Thursday, March 05, 2015

Black Hole

Picture of an artist’s illustration of a quasar with a supermassive black hole
A giant black hole weighing as much as 12 billion suns was found inside a quasar, a bright astronomical body like the one illustrated here with a black hole at its center.
ILLUSTRATION BY ZHAOYU LI, SHANGHAI ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORY
Michael D. Lemonick
PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 25, 2015
Astronomers have identified a mammoth black hole weighing as much as 12 billion suns./.../

Unsuccessfull Programs

Recomendado pelas Dras. Maria Inês Reinert Azambuja e Claudia Chaufan 


Why Programs Fail

by Richard Levins topics: Ecology
Richard Levins (humaneco@hsph.harvard.edu) is a third generation subversive, an ex-farmer, ecologist, and veteran of the Puerto Rican independence movement, Science for the People, anti-war, Marxist education, and other good causes. He teaches Human Ecology at the Harvard School of Public Health and is an adjunct foreign researcher at the Cuban Institute of Ecology and Systematics. This article is based on a lecture to the South Asian Student Association at the Harvard School of Public Health, May 7, 2009.
Several generations of development programs have left the gap between rich and poor countries wider than ever. Decades of aid and foreign investment have extracted many times more wealth than they bring in. Seventeen years after the Earth Summit at Rio, carbon dioxide continues to increase. The non-proliferation treaty has left us with more nukes, more countries possessing nukes, more sophisticated nuclear weapons, more willingness to use them. The fanfare of the Green Revolution has died down, and farmers are still being displaced to cities that can’t accommodate them. The first homes of the Green Revolution are now importers of food. Agricultural yields have increased, but so has hunger. Millennial development goals will not be reached.
It is not that no programs work. There have been dramatic successes such as the eradication of smallpox, the near eradication of polio, the containment of plague. But meanwhile, new diseases have burst forth, old ones have returned, malaria, tuberculosis, and diarrheal disease remain the big killers in much of the world. The destruction of wetlands forces migratory birds to fraternize and share their viruses with domestic fowl. Industrialized agriculture has become the petri dish for antibiotic resistance, and big corporations are in a mad race to grab up the farmland of Africa. The Thames is now clean enough to allow salmon to return, but the Colorado River barely trickles to the sea. Forests are protected in Japan and Europe, but at the expense of forests of Indonesia and the Philippines. There are more urban clinics, but the megacity is a historically new environment, vulnerable to diseases too virulent to survive in small, sparse populations. We may get a fuel-efficient car, making it easier to commute longer distances, and if China achieves the automobile density of Euro-North America, the equivalent of one third of the area devoted to rice production will have to be paved over. Aquaculture moves into the niche left by declining oceanic fisheries, but the ensuing salinization threatens already stressed water tables. Increases in productivity, which could give us more tranquil lives, result in longer workweeks, faster pace, and industries designed to compensate for the stresses of multitasking and insecurity, while the pharmaceutical industry, which can’t wait for new diseases to emerge, invents them, turning any variation in human physiology or behavior into a market for its products.
Most of these problems are well known to you, reported in technical and popular journals and the more literate television and radio programs. The missing step is to put them all together, to focus on the system that makes all of our crises profitable.
There is a pattern of a sort: narrowly focused technical solutions reshuffle crises.
When one program after another fails again and again, and when the failures are not random but somehow always benefit the owning class, we have to ask, “How come?” When people, just as smart as we are, regularly design programs that fail to achieve their stated goals, what are they refusing to deal with?
There are several possible answers.
First, the problem cannot be solved. Abundance, justice, and sustainability are incompatible. This answer is a dead end, like special creation, and carries with it just a whiff of self-serving. If it is true that we are doomed, then what remains is to speculate as to what might be a successful successor species for us. But it is also commonly observed that those who see their own way of privilege threatened also see this as universal disaster.
Second, “we” are doing the right thing but have to try harder, with more investment, more aid, more free trade. In support of this is the observation that most international pledges of aid remain unfulfilled. But more important, the neglected places have fared better ecologically than where “development” programs have been most vigorously pursued, and economic recession seems to provide the only respite that capitalism grants to the forests and waters.
It is not that they (not “we”) want people to be without health care, but that they want accessible health care, subject to the constraint that it is controlled by a private insurance business whose primary goal is profit. It is not that they want to leave people without medicine, but that they want them to buy medications from a private, for-profit pharmaceutical industry. It is not that they want medical costs to rise, but that costs should be contained only to the extent that profit is not harmed. It is not that they deplore medical research, but that they want the fruits of intellectual labor registered as intellectual property, and prefer research that is at least potentially marketable.
