The RDoC research framework can be considered as a matrix whose rows correspond to specified dimensions of function; these are explicitly termed “Constructs,” i.e., a concept summarizing data about a specified functional dimension of behavior (and implementing genes and circuits) that is subject to continual refinement with advances in science. Constructs represent the fundamental unit of analysis in this system, and it is anticipated that most studies would focus on one construct (or perhaps compare two constructs on relevant measures). Related constructs are grouped into major Domains of functioning, reflecting contemporary thinking about major aspects of motivation, cognition, and social behavior; the five domains are Negative Valence Systems (i.e., systems for aversive motivation), Positive Valence Systems, Cognitive Systems, Systems for Social Processes, and Arousal/Regulatory Systems. The columns of the matrix represent different classes of variables (or units of analysis) used to study the domains/constructs. Seven such classes have been specified; these are genes, molecules, cells, neural circuits, physiology (e.g. cortisol, heart rate, startle reflex), behaviors, and self-reports. Circuits represent the core aspect of these classes of variables – both because they are central to the various biological and behavioral levels of analysis, and because they are used to constrain the number of constructs that are defined. Investigators can select any level of analysis to be the independent variable for classification (or multiple levels in some cases, e.g., behavioral functioning stratified by a genetic polymorphism), and dependent variables can be selected from multiple columns. In addition, since constructs are typically studied in the context of particular scientific paradigms, a column for “paradigms” has been added; obviously, however, paradigms do not represent units of analysis.
In Spanish and other Romance languages, nouns are either masculine or feminine. In many other languages, nouns are divided into many more genders ("gender" in this context meaning class or kind). For example, some Australian Aboriginal languages have up to sixteen genders, including classes of hunting weapons, canines, things that are shiny, or, in the phrase made famous by cognitive linguist George Lakoff, "women, fire, and dangerous things."
What it means for a language to have grammatical gender is that words belonging to different genders get treated differently grammatically and words belonging to the same grammatical gender get treated the same grammatically. Languages can require speakers to change pronouns, adjective and verb endings, possessives, numerals, and so on, depending on the noun's gender. For example, to say something like "my chair was old" in Russian (moy stul bil' stariy), you'd need to make every word in the sentence agree in gender with "chair" (stul), which is masculine in Russian. So you'd use the masculine form of "my," "was," and "old." These are the same forms you'd use in speaking of a biological male, as in "my grandfather was old." If, instead of speaking of a chair, you were speaking of a bed (krovat'), which is feminine in Russian, or about your grandmother, you would use the feminine form of "my," "was," and "old."
Does treating chairs as masculine and beds as feminine in the grammar make Russian speakers think of chairs as being more like men and beds as more like women in some way? It turns out that it does. In one study, we asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a "key" — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like "hard," "heavy," "jagged," "metal," "serrated," and "useful," whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say "golden," "intricate," "little," "lovely," "shiny," and "tiny." To describe a "bridge," which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said "beautiful," "elegant," "fragile," "peaceful," "pretty," and "slender," and the Spanish speakers said "big," "dangerous," "long," "strong," "sturdy," and "towering." This was true even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender. The same pattern of results also emerged in entirely nonlinguistic tasks (e.g., rating similarity between pictures). And we can also show that it is aspects of language per se that shape how people think: teaching English speakers new grammatical gender systems influences mental representations of objects in the same way it does with German and Spanish speakers. Apparently even small flukes of grammar, like the seemingly arbitrary assignment of gender to a noun, can have an effect on people's ideas of concrete objects in the world.7
Most questions of whether and how language shapes thought start with the simple observation that languages differ from one another. And a lot! Let's take a (very) hypothetical example. Suppose you want to say, "Bush read Chomsky's latest book." Let's focus on just the verb, "read." To say this sentence in English, we have to mark the verb for tense; in this case, we have to pronounce it like "red" and not like "reed." In Indonesian you need not (in fact, you can't) alter the verb to mark tense. In Russian you would have to alter the verb to indicate tense and gender. So if it was Laura Bush who did the reading, you'd use a different form of the verb than if it was George. In Russian you'd also have to include in the verb information about completion. If George read only part of the book, you'd use a different form of the verb than if he'd diligently plowed through the whole thing. In Turkish you'd have to include in the verb how you acquired this information: if you had witnessed this unlikely event with your own two eyes, you'd use one verb form, but if you had simply read or heard about it, or inferred it from something Bush said, you'd use a different verb form.
