Category: Stroke

Political Weight

Business Logo for Psychological and Neuropsychological IssuesFew people are desirous of additional body weight.  Few people consider their appearance to be embellished by additional body weight.  It has come to be proverbial, the billions spent on weight loss programs and systems.  Even so called medical TV programs rarely speak of medicine as they do weight loss.  It is a hook that latches onto viewers.  In order for the hook to be effective, it must be on the minds of many people.  These medically oriented programs rarely advance scientifically proven behavioral weight loss techniques.  In its stead, dietary and medicinal tricks are employed to tout rapid weight loss.  Shills are often employed to model the incredible success that remains outside the grasp of the audience.  The feared net effect is to cheapen the reputation of medical practice and increase the frustration of the target audience.

Body image and bodily health are the two important components of weight loss.  These components reflect the psychological and medical issues surrounding weight gain or loss.  In terms of body image, not everyone wants to be thinner.  Many people perceive obese partners to be particularly attractive; as evidenced by web sites thriving on the erotic portrayal of plump sexual athletes.  It is suspected that such couples are not in search of weight loss programs.  In fact, weight loss experienced by either partner may cause discord in the relationship.  It is curious that this type of couple does not generate web sites dedicated to gaining sexy weight.  Gaining weight appears to be effortless.  Gaining weight does not appear to require third party motivation.

Despite couples that revel in their sexy obesity, most couples do not seek to gain weight.  The majority does not perceive obesity to be attractive in others, nor are they pleased by weight gain reflected in the mirror.  The body image of the majority tends to favor weight loss and an athletic build.  While this is true of the current situation, different periods in history do not necessarily share the modern worship of thin.  For example, the famous Rubenesque woman painted in the 17th century.  These plump women were considered the epitome of attractiveness.  To be called Rubenesque was, in the distant past, quite a compliment.  Today, it has come to be a benign term for fat.  If we retreat further into the past, Roman women were the first group known to engage in resistance exercises!  The Roman and Greek ideal was as now; an athletic physique maintained by either sex.  An ideal body image tends to change over time, but apparently it is not in a rush.  It is probably better not to wait until your less than athletic physique comes back into style.

The medical issues surrounding obesity may be as complex as the psychological.  It has long been medical dogma that body weight exceeding the average is axiomatically bad for one’s long-term health.  Public health research has revealed that the mildly obese tend to survive hospital stays significantly more than those of average weight.  The survival rate of the mildly obese, compared with those who are of less than average body weight, is especially striking.  Particular races of people tend to have bulkier physiques when compared to other races with the same percentage of body fat.  Metabolism is certain to play a role, but so does a person’s level of fidgeting.  Thin people tend to engage in unconscious fidgeting movements more than those who tend to be overweight.  It appears that fidgeting burns a surprising amount of calories.  The lack of movement in the the severely obese is a contributing factor to what is termed the “metabolic syndrome” of obesity.  This syndrome is comprised of medical factors related to coronary artery disease, stroke, and insulin-dependent diabetes.  Fortunately, this medical penalty for obesity is much less common in the moderate and mildly obese; the ones that tend to leave the hospital by the front door.

In terms of treatment, successful weight loss interventions should begin in childhood.  It is less an intervention than modeling behaviors that promote a healthy diet and exercise.  As with any childhood behavioral program, the full participation of the family is critical.  Children not only model what their parents do, but are quick to imitate a favored older brother or sister.  The focus should not be on what foods are to be avoided as increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables.  School programs that decrease the availability of sugary foods and beverages has made a significant difference in several longitudinal studies.  Severely obese children have been the exception.  There have been no successful behavioral weight interventions with this unfortunate subgroup.

It is not only what foods are best to consume, it is also important to consider how they are prepared.  For example, a very successful behavioral intervention is somewhat counter-intuitive.  Having the child or adult participate in the preparation of the meal tends to reduce impulsive eating.  A rough analogy is rolling a cigarette as opposed to buying a pack ready made.  The additional work and attention to quality tends to lower the overall quantity.  Similarly, the mindset regarding exercise is very important to a successful program.  Profuse sweating and possible ridicule is not very motivating, unless one is attempting to increase their aversion to exercise.  It is important to start gradually and focus on feeling better physically, than evaluating oneself by how many pounds are lost.  An exercise program will be less aversive if the goal is to breath and walk with greater ease, than if improvement is measured by one’s attractiveness.  A focus on pounds and appearance is usually problematic, since no one loses weight fast enough, or suddenly becomes enamored with their appearance.  If a person employs these behavioral techniques in a consistent fashion, an attractive stranger is sure to make their appearance in the mirror.


Business Logo for Psychological and Neuropsychological IssuesThe following is an incomplete draft.  Comments would be greatly appreciated, as this is the proverbial work in progress.

Consciousness is a word like soul.  Most people believe they know what the word means, but are actually hard-pressed to provide a definition.  Even if a definition is given, it is likely that it will not agree with the one provided by their neighbor.  The importance of clarity and precision in the definition of consciousness is greater than for a word like soul, since consciousness is often used in scientific literature.  A scientific term must have a universally agreed upon definition, or it is outside the arena of scientific investigation.  A researcher cannot prove or disprove an aspect of consciousness if its definition is vague or transitional.

One problem in defining consciousness is the placement of boundaries within the total stream of thought.  There is an ongoing debate whether animals are conscious, and much of the debate hinges on the limitations of conscious thought.  It should not be overlooked that all definitions have an arbitrary feature, and consensus is the most important feature of any definition.  A proposed functional definition of consciousness is spoken or internal language that may potentiate goal directed behavior.  This definition is purposely limited to language, as this is the one cognitive skill believed to be unique among humans.

The more humans observe and understand mammalian behavior, the more their abilities are reminiscent of human behavior.  The visual memory of squirrels exceeds that of humans, and complex social behavior is not limited to primates.  Both primates and porpoises use symbols effectively, and the number of animals on this list will likely grow in the future.  The dictionary definition of consciousness could even include insects, as it is defined as an awareness of an external or internal object.  Perhaps soldier ants are not aware of internal representations, but they must be aware of external objects to defend the colony.  Primates are able to use feeling words in a reliable and appropriate fashion, such that they are aware of internal representations.  The typical definition of consciousness is hardly limited to humans.

To limit the definition of consciousness to language deliberately differentiates it from cognition displayed in the animal kingdom.  Internal dialogue composed of auditory symbols is unique to humans, as no other creature has been observed using speech.  Dolphins and humpback whales may be an exception, but at least the exceptions would be few, and the term would still retain its scientific usefulness.  Humans have feeling states that accompany a sense of belief or disbelief, but these feelings are currently impossible to prove in other humans-let alone animals.  In no way is the definition of consciousness expounded intended to limit thought to verbal expression.  In no way, as Wittgenstein postulated, does language put limits on thought or what it is possible to know.  Language is an emergent phenomenon of the human brain that allows us to hypothesize solutions and categorize knowledge in a way that is impossible for creatures without this skill.

The second part of the proposed definition of consciousness entails its importance in accomplishing goals.  Humans that are brain injured and confused may exhibit speech, but it often a jumble of words and sentences that are senseless.  The proposition that a person’s speech lacks sense is that it doesn’t have a goal.  Even angry rambling speech communicates the current feeling state and intentions (goals) of the speaker.  People who lack goal-directed speech could be considered as not conscious, even though some form of internal speech may still transpire.  People with rambling disconnected speech rarely retain memories of events, because their brain is not encoding information in a way that can be stored and retrieved.  Please note that “not conscious” was used in lieu of “unconscious.”  Most of the information that flows into our senses is unconscious; including an awareness of our bodily states.  Consciousness would have little adaptive value if humans were constantly assaulted by a torrent of sensations and memories.

The use of the word “may” in the definition of consciousness is an acknowledgement that not all spoken or internal speech is goal directed.  The word “may” could be replaced with “has the potential to.”  Humans may ruminate on works of art that do not result in an observable behavior.  Psychologists often differentiate speech that is rambling as “illogical” or is not “pertinent” to the situation.  Both these terms have precise definitions, but are less than useful if the person cannot or will not speak.  Most people with rambling speech do not exhibit effective goal directed behavior, yet there is at least one exception.  Some strokes result in speech that is jumbled or absent, yet the patient appears to function in a goal directed fashion.  Psychologists and speech pathologists have conjectured that a patient’s “internal speech” or “deep language structure” is relatively preserved.  This would fit in neatly with the current definition of consciousness.  Unfortunately, deep language structure is a phenomenon that is not readily observable.  As such, it is unlikely to be proved or disproved by the scientific method.  A psychologist may observe a rambling or mute patient acting in a goal directed fashion, but they cannot be sure if the patient is actually conscious by this measure alone.

The proposed definition of consciousness is intended to differentiate human from animal cognition.  It is a more language dependent conceptualization than what is offered in textbooks.  An awareness of an internal or external object is not only difficult to observe, but it tends to support the blurry boundary between animal and human cognition.  It is hoped that the definition of consciousness offered here will enhance the concept’s explanatory power and scientific usefulness.  Many scientists and clinicians may be uncomfortable with the pairing of language and consciousness, but speech is the only observable that provides evidence of self-awareness.  Goals may be inferred with some accuracy from observed behavior, which is why they are crucial to the definition.  Taken together, the current definition has the potential to accurately classify a human or animal as conscious-or not.

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