Wednesday, September 30, 2015

God, Mathematics and Psychology: Are they all one?

This discussion focuses on psychology and the philosophy of mathematics and will contribute nothing to mathematical thought. Its aim is to introduce mathematics as a creation of psychology. Sophisticated, complex and ever evolving, but nevertheless psychology.

Mathematics translates patterns into reducible parts. These parts form theorems—incremental reasoning based on a chain of formal proofs—that conform to logic but operate beyond logic. Mathematicians argue that these patterns are universal and real and that the interconnecting system of reducible parts is what constitutes mathematics—a language of spatial positioning, geometry, numbers, volume, movement and patterns. These are complex patterns that lead to complex theorems.
Sometimes these patterns exist in reality and prove useful in terms of predicting physical events in the universe and sometimes they are the perfect embodiment of a cognitive world--true forms that exist primarily in our imagination, such as the perfect circle. Sometimes the theorems relate to patterns that are solely--as far as we know, or yet--in the realm of a group of mathematicians’ imagination. Although mathematics is not set-up, by mathematicians, to explain our reality, there is however a symbiotic relationship, in that proofs can come from within the physical experimental world.
The basis for elevating mathematics to more than just a complex system of creating theorems is the role that mathematics was given by Pythagoras (6th Century BC).  Pythagoras believed that numbers were not only the way to truth, but truth itself. That mathematics not only described the work of god, but was the way that god worked. This belief, that mathematics holds an intrinsic truth remains with mathematicians today. They believe that mathematics is the language of the gods. And that is a problem if you do not believe in god or in an over-ridding principle of existence--none that we can understand anyway. Science is by definition both atheist and agnostic despite what individual scientists believe. Most mathematicians behave as deist who believe that God created the universe but that natural laws determine how the universe plays out. This is a Epicurean (341–270 BC) belief that the gods are too busy to deal with the day-to-day running of the universe but they set it in motion using mathematics.
Mathematicians therefore argue that mathematics is a higher order that is found in reality. But there are no examples of such proofs. Mathematicians argue that they are more discoverers rather than inventors. But this dichotomy also seems false. Mathematicians seem to do both, most often at the same time.  The British philosopher Michael Dummett suggests that mathematical theorems are prodded into existence--he uses the term probing (Dummett, 1964). Using the analogy of the game of chess where, “It is commonly supposed … that the game of chess is an abstract entity” (Dummett, 1973). But there is certainly a sense in which the game would not have existed were it not for the mental activity of human beings. It is a delusion to believe that just because we find a pleasing pattern, a game that resonates across cultures, that the reason it is pleasing is because there is a god behind it. But mathematicians argue that chess, or theorems are not entirely products of our minds since there must already be something there to prod. But the obverse argument is equally true that mathematical “truths” are entirely dependent on us since we need to prod them to bring them into existence.
The same is true for language, art, music and other “Third World” constructs—these are incrementally evolving systems and form one of Karl Popper’s ontological tools (Carr, 1977). Third World is where the system that is developed exists beyond the creator. Language is an excellent example, although Third World also includes abstract objects such as scientific theories, stories, myths, tools, social institutions, and works of art. Language is incremental and ever evolving, and is used to help us communicate reality. Within this Third World, language as with mathematics, is also argued to be both discovered or invented.
Theory of language development has oscillated between two schools of thought.  One school that argues that language is culture-bound, known as Descriptivists. And on the other side is the argument that promotes language as part of our biological makeup, known as the Generativists. As a Generativist, Chomsky (1980: p134) phrased it eloquently when he said that, “we do not really learn language; rather, grammar grows in the mind”.  The analogy between formal mathematical systems and human languages is not a new or novel idea. In fact such formal language theory have already been established in its modern form by Noam Chomsky in an attempt to systematically investigate the computational basis of not just human language but has become applicable to a variety of rule-governed system across multiple domains--computer programs, music, visual patterns, animal vocalizations, RNA structure and even dance (Fitch & Friederici, 2012). This symbiotic relationship exists across all Third World constructs: mathematics and music, music and art, art and language and all other permutations. As with mathematics, we refine language with time. Future generations build upon language and mathematics and the only constraint seems to be our psychology.  Mathematics similarly has this incremental nature. The last sentence of a talk given by Fine on mathematics  “The only constraint is our imagination and what we find appropriate or pleasing.”  (Fine, 2012: p27).  What we find appropriate and pleasing is where the psychology comes in and our clue to the inception of mathematics and the description of our psychology.
As a guide, we have to go back to earlier (and more simple) mathematics to understand this principle of “pleasing.” Pythagoras and music is the basis for a convergence between mathematics and psychology.  Pythagoras (6th century BC) observed that when the blacksmith struck his anvil, different notes were produced according to the weight of the hammer. He later discovered that the ratio of the length of two strings determines the octave "that the chief musical intervals are expressible in simple mathematical ratios between the first four integers" (Kirk & Raven, 1964: p.229). Thus, the "Octave=2:1, fifth=3:2, fourth=4:3" (p.230). These ratios harmonize, meaning that are pleasing both to the mind and to the ear. Although this mathematical system breaks down the higher we go up the scale, there was a solution by adjusting the ratio of the fifth so that it is commensurable with seven octaves. Seven octaves is 128:1, or 27. John Stillwell (2006) argues that "equal semitones" or "equal temperament" (p.21), was developed almost simultaneously in China and the Netherlnds, by Zhu Zaiyu (Chu Tsai-yü) in 1584 (during the Ming Dynasty and by the Simon Steven in 1585 and by (Ross, 2001). But the point is that a mathematical rule was developed on the basis of a harmony that we humans find pleasing.
In nature, all sounds are the same. The creator of the universe created all acoustics, all sounds are perfect. Nature cannot discriminate among them since they are all necessary and useful. As such, selecting harmonics is psychological rather than godlike. We like the separation of scales because we can psychologically compartmentalize the sound. We are creatures of order and consistency and prefer to have distinct and distinguishable sounds. In reality there is no such thing as harmonics, we look for it as humans because it is pleasing.
Such psychological preferences are automatic and require no processing and thinking on our part. This automation can be easily be disrupted by playing a tone that is ostensibly ever increasing or decreasing without end. Such a tone was developed by Roger Shepard and consists of a superposition of sine waves separated by octaves. This creates the auditory illusion of a tone that continually ascends or descends in pitch, yet remaining constant.
Not only does the Shepard Tone create dissonance because we find it difficult to understand, it also creates uneasiness as a result of this dissonance. This perceived auditory dissonance causes emotional uneasiness.  We become uncomfortable when we cannot pigeon hole our perception. We need sounds that are at a prescribed distance from each other that make perception easier. Pythagoras defined the first mathematical rule for auditory perception, the definition of an octave that pleases our psychology for order and form. The fact that both European and Chinese figured this out at the same time indicates that the perception of octave generalizes across linguistic and auditory differences (for more auditory illusions see Deutsch, 2011). These psychological requirements, codified into mathematics are also found true for vision.
We like to see things in “chunks.” Mathematics was the earliest discipline to reflect this psychological need by inventing the number “one.” This basis of an “entity” forms the upside down pyramid of mathematics. Without a “one” there is no mathematics. But there are problems with the number one. There is a point at which a “one” cannot be defined mathematically, or where it fails to conform to some particular way, such as differentiability. This singularity--which is proving to be so problematic for mathematicians in explaining quantum physics for example--is only a problem for mathematicians, because an entity of “one” is the perfect creation of our mind and not nature. In fact the only way that quantum physics can explain superposition, entanglement and other quantum mechanics is by removing the “one” from the theorem. By removing the parenthesis around “one” quantum physics can be better explained, although then we have to readdress our psychology and the reliance on our perception of separate entities. From a psychological point this can be easier achieved rather than forcing quantum physics to conform to psychology.
History has been here before. Pythagoras--having traced the hand of god in how music is constructed--thought that each of the seven planets produced particular notes depending on its orbit around the earth. This was Musica Mundana and for Pythagorians, different musical modes have different effects on the person who hears them. Taking this a step further, the mathematician Boethius (480-524 AD) explained that the soul and the body are subject to the same laws of proportion that govern music and the cosmos itself. As the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco observed we are happiest when we conform to these laws because "we love similarity, but hate and resent dissimilarity" (Eco, 2002; p31).
This is not the first time that mathematicians thought they have touched the hand of god, neither will it be the last time. But what Pythagoras touched is our psychology. By focusing on pleasing patterns, similarities, and order, mathematicians are exploring the foundations of our psyche. And to do this they had to build rules and “common notions” that bind all these thoughts into a coherent language that translates into mathematics. For example if we take Euclid (4th Century BC) five "common notions” as defined in The Elements:
  Things that are equal to the same thing are also equal to one another
  If equals are added to equals, then the wholes are equal
  If equals are subtracted from equals, then the remainders are equal
  Things that coincide with one another are equal to one another
  The whole is greater than the part.

There is an unambiguous relationship with classic Euclidian mathematics and Gestalt psychology. Gestalt psychology has rules that mirror these Euclidian common notions (Lagopoulos & Boklund-Lagopoulou, 1992). But there have been further developments. The prolific Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896–1980) while investigating children’s conception of space discovered highly abstract mathematical structures in the child’s primordial conception of space.  He argues that the further development of geometric space should not be understood as reflecting the capacity of the child’s developing physiological functions, but as a product of the child’s interaction with the world. The child constantly builds up specific structures of perception and reorganizes spatial conception. Accordingly, Euclid’s elements and the topological properties of shapes have their origin neither in the world nor in the history of sciences, but in cognitive schemes that we build up in our daily interaction with objects.
The same understanding—that there are mathematical structure embedded in our cognitive processes—precludes the need for either mathematical or language. These theorems exist independent because that is how the brain is structured. A good example of this pre-mathematics and pre-linguistic ability is provided by a tribe that does not have a concept of numbers in its language. Dan Everett’s description of the Pirahã language of the southern Amazon basin exposes the tangled relationship between mathematical constructs and our cognitive capacity (Everett 2012). The Pirahã language has no clause subordination (e.g. after, because, if) at all, indeed it has no grammatical embedding of any kind, and it has no quantifier words (e.g. many, few, none); and it has no number words at all (e.g. one, two, many).  But they can still count and perform quit complex mathematical comparisons despite the lack of linguistic structure. The main deficit is that they cannot memorize these functions. So they can perform mathematical functions only for the immediate situation. In Popperian terms, they do not have a Third World construct of mathematics to enable them to retain an abstract representation of numbers which mathematicians, through their use of mathematical language can. And mathematicians have created this language, this mathematics where “one” forms the foundation.
Mathematics however has evolved and built upon this concept of “one.” It would be naïve to assume that mathematics has stood still as a discipline. Although the early conception of “one” is very restrictive number, in which ‘number’ means ‘natural number’ mathematics evolved to adopt a less restrictive conception of “one” in which it means ‘integer’; then meaning rationals; then reals, and then complex numbers. With such creations, there is a more nuanced appreciation of the finite interpretations of “one”. In psychology we might distinguish a human being (aka one), and then talk about aggregate or composite features such as family, community, or head, eyes, nose (reals), and then complex numbers such becoming a millionaire, getting divorced, losing a limb, becoming blind (complex numbers.) Mathematics has not extended the domain of numbers, but liberalized what we mean by ‘number’ and as a collinearity what we mean by “one.” Our presumption that there is a single number “one” and that, in extending the number system we simply add and perform “functions” to the numbers that were already there is not what mathematics has become. There are as many number “ones” as there are types of numbers. But by redefining the meaning we are creating a new definition of “one”. One that is less suspect to investigation and study, and bears less of a relationship with anything tangible (Fine, 2012).
We think in very complex ways that is still not understood, continues to be misrepresented and remains misunderstood. The human brain has more synaptic transmissions than we have stars in the universe. The capacity for human thought is immense. Clues are emerging that we think in very abstract ways that mirror the development of theorems in mathematics. Holographic theory of thinking is just one crude method of representing this universe of thought. It is plausible that mathematics could be a portal to understanding our psyche, our art and our behavior. We could learn our limitations, and our attributes and allow for the exploration of a process that we do not yet know and cannot know. We grow up developing our thinking as theorems--despite that in some cases our language does not accommodate such thinking--we still use innate mathematics to develop our sense of numbers and patterns. Mathematics is our way of thinking.  We simply grow out of it, as do mathematicians who simply grow out of being brilliant mathematicians and converge into cultural thought (language, roles and cultural morals.) Mathematicians have a short life of brilliance since their natural thought processes are eventually taken over by pragmatic concerns. Such is the final objective of our brain, survival in the real experiential world. Survival in a sentient world—a world dominated by feeling and experiencing. But mathematics can form the basis of formalizing theories of our thinking processes, mind sensations and feelings.  We need to see beyond the silos of disciplines and view our humanity as more than pitting humans against the hand of god, and simply see the hand of god as our own genius waiting to be acknowledged.