The third type of explanation is systemic and operates on at least three levels: the political economy, the institutional organization of the knowledge industry, and the intellectual biases and constraints that can turn small-scale ingenuity into large-scale disaster.
Political economy: In a capitalist economy, goods and services are commodities. Commodities are produced for sale, to make profit. The important thing about commodity production for us is that there is no necessary relation between the usefulness of something and its economic value or profitability.
Agriculture is not about producing food but about profit. Food is a side effect. While the majority of the world’s farmers are subsistence farmers, the bulk of the world’s food is produced as commodities by a small fraction of farm operators.
Health service is a commodity, health a by-product.
Development is about investment opportunities and markets, not correcting decades of plunder and exploitation.
“We,” that is, “they,” are really trying to do something quite different from the goals stated at numerous conferences, and perhaps succeeding at it all too well.
We must consider institutional fragmentation and the enclosure of the intellectual commons. Medical schools are isolated from agricultural schools, usually the former in large cities and the latter in rural areas. Departmental barriers help freeze the false dichotomies that disrupt our understanding of the world: social/biological, physiological/psychological, genetic/environmental, quantitative/qualitative, individual/social, random/deterministic, whereas the new creative approaches should be sought in their zones of interpenetration. Then the rules for recognition, academic promotion, standards for funding under discrete “programs,” time limits for degrees, definitions of the domains of journals, all conspire to reinforce the boundaries between fragments. The hierarchical arrangement of the disciplines promotes the reductionism that satisfies the economic needs of the corporations. A clarification is needed here: there is nothing wrong with reduction as a research tactic, the search for the internal parts of something, its smallest units. What is wrong is reductionism, the illusions that the smallest parts are in some way more fundamental, that once we know what something is made of, we understand it, that oxidation is more real than exploitation.
Knowledge is the product of a knowledge industry that is owned. Its owners establish the boundaries of the legitimate, determine the rules for who is recruited, who is excluded, the research agenda, the domain of acceptable theories, and provide the vocabulary for dismissing inconvenient ideas as “far out,” “not mainstream,” “unproven,” “ideological,” or other indications of taboo. They create the art of administration: the inventing of excuses to justify decisions taken for other reasons, and the conviction that this is being practical, realistic, etc.
Science prides itself on self-correcting mechanisms to catch error, which is supposed to create objectivity even when individuals may be fallible. We have become quite sophisticated about preventing idiosyncratic errors. We now know that we should wash our glassware, that experiments need controls for comparison, that the experimenters’ expectations can influence the outcome of an experiment, and so we have invented blind and double-blind designs. Work might be repeated in another lab. Peer review can protect journals from careless mistakes. We can filter out random results by statistical tests, and we never, never divide by zero. These procedures work fairly well. But they are completely useless against the shared biases of the whole scientific community, the assumptions and constraints that have become part of the common sense of our colleagues, our teachers, our funders.
The intellectual structure of our programs is still caught in the philosophy of seventeenth century reductionism that grew up with capitalism in Euro-North America.
Science is always flawed, all theories are limited and each has a finite life span before being replaced by a better theory. Science boasts of being self-correcting.
But the correction of the inevitable errors, an essential part of the development of knowledge, is prevented or retarded by generic conflict of interest. In recent years, the professional journals and universities have recognized generic conflict of interest: situations in which researchers have economic stakes in the outcomes of their research that influences their reports and determine what to include and what to withhold. Scientists might be shareholders in corporations whose products they defend, or receive fees for testimony in court against claims that a chemical or physical exposure is harmful, or win grants for sponsored research, or they may be courted with invitations to lecture in delightful places and paid with generous honoraria, or they may prescribe treatment at their own private clinics.
Disclosure statements detailing possible conflict of interest have become part of the effort to protect the intellectual integrity of science and scholarship. They encourage our skepticism about claimed benefits of patented drugs. This may be working more or less well. But it does not touch on generic conflict of interest, the coziness and overlapping outlooks among corporations, government and international agencies, universities, major foundations, honorary societies, think tanks, and prestigious journals that has created a kind of Nomenclatura,generic conflict of interesta kind of informal Social Register. This is the pool of people who consult each other, review each others’ grants, allocate awards, invite each other to give prestigious lectures, give each other jobs and prizes, set the intellectual agendas, teach each other when to raise eyebrows, and generally show mutual appreciation while guarding the boundaries of the respectable.
Professors are increasingly obliged to “mobilize resources”—jargon for raising money. The money can be raised from government agencies, corporations, foundations, NGOs, and private individuals. Among the government agencies for public health and policy professionals, the “Defense” Department, the National Institutes of Health, the Agency for International Development are especially prominent. Among international agencies, the World Bank is preeminent for any development studies. Therefore, the “quality” of proposals is determined by donors. And for corporations, not all knowledge is equally convertible into commodities. Thus the quest for culpable genes is more fundable than the study of the industrial origins of cancer, the invention of new pesticides more fundable than studying the protective effects of mixed plantings, finding ways to supplement the nutrition of peasants on thirteen cents a day is more legitimate than helping them organize for land reform. Studying the financing of “public-private partnership” is more popular than examining how universal free health care could work. And, for those who are uncomfortable with the obvious and deliberate blindness of the organs of “progress,” there are articulate scholars working at the outer, most humane, fringes of respectability who catalog the faults and petty idiocies of the system but reject fundamental questioning of the grand idiocy of investing our hopes in more rational greed.
But if the funding is constrained, so is support for students and their potential employment. Therefore, students are trained in the reductionist tradition and encouraged to focus narrowly, especially since any detours toward greater breadth take time, and you hear those student loans ticking away. The available courses are in the fields of the professors, the more expensive kinds of research are subcontracts of the major professors’ grants, preparing students for similar kinds of research. And there is always the possibility of a job in one or another organ of the network.
There is nothing underhanded about any of this. Within this world, they may sincerely like and admire each other. It was “natural,” some years ago, for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to establish a membership section for “business” but not for labor. It is not necessary to be a grantee or a shareholder in a company to know that you are potentially a consultant or guest. C. Wright Mills described the workings of this Nomenclatura ingeneric conflict of interest. Each separate act makes sense within a shared common sense; it is practical, “proven,” etc. Of course universities need donors. Of course students have to be prepared for the kinds of jobs they might get. Of course bankers are experts in finance, and generals are the knowledgeable guests to invite as commentators on matters of war. When the sum of all the rationalities is irrational, the whole system has to be examined.
Generic conflict of interest creates a great dilemma for students and faculty who want to face fully and broadly the problems confronting our species. We have to navigate in a terrain of a mixture of conflict and cooperation with our institutions and colleagues. We may share an excitement about the evolution of the virulence of bacteria or the interactions of pollutants in complex mixtures, or how traditional knowledge can be integrated with scientific knowledge. But we balk at collaboration with colonialist institutions such as the World Bank or terrorist agencies such as USAID.
And we have to find ways of promoting a more holistic, complex, integral approach to scientific problems. In so doing, we can follow a series of dialectical clues:
The truth is the whole. A problem has to be posed large enough to fit a meaningful solution. No matter how small the problem you work on, always ask, “Where is the rest of the world?” even within courses with restricted vision.
Things are more connected than they seem, even across disciplinary boundaries. Parts determine wholes, but wholes also determine parts.
Things are snapshots of processes when a temporary balance of opposing forces creates a transient stability for long enough to warrant a name.
Things are the way they are because they got that way, have not always been that way everywhere, need not be that way. Always ask, “Why are things the way they are instead of a little bit different?” And “Why are things the way they are instead of very different?”
Apply all these tools also to ourselves and our own fields of work. That way, we can cope with the dual nature of science: on the one hand, the millennial unfolding of human knowledge, and on the other, the property of a knowledge industry that creates the paradox of a growing rationality in the small, at the level of the laboratory, and a growing irrationality at the level of the enterprise as a whole.
In order to work toward that combination of understanding and humane commitment, of cooperation and challenge, we couldn’t do better than follow the advice of my grandmother when she sent me off to start first grade: study hard, learn all they can teach you, and don’t believe everything they say.

Claudia Chaufan 
Associate Professor
University of California San Francisco 
Fulbright Research Chair 2015
York University, Canada


Statins : DM


Statins May Seriously Increase Diabetes Risk

128585544
Getty Images

Statins can lower cholesterol and even tamp down inflammation to keep the risk of heart disease down. But these commonly prescribed drugs may increase the risk of diabetes, and by a considerable amount

Doctors may have to weigh a serious potential risk before prescribing statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs that are among most prescribed drugs in America. In a study published inDiabetologia, scientists from Finland found that men prescribed statins to lower their cholesterol had a 46% greater chance of developing diabetes after six years compared to those who weren’t taking the drug. What’s more, the statins seemed to make people more resistant to the effects of insulin—which breaks down sugar—and to secrete less insulin. The impact on insulin seemed to be greatest among those who started out with the lowest, and closest to normal, levels of blood glucose. And the higher the dose of the statin, and the longer the patients took them, the greater their risk of diabetes./.../

The pain of exclusion

Em escala social a rejeição, exclusão ou discriminação devem ter impacto potencializado, e os excluídos devem procurar apoio no grupo mais próximo com o qual se identifiquem. Lembra as considerações sobre auto-estima do Michael Marmot.
delanceyplace header
Today's encore selection -- from "The Pain of Exclusion" by Kipling D. Williams. Our need to matter and our need to belong are as fundamental as our need to eat and breathe. Therefore ostracism -- rejection, silence, exclusion -- is one of the most powerful punishments that one person can inflict on another. Brain scans have shown that this rejection is actually experienced as physical pain, and that this pain is experienced whether those that reject us are close friends or family or total strangers, and whether the act is overt exclusion or merely looking away. Most typically, ostracism causes us to act to be included again -- to belong again -- although not necessarily with the same group:

"Studies reveal that even subtle, artificial or ostensibly unimportant exclusion can lead to strong emotional reactions. A strong reaction makes sense when your spouse's family or close circle of friends rejects or shuns you, because these people are important to you. It is more surprising that important instances of being barred are not necessary for intense feelings of rejection to emerge. We can feel awful even after people we have never met simply look the other way.

"This reaction serves a function: it warns us that something is wrong, that there exists a serious threat to our social and psychological well-being. Psychologists Roy Baumeister of Florida State University and Mark Leary of Duke University had argued in a 1995 article that belonging to a group was a need -- not a desire or preference -- and, when thwarted, leads to psychological and physical illness. Meanwhile other researchers have hypothesized that belonging, self-esteem, a sense of control over your life and a belief that existence is meaningful constitute four fundamental psychological needs that we must meet to function as social individuals. ...



"Ostracism uniquely threatens all these needs. Even in a verbal or physical altercation, individuals are still connected. Total exclusion, however, severs all bonds. Social rejection also deals a uniquely harsh blow to self-esteem, because it implies wrongdoing. Worse, the imposed silence forces us to ruminate, generating self-deprecating thoughts in our search for an explanation. The forced isolation also makes us feel helpless: you can fight back, but no one will respond. Finally, ostracism makes our very existence feel less meaningful because this type of rejection makes us feel invisible and unimportant. The magnitude of the emotional impact of ostracism even makes evolutionary sense. After all, social exclusion interferes not only with reproductive success but also with survival. People who do not belong are not included in collaborations necessary to obtain and share food and also lack protection against enemies.

"In fact, the emotional fallout is so poignant that the brain registers it as physical pain. ... As soon as [we begin] to feel ostracized, [brain] scanners register a flurry of activity in [our] dorsal anterior cingulate cortex -- a brain region associated with the emotional aspects of physical pain. ...

"For most people, ostracism usually engenders a concerted effort to be included again, though not necessarily by the group that shunned us. We do this by agreeing with, mimicking, obeying or cooperating with others. In our 2000 study, for example, Cheung and Choi asked participants to perform a perceptual task in which they had to memorize a simple shape such as a triangle and correctly identify the shape within a more complex figure. Before they made their decision, we flashed the supposed answers of other participants on the screen. Those who had been previously ostracized ... were more likely than included players to give the same answers as the majority of participants, even though the majority was always wrong. Those who had been excluded wanted to fit in, even if that meant ignoring their own better judgment.

"Although personality seems to have no influence on our immediate reactions to ostracism, character traits do affect how quickly we recover from it and how we cope with the experience. ... People who are socially anxious tend to ruminate or are prone to depression take longer to recover from ostracism than other people do."

Author:Kipling D. Williams
Title:"The Pain of Exclusion"
Publisher:Scientific American Mind
Date:January/February 2011
Pages:30-37

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Depression

What Depression Does to Our Minds When It Attacks | Psychiatric Times

What Depression Does to Our Minds When It Attacks

After two of my acquaintances died on the same day in the same way—by shooting themselves—I heard various comments:
     “But he was such a strong Christian! How could he do this?”
      “I guess he took the easy (or, ‘the coward’s’) way out.”  
     “He wasn’t thinking about his family at all, that’s for sure!”  
      “Well, I always thought only losers had depression, like people living on the street, or alcoholics and drug addicts – nobody but losers!
None of the people who said these things understood depression at all or what it can do to anybody.  
I’ve been a journalist, a college teacher in Hong Kong, and—for 22 years—a pediatrician. I was chief of staff and a trustee at a
700-plus bed medical center with 2 campuses and 400 doctors. I am a dedicated Christian, a Presbyterian elder, and a veteran
of medical mission trips to the Amazon. I speak fluent Spanish, some Portuguese, a little German, and a bit of Cantonese.
When I am thinking rationally, I can see that I am intelligent, witty, well-liked and respected.
I also have battled depression for more than 40 years, and when I am depressed, I do think I am a complete loser.  
I have been so depressed that I have considered killing myself many times. I decided 30 years ago that I could never safely
own a firearm because I knew what I would do with it someday. Even so, I have come close to buying a gun. A few years ago,
I had extremely severe, treatment-resistant depression—an epoch more than an episode—that lasted several years and steadily
worsened despite multiple medicines and weekly visits to my psychiatrist. Eventually, I did go shopping for a pistol.
With great difficulty, I chose not to buy it and committed myself to the hospital instead.
I had extreme depression— much more severe than that endured by the great majority of people who become depressed.
Most need only counseling and perhaps medicine to become happy once more. They don’t lose their jobs or have to be admitted to
hospitals, and they do not come close to killing themselves. Unfortunately, most who are depressed do not seek any help—often
because they fear what others will think. This is a mistake, because effective help is available.
I too was afraid of the stigma and of being labeled a loser. Until I entered the hospital for intense treatment, I hid my depression as
long as possible. I was afraid others would think me weak instead of strong, think there was something “wrong” with me, that I was
broken and could not be “fixed.” I feared they would believe I could not be an effective physician if they knew I had depression.
I also have a stubborn independent streak. I believed that I could “handle it”—a trait common among physicians. We see a problem and
we fix it. Before I ended up in the hospital, I (eventually) let only my partners, my pastor, and a few close friends know that I was
seeing a psychiatrist and taking medicine. No one in my own family knew. I was too ashamed to tell anyone I had a mental illness. /.../


Goodness, Altruism?

Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others

by David Sloan Wilson
Yale University Press/ Templeton Press, 180 pp., $27.50
The Biology of Being Good to Others by H. Allen Orr
orr_1-031915.png 
Scientists Richard Owen and Thomas Henry Huxley studying a water-baby in a flask; illustration designed by Linley Sambourne and engraved by Joseph Swain, from Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby, 1885

1.

Altruism may seem a good thing—unless you happen to be an evolutionary biologist. Then it may seem a mixture of a mystery and a curse. The reason isn’t hard to see. How could a ruthless process like Darwinian natural selection give rise to altruistic organisms, human or nonhuman, that act in ways that are costly to themselves and helpful to others? Darwin himself was aware of the difficulty and offered some tentative solutions, but it was during the twentieth century that altruism became the subject of nearly fetishistic attention among evolutionary biologists./.../

Amyloid in young people

Brain Protein Tied to Alzheimer's Spotted in Young Adults

People as young as 20 have amyloid buildup, but researchers aren't sure what it means
Brain Protein Tied to Alzheimer's Spotted in Young Adults
By 
HealthDay Reporter
MONDAY, March 2, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Brain plaque buildup, long linked to the onset of Alzheimer's disease, has been identified in the brains of men and women as young as 20, researchers say.
"One thing this means is that the resource, the machinery, for making the clumps of plaque we see among Alzheimer's patients is already available in young individuals," said study co-author Changiz Geula, a research professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
"The implication appears to be that if we want to prevent these clumps from forming when a person becomes old, we may need to intervene much earlier than we have thought, to try and get rid of amyloid very early in life," Geula said./.../

Light: particle and wave

The first ever photograph of light as both a particle and wave

Mar 02, 2015
The first ever photograph of light as both a particle and wave
(Phys.org)—Light behaves both as a particle and as a wave. Since the days of Einstein, scientists have been trying to directly observe both of these aspects of light at the same time. Now, scientists at EPFL have succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of this dual behavior.


