Last Week’s Links

Health Insurers Are Vacuuming Up Details About You — And It Could Raise Your Rates

With little public scrutiny, the health insurance industry has joined forces with data brokers to vacuum up personal details about hundreds of millions of Americans, including, odds are, many readers of this story.

The companies are tracking your race, education level, TV habits, marital status, net worth. They’re collecting what you post on social media, whether you’re behind on your bills, what you order online. Then they feed this information into complicated computer algorithms that spit out predictions about how much your health care could cost them.

How concerned about this should we all be?

Patient advocates warn that using unverified, error-prone “lifestyle” data to make medical assumptions could lead insurers to improperly price plans — for instance, raising rates based on false information — or discriminate against anyone tagged as high cost. And, they say, the use of the data raises thorny questions that should be debated publicly, such as: Should a person’s rates be raised because algorithms say they are more likely to run up medical bills? Such questions would be moot in Europe, where a strict law took effect in May that bans trading in personal data.

Hands off my data! 15 default privacy settings you should change right now

If you’re concerned about all your personal data that’s being collected, here’s some advice on how to minimize exposure on Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple.

Off Your Mental Game? You Could Be Mildly Dehydrated

How severe does dehydration have to be to affect us?

A growing body of evidence finds that being just a little dehydrated is tied to a range of subtle effects — from mood changes to muddled thinking.


As we age, we’re not as good at recognizing thirst. And there’s evidence that older adults are prone to the same dips in mental sharpness as anyone else when mildly dehydrated.

So how much water do we need every day?

A panel of scholars convened several years ago by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that women should consume, on average, about 91 ounces of total water per day. For men, the suggested level is even higher (125 ounces).

The phrase total water means that water from all sources counts: fruits, vegetables soup, smoothies, and, yes, even your morning cups of coffee or tea.

And remember that by the time you feel thirsty, you’re already beyond the point of mild dehydration. According to the article, an hour of hiking in the heat or a 30-minute run might be enough to cause mild dehydration.

Ask yourself these questions before saying “yes” or “no” to anything

Although this article is aimed at people in business, it can also prove useful for others.

most of us are completely unaware of why we are saying “yes” or “no.” For those who suffer from the disease to please, saying “yes” often comes from the fear of being disliked and the guilt for putting your own agenda ahead of someone else’s desire for your time and attention. Those who may be considered “no” people often say no out of fear of failure. What if I don’t like it? What if I’m not good at it? Others say “no” simply because they have set boundaries and haven’t left any room in their lives for spontaneity and unexpected growth.

The article offers advice for how to decide whether to say “yes” or “no.” Also included are links to several related articles.

The theory of mind myth

Theory of mind is the psychological term for our belief that other people have emotions, beliefs, intentions, logic, and knowledge that may differ from our own.

That we have a folk psychology theory of other minds isn’t surprising. By nature, we are character analysts, behavioural policemen, admirers and haters. We embrace like minds, and go to war against contrarians. Mind-reading is our social glue, guiding virtually all of our daily interpersonal interactions. When trying to decide whether or not a potential gun owner is prone to violence, a mental patient is suicidal, or a presidential candidate is truthful, we are at the mercy of our thoughts about others.

But, argues neurologist Robert Burton, former associate director of the department of neurosciences at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center at Mount Zion, “Even experts can’t predict violence or suicide. Surely we’re kidding ourselves that we can see inside the minds of others.”

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

When a DNA Test Shatters Your Identity

You’ve certainly seen the ads for genetic tests that will help you discover more leaves for your family tree. While many people are happy to discover far-flung relatives they never knew about, others are distraught to learn that their parents or grandparents aren’t who they thought they were.

This article from The Atlantic discusses a Facebook group founded by a woman whose DNA test delivered disturbing results. “The DNA test didn’t erase her happy childhood memories, but it recast her entire life up to now.”

How We Create Personal Myths (and Why They Matter)

In graduate school I took a course called something like Identity and Personal Mythology, which centered on the fact that we all create a personal mythology, or life story, to make sense of our experiences and to create our sense of self, our sense of identity. There’s a whole subgenre of psychology examining this field, which is known as narrative identity theory.

