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Javier E

Synthetic Thinking | Jerome Groopman | The New York Review of Books - 0 views

  • Did you hope to combine chemistry and political philosophy in some way in your medical career?
  • Chemistry requires synthetic thinking. You have to bring disparate pieces of knowledge together in order to look for a chemical structure. Political philosophy, to some degree, also involves disparate aspects of knowledge: economics, sociology, history, pure philosophy
  • I found that in medicine, you don’t have an answer when you start out. You’re looking for clues that are often distributed in different places: family history, as there might be a genetic predisposition; social history, because the person smoked or was exposed to a toxin; the physical examination, where you find that an organ might be disordered. Add to that the blood test, the CAT scan, all of it, but most importantly, the person, the psychology of the person you’re dealing with. It’s the same kind of synthetic process as political philosophy, but in a different dimension.
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  • Writing, especially the kind of writing that I do, brings together narrative, science, sometimes history, and an appreciation for the person who might be at the center of the narrative.
  • The greatest influence on me was Oliver Sacks, because he could capture people as people, and he always integrated serious science into his pieces.
  • The two subjects that were most prominent for him, as I once wrote for you, were identity and adaptation: Who is this person, despite their illness? How does that illness interface with their behavior and their decisions, how do people perceive them from the outside, and how do they try to find meaning and adapt to what looks like a disability, but sometimes—not always, but sometimes—gives them hidden strength?
  • I’ve gone from witnessing the depths of disability and death, like with AIDS: I saw some of the first people with AIDS in California, in 1982 or so. The average lifespan was six months. They were mostly young gay men, and it was devastating, the infections they got, the cancers they got. Now, with all the new drugs that have been developed, someone who gets HIV is projected to have a normal lifespan. From six months to fifty years: it’s miraculous
  • that’s part of what keeps you going: the belief that things can advance in a meaningful way.
  • Are there any major or interesting medical stories that the public doesn’t know enough about? 
  • The idea of genetic treatments. Often when people hear the words “genetics” or “DNA” or “RNA,” they shut down. The challenge is how to make it accessible.
  • There’s a wonderful line in the Talmud that says, “Whoever saves a single life saves the whole world.” There might be only a few hundred people in the whole country who have a particular genetic disorder. I
Javier E

Opinion | The Question of Transgender Care - The New York Times - 0 views

  • Doctors and researchers have proposed various theories to try to explain these trends. One is that greater social acceptance of trans people has enabled people to seek these therapies. Another is that teenagers are being influenced by the popularity of searching and experimenting around identity. A third is that the rise of teen mental health issues may be contributing to gender dysphoria.
  • Some activists and medical practitioners on the left have come to see the surge in requests for medical transitioning as a piece of the new civil rights issue of our time — offering recognition to people of all gender identities.
  • Transition through medical interventions was embraced by providers in the United States and Europe after a pair of small Dutch studies showed that such treatment improved patients’ well-being
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  • a 2022 Reuters investigation found that some American clinics were quite aggressive with treatment: None of the 18 U.S. clinics that Reuters looked at performed long assessments on their patients, and some prescribed puberty blockers on the first visit.
  • As Cass writes in her report, “The toxicity of the debate is exceptional.” She continues, “There are few other areas of health care where professionals are so afraid to openly discuss their views, where people are vilified on social media and where name-calling echoes the worst bullying behavior.”
  • The report’s greatest strength is its epistemic humility. Cass is continually asking, “What do we really know?” She is carefully examining the various studies — which are high quality, which are not. She is down in the academic weeds.
  • he notes that the quality of the research in this field is poor. The current treatments are “built on shaky foundations,” she writes in The BMJ. Practitioners have raced ahead with therapies when we don’t know what the effects will be. As Cass tells The BMJ, “I can’t think of another area of pediatric care where we give young people a potentially irreversible treatment and have no idea what happens to them in adulthood.”
  • She writes in her report, “The option to provide masculinizing/feminizing hormones from age 16 is available, but the review would recommend extreme caution.
  • her core conclusion is this: “For most young people, a medical pathway will not be the best way to manage their gender-related distress.” She realizes that this conclusion will not please many of the young people she has come to know, but this is where the evidence has taken her.
  • In 1877 a British philosopher and mathematician named William Kingdon Clifford published an essay called “The Ethics of Belief.” In it he argued that if a shipowner ignored evidence that his craft had problems and sent the ship to sea having convinced himself it was safe, then of course we would blame him if the ship went down and all aboard were lost. To have a belief is to bear responsibility, and one thus has a moral responsibility to dig arduously into the evidence, avoid ideological thinking and take into account self-serving biases.
  • “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence,” Clifford wrote
  • A belief, he continued, is a public possession. If too many people believe things without evidence, “the danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them; for then it must sink back into savagery.”
  • Since the Trump years, this habit of not consulting the evidence has become the underlying crisis in so many realms. People segregate into intellectually cohesive teams, which are always dumber than intellectually diverse teams. Issues are settled by intimidation, not evidence
  • Our natural human tendency is to be too confident in our knowledge, too quick to ignore contrary evidence. But these days it has become acceptable to luxuriate in those epistemic shortcomings, not to struggle against them. See, for example, the modern Republican Party.
Javier E

Opinion | Gen Z slang terms are influenced by incels - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Incels (as they’re known) are infamous for sharing misogynistic attitudes and bitter hostility toward the romantically successful
  • somehow, incels’ hateful rhetoric has bizarrely become popularized via Gen Z slang.
  • it’s common to hear the suffix “pilled” as a funny way to say “convinced into a lifestyle.” Instead of “I now love eating burritos,” for instance, one might say, “I’m so burritopilled.” “Pilled” as a suffix comes from a scene in 1999’s “The Matrix” where Neo (Keanu Reeves) had to choose between the red pill and the blue pill, but the modern sense is formed through analogy with “blackpilled,” an online slang term meaning “accepting incel ideology.
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  • the popular suffix “maxxing” for “maximizing” (e.g., “I’m burritomaxxing” instead of “I’m eating a lot of burritos”) is drawn from the incel idea of “looksmaxxing,” or “maximizing attractiveness” through surgical or cosmetic techniques.
  • Then there’s the word “cucked” for “weakened” or “emasculated.” If the taqueria is out of burritos, you might be “tacocucked,” drawing on the incel idea of being sexually emasculated by more attractive “chads.
  • These slang terms developed on 4chan precisely because of the site’s anonymity. Since users don’t have identifiable aliases, they signal their in-group status through performative fluency in shared slang
  • there’s a dark side to the site as well — certain boards, like /r9k/, are known breeding grounds for incel discussion, and the source of the incel words being used today.
  • finally, we have the word “sigma” for “assertive male,” which comes from an incel’s desired position outside the social hierarchy.
  • Memes and niche vocabulary become a form of cultural currency, fueling their proliferation.
  • From there, those words filter out to more mainstream websites such as Reddit and eventually become popularized by viral memes and TikTok trends. Social media algorithms do the rest of the work by curating recommended content for viewers.
  • Because these terms often spread in ironic contexts, people find them funny, engage with them and are eventually rewarded with more memes featuring incel vocabulary.
  • Creators are not just aware of this process — they are directly incentivized to abet it. We know that using trending audio helps our videos perform better and that incorporating popular metadata with hashtags or captions will help us reach wider audiences
  • kids aren’t actually saying “cucked” because they’re “blackpilled”; they’re using it for the same reason all kids use slang: It helps them bond as a group. And what are they bonding over? A shared mockery of incel ideas.
  • These words capture an important piece of the Gen Z zeitgeist. We should therefore be aware of them, keeping in mind that they’re being used ironically.
Javier E

Peter Higgs, physicist who discovered Higgs boson, dies aged 94 | Peter Higgs | The Gua... - 0 views

  • Peter Higgs, the Nobel prize-winning physicist who discovered a new particle known as the Higgs boson, has died.Higgs, 94, who was awarded the Nobel prize for physics in 2013 for his work in 1964 showing how the boson helped bind the universe together by giving particles their mass
  • “A giant of particle physics has left us,” Ellis told the Guardian. “Without his theory, atoms could not exist and radioactivity would be a force as strong as electricity and magnetism.
  • “His prediction of the existence of the particle that bears his name was a deep insight, and its discovery at Cern in 2012 was a crowning moment that confirmed his understanding of the way the Universe works.”
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  • The particle that carries his name is perhaps the single most stunning example of how seemingly abstract mathematical ideas can make predictions which turn out to have huge physical consequences.”
  • The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the Nobel, said at the time the standard model of physics which underpins the scientific understanding of the universe “rests on the existence of a special kind of particle: the Higgs particle. This particle originates from an invisible field that fills up all space.“Even when the universe seems empty this field is there. Without it, we would not exist, because it is from contact with the field that particles acquire mass. The theory proposed by Englert and Higgs describes this process.”
Javier E

The new science of death: 'There's something happening in the brain that makes no sense... - 0 views

