Neuroscience: Myths, Metaphors and Marketing

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Presentation given to the Annual NLPtCA Conference 2012: We may be called 'neuro'-linguistic psychotherapists, but how much does neurological research influence how we work with a client? How much has science discovered about our neurology that is applicable to working psychologically? Do we know when we are committing logical level errors by reading too much into the research? And can we distinguish psychological-map from neural-territory? I will explore how much is myth, metaphor and marketing – and how much it matters.

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  • Neuroscience: Myths, Metaphors and Marketing

    1. 1. Neuroscience Myths, Metaphors and Marketing. ! James Lawley NLPtCA Conference 2012 www.cleanlanguange.co.uk 1
    2. 2. Policy Statement I admire the scope, scale and achievement of neuroscience. This talk is not intended to diminish the work of any neuroscientist or psychotherapist. My aim is to help us distinguish between: – quality neuroscience and inferences drawn therefrom and – what Raymond Tallis calls “Neuromania”. 2 James Lawley
    3. 3. EXERCISE ! 1.Name a piece of neurological research that has influenced the way you do therapy. 2.What do you do differently with your clients as a result of the research?
    4. 4. Watch first two minutes of video : http://www.schoolsworld.tv/node/2887
    5. 5. A connectome is the totality of connections between the neurons in a nervous system.
    6. 6. A connectome of C. elegans roundworm 1 mm in length 302 neurons.
    7. 7. What do you make of this quote from a leading psychotherapist?: ! “The role of the psychotherapist is brought into a new light through the implications of working with psychoneuroimmunology. ... Validating the client’s model of the world and negative feelings, the therapist enables neurotransmitters associated with the negative state to be released from the subcortex and the existing neural networks activated.” 7
    8. 8. And this one?: “As soon as the client accesses the future-oriented state, the neurological potential is then created for change to happen. Solution-oriented therapy ... ensures that the client fires the neurological pathway a number of times in therapy, making it easier to re-access once the session has ended. ... This process reinforces the ‘not problem’ state, again reinforcing positive neurological patterning. At this next session, we both noted that he could more easily move towards future-oriented thinking ... This was evidence that the neurological re-patterning that we had done in the previous week had started to work.”
    9. 9. “As soon as the client accesses the future-oriented state, the neurological potential is then created for change to happen. Solution-oriented therapy ... ensures that the client fires the neurological pathway a number of times in therapy, making it easier to re-access once the session has ended. ... This process reinforces the ‘not problem’ state, again reinforcing positive neurological patterning. At this next session, we both noted that he could more easily move towards future-oriented thinking ... This was evidence that the neurological re-patterning that we had done in the previous week had started to work.” psycho Does changing one prefix change the meaning?: psycho psycho psycho
    10. 10. “Your prefrontal cortex is the biological seat of your conscious interactions with the world. It’s the part of your brain central to thinking things through. ... Getting everything ‘just right’ for the prefrontal cortex is what Emily needs to learns to do, to get on top of the extra information she is juggling in her new job.” ! David Rock, Your Brain at Work p. 6  ! ! “A question I ask my clients all time is: What does your brain need right now to move forward?” ! David Rock, A Brain-Based Approach to Coaching, International Journal of Coaching in Organizations 2006 4(2) What do you think Emily and other clients make of this question?
    11. 11. “[Neuro-talk] is often accompanied by a picture of a brain scan, that fast-acting solvent of critical faculties.” Matthew Crawford ‘The Limits of Neuro-Talk’
    12. 12. CAT Computed axial tomography DOT Diffuse optical tomography EEG Electroencephalography EROS Event-related optical signal MEG Magnetoencephalography MRI Magnetic resonance imaging (structural) fMRI Functional MRI dMRI Diffusion MRI NIRS Near infrared spectroscopy PET Positron emission tomography SPECT Single-photon emission computed tomography BRAIN IMAGINING TECHNIQUES
    13. 13. Can you guess what experience this brain scan is showing ?