Believers in cross-linguistic differences counter that everyone does not pay attention to the same things: if everyone did, one might think it would be easy to learn to speak other languages. Unfortunately, learning a new language (especially one not closely related to those you know) is never easy; it seems to require paying attention to a new set of distinctions. Whether it's distinguishing modes of being in Spanish, evidentiality in Turkish, or aspect in Russian, learning to speak these languages requires something more than just learning vocabulary: it requires paying attention to the right things in the world so that you have the correct information to include in what you say.
Follow me to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, in northern Australia. I came here because of the way the locals, the Kuuk Thaayorre, talk about space. Instead of words like "right," "left," "forward," and "back," which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space.1 This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like "There's an ant on your southeast leg" or "Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit." One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. The normal greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre is "Where are you going?" and the answer should be something like " Southsoutheast, in the middle distance." If you don't know which way you're facing, you can't even get past "Hello."
The result is a profound difference in navigational ability and spatial knowledge between speakers of languages that rely primarily on absolute reference frames (like Kuuk Thaayorre) and languages that rely on relative reference frames (like English).2 Simply put, speakers of languages like Kuuk Thaayorre are much better than English speakers at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes or inside unfamiliar buildings. What enables them — in fact, forces them — to do this is their language. Having their attention trained in this way equips them to perform navigational feats once thought beyond human capabilities. Because space is such a fundamental domain of thought, differences in how people think about space don't end there. People rely on their spatial knowledge to build other, more complex, more abstract representations. Representations of such things as time, number, musical pitch, kinship relations, morality, and emotions have been shown to depend on how we think about space. So if the Kuuk Thaayorre think differently about space, do they also think differently about other things, like time? This is what my collaborator Alice Gaby and I came to Pormpuraaw to find out.
To test this idea, we gave people sets of pictures that showed some kind of temporal progression (e.g., pictures of a man aging, or a crocodile growing, or a banana being eaten). Their job was to arrange the shuffled photos on the ground to show the correct temporal order. We tested each person in two separate sittings, each time facing in a different cardinal direction. If you ask English speakers to do this, they'll arrange the cards so that time proceeds from left to right. Hebrew speakers will tend to lay out the cards from right to left, showing that writing direction in a language plays a role.3 So what about folks like the Kuuk Thaayorre, who don't use words like "left" and "right"? What will they do?
The Kuuk Thaayorre did not arrange the cards more often from left to right than from right to left, nor more toward or away from the body. But their arrangements were not random: there was a pattern, just a different one from that of English speakers. Instead of arranging time from left to right, they arranged it from east to west. That is, when they were seated facing south, the cards went left to right. When they faced north, the cards went from right to left. When they faced east, the cards came toward the body and so on. This was true even though we never told any of our subjects which direction they faced. The Kuuk Thaayorre not only knew that already (usually much better than I did), but they also spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time.
An important question at this point is: Are these differences caused by language per se or by some other aspect of culture? Of course, the lives of English, Mandarin, Greek, Spanish, and Kuuk Thaayorre speakers differ in a myriad of ways. How do we know that it is language itself that creates these differences in thought and not some other aspect of their respective cultures?
