RIP: Tony Rice (1951-2020)

Tom Cole | NPR

Tony Rice could seemingly do it all: sing, compose, play spot-on rhythm. But it was his guitar solos that just astounded audiences and fellow musicians alike. He was idolized by bluegrass and acoustic music fans in large part because he was determined never to let them down.

Rice died on Christmas morning at the age of 69. His death was first announced by the International Bluegrass Music Association.

David Anthony Rice was born in Danville, Va., on June 8, 1951. His father was a welder and the family moved to Los Angeles, where the youngster got into bluegrass. His first big influence was guitarist Clarence White and the Kentucky Colonels.

At the age of 19, Rice moved back East to play professionally, eventually joining banjo player J.D. Crowe’s band, the New South. In 1975, they released the landmark album, J.D. Crowe and the New South. Its progressive sounds marked a dramatic shift in bluegrass and the album became so iconic among fans that it was known simply by its record label catalogue number: Rounder 0044.

Tony Rice could seemingly do it all: sing, compose, play spot-on rhythm. But it was his guitar solos that just astounded audiences and fellow musicians alike. He was idolized by bluegrass and acoustic music fans in large part because he was determined never to let them down.

It was during this period that Rice first heard the music of mandolinist David Grisman, who was pushing boundaries even further. So Rice moved back to California to join Grisman’s Quintet in San Francisco. This is when the guitarist truly stepped out as a leading voice in new acoustic music. The musicians studied improvisation and chord theory with jazz guitarist John Carlini and Rice grew exponentially. (In 1995, the two released one of the most beautiful guitar duo albums ever recorded, 

He eventually left Grisman to form the Tony Rice Unit, which played everything from jazz to bluegrass.

Posted in Mileposts, Music | Leave a comment

Alexa, Hypnotize Me

Hypnosis, now going virtual, is gaining more acceptance from doctors, researchers and entrepreneurs. But potential patients remain skeptical.


Betsy Morris | The Wall Street Journal

Kelley Cutler was deeply skeptical when she took part in a month-long pilot test of Reveri Health, a new digital hypnosis program, at Stanford University last year. The San Francisco social worker needed help quitting smoking, and only joined the program at her doctor’s urging.

“I was thinking it was nonsense and was never going to work,” says Ms. Cutler, 44, who had smoked for 25 years. Her first hypnosis session, which took place in person with a clinician, was so anxiety-producing that she had to have a cigarette afterward.

Reveri Health, one of a new generation of hypnosis programs and apps that make the practice easily accessible at home, then required her to take part in interactive, self-hypnosis sessions at home for a month. After two of the digital sessions, she was shocked to discover that she no longer felt like smoking. “The craving was really gone,” she says. “I can’t explain it. It doesn’t make sense.”

She hasn’t had a cigarette since. “This hypnosis is some crazy-ass voodoo,” she says. “And I mean that in a good way.”

Hypnosis is no longer considered crazy in the medical field, doctors say, but many patients, like Ms. Cutler, still are leery. The practice has increasingly gained acceptance in the medical community, and in the last two years, the research into how and why it works has accelerated, with new studies on the use of hypnosis to alleviate anxiety; ward off pain; and successfully inhibit the fear circuitry structures in the brain.

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors have started to take notice, creating new apps that aim to popularize hypnosis in a similar way to meditation, which until recently was also considered fringe. A safer alternative to medications like opioids, hypnosis can be a helpful tool for combating the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic, doctors and researchers say, especially as it can be done successfully via recording or over Zoom. But while many people are in need of stress relief right now, hypnosis still has a strong stigma that often prevents them from trying it.

“People either think it’s ridiculous or dangerous,” says David Spiegel, a clinical psychiatrist and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine and co-founder of Reveri Health. “Because it’s hypnosis, people just don’t take it seriously.”

