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Tue, 09 Feb 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Empathy borne of pain and suffering

I recently underwent a relatively minor - but surprisingly painful - outpatient surgical procedure. I spent the next two days crashed out at my parents house in a haze of Percocet, Zofran, and Ibuprofen. On day three I stopped the narcotics, preparing myself to return to work.

But the pain didn't stop.

I spent day three on the couch, certain that once I got past 72-hours post-op, the swelling would subside and the pain would cease.

But the pain didn't stop.

Days four and five were a complete loss. The incision site, near the base of my tailbone, ached with any movement; I missed two days of work because I couldn't walk without feeling as though someone was stabbing my spine. I couldn't sit upright in a chair without a wave of pain crashing over me with such strength that it made me nauseous.

So I spent those days crashed out on my own couch, still unwilling to take narcotics, curled up with Aleve and a heating pad, guilt-ridden about missing work and generally feeling sorry for myself.

Comment: How awful for human beings that we are so often indifferent to the sufferings of others until we have a visceral experience and knowledge of what it's like to be in another person's shoes.


PTSD is as old as the hills

Posttraumatic stress disorder wasn't recognized by psychiatrists until 1980. But soldiers who lived thousands of years ago can give us a deeper understanding of psychological trauma.
There is a story in my family of my grandfather's homecoming from the Korean War. His father, a medic in the German army in World War I, took him into his study. "You saw horrible things over there," he told his son. "But you have to forget them. When you leave this room, you just don't think about it anymore."

I can't say whether my grandfather took this advice, but he kept his memories to himself; my mother didn't know he was a Korean war vet until well into her teen years. Still, whatever he saw in Korea didn't go away. Two years ago, when he was seriously ill in the hospital, my grandfather woke up in tears. Why, he asked my dumbfounded mother, had he lived through the war when all of his buddies had died?

I was stacking frozen corpses like cordwood, he said. Was there a reason I was spared?

Comment: PTSD in war veterans = a normal psychological reaction of people with conscience to being cannon fodder in senseless wars.


One simple way to better understand how you use your time

© Pexels.com
Every so often after finishing a book we may set it down, mentally checking off an outstanding item we've meant to complete. But sometimes our mind continues to process, letting the lessons we've learned percolate long after we've set a title back into our bookshelves or libraries. I had this particular experience upon finishing Lynn Grodzki's Building Your Ideal Private Practice. Interestingly, despite her countless helpful ideas, tips and tricks for business, it wasn't all the practical tools that stuck with me. It was one concept in the final chapter of the book (and discussed only briefly) that made an immense impact on me. Grodzki discussed looking at how our time is organized using 3 simple descriptors: work, spirit, and buffer.

She described work as things that bring you joy and money. Spirit time was something that would rejuvenate your soul, and buffer was everything else. Simple enough. She shared learning about the concept from her coach and using this framework to categorize her own time. She saw that as a busy private practitioner, while her work brought her money, it did not always translate to joy. Weekends involved running errands, extra paperwork, and maybe dinner out and a movie, but not enough to fully re-energize her. As a result, her weeks on end were lots and lots of buffer time.

Comment: Further reading:
We spend a lot of energy looking for shortcuts to save time, and sure, those shortcuts add up. But when I look back, my biggest time regrets aren't spending too much time on Twitter or mismanaging my daily tasks. Those are bad habits, but there are bigger, more systematic time wasters that have really gotten in the way. Fixing these will free up a massive amount of time and energy.

Regrets of the older and wiser: Time wasted on things that don't matter in the long run

2 + 2 = 4

What if schools taught kindness? Lessons from a "kindness curriculum"

Walking to class one day, one of us (Laura) saw a young student crying and waiting for his mother to arrive—he had split his chin while playing. When Laura got to class, the other students were very upset and afraid for their friend, full of questions about what would happen to him. Laura decided to ask the class how they could help him.

"Caring practice!" exclaimed one of the children—and they all sat in a circle offering support and well wishes. The children immediately calmed and they continued with their lesson.

This is what's possible when kids learn to be kind at school.

Comment: Forget Survival of the Fittest: It Is Kindness That Counts
Why do people do good things? Is kindness hardwired into the brain, or does this tendency arise via experience? Dacher Keltner, director of the Social Interaction Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, investigates these questions from multiple angles and often generates results that are both surprising and challenging. In his recent book, Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life (W. W. Norton, 2009), Keltner weaves together scientific findings with personal narrative to uncover human emotion's innate power to connect people with one another, which he argues is the path to living the good life.

DACHER KELTNER: "Born to be good" means that our mammalian and hominid evolution has crafted a species - us - with remarkable tendencies toward kindness, play, generosity, reverence and self-sacrifice, which are vital to the classic tasks of evolution - survival, gene replication and smoothly functioning groups. These tendencies are felt in the wonderful realm of emotion - feelings such as compassion, gratitude, awe, embarrassment and mirth. Recent studies have revealed that our capacity for caring, play, reverence and modesty is built into our brains, bodies, genes and social practices.

Snakes in Suits

Toxic managers: In corporate culture, workplace bullies use subtle tactics to climb the ladder

© .lakeforestmba.edu
If you think your boss is out to get you, but can't point to any obvious incidents of abuse, you may not be paranoid after all. You may, in fact, be in hot water, and the boss is just being stealthy when alienating and antagonizing you. Most managers — even the bad ones — appreciate the importance of maintaining the facade of professionalism at the workplace, so some have become increasingly skilled at being subtle while abusing employees.

These passive-aggressive managers are often highly valued in the modern workplace because many corporations believe they help weed out undesirable employees. Some corporations even create cultures that foster leadership that is quietly ruthless and devious. Research by the University of Buffalo School of Management finds that it actually pays to be a workplace bully. Those who engage in harassment typically receive excellent reviews from their own supervisors and are exceptional at climbing the corporate ladder.

