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Book: Cognitive psychology (Eysenck, Keane)

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I’m going to talk about some of the science that seeks answers to many human issues, including also bipolar disorder. I got a really interesting book on neuroscience, long time since the last one. (Books are my weakness 🙂 Running 752 pages, the sixth edition of Michael Eysenck and Mark T. Keane’s “Cognitive psychology” is an interesting pack.

I’m having cognitive science in university so this subject interests me – and the interest is a long-lasting one. Cognitive psychology (or cognitive science, many names for basically the same thing) is about the science of human nature. It is actually approached by many kinds of scientists, because cognitive psychology aims to make a holistic understanding of our mental processes.

I thought to myself, ‘how does this subject differ from ordinary, humanistic psychology’? I think the answer is that cognitive science is a little bit more technical and based on observable or numeric evidence – and I say this with all respect to both disciplines. Whereas psychology might take a bit more ‘individualistic’ approach, cognitive science presumes that our species shares many mechanisms with each other – ie. we don’t differ “that much” – and thus many outcomes can be explained by the somewhat mechanistic features of the human brain and body: humans have two eyes, ears, mouth, etc. You get the point. 🙂

What’s the book about, in detail?

The introductory section gives a nice definition for cognitive psychology: “…is conserned with the internal processes involved in making sense of the environment, and deciding what action might be appropriate. These processes include attention, perception, learning, memory, language, problem solving, reasoning, and thinking.”

Eysenck’s book is both of introductory nature, but it seems very fresh with new research publications, too. The initial chapter overviews the whole field of neuroscience. It also gives some fundamental methods of study, including ACT-R model and connectionist models in general. These models form the formal, mechanistic tools (also available as computer programs) used to verify and simulate the human mind.

Then comes visual perception and attention. These two are of immense importance to humans in the practical sense of living: without visual perception we’d be much more in danger, always prone to collide and get into trouble. With visual perception chapters one starts to really appreciate the level of detail in neuroscience; there’s often a sense of amazement when reading about the whole picture, from propagation of light to finally the interpretation of the shapes and movement. Fascinating points again; our nervous system is trained to perceive shapes, thus the ability of vision is not “clear-cut ready” when we are infants.


Constrictor economicus

It’s the change. The neuronal charge. The almost intoxicating observation of how things change, when you step over the doorstep. Where? Into a new job.

© Leonardo C. Fleck (

boa constrictor economicus

The phone. The new colleagues. Choices. Intros. Coffee. The need to rise early in the morning. The will to do it. A personal mission; sometimes pastime, too.

Starting your career is an exciting thing. There’s often been, nowadays, some chasing period before you have your “first date”. When the economic downturn shifted bright minds from jewels to a growing number in the negative side of government labour statistics, things changed at working places. [Economist: The Year of the CFO]

Companies no longer sought after people, at least not so much (ok, not so visibly). Existing employees felt a slow but ever tighter strangling grip from the invisible boa constrictor economicus, whose main mission was to devour costs – the more, the better. Smoothly, irresistably, without blood.

The bottom line truth is, at least how I see it, there’s always plenty of opportunity. The pattern of employment might change, though, from the “I’m here, take me” of high times, to the “250 applications, no results” -machine gun attitude needed when there’s a low tide. Wherever you are, currently, hold on tight. Enjoy.

A long chase

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I haven’t been writing for some time now. Today however had the opportunity and ideas to purge some of my thoughts into text.

I was wondering one day, is it proper to write the Bipolar diaries and concentrate solely on the technical details of bipolarity, as if life were one long streak of undulation? Not sure, really. Lately I haven’t paid attention to the whole thing, almost at all. Well there are times when bipolar disorder becomes topical, perhaps when someone close talks about it, or knows someone who either has it or might have it.

I’m always interested in the very practical topics that touch life very fundamentally; I remember in the first weeks after diagnosis the many, many questions that I felt bombarded myself, and sometimes I felt very powerless to even begin to reason about how things were, and what was to be expected in the future. I guess it is like that, just like in any medical diagnosis.

Recently I watched a dear person slip out of life, via an aggressive cancer. The doctors avoided setting any life expentancy readouts, telling how many months one might have life left. Because these kinds of estimates only work in statistics, when there are tens of thousands of cases.

The same with BD. There’s a lot of text from psychiatry and medical community that describes the possible events in the life a person with BD. What’s good about these is that they in some way mentally prepare you to the fight. Yes, life’s not going to be easy, but on the other hand, I can tell you that it’s not impossible either. Just by reading case stories one might get too grim a snapshot.

For me, and especially in this moment of time, the realization of bipolar disorder has only made me stronger. I can honestly say I’m more open, understanding, less judgmental, and perhaps – unfortunately – a bit more cynic than before. If I hear someone has bipolar disorder, I can relate to that person very well. I know from an inner experience what it means, and what kinds of life events might have happened. I know the situation when a slippery ghost, a pervasive thought, bitterness, can try and rise to become a true impediment to happiness. But these subside. Believe me.

The personal moods are sometimes strong, and sometimes the reasons for those emotions simply remain unknown – even to oneself.

My day starts nowadays with no depressive thoughts. I may be sluggish for, say, 15 minutes, just like I’ve always been really bad at getting up early 🙂 But I have very good motivation, I have the drive and hunger for getting things done. In general, I don’t postpone things so much, and during the couple of last years there’s just so much experience gained in all kinds of paper work. That’s not a problem anymore.

I remember the worst moments when life simply felt like I’d hit my head towards a wall, every day: I had about 100 contracts, bills and whatnot in front of me, every day. I just kept going through the pile, sometimes put them on a tabletop or on the floor, in order to understand better the relationships between them. “Should I pay this first? What is this about? Have I made the proper filings and reaped everything that belongs to me?” Why the heck do I stir this soup over and over again. I felt like just throwing the whole lot into trash bin, or burning the papers. I wanted to flip a new page over. A blank one.

The chaotic pile of paper reflected to me my own state of mind; the inability to grasp any sense out of life.

I didn’t simply have the capacity to alter the course of a day. The days felt the same, clones of each other.

The path of days has changed. And somehow the outlook on life, kind of. I don’t feel anxiety anymore. I don’t also have panic attacks which were really something that restricted my life, a couple of years ago. I had sometimes, without any particular reason, the awkward feeling of “really being in the wrong place”, or somehow the short-term action plan was cut too short, and I felt I shouldn’t really be doing what I was – be it going with a bus to another town, being in the groceries store, etc. Really happy about having abolished those. I don’t take any direct anti-anxiety medicine. The only thing that’s remained friend is Lithium, must be the all-time favorite in this condition 😉

One of those personally surprising findings is that I’m practically very happy even though a lot of external, measurable life characteristics are grim, indeed. The income level hasn’t changed for better in the last 9 months. I’m very barely getting the amount of money that’s the threshold value of outright poverty. In fact, my income level is now that of 20-25% of the average income of an employed person. Yes, converting the number to euros it is about 450 euros per month. But it’s going to change somewhat, in very near future. I already have a preliminary work contract. And I’m really happy about it. It was a chase that lasted long!

Today – soup of gardening, fun!

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Simple things; the beauty of summer. And love. Plain and simple 🙂

Just driving around for hours, searching a gardening shop. We got ample of seeds for the coming summer. I love gardening. It’s a combination of scientific heuristics that goes with plain, hard work. Basically the “which goes first? Theory or practice” -problematics and the absurdity of such ponderings. Just do it. Test. See. And get wiser.

Today’s boot camp in the green world was about picking and preparing a lot of flowers. Took about 4-5 hours at least. But no sign of getting bored at it. And the best part of gardening is that there’s so much of variability, chemistry to try out, watching the weather, protecting, preparing for the future, planning, etc. It’s kind of like managing a project, actually.

I missed my entrance exams for medical school! It was unbelievable the moment I understood it, because this happened a year before. But, I knew I would not make it, for a reason or another, actually. Well, I did spend about 3-4 weeks of intensively reading for the exam, but from what I gathered, it’s not much! Some folks read the exam book 6 times over, for a whole years’s worth. I respect that attitude. It’s tough!

I’m going to continue getting a B.Sc. and graduating. It’s my alma mater, one of the best technical universities around here, I love the place, though it’s exactly there where I also felt probably the loneliest months and years of my life. I know there’s going to be fun flashbacks, though even there’s so much of image and brand polishing, I’m sure we’re going to be picking up assignment papers in that certain corridor!

The first few years at the uni were pretty laborious and I did credits, but then the good old IT hype caught me. I’m a coder and architect by nature. It was real fun and definitely a lot of experience in teamwork, best years so far in working life, but it was also kind of cutting back on my curriculum. After the rush and all, I went back to school and found a completely new branch in there, neuroscience. That’s also one of the first moments that I started to pick real interest in medicine and psychiatry.

It was sunny as hell, and tomorrow even more.


Power of Tags in blogging

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a chart to describe the search engine market

Image via Wikipedia

Do you want visitors on your WordPress blog? Sure! Me too. And it was a surprise when I found how big an effect using proper tags on posts has!

My nerdy alter ego has to jump from the curtains and rant a little bit. (Besides, it’s past noon and I’ve had my first cup of coffee as a tongue-twister…)

A blog starts to exhibit much more interesting side to it, once it gets readers and feedback. There used to be a “kind of a blogosphere” already back in the 1980s, but it was then called newsgroups. People wrote articles, asked questions, and made friends via pure textual communications.

Blogs rose to power in around 2000. Around there came the revolution of search engines and content management systems (CMS). CMS’s are programs like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla! and many others that help the media boss and article editors to keep things in order. A good CMS is a powerful tool, and it enables everyone to participate in content creation – in their own level of competence. WordPress is a good example of an enabling technology: without it, the world of blogs would be considerably harder to grasp and learn.

I hope you find the following tips useful in improving your blog. None of the tricks are difficult nor illegal, but they may be a bit addictive! 😉 Caveat emptor.

SEO or search engine optimization is an art of its own. I won’t go to that much. It would be very interesting topic, but it’s quite fast-paced and theoretical. SEO is the science behind creating optimal content so that Google and other engines would rank your blog in the top-most ranks, when a user does searches within your domain of writing.

Instead the tips that I have found very useful are: tags, commenting, and using the Tag Surfer.

I hadn’t paid attention to these small descriptive words – tags. I relied more on automatic search engine activity to get me readers. This was a wrong strategy. I do have to also mention that I hadn’t written much for a couple of weeks, so these tips are based more on a hunch than statistics.

Tag words can be added to a Post in the editing phase, or later on. My blog is about bipolar disorder and how to cope with it. So the tag cloud looks like: ‘Bipolar disorder’, ‘American Psychiatric Association’, ‘mental illness’, etc. These tags then appear in other WordPress users’ dashboard, when they use either the Tag surfer or Readomattic functions.

The magic is to use a set of consistent, logical tags – and not sprinkle them too much. It’s a natural tendency that new tags are introduced along the way, when you’re discovering new subjects. That’s ok. But try not to spread your vocabulary into thousands of tags. I’m not sure, but I think that it starts to look like link farm to the search engines and readers: in other words, frustrating. Using a lot of aliases is like harvesting with a large machine, but yes.. some people probably are annoyed and confused if the tag cloud is several hundreds of words in size.

Readomattic is WordPress’ equivalent of a feed reader (just like Google Reader). It enables the blog owner to surf feeds and tags – discovering interesting blog posts. Actually I don’t know what’s the fundamental difference between Tag surfer and Readomattic… Do you?

As always, I’m thrilled to receive feedback!

Picture worth a thousand words

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I’d be too lazy if I only said that summer has come here, too. But the truth is that it’s always a big thing for me: the hea

t, seeing the sun, having much longer days.. I’ll leave this post only with a beautiful picture from the nature. Dew on leaves. Enjoy!

A bit of a history

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I just received some of the diaries I’d kept as a teenager, and boy they are a treasure trove for me! What I’m really interested in is getting an objective view of myself and the bipolar disorder.

I was a meticulous and hard-working young man indeed. School was never a problem, lest those normal teenage trouble of waxing attention and discovery of partying. I tend to use the phrase ‘discovering Life’ about what happens to young people around the 15-16 years of age: a lot of things other than school grab the interest.

I was quite exceptionally fast learning as a very young child. In the age of 6 to 7 years I got my hands on computers and soon learned programming, which requires quite a lot of knowledge and understanding of abstractions, and some algebra. Nowadays if I’d think about little children and how likely they are to program something, it just doesn’t feel very probable. I know kids are fast to learn whatever they put their mind to, but gaming and many other forms of fun usually come forth before more difficult tasks.

The first major depression episode hit me around 18 years of age. Now afterwards it is easy to see the pattern of undulating energy so common with bipolar disorder, but when I was within the happenings, I just felt awkward, somewhat desperate, and I clearly remember how I felt that life didn’t have a sense of purpose. I probably had some mixed periods, because I was in the army back then, doing my conscription – very motivated, and externally I did well (my physique was excellent) but in my diary writings I do express the lack of vision and lack of motivation.

Out of army I went straight to university. Here again, some mixed periods: on the one hand, I was social and enjoyed every bit of it. Yet again, there were gloomy months, and the winter was always a big challenge. I came to hate the long winters, even though I had not done so before the first bouts of real depression. So either the depression is learned, or the biochemical structures are altered so that the feelings seem to get more and more acute. In fact, knowing neuroscience and the brain, learning and biochemical alterations go hand in hand.

Depressive episodes sometimes drove myself to complete isolation and physically unfit. I did not have hunger nor motivation to get proper nutrition. I won’t lie much if I say that I didn’t eat properly for a week sometimes. Other times money was the limiting factor. This is not purely due to depression, it is quite normal during studies that one is really almost busted most of the time. I remember that the student union healthcare division did studies about depression and students and found out that it’s very prevalent.

On to read to my entrance exams. Life now, 16 years later, is fascinating with brain-food feeding my curious mind. I’m reading for medical school, to kind of top off the studies and adventures in this intriguing disorder. It doesn’t matter if I don’t qualify for the school. Number two is to continue pursuing my B.Sc. in computer science and perhaps trying to add elements of either biochemistry or genomics or bio-informatics into my curricula.