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Saturday, May 29, 2021

Research on What Makes Us Happy

Why are some of us happier than others? Well, of course, some people have more reasons to be happy than others. Many  people find that the vicissitudes of aging diminish their happiness.  Others may experience tragedies. Still others are unhappy with no particularly good reason.

Some people are by their nature more likely to be happy under the same conditions that make others unhappy. Personality traits and social environments that affect happiness have been identified. The 2020 Age Well Study findings (released January 2021) specifically focus on the happiness and life satisfaction of residents in Life Plan Communities. The analysis reinforces the effects of happiness on multiple areas of health, underlining the importance of strengthening optimism, resilience, and feelings of community.

Retirement communities such as this have proliferated in recent years. They offer new alternatives for the elderly to experience their later years, as opposed to living alone or in the homes of relatives, such as their children. This kind of community living can contribute to greater happiness as one ages.

The Age Well Study examined survey responses from more than 4,100 residents in 122 Life Plan Communities across the United States. Life Plan Communities are age-restricted, amenity-rich retirement village communities that invite people to live on their own terms, enjoying a host of amenities, services, and opportunities, as well as the added benefit of access to on-site health care services.

These results are from the five-year study being conducted by Mather Institute and Northwestern University. The Institute is the research area of Mather, an 80-year-old not-for-profit organization that operates senior living residences and provides other aging services. Staffed by researchers, the Institute is an award-winning resource for research and information about wellness, aging, trends in senior living, and successful industry innovations.

Results of the study reveal the following:

Life Plan Community residents’ average happiness and life satisfaction scores are near the top of the range. Approximately 92% of respondents in Life Plan Communities were highly satisfied with the place where they live.

People are happier and more satisfied when they have a greater sense of community belonging.

The personality traits of extroversion, openness to new experiences, and agreeableness were both associated with greater happiness and life satisfaction.

A Local Example of Aging Well

In one typical Mather community in Tucson, Arizona, Splendido, people over age 55 enjoy a host of services, programs, and amenities, including:

Variety of homes, including Terrace and Villa Homes with one, two, and three bedrooms, some with dens

Fitness center and day spa including indoor and outdoor saline swimming pools

Inspiring social and cultural opportunities such as featured lecturers, live music, and resident-led interest groups

Full-service lifestyle with various culinary package options, housekeeping, and concierge services

One finding from the Age Well Study was that people who are satisfied with their daily life and leisure activities report higher levels of happiness. Living in a community like Splendido makes it easy to pursue lifelong interests and explore new ones.

“Research provided by Mather Institute contributes to some of our resident programming selections, and of course we rely on the knowledge and experience of our staff on-site,” says Joan Mayer, Splendido’s Director of Repriorment Services. “From fitness classes to a resident-led lecture series and more, we create a schedule packed with opportunities to suit residents’ eclectic tastes and interests.”

During the pandemic, many programs have been offered virtually, making use of Splendido’s in-house television channel. Among these are fitness classes that can be done at home, lectures, entertainment, and even some classes from the Splendido Intellectual Pursuits Program, or SIPP. Planned, managed, and often taught by Splendido residents, SIPP offers two “semesters” of lectures each year, each including a variety of high-level classes led by experts on topics from astrophysics to Impressionism, billiards to brain health.

Retirement villages have been around for years, but their popularity may be growing. This is an alternative lifestyle that many elderly are finding to be attractive.



Disclaimer: the author has no vested interest in any retirement village.





Friday, May 21, 2021

How the Brain Determines Its Thinking

When I was a college sophomore at the University of Tennessee, I decided to spend the summer with my fraternity buddy, Sam Harris, whose family had moved to Hollywood. I met the girl friend, Irene, of his girlfriend, and the four of us spent many date nights that quickly spawned love among us. Sam married his girl, but being a college student living in another state 2200 miles away made it too difficult to nurture my love relationship. On one date night, Irene said to me with some consternation, "You are always thinking. Why is that?" Well, I don't know why that is, but it is true. Surely, I am in the habit about thinking of all sorts of thinking.

One of the things I have been thinking about lately is how the human brain decides what it thinks about. Not all thoughts are chosen. Some are imposed from the outside, as for example, with thoughts being triggered by sensory input, spurious surfacing of memories, or thoughts triggered by something we read or heard from somebody else. There is also the fact that many, perhaps most, of our "thoughts" are unconscious.

Converting Unconscious Thought to Conscious Awareness

Unconscious thought is basically the consequence of neural processing of which we are unaware. The brain processes a great deal of information unconsciously, such as control over our viscera, our habits, our prejudices, our feelings, and so on. These processes surely influence our conscious thought and behavior in ways we do not consciously realize.

Conscious realization and thought involve at least two basic steps: 1) some kind of neural tagging to select which unconscious sensory or cognitive processes to make available for conscious processing, and 2) the process of conscious realization itself. Electrophysiological research reveals that these two processes are separated in time, and thus they may reflect two different processes. For my purposes here, I wish to focus on the tagging process that the brain might use to identify the various local circuit neural activity to make available for conscious awareness.

The brain is a global workspace of interacting modules. Processing is often parceled out to certain circuits. For example, bodily sensations are routed to the sensory cortex. Precise movements are handled by the motor cortex. Sound and vision have separate processing circuitry. There is a face-recognition area in the parietal cortex. There are executive controls handled by specific areas of neocortex. Religious thoughts are handled in different cortical areas depending on the nature of religious thought. And so on.

Brains are wired to constantly surveil sensations in need of conscious detection and interpretation, ideas to be understood, feelings to be accommodated, memories to be retrieved, problems to solve, and plans for future actions. The point is that the brain not only has some sort of mechanism for routing processing needs to specific cortical modules but also must have some way to scan its workspace to tag those modules that would benefit from conscious access. Of course, tagging is not necessary for situations where a stimulus so pronounced that it demands attention. For example, a sudden unexpected thunder clap is so pronounced that it triggers conscious attending by its own characteristics. But for routine thinking, whether mind wandering or intentional control over a sequence of thoughts, the brain must have some way to tag which modules need conscious access and in which sequence.

The basic idea is that the brain has a default mechanism for scanning its unconscious operations for momentarily novel or relevant information in widely distributed local networks that are specialized for certain kinds of thought. Such scanning could enable attentional focus, leading in turn to linking of diverse local networks through temporal coherence within and among local circuits, especially in high-frequency bands, that improves signal-to-noise ratio and sharing of information by those local networks.

Scanning via non-living systems. as in radar, commonly involves detecting reflection from targets that have been scanned by beams of light or sound. Cognitive scanning obviously cannot work that way, but an analogous mechanism would involve recursively re-entrant feedback between neural signals that are scanning the moment-to-moment neural activity in the local circuits of the global workspace. Re-entrant interactions can alter the timing and phase relationships within and among the various local circuits, which effectively tag those circuits that have sufficiently novel or relevant information that warrants conscious access.

If we knew how the brain achieves such scanning and tagging, it might help us develop training methods to make our conscious analysis more rigorous and effective. I am developing a scholarly paper for publication that suggests some possible mechanisms and ways to test them. We will have to see how those ideas evolve.




Monday, May 10, 2021

Why We All Need to Develop Our Talents

 Learning and memory are the mechanisms by which we grow in personal competence. The issue for all of us is our willingness to invest in our personal development. To what extent are we willing to let others take care of us? In political terms, there is the option of depending on a socialist or commuist government to do for us what we could be doing for ourselves.

Some socialists or Communists today argue that Jesus Christ would have also been Communist if that political option were available in his time. Yet Jesus gave a most powerful endorsement of capitalism in his famous parable of the talents expressed in the book of Matthew (25:14-30). Modern readers have typically extended this passage to refer to personal abilities. However, in the time of Jesus, the word "talents" actually referred to a lot of money, with a single talent worth about 20 years of a laborer's work. It can be more useful for us to think of the word as meaning resources, property, or personal assets, which of course includes money.

The parable describes an apparently wealthy man about to take a trip who needed to leave his money in the care of his workers. He gave different amounts to each worker with instructions to conserve and make the most of the resource while he was away. While away, the worker who got five talents invested it in commercial trade and made five extra talents, as did the worker receiving two talents, who earned two more talents. The worker who got one talent buried feared losing it, so he buried his talent for safekeeping. Upon his return, the owner praised those who increased the wealth, but to the worker who did not put the money to work, he said: "You wicked and slothful servant! ... you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest." The owner took the slothful worker's one talent and gave it to the worker who had earned more talents. Note: ancient Jews learned and adopted banking and capitalism during their capture by the Babylonian inventors.

As in much of scripture, the reason for moral edicts is not always explained. Maybe Jesus never gave an original explanation, and if so, it likely was to make us think about the parable's implications. Some people object that Jesus is portrayed in the parable as a greedy capitalist. Yet the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, puts things in complete perspective when he urges us to "make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can."