Carr B (1977). Popper's Third World. The Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 27, No. 108, pp. 214-226
Diana Deutsch Accessed 8/20/2015::
Dummett M (1964) Bringing about the past. Philosophical Review 73: 338–59.
Eco U (2002). Art and beauty in the middle ages. Yale University Press.
Everett C (2012). A Closer Look at A Supposedly Anumeric Language 1. International Journal of American Linguistics, 78(4), 575-590.
Fine K (2012). Mathematics: Discovery of Invention? Think, 11, pp 11-27
Fitch WT & Friederici AD (2012). Artificial grammar learning meets formal language theory: an overview. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 367(1598), 1933–1955. Accessed 8/20/2015:
Hockenbury DH & Hockenbury SE (2006). Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers.
Kirk GS & Raven JE (1964). The Presocratic Philosophers, Cambridge University Press.
Lagopoulos, A. P., & Boklund-Lagopoulou, K. (1992). Meaning and geography: The social conception of the region in northern Greece (No. 104). Walter de Gruyter.
Ross KL (2011) Mathematics & Music, after Pythagoras. Accessed 8/20/2015:
Stillwell J (2006). Yearning for the impossible: The surprising truths of mathematics A. K. Peters, Ltd.

I am indebted to David Edwards, emeritus professor of mathematics from Georgia University for discussing with me the subtleties of some of these thoughts. Having such a knowledgeable and challenging adversary promoted the thinking of this argument and produced a much clearer thesis. However, all misrepresentations, deficiencies and shortfalls are purely my responsibilities.

© USA Copyrighted 2015 Mario D. Garrett 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lost with Dementia

