Health, Psychology

Alzheimer’s

It’s as fascinating as it is sad to watch a relative fall, piece by piece, to Alzheimer’s. I had always thought it was just anterograde- and progressive retrograde amnesia of episodic memory, but its worse. It’s affecting:

  • Her skills (e.g. how to get dressed, or how much you need to chew in order to swallow).
  • Her semantic knowledge (e.g. [it is dark outside] ⇒ [it is night], or what a bath is for).
  • Her working memory (seems to be reduced to about 4 items: she can draw triangles and squares, but not higher polygons unless you walk her through it; and if you draw ◯◯▢◯▢▢ then ask her to count the circles, she says “one (pointing at the second circle), two (pointing at the third circle), that’s a square (pointing at the third square), three (pointing at the second circle again), four (pointing at the third circle again), that’s a pentagon (pointing at the pentagon I walked her through drawing); and if she is looking at a group of five cars, she’ll call it “lots of cars” rather than instantly seeing it’s five).
  • The general concept of things existing on the left side as looked at. (I always thought this was an urban legend or a misunderstanding of hemianopsia, but she will look at a plate half-covered in food and declare it finished, and rotating that plate 180° will enable her to eat more; if I ask her to draw a picture of me, she’ll stop at the nose and miss my right side (her left); if we get her to draw a clock she’ll usually miss all the numbers, but if prompted to add them will only put them on the side that should be clockwise from 12 to 6).
  • Connected-ness of objects, such as drawing the handle of a mug connected directly to the rim.
  • Object permanence — if she can’t see a thing, sometimes she forgets the thing exists. Fortunately not all the time, but she has asserted non-existence separately to “I’ve lost $thing”.
  • Vocabulary. I’m sure everyone has a fine example of word soup they can think of (I have examples, both of things I’ve said and also of frustratingly bad communications from a client), but this is high and increasing frequency — last night’s example was “this apple juice is much better than the apple juice”.

I know vision doesn’t work the way we subjectively feel it works. I hypothesise that it is roughly:

  1. Eyes →
  2. Object and feature detection, similar to current machine vision →
  3. Something that maps detected objects and features into a model of reality →
  4. “Awareness” is of that model

It fits with the way she’s losing her mind. Bit by bit, it seems like her vision is diminishing from a world full of objects, to a TV static with a few objects floating freely in that noise.

An artistic impression of her vision. The image is mostly hidden by noise, but a red British-style telephone box is visible, along with a shadow, and a flag. The 'telephone' sign is floating freely, away from the box.

How might she see the world?

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Psychology

Must we laugh to change our mind?

What’s long, hard, and something that men are unjustifiably proud of?

If someone is Wrong™, it’s really hard to get them to change their mind. If you just tell them, by default you will come across as a rude, mean, or contemptible person. If someone is looking for critique, they might listen… but, looking at the history of humans investigating reality, most people seem to want validation (or confirmation) rather than real tests.

A negative stimuli easily trains minds to dislike whatever they’re experiencing at the time they get experience that stimuli, for example the expert telling them “no”.

If laughter turns bad situations into good ones, might it turn a negative “no” into a positive “no”? Might it be that, rather than mere sadistic inverse-empathy, it is a way to learn from someone else’s mistakes when one laughs at, for example, “Ha ha, you should’ve see their face when they slipped on the floor and their beer went everywhere!”?

However, this doesn’t help with giving someone feedback; mocking someone for their mistakes is another way to make them dislike you even when you’re correct, so it does no good to — say — make fun of Trump’s hair, Bush’s bushisms, or David Davis not knowing that Holland and Czechoslovakia are not countries: “Stop mocking us!” is the gist of the responses of the former and the latter (and in retrospect it’s remarkable that Bush took such things in his stride).

What sort of humour, if any, makes mistakes (and negative feedback) palatable? And is there any way to make them palatable without humour? Is laughter a necessary precondition to changing a mind?

“Laughing with”, rather than “laughing at”? That might work for requested feedback — “Tell me a joke about something that went wrong with $thing” — but how do you reach someone who doesn’t even realise they went wrong?

I think that’s what embarrassment is for, but what’s the border between embarrassment and the sort of resentment that Trump and Brexit ministers demonstrate (something which I don’t even have a word for)?

Jokes can certainly make you think, but do you have to be open to thinking for them to help you along, or do they work anyway if they’re done right?


And the punchline? It’s opinions: men have long-winded opinions that are hard to change and which we’re unjustifiably proud of.

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