Science of the Spirit
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Book 2

Mind games: Reading classics stimulates brain activity

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© AFP Photo / John D Mchugh
British scientists have proved that reading Shakespeare and other classics can stimulate the mind and has a beneficial effect on brain activity.

Scientists at Liverpool University have monitored the brain activity of a number of volunteers while they were reading works by William Shakespeare, T.S Eliot and others, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Then the original texts were altered and "translated" to simpler modern language and given to the readers again.

The data recorded during reading both versions of the text proved that the more "sophisticated" the language in both prose and poetry the more electrical activity the reader's brain showed.

Scientists tracked the brain activity caused by certain words and saw that unusual words and complicated sentence structures stimulated the brain.

Hearts

Polyvagal Theory, Sensory Challenge and Gut Emotions

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Have you heard about Dr. Stephen Porges' Polyvagal Theory? The theory, already 20 years old, replaces our old notions of how the sympathetic (fight/flight) and parasympathetic nervous systems (rest and recuperation) help to keep us calm, alert and safe. The area covered by Polyvagal Theory is huge. It impacts the way we understand our nervous system, senses, emotions, social self and behaviors. We see diagnoses like autism, sensory modulation disorder, borderline personality and others, in a new light.

Polyvagal Theory claims that the nervous system employs a hierarchy of strategies to both regulate itself and to keep us safe in the face of danger. In fact, it's all about staying safe.

Our "highest" level strategy is a mechanism Porges calls social engagement. It is a phenomenal system - connecting the social muscles of the face (eyes, mouth and middle ear) with the heart. You knew that your heart came alive with social interaction, and it's true! This system is regulated through a myelinated branch of the vagus nerve. In evolutionary terms, this is our most evolved strategy (mammals only) for keeping ourselves safe. We use this all the time to clear up misunderstandings, get help, plead for forgiveness, and so on.

The next mechanism, or strategy, is fight or flight. It's regulated by the sympathetic nervous system. This system is our fall-back strategy when social engagement isn't a good fit. (Think of seeing someone sneaking up on you!) Note that freeze is not a part of fight or flight.

Comment: The proper stimulation of anatomical and social features involved in the polyvagal system through breathing exercises, allows us to balance up and unlock our social engagement capabilities and heal imbalances of the autonomic nervous system which are related with depression, anxiety, trauma, mood problems and others. It is in fact one of the reasons as to why our Éiriú Eolas breathing program has had profound healing effects in its practitioners. Stimulate your polyvagal system right away at eebreathe.com.


Family

Interdisciplinary research shows today's parents hinder the brain development of children

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Our society has officially produced a generation of parents which retard the growth of children in more ways than one. A child's healthy brain and emotional development are being hindered by social practices and cultural beliefs of modern life, according to an interdisciplinary body of research presented recently at a symposium at the University of Notre Dame.

"Life outcomes for American youth are worsening, especially in comparison to 50 years ago," says Darcia Narvaez, Notre Dame professor of psychology who specializes in moral development in children and how early life experiences can influence brain development.

"Ill-advised practices and beliefs have become commonplace in our culture, such as the use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms or the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby will 'spoil' it," Narvaez says.

Dr. Eileen Montgomery, Naturopathic Physician and child health specialist concurs with the assessments and conclusions of the interdisciplinary research. "This generation of parents believe that vaccines, with all their toxic excipients and preservatives, are more beneficial for a child's health than their mother's breast milk," she stated.

Bad Guys

Suffer the psychopath

© 4RealLeaders
It seems that empathic leadership is increasingly being devalued in organizations. While the great minds of leadership extol the virtues of engaged, supportive "show me that you care" approaches, it appears that many organizations want to embrace a much different set of values.

Psychopathic leadership seems to be the new shiny thing that is taking some public and private sector organizations by storm. In tough economic times, it would appear that the answer lies with having leaders that exude a bullying narcissism instead of empathy and trust.

The question is why?

It's been shown for decades that truly great organizations are led by individuals who care deeply about the people working for them as well as the bottom line. CEO Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines is often held up as an example of this approach to empathic leadership. Stephen Covey, in his seminal 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, taught that great leaders are those who have integrity, character, empathy and lead by principles such as honesty and transparency.

I am perplexed how the psychopaths even get a job interview, let alone the job.

Part of the answer is surely the increasing push to short-termism. The need for an immediate financial or productivity turnaround to satisfy shareholders or government overseers often leads organizations to find someone with a clear, "take charge" personality.

Sherlock

The power of concentration

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© Time Life Pictures/Mansell via Getty Images
A drawing of Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget from 1891 in The Strand Magazine.
Meditation and mindfulness: the words conjure images of yoga retreats and Buddhist monks. But perhaps they should evoke a very different picture: a man in a deerstalker, puffing away at a curved pipe, Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself. The world's greatest fictional detective is someone who knows the value of concentration, of "throwing his brain out of action," as Dr. Watson puts it. He is the quintessential unitasker in a multitasking world.

More often than not, when a new case is presented, Holmes does nothing more than sit back in his leather chair, close his eyes and put together his long-fingered hands in an attitude that begs silence. He may be the most inactive active detective out there. His approach to thought captures the very thing that cognitive psychologists mean when they say mindfulness.