Patterns exist for people who get lost. Whether joggers, hikers, children, or those diagnosed with dementia, different groups exhibit different lost person behaviors. Knowing these patterns would help in finding them. Robert Koester's groundbreaking research has greatly expanded our understanding of “Lost Person Behavior” (Koester, 2008).  
This evolving line of inquiry  is becoming the bedrock for Search And Rescue (SAR) protocols. SAR  personnel consider variables such as behavioral profiles, activity, terrain, health, and personal characteristics to help predict the behavior of people who are declared lost. Koester has analyzed more than 50,000 cases world-wide to identify patterns of behavior that lost people tend to follow, including a special section for people with any variant of dementias—Koester’s specialty.
Older adults with dementia typically get lost through wandering behavior. Six in 10 people with dementia will wander—take off in an aimless way—becoming disoriented and perhaps not remembering their name, address, or their location.  Although effective programs exist in the United States—including MedicAlert®, Safe Return® Comfort Zone® and Comfort Zone Check-In®—the majority of people are not enrolled in such electronic tagging. Either they cannot afford the monthly premiums or they assume that they would never need such services. Due to America’s demographic changes, one thing is certain—people with dementia comprise an increasing concern for volunteer SAR teams, as well as state and federal agencies.
For SAR teams all dementias are treated the same. Koester & Stooksbury (1995) reported that when normal older adults got lost they traveled on average a greater straight-line distance (2.56 km) from the Point Last Seen (PLS) than older adults (in this case older than 40 years of age) with dementia (0.88 km). Although statistics indicate greater variability of distance traveled among dementia patients,here are some outliers where some might only travel a short distance while others travel greater distances (one in ten travel an average of 52 miles). Surprisingly, age did not emerge as an important consideration in how people with dementia behave when they get lost.
Dementia patients generally leave their own residence or nursing home and start traveling along roads. The patient is usually located (in 89% of cases) within one mile (1.2 km) of the PLS.  If the patients were not on a road (14%), they were usually found in a creek/drainage (28%), and/or caught in briars/bushes (33%).
The majority of patients succumb to the environment. One in five dementia patients (42 cases in this study) were found deceased due to hypothermia, dehydration, or drowning. No fatalities were found among dementia patients when they were located within 24 hours. If they were not found within this 24-hour window, half of dementia patients were likely to be found dead.
Consequently, searches for dementia patients are considered urgent and require an aggressive SAR response. Koester highlights that the diagnosis of dementia is important to elicit urgency. However, he also points out that most primary care physicians fail to administer cognitive status tests, and therefore only correctly identify 58% of the cases as possible dementia. This is particularly true of patients who become lost in wilderness and rural settings, who often belong to disadvantaged socioeconomic groups and who receive minimal health care. Not knowing that the lost person has dementia diminishes the search’s urgency, with potentially detrimental effects.
A key hypothesis  among SAR responders when looking for lost dementia patients is referred to as the “path of least resistance.”  This theory states that when people with dementia start wandering they tend to follow terrain that provides less resistance (down rather than uphill, roads rather than meandering paths, or railway tracks rather than steps).
A considerable number (28%) of dementia patients were found in drainages or creeks—indicating that they most likely walked downhill—supporting the path of least resistance hypothesis. Another 33% of the patients appear to have become stuck in thick brush or briars. This insight is important because untrained searchers, or searchers working at night often avoid looking into brush or briars because most people tend to try to make themselves visible. Getting stopped in drainages, creeks, brush and briars  support research indicating that lost patients with dementia are traveling a path of least  resistance until they reach an insurmountable barrier.
Because prevention is the best cure, reducing wandering becomes the best first line of defense. A personal care plan that reduces agitation and depression will help minimize wandering. Because people with dementia tend to leave few clues when they are lost and often do not respond to shouts or voice-based searching, getting expert help as early as possible is crucial. Knowing how to look for lost people with dementia requires an urgency that only expert help can provide.
Local dementia organizations counsel families that when someone with dementia goes missing, SAR efforts should be initiated immediately. Ninety-four percent of people who wander are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared. After the family and/or caregivers search the immediate area for no more than 15 minutes, they should call "911" and report to the police that a person with dementia—a vulnerable adult—is missing. Reporting parties should provide enough detail, including any places nearby that might have been important in childhood for the missing person.  Reports should include information on fears or phobias that the person might have, and what medications they are on.  A Missing Person Report should be filed so that police will also initiate a search.
In addition, even if a concerned party is not enrolled in a locator program, they should file a report with MedicAlert+ Alzheimer's Association Safe Return at 1-800-625-3780.  First responders are often trained to check this resource when they locate a missing person with dementia. Additional help can be accessed from the Alzheimer's Association 24/7 Helpline, 1-800-272-3900, which provides information and support to those who need assistance.Getting help as fast as possible might be the strategy that saves the lives of lost people with dementia.
Further Reading:
Perkins D & Roberts P (2000). Search Management for the Initial Response Incident Commander 2000. ERI International Inc. 
Twardy CR, Koester R & Gatt R (2006). Missing Person Behaviour An Australian Study Final Report to the Australian National SAR Council. Accessed online: (link is external)
Koester RJ & Stooksbury DE (1999). Behavioral profile of wandering Alzheimer’s patients.  Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 6,34-43 (1995)
Koester RJ (2008) Lost Person Behavior: A Search and Rescue Guide on Where to Look - for Land, Air and Water. Dbs Productions; Spi edition.
© USA Copyrighted 2015 Mario D. Garrett

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Legal Consequences of Dementia

In most states, dementia is a reportable disease. Since 1988 physicians in California are required by law to report patients with dementia to their local health departments, information that is then shared with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Similar to sexually transmitted diseases, infections, and food borne illnesses, dementia is reported to both state and federal agencies. Unlike transmittable diseases however, the diagnosis and reporting of dementia initiates a cavalcade of medical, financial and legal consequences that might strip you of some of your rights as a citizen.
If you are diagnosed with dementia the first thing that you will notice is that the DMV informs you that you need your driving skills to be re-examined—if you are lucky and your physicians indicated that you have mild rather than severe dementia which in the eyes of the DMV renders you unsafe to drive and you automatically lose your license.  Statistically drivers with dementia are eight times more likely to be involved in a car accident. The DMV will schedule a meeting for you to meet with one of their driving instructors to determine your level of awareness, cognitive processes, and perception. Failure to pass these tests will results in your driving privilege being revoked. But if this meeting goes well then you will be scheduled for a special drive test, which includes vision screening. If you are successful at this test as well, then your license might be re-issued but it might come with some restrictions (driving at night driving on certain routes). From here on you will be reevaluated usually every 6 months or less. If the tests are unsatisfactory, you will lose your license.  This loss will jeopardize your ability to work and provide for your dependents, restrict your social participation, diminish your involvement in personal interests, and severely curtail participating in community activities.
The second metamorphosis will involve your relationship with your bank. Banks are catching up slowly to the consequences of dementia both in terms of financial abuse and mismanagement of accounts. Banks are however blind to the diagnosis unless your diagnosis is reported by your spouse, business partner, or family. If you owe a lot of debt, own or manage or a company with a board of directors then it is likely that knowledge of your diagnosis will change your status dramatically. At this stage you can be declared incompetent and treated as such. But you might also be tricked into buying or investing in low-interest or volatile stocks/shares, or sign over assets by your bank or lawyer. Although rare, bankers and lawyers have been found guilty of such abuses. Especially when banks are actively trying to sell new policies, you might be an attractive customer to them despite your diminished capacity. Bankers cannot judge your capacity, and in most cases will not assume that you are incompetent, unless it is to their determent. Whether you like it or not, your spouse or family will become more important to you. Not only because they are privy to your diagnosis but because they can also determine your legal standing. They can submit legal motion to declare you incompetent and take over your estate and business dealings.
A diagnosis of dementia is life changing. In the eye of a personal storm there are important legal and financial questions. In a complex legal field that is evolving, your best bet is to access professional legal advice as soon as possible.   Legal Aid Society, the local Area Agency on Aging, or the Alzheimer's Association might be able to provide you with the names of attorneys practicing in your area who deal with these issues. The obvious start should be determining your eligibility for Medicaid, investigating long-term care insurance, writing a living will and assigning a durable power of attorney for health care.
For those that have assets,, gather your wills and trusts, prior tax returns, health and life insurance policies, pension information, deeds, mortgage/s, bank accounts (and PIN numbers), and information on other financial investments including ownership of property. Discuss the benefits and implications of transferring assets. If you do not have family or friends that can manage your accounts or business there are fiduciary agents who are certified to do this work for you. In some states you can prepare all your documents and then have them applied at a later period when your diagnosis become more severe. For those who have no or few assets, it is important to realize that you still need help with living arrangements and health directives.
In some cases, especially among people with extensive wealth, the strategy is not to get the diagnosis of dementia in the first place. They either go abroad where mandatory reporting is non-existent, or they go to a private physician and present a different identity. There are obfuscations from the patient as well. The central kingpin in all this is the family practitioner. His or her determination will guide bankers, lawyers and fiduciary agents. This is why a relationship with your primary care physician is important because he or she can help you coordinate and in some cases maneuver this complex medical and legal field.