    14. 14. An image of the brain of Nan Wise, who volunteered to have an orgasm while inside an fMRI
    15. 15. • Technical Problems with fMRI ‣ Measures oxygen in the blood as a proxy for brain activity. Millions of neurons have to be activated for a change in blood flow to be detected. ‣ Neuronal activity lasts milliseconds while detected changes in blood flow lag by 2-10 seconds. ‣ Brain is changing all the time – somewhere is always ‘lit up’. ‣ Images made up of voxels, each representing at best 10,000+ neurons. ‣ Each scan has 50,000 data points; thousands of scans in a study means many millions of comparisons. Massively complex analysis required – 7 million lines of code. ‣ A big problem is false positives – thousands of published studies conducted without corrections for false positives. ‣ Some researchers pick out the ‘best’ results. ‣ Spurious ‘brain activity’ related to non-existent tasks found with standard settings on the most popular fMRI analysis software.
    16. 16. Functional MRI scans of six people who took the same spatial memory test tal functions to particular brain regions. Critics feel that fMRI overlooks the networked or dis- tributed nature of the brain’s workings, empha- sizing localized activity when it is the communi- cation among regions that is most critical to men- tal function. “This is a very gross technique,” says critic Steven Faux , who heads the psychology depart- ment at Drake University. “It’s like a blurry pho- to—better than no photo but still blurry, with real limitations that are too often overlooked. It’s very easy to overextend [the value of] this technology.” Many fMRI practitioners seem bewildered that this powerful new tool has created contro- versy. “It is a huge surprise to me how big this issue has become,” says Marcus E. Raichle, a Washington University neurologist who has re- searched brain scanning for more than two decades. Vague Precision Brain imaging began with an early 20th-cen- tury method called pneumoencephalography, a dangerous procedure in which the skull’s cere- brospinal fluid was replaced with air to show the brain more clearly on x-ray. The angiograph, de- veloped in the 1920s, produced improved results The 1970s also brought the first functional imaging technology—scans designed to show not just how the brain is structured but how it functions. Positron emission tomography (PET) measures increases in blood flow associated with neuronal activity, giving a sense of which neu- rons may be processing information. A subject is injected with radioactive elements that tag molecules such as glucose that are delivered to the brain by blood. The tags emit positrons and reveal the relative rates at which cells consume the glucose, a marker of which cells are active during mental processes. The scans are captivat- ing, but there are a number of drawbacks. Sub- jects worry about taking in radioactive material; the process requires the better part of an hour for a scan; and the images provide a rather broad temporal resolution of 60 seconds (meaning it takes that long to measure the blood flow to an area) and a spatial resolution of six to nine cubic millimeters—large for a nuanced understanding of what is happening. In contrast, fMRI can scan a brain cross sec- tion in less than two seconds, enabling it to mod- el most of the brain in one to two minutes. It can work at spatial resolutions as fine as two to three cubic millimeters, although in practice it usually collects information in voxels (a term that merg- Functional MRI scans of six people who took the same spatial memory test show how varied brain activation pat- terns can be. Scientists must design fMRI ex- periments care- fully to avoid misleading conclusions. sconsin–Milwaukee www.sciammind.com 27 flow rises. Doubts about whether these increases correspond to actual neuronal activity have been answered by several studies tying blood flow di- rectly to neuron signaling, including recent ani- mal models that used probes to match the firing of individual neurons to the heightened flow seen in fMRI scans. Yet the link is decidedly rough. Abigail A. Baird, a Dartmouth College psychologist who uses fMRI to study brain changes during adoles- cence, puts it succinctly: “Hemodynamic re- sponse is a sloppy thing.” For starters, neuronal action takes milliseconds, whereas the blood surge follows by two to six seconds; a detected increase in blood flow therefore might be “feed- ing” more than one operation. In addition, be- cause each voxel encompasses thousands of neu- rons, thousands or even millions may have to fire to significantly light up a region; it is as if an entire section of a stadium had to shout to be heard. Meanwhile it is possible that in some cases a that they become images introduces other cave- ats. Researchers must choose among and adjust many different algorithms to extract an accurate image, compensating along the way for varia- tions in skull and brain configuration, movement of subjects in the scanner, noise in the data, and so on. This “chain of inferences,” as a recent Na- ture Neuroscience article called it, offers much opportunity for error. Finally, most fMRI studies use univariate processing, which critics say shortchanges the distributed nature of neurodynamics. The charg- es rise because univariate (literally “one vari- able”) algorithms consider the data coming in from each voxel during a scan as one sum, which makes it impossible to know how the activity in a particular voxel accrued (all at once, for in- stance, or in several pulses) or how it related se- quentially with activity in other voxels. Univar- iate processing does see all the parts working— thus the multiple areas lit up in most images—but not in a way that shows how one area follows or COPYRIGHT 2005 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
    17. 17. • Question ... What do you make of these fMRI test-retest correlations for subjects engaged in six sessions of the same activity conducted over a period of six weeks? ! 0.56 0.75 0.00 0.42 0.69 0.25 ! Mean = 0.45 ! ! Jian Kong et. al., Test-retest study of fMRI signal change evoked by electro-acupuncture stimulation, Neuroimage. 2007 February 1; 34(3): 1171–1181.
    18. 18. These subjects engaged in a simple finger-tapping task and yet the correlations ranged between 0 and 0.76 – imagine the subjects were doing something useful! ! A review of papers published in top-ranking journals, including Science, concluded: “A disturbingly large and quite prominent segment of fMRI scan research on emotion, personality and social cognition is using seriously defective research methods and producing a profusion of numbers that should not be believed.” ! Edward Vul1, Christine Harris, Piotr Winkielman and Harold Pashler, ‘Puzzlingly High Correlations in fMRI Studies of Emotion, Personality, and Social Cognition’ Perspectives on Psychological Science, May 2009 vol. 4 no. 3 274-290.
    19. 19. Example of a neuro-imaging research methodology ‣ The subject was placed in a fMRI scanner. ‣ Subject was shown a series of photographs depicting human individuals in social situations with a specified emotional valence. ‣ The subject was asked to determine what emotion one of the individuals in the photo must have been experiencing. ‣ Each photo was presented for 10 seconds followed by 12 seconds of rest. A total of 15 photos were displayed. ‣ Total scan time was 5.5 minutes.
    20. 20. This is the brain scan of the subject
    21. 21. “By complete, random chance, we found some voxels that were significant ... [even though] the salmon was not alive at the time of scanning.” Craig Bennett, neuroscientist, University of California
    22. 22. “An fMRI study has shown that men’s amygdalas light up when they view Ferraris” ! ! What is wrong with this statement?
    23. 23. “An fMRI study demonstrated heightened activity in the amygdala’s of Democrats and Republicans watching videos of John Kerry and George W. Bush, concluding the volunteers were actively trying to dislike the opposition”. ! ! What is wrong with this statement?
    24. 24. • Design flaws in fMRI studies ‣ Less activity in frontal lobes and more in the amygdala of adolescents than adults looking at black-and-white photographs of faces of frightened middle-aged people. But in a much less widely reported follow-up study using colour photographs, adolescent subjects scored much like adults. ‣ Over 30 studies found physiological markers of ADHD in children but failed to control for the effects of their subjects’ Ritalin use.
    25. 25. • And guess what ... University students told of fictitious studies such as “watching television improves maths ability” judged results to be more scientific and believable when presented in the form of brain scans rather than in charts or words.
    26. 26. • Conceptual Problems with MRI ‣ Parts of the brain appear again and again, serving different functions. ‣ The same cognitive functions show up in different regions of the brain. ‣ MRI are blind to the connectional anatomy of the human brain. ‣ Activities subjects do are necessarily isolated and simple compared to the everyday actions of humans. ‣ Conclusions subject to a long ‘chain of inferences’. ‣ Often a confusion between correlation, causation and identity. ‣ Results are extended way beyond their remit, e.g. Neuroarthistory by John Onians. Professor Emeritus of World Art at the University of East Anglia. Time Magazine ran a “Guide to the Neuroscience of Shopping”
    27. 27. !=> !!=> !!!=>
    28. 28. <= ! <= !! <= !!! <= !!!!
    29. 29. fMRI sequence shows how grey matter is gradually replaced or overgrown with white matter between ages 5 and 21. NOTE: This statement refers to physical changes rather then mental acts. Functional MRI can map the brain’s composition with exquisite clarity. This sequence shows how gray matter is gradually replaced or overgrown with white matter between ages 5 and 21. A defense attorney could ostensibly use such information to ask that a teenager convicted of a violent crime not be sentenced as an adult since his cognitive capacity is not as fully developed. Age 5 Age 8 Age 12 Age 16 Age 20 ------------------------------------ >0.5 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.1 0.0 Gray matter volume IMAGESCOURTESYOFPAULTHOMPSON,KIRALEEHAYASHIANDARTHURTOGAUniversityofCalifornia,LosAngeles ANDNITINGOGTAY,JAYGIEDDANDJUDITHRAPOPORTNationalInstituteofMentalHealth
    30. 30. EXERCISE - Look around the room ! [Lead group through exercise in changing attention.] ! ! There is nothing in neuroscience that can remotely explain what you all just did so easily.
    31. 31. “The majority of neuroimaging studies I come across are so flawed, either due to design or statistical errors, they add virtually nothing to my knowledge.” ! Daniel Bor PhD in cognitive neuroscience, Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge University. Now at Sackler Centre For Consciousness Science, University of Sussex.
    32. 32. How can a layperson know what is a believable MRI study? 1. Our default attitude should be skepticism. 2. Go to blogs written by scientists. 3. Get answers to these questions: ✓ Are the stats properly corrected for multiple tests? ✓ Are the results replicated elsewhere? ✓ If activation areas are linked to a given function, are any other functions previously linked to these brain regions? ✓ Are there any plausible alternative interpretations of the results?
    33. 33. Neuroscience Myths
    34. 34. 1891 - 1976 ! ! ! What percentage of Wilder Penfield’s patients experienced spontaneous memories when he inserted an electrode into their brain? Watch one minute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNdM9JhTPJw
    35. 35. 1 in 20 and contemporary surgeons have found it difficult to replicate some of Penfield’s results. ! Raymond Tallis, Aping Mankind (2011, p. 93)
    36. 36. “... allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation.”  Giacomo Rizzolatti, co-discover of mirror neurons in macaque monkeys (New York Times, 10 Jan 2006, ‘Cells That Read Minds’) ! ! ! "... the driving force behind the great leap forward in human evolution." V.S. Ramachandran (2000)
    37. 37. Except that, most evidence for mirror neurons in humans is indirect. “Mirror neurons have not been demonstrated unequivocally in humans” Raymond Tallis, Aping Mankind (2011, p. 190) ! “fMRI’s resolution is not fine enough to distinguish whether the neurons firing are mirror neurons or just motor cortex neurons, which fire both when we think about an action and when we actually perform an action.”  ! Marco Iacoboni, a mirror neuron expert at the University of California, quoted in Monkey See, Monkey Don't by Nikhil Swaminathan February 3, 2011 Scientific American Mind ! ! 37
    38. 38. Neuroplasticity ! In the 1960s Mark Rosenzweig showed there were changes in the brains of laboratory rats that were raised in enriched or impoverished environments. ! An enriched cage slightly enlarged the cortex on average and the rats performed better on problem solving tests. This was the first demonstration that experience causes the brain structure to change. ! 1922 – 2009 38
    39. 39. London taxi drivers have an enlarged right posterior hippocampus, which is the region of the cortex thought to be involved in navigation. In musicians, the cerebellum is larger and certain cortical regions are thicker. Bilinguals have a thicker cortex in the lower part of the left parietal lobe.