Read the rest of the article here:

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When QAnon Came to Canada

Posted in Culture War | Leave a comment

Project Northmoor

Establishing the First Centre in the World, Dedicated to all Things J.R.R. Tolkien

There is no centre devoted to Tolkien studies anywhere in the world – a remarkable fact considering the writer’s importance and continuing popularity. Purchasing Tolkien’s former home would be a fantastic place to establish such a Centre. An effort to do so is being undertaken by the cast of The Lord of the Rings movies.

If the former home is secured for Tolkien fans, it will be renovated so that guests can experience what it would probably have been like to call on the writer in 1940. Upstairs the bedrooms would reflect the depth of cultures that he invented and the garden would be restored to a beauty of which both Tolkien and Sam Gamgee would be proud.

People would then be able to be a guest at the Centre by booking into its program of retreats, writing seminars and other cultural events, or by joining in virtually with an online program. – cPaul

Press Release:

Press Release

Dec 2, 2020

Sir Ian McKellen, Annie Lennox, Martin Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Sir Derek Jacobi and Others Join with Author Julia Golding for Crowdfunding Effort to Try and Save J.R.R. Tolkien’s Famed House

Tolkien Fans Can Help Save 20 Northmoor Road Starting December 2!

OXFORD, ENGLAND (December 2, 2020) – Ian McKellen, Annie Lennox, Martin Freeman, John Rhys- Davies, Sir Derek Jacobi and a host of others have joined with award-winning author Julia Golding to launch a crowdfunding campaign to try and save 20 Northmoor Road, the Oxford house in which J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, in advance of its being put on the market for sale.

The initiative, Project Northmoor, aims to purchase the house and set up a literary center in honor of Tolkien, one of the most beloved literary writers of the Twentieth Century.

McKellen, the famed actor who earned an Oscar nomination for his role as wizard Gandalf in the 2001 film, The Fellowship of the Rings, is helping to gather a new fellowship of funders to purchase the house. The crowdfunding campaign begins on December 2nd at

To kick off the project, McKellen and a host of celebrities and others associated with the Tolkien universe have come together for a special video, to launch here – also on December 2. Appearing the video are music legend Annie Lennox (who wrote and performed the Oscar winning theme “Into the West,” from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), Emmy Awarding-winning actor Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit trilogy), actor John Rhys-Davies (Gimli in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), the Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor Sir Derek Jacobi (TolkienFarmer Giles of Ham), and illustrator John Howe (The Lord of the RingsThe Hobbit). Other notables including Lord Rowan Williams of Oystermouth (a former Archbishop of Canterbury), Joseph Loconte (author of A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and the Great War), Chris Broadway (aka Quickbeam,, and more.

The period house, which is an hour’s drive from London, is largely unchanged since it was built in 1924. It features six large bedrooms upstairs, one bedroom on the ground floor and a spacious garden. The Tolkien family moved there in 1930 and stayed there for 17 years, during which time JRR Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and where he also hosted C.S. Lewis.

With the support of volunteers in the U.S., Golding has seized on this once-in-a-generation opportunity and negotiated a 3-month fundraising window with the current owner. The aim is to buy it using crowdfunding to include Tolkien fans from around the world. The funding target is $6 million USD ($4.5m pounds), of which $5.3 million USD is to pay for the house. The remainder will go to the necessary renovations to comply with building regulations, start-up costs of the charity, with additional funds going towards developing the literary programs. The operation will be financially self-sustaining once established.

“To raise six million dollars in three months is a huge challenge,” says Golding. “However, we need only to look at Frodo and Sam’s journey from Rivendell to Mount Doom, which took that same amount of time – and we are inspired that we can do this too!”

“We cannot achieve this without the support of the worldwide community of Tolkien fans, our fellowship of funders,” said Ian McKellen.

As a charitable venture, the mission of Project Northmoor is to promote Tolkien’s work, allow a diverse range of fantasy writers and artists to come together to write, learn and create, and preserve the fascinating house for future generations to enjoy. The facility would also have an engaging online presence to bring into the house’s programme those who cannot travel to Oxford.