© USA Copyrighted 2015 Mario D. Garrett

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Psychology of Physics

Physics—the study of the material world—was transformed in the late 1600s by the all-pervasive power of (Isaac) Newton's mechanics and then again in the late 1800s by (James Clerk) Maxwell's electromagnetic theories. These two British men established the Classical Theory in physics. Isaac Newton’s work was the culmination of centuries of philosophical debate about the nature of the world and the composition of material objects. The vindication of these philosophical thoughts came by Newton’s Classic Mechanics which pictured the universe as a perfect machine. Classical Mechanics uses common-sense notions of how matter and forces exist and interact. It assumes that matter and energy have definite measureable attributes such as where an object is in space and its speed. It also assumes that objects may be directly influenced only by their immediate surroundings, known as the principle of locality. The universe was seen as a tangible, orderly system that followed very exact and specific mechanical rules:
1. A body remains at rest or moves with constant velocity when an external force acts on it.
2. The rate of change of momentum of a body is proportional to the force on the body
3. When two bodies interact they exert on each other equal, but opposite forces.
Maxwell's electromagnetic theory, expanded this view of the world, and by consolidating a lot of independent research, established a classic view of electrodynamics. Primarily this theory explained how the related fields of electricity and magnetisms behave through waves. Although Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory was a stepping-stone for Einstein’s 1905 paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” (the first sentence starts by referencing Maxwell), at the time this theory was the ultimate expression of Classical Theory.
The beauty of Classical Theory was that it worked. Classical Mechanics had specific and definitive applications. We could predict the motion of objects in the world and the motion of celestial bodies in the Universe. All that we could observe was explainable. Best of all, Classic Mechanics is intuitive and all encompassing. For more than half a century Classical Theory reigned supreme to such a degree that physicist in the 1900s believed—as Philipp von Jolly counseled the 16-year-old Max Planck when he was admitted to the University of Munich—that the objectives of physics in explaining the material universe was more or less accomplished. The belief was that the main theories were in place and that all the great discoveries had been made, and only a few minor details needed filling in. Classical Theory was that good.
But Classical Theory was short on explaining constructs that we intuitively “knew.” What is “force” “body” and “interact” what is “attraction”, “gravity” and “energy”? These concepts have no explanation in physics. Our current knowledge is limited to defining how they behave, but we are unable to understand what these concepts are. The only place where these concepts have meaning is in our thinking because these concepts are intuitive. We know instinctively what a “body” is, or gravity or energy. These are constructs that we seem to accept readily as though we see the world through such constructs. Our perception—of seeing reality in chunks and simplified action—is so strong that we seem to preconceive the world, without questioning.
It was the work of Gestalt psychologists that brought such preconceptions to light. In 1912, Max Wertheimer published his paper on phi motion—which examined the impression of movement through flickering of lights—widely recognized as the start of Gestalt psychology. Together with Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka they helped establish theories of Gestalt psychology. The central theorem was that the whole is other than the sum of the parts and they argue that the whole exists independently from its parts. That is why we “see” a body, we see “interactions” and movement and “force” (push and pull). The fundamental principle of Gestalt perception is the law of prägnanz (German for pregnant but meaning pregnant with meaning as in brevity)—a shorthand and simplified version of reality. Gestalt psychology argue that we simplify the world in order to perceive it. We tend to organize our experience of the world in a manner that is regular, orderly, symmetrical, and simple. Gestalt psychologists have identified eight methods we use to simplify the world, primarily by grouping objects together. In an every changing world, having the ability to summarize and simplify the world means that we can perceive situations quicker, predict outcomes faster and thereby gaining time in order to be able to react earlier. We group things together and make them coherent. These are the tricks of magicians. Gestalt psychologists have defined such methods as laws and include the Laws of Proximity, Similarity, Closure, Symmetry, Common Fate, Continuity, Good Gestalt and, Past Experience.
1. Law of Proximity—When objects are close to each, sharing similar motion or sequence we see them as related. We see the behavior of one influencing the other so they share an affinity a similar fate.
2. Law of Similarity—Similar objects on the basis of function, behavior, shape, color, threat and other characteristics that we are sensitive to are seen as related.
3.Law of Closure—Our intent on making things whole extends to when objects have missing parts. This eliminates a lot of the variance so that despite the uniqueness of faces, for example, we see the face despite irregularities. If the law of closure did not exist we will have to interpret each face as a jumble of features.
4.Law of Symmetry—We balance objects in space. A symmetrical field of vision is easier to see because it simplifies the multiple objects into aa pattern, a perceptual algorithm. All we need to see is the symmetry, the uniform pattern rather than individual elements.
5. Law of Common Fate—We see the path that objects travel from and heading towards. We see objects that share similar paths of motion, or direction of motion as grouped together.
6. Law of Continuity—when an object is hidden from view we tend to still see it despite that the object might be behind another object, or when an object is partly hidden we assume that it is whole the the object in front is obscuring the backround object. We are less likely to see objects that change direction quickly or change shape quickly.
7. Law of Good Gestalt—We aim to eliminate variance, complexity and unfamiliarity which implies a global order to the world.
8. Law of Past Experience—history and temporal association implies that under some circumstances visual stimuli are categorized according to past experience. The experience of grouping two objects together in the past determines that we are likely to see them as grouped in the future.
These individual laws of grouping are not separate processes. They define a perceptual bias to group objects into a pattern. Each of these laws defines how we conceive of the world as a model with individual units sharing common attributes. We can say that the capacity to group things together exposes our perception as an algorithm, a formula. We do not perceive a visual reel of reality, a cinematographic version of reality in our heads—although we might conceive of our perception as such. In fact what these Gestalt laws tell us is that we see patterns in our experience of the world—we are not forming patterns, we are seeing patterns.
Algorithms, patterns, formulas or heuristics simplify the world into generalizable configurations.  This view of perception is supported by studies from preliterate societies and how they manage to count and subtract. Like a map that represents the geography of a place, preliterate societies have mathematical maps that help them to work out numerical outcomes. We simplify our experience with the physical world through formulas and algorithms. This is how our brain works.  In 2008, Michael Frank with the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his colleagues reported how the Pirahã Amazonian tribe despite having no language to express numbers, not even one, are able to perform exact matches with large numbers of objects perfectly. Although they were inaccurate on matching tasks involving memory, because they did not have the benefit of language to retrieve information, their capacity to conceive of numbers was equal to other literate groups. They had a schematic way of conceptualizing numbers. We do this algorithmically, using perceptual formulas and patterns to conceive our material world.
Having such a translation of reality embedded within us, the question is whether we also preconceived classical physics. Whtether Classical Theory was indeed physics or a study of our own preconceived perceptual biases. We can see the similarity between the laws of Gestalt psychology and those of Classical Mechanics: 1. A body remains at rest or moves with constant velocity when an external force acts on it, 2. The rate of change of momentum of a body is proportional to the force on the body, 3. When two bodies interact they exert on each other equal, but opposite forces. All of these laws conform to the laws of Gestalt perception. Our perceptual biases are in tune with Newtonian physics. So is Classical Mechanics similarly a biased view of the world?
The fact that we have a mathematical formula—through Classic Mechanics—that predicts the speed, direction and change of objects is an indication of how we perceive objects in motion rather than an indication of the reality. Although our perception is necessarily based on a physical reality that we—like physicists—are trying to predict, our perception is not a reflection of reality but a translation. A translation based on prediction. Predicting reality is very different from “seeing” reality. Just because I can predict an outcome does not mean that, because of my accurate prediction, I understand the reality. Betting shops do this all the time. The problem is Quantum Mechanics. Here comes a theory that challenges what reality is, not as we perceive it to be (Classic Mechanics) but as it seems to be (Quantum Mechanics).
In physics, a quantum is the minimum amount of any physical entity involved in an interaction. Although many scientists have used the term before, it was Max Planck in 1900 that used "quanta" to mean "quanta of matter and electricity, gas, and heat.” Leading Albert Einstein to suggest in 1905 that radiation existed in spatially localized packets that he called "quanta of light". Einstein renamed Planck’s quanta packages as photons and used Planck’s quantum theory to describe the photoelectric effect, for which he would receive his Nobel Prize in 1921. The penultimate expression of quantum physics is Schrodinger’s cat paradox where quantum superposition—entanglement theory—dictates that a cat (in Schrodinger's example) has to be both simultaneously alive and dead at the same time. Although this IS weird—leading Einstein to talk about “spooky action at a distance” and Schrodinger himself to give up quantum physics to focus on philosophy and biology—this is a reality that must be necessarily uncomfortable because it disrupts our own perceptual framework of how the world behaves. Our psychology is insulted.
For the first time we are exploring the world as it truly is rather than how we think it should be. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote around 500 BCE that we can never step in the same river twice. With this observation we have some semblance of what true reality looks like. A universe eternally in a state of flux, having multiple realities, depending on where I—the observer—am.
Did Classical Mechanics simply reflect a detailed exposition of Gestalt psychology? Quantum physics is saying yes. We do not know what reality is except what we are now learning through Quantum Mechanics. Classical Mechanics exposed the psychology of perception. Quantum physics will start to help us understand the weird and the wonderful—what we will come to know—reality.
Franka, M. C., Everettb, D. L., Fedorenkoa, E., & Gibsona, E. (2008). Number as a cognitive technology: Evidence from Pirahã language and cognition. Cognition, 108, 819-824.
For an intriguing perceptive of how psychology was enfluence by physics--which was brought to my attention after this blog was published--please refer to this very readable paper, I have Dave Edwards to thank for this edification:
Wilcox, S., & Edwards, D. A. (1982). Some Gibsonian perspectives on the ways that psychologists use physics. Acta Psychologica, 52(1), 147-163.
© USA Copyrighted 2015 Mario D. Garrett

Monday, May 4, 2015

Geography of Aging and the Illusion of Self

I think of myself as an entity, as "me."  Separate and distinct from "them" and the outside world. This "me" allows my mind to cleverly edit, interpret and re-interpret the world as though I am consistently at the center of everything that I interact with.  My mind also draws a linear story-line from my childhood directly to my older-adulthood.  I do not have to think about it because my mind automatically narrates a story for me that is complete where I am at the center and the rest is on the periphery. A story of "me" and "them", a logical relationship. I have an explanation for everything even though most events in my life are outside of my control.  This gives me the impression that I am "me", separate, distinct and unique, and then there is a "them" an outside. I have conscious will and participate in the world as a free unique and independent agent.

But this belief is a mirage, an illusion of the mind. The idea that we are separate from others is not the complete picture, and this knowledge is just now starting to be exposed. To re-envisioning who we are we have to understand how the "me" came about. This is a radical idea. Such radical ideas have happened before in our collective history and they have changed how we think about who we are.

There have been a number of radical thinkers who transformed how we think of ourselves.  The first such radical thinker moved us away from mythology, and the notion that everything that happens is because "god wants it to happen." Thales of Miletus was a 6th century BC  philosopher who suggested that we should observe physical events without assigning the cause to "god." He admonished philosophers to try and understand what they observe as separate from god. This was the birth of science. As a result we began to understand that there is a causal pattern to the world. That there is a logical sequence that does not require the intervention of busy gods. The development of science took us into an amazing logical world that was hidden to us before. We came to see the world in more detail. As a finely tuned mechanical watch. This assurance of solidity was however shattered in the early 1900s on two fronts. The first to dispel the solidity of how we see our world was Sigmund Freud. Freud developed the concept of an unconscious mind that hid psychological energies from us such as the Oedipus complex, libido and death drive among others. Freud's main contribution was the acceptance that we do not know "us", that we have a reality that is hidden from us.  What Freud did for psychology, Albert Einstein did for our concept of outside reality. Einstein, a theoretical physicist, developed a general theory of relativity which together with quantum mechanics and the law of the photoelectric effect evolved into quantum theory. Einstein transformed Newtonian mechanicswhere object were treated as physical representation but much smallerto one where at great microscopic details these realities changed into energy and shivering mass. He conceived of the world as composed of waves of energy,  a vibrating nexus of excited mass. These ideas later flourished into an idea of reality as a probability of energy waves. Completely transforming how we look at the universe we believed to be solid.

These ideas came from a culmination of prior small developments that helped Thales, Freud and Einstein make a conceptual leap. We are now ready for another leap. Another way of looking at ourselves...again.

It started when scientists started finding that conscious thought is a product of an unconscious process. We are "aware" because there is an earlier process that we are not aware of that wants us to be aware. The late Benjamin Libet from UCSF was a pioneer in showing that a conscious decision can be monitored neurologically sometimes as much as ten seconds before the activity appearswhich he termed readiness potential. In effect, by monitoring the brain's EEG we can predict rudimentary activity before people become conscious of itsuch as moving your index finger. More recently, Itzak Fried from UCLA recorded single neurons and found that the readiness potential isn't a diffuse state of readiness, but is a very specific set of instructions. Our consciousness was an after thought to a specific decision that has already been taken.  This resulted in what Daniel Wegner called in his 2002 book "The Illusion of Conscious Will." It is an illusion that we cannot dispel, despite knowing that it is an illusion, because it is how we think. We think that we have conscious will.

If there is no conscious will, then it brings into question the validity of the division of self/mind and brain/body that René Descartes defined in the 1600s. This Cartesian Dualism has constrained our thinking for more than four centuries. This belief is that there is a separation of the mind from the body and that the self is not defined by the mind but something higher. But this is proving to be wrong. But more important than thisalthough for academics this is really importantis that if our consciousness is part of a pre-determined process, then what other realities are there that we are not aware of? If there is no such thing as a self/mind and brain/body division, then what is there?  I think of "me" as the product of a coherent sequential story that lead me here as a sentient being in a determined place, undertaking a conscious activity. I feel responsible for where I am and what I am doing. Which is why nationalism is so strong even though where we are born is a random event. Most people take ownership of their situation.

Because our brain is so vast in its complexity it is able to create a representation of the world. It uses this model to predict. That is how we survive and flourish. Prediction is also the basis for all scientific theory. My brain builds a virtual reality and interacts within this model. Very much like a computer game where I "am" the avatar. And very much like the avatar, my mind makes me unique, distinct and sequential being with a history that I own. Our reality is a creative process. We create this reality. We negotiate with our body and our mind about how to tell this story of reality. On one side is the concept of "me" and on the other the story of "others." The reality is that there is a place where there is no distinction. Our body holds that special place. It is both part of the environment and part "me". The illusion is the "me."  This is especially true of routines of everyday lifethose activities and customary habits that are expected and anticipated. Routines are patterns of behavior that we build over time and internalized. We are unaware of these habits of behaving. And it is not just that we are unconscious of them but that our body has adapted without making us aware, and we know about these changes because we can measure them.

Stress chemicals in the bodysuch as the allostatic load and IL-6is higher in people that live in communities with greater densities of poor older adults and in racially segregated communities. This relationship was found to be independent of important individual level risk factors (e.g. smoking or obesity). A stressful environment—such a poor neighborhood—results in negative changes in the chemical composition in our bodies. These chemical states initiate other changes. Changing chemical composition in our bodies have lasting effects because they switch the expression of some genes. These epi-genes can be switched on and off, establishing a consistent optimum level of chemical balance within the body. Environmental factors such as mercury in water, second-hand smoke, diet including foliate, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, air pollutants, industrial chemicals, heavy metals, hormones in water, nutrition, and behavior have been shown to affect epi-genetics.  Furthermore, epi-genetic changes are associated with specific outcomes such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, infertility, respiratory diseases, allergies, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Our body changes our epi-geneswhich establishes an optimum level of chemical balance in response to our environment. Richard Rorty in 1979 said this beautifully “So the paradoxical conclusion offered earlierthat had physiology been more obvious psychology would never have arisencan be reaffirmed. Indeed, we can strengthen it and say that if the body had been easier to understand, nobody would have thought that we had a mind.” (p 239).

Who we are is not who we think we are. Thales, Freud and Einstein have shown us how our perception is incomplete. The next frontier is the idea of self. Our body has a memory that we are unaware of. There is a reality in our body that reflects the geography of our communities, including people that we interact with on a consistent basis. This is necessarily unconscious since the body is complex. Our consciousness is an afterthought of decisions already taken in order to provide the illusion of active participants, an avatar. It provides us with the illusion of "me". But it is an illusion.  The reality is that there is no "me" but a place of interaction. A place where the illusion of a unique "me" interacts with the outside world, the geography the community and significant others.Who I am is not who I think I am. And we feel this reality sometimes as a spiritual existence. Something that extends human identity beyond the self. Learning compassion, empathy and love is when we truly become one with this reality. Try and translate love without referring to a world where their is a union of beings, of community of geographies. All religions start from this understanding, but the way that our mind worksneeding to create separateness and pushing us into an egocentric world viewcorrupts this initial insight and re-interprets it as "them" and "us." But what we are learning is that there is a union of those around us and the geography that we live in. Our identify of self is an afterthought.

The body and the mind  have already determined its strategy for existence. And if I accept that there is not just a "me" but also a "we" inside my body then I can understand how my environment, my community, family and friends can determine my behavior and outcomes, as much as I think I do myself. My interaction with the world leaves evidence in my genes just as I leave traces in my world.

The symbiotic relationship exposes humans to a greater sense of belonging within their geography since we carry our geography within us in our bodies. If we are going to understand how extreme-longevity occurs we need to understand this construct much better than we do today. And perhaps our understanding of why happy people, people that volunteer, people that are religious, people that are in love, live longer should not be seen as a strategy but as an expression of people that are in touch with this reality of who they truly are...a union of their geography and their community.

© USA Copyrighted 2015 Mario D. Garrett

Further Reading:

Libet, B. (1985). "Unconscious Cerebral Initiative and the Role of Conscious Will in Voluntary Action". The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 8: 529–566. doi:10.1017/s0140525x00044903.

Wegner, D. M. (2002). The illusion of conscious will. MIT press.

Garrett M. D. (2014) Geograph of Elderly. Oxford Bibliography.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Ménage à Trois: Sex, Dementia and the Law

There are events in life that are more colorful than the black and white reality of our moral principles. The monochrome reality of our moral world is sometimes outshone by the Technicolor nature of reality. People that are suffering from dementia expose some of these layers of moral predicaments.

The recent case of a husband assumed to have continued to have sex with his wife when she was in a nursing home brought to light the spectrum of colors of this issue. This is the story of Donna Lou Young andHenry V. Rayhons in Duncan, Iowa. A week after her death at the age of nearly 79 Henry was charged with raping Donna at a nursing home where she was staying. As with rape charges there are tests and exposure of behavior that was intended to remain behind closed doors in the bedroom. Henry was eventually found not to be guilty, but the emotional damage diminished his dignity, his humanity as a husband. This case raises questions about who you are when you are diagnosed with dementia, and more importantly, what the law allows you to do, or allow others to do with you.

That same week there was the case of a lord of the House of Commons with enough evidence of child abuse but was not brought to court because he had dementia. Greville Janner, now Lord Janner, was a very active pedophile alleged with 22 sex offenses of indecent assaults and buggery during 1969 and 1988, involving nine children in state-run children’s homes. Despite remaining an active member of the House of Lords still attending meetings, the director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders—similar to the U.S.  city/district attorney—found it “against the interest of the country” to prosecute a likely pedophile because he was suffering from dementia.

Dementia can shield as well as expose you to the imperfections of the law. But sometimes the problem is not the person that is suffering from the disease, but their loved ones. Sex in nursing homes brings about that added dimension of ageism. The monochromatic belief is that older adults should not be having sex, especially those with dementia. But this attitude denies people's history, experience, expression and dignity.

The case at Windmill Manor in Itoralville, Iowa, where two patients with dementia become emotionally and physically involved, to the ostensible benefit to both, resulted in the couple becoming separated and the managers at the nursing home losing their job. In contrast, when there is an acceptance that dementia is a disease that erodes your memory and who you are, there is acceptance of such physical foibles. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor acceptance of her husband’s affair with a female resident at the same nursing home is a Technicolor reality. A situation that has been immortalized in Alice Munro's 1999 short story "The Bear Came Over The Mountain." Sometimes there is an appreciation that sex might be one form of communication remaining among many dead forms of expression. If you we appreciate and understand this, how far will we go to satisfy the needs of a demented patient? Sex and religion head butt often, but when it is your loved one would you support their needs.? The Australian case of a daughter of a dementia nursing home resident who procures a sex worker for her father with the blessing of the nursing home staff might seem liberal, but what if the nursing home was one of many run by religious organizations?

These are not easy moral decisions. And there are more Technicolor layers that await to become exposed. The LGBT older adults who have to go back in the closet when they enter an assisted living facility or a nursing home. Or the ostensibly heterosexual resident who suddenly (to the caregivers) develops an interest in same-sex residents. What if the other person was not a resident but a caregiver?  And not ignoring the sexual abuse of residents with dementia by their caregivers. 

The law has always meddled with sex, and it has always been on the wrong side of history. Sex with dementia would prove a tricky moral and legal issue. The certainty is that the Technicolor of the reality of sex among those diagnosed with dementia will continue to confound us and to make us relinquish our monochromatic morals for a less rigid one with many hues.

© USA Copyrighted 2015 Mario D. Garrett