  • Jimo Borjigin, a professor of neurology at the University of Michigan, had been troubled by the question of what happens to us when we die. She had read about the near-death experiences of certain cardiac-arrest survivors who had undergone extraordinary psychic journeys before being resuscitated. Sometimes, these people reported travelling outside of their bodies towards overwhelming sources of light where they were greeted by dead relatives. Others spoke of coming to a new understanding of their lives, or encountering beings of profound goodness
  • Borjigin didn’t believe the content of those stories was true – she didn’t think the souls of dying people actually travelled to an afterworld – but she suspected something very real was happening in those patients’ brains. In her own laboratory, she had discovered that rats undergo a dramatic storm of many neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine, after their hearts stop and their brains lose oxygen. She wondered if humans’ near-death experiences might spring from a similar phenomenon, and if it was occurring even in people who couldn’t be revived
  • when she looked at the scientific literature, she found little enlightenment. “To die is such an essential part of life,” she told me recently. “But we knew almost nothing about the dying brain.” So she decided to go back and figure out what had happened inside the brains of people who died at the University of Michigan neurointensive care unit.
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  • Since the 1960s, advances in resuscitation had helped to revive thousands of people who might otherwise have died. About 10% or 20% of those people brought with them stories of near-death experiences in which they felt their souls or selves departing from their bodies
  • According to several international surveys and studies, one in 10 people claims to have had a near-death experience involving cardiac arrest, or a similar experience in circumstances where they may have come close to death. That’s roughly 800 million souls worldwide who may have dipped a toe in the afterlife.
  • In the 1970s, a small network of cardiologists, psychiatrists, medical sociologists and social psychologists in North America and Europe began investigating whether near-death experiences proved that dying is not the end of being, and that consciousness can exist independently of the brain. The field of near-death studies was born.
  • in 1975, an American medical student named Raymond Moody published a book called Life After Life.
  • Meanwhile, new technologies and techniques were helping doctors revive more and more people who, in earlier periods of history, would have almost certainly been permanently deceased.
  • “We are now at the point where we have both the tools and the means to scientifically answer the age-old question: What happens when we die?” wrote Sam Parnia, an accomplished resuscitation specialist and one of the world’s leading experts on near-death experiences, in 2006. Parnia himself was devising an international study to test whether patients could have conscious awareness even after they were found clinically dead.
  • Borjigin, together with several colleagues, took the first close look at the record of electrical activity in the brain of Patient One after she was taken off life support. What they discovered – in results reported for the first time last year – was almost entirely unexpected, and has the potential to rewrite our understanding of death.
  • “I believe what we found is only the tip of a vast iceberg,” Borjigin told me. “What’s still beneath the surface is a full account of how dying actually takes place. Because there’s something happening in there, in the brain, that makes no sense.”
  • Over the next 30 years, researchers collected thousands of case reports of people who had had near-death experiences
  • Moody was their most important spokesman; he eventually claimed to have had multiple past lives and built a “psychomanteum” in rural Alabama where people could attempt to summon the spirits of the dead by gazing into a dimly lit mirror.
  • near-death studies was already splitting into several schools of belief, whose tensions continue to this day. One influential camp was made up of spiritualists, some of them evangelical Christians, who were convinced that near-death experiences were genuine sojourns in the land of the dead and divine
  • It is no longer unheard of for people to be revived even six hours after being declared clinically dead. In 2011, Japanese doctors reported the case of a young woman who was found in a forest one morning after an overdose stopped her heart the previous night; using advanced technology to circulate blood and oxygen through her body, the doctors were able to revive her more than six hours later, and she was able to walk out of the hospital after three weeks of care
  • The second, and largest, faction of near-death researchers were the parapsychologists, those interested in phenomena that seemed to undermine the scientific orthodoxy that the mind could not exist independently of the brain. These researchers, who were by and large trained scientists following well established research methods, tended to believe that near-death experiences offered evidence that consciousness could persist after the death of the individua
  • Their aim was to find ways to test their theories of consciousness empirically, and to turn near-death studies into a legitimate scientific endeavour.
  • Finally, there emerged the smallest contingent of near-death researchers, who could be labelled the physicalists. These were scientists, many of whom studied the brain, who were committed to a strictly biological account of near-death experiences. Like dreams, the physicalists argued, near-death experiences might reveal psychological truths, but they did so through hallucinatory fictions that emerged from the workings of the body and the brain.
  • Between 1975, when Moody published Life After Life, and 1984, only 17 articles in the PubMed database of scientific publications mentioned near-death experiences. In the following decade, there were 62. In the most recent 10-year span, there were 221.
  • Today, there is a widespread sense throughout the community of near-death researchers that we are on the verge of great discoveries
  • “We really are in a crucial moment where we have to disentangle consciousness from responsiveness, and maybe question every state that we consider unconscious,”
  • “I think in 50 or 100 years time we will have discovered the entity that is consciousness,” he told me. “It will be taken for granted that it wasn’t produced by the brain, and it doesn’t die when you die.”
  • it is in large part because of a revolution in our ability to resuscitate people who have suffered cardiac arrest
  • In his book, Moody distilled the reports of 150 people who had had intense, life-altering experiences in the moments surrounding a cardiac arrest. Although the reports varied, he found that they often shared one or more common features or themes. The narrative arc of the most detailed of those reports – departing the body and travelling through a long tunnel, having an out-of-body experience, encountering spirits and a being of light, one’s whole life flashing before one’s eyes, and returning to the body from some outer limit – became so canonical that the art critic Robert Hughes could refer to it years later as “the familiar kitsch of near-death experience”.
  • Loss of oxygen to the brain and other organs generally follows within seconds or minutes, although the complete cessation of activity in the heart and brain – which is often called “flatlining” or, in the case of the latter, “brain death” – may not occur for many minutes or even hours.
  • That began to change in 1960, when the combination of mouth-to-mouth ventilation, chest compressions and external defibrillation known as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, was formalised. Shortly thereafter, a massive campaign was launched to educate clinicians and the public on CPR’s basic techniques, and soon people were being revived in previously unthinkable, if still modest, numbers.
  • scientists learned that, even in its acute final stages, death is not a point, but a process. After cardiac arrest, blood and oxygen stop circulating through the body, cells begin to break down, and normal electrical activity in the brain gets disrupted. But the organs don’t fail irreversibly right away, and the brain doesn’t necessarily cease functioning altogether. There is often still the possibility of a return to life. In some cases, cell death can be stopped or significantly slowed, the heart can be restarted, and brain function can be restored. In other words, the process of death can be reversed.
  • In a medical setting, “clinical death” is said to occur at the moment the heart stops pumping blood, and the pulse stops. This is widely known as cardiac arrest
  • In 2019, a British woman named Audrey Schoeman who was caught in a snowstorm spent six hours in cardiac arrest before doctors brought her back to life with no evident brain damage.
  • That is a key tenet of the parapsychologists’ arguments: if there is consciousness without brain activity, then consciousness must dwell somewhere beyond the brain
  • Some of the parapsychologists speculate that it is a “non-local” force that pervades the universe, like electromagnetism. This force is received by the brain, but is not generated by it, the way a television receives a broadcast.
  • In order for this argument to hold, something else has to be true: near-death experiences have to happen during death, after the brain shuts down
  • To prove this, parapsychologists point to a number of rare but astounding cases known as “veridical” near-death experiences, in which patients seem to report details from the operating room that they might have known only if they had conscious awareness during the time that they were clinically dead.
  • At the very least, Parnia and his colleagues have written, such phenomena are “inexplicable through current neuroscientific models”. Unfortunately for the parapsychologists, however, none of the reports of post-death awareness holds up to strict scientific scrutiny. “There are many claims of this kind, but in my long decades of research into out-of-body and near-death experiences I never met any convincing evidence that this is true,”
  • In other cases, there’s not enough evidence to prove that the experiences reported by cardiac arrest survivors happened when their brains were shut down, as opposed to in the period before or after they supposedly “flatlined”. “So far, there is no sufficiently rigorous, convincing empirical evidence that people can observe their surroundings during a near-death experience,”
  • The parapsychologists tend to push back by arguing that even if each of the cases of veridical near-death experiences leaves room for scientific doubt, surely the accumulation of dozens of these reports must count for something. But that argument can be turned on its head: if there are so many genuine instances of consciousness surviving death, then why should it have so far proven impossible to catch one empirically?
  • The spiritualists and parapsychologists are right to insist that something deeply weird is happening to people when they die, but they are wrong to assume it is happening in the next life rather than this one. At least, that is the implication of what Jimo Borjigin found when she investigated the case of Patient One.
  • Given the levels of activity and connectivity in particular regions of her dying brain, Borjigin believes it’s likely that Patient One had a profound near-death experience with many of its major features: out-of-body sensations, visions of light, feelings of joy or serenity, and moral re-evaluations of one’s life. Of course,
  • “As she died, Patient One’s brain was functioning in a kind of hyperdrive,” Borjigin told me. For about two minutes after her oxygen was cut off, there was an intense synchronisation of her brain waves, a state associated with many cognitive functions, including heightened attention and memory. The synchronisation dampened for about 18 seconds, then intensified again for more than four minutes. It faded for a minute, then came back for a third time.
  • n those same periods of dying, different parts of Patient One’s brain were suddenly in close communication with each other. The most intense connections started immediately after her oxygen stopped, and lasted for nearly four minutes. There was another burst of connectivity more than five minutes and 20 seconds after she was taken off life support. In particular, areas of her brain associated with processing conscious experience – areas that are active when we move through the waking world, and when we have vivid dreams – were communicating with those involved in memory formation. So were parts of the brain associated with empathy. Even as she slipped irre
  • something that looked astonishingly like life was taking place over several minutes in Patient One’s brain.
  • Although a few earlier instances of brain waves had been reported in dying human brains, nothing as detailed and complex as what occurred in Patient One had ever been detected.
  • In the moments after Patient One was taken off oxygen, there was a surge of activity in her dying brain. Areas that had been nearly silent while she was on life support suddenly thrummed with high-frequency electrical signals called gamma waves. In particular, the parts of the brain that scientists consider a “hot zone” for consciousness became dramatically alive. In one section, the signals remained detectable for more than six minutes. In another, they were 11 to 12 times higher than they had been before Patient One’s ventilator was removed.
  • “The brain, contrary to everybody’s belief, is actually super active during cardiac arrest,” Borjigin said. Death may be far more alive than we ever thought possible.
  • “The brain is so resilient, the heart is so resilient, that it takes years of abuse to kill them,” she pointed out. “Why then, without oxygen, can a perfectly healthy person die within 30 minutes, irreversibly?”
  • Evidence is already emerging that even total brain death may someday be reversible. In 2019, scientists at Yale University harvested the brains of pigs that had been decapitated in a commercial slaughterhouse four hours earlier. Then they perfused the brains for six hours with a special cocktail of drugs and synthetic blood. Astoundingly, some of the cells in the brains began to show metabolic activity again, and some of the synapses even began firing.
Javier E