“Unbelievably, considering his importance, there is no centre devoted to Tolkien anywhere in the world,” said John Rhys-Davies, the actor who played both Gimli and Treebeard in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. “The vision is to make Tolkien’s house into a literary hub that will inspire new generations of writers, artists and filmmakers for many years to come.”

Fans may donate to the Project Northmoor crowdfunding campaign at:, starting December 2 and going through March 15, 2021. If the campaign to purchase the house is successful, donors will have an array of benefits: from having their name listed in the Red Book of funders that will sit in Tolkien’s study, to being invited to VIP events and even overnight stays – depending on the level of donation.

To donate or for more information: 


For interviews please contact:
Chris Roslan
Roslan & Associates Public Relations (212) 966-4600 ext 101

Posted in Books, Travel | Leave a comment

Trump has Changed the way Evangelical Christians Think About the Apocalypse

Thomas Lecaque | Published in Greenwich Time

In Emily St. John Mandel’s novel “Station Eleven,” survivors of an apocalyptic pandemic do their best to rebuild their lives in northern Michigan. Some of them build an apocalyptic cult premised on the idea that the epidemic was a judgment from God that spared those who were worthy. One of the characters, Tyler Leander, takes the title of “prophet” and builds a militant, Christian-infused apocalyptic movement – a movement that in the book, of course, fails.

A similar strand of “prophetic” Christianity is alive and well in America, and we, too, are in the midst of a pandemic that with an ever-increasing death toll could easily be described in apocalyptic terms. Further, as I have written before, President Donald Trump certainly seems like he is the apocalyptic figure that evangelicals are looking for, and his personal failings fit into a preexisting Christian apocalyptic framework. But as I look around, waiting to see our own Leander emerge from the ranks of Trump’s evangelical supporters, it’s apparent that none of them are showing up. It’s not like apocalyptic preachers don’t have plenty of apocalyptic events to choose from this year if the coronavirus isn’t sufficient: murder hornets in the Pacific Northwest; a derecho of unimaginable strength in Iowa; wildfires raging across the western half of the country, a strain of avian flu – separate from the coronavirus – found in a turkey farm in South Carolina, hastily suppressed. If none of these portends the apocalypse for today’s evangelicals, it isn’t the events themselves or the eschatological theology that’s stopping them from taking them that way – it’s what interpreting them in such terms would mean. Simply put, the pandemic is not the apocalypse they are looking for.

The Trump administration has left its apocalyptically inclined evangelical allies in an eschatological bind: They have an apocalyptic leader and an apocalyptic scenario, but they themselves are fully in power . . . or at least they have been. According to evangelical teaching, the apocalypse traditionally begins with a time of persecution of the true church – at which point, the Four Horsemen, of whom one may be Pestilence, emerge. If the pandemic is apocalyptic, in evangelical thought, it is part of the “Great Tribulation.” But for that to come about, an ungodly ruler must be in power, which means if the moment we’re living through is the “Great Tribulation,” Trump is not the apocalyptic hero but one of the villains – and they are following the wrong leader. That could, of course, all change once Biden’s victory is finally and irrevocably clear. But for the time being, these assumptions speak to the relative absence of apocalyptic alarm among evangelicals – and, perhaps, help explain their reluctance to take the pandemic seriously.

The last great disease outbreak that became presidential news before 2020 was the horrific Ebola outbreak in 2014, where Trump accused the president of being a “psycho” for not stopping flights, and Robert Jeffress, one of Trump’s most ardent evangelical defenders, wrote a book claiming that ISIS and Ebola were the countdown to the apocalypse. He wasn’t the only one who linked Ebola and apocalypse together: Franklin Graham, another Trump supporter, wrote that the Ebola outbreak was a sign of the end times; the writer Sharon K. Gilbert, who appears to be supportive of Trump, wrote the nonfiction “Ebola and the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse,” linking it to Revelation 6:8: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: And his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” Even more directly, James Hagee, another Trump supporter, said that Ebola was God’s punishment for Obama’s “dividing Jerusalem.”