    40. 40. However ... ! “[Rosenzweig] did not prove that it was the thickening that caused the improvement in the intelligence. We can only say that cortical thickening with learning are correlated. Furthermore, the correlation is weak, revealed only by averages over groups. Cortical thickening is not a reliable predictor of learning in individuals.” ! Sebastian Seung Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. (2012, p. 25) Professor of Computational Neuroscience at MIT.
    41. 41. Minds differ because neural networks differ. Personality, IQ and memories are encoded in neural networks. ! “Although this theory has been around for a long time, neuroscientists still don’t know if it’s true. These ideas may sound powerful, but there’s a catch: they have never been subjected to conclusive experimental tests ... because neuroscientists have lacked good techniques for mapping the connections between neurons” Sebastian Seung (2012) Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. p. xiv-xx Professor of Computational Neuroscience at MIT.
    42. 42. Yes, but ... ! “Although this theory has been around for a long time, neuroscientists still don’t know if it’s true. These ideas may sound powerful, but there’s a catch: they have never been subjected to conclusive experimental tests ... because neuroscientists have lacked good techniques for mapping the connections between neurons” Sebastian Seung Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. (2012, p. xiv-xx)
    43. 43. Thinking leading to Neuromania Mixing Logical Levels “There is only one sort of stuff, namely matter – the physical stuff of physics, chemistry and physiology – and the mind is somehow nothing but a physical phenomenon. ! In short, the mind is the brain ... We can (in principle!) account for every mental phenomenon using physical principles, laws and raw materials.” Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained, p. 33 MATTER CELLS BRAIN MIND
    44. 44. Thinking leading to Neuromania Mixing metaphors “Nervous systems are information-processing machines.” Patricia Churchland, Neurophilosophy. “The brain can now be described as an incredibly powerful microprocessor, the mother of all motherboards.” Dr Vinoth Ramachandra “Artificial intelligence is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.” John McCarthy ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Metaphor Metaphor
    45. 45. Thinking leading to Neuromania Anthropomorphising Animating the material world with human characteristics, e.g. the brain doesn’t: calculate, signal, decide, detect, process, notice, trick, fool or deceive us, light up, represents, or store (and nor do computers!) “When the reptilian brain takes over the frontal cortex shuts down.” “The amygdala stops talking to the hypothalamus.” “Anti-anxiety molecules”
    46. 46. Thinking leading to Neuromania Unwitting metonymy ‣ Mistaking a part for the whole. e.g. Nobel prize winner Eric Kandel claimed he could capture “memory in a dish”. Localising a distributed, massively interconnected, small-world network (<3 degrees of separation). ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! “The brain - that's my second most favourite organ!” Woody Allen
    47. 47. The truth is ... ! “As a neuroscientist myself, I have come to know firsthand [the] feeling of dread [when] I speak to the public about the state of our field. My audience [is] curious about brains that malfunction or excel, but even the humdrum lacks explanation. Every day we recall the past, perceive the present, and imagine the future. How do our brains accomplish these feats? It’s safe to say that nobody really knows.” ! Sebastian Seung
    48. 48. "To map the human brain at the cellular level, we're talking about 1m petabytes of information. Most people think that is more than the digital content of the world right now. I'd settle for a mouse brain, but we're not even ready to do that. We're still working on how to do one cubic millimetre." ! "Sooner or later humans are going to have to confront the fact that we don't know how the brain works." ! ! Jeff Lichtman, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University quoted in The Guardian. 7 May 2012.