The main obvious generalization of the talents parable is the admonition to make the most of what we have got, whether it be resources, property, money, or personal abilities. Here, I would like to focus on why we need to develop our personal capabilities, which of course are a basic resource that affects our capacity to make, save, and give all you can.

An increasing number of people in today's world, Worldwide, and even now in the U.S., dismiss the need for developing the non-monetary sense of the word "talent." Why work to develop yourself, it you can get somebody else, like the government, to meet your needs and those of others? If fact, you can take a perverse sense of moral superiority in spurning the striving and stress of self-improvement that lesser beings seem compelled to pursue. You can look down on such people as greedy "supremacists" who gain their resources at the expense of the innocent.

In education circles, teachers need to explain in depth why young people need to increase their talents. However, the emphasis is on passing tests that educators think will help youngsters compete in a capitalist society. But you can avoid all that if you form a socialist society, which we are engaged in doing by ensuring welfare without a work requirement, doling out all sorts of government "freebies," and working to produce a guaranteed annual income. No wonder that academia is a home of socialism. The emerging political zeitgeist is to encourage people to depend on the government. That, of course, means they will vote for the politicians who ensure government support.

Without the need to grow your talents, you are not likely to do it. I remember vividly a middle-school classroom visit, where the teacher was chastised a Black student for not doing his homework, whereupon he replied, "I don't need to learn this stuff. Somebody will always take care of me." Is this what we really want to teach our children? It apparently is what a lot of them are learning.

Five Compelling Reasons 

Gain Self-reliance and Independence

If you have developed your talents, they can be used to help you become more self-reliant and less dependent on the good will and resources of others. The ability to take care of yourself is no small thing. Ask any child.

Feel Better about Ourselves

Losers in life have a hard time trying to feel good. That is why they so often seek out drugs and other kinds of pleasures. What they seek most is to feel good about themselves and to have the status of others respecting them. They may be tempted to cheat and steal to gain the resources that can bring such status or throw riotous tantrums to protest their failures. However, if you develop your talents, you not only have acquired capabilities that will help you gain more resources, you have the positive reinforcement of knowing that you are an achiever, one who can take some pride in who have become.

Provide Goods and Services that Can Help Others

Obviously, if you have abilities and resources, you are more valuable to others. You are more able to help others in their earthly struggles. In turn, you position yourself to merit exchange of goods and services from them that will benefit you.

Get Ahead in This World

When you have many talents, you have many ways to offer goods and services that are valued by others. They benefit from what you have to offer, and are willing to pay you in assorted ways. Trade and exchange are the lifeblood of the capitalism that circulates prosperity amongst those who are equipped with appropriate talent and resources. People of high socio-economic standing will open doors for you that you could never open on your own. Even in a Communist country like China, leaders have discovered the benefits of moving peasants out of the rice fields and into a factory where they are trained to make such things as computers and electric cars. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of destitution, and China is poised to dominate the world. China is more fascist than socialist.

Set the Stage for Still More Personal Growth

If you don't develop your "talents," you stifle personal growth and stagnate. As the master in the parable said, "For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away." The master warns that personal sloth will cast one 'into the outer darkness," where there will be 'will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."


The point is that without growth in personal resources, we can't keep up. The price can be a life of deprivation and despair. On the other hand, the more you develop personal and material resources, the more you can gain in the future. This kind of growth puts you on a higher platform to take the next step. I express this idea in my education efforts, where I always try to impress upon students, "The more you know, the more you CAN know." In blog posts on mental health, I try to make the point that the more you understand about how your brain works and how you think and behave will improve your ability for psychological peace and fulfillment.

The U.S. Army recruiting slogan is meant for us all:


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Specious Reasoning: It Is Everywhere, Often UndetectedSpecious Reasoning: It Is Everywhere, Often Undetected


Specious reasoning is any argument or analysis which has the apparent ring of truth or plausibility but is actually incomplete, deceptive, or even altogether fallacious. Such arguments are attractive because they are seemingly well-reasoned or factual. They  can be deceptively persuasive. When an argumentation style is based on specious reasoning, it is called "Sophistry."


Below are some modern examples of sophistry:


"Impose gun control to reduce crime." The fact is that guns prevent more crimes than they cause.


"Give the mother automatic custody of children in divorce to reduce divorce." In fact, that leads to more divorce, as it reduces incentives to maintain a marriage.


"Raise taxes to increase revenues." In fact, creating disincentives to earn not only directly decreases revenues by decreasing the amount of taxable income but also stifles economic growth.


"Give children contraceptives to reduce teen pregnancy and disease." In fact, abstinence education does both better


"Support so-called 'civil rights' organizations and leaders to oppose racism." In factby constant harping and race-baiting, they are the primary promoters of racism today


"Listen to the experts." The experts don't always get things right. Besides, they often disagree.