Quantum mechanics tells us that  can behave simultaneously as a particle or a wave. However, there has never been an experiment able to capture both natures of light at the same time; the closest we have come is seeing either wave or particle, but always at different times. Taking a radically different experimental approach, EPFL scientists have now been able to take the first ever snapshot of light behaving both as a wave and as a particle. The breakthrough work is published in Nature Communications./.../

Benefit of Eating Salt

The Weird Benefit of Eating Salty Food

115788609
Andrew Unangst—Getty Images

Too much salt can lead to heart disease, but there may be a healthy side to salt that hasn’t been appreciated — until now

If you’re an average American, chances are that you’re eating too much salt. But the latest research — which, the scientists stress, is still in its early stages — hints that there may be some benefits to salt that have gone unnoticed. Salt, it seems, may be an ancient way for the body to protect itself against bacteria.
Reporting in the journal Cell Metabolism, Jonathan Jantsch, from the University of Regensburg in Germany, says that salt may be an effective way to ward off microbes. In a series of studies using both mice and human cells, he and his colleagues found that levels of sodium go up around an infection site, and that without salt, bacteria tend to flourish and grow better./.../

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

information overload and decision-making



information overload and decision-making 3/03/15

From:delanceyplace | www.delanceyplace.com
Today's selection --from The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin. We live in a world with 300 exabytes (300 billion billion) of information, an amount that is rapidly expanding to ever greater amounts from this already brobdingnagian level. And yet the processing capacity of the conscious mind is a mere 120 bits per second. This presents a challenge to not only our processing capacity, but also our decision-making ability:

"Neuroscientists have discovered that unproductively and loss of drive can result from decision overload. Although most of us have no problem ranking the importance of decisions if asked to do so, our brains don't automatically do this. ... The mere situation of facing ... many [small] decisions in daily life creates neural fatigue, leaving no energy for the important decisions. Recent research shows that people who were asked to make a series of meaningless decisions ... showed poorer impulse control and lack of judgment about subsequent decisions. It's as though our brains are configured to make a certain number of decisions per day and once we reach that limit, we can't make any more, regardless of how important they are. One of the most useful findings in recent neuroscience could be summed up as: The decision-making network in our brain doesn't prioritize.
"Today, we are confronted with an unprecedented amount of information, and each of us generates more information than ever before in human history. ... Information scientists have quantified all this: In 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986 -- the equivalent of 175 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes or 100,000 words every day. The world's 21,274 television stations produce 85,000 hours of original programming every day as we watch an average of 5 hours of television each day, the equivalent of 20 gigabytes of audio-video images. That's not counting YouTube, which uploads 6,000 hours of video every hour. And computer gaming? It consumes more bytes than all other media put together, including DVDs, TV, books, magazines, and the Internet.
"Just trying to keep our own media and electronic files organized can be overwhelming. Each of us has the equivalent of over half a million books stored on our computers, not to mention all the information stored in our cell phones or in the magnetic stripe on the back of our credit cards. We have created a world with 300 exabytes (300,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces) of human-made information. If each of those pieces of information were written on a 3 x 5 index card and then spread out side by side, just one person's share -- your share of this information -- would cover every square inch of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.
"Our brains do have the ability to process the information we take in, but at a cost: We can have trouble separating the trivial from the important, and all this information processing makes us tired. Neurons are living cells with a metabolism; they need oxygen and glucose to survive and when they've been working hard, we experience fatigue. Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport, or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.
"The processing capacity of the conscious mind has been estimated at 120 bits per second. That bandwidth, or window, is the speed limit for the traffic of information we can pay conscious attention to at anyone time. While a great deal occurs below the threshold of our awareness, and this has an impact on how we feel and what our life is going to be like, in order for something to become encoded as part of your experience, you need to have paid conscious attention to it.
"What does this bandwidth restriction -- this information speed limit mean in terms of our interactions with others? In order to understand one person speaking to us, we need to process 60 bits of information per second. With a processing limit of 120 bits per second, this means you can barely understand two people talking to you at the same time. Under most circumstances, you will not be able to understand three people talking at the same time. We're surrounded on this planet by billions of other humans, but we can understand only two at a time at the most! It's no wonder that the world is filled with so much misunderstanding. With such attentional restrictions, it's clear why many of us feel overwhelmed by managing some of the most basic aspects of life."
author:Daniel J. Levitin
title:The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
publisher:Penguin Group
date:Copyright 2014 by Daniel J. Levin
pages:6-7