If a horrific – but limited – outbreak in Africa in 2014 under President Barack Obama, the first Black president of this country, was an apocalyptic event, certainly a global pandemic whose global death toll now numbers well over a million should qualify as well. But the idea of Christian apocalypse relies on a narrative of degeneracy. The world is so bad that it can only be redeemed by a millennial transformation through, say, cataclysmic warfare, or a society-ending pandemic, or whatever other apocalyptic event strikes the imminent eschatological fancy – something many modern evangelicals continue to focus on. Ebola certainly seemed to fit the bill. Covid-19 of course fits it even better. But Trump’s evangelical allies have subjugated theology to partisanship.

What apocalypticism we did get in the lead-up to the election was muted, at best. Pat Robertson claimed Trump would be reelected, and this would lead to war and the End Times, with no mention of covid-19. John Hagee claimed the coronavirus was a deliberate plot, with China, the media and liberal politicians supposedly conspiring to make it an issue to hurt Trump in November. We got the bizarre, incorrect predictions of QAnon and their never-coming “Storm” – and now Q has effectively accepted Trump’s loss, seeming to suggest it, too, is part of the “plan.” And we got a new wave of “Patriot Churches,” embracing the notion of Christian Nationalism and connecting it explicitly to Trump. We did not get a widespread narrative of the pandemic as the apocalypse.

Donald Trump pulled 75 percent to 80 percent of evangelical voters in 2020, according to early AP analysis. The rhetoric of spiritual warfare, of holy war, of sacral violence, is mostly being channeled into the false claim that Trump won the election – but in service of specifically Trumpian talking points, with Christian rhetoric being guided by partisan ideology rather than theological aims. Terri Pearsons, for example, called on God to cause Democratic legislators to switch parties to give the GOP control and hand the election to Trump, saying, “And I’m asking you to strip Nancy Pelosi of her position there and reduce that majority to a minority, in the name of Jesus. We ask you, and we agree together and declare that the House becomes a majority of righteous representation.” Trump’s Pentecostal allies weighed in, with Stephen Strang discussing “the massive voter fraud that seems to have taken place” and a “great war in the Spirit” to come and Paula White engaging in “spiritual warfare” to win the election on Nov. 4 then in a second service on Nov. 5 claiming the agendas against Trump’s reelection are of the Antichrist, against God’s “chosen king.” There are myriad other examples – George Pearsons talking about God intervening on Trump’s behalf, Eric Metaxas tweeting about divine retribution on “those who cheated,” Pastor Greg Locke tweeting about “evil elitists steal[ing] our election,” Kenneth Copeland leading a service laughing at length at the concept of Biden being president, and Michele Bachmann praying “Smash the delusion, Father, of Joe Biden as our president – he is not.”

It is only now that the results are clear – if still rhetorically contested – that the language of Trump’s allies can return to the eschatological. Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, responded to an interviewed asking him why God would allow Trump to lose by saying, “it could be that Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris are a judgment of God on the United States.” Robert Jeffress, Trump’s stalwart ally, finally published an opinion piece entitled “Biden is president-elect – how should Christians respond?” In it, he writes, “Now, it’s always easier to submit and to pray for someone when he was our preferred candidate. But the rubber really meets the road when the person who takes office is not the one we supported. Paul didn’t give us any wiggle room – his command applies all the same, whether the emperor was the faith-friendly Constantine or the evil emperor Nero.” With that last note, linking Joe Biden to Nero, Jeffress pivots back to apocalypticism. Nero is seen as the first persecutor of Christianity, and in Late Antiquity had already been given an apocalyptic image of Antichrist. This remains a contemporary evangelical idea, of Nero as an Antichrist, with more to come. Now that Trump has lost, let the apocalypse recommence.

Ultimately, though, it remains the case that evangelical preachers have primarily been deploying the language of partisan rhetoric in the guise of Christianity, tempering and transforming their most ardent beliefs in the process. Why was the coronavirus not the apocalypse Ebola was? Because Trump said over and over again that it was not a crisis. If it was, they would have to take it seriously, split with Trump, and close their churches – which they will not do. The coronavirus is not the crisis they are waiting for – the crisis is what happens when the politician to whom you’ve harnessed your theology to loses. Just as Trump refuses to acknowledge his electoral defeat, that’s not something his evangelical allies are ready to deal with yet.

– – –

Thomas Lecaque is an assistant professor of history at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.


Posted in Culture War, Faith | Leave a comment

Man and dog: Ancient genetics study reveals complex history

a dog sitting in front of a building: Much of the diversity among dogs today was already present some 11,000 years ago around the end of the last Ice Age, according to a global study of ancient DNA
© Angela Weiss
Much of the diversity among dogs today was already present some 11,000 years ago around the end of the last Ice Age, according to a global study of ancient DNA

Much of the diversity seen in modern dog populations was already present around the time the last Ice Age had ended 11,000 years ago, a global study of ancient DNA revealed Thursday.

The paper, published in Science, showed how our canine companions spread across the world with their masters, but also found intriguing periods when our shared history was decoupled.

A research team led by the Francis Crick Institute sequenced the genomes of 27 dogs, some of which lived nearly 11,000 years ago, across Europe, the Near East and Siberia.

They found that by this time, well before the domestication of any other animal, there were already at least five different types of dog with distinct genetic ancestries.

Pontus Skoglund of Crick’s Ancient Genomics laboratory, the paper’s senior author, said: “Some of the variation you see between dogs walking down the street today originated in the Ice Age. 

“By the end of this period, dogs were already widespread across the northern hemisphere.”

He added this implied that the diversity arose far earlier, “way back in time, during the hunter gatherer Stone Age, the Paleolithic, way before agriculture.”

When and where dogs first diverged from wolves is a contentious matter — analyses of genetic data indicates a window of roughly 25,000-40,000 years ago.

The new paper doesn’t enter this vexed debate but does support the idea that, unlike other animals such as pigs which appear to have been domesticated in multiple locations over time, there is a “single origin” from wolves to dogs.

The scientists found that all dogs probably share a common ancestry “from a single ancient, now-extinct wolf population,” with limited gene flow from wolves since domestication but substantial dog-to-wolf gene flow.

– Convergent evolution –

By extracting and analyzing ancient DNA from skeletal material, the researchers were able to see evolutionary changes as they occurred thousands of years ago.

For instance, European dogs around four or five thousand years ago were highly diverse and appeared to originate from highly distinct populations from Near Eastern and Siberian dogs. But over time, this diversity was lost.

“Although the European dogs we see today come in such an extraordinary array of shapes and forms, genetically they derive from only a very narrow subset of the diversity that used to exist,” said the paper’s lead author Anders Bergstrom.

Evolutionary pathways between our two species have at times followed similar routes.

Humans, for example, have more copies than chimpanzees of a gene that creates a digestive enzyme called salivary amylase, which helps us break down high-starch diets. 

Likewise, the paper demonstrated that early dogs carried extra copies of these genes compared to wolves, and this trend only increased over time as their diets adapted to agricultural life.

This builds on previous research that found Arctic sled dogs, like Inuits, have evolved similar metabolic pathways to allow them to process high-fat diets.

The new work documents several times when human movement contributed to dog expansion, building on previous research by others such as a 2018 paper that found the first dogs of North America originated from a breed in Siberia, but almost disappeared entirely after the arrival of Europeans.

There have also been periods when our histories have not run in parallel — for example the loss of diversity that once existed in dogs in early Europe was caused by the spread of single dog ancestry that replaced other populations, an event not mirrored in human migrations.

The field of ancient DNA study has revolutionized the study of our ancestors and researchers are hopeful it can do the same for dogs, our longest animal allies.

“Understanding the history of dogs teaches us not just about their history but also about our own history,” said Bergstrom.

Posted in Science | Leave a comment

How to Talk About Mental Illness in a New Relationship

Elizabeth Yuko | Lifehacker

Dating can be tricky for anyone, but for those living with mental illness things can get a little more complicated. Putting aside how having an anxiety disorder makes the whole process much harder—you’re deliberately introducing new potential sources of anxiety into your life—there’s also the issue of how and when to talk about mental illness with the person you’re dating. Is it possible to do that too soon? What if you leave it for too late? And what about stigma? We spoke with several mental health experts to find out.

Let’s start with the ideal point in a relationship to bring up the fact that you live with a mental illness. Turns out, there really isn’t one, nor is there a set timeline for disclosing other personal information while you start dating. For the most part, the mental health professionals we interviewed said that it all depends on the nature of the relationship, how comfortable you are with the person, and where you see the relationship going.

According to Dr. Wilfred Van Gorp, a psychologist and the former president of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology, this conversation should happen “at the point you trust the person sufficiently that you wish to take the relationship to a deeper level.” Similarly, Dr. Leela R. Magavi, M.D., an adult, adolescent, and child psychiatrist and regional medical director at Community Psychiatry, says that prior to disclosing personal information—like any mental illness—you should make sure that the person you’re dating respects and values you. Sometimes this can take a month, other times it can take a year, she explains, noting that each relationship is unique.

Meanwhile, Dr. Julian Lagoy, another psychiatrist at Community Psychiatry, advises against discussing your mental illness on a first date. Instead, he recommends waiting until things start getting serious and you’re considering more of a long-term and permanent relationship or marriage. “Obviously it is very hard to bring up something like this to a new partner,” Lagoy tells Lifehacker. “However, it is even worse if you never tell them about it, and then you get married or have been together for many years and they find out about it another way.”

Read the rest at Lifehacker


Posted in Health, Psychology | Leave a comment

C. Paul Carter Photography – New Limited Print Available

New limited print: “If Wishes Were Fishes”

Image may contain: outdoor

“In the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic, we should probably endeavor to seek out light wherever it exists — even if it is on the darker side. Light is light! – cPaul

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Lac St. Louis – A Lake of Many Moods

To have had a season in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic was a respite for those of us folks who are fortunate (or foolish) enough to enjoy spending our time near boats and sailors. My partner and I are extremely grateful to be a part of our boating community at BYC, which happens to include some very good friends. Although these friends spent much of the 2020 Spring, Summer, and Fall (thus far) socially-distanced, we did find creative ways to support and encourage one another, both near and on the water.

The lake is interesting. It is situated on the southern side of the west portion of the Island of Montreal, Quebec — and has the St. Lawrence Seaway running on the opposite shore. Although it is relatively shallow, much of it navigable, save for a few bays that are better suited to kite surfers and kayakers. Oh, and the middle was a dumping ground for the stuff they dredged out of the Seaway in the ’50s, so if one intends to navigate the lake without charts, one should expect to ground.

There are several marked channels running east/west and north/south (ish). Because Lake St. Louis is somewhat long (the overall area is @ 120 square kilometers), with prevailing easterlies running in the same direction of the long measure of the lake in summer months, we can experience some “exciting” wave action when the wind kicks up over 20kts+. It’s not uncommon to see wicked line squalls come through the valley that can flatten keelboats. However, most of the time, the lake is quite lovely. Such is the weather-life in this part of the St. Lawrence River.

Up and down the lake, there are shallow rapids at Ste. Anne de Bellevue (up) and Lachine (down), which are impassible without going sideways. For sailboats, there are three ways in or out of the lake, and they all involve locks. Seaway locks are situated at roughly either end of the lake (Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean, respectively), and another can be used seasonally to get into the Lake of Two Mountains and Ottawa River. Because the lake is fed by two rivers, one relatively clear (the St. Lawrence) and the other somewhat silty (Ottawa River), where the two waters meet is interesting, because most days sailing you can notice the distinct colours of each as you pass through their currents.

As the boats are now mostly hauled out, and being prepared for winter storage, the lake is looking empty these days. All too soon, Lac St. Louis will be frozen over!

I thought I would post some of my photos that I believe capture just a few of the many weather moods of the lake (you’ll notice they are all quite different and interesting– at least I think so!):

My photos are available here:

Posted in Photography, Sailing | Leave a comment

Could Happy Endings Mess Up Your Brain’s Decision-Making?

Tiziana Celine | The Science Times

Humans are hard-wired to prefer memories with a ‘happy ending.’ However, the effects of past decision-making experience can have an impact on the next decisions. Research suggests that our best interests depend on decisions we make based on past memories.

A new study by Martin D. Vestergaard and Wolfram Schultz reported in The Journal of Neuroscience said that two separate brain areas are stimulated and interact while making choices based on previous experiences. Despite beginning poorly, they will lead one to overestimate experiences that end well and undervalue experiences that end badly despite starting well-even though both are similarly beneficial overall.

Our Mind Values Last Few Moments of the Memory
Let’s play a game. Imagine that the COVID-19 pandemic is done, and you’re having a break. With no plans other than to sunbathe, swim in the ocean, and have loads of drinks garnished with flowers, berries, and tiny umbrellas, you’re going somewhere hot. The weather is lovely when you reach your destination. Things did go as planned for the first few days. But there’s a sharp, intense wind on the third day that makes it difficult to go swimming. It rains on the last day, keeping you indoors all day.

So are you going to recall that as a good vacation? Probably not, experts say. You would currently remember this encounter more poorly than a holiday during which much of the time it rained and just cleared up on the last day. It doesn’t matter if you had more fun in the mild weather on your first holiday.

Our brain values the last few moments of memory more strongly than most of it, said Dr. Martin Vestergaard, a researcher at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience, who led the study.

“If we can’t control our in-built attraction to happy endings, then we can’t trust our choices to serve our best interests.”

Previous researchers already recorded the happy ending effect before. Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on judgment and decision-making, found in his study that the worse the memory is, the more painful the last minutes are.

Our Brain Sort Things Out
According to the study, our minds’ amygdala sorts out the empirical meaning of an event, such as the general tastiness of a three-course meal.

Meanwhile, as it becomes increasingly worse with time, a brain area called the anterior insula had been found to mark down our assessment of an encounter.

Even though only very new, the farther back in time an event was, the less weight it brought in making the next choice, researchers observed.

People prefer to make choices based on past encounters that ended well, regardless of how pleasant the meetings were overall. They call it the “happy ending effect”.

In the research, 27 stable male participants were challenged to select one of the two pots of coins had a greater overall worth, viewed on-screen one at a time.

They watched as coins in different sizes dropped from the pots in rapid succession, reflecting their worth. Simultaneously, a brain scanner using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in their brain showed what was occurring.

With varying sequences of coins, the task was performed many times.

Researchers discovered that the volunteers systematically picked the incorrect port as the coins reduced in scale at the end of the series.

They say that this shows that the brain levied punishment on the whole series because the ending was not pleasant, regardless of its overall worth.

The influence ranged from individual to individual. However, according to the report, only a handful was willing to disregard it entirely and make a fully reasoned decision.

How to Fix It?
We might also want to experiment with our own neurobiology regarding how people respond to inadequate resources. The behavioral economists George Loewenstein and Drazen Prelec published a paper in Psychological Review as far back as 1993 proposing that individuals favor an improving pattern or series of interactions, rather than a declining trend since they want to bask in the expectation of a good outcome.

However, there are shorter-term situations in which others can purposely defer the happy outcome result.

What is called logical or unreasonable activity is always arbitrary, Kiyohito Iigaya, a postdoctoral neuroscience researcher at Caltech who was not interested in the new report, said per Wired. He relates to another Loewenstein paper that showed that individuals sometimes put off seeing a celebrity so that they may experience looking forward to the case.