One way to answer this question is to teach people new ways of talking and see if that changes the way they think. In our lab, we've taught English speakers different ways of talking about time. In one such study, English speakers were taught to use size metaphors (as in Greek) to describe duration (e.g., a movie is larger than a sneeze), or vertical metaphors (as in Mandarin) to describe event order. Once the English speakers had learned to talk about time in these new ways, their cognitive performance began to resemble that of Greek or Mandarin speakers. This suggests that patterns in a language can indeed play a causal role in constructing how we think.6 In practical terms, it means that when you're learning a new language, you're not simply learning a new way of talking, you are also inadvertently learning a new way of thinking. Beyond abstract or complex domains of thought like space and time, languages also meddle in basic aspects of visual perception — our ability to distinguish colors, for example. Different languages divide up the color continuum differently: some make many more distinctions between colors than others, and the boundaries often don't line up across languages.
The Human Cognome Project was an academic research venture to reverse engineer the human brain, paralleling in many ways the Human Genome Project and its success in deciphering the human genome. The HCP was a multidisciplinary undertaking, relevant to biology, neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and philosophy of mind.
Funded and supported by scientific and corporate entrepreneurs and early transhumanist groups, the HCP developed the fundamentals of digitizing an ego and was a major driving force towards the first transhumans with elevated intelligence and brain capacity. The HCP has also been instrumental in cataloging transhuman minds and developing databases of “mind patches” based on the mind-states of healthy individuals for treating mental diseases and damage. Though most HCP data is available to the public, some argonauts claim that certain data is held hostage by some hypercorps, potentially for the development of proprietary mind-altering technologies.
After the Fall, the remnants of this project were acquired by the Planetary Consortium.
Neem is a mnemonic drug that works by “tagging” experiences and mental input with a set of unique sensations that contribute to the formation of state-based memories. Neem gummy chews come in a variety of fruit avors shaped like extinct old Earth animals. Neem gives characters a 20 bonus on COG Tests to recall information they learned while on Neem (see Memorizing and Remembering, p. 176). The drawback to Neem is that memories they accumulate while under the drug’s in uence have no emotional association. For example, a character who witnessed something horrible happening to a friend or who had a ght with a romantic partner while on Neem would feel no emotional connection whatsoever to what happened.
How Foxes Think
Multidisciplinary: Incorporate ideas from different disciplines and regardless of their origin on the political spectrum.
Adaptable: Find a new approach—or pursue multiple approaches at the same time—if they aren’t sure the original one is working.
Self-critical: Sometimes willing (if rarely happy) to acknowledge mistakes in their predictions and accept the blame for them.
Tolerant of complexity: See the universe as complicated, perhaps to the point of many fundamental problems being irresolvable or inherently unpredictable.
Cautious: Express their predictions in probabilistic terms and qualify their opinions.
Empirical: Rely more on observation than theory.
Foxes are better forecasters.
How Hedgehogs Think
Specialized: Often have spent the bulk of their careers on one or two great problems. May view the opinions of “outsiders” skeptically.
Stalwart: Stick to the same “all-in” approach—new data is used to refine the original model.
Stubborn: Mistakes are blamed on bad luck or on idiosyncratic circumstances—a good model had a bad day.
Order-seeking: Expect that the world will be found to abide by relatively simple governing relationships once the signal is identified through the noise.
Confident: Rarely hedge their predictions and are reluctant to change them.
Ideological: Expect that solutions to many day-to-day problems are manifestations of some grander theory or struggle.
Hedgehogs are weaker forecasters.
I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, upon various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason - Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.
In one classic demonstration, clinical psychologists were asked to give confidence judgments on a personality profile. They were given a case report in four parts, based on an actual clinical case, and asked after each part to answer a series of questions about the patient’s personality, such as his behavioral patterns, interests, and typical reactions to life events. They were also asked to rate their confidence in their responses. With each section, background information about the case increased.
As the psychologists learned more, their confidence rose—but accuracy remained at a plateau. Indeed, all but two of the clinicians became overconfident (in other words, their confidence outweighed their accuracy), and while the mean level of confidence rose from 33 percent at the first stage to 53 percent by the last, the accuracy hovered at under 28 percent (where 20 percent was chance, given the question setup).
Overconfident individuals trust too much in their own ability, dismiss too easily the influences that they cannot control, and underestimate others—all of which leads to them doing much worse than they otherwise would, be it blundering in solving a crime or missing a diagnosis.
The sequence can be observed over and over, even outside of experimental settings, when real money, careers, and personal outcomes are at stake. Overconfident traders have been shown to perform worse than their less confident peers. They trade more and suffer lower returns. Overconfident CEOs have been shown to overvalue their companies and delay IPOs, with negative effects. They are also more likely to conduct mergers in general, and unfavorable mergers in particular. Overconfident managers have been shown to hurt their firms’ returns. And overconfident detectives have been shown to blemish their otherwise pristine record through an excess of self-congratulation.
As noted earlier, mitochondrial degradation is a primary culprit in dwindling muscle mass. But recent evidence indicates that exercise can slow down this effect. According to Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, resistance training activates a muscle stem cell called a satellite cell. In a physiological process known as ‘gene shifting,' these new cells cause the mitochondria to rejuvenate. Tarnopolsky claims that after six months of twice weekly strength exercise training, the biochemical, physiological and genetic signature of older muscles are "turned back" by a factor of 15 to 20 years. That's significant — to say the least.
Studies involving middle-aged athletes indicate that high intensity exercise protects people at the chromosomal level as well. It appears that exercise stimulates the production of telomerase, what allows for the ongoing maintenance of genetic information and cellular integrity. Exercise also triggers the production of antioxidants, which boosts the health of the body in general.
And indeed, other studies are successfully linking athleticism to longevity. A recent analysis published in Deutsches Ärzteblatt International of more than 900,000 athletes (ranging in age from 20 to 79) showed that no significant age-related decline in performance appeared before the age of 55. And revealingly, even beyond that age the decline was surprisingly slow; in the 65 to 69 group, a quarter of the athletes performed above average among the 20 to 54 year-old group.
Essentially, exercise helps the body regenerate itself. This likely explains why older athletes are less susceptible to age-related illnesses than their sedentary counterparts. Moreover, ongoing exercise has been shown to preserve lean tissue, even during rapid and substantial weight loss. It also helps to maintain strength and mobility, which can significantly reduce risk of injury and stave off health problems that would otherwise linger.
Even more remarkable is how resistance training can stave off cognitive decline — what is arguably just as important as physical well being. In a study led by Teresa Liu-Ambrose of the University of British Columbia, women between the ages of 70 and 80 who were experiencing mild cognitive impairment were put through 60-minute classes two times per week for 26 weeks. They used a pressurized air system (for resistance) and free weights, and were told to perform various sets of exercises with variable loads. The results were remarkable: Lifting weights improved memory and staved off the effects of dementia. It also improved the seniors' attention span and ability to resolve conflicts.
In 1962, researchers wanted to test the effects of an early-childhood preschool training program they had designed. Kids in Ypsilanti, Michigan, were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first attended the preschool program (which eventually became a model for other preschool programs nationwide, including Head Start). The second group did not. The differences powerfully illustrate the importance of a child’s early years. The kids in the program academically outperformed the controls in virtually every way you can measure performance, from IQ and language tests in the early years to standardized achievement assessments and literacy exams in the later years. More graduated from high school (84 percent vs. 32 percent for the girls). Not surprisingly, they were more likely to attend college. The kids who were not in the program were four times more likely to require treatment for a mental-health problem (36 percent vs. 8 percent). They were twice as likely to repeat a grade (41 percent vs. 21 percent). As adults, those who had been in the program were less likely to commit crimes and more likely to hold steady jobs. They made more money, more often had a savings account, and were more likely to own a home. Economists calculated that the return on society’s investment in such a program was 7 to 10 percent, about what you’d historically get in the stock market. Some estimate a substantially higher return: $16 for every tax dollar invested in early childhood.