Comment: Considering the fact that Psychopaths 'flourish' at top of the corporate ladder. The reader might want to read more about psychopaths in the work place:


How your language shapes your brain and personality

© Prevent Disease
The language you are introduced to affects the structure of your brain, influences how you see the world and who you are. But what if you speak two languages?

Can learning a language rewire your brain?

As our species evolved parts of our brain expanded, resulting in more computing power for language. It's what makes us hard-wired for communication. What is perhaps more surprising is how language can shape our brains throughout our lives.

Most of the evidence for this comes from studies of people who are bilingual. Being bilingual offers widespread benefits across a range of complex cognitive tasks and it comes from distinct areas of the brain.

Brain scan studies show that switching between two languages triggers different patterns of brain activity compared with speaking in one language, particularly in the prefrontal cortex. That part of the brain, at the very front of our skulls, is involved in organising and acting on information, including using working memory, reasoning and planning. Other studies show that bilinguals are faster at getting to grips with a new language.

Quadrilinguist Arturo Hernandez, director of the Laboratory for the Neural Bases of Bilingualism at the University of Houston in Texas, says these differences could reflect differences in the architecture of bilingual brains. In other words, learning another language could change how your brain is wired. "It would make sense, if you have had this very different linguistic experience, to see some sort of stable, long-lasting effect," Hernandez says.

It may also make the brain more resilient. Ellen Bialystok at York University in Toronto, Canada, has found that lifelong bilinguals tend to be diagnosed with dementia on average 4.5 years later than monolinguals, and have more white matter, including in their prefrontal cortex. White matter is made of nerve fibres that connect different brain regions, shuttling information back and forth between them. So boosting language skills appears to build more connected brains -- although Bialystok cautions that this still needs to be confirmed.

More evidence for the benefits of second languages came last year from a study of 608 people who had had a stroke. Thomas Bak of the University of Edinburgh, UK, found that of the bilinguals among them, 40 per cent recovered full function, compared with only 20 per cent of monolinguals. Bak speculates that the mental gymnastics involved in speaking several languages could build extra connections that improve function and help cope with damage. "The idea is that if you have a lot of mental exercise, your brain is trained and can compensate better," says Bak.

It is not certain how languages of different and similar linguistic structures are represented. Many studies have found evidence that all the languages that we acquire in the course of our life are represented in one area of the brain. However, other studies have found evidence that a second language is dissociated from the representation of a mother tongue.


Train attention by gaining and using knowledge in new and flexible ways

The concept of playing a game to make your brain more fit seems to make sense. And its the thinking behind a billion-dollar market flogging brain training games and software designed to boost cognitive ability.

But scientists aren't convinced that brain-training games actually help our brain get smarter and sharper, especially in the long term.

There's no convincing evidence that any brain training program actually improves general cognitive abilities or helps prevent or treat dementias, including Alzheimer's disease.

There may not be a "magic pill" to make our brains more efficient. But gaining new knowledge and using existing knowledge in new ways can improve our attention abilities, according to new research by Rachel Wu, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

She has shown that adults can increase their attention skills by grouping objects into categories, and then using these categories to search for objects more efficiently.

Eye 1

Understanding the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths

© Unknown
A new boyfriend love-bombs you, reads your weaknesses and deepest desires, then constructs a persona which perfectly complements you. A dream come true.

But he's divorced from true emotion, only able to mimic the expected emotions in any situation. Your boyfriend is a psychopath.

Eventually, the psychopath's carefully constructed facade starts to crumble, and you notice inconsistencies in his back story, a plague of broken promises, and a stone-cold lack of empathy.

Comment: Further reading:
[T]here are some significant differences as well. Sociopaths are more volatile, and can lash out unexpectedly. Furthermore, most crimes committed by them will be spontaneous and disorganized.

Psychopaths on the other hand are more cunning. Their crimes are well executed, and difficult for police to figure out. They excel at mimicking human emotions, and tend to have a good education and a steady job. They just fit right in. They're the sorts of people who rise to the top of corporations, governments, and law firms. We probably don't even know how many psychopaths there are in the world, or what they're really like. They're simply too elusive to pin down.

Spotting the sociopath in your midst


Shadows are inevitable on the path of illumination

Stay strong
You brilliant
You are
Guiding yourself
There's a point at which you start to feel that the enormity of things is so unbelievable, you wonder how you'd ever been walking around at all. With eyes held so tightly; slivers, before. How on earth did the light get in? How did you ever arrive where you are?

Perhaps, in being led towards the heat.

Comment: The three births of the human spirit - Carl Gustav Jung

Book 2

Healing your mind and body: How writing helps us let go of stress and sorrow

The benefits of writing extend beyond the way it creatively engages the intellect. Writing can be an emotionally rewarding way of letting go of pent up stress and sorrow. It's good to control and override stressful emotional impulses but it serves no benefit if we keep them inside of us. Exercise or talking to loved ones about how you feel can help in this regard, but you may find yourself in a situation where you might not have a voice to hear you or you prefer to keep how you feel to yourself but still need a way to release your emotions. Writing in this case can be very helpful.

Writing helps you enter a flow state in which all the built up emotions rush out of your heart and mind and onto the paper. When you write vividly and honestly about your experiences and how you feel, a gradual collection of emotional experiences will be documented throughout your life. Looking back at the journal, you will be able to see patterns of how certain emotional conflicts arise, giving you insight into the source and nature of your malfunctions, and the environment you are putting yourself in that is increasing those conflicts. You'll be in a position to make a better decision about whether certain behavior patterns are serving you or not, as well as determine which people and things are causing those problems in your life.

Comment: For more information on Dr. Pennebaker's four-day writing exercise, see: