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Daily Archives: February 17, 2022

Charts: U.S. Housing Starts MoM Down But Permits Rose in January 2022

Building permits at highest level since May 2006

Source : Bloomberg

Music Video: Hello, Goodbye

Are Cluttered Minds More Creative?

Christopher Bergland wrote . . . . . . . . .

If Marie Kondo could peek inside your brain and take inventory of your memory banks, would she find it chockablock with clutter? If you’re an older adult, odds are that Kondo would find cluttered memoryscapes based on a lifetime of enriched experiences.

Much like there’s “life-changing magic” in tidying up our homes, decluttering our minds and organizing semantic memory structures has perks. But how can we “tidy up” cluttered memoryscapes? Does having lots of disorganized clutter in our minds make us more scatterbrained or more creative?

This post attempts to answer these questions based on fresh insights from two papers published in February 2022 that address how the brain organizes semantic memories based on accumulated real-life knowledge. (Note: From a metacognitive perspective, the creative process of comparing this scientific literature is a real-time example of an older adult with a cluttered mind trying to organize my thinking and connect the dots between two seemingly unrelated research papers in a new, and hopefully, useful way.)

Brain Clutter Makes It Harder to Recall Details but May Also Promote Creativity

Accumulating massive amounts of semantic, real-life knowledge across a lifespan has many upsides and a few downsides, especially regarding forgetfulness associated with age-related cognitive decline.

A recent Trends in Cognitive Sciences review (Amer, Wynn, & Hasher, 2022) of numerous studies found that cluttered memory representations can make certain types of cognition related to recalling targeted information more difficult. On the flip side, brain clutter may also enhance creative potential.

After analyzing a variety of neuroimaging and behavioral studies, the trio of researchers from Columbia University, Harvard University, and the University of Toronto found that older adults with cluttered memory representations might have difficulty suppressing information that’s no longer relevant while trying to remember a specific episodic memory.

Age-related declines in attentional control often make it harder to stay laser-focused on retrieving a specific episodic memory, especially when Irrelevant information gets jumbled up with the targeted information someone’s trying to recall. Brain clutter can make it difficult for older adults to remember precisely when and where something happened in these circumstances.

If someone has a zillion semantic memories, retrieval of targeted information from a specific time and place can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. But the upside of having a sea of knowledge filled with seemingly irrelevant information that bubbles up into someone’s consciousness along with targeted details is that random, hodgepodge associations can cultivate creative thinking.

As Tarek Amer, Jordana Wynn, and Lynn Hasher explain, “Cluttered representations can impair memory by interfering with the retrieval of target information, but can also provide an advantage on tasks that benefit from extensive knowledge.” Memory-dependent cognitive functions related to the creative process may benefit from cluttered memory representations.

Do Less Segregated Neural Networks Keep Cluttered Brains Tidy?

Returning to the Marie Kondo metaphor of “tidying up” our cluttered brains, another recent study by neuroscientists in France found that whole-brain functional connectivity and less-segregated neural networks were associated with semantic memory structures that predicted real-life creativity. This fMRI-based research suggests that fluid whole-brain connectivity supports creative thinking. These findings (Ovando-Tellez et al., 2022) were published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.

Taken together, both of these papers affirm Sarnoff Mednick’s 1962 hypothesis that there’s an associative basis to the creative process. Sixty years ago, he described creative thinking as “the forming of associative elements into new combinations which either meet specific requirements or are in some way useful.”

Through the lens of Amer, Wynn, and Hasher’s research into how cluttered memory representations shape cognition, it seems that older adults’ creativity benefits from random associations made when retrieving seemingly irrelevant information—if they can connect the dots in new and useful ways.

Additionally, the latest (2022) findings from Marcela Ovando-Tellez et al. suggest that people who are highly creative benefit from having less modular (i.e., less segregated) neural networks because they’re able to access seemingly irrelevant information from distant corners of their minds and reorganize it in ways that lead to creative solutions.