In this article self-described data nerd Angela Chen describes how, despite her preference for data over narrative, she came to realize that she, too, has a personal mythology that has shaped her life.

To resist narrative is to resist the brain itself. Sometimes we must do so, to avoid the clean, satisfying story that may be too simple. But I was wrong to think I could escape defining the narrative in my own life. We are always creating and searching for meaning, whether we recognize it or not.

Caves all the way down

Do psychedelics give access to a universal, mystical experience of reality, or is that just a culture-bound illusion?

Philosopher Jules Evans article begins with this assertion:

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a psychedelic renaissance. Research into the healing potential of psychedelics has re-started at prestigious universities such as Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Imperial College London, and is making rock stars out of the scientists carrying it out. Their findings are being reported with joy and exultation by mainstream media – on CNN, the BBC, even the Daily Mail. Respectable publishers such as Penguin are behind psychedelics bestsellers such as Michael Pollan’s book How To Change Your Mind (2018), which was reviewed enthusiastically across the political spectrum.

Evans is an academic, policy director at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London. Here he explores, with an academic’s vigor and rigor, the history of the nature of psychedelic mystical experience, begun by Aldous Huxley’s 1954 book The Doors of Perception. He uses his own psychedelic experiences to examine the differences between science and theology to conclude:

To use the language of secular psychology, psychedelics seem to reliably take people briefly beyond their customary ego and to allow the contents of their subconscious to emerge. Even if you’re not mystically inclined, that process can still be very healing.

How the West became a self-obsessed culture

It’s common to hear Eastern and Western cultures contrasted in a way that goes something like this: Eastern cultures focus more on society collectively, while Western culture emphasizes the individual.

In this article Sean Illing interviews Will Storr, a British writer and author of the recent book _ Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us_. As Illing explains, Storr’s book is about a phenomenon psychologists call “collective narcissism”:

An individual narcissist is someone with a deep need for validation, someone who thinks they’re great and resents anyone who doesn’t recognize their greatness. Collective narcissists … are “a group of people who desperately need their group to be admired and validated by others.”

Collective narcissism is a fashionable idea these days in psychology, and it’s linked to psychologists’ larger concern about a “narcissism epidemic” — more and more individuals with an inflated sense of self.

Storr has some ideas about how a culture emphasizing self-esteem has gotten us into the self-absorbed position we’re in today. Read his advice on how to find happiness and fulfillment despite the way our culture has made us think about ourselves.

Down with the larks: on the virtues of sleeping like a sloth

A Gallup poll in 2013 found that Americans sleep, on average, 6.8 hours a night, with 40 per cent getting less than the recommended minimum of seven hours. According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, teenagers get a little more than seven hours of sleep a night, while actually needing at least nine. Yet society continues to function … if only like a frail, untuned clock.

Joel Frohlich reports on the health drawbacks of chronic sleep deprivation.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

I’ve come across lots of interesting stuff lately.

When a Stranger Decides to Destroy Your Life

I’m including this article on all my blogs this week because it’s important that everyone with any online presence, no matter how small, read it.


From Book Riot’s Liberty Hardy:

To prove that there are a zillion amazing essay collections out there, I compiled 50 great contemporary essay collections, just from the last 18 months alone. Ranging in topics from food, nature, politics, sex, celebrity, and more, there is something here for everyone!

How to Get Your Intuition Back (When It’s Hijacked by Life)

I have written before about how I learned to trust my intuition, so this article naturally drew my attention. Judi Ketteler writes:

Suddenly at midlife, the gut instinct I had long relied on to make important life decisions left me. Here’s how I learned to get it back.

Through a combination of research and personal experience, she concludes that intuition depends on context, and she needs to let it catch up with her changed circumstances as she enters a new phase of her life. I find this an encouraging conclusion.

The Bugs in Our Mindware

Because I love baseball, I was drawn to this article that uses the metaphor of three umpires to explain that “Many obstacles lie on the path to rational thought”:

Three baseball umpires are talking about how they play the game. The first says, “I call ’em as they are.” The second, “I call ’em as I see ’em.” And the third says, “They ain’t nothin’ till I call ’em.”

The first “umpire is what philosophers and social psychologists call a ‘naive realist,’” who “believes that the senses provide us with a direct, unmediated understanding of the world.”

But, like the second umpire, “We tend to think, ‘I’m seeing the world as it is, and your different view is due to poor eyesight, muddled thinking, or self-interested motives!’”

Or, like the third umpire, some think “All ‘reality’ is merely an arbitrary construal of the world.”

According to Richard E. Nisbett, author of the article (which is an excerpt from his book MINDWARE: Tools for Smart Thinking), “Among the three umpires, the second is closest to the truth.”

Read Nisbett’s analysis to discover the “unconscious processes [that] allow us to correctly interpret the physical world,” especially how stereotypes can lead us to draw false conclusions about particular people. He also includes suggestions for making fewer errors in judgment.

How a Young Woman Lost Her Identity

Hannah Upp disappears for weeks at a time, forgetting her sense of self. Can she still be found?

A frightening yet fascinating story about a young woman who has periodically experienced what scientists call a dissociative fugue state, a condition about which little is known.

“It’s terrifying to think that we are all vulnerable to a lapse in selfhood.”

This Is Your Brain On Music

An interview with Dr. Assal Habibi, a research scientist at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, who studies how studying music affects brain development.

The idea behind the study was to see whether systematic music training has a measurable impact on the brains of children and the subsequent development of their cognitive skills and social skills.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

What I’ve been reading around the web recently.

On coincidence

Lightning can strike twice and people do call just when you’re thinking of them – but are such coincidences meaningful?

The Power of Positive People

While many of us focus primarily on diet and exercise to achieve better health, science suggests that our well-being also is influenced by the company we keep. Researchers have found that certain health behaviors appear to be contagious and that our social networks — in person and online — can influence obesity, anxiety and overall happiness. A recent report found that a person’s exercise routine was strongly influenced by his or her social network.

Why don’t we know more about migraines?

A look at one of the oldest recorded human ailments.

Given the prevalence of migraines among women, this apparent neglect could be a result of how physicians tend to underrate pain in female patients. It may also reflect the historic – and similarly gendered – associations between migraines and mental illness.

In Order to Understand Sociopaths, I Got Inside One’s Head

Carola Lovering’s potent debut novel, Tell Me Lies, tells the story of the complicated relationship between college freshman Lucy Albright and charming sociopath Stephen DeMarco. While alternating Stephen and Lucy’s points of view, Lovering depicts how Lucy’s depression drives her codependency. Stephen’s sections show his remorseless Machiavellian sensibilities: unable to genuinely feel affection, he studies people in order to learn how to act normal and get what he wants. Lovering discusses the capability of inhabiting another person’s mind in fiction.

Many Cultures, One Psychology?

Clearly, all human beings are in many ways very similar—we share the same physiology and have the same basic needs, such as nourishment, shelter, safety, and sex. So what effect can culture really have on the fundamental aspects of our psyche, such as perception, cognition, and personality? The question is still under active investigation, but a considerable amount of evidence has accumulated so far.


© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

The mind-bendy weirdness of the number zero, explained

Why zero is not at all a simple concept.

The computer you’re reading this article on right now runs on a binary — strings of zeros and ones. Without zero, modern electronics wouldn’t exist. Without zero, there’s no calculus, which means no modern engineering or automation. Without zero, much of our modern world literally falls apart.

Humanity’s discovery of zero was “a total game changer … equivalent to us learning language,” says Andreas Nieder, a cognitive scientist at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

How to Ask Great Questions

Much of an executive’s workday is spent asking others for information—requesting status updates from a team leader, for example, or questioning a counterpart in a tense negotiation. Yet unlike professionals such as litigators, journalists, and doctors, who are taught how to ask questions as an essential part of their training, few executives think of questioning as a skill that can be honed—or consider how their own answers to questions could make conversations more productive.

The fallacy of obviousness

A new interpretation of a classic psychology experiment will change your view of perception, judgment – even human nature

The deep roots of writing

Was writing invented for accounting and administration or did it evolve from religious movements, sorcery and dreams?


when it comes to a teacher’s referral of a student to educational programs, it’s not just learning abilities that play a role in the decision process. Recent research has found that


How to Conquer Writer’s Block

These days, writer’s block is often blamed on depression. Sometimes procrastination and perfectionism are considered the culprits. Whatever the cause, writer’s block has been around for a long time. Samuel Coleridge suffered from it, as did Joseph Conrad, Gustave Flaubert, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy, and Virginia Woolf. The big question is, regardless of where it came from, what can a writer do about it when it strikes?

