Science of the Spirit
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How your memory deceives you

Memory
© agsandrew/Shutterstock
Two beloved sci-fi franchises returned to the screens this fall burdened with shaky memories. In ABC's superhero spy TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the lead character, Phil Coulson, is still reeling from a case of implanted memories. Meanwhile, the movie adaptation of the young-adult novel The Maze Runner opens on a hero with amnesia who is stranded in a dystopian maze.

These characters' memories betray them in seemingly fantastical ways, but the recollections stored between your own ears may hardly be any better. From vivid images of events that never happened to bad memories artificially engineered in the lab, here are the real-life ways your brain can distort your past.

In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., super-spy Coulson carries on with his superhero-monitoring work from the Avengers movies. This season, he must do so with the knowledge that his traumatic death and recovery had been papered over in his own mind by images of a fictional Tahiti vacation. (Killed off in the Avengers movie, Coulson was revived by mysterious techniques in the show.) In one disturbing scene, the real memory returns - and he recalls a spiderlike machine rewriting the information in his brain.
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How stress affects your mind and body

We all know we should lower our stress levels, but it isn't always easy. Sometimes, though, knowing exactly how stress is affecting us can be highly motivating to take steps that will actually decrease stress in our lives. Whether we do it by spending time in nature, practicing yoga or tai chi, laughing more often, or by unplugging from our computers and smart phones for at least a few hours every day, lowering stress is imperative. Here are 5 reasons why learning how to destress is so important!
Butterfly

Glimpses of the after-life: Life-changing near-death experiences


One man had a vision of his father sailing a canoe towards a huddle of loved-ones on a pier as he took his final breaths.
Neurosurgeon Dr Eben Alexander was convinced out-of-body experiences were hallucinations - until he went into a coma himself and had what he now believes was a glimpse of heaven.

In this second extract from his book The Map Of Heaven, Dr Alexander, who has taught at Harvard Medical School, reveals many others have also seen what he described.

A near-death experience will change your life in more ways than one. It means you have survived a serious illness or a major accident, for one thing, and that alone is one of the most significant events imaginable.

But the aftermath, as you adjust to your radical new perspective, can be even more significant. For me, it was as if my old world was dead and I had been reborn into a new one.

Coping with that is hard: how do you replace your old vision of the universe with a new one, without unravelling into chaos?

How do you take that step from one world to another one, without slipping and falling between the two?

Comment: Reality is far more complex and interesting than we are told by the authorities in the Church of Science. For the ruling psychopathic mindset, the idea of continuous life, non-linearity and the possibility of higher dimensions is strangely alien and impossible to accept or even entertain. This empty view of reality is projected onto normal humans, becoming the "official" view of the Universe, and inspires an unreasonable fear of the unknown. And after all, a population without fear of death would not be so easily controlled by a corrupt ruling elite.

People

Receiving gossip about others promotes self-reflection and growth

Gossip is pervasive in our society, and our penchant for gossip can be found in most of our everyday conversations. Why are individuals interested in hearing gossip about others' achievements and failures? Researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands studied the effect positive and negative gossip has on how the recipient evaluates him or herself. The study is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

In spite of some positive consequences, gossip is typically seen as destructive and negative. However, hearing gossip may help individuals adapt to a social environment, illustrate how an individual can improve, or reveal potential threats.

Design of the study

The first study asked participants to recall an incident where they received either positive or negative gossip about another individual. Participants were then asked questions to measure the self-improvement, self-promotion, and self-protection value of the received gossip information. Individuals that received positive gossip had increased self-improvement value, whereas negative gossip had increased self-promotion value. Negative gossip also increased self-protection concerns.
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Coping with voices in the schizophrenic brain

stressed woman
"I don't believe in anything. That's my cardinal rule. I do it for my mental health. If I believe in God, then I start talking to God and God starts talking to me. As soon as I start believing in something, then it talks to me. So, I don't believe in anything."

Sara, whose name we changed to protect her identity, was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 19 during her senior year at New York University. She had not experienced any trauma as a child - no abuse, no bouts of depression, nothing that would raise any red flags. She led a more or less happy life. But in high school she experimented with drugs, and upon travelling abroad around the same time, she experienced intense culture shock.

This series of events may have been Sara's personalized recipe for mental illness, cooked up with all the flavors of her unique position in life, her temperament, and her family's history. Her mind became a prison; she felt as though people were constantly laughing at her. She could no longer distinguish fantasy from reality. She assumed she wouldn't go back to school.

Comment: Unfortunately under the western medical model, admitting to hearing voices is the first step on the pathway to a lifetime of drugging with anti-psychotics and all the side effects that come with them. With the proper professional support, working through and learning from hallucinatory experiences is a step in the right direction. Also, never discount the role of diet in mental illness.
See:

Gluten Intolerance Tied to Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia and Gluten Sensitivity - Is There a Connection?

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Music therapy reduces depression in children and adolescents

Children
© Shutterstock
Music therapy can be used to treat depression in children.
Researchers at Queen's University Belfast have discovered that music therapy reduces depression in children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems.

In the largest ever study of its kind, the researchers in partnership with the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust, found that children who received music therapy had significantly improved self-esteem and significantly reduced depression compared with those who received treatment without music therapy.

The study, which was funded by the Big Lottery fund, also found that those who received music therapy had improved communicative and interactive skills, compared to those who received usual care options alone.

251 children and young people were involved in the study which took place between March 2011 and May 2014. They were divided into two groups - 128 underwent the usual care options, while 123 were assigned to music therapy in addition to usual care. All were being treated for emotional, developmental or behavioural problems. Early findings suggest that the benefits are sustained in the long term.
Butterfly

Resting and reflecting on what you have previously learned improves future learning

reflection under tree

Resting and reflecting has a powerful effect on strengthening memories and future learning.
When people allow themselves to rest and reflect on things they have previously learned, they also become better at learning in the future, a new study finds.

While it's now established that resting the mind strengthens past memories, the new research shows that it can also be beneficial to future learning.

Dr. Alison Preston, who led the research, said:
"We've shown for the first time that how the brain processes information during rest can improve future learning.

We think replaying memories during rest makes those earlier memories stronger, not just impacting the original content, but impacting the memories to come."
Handcuffs

A 'stiff upper lip' is killing British men

fine
© Vice / Dan Evans
It's a hereditary condition - men raised by men unable to communicate emotionally, the symptoms of what we now know as PTSD becoming synonymous with masculinity. This is wildly fucked up when you stop to consider it.

A traumatic event in one's childhood is capable of inspiring exactly three things: shitty debut novels, self-absorbed blog posts, and dark jokes that make your friends feel weird around you. Case in point, the last conversation I had with my father, who'd been off work with the flu for a couple of weeks.

"How are you feeling, dad?" I asked.

"Better," he replied. Then he stood up and made his way to the bathroom to die.

A big part of me hopes that, vision fading and lips turning blue, my dad's final thought before submitting to the cold grip of extinction was a gleeful, Haha, I got you, you little shit. If that final word really was the last in his lifetime of unwavering sarcasm, it was - for my money - the single greatest burn I've ever heard.

Three weeks later, I celebrated my tenth birthday. A few months after that, I took home the title of "funniest pupil" in a classroom awards ceremony. Deflecting my grief into something that made others laugh felt much better than breaking down crying several times a day - which, in reality, was what I wanted (and probably) needed to do. People latch onto any kind of positivity after something so painful, and I guess I found validation in the laughter of my peers. Plus, let's face it, no one wants to be the kid constantly crying about their dead dad. That guy is always a total fucking buzzkill.

When the coroner was finished rooting around inside the vessel that had, for 51 years, housed my one-time Mensa member father (he was too tight to renew his subscription after the first year), a fatal heart attack was recorded, and off went dad to his fiery conclusion in the Loughborough crematorium. But the post-mortem also revealed significant scar tissue indicative of a previous attack sometime in the months or years previously. That was news to us all. Apparently, near-fatal chest pains weren't something that he deemed worthy of professional consultation. Classic dad!
Footprints

Improve your mood by changing the way you walk

children walking

Change in walking style can influence your mood
It's well-known that when we're in a good mood, our style of walking tends to reflect how we feel: we bounce along, shoulders back, swinging our arms in style.

Sometimes, just from our gait, it's more obvious to other people how we feel than to ourselves.

Now, a new study finds that it also works the other way around: people who imitate a happy style of walking, even without realising it, find themselves feeling happier (Michalak et al., 2015).

Comment: Another way to enhance well-being is to walk in nature as often as possible:
Nature walks improve mental well-being, lower stress and depression

Question

Is Meditation really worth it? Totally!

First of all, understand that "meditation" is a catchall term for a lot of different mental activities, many of which have nothing to do with sitting cross-legged on the floor and saying om.

"There are thousands of different types of meditation," says Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and author of Words Can Change Your Brain. But while meditative practices come in all shapes and styles, Newberg says nearly all of them have at least one thing in common: They involve focusing your attention, a habit that's been marginalized by our smartphone-tethered lifestyle of digital distraction.

"That focusing could be on a word or object or physical motion," Newberg explains. "But regardless, the type of focusing involved in meditation activates the brain's frontal lobe, which is involved in concentration, planning, speech and other executive functions like problem solving." Studies have shown meditation can bolster all of these mental tasks. But the greatest benefits may spring from the interplay between your brain's focus centers and its limbic system - a set of structures that manage your emotions and regulate the release of stress and relaxation hormones.
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