Though the concept originates in ancient Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese traditions, when it comes to experimental psychology, mindfulness is less about spirituality and more about concentration: the ability to quiet your mind, focus your attention on the present, and dismiss any distractions that come your way. The formulation dates from the work of the psychologist Ellen Langer, who demonstrated in the 1970s that mindful thought could lead to improvements on measures of cognitive function and even vital functions in older adults.

Now we're learning that the benefits may reach further still, and be more attainable, than Professor Langer could have then imagined. Even in small doses, mindfulness can effect impressive changes in how we feel and think - and it does so at a basic neural level.

Mars

Fake mission to Mars leaves astronauts spaced out

Trip to Mars in pretend spaceship on Moscow industrial estate affects sleep, activity levels and motivation of six-man crew
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© Agence France-Presse
Members of the Mars500 crew relax on the fake spaceship in Moscow.
As the cheerless skies and grim economy sap all will to return to work, take heart that even on a trip to Mars, it is hard to get out of bed in the morning.

The drudge of interplanetary travel has emerged from research on six men who joined the longest simulated space mission ever: a 17-month round trip to the red planet in a pretend spaceship housed at a Moscow industrial estate.

Though chosen for the job as the best of the best, the would-be spacefarers spent more and more time under their duvets and sitting around idle as the mission wore on. The crew's activity levels plummeted in the first three months, and continued to fall for the next year.

On the return leg, the men spent nearly 700 hours longer in bed than on the outward journey, and only perked up in the last 20 days before they clambered from their capsule in November 2011. Four crew members suffered from sleep or psychological issues.

"We saw some problems," said Mathias Basner, of the University of Pennsylvania, who studies the effects of sleep-loss on behaviour. "There were no major adverse events, but there could have been if the stars were aligned in a certain way."

The $10m (£6.2m) Mars500 project, run by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems, launched, metaphorically, when the hatch to the mock-up spaceship closed behind three Russians, two Europeans and a Chinese man in June 2010. The men spent the next 520 days in windowless isolation. Their only contact with the outside world was over the internet and by phone lines that carried a delay of up to 20 minutes, to mimic the time it takes radio waves to reach Mars from Earth.

Info

Study: Racial stereotyping linked to creative stagnation

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© Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
New research suggests that racial stereotypes and creativity have more in common than we might think.

In an article published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researcher Carmit Tadmor of Tel Aviv University and colleagues find that racial stereotyping and creative stagnation share a common mechanism: categorical thinking.

"Although these two concepts concern very different outcomes, they both occur when people fixate on existing category information and conventional mindsets," Tadmor and her colleagues write.

The researchers examined whether there might be a causal relationship between racial essentialism -- the view that racial groups possess underlying essences that represent deep-rooted, unalterable traits and abilities -- and creativity.

Hearts

Mapping the emotions we don't have language for

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That sort of painful, sort of bittersweet, sort of wistful feeling you get looking out the window or driving at night or listening to a far-off train whistle? There's a word for that in Japanese.

Few of us use all--or even most--of the 3,000 English-language words available to us for describing our emotions, but even if we did, most of us would still experience feelings for which there are, apparently, no words.

In some cases, though, words do exist to describe those nameless emotions--they're just not English words. Which is a shame, because--as today's infographic by design student Pei-Ying Lin demonstrates, they often define a feeling entirely familiar to us.

Lin solicited the list of "unspeakable" words from colleagues at London's Royal College of Art, and found that their definitions in English usually came down to something like, "it is a kind of (emotion A), close to (emotion B), and somehow between (emotion C) and (emotion D)."

Info

We may all be psychic: Data from 14-year Global Consciousness Study released

© Who Forted
The original title of this post was going to "Highly Significant Data of 14 Year Global Consciousness Study Shows Evidence of Synchronicity", but that was kind of a mouthful. Besides, I actually wanted people to read this, because the results of this study can't really be understated: there is "highly significant" evidence that we may all be psychically linked.

Researchers for the Global Consciousness Study just released their data collected from August 1998 to this, the first month of 2013, and their findings, while nowhere near complete, show hugely significant evidence that we all may be far more connected than we think. The data (which can be read here), might be a little intimidating to make sense of at first, but here's the basic gist of how it all works and what it all means:

14 years ago the creators of the Global Consciousness Project began placing random number generators all across the world. They call these generators "eggs". As of now, there are around 60 of these eggs located in Europe, the US, Canada, India, Fiji, New Zealand, Japan, China, Russia, Brazil, Africa, Thailand, South America, and Australia. The purpose of these eggs is to constantly spit out random numbers. Meanwhile, devices are also spitting out "guesses" to what those random numbers could be. They call this the "expected randomness" and they're figured using some crazy math I couldn't possibly understand. The researchers then measure how often the random numbers and the guesses match.

Info

Five universal personality traits? Not always

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An elderly woman from the lowlands in Boliva.
In recent years, psychologists have zeroed in on five big personality traits that appear to be universal.

No matter what culture people come from, a number of studies have suggested, everyone incorporates some degree of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

But after considering the indigenous and mostly illiterate Tsimane forager - horticulturalists of Bolivia, researchers are challenging the idea of the "Big Five." Instead, they argue that the Tsimane have just two main personality traits: socially beneficial behavior and industriousness.

The findings call into question the universality of human personality traits. Instead, the specific demands of various societies may affect which quirks of character become most significant to different groups of people.

"Individuals in all human societies face similar goals of learning important productive skills, avoiding environmental dangers, cooperating and competing effectively in social encounters, and finding suitable mates," the researchers wrote in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.