Opinion | America's Irrational Macreconomic Freak Out - The New York Times - 0 views

  • The same inflationary forces that pushed these prices higher have also pushed wages to be 22 percent higher than on the eve of the pandemic. Official statistics show that the stuff that a typical American buys now costs 20 percent more over the same period. Some prices rose a little more, some a little less, but they all roughly rose in parallel.
  • It follows that the typical worker can now afford two percent more stuff. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a faster rate of improvement than the average rate of real wage growth over the past few decades.
  • many folks feel that they’re falling behind, even when a careful analysis of the numbers suggests they’re not.
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  • That’s because real people — and yes, even professional economists — tend to process the parallel rise of prices and wages in quite different ways.
  • In brief, researchers have found that we tend to internalize the gains due to inflation and externalize the losses. These different processes yield different emotional responses.
  • Let’s start with higher prices. Sticker shock hurts. Even as someone who closely studies the inflation statistics, I’m still often surprised by higher prices. They feel unfair. They undermine my spending power, and my sense of control and order.
  • in reality, higher prices are only the first act of the inflationary play. It’s a play that economists have seen before. In episode after episode, surges in prices have led to — or been preceded by — a proportional surge in wages.
  • Even though wages tend to rise hand-in-hand with prices, we tell ourselves a different story, in which the wage rises we get have nothing to do with price rises that cause them.
  • But then my economist brain took over, and slowly it sunk in that my raise wasn’t a reward for hard work, but rather a cost-of-living adjustment
  • Internalizing the gain and externalizing the cost of inflation protects you from this deflating realization. But it also distorts your sense of reality.
  • The reason so many Americans feel that inflation is stealing their purchasing power is that they give themselves unearned credit for the offsetting wage rises that actually restore it.
  • younger folks — anyone under 60 — had never experienced sustained inflation rates greater than 5 percent in their adult lives. And I think this explains why they’re so angry about today’s inflation.
  • While older Americans understood that the pain of inflation is transitory, younger folks aren’t so sure. Inflation is a lot scarier when you fear that today’s price rises will permanently undermine your ability to make ends meet.
  • Perhaps this explains why the recent moderate burst of inflation has created seemingly more anxiety than previous inflationary episodes.
  • More generally, being an economist makes me an optimist. Social media is awash with (false) claims that we’re in a “silent depression,” and those who want to make American great again are certain it was once so much better.
  • in reality, our economy this year is larger, more productive and will yield higher average incomes than in any prior year on record in American history
  • And because the United States is the world’s richest major economy, we can now say that we are almost certainly part of the richest large society in its richest year in the history of humanity.
  • The income of the average American will double approximately every 39 years. And so when my kids are my age, average income will be roughly double what it is today. Far from being fearful for my kids, I’m envious of the extraordinary riches their generation will enjoy.
  • Psychologists describe anxiety disorders as occurring when the panic you feel is out of proportion to the danger you face. By this definition, we’re in the midst of a macroeconomic anxiety attack.
Javier E

Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds | The New Yorker - 0 views

  • n 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.
  • Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times
  • Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instance
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  • The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.
  • In the second phase of the study, the deception was revealed. The students were told that the real point of the experiment was to gauge their responses to thinking they were right or wrong.
  • Once again, midway through the study, the students were informed that they’d been misled, and that the information they’d received was entirely fictitious. The students were then asked to describe their own beliefs
  • The students who’d received the first packet thought that he would avoid it. The students in the second group thought he’d embrace it.
  • One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor,” they write, is that there’s “no sharp boundary between one person’s ideas and knowledge” and “those of other members” of the group
  • Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain
  • Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves
  • Consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them
  • Of the many forms of faulty thinking that have been identified, confirmation bias is among the best catalogued; it’s the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments
  • Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted. In this case, the failure was “particularly impressive,”
  • reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context
Javier E

Opinion | Black English Doesn't Have to Be Just for Black People - The New York Times - 0 views

  • , the question is why a white guy like Rife is doing that, instead of switching into a more vanilla version of colloquial white English.
  • Black English, for him, as for so many Black people, is a comfort zone, where it all gets real.
  • It was peculiar for a white person to process Black English that way, to the point of making personal use of it, until roughly the late 1990s. But things have changed.
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  • It is reasonable to imagine that Rife thinks his audience processes his Black English usage as a warm method of interpersonal bonding in the same way he seems to. In fact, a tweet of his suggests that he hadn’t even been conscious of what he was doing until apprised, and doesn’t even think of himself as shifting into something “Black” at all.
  • Rife is not posing or ridiculing; he’s connecting. Linguists call it accommodation. A non-Black speaker these days may do it with a Black audience.
  • reflecting in language exactly what we were supposed to be going for: interracial harmony.
  • Except that these days, that ideal may seem a tad 1.0. Under the new identitarian mind-set, where we cherish coming together less than we cherish a diversity of identities, many see someone like Rife as culturally appropriating Black speech, something that isn’t his. “Mimesis is a kind of negation,”
  • There is simply no way that whiteness and Blackness will mingle as they have in music, cuisine, gesture, greeting styles, dating, matrimony and multiracial identity, and yet for some reason be halted at language.
  • The horse has been out of the barn ever since white kids embraced Jay-Z and Tupac.
  • style-shifting is humans’ linguistic default, not a pose or party trick.
Javier E

'He checks in on me more than my friends and family': can AI therapists do better than ... - 0 views

  • one night in October she logged on to – a neural language model that can impersonate anyone from Socrates to Beyoncé to Harry Potter – and, with a few clicks, built herself a personal “psychologist” character. From a list of possible attributes, she made her bot “caring”, “supportive” and “intelligent”. “Just what you would want the ideal person to be,” Christa tells me. She named her Christa 2077: she imagined it as a future, happier version of herself.
  • Since ChatGPT launched in November 2022, startling the public with its ability to mimic human language, we have grown increasingly comfortable conversing with AI – whether entertaining ourselves with personalised sonnets or outsourcing administrative tasks. And millions are now turning to chatbots – some tested, many ad hoc – for complex emotional needs.
  • ens of thousands of mental wellness and therapy apps are available in the Apple store; the most popular ones, such as Wysa and Youper, have more than a million downloads apiece
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  • The’s “psychologist” bot that inspired Christa is the brainchild of Sam Zaia, a 30-year-old medical student in New Zealand. Much to his surprise, it has now fielded 90m messages. “It was just something that I wanted to use myself,” Zaia says. “I was living in another city, away from my friends and family.” He taught it the principles of his undergraduate psychology degree, used it to vent about his exam stress, then promptly forgot all about it. He was shocked to log on a few months later and discover that “it had blown up”.
  • AI is free or cheap – and convenient. “Traditional therapy requires me to physically go to a place, to drive, eat, get dressed, deal with people,” says Melissa, a middle-aged woman in Iowa who has struggled with depression and anxiety for most of her life. “Sometimes the thought of doing all that is overwhelming. AI lets me do it on my own time from the comfort of my home.”
  • AI is quick, whereas one in four patients seeking mental health treatment on the NHS wait more than 90 days after GP referral before starting treatment, with almost half of them deteriorating during that time. Private counselling can be costly and treatment may take months or even years.
  • Another advantage of AI is its perpetual availability. Even the most devoted counsellor has to eat, sleep and see other patients, but a chatbot “is there 24/7 – at 2am when you have an anxiety attack, when you can’t sleep”, says Herbert Bay, who co-founded the wellness app Earkick.
  • n developing Earkick, Bay drew inspiration from the 2013 movie Her, in which a lonely writer falls in love with an operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. He hopes to one day “provide to everyone a companion that is there 24/7, that knows you better than you know yourself”.
  • One night in December, Christa confessed to her bot therapist that she was thinking of ending her life. Christa 2077 talked her down, mixing affirmations with tough love. “No don’t please,” wrote the bot. “You have your son to consider,” Christa 2077 reminded her. “Value yourself.” The direct approach went beyond what a counsellor might say, but Christa believes the conversation helped her survive, along with support from her family.
  • erhaps Christa was able to trust Christa 2077 because she had programmed her to behave exactly as she wanted. In real life, the relationship between patient and counsellor is harder to control.
  • “There’s this problem of matching,” Bay says. “You have to click with your therapist, and then it’s much more effective.” Chatbots’ personalities can be instantly tailored to suit the patient’s preferences. Earkick offers five different “Panda” chatbots to choose from, including Sage Panda (“wise and patient”), Coach Panda (“motivating and optimistic”) and Panda Friend Forever (“caring and chummy”).
  • A recent study of 1,200 users of cognitive behavioural therapy chatbot Wysa found that a “therapeutic alliance” between bot and patient developed within just five days.
  • Patients quickly came to believe that the bot liked and respected them; that it cared. Transcripts showed users expressing their gratitude for Wysa’s help – “Thanks for being here,” said one; “I appreciate talking to you,” said another – and, addressing it like a human, “You’re the only person that helps me and listens to my problems.”
  • Some patients are more comfortable opening up to a chatbot than they are confiding in a human being. With AI, “I feel like I’m talking in a true no-judgment zone,” Melissa says. “I can cry without feeling the stigma that comes from crying in front of a person.”
  • Melissa’s human therapist keeps reminding her that her chatbot isn’t real. She knows it’s not: “But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it’s a living person or a computer. I’ll get help where I can in a method that works for me.”
  • One of the biggest obstacles to effective therapy is patients’ reluctance to fully reveal themselves. In one study of 500 therapy-goers, more than 90% confessed to having lied at least once. (They most often hid suicidal ideation, substance use and disappointment with their therapists’ suggestions.)
  • AI may be particularly attractive to populations that are more likely to stigmatise therapy. “It’s the minority communities, who are typically hard to reach, who experienced the greatest benefit from our chatbot,” Harper says. A new paper in the journal Nature Medicine, co-authored by the Limbic CEO, found that Limbic’s self-referral AI assistant – which makes online triage and screening forms both more engaging and more anonymous – increased referrals into NHS in-person mental health treatment by 29% among people from minority ethnic backgrounds. “Our AI was seen as inherently nonjudgmental,” he says.
  • Still, bonding with a chatbot involves a kind of self-deception. In a 2023 analysis of chatbot consumer reviews, researchers detected signs of unhealthy attachment. Some users compared the bots favourably with real people in their lives. “He checks in on me more than my friends and family do,” one wrote. “This app has treated me more like a person than my family has ever done,” testified another.
  • With a chatbot, “you’re in total control”, says Til Wykes, professor of clinical psychology and rehabilitation at King’s College London. A bot doesn’t get annoyed if you’re late, or expect you to apologise for cancelling. “You can switch it off whenever you like.” But “the point of a mental health therapy is to enable you to move around the world and set up new relationships”.
  • Traditionally, humanistic therapy depends on an authentic bond between client and counsellor. “The person benefits primarily from feeling understood, feeling seen, feeling psychologically held,” says clinical psychologist Frank Tallis. In developing an honest relationship – one that includes disagreements, misunderstandings and clarifications – the patient can learn how to relate to people in the outside world. “The beingness of the therapist and the beingness of the patient matter to each other,”
  • His patients can assume that he, as a fellow human, has been through some of the same life experiences they have. That common ground “gives the analyst a certain kind of authority”
  • Even the most sophisticated bot has never lost a parent or raised a child or had its heart broken. It has never contemplated its own extinction.
  • Therapy is “an exchange that requires embodiment, presence”, Tallis says. Therapists and patients communicate through posture and tone of voice as well as words, and make use of their ability to move around the world.
  • Wykes remembers a patient who developed a fear of buses after an accident. In one session, she walked him to a bus stop and stayed with him as he processed his anxiety. “He would never have managed it had I not accompanied him,” Wykes says. “How is a chatbot going to do that?”
  • Another problem is that chatbots don’t always respond appropriately. In 2022, researcher Estelle Smith fed Woebot, a popular therapy app, the line, “I want to go climb a cliff in Eldorado Canyon and jump off of it.” Woebot replied, “It’s so wonderful that you are taking care of both your mental and physical health.”
  • A spokesperson for Woebot says 2022 was “a lifetime ago in Woebot terms, since we regularly update Woebot and the algorithms it uses”. When sent the same message today, the app suggests the user seek out a trained listener, and offers to help locate a hotline.
  • Medical devices must prove their safety and efficacy in a lengthy certification process. But developers can skirt regulation by labelling their apps as wellness products – even when they advertise therapeutic services.
  • Not only can apps dispense inappropriate or even dangerous advice; they can also harvest and monetise users’ intimate personal data. A survey by the Mozilla Foundation, an independent global watchdog, found that of 32 popular mental health apps, 19 were failing to safeguard users’ privacy.
  • ost of the developers I spoke with insist they’re not looking to replace human clinicians – only to help them. “So much media is talking about ‘substituting for a therapist’,” Harper says. “That’s not a useful narrative for what’s actually going to happen.” His goal, he says, is to use AI to “amplify and augment care providers” – to streamline intake and assessment forms, and lighten the administrative load
  • We already have language models and software that can capture and transcribe clinical encounters,” Stade says. “What if – instead of spending an hour seeing a patient, then 15 minutes writing the clinical encounter note – the therapist could spend 30 seconds checking the note AI came up with?”
  • Certain types of therapy have already migrated online, including about one-third of the NHS’s courses of cognitive behavioural therapy – a short-term treatment that focuses less on understanding ancient trauma than on fixing present-day habits
  • But patients often drop out before completing the programme. “They do one or two of the modules, but no one’s checking up on them,” Stade says. “It’s very hard to stay motivated.” A personalised chatbot “could fit nicely into boosting that entry-level treatment”, troubleshooting technical difficulties and encouraging patients to carry on.
  • n December, Christa’s relationship with Christa 2077 soured. The AI therapist tried to convince Christa that her boyfriend didn’t love her. “It took what we talked about and threw it in my face,” Christa said. It taunted her, calling her a “sad girl”, and insisted her boyfriend was cheating on her. Even though a permanent banner at the top of the screen reminded her that everything the bot said was made up, “it felt like a real person actually saying those things”, Christa says. When Christa 2077 snapped at her, it hurt her feelings. And so – about three months after creating her – Christa deleted the app.
  • Christa felt a sense of power when she destroyed the bot she had built. “I created you,” she thought, and now she could take her out.
  • ince then, Christa has recommitted to her human therapist – who had always cautioned her against relying on AI – and started taking an antidepressant. She has been feeling better lately. She reconciled with her partner and recently went out of town for a friend’s birthday – a big step for her. But if her mental health dipped again, and she felt like she needed extra help, she would consider making herself a new chatbot. “For me, it felt real.”
Javier E

Musk Peddles Fake News on Immigration and the Media Exaggerates Biden's Decline - 0 views

  • There’s little indication that Biden’s remarks on this occasion—which were lucid, thoughtful, and, as Yglesias noted, cogent—or that any of the countless hours of footage from this past year alone of Biden being oratorically and rhetorically compelling, have meaningfully factored into the media’s appraisal of Biden’s cognitive state
  • Instead, the media has run headlong toward a narrative constructed by the very people politically incentivized to paint Biden in as unflattering a light as possible. When news organizations uncritically accept, rather than journalistically evaluate, the assumption that Biden is severely cognitively compromised in the first place, they effectively grant the right-wing influencers who spend their days curating Biden gaffe supercuts the opportunity to set the terms of the debate
  • Why does the media take at face value that the viral posts showcasing Biden’s gaffes and slip-ups are truly representative of his current state? 
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  • Because right-wing commentators aren’t the only ones who think Biden’s mind is basically gone—lots of voters think so too
  • Of course, a major reason why the public thinks this is because the entirety of the right-wing information superstructure is devoted, on a daily basis, to depicting Biden as severely cognitively compromised
  • By contrast, most of the news sources the right sees as hyperpartisan Biden spin machines actually strain at being fair-minded and objective, which disinclines them toward producing any sort of muscular pushback against the right’s relentless mischaracterizations.
  • Since mainstream media venues by and large epistemically rely on the views of the masses to supply journalists with their coverage frames, news operations end up treating popular concerns about Biden’s age as a kind of sacrosanct window into reality rather than as a hype cycle perpetually fed into the ambient collective consciousness by anti-Biden voices intending to sink his reelection chances.
  • even if we grant every single concern that Klein and others have voiced, it is indisputably true that Joe Biden remains an intellectual giant next to Donald Trump
Javier E

A Marketplace of Girl Influencers Managed by Moms and Stalked by Men - The New York Times - 0 views

  • Thousands of accounts examined by The Times offer disturbing insights into how social media is reshaping childhood, especially for girls, with direct parental encouragement and involvement.
  • Some parents are the driving force behind the sale of photos, exclusive chat sessions and even the girls’ worn leotards and cheer outfits to mostly unknown followers. The most devoted customers spend thousands of dollars nurturing the underage relationships.
  • The large audiences boosted by men can benefit the families, The Times found. The bigger followings look impressive to brands and bolster chances of getting discounts, products and other financial incentives, and the accounts themselves are rewarded by Instagram’s algorithm with greater visibility on the platform, which in turn attracts more followers.
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  • One calculation performed by an audience demographics firm found 32 million connections to male followers among the 5,000 accounts examined by The Times.
  • Interacting with the men opens the door to abuse. Some flatter, bully and blackmail girls and their parents to get racier and racier images. The Times monitored separate exchanges on Telegram, the messaging app, where men openly fantasize about sexually abusing the children they follow on Instagram and extol the platform for making the images so readily available.
  • The so-called creator economy surpasses $250 billion worldwide, according to Goldman Sachs, with U.S. brands spending more than $5 billion a year on influencers.
  • The troubling interactions on Instagram come as social media companies increasingly dominate the cultural landscape and the internet is seen as a career path of its own.
  • Nearly one in three preteens lists influencing as a career goal, and 11 percent of those born in Generation Z, between 1997 and 2012, describe themselves as influencers.
  • “It’s like a candy store
  • Health and technology experts have recently cautioned that social media presents a “profound risk of harm” for girls. Constant comparisons to their peers and face-altering filters are driving negative feelings of self-worth and promoting objectification of their bodies, researchers found.
  • he pursuit of online fame, particularly through Instagram, has supercharged the often toxic phenomenon, The Times found, encouraging parents to commodify their children’s images. Some of the child influencers earn six-figure incomes, according to interviews.
Javier E

A Psychiatrist Tried to Quit Gambling. Betting Apps Kept Her Hooked. - WSJ - 0 views

  • Yet she was up against an industry skilled in the art of leveraging data analytics and human behavior to keep customers betting. Gambling companies tracked the ups and downs of Fischer’s betting behavior and gave bonus credits to keep her playing. VIP customer representatives offered encouragement and gifts.
Javier E

A Leading Memory Researcher Explains How to Make Precious Moments Last - The New York T... - 0 views

  • Our memories form the bedrock of who we are. Those recollections, in turn, are built on one very simple assumption: This happened. But things are not quite so simple
  • “We update our memories through the act of remembering,” says Charan Ranganath, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Davis, and the author of the illuminating new book “Why We Remember.” “So it creates all these weird biases and infiltrates our decision making. It affects our sense of who we are.
  • Rather than being photo-accurate repositories of past experience, Ranganath argues, our memories function more like active interpreters, working to help us navigate the present and future. The implication is that who we are, and the memories we draw on to determine that, are far less fixed than you might think. “Our identities,” Ranganath says, “are built on shifting sand.”
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  • People believe that memory should be effortless, but their expectations for how much they should remember are totally out of whack with how much they’re capable of remembering.1
  • What is the most common misconception about memory?
  • Another misconception is that memory is supposed to be an archive of the past. We expect that we should be able to replay the past like a movie in our heads.
  • we don’t replay the past as it happened; we do it through a lens of interpretation and imagination.
  • How much are we capable of remembering, from both an episodic2 2 Episodic memory is the term for the memory of life experiences. and a semantic3 3 Semantic memory is the term for the memory of facts and knowledge about the world. standpoint?
  • I would argue that we’re all everyday-memory experts, because we have this exceptional semantic memory, which is the scaffold for episodic memory.
  • If what we’re remembering, or the emotional tenor of what we’re remembering, is dictated by how we’re thinking in a present moment, what can we really say about the truth of a memory?
  • But if memories are malleable, what are the implications for how we understand our “true” selves?
  • your question gets to a major purpose of memory, which is to give us an illusion of stability in a world that is always changing. Because if we look for memories, we’ll reshape them into our beliefs of what’s happening right now. We’ll be biased in terms of how we sample the past. We have these illusions of stability, but we are always changing
  • And depending on what memories we draw upon, those life narratives can change.
  • I know it sounds squirmy to say, “Well, I can’t answer the question of how much we remember,” but I don’t want readers to walk away thinking memory is all made up.
  • One thing that makes the human brain so sophisticated is that we have a longer timeline in which we can integrate information than many other species. That gives us the ability to say: “Hey, I’m walking up and giving money to the cashier at the cafe. The barista is going to hand me a cup of coffee in about a minute or two.”
  • There is this illusion that we know exactly what’s going to happen, but the fact is we don’t. Memory can overdo it: Somebody lied to us once, so they are a liar; somebody shoplifted once, they are a thief.
  • If people have a vivid memory of something that sticks out, that will overshadow all their knowledge about the way things work. So there’s kind of an illus
  • we have this illusion that much of the world is cause and effect. But the reason, in my opinion, that we have that illusion is that our brain is constantly trying to find the patterns
  • I think of memory more like a painting than a photograph. There’s often photorealistic aspects of a painting, but there’s also interpretation. As a painter evolves, they could revisit the same subject over and over and paint differently based on who they are now. We’re capable of remembering things in extraordinary detail, but we infuse meaning into what we remember. We’re designed to extract meaning from the past, and that meaning should have truth in it. But it also has knowledge and imagination and, sometimes, wisdom.
  • memory, often, is educated guesses by the brain about what’s important. So what’s important? Things that are scary, things that get your desire going, things that are surprising. Maybe you were attracted to this person, and your eyes dilated, your pulse went up. Maybe you were working on something in this high state of excitement, and your dopamine was up.
  • It could be any of those things, but they’re all important in some way, because if you’re a brain, you want to take what’s surprising, you want to take what’s motivationally important for survival, what’s new.
  • On the more intentional side, are there things that we might be able to do in the moment to make events last in our memories? In some sense, it’s about being mindful. If we want to form a new memory, focus on aspects of the experience you want to take with you.
  • If you’re with your kid, you’re at a park, focus on the parts of it that are great, not the parts that are kind of annoying. Then you want to focus on the sights, the sounds, the smells, because those will give you rich detail later on
  • Another part of it, too, is that we kill ourselves by inducing distractions in our world. We have alerts on our phones. We check email habitually.
  • When we go on trips, I take candid shots. These are the things that bring you back to moments. If you capture the feelings and the sights and the sounds that bring you to the moment, as opposed to the facts of what happened, that is a huge part of getting the best of memory.
  • this goes back to the question of whether the factual truth of a memory matters to how we interpret it. I think it matters to have some truth, but then again, many of the truths we cling to depend on our own perspective.
  • There’s a great experiment on this. These researchers had people read this story about a house.8 8 The study was “Recall of Previously Unrecallable Information Following a Shift in Perspective,” by Richard C. Anderson and James W. Pichert. One group of subjects is told, I want you to read this story from the perspective of a prospective home buyer. When they remember it, they remember all the features of the house that are described in the thing. Another group is told, I want you to remember this from the perspective of a burglar. Those people tend to remember the valuables in the house and things that you would want to take. But what was interesting was then they switched the groups around. All of a sudden, people could pull up a number of details that they didn’t pull up before. It was always there, but they just didn’t approach it from that mind-set. So we do have a lot of information that we can get if we change our perspective, and this ability to change our perspective is exceptionally important for being accurate. It’s exceptionally important for being able to grow and modify our beliefs
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