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown


Last Week’s Links

Lots of good internet stuff last week.

“Find your passion” is bad advice, say Yale and Stanford psychologists

Instead of looking for a magic bullet, that one thing you must be meant to do even though you don’t know what it is yet, it can be more productive to perceive interests flexibly, as potentially endless. A growth mindset, rather than a fixed sense that there’s one interest you should pursue single-mindedly, improves the chances of finding your passion—and having the will to master it.

I Found My Birth Mother. It Didn’t Rock My Life — And That’s OK

NPR’s Ashley Westerman was born in the Philippines but raised by white Americans in rural Kentucky, with no one around who looked like her. This year, she tracked down the woman who gave her up for adoption three decades ago and writes about the hopes, trepidation and even disappointment of the journey and eventual meeting.

When It’s Good to Be Antisocial

Sociality is no pinnacle of evolution. It’s just another result of the process. Reclusive bees and other species are doing just fine—and sometimes, even better. Clearly social behavior has advantages, seeding the survival of species and communities. But being a good neighbor is not the only benefit to the hive. Sometimes everybody wins when you go it alone.

mHealth Brain Games Help Post-ICU Patients Recover Cognitive Skills

Vanderbilt University researchers said computer cognitive rehabilitation training using the BrainHQ online and mobile program helped patients discharged from an ICU improve cognitive function at home. The study, published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, involved 33 older patients who had been discharged from an ICU with post-intensive care syndrome.

Study: Sitting linked to increased death risk from 14 diseases

If you sit for six hours a day or more, your risk of dying early jumps 19 percent, compared with people who sit fewer than three hours, an American Cancer Society study suggests.


© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

The Women Who Write: Michelle Dean’s Sharp

A review of Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean (Grove Atlantic).

This critical history is a rogues’ gallery of literary femaleness – even though most of the women in it rightly bristled at being defined as “woman writers.” Dean’s exemplars are, in chapter if not birth order, Dorothy Parker; Rebecca West; Hannah Arendt; Mary McCarthy; Susan Sontag; Pauline Kael; Joan Didion; Nora Ephron; Renata Adler; and Janet Malcolm. Most have at least a few things in common. While some doubled as novelists, all are distinguished for their non-fiction, with fully half reaching eminence via The New Yorker.

The Civility Debate Has Reached Peak Stupidity

The depth to which the level of political and social discourse has sunk in the U.S. has prompted both sides to call for a return to civility. Here’s one writer’s opinion on the topic.

Five Features of Better Arguments

Here are some suggestions on how to deal with the problem of civility in public discourse.

A former Clinton administration official studied how to facilitate more constructive arguments among Americans. These are his conclusions.

The Neuroscience of Pain

For scientists, pain has long presented an intractable problem: it is a physiological process, just like breathing or digestion, and yet it is inherently, stubbornly subjective—only you feel your pain. It is also a notoriously hard experience to convey accurately to others.

A report on scientists’ efforts to find “ways to capture the experience [of pain] in quantifiable, objective data.”

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Here are the articles from around the internet that piqued my interest last week.

The Lifespan of a Lie

Some new information and new interpretations of one of psychology’s most infamous studies, the 1971 Stanford prison experiment.

When the self slips

A look at the frightening disorder “depersonalisation disorder (DPD) – a condition that typically manifests as a profound and distressing feeling of estrangement from one’s own self and body, including one’s experiences, memories and thoughts.”


There’s something wrong, on a visceral level, about the very idea of children murderers. It flips all the tropes and common beliefs about the world on their heads. Children are supposed to be innocent and pure, even though everyone who remembers their childhood and teenage years knows they can be anything but.

The Fairytale Language of the Brothers Grimm

How the Brothers Grimm went hunting for fairytales and accidentally changed the course of historical linguistics and kickstarted a new field of scholarship in folklore.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Share Your World – August 7, 2017

Thanks to Cee for another week’s challenge Share Your World – August 7, 2017.