    49. 49. ! “Fifty years of research shows that we don’t understand what neural networks are doing.” ! ! Dr. Michael Harré, Principle Investigator at Large, Centre for the Mind, Faculty of Science, University of Sydney
    50. 50. ! “There is no science of the individual” ! ! Aristotle
    51. 51. References Bateson, G., 1972, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Ballantine. Bateson, G., 1988, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, Bantam. Bateson, G. & Bateson, M.C., 1988, Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred, Bantum. Bateson, G., 1991, A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Harper Collins. Begley, S., 2009, The Plastic Mind: New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves, Constable. Blackmore, S., 2000, The Meme Machine, Oxford University Press. Bloom, P. 2004 Descartes' Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human, Arrow. Calvin, W.H., 1996, The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind, MIT Press. Capra, F., 1996, The Web of Life: A New Synthesis of Mind and Matter, Harper Collins. Chalmers, D.J, 1996 The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, Oxford University Press. Claxton, G., 1997, Hare Brain Tortoise Mind: Why Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, Fourth Estate. Claxton, G., 2006. The Wayward Mind: An Intimate History of the Unconscious, Abacus. Cytowic, R.E., 1993/2003, The Man Who Tasted Shapes, MIT Press. Damasio, A., 2006. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, Vintage. Damasio, A., 2003, Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain, Harcourt. Damasio, A., 2000. The Feeling Of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness New ed., Vintage. Dennett, D.C., 1993, Consciousness Explained, Penguin. Dennett, D.C., 2004, Freedom Evolves, Penguin. Doidge, N., 2008, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, Penguin. Donald, M., 2001, A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness, Norton. Dreyfus, H.L. & Dreyfus, S.E., 1988, Mind over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer, Free Press. Edelman, G.M., 1992, Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind, Basic Books, Basic Books. Edelman, G.M. & Tononi, G., 2000, The Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination, Basic Books. Freeman, W., 2000 How Brains Make Up Their Minds, Phoenix Hauser, M. D., 2007 Moral Minds: The Nature of Right and Wrong, Harper Perennial. Hofstadter, D., 2008, I Am A Strange Loop, Basic Books. Huppert, F.A., Baylis, N. & Keverne, B., (eds) 2005, The Science of Well-Being, Oxford University Press. Jaynes, J., 1990, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Hougton Mifflin. Kandel, E.R., 2007. In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, Norton LeDoux, J., 1999. The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life Maturana, H.R. & Varela, F.J., 1992, The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Shambala. McGilchrist, I., The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, Yale University Press. Minsky, M., 2006, The Emotion Machine: Common Sense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind, Simon & Schuster Montague, R., 2006. Why Choose this Book?: How We Make Decisions, Dutton. Penrose, R., 1996. Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, Oxford University Press. Pinker, S., 1998. How The Mind Works, The Softback Preview. Pinker, S., 2007, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, Allen Lane. Plotkin, H., 2003, The Imagined World Made Real: Towards A Natural Science of Culture, Penguin. Ramachandran, V.S. & Blakeslee, S., 1999. Phantoms in the Brain: Human Nature and the Architecture of the Mind, Fourth Estate. Robertson, I., 2000, Mind Sculpture: Your Brain’s Untapped Potential, Bantum. Rose, S., (ed) 1999, From Brains to Consciousness?: Essays on the New Sciences of the Mind, Penguin Rose, S., 2006, The 21st Century Brain: Explaining, Mending and Manipulating the Mind, Vintage. Searle, J.R., 1997, The Mystery of Consciousness, Granta. Seung, S., 2012, Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, Allen Lane. Sacks, O., 1986. The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Picador. Sacks, O, 1995. An Anthropologist on Mars, Picador. Solso, R.L., & Massaro, D.W., 1995, The Science of the Mind: 2001 and Beyond, Oxford University Press. Tallis, R, 2011. Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity, Acumen. Varela, F.J. & Thompson, E. & Rosch, E., 1993, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, MIT Press. Zeman, A., 2002. Consciousness: a User's Guide, Yale University.

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