Science of the Spirit

2 + 2 = 4

Making peace with our own worst enemy - ourselves

© Christian Scheja/Flickr
"Wawen!" (Translation: Lauren)

Those dreaded words from across the hall wake us up, as they often do in the middle of the night. Our three year old foster child is having a hard time sleeping again.

This is where it gets really hard. My wife needs sleep, and this little boy does not want me to come lay with him. My relationship with him is great―but his emotional wounds run deep and I've yet to pay the needed price for his heavily guarded trust. I've pushed it off, seeking momentary gratification, for far too long.


We don't need more optimists: Unchecked positive thinking is more dangerous than it sounds

From The Secret to destructive management theories, unbridled optimism is just another way to ignore real issues.

Depending on how you look at it, the mood in the United States of late has been either an overdue stock-taking — as we reckon with issues like racism, rape culture, runaway law enforcement and out-of-control income inequality — or relentlessly grim. Surely, unrelieved despair — either personally or more broadly, socially — can lead to paralysis. But despite a big Sunday Review cover piece in the New York Times, We Need Optimists, extolling the virtues of positive thinking, that habit without reflection can be just as dangerous, especially in our leadership.

As a society we don't have a whole lot of patience for skeptics or even realists — our politics and popular culture has been dominated by people who tell us what we want to hear. Arthur C. Brooks, president of the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, argues that we need more of that positive thinking. His Times story lists some indicators of our current dour state. "In 2014," he writes, "a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll revealed that 76 percent of Americans did not feel confident that 'life for our children's generation will be better than it has been for us.' This is 10 percentage points worse than the poll had ever recorded." If you're one of the millions of Americans who feels these pressures — who sees the promise dying — this might be reason to try to identity the problems or work toward fixing this slide. Brooks, instead, blames "our politicians' choosing the dark side. More than half of Americans said that our last presidential election was too negative, and complaints about the destructive, ad hominem discourse that dominates Washington have become a national cliché."

Is our political sphere too negative? Sure, especially with the harsh noises in the reactionary echo-chamber. But it's a symptom of a society that's lost its direction, not a cause. If you want optimism, there are plenty of ways to find it — DVDs, motivational speakers, inspirational courses, churches begging for your money and promising riches. Here's Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of an excellent book on the perils of optimism, Bright-Sided, which looks at the dangers both personally and politically:
But the question, before you whip out your credit card or start reciting your personal list of affirmations, is, What makes you think unsullied optimism is such a good idea? Americans have long prided themselves on being positive and optimistic — traits that reached a manic zenith in the early years of this millennium. Iraq would be a cakewalk! The Dow would reach 36,000! Housing prices could never decline! Optimism was not only patriotic but was also a Christian virtue, or so we learned from the proliferating preachers of the "prosperity gospel," whose God wants to "prosper" you. In 2006, the runaway bestseller "The Secret" promised that you could have anything you wanted, anything at all, simply by using your mental powers to "attract" it. The poor listened to upbeat preachers like Joel Osteen and took out subprime mortgages. The rich paid for seminars led by motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and repackaged those mortgages into securities sold around the world.


Acceptance of gays and lesbians is growing dramatically

© oceanfishing/Shutterstock
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, many gays and lesbians celebrated. A new study suggests another reason for the community to cheer: Subconscious attitudes toward lesbian and gay people are improving.

A quick glance at most public opinion polls reveals that explicit attitudes toward gays and lesbians have been on the upswing for some time. For example, more than half of Americans — 53 percent — told the Gallup organization that they supported same-sex marriage in 2011, up from 27 percent in 1996. Another Gallup poll found that moral approval of homosexuality rose from 44 percent in 2006 to 59 percent in 2013.

But were these attitude changes genuine, or were people just feeling less free to air their prejudices publicly? To find out, researchers turned to a measure of implicit, or subconscious, attitudes toward gays and lesbians. They found a 13.4 percent drop in subconscious bias toward those groups between 2006 and 2013.

The finding is surprising, because implicit attitudes are notoriously hard — some would say nearly impossible — to budge, said study researcher Erin Westgate, a doctoral student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

"Attitude change is real," Westgate told Live Science. "It's not just that people feel more pressure to say the politically correct thing."


Video: Short and sweet guide to mindfulness practice from Happify

"Like a biceps curl for your brain" meditation is a simple, secular, scientifically-validated mental exercise. Meditation mouse prescribes 5-10 minutes a day to enjoy the benefits. Beginners and advanced meditators alike can benefit from the three easy steps laid out in this video:

Eye 1

Fascinating: Tears of grief, joy, laughter and irritation captured in extreme detail

In 2010, photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher published a book of remarkable images that captured the honeybee in an entirely new light. By using powerful scanning electron microscopes, she magnified a bee's microscopic structures by hundreds or even thousands of times in size, revealing startling, abstract forms that are far too small to see with the naked eye.
© Rose-Lynn Fisher, courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, CA
Photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher captures tears of grief, joy, laughter and irritation in extreme detail. Above: Tears of timeless reunion.
Now, as part of a new project called "Topography of Tears," she's using microscopes to give us an unexpected view of another familiar subject: dried human tears.
© Rose-Lynn Fisher, courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, CA
Tears of change
"I started the project about five years ago, during a period of copious tears, amid lots of change and loss—so I had a surplus of raw material," Fisher says. After the bee project and one in which she'd looked at a fragment of her own hip bone removed during surgery, she'd come to the realization that "everything we see in our lives is just the tip of the iceberg, visually," she explains. "So I had this moment where I suddenly thought, 'I wonder what a tear looks like up close?'"

Comment: Information theory and memory of water, anyone?

Sunday March 23rd, 2014: Information theory, or why your brain is not your mind

Is your brain really your mind? Is matter the only thing in the universe? Does neo-Darwinism fully explain evolution? In the last few years, we've seen several controversies erupt in the worlds of science and academia, from Rupert Sheldrake's banned TEDx talk to philosopher Thomas Nagel's infamous book Mind and Cosmos, both of which question the modern scientific worldview and its account of the origins of life, the universe, and consciousness. What should we make of it all? Does the mainstream view really explain the world as we know it, or are there better options?

Returning to SOTT Talk Radio this week is Harrison Koehli, writer and editor for Red Pill Press, to talk about his upcoming book on these topics, tentatively titled Mind Matters. The book takes a hard look at the modern scientific worldview, its inherent absurdities, the facts it ignores, and a possible way out of its seemingly insoluble problems: information theory. We'll also be discussing the recent and enigmatic disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, and why we shouldn't exclude the possibility that it might have a paranormal explanation. Our reality may be way more paranormal than we think.

Harrison will also give some updates on new and upcoming publications from Red Pill Press.

Join us this Sunday March 23rd, 2014 from 3-5pm EST (12-2pm PST, 8-10pm CET)


Learning to set healthy boundaries

What can protect you from toxic people, keep painful memories in their place, keep you safe and strong, and help you manage your feelings?


Truly, boundaries are amazing. And good ones are a cornerstone of mental health.

When you grow up in a household that has healthy boundaries, you naturally have them yourself as an adult. But unfortunately, many of us don't start out with that advantage.

If you grew up in a household with Childhood Emotional Neglect (your feelings and emotional needs weren't met enough), or if you had a parent with a personality disorder, you may be especially challenged in this area.

Without strong but flexible boundaries, you may be overly vulnerable to criticism or insults from others, you may struggle to manage your feelings internally or prone to emotional outbursts, you may find yourself worrying too much, dwelling on the past, or not keeping yourself safe enough.

Comment: 6 subtle signs your boundaries are being broken


Musical preferences linked to cognitive processes

© rubchikova / Fotolia
Do you like your jazz to be Norah Jones or Ornette Coleman, your classical music to be Bach or Stravinsky, or your rock to be Coldplay or Slayer? The answer could give an insight into the way you think, say researchers from the University of Cambridge.

In a study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, a team of psychologists show that your thinking style - whether you are an 'empathizer' who likes to focus on and respond to the emotions of others, or a 'systemizer' who likes to analyse rules and patterns in the world—is a predictor of the type of music you like.

Comment: Reference:
Greenberg, DM, Baron-Cohen, S, Stillwell, DJ, Kosinski, M, & Rentfrow, PJ. Musical preferences are linked to cognitive styles. PLOS ONE; 22 July 2015


The surprising danger of becoming an expert in your field

© Business Insider
Self-proclaimed experts may be more susceptible to the illusion of knowledge.
Here's a trick you can try at the next party you attend: Come up with a completely bogus money term and then ask your financial expert friend to explain it to you.

Chances are he'll make a fool of himself when he assumes it's a real concept and claims to know all about it.

That's according to new research, which suggests that self-proclaimed experts are more susceptible to the "illusion of knowledge." In other words, people who believe they know a lot about a particular topic are more likely to claim they know about fake concepts related to that topic.

This phenomenon, called "overclaiming," could easily undermine you and work, making you look like an arrogant idiot or leading you to offer bad advice to others seeking your expertise.

The study, led by Stav Atir, a graduate student at Cornell University, tested this phenomenon among self-proclaimed experts in fields like personal finance, biology, and literature.

In one experiment, 100 participants were asked to rate their general knowledge of personal finance as well as their knowledge of 15 financial terms. Most of the terms on the list were real (e.g., "Roth IRA" and "inflation"), but participants also saw three made-up terms ("pre-rated stocks," "fixed-rate deduction," and "annualized credit").

As it turns out, those who said they knew a lot about finance were most likely to claim familiarity with the made-up terms.


Psychological well-being and empathy

Do you prioritize other people's feelings over your own? You might be falling into the "empathy trap"
Empathy is having its moment. The ability to feel what another person is feeling, from that person's perspective, generates lots of press as the ultimate positive value and the pathway to a kinder, less violent world. Schools across the country are teaching empathy to children, and myriad books explore it from every possible angle: how to get it, why it makes you a better person, how its absence can breed evil.

Empathy is exalted by thinkers from Zen Buddhist monk Thích Nhâ't Hąnh to British writer Roman Krznaric, who just launched an online Empathy Museum where you can virtually step into someone else's shoes. Established scientists like primatologist Frans de Waal and developmental psychiatrist Daniel Siegel explore the deep roots of empathy in animals and its essential nature in humans. Even the business world exalts empathy as a way to ensure the success of companies and their products, with design firm IDEO leading the charge. We are exhorted to examine our empathic capacity and instructed how to develop it in ourselves and in our children.

It is normal and necessary to be tuned in to someone else's feelings, especially when one is very close to that person. In fact, giving—and getting—empathy is essential in intimate adult relationships. "The empathic understanding of the experience of other human beings is as basic an endowment of man as his vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell," observed noted psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut. The desire to be heard, known, and felt deeply never disappears. But when empathy becomes the default way of relating, psychological well-being is impoverished.

Where sympathy is the act of feeling for someone ("I am so sorry you are hurting"), empathy involves feeling with someone ("I feel your disappointment"). It also differs from compassion, which is a caring concern for another's suffering from a slightly greater distance and often includes a desire to help. Empathy involves not just feelings but thoughts, and it encompasses two people—the person we are feeling for and our own self.

Comment: Watch Daniel Goleman discuss his book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, where he incorporates emotional intelligence in the context of interpersonal relations.

See also: When the Body Says No: Caring for ourselves while caring for others - Dr. Gabor Maté

Mr. Potato

Self-perceived experts are more likely to believe made-up information and false facts

"Experts" have a tendency to overclaim false information
New research reveals that the more people think they know about a topic in general, the more likely they are to allege knowledge of completely made-up information and false facts, a phenomenon known as "overclaiming." The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Our work suggests that the seemingly straightforward task of judging one's knowledge may not be so simple, particularly for individuals who believe they have a relatively high level of knowledge to begin with," says psychological scientist Stav Atir of Cornell University, first author on the study.

To find out why people make these spurious claims, Atir and colleagues David Dunning of Cornell University and Emily Rosenzweig of Tulane University designed a series of experiments testing people's self-perceived knowledge, comparing it to their actual expertise.

In one set of experiments, the researchers tested whether individuals who perceived themselves to be experts in personal finance would be more likely to claim knowledge of fake financial terms.