Source : Psychology Today

Infographic: The World’s Major Religions

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Visual Capitalist

Dystopia Disguised as Democracy: All the Ways in Which Freedom Is an Illusion

John W. Whitehead & Nisha Whitehead wrote . . . . . . . . .

“The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.”—Frank Zappa

We are no longer free.

We are living in a world carefully crafted to resemble a representative democracy, but it’s an illusion.

We think we have the freedom to elect our leaders, but we’re only allowed to participate in the reassurance ritual of voting. There can be no true electoral choice or real representation when we’re limited in our options to one of two candidates culled from two parties that both march in lockstep with the Deep State and answer to an oligarchic elite.

We think we have freedom of speech, but we’re only as free to speak as the government and its corporate partners allow.

We think we have the right to freely exercise our religious beliefs, but those rights are quickly overruled if and when they conflict with the government’s priorities, whether it’s COVID-19 mandates or societal values about gender equality, sex and marriage.

We think we have the freedom to go where we want and move about freely, but at every turn, we’re hemmed in by laws, fines and penalties that regulate and restrict our autonomy, and surveillance cameras that monitor our movements. Punitive programs strip citizens of their passports and right to travel over unpaid taxes.

We think we have property interests in our homes and our bodies, but there can be no such freedom when the government can seize your property, raid your home, and dictate what you do with your bodies.

We think we have the freedom to defend ourselves against outside threats, but there is no right to self-defense against militarized police who are authorized to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, and granted immunity from accountability with the general blessing of the courts. Certainly, there can be no right to gun ownership in the face of red flag gun laws which allow the police to remove guns from people merely suspected of being threats.

We think we have the right to an assumption of innocence until we are proven guilty, but that burden of proof has been turned on its head by a surveillance state that renders us all suspects and overcriminalization which renders us all lawbreakers. Police-run facial recognition software that mistakenly labels law-abiding citizens as criminals. A social credit system (similar to China’s) that rewards behavior deemed “acceptable” and punishes behavior the government and its corporate allies find offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

We think we have the right to due process, but that assurance of justice has been stripped of its power by a judicial system hardwired to act as judge, jury and jailer, leaving us with little recourse for appeal. A perfect example of this rush to judgment can be found in the proliferation of profit-driven speed and red light cameras that do little for safety while padding the pockets of government agencies.

We have been saddled with a government that pays lip service to the nation’s freedom principles while working overtime to shred the Constitution.

By gradually whittling away at our freedoms—free speech, assembly, due process, privacy, etc.—the government has, in effect, liberated itself from its contractual agreement to respect the constitutional rights of the citizenry while resetting the calendar back to a time when we had no Bill of Rights to protect us from the long arm of the government.

Aided and abetted by the legislatures, the courts and Corporate America, the government has been busily rewriting the contract (a.k.a. the Constitution) that establishes the citizenry as the masters and agents of the government as the servants.

We are now only as good as we are useful, and our usefulness is calculated on an economic scale by how much we are worth—in terms of profit and resale value—to our “owners.”

Under the new terms of this revised, one-sided agreement, the government and its many operatives have all the privileges and rights and “we the people” have none.

Only in our case, sold on the idea that safety, security and material comforts are preferable to freedom, we’ve allowed the government to pave over the Constitution in order to erect a concentration camp.

The problem with these devil’s bargains, however, is that there is always a catch, always a price to pay for whatever it is we valued so highly as to barter away our most precious possessions.

We’ve bartered away our right to self-governance, self-defense, privacy, autonomy and that most important right of all: the right to tell the government to “leave me the hell alone.” In exchange for the promise of safe streets, safe schools, blight-free neighborhoods, lower taxes, lower crime rates, and readily accessible technology, health care, water, food and power, we’ve opened the door to militarized police, government surveillance, asset forfeiture, school zero tolerance policies, license plate readers, red light cameras, SWAT team raids, health care mandates, overcriminalization and government corruption.

In the end, such bargains always turn sour.

We asked our lawmakers to be tough on crime, and we’ve been saddled with an abundance of laws that criminalize almost every aspect of our lives. So far, we’re up to 4500 criminal laws and 300,000 criminal regulations that result in average Americans unknowingly engaging in criminal acts at least three times a day. For instance, the family of an 11-year-old girl was issued a $535 fine for violating the Federal Migratory Bird Act after the young girl rescued a baby woodpecker from predatory cats.

We wanted criminals taken off the streets, and we didn’t want to have to pay for their incarceration. What we’ve gotten is a nation that boasts the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more than 2.3 million people locked up, many of them doing time for relatively minor, nonviolent crimes, and a private prison industry fueling the drive for more inmates, who are forced to provide corporations with cheap labor.

We wanted law enforcement agencies to have the necessary resources to fight the nation’s wars on terror, crime and drugs. What we got instead were militarized police decked out with M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers, battle tanks and hollow point bullets—gear designed for the battlefield, more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year (many for routine police tasks, resulting in losses of life and property), and profit-driven schemes that add to the government’s largesse such as asset forfeiture, where police seize property from “suspected criminals.”

We fell for the government’s promise of safer roads, only to find ourselves caught in a tangle of profit-driven red-light cameras, which ticket unsuspecting drivers in the so-called name of road safety while ostensibly fattening the coffers of local and state governments. Despite widespread public opposition, corruption and systemic malfunctions, these cameras are particularly popular with municipalities, which look to them as an easy means of extra cash. Building on the profit-incentive schemes, the cameras’ manufacturers are also pushing speed cameras and school bus cameras, both of which result in hefty fines for violators who speed or try to go around school buses.

We’re being subjected to the oldest con game in the books, the magician’s sleight of hand that keeps you focused on the shell game in front of you while your wallet is being picked clean by ruffians in your midst.

This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

With every new law enacted by federal and state legislatures, every new ruling handed down by government courts, and every new military weapon, invasive tactic and egregious protocol employed by government agents, “we the people” are being reminded that we possess no rights except for that which the government grants on an as-needed basis.

Indeed, there are chilling parallels between the authoritarian prison that is life in the American police state and The Prisoner, a dystopian television series that first broadcast in Great Britain more than 50 years ago.

The series centers around a British secret agent (played by Patrick McGoohan) who finds himself imprisoned, monitored by militarized drones, and interrogated in a mysterious, self-contained, cosmopolitan, seemingly idyllic retirement community known only as The Village. While luxurious and resort-like, the Village is a virtual prison disguised as a seaside paradise: its inhabitants have no true freedom, they cannot leave the Village, they are under constant surveillance, their movements are tracked by surveillance drones, and they are stripped of their individuality and identified only by numbers.

Much like the American Police State, The Prisoner’s Village gives the illusion of freedom while functioning all the while like a prison: controlled, watchful, inflexible, punitive, deadly and inescapable.

Described as “an allegory of the individual, aiming to find peace and freedom in a dystopia masquerading as a utopia,” The Prisoner is a chilling lesson about how difficult it is to gain one’s freedom in a society in which prison walls are disguised within the trappings of technological and scientific progress, national security and so-called democracy.

Perhaps the best visual debate ever on individuality and freedom, The Prisoner confronted societal themes that are still relevant today: the rise of a police state, the freedom of the individual, round-the-clock surveillance, the corruption of government, totalitarianism, weaponization, group think, mass marketing, and the tendency of mankind to meekly accept his lot in life as a prisoner in a prison of his own making.

The Prisoner is an operations manual for how you condition a populace to life as prisoners in a police state: by brainwashing them into believing they are free so that they will march in lockstep with the state and be incapable of recognizing the prison walls that surround them.

We can no longer maintain the illusion of freedom.

Source : The Rutherford Institute

Feel Dizzy When You Stand Up? Two Simple Steps Might Ease That

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . . . .

Almost everyone has had a dizzy spell after standing up too quickly, but some people suffer them regularly. Now, a new study suggests two do-it-yourself ways to help.

The study focused on what’s called initial orthostatic hypotension (IOH), where a person’s blood pressure drops sharply within 30 seconds of standing up from sitting or lying down.