In some instances, this might be insane, but from the perspective of maximizing the pleasure of suspense, Iiagaya claims it has a justification.

Vestergaard admits that it may be an evolutionary boon to our search for happier ends, but he points out that it may often drive us astray. It can make it simpler to quickly make choices since it gives us an “intuitive” or “good” feeling on which alternative is better.

But it can be challenging. Either our gut can be incorrect or it can be easily fooled. This is what his studies achieved, albeit harmlessly, in nature.

Vestergaard emphasizes that only because our brains process upward and downward pattern knowledge does not suggest that we get to privilege that knowledge.

It’s always possible to sit and reflect, he notes. He advises taking a step back when making a significant choice, composing a list of pros and cons, and analytically assessing the options out there. Is that actually in your best interest?

Study report is here:

Abstract below.


Our ability to evaluate an experience retrospectively is important because it allows us to summarize its total value, and this summary value can then later be used as a guide in deciding whether the experience merits repeating, or whether instead it should rather be avoided. However, when an experience unfolds over time, humans tend to assign disproportionate weight to the later part of the experience, and this can lead to poor choice in repeating, or avoiding experience. Using model-based computational analyses of fMRI recordings in 27 male volunteers, we show that the human brain encodes the summary value of an extended sequence of outcomes in two distinct reward representations. We find that the overall experienced value is encoded accurately in the amygdala, but its merit is excessively marked down by disincentive anterior insula activity if the sequence of experienced outcomes declines temporarily. Moreover, the statistical strength of this neural code can separate efficient decision-makers from suboptimal decision-makers. Optimal decision-makers encode overall value more strongly, and suboptimal decision-makers encode the disincentive markdown more strongly. The separate neural implementation of the two distinct reward representations confirms that suboptimal choice for temporally extended outcomes can be the result of robust neural representation of a displeasing aspect of the experience such as temporary decline.

Significant Statement

One of the numerous foibles that prompt us to make poor decisions is known as the ‘banker’s fallacy’, the tendency to focus on short-term growth at the expense of long-term value. This effect leads to unwarranted preference for happy endings. Here we show that the anterior insula in the human brain marks down the overall value of an experience as it unfolds over time if the experience entails a sequence of predominantly negative temporal contrasts. By contrast, the amygdala encodes overall value accurately. These results provide neural indices for the dichotomy of decision utility and experienced utility popularised as Thinking fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman.

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Walks in the Woods

Some recent photos taken, and one from 25 years ago (guess which one!).

© C. Paul Carter Photography
© C. Paul Carter Photography
© C. Paul Carter Photography
© C. Paul Carter Photography
© C. Paul Carter Photography

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Scenes of Newfoundland!

Fence at Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland.
Shot digital – October 2017

© C. Paul Carter Photography

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From the 35mm Vault

Various Newfoundland shots from early ’90s.

Re-prints of these are available through my Adobe Portfolio site:

© C. Paul Carter Photography
© C. Paul Carter Photography
© C. Paul Carter Photography
© C. Paul Carter Photography
© C. Paul Carter Photography
Image may contain: tree, grass, plant, sky, outdoor and nature
© C. Paul Carter Photography
Image may contain: outdoor and nature
© C. Paul Carter Photography
Image may contain: house, sky, tree and outdoor
© C. Paul Carter Photography

Re-prints of these are available through my Adobe Portfolio site:

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Can Democracy Survive dualling Realities?

I’ve recently read a chapter from “Reality Lost: Markets of Attention, Misinformation, and Manipulation”, by Mads Vestergaard and Vincent F. Hendricks (2018) in which they explore the phenomenon of constant (and dissonant) disinformation on the population’s shared reality. Can democracy survive this? If people do not share a reality, what happens, ultimately? Interesting and very timely stuff to think about.…/327536319_The_Post-factual_D…

Also, this:

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