling EVERYTHING, and not simply making to-do lists. Point two of the list below is also golden.

  • To-Do Lists Are Evil. Schedule Everything.
  • Assume You’re Going Home at 5:30, Then Plan Your Day Backwards
  • Make A Plan For The Entire Week
  • Do Very Few Things, But Be Awesome At Them
  • Less Shallow Work, Focus On The Deep Stuff
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How to make better decisions

| January 1, 2015 | 1 Reply

Eric Barker’s summary:

The five step process for making better decisions:
Maintain a feeling of control over your situation.
Emotional preparation. Consider how things could be worse.
Monitor your breathing.
Controlled empathy.
Ask “What advice would I give my best friend in this situation?”

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How to read people – Eric Barker summary

| December 22, 2014 | 1 Reply

Eric Barker has yet another link-filled how-to article. This one offers strategies for reading people based on their behavior rather than their words.

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The Danger of Positive Thinking

| December 4, 2014 | Reply

From NYT:

My colleagues and I have since performed many follow-up studies, observing a range of people, including children and adults; residents of different countries (the United States and Germany); and people with various kinds of wishes — college students wanting a date, hip-replacement patients hoping to get back on their feet, graduate students looking for a job, schoolchildren wishing to get good grades. In each of these studies, the results have been clear: Fantasizing about happy outcomes — about smoothly attaining your wishes — didn’t help. Indeed, it hindered people from realizing their dreams.

Why doesn’t positive thinking work the way you might assume? As my colleagues and I have discovered, dreaming about the future calms you down, measurably reducing systolic blood pressure, but it also can drain you of the energy you need to take action in pursuit of your goals.

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