The problem is short-lived, and the body rights itself within about a minute. But the symptoms — including dizziness, blurred vision and nausea — can be troubling and sometimes lead to falls.

In the new study, researchers tested two simple maneuvers for thwarting those symptoms: activating the lower-body muscles right before or right after standing.

It turned out that both approaches helped, at least for the 22 young women in the study. Doing either one limited the women’s blood pressure drops when they stood up from sitting.

But more importantly, their symptoms were eased, said senior researcher Dr. Satish Raj, a professor of cardiac sciences at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.

“We showed that people feel better, which is what they care about,” Raj said.

The general term orthostatic hypotension (OH) refers to a decline in blood pressure after a person stands up. But there are different forms of OH, including IOH, Raj explained.

In IOH, the blood pressure drop is particularly dramatic — at least 40 mm Hg in systolic pressure — and it strikes within 15 to 30 seconds of standing up. It also resolves quickly thereafter.

“Classical” OH has a somewhat slower onset, within about 3 minutes, and the blood pressure reduction is more sustained. It’s common among elderly people, especially when they have health conditions like diabetes or heart disease.

With IOH, Raj said, “we see it a lot in younger people, and fundamentally healthy people.”

Whenever a person stands from sitting, there is some shift of blood flow toward the belly and legs. It’s thought that IOH involves a rapid and excessive dilation of blood vessels in the lower body, which results in a temporary reduction of blood flow to the brain. Soon thereafter, symptoms like light-headedness and seeing spots surface.

The two counter-maneuvers Raj and his colleagues tested are similar but different. One involves “pre-activation” of the thigh muscles: While still seated, the person raises the knees, one at a time, toward the trunk — similar to a march. That’s done for 30 seconds before standing up.

The other maneuver is done for 30 seconds right after standing. It involves crossing one leg in front of the other and tensing the lower-body muscles.

For the study, all 22 women were observed under three sit-to-stand conditions: In one, they sat for 10 minutes then simply stood up; in the other two, they sat for the same amount of time but performed one of the counter-maneuvers.

On average, Raj’s team found, both tactics lessened the women’s blood pressure drops after standing, and that translated into fewer symptoms.

The research suggests that the pre-activation maneuver helps by boosting a person’s cardiac output, or the amount of blood the heart pumps into the circulatory system per minute. The tensing tactic, meanwhile, seems to work by compressing the lower-body muscles and encouraging blood flow back to the heart.

While both maneuvers worked, Raj said he is partial to the muscle pre-activation strategy, since it’s done before standing.

“The challenge is, you have to remember to do it before you get up,” he noted. But if memory fails, Raj added, there’s always the muscle-tensing strategy for backup.

The study participants were all assessed for signs that they truly had IOH — including a history of symptoms that struck soon after standing then resolved within a minute.

For people like them, these simple counter-maneuvers are worth a shot and may do the trick, according to experts who were not involved in the research.

“I like this approach,” said Dr. Stephen Juraschek, who studies blood pressure disorders at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston.

He did have some cautions — including the fact that this was a small study of young women only.

“I’d like to see a larger study of a more diverse group, including older adults,” Juraschek said.

He noted that some older folks might find the maneuvers difficult, even the seated knee raises. And in general, Juraschek said, it’s wise for older adults with dizziness problems to take additional steps to prevent falls — like making sure rugs are secure and having grab bars in “critical places” in the home.

Dr. Sei Iwai, a professor at New York Medical College, in Valhalla, N.Y., made similar points.

“IOH is thought to be due to normal physiology, and in itself is not dangerous,” Iwai said.

However, he added, when IOH does strike an older adult there are extra concerns, since they may be frail and/or be taking medications that worsen the blood pressure drop — which may increase their risk of falling and getting hurt.

Iwai said that people with milder IOH symptoms could try self-managing with these maneuvers. But, he added, if the symptoms are frequent or severe, it’s “prudent” to see a health care professional rather than self-diagnosing.

The findings were published in the journal Heart Rhythm.

Source: HealthDay