Specious reasoning typically accompanies arguments aimed at advancing personal agendas.


The apparent increase of speciousness in today's agenda-driven social discourse provided a big part of my motivation to write my recent book about truthfulness: Realville. How to Get Real in an Unreal World. Specious reasoning typifies all of the seven forms of untruthfulness in that it:

·       Often relies on outright lies.

·       May cheat others out of benefits by giving advantage to others.

·       Encourage the specious person to deny their argumentation weakness and delude themselves and others.

·       Provide a way to deceive others.

·       Pretends to have unwarranted stature and valuable argument.

·       Withholds relevant ideas that would otherwise challenge assertions.



Different Specious Category Examples


Opinions Without Evidence


This category is probably the most common form of specious thinking. It does not involve flawed reasoning, because in the absence of factual evidence there is nothing available to structure an argument around. One just happens to have certain opinions. Facts be damned. Such opinions are typically formed from emotions that have been stirred by various forms of specious reasoning.


The disdain for evidence often arises as a natural consequence of anti-science or unappreciation of the nature of scientific thinking. Scientific thinking requires one to question even one’s own suppositions and opinions. Most assuredly, opinions need buttressing from objective evidence and verifiable truths. In a post-modern world in which everyone is allowed to have their own truth, such objective thinking is hard to find. Former Dean of Science at Texas A&M, Mack Prescott, once said to me, "Liberal arts courses are required in college, because people think you can't be educated without them. I think that science courses should be required in college for the same reason."


Straw man


This is a weak or sham argument set up to be easily refuted. Sometimes it is called a "red herring." This is a change-the-subject strategy aimed at distracting a rhetorical opponent onto another subject. For examples, check this web site.


Selective Argument


This is an argument that ignores all unfavorable evidence. The argument that is presented is advanced in a way that precludes consideration of alternatives, especially ones that are more viable. Typically, the impression is given that there are no viable alternatives. Almost everyone advancing an agenda selectively omits facts and arguments that don't help their case. Always think about relevant things that people don't say.


Flawed Premise


The logic may be impeccable, but useless if the premise is flawed. This is a common rhetorical trap. Once you accept the premise of an argument, your positions have to be consistent with the premise, and you are thus constrained in what you can reasonably say about it.


Syllogisms are frequent sources of flawed premises. One example is the inference that "kindness is praiseworthy" from the premises "every virtue is praiseworthy" and "kindness is a virtue." This example is fine, because of the two premises, both are generally regarded as true. However, syllogisms have more than one premise, and the more there are the greater the chance that one or more of them is not valid.


Circular Logic


Basically, the problem here is that the argument one intends to defend is pre-supposed to be true. The conclusion is assumed as a premise, rather than justified. The argument is not proved, just re-stated as if it were true. This fallacy is sometimes called “begging the question.”


Virtue Signaling


Symbolic statements and gestures that convey virtue are frequently used to impart authoritativeness. Who can argue against virtue? Thus, those who signal virtue are attempting to gain stature, both for their own social worthiness and to advance their cause. This also makes the signalers feel good about themselves and self-righteously superior to others. Factual or logical deficiencies in their positions are masked by the signaled virtue. As we see on a continuing basis, this is a common strategy for advancing problematic agendas of politicians, celebrities, and media elites.




This form of specious thinking comes from the 1944 film, Gaslight, in which a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she has a mental illness by dimming their gas-fueled lights and telling her she is hallucinating.


Gaslighting occurs when a person or group is conditioned by false suggestion to question their values, sanity, perception of reality, or memories. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves. The point is to make the target trust the accuser.


In today’s world, the common form of gaslighting is to condition whites into thinking that they are racist. The technique is basically a form of conditioning in which repeated charge from supposedly more moral people generates a belief that it is true and thus creates a guilt that is exploited.


Logic Errors


Many cases of specious argument are based on common mistakes in logic. I have explained some thinking errors in a post several years ago. Such errors are typically inadvertent, but sometimes they are used deliberately in in discourse to buttress positions.


How can you protect yourself from the specious thinking of others? First, check to make certain you are not just responding emotionally, agreeing because this is what you want to hear. Next, check to see what actual evidence is presented and the likelihood that it is reliable. Look for conflicts of interest and hidden agendas. Finally, try to think of alternative perspectives that have not been presented.




Cline, Austin. 2019, Begging the question.


Huizen, Jennifer (2020). Gaslighting. Medical News Today,