What was the last URL that you bookmarked or saved?

Indescribable you: Can novelists or psychologists better capture the strange multitude of realities in every human self?

One of my major interests is the areas in which psychology and literature intersect, particularly what literature can teach us about human nature. This article was right up my alley. I consider myself a careful reader, but reading this article will make me even more careful in noticing how authors describe and exemplify fictional characters.

Do you believe in the afterlife? Reincarnation?

Yes, I do. I’ve had the experience of recognizing someone I was meeting for the first time. I like the idea that we belong to a primary cluster of souls that all tend to hang out together throughout time and space.

If you were or are a writer do you prefer writing short stories, poems or novels?

I am a writer, but not of these genres. I write strictly nonfiction, with special focus on book reviews of both novels and memoirs and on life story writing.

What inspired you this past week? Feel free to use a quote, a photo, a story, or even a combination.

65th anniversary cake

Our friends Dolores and Joe celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary yesterday. Isn’t that remarkable? My husband and I have been married only 46 years, so Dolores and Joe are our role models. Oh, and they’re both really good people, too.

I hope everyone will have a good week. Here in the Pacific Northwest of the USA we are waiting for the smoke from the wild fires in British Columbia, Canada, to clear and wishing the best for everyone living and working near the fires.

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Share Your World – July 31, 2017

Thanks to Cee for prompting us for another edition of Share Your World – July 31, 2017.

If you had to have your vision corrected would you rather: glasses or contacts? Or what do you use if you need to have your vision corrected?

I had cataract surgery on both my eyes a couple of years ago. This surgery replaces the eye’s clouded lens with a new one that gives you 20/20 distance vision. I still need correction for reading and close work, but not as much of a correction as I needed before. Also, before the surgery my right and left eyes were quite different, so I had to have prescription glasses made. But now, because my eyes are the same, I can use much cheaper reading glasses from the drug store. Since my distance vision is now corrected, I don’t have to wear glasses to drive. I also find that I can function in the world very well without glasses as long as I carry a pair to put on when I need to read a menu in a restaurant or a label at the grocery store.

I’m very happy with my new eyes.

Are you more of a dog person or a cat person?

I’ve never had a dog. We always had cats when I was growing up, and we also had cats when our daughter was growing up. Part of the reason I always preferred cats over dogs was that cats are easier. You can leave a cat (or multiple cats) alone and go away for a weekend, something you can’t do with a dog.

Now that we’ve retired we are petless. We decided that we were going to travel in our early retirement, before we got too old to be able to get around pretty well. Since we now live in a retirement community, where we can just notify management, lock the door, and take off, we’re not eager to get any pets. That may change at some time, but for now I’m glad to not have to worry about caring for an animal.

If you were to buy a new house/apartment what is the top three items on your wish list?

Before we retired four years ago, we considered briefly buying a house in our new city rather than moving into a retirement community. But my husband nixed that idea: “I don’t want to have to mow the lawn and clean the gutters,” he said. So we moved into an independent-living unit and have never regretted it for one second. Every Tuesday I watch other people cut the grass. Four times a year I watch someone else clean the outside of my windows. If we have a problem with anything in the house, we just call maintenance and they come and fix it. The unit is all on one floor, so we don’t have to worry about being able to climb stairs later on.

The only drawback to our new home is that, in order to have a place to put up computers and bookshelves, we had to give up the dining room end of our large living/dining area. Since we haven’t hosted a dinner party in more than 40 years, it wasn’t much of a sacrifice.

What inspired you this past week? Feel free to use a quote, a photo, a story, or even a combination.

I had a productive writing period this last week, and that has inspired me to keep working. I got six or seven weeks behind in the weekly writing challenge I’m participating in this year when we had a month-long vacation followed by a cross-country trip for a family wedding. At first I thought of just letting go of those weeks that I missed, but then I decided to write the posts I had missed. It’s taken me quite a while to catch up, but I finally have only one piece left to write this week. Of course, I also have to write this week’s post in order to avoid getting behind again, but it all seems manageable now.

My best wishes for a good week to everyone!

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown