Science of the Spirit
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Question

The mind gap: theories that seek to explain consciousness

© Credit: agsandrew/Shutterstock.com
Probably for as long as humans have been able to grasp the concept of consciousness, they have sought to understand the phenomenon.

Studying the mind was once the province of philosophers, some of whom still believe the subject is inherently unknowable. But neuroscientists are making strides in developing a true science of the self.

Here are some of the best contenders for a theory of consciousness.

Comment: For more on the subject of consciousness and information theory and related phenomena, read Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk's new book, Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.

Info

Oldest medical report of near-death experience discovered

Anecdotes de Médecine
© Archive.org - Book contributor: Fisher - University of Toronto. Digitizing sponsored by University of Ottawa
Cover of the book Anecdotes de Médecine, by Pierre-Jean du Monchaux (1733-1766).
Reports of people having "near-death" experiences go back to antiquity, but the oldest medical description of the phenomenon may come from a French physician around 1740, a researcher has found.

The report was written by Pierre-Jean du Monchaux, a military physician from northern France, who described a case of near-death experience in his book Anecdotes de Médecine. Monchaux speculated that too much blood flow to the brain could explain the mystical feelings people report after coming back to consciousness.

The description was recently found by Dr. Phillippe Charlier, a medical doctor and archeologist, who is well known in France for his forensic work on the remains of historical figures. Charlier unexpectedly discovered the medical description in a book he had bought for 1 euro (a little more than $1) in an antique shop.
Info

Stress hormones promote brain's building of negative memories


Arizona State University researcher Sabrina Segal and her colleagues measured salivary alpha-amylase to chart the levels of the brain neurotransmitter norepinephrine.

Credit: Public domain
When a person experiences a devastating loss or tragic event, why does every detail seem burned into memory; whereas, a host of positive experiences simply fade away?

It's a bit more complicated than scientists originally thought, according to a study recently published in the journal Neuroscience by Arizona State University researcher Sabrina Segal.

When people experience a traumatic event, the body releases two major stress hormones: norepinephrine and cortisol. Norepinephrine boosts heart rate and controls the fight-or-flight response, commonly rising when individuals feel threatened or experience highly emotional reactions. It is chemically similar to the hormone epinephrine -- better known as adrenaline.

In the brain, norepinephrine in turn functions as a powerful neurotransmitter or chemical messenger that can enhance memory.

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Info

Science of out of body experiences

OBE
© Dreamstime
Hyderabad -Daljeet (name changed) remembers "everything" about the accident 20 years ago. There was his bike, the car that had screeched to a stop ahead of him and that sickening moment he went headlong into glass and metal.

"I have never been able to properly describe what happened that night. I have, however, recounted the story at least 5,000 times to friends, family and experts. Seconds after the crash, I felt myself floating into a sleep... I guess my body had given up. And then suddenly, I was hovering a few feet away from the scene and looking at the crowd - no smell, no breathing but surrounded by throbbing lights and a strange humming.

Doctors would later say the glass from the car had blinded me and that my head and neck had taken a massive jolt rendering me unconscious. But I still remember the face of the man who had first pulled me out, him screaming, Usko uthao, usko uthao, and my torn blue shirt. Two months later, I surprised my mother with the details of the accident and that's when it occurred to me, I was outside my body for maybe a minute. I was also able to vividly describe my rescuers and as the years passed, my descriptions went from family discussions to at least 10 counselling sessions."

But Daljeet believes that just one of his therapists may have really paid any attention to his story.

"The others claimed my brain had simply gone into this 'safe mode' to protect itself and me. They said it was a natural reaction; but what about those faces, the model of the ambulance vehicle...what about those details? I would like to believe it was an experience, a moment of clarity in which I was between worlds."

Then, there's the case presented by a leading surgeon from Hyderabad.

"During one of the several surgeries I've had over the years, a nurse happened to comment on the body of one of the patients on the operating table. She said she was 'fat' and that it was getting increasingly difficult to manoeuver amidst all the flab. There's no possible way the patient could've heard the comment, but two days later, following recovery, I walked into a massive argument between staff and the patient and we had to apologise. It was the strangest thing. How did a patient, breathing through a machine, with her chest open, hear a whisper?"
Alarm Clock

Missing sleep may hurt your memory

© G.L. Kohuth
Memory distortion is greater after sleep deprivation.
Lack of sleep, already considered a public health epidemic, can also lead to errors in memory, finds a new study by researchers at Michigan State University and the University of California, Irvine.

The study, published online in the journal Psychological Science, found participants deprived of a night's sleep were more likely to flub the details of a simulated burglary they were shown in a series of images.

Distorted memory can have serious consequences in areas such as criminal justice, where eyewitness misidentifications are thought to be the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States.

"We found memory distortion is greater after sleep deprivation," said Kimberly Fenn, MSU associate professor of psychology and co-investigator on the study. "And people are getting less sleep each night than they ever have."

Comment: ''Take control of your sleep, before it takes control of you''

Magic Wand

Significantly alleviate stress with just 25 minutes of meditation

© BuddhaWeekly
American scientists studied the effects of mindfulness meditation on stress levels and came to the conclusion that just three consecutive days of 25-minute meditation can significantly alleviate stress.

The technique of mindfulness meditation has helped many people to improve the overall state of their mind and body. However, until now, most studies have been mainly focused only on the therapeutic effects of the long-term meditation practice.

New research at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the first time demonstrates that brief sessions of mindfulness meditation can significantly lower levels of psychological stress in just three days.

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  • Relax from the stresses of everyday life
  • Gently work your way through past emotional and psychological trauma
  • Release repressed emotions and mental blockages
  • Rejuvenate and Detoxify your body and mind
Éiriú Eolas removes the barriers that stand between you and True Peace, Happiness, and ultimately a successful, fulfilling life.


Health

Overthinking as a type of 'not thinking'

Sometimes overthinking something is just another way to avoid thinking about it.

Published on January 18, 2014 by Neel Burton, M.D. in Hide and Seek

Psychology Today
I once received a call from a junior doctor in psychiatry in which he described a recent in-patient admission as 'a 47-year old mother of two who attempted to cessate her life as a result of being diagnosed with a metastatic mitotic lesion.' A formulation such as '...who tried to kill herself after being told that she is dying of cancer' would have been much better English, but would also have been all too effective at evoking the full horror of this poor lady's predicament.

The above is a good example of the ego defense of intellectualization. In intellectualization, the uncomfortable feelings associated with a problem are kept out of consciousness by thinking about the problem in cold, abstract, and esoteric terms.

Here is a second example. An ambitious medical student once asked me whether she should take up a career in academic medicine, despite (or so it seemed) having already made up her mind on the matter. I raised some arguments in favor and then some arguments against such a move, in particular that only a very small number of people engaged in medical research ever make a significant discovery. As she did not seem to be taking this argument on board, I asked her to name just one major breakthrough from the past 50 years in the life of a particular top-rated medical research department. Instead of accepting that the department had not made a single major breakthrough in 50 years of publishing one academic paper after another, she resorted to questioning the definition of a breakthrough and then even the value of making one.

Third example: After being discharged from hospital, a middle-aged man who had almost died from a heart attack spent several hours a day on his computer researching the various risk factors for cardiovascular disease. He typed out long essays on each of these risk factors, printed them out, and filed them in a large binder with colour-coded dividers. After having done all this, he became preoccupied with the vitamin and mineral contents in various kinds of food, and devised a strict dietary regimen to ensure that he took in the recommended amounts of each and every micronutrient. Despite living on a shoestring budget, he spent several hundred dollars on a high-end steamer on the basis that it could preserve vitamins through the cooking process. Although he expended an inordinate amount of effort, time, and money on his persnickety diet, he did not once consider even so much as cutting back on his far, far more noxious smoking habit.

Comment: See also: Studies show the value of not overthinking a decision

Video

Stephen Porges - The Polyvagal Theory explained

William Stranger interviews Dr. Stephen Porges.

The Polyvagal Theory introduced a new perspective relating autonomic function to behavior that included an appreciation of autonomic nervous system as a "system," the identification of neural circuits involved in the regulation of autonomic state, and an interpretation of autonomic reactivity as adaptive within the context of the phylogeny of the vertebrate autonomic nervous system.


Stephen Porges - Neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina - Department of Psychiatry (UNC Chapel Hill).

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Life Preserver

Children exposed to religion have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction - study

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A study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science determined that children who are not exposed to religious stories are better able to tell that characters in "fantastical stories" are fictional - whereas children raised in a religious environment even "approach unfamiliar, fantastical stories flexibly."

In "Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds," Kathleen Corriveau, Eva Chen, and Paul Harris demonstrate that children typically have a "sensitivity to the implausible or magical elements in a narrative," and can determine whether the characters in the narrative are real or fictional by references to fantastical elements within the narrative, such as "invisible sails" or "a sword that protects you from danger every time."

However, children raised in households in which religious narratives are frequently encountered do not treat those narratives with the same skepticism. The authors believed that these children would "think of them as akin to fairy tales," judging "the events described in them as implausible or magical and conclude that the protagonists in such narratives are only pretend."
Magnify

Why scientists deny psychic phenomena

© Fractal Enlightenment
Even though films like 'Inception', 'Waking Life' and more recently, 'John Dies at the End' and 'Now You See Me' wouldn't be approachable without assuming the authenticity of unexplainable events, most people, including most scientists, are unaware of the vast abundance of compelling scientific evidence for psychic phenomena, which has resulted from over a century of para-psychological research. Thousands of archaeological finds also suggest the use of such phenomenon in prehistoric times.

Hundreds of carefully controlled studies - in which psi researchers continuously redesigned experiments to address comments from their critics - have produced results that demonstrate marginal but statistically significant effects for psi phenomena, especially with regard to telepathy, precognition, and psychokinesis.

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, Neurologist Vilaynur Ramachandran and Physicist Dean Radin are modern scientific pioneers in this field, and speak of compelling evidence for psychic phenomena, which imply that our minds are also more interconnected to one another than previously imagined.

Comment: Related...

Farewell to 'psychic research'?

Are we all psychic? Scientists believe that animals - including humans - have a collective consciousness

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