Science of the Spirit


Consciousness: The Untamed Frontier Of Cognitive Science

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In a mood-lit University of Quebec auditorium with red velvet seating, hundreds of researchers gather for the 2012 Summer Institute in Cognitive Science. Some of the field's biggest names are in attendance -- there's emininent philosopher John Searle, to whom we owe the "Chinese room" thought experiment; rabble-rouser Dan Dennett, who argues with panache that self-awareness is an illusion; Stevan Harnad, the theorist who reshaped robotics in his youth by defining the (still unsolved) "symbol grounding" problem"; and Simon Baron-Cohen, psychopathologist and top expert on autism.

While the world celebrates the discovery of the Higgs boson, these scientists are hard at work on one of the most profound mysteries left: Why, and how, did humans became conscious?

Many of the experts in attendance, like David Rosenthal, believe that consciousness is the exhaust of the brain, which arises from the neurological processes that actually control our actions. While being conscious may enrich our lives, it has as much influence on our behaviour as a paintjob does on the inner workings of a car. This is often called the "Steamwhistle Hypothesis", for early proponent Thomas Huxley, who compared consciousness to the steamwhistle on a locomotive -- it clues us in to what the train is doing, but it has no power to change it.
Magic Wand

Actions don't always speak louder than words - At least, not when it comes to forgiveness

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Baylor University researchers examine restitution vs. apology.

People are more likely to show forgiving behavior if they receive restitution, but they are more prone to report they have forgiven if they get an apology, according to Baylor University research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.

The study underscores the importance of both restitution and apology and of using multiple measures for forgiveness, including behavior, said Jo-Ann Tsang, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences.

"One of the main reasons for using behavioral measures in addition to self-reporting by individuals is that they can make themselves look better by only self-reporting, although they don't necessarily intend to lie," she said. "And it may be that 'I forgive you' is a more conscious feeling if they receive an apology."

In the study, 136 undergraduate psychology students were stationed in individual cubicles and told that raffle tickets for a $50 gift card would be given out in three rounds, with 10 tickets per round to be divided between a participant and a unknown "partner." They also were told they might receive a note from the partner.

In the first round, participants were given only two of the 10 tickets split between them and their partners; in the second, they got nine. Some were told the distributions were made by the partner; others were told it was by chance.

Psychopath Disinformation Alert! In the Mind of the Psychopath

Tony Blair: "vulnerable", according to Gullhaugen's redefinition of psychopathy
Ice cold, hard and emotionless. Such is the psychopath -- we think. Until we get a glimpse behind the mask. Researchers have for decades been almost unanimous in their accord with the popular perception that psychopaths are made in a certain way, and will forever remain that way.

But Aina Gullhaugen, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, disagrees.

Nature or nurture?

"A lot has happened over the past few years in psychiatry," Gullhaugen says. "But the discipline is still characterized by the attitude that a certain group of people are put together in such a way that they cannot be treated. There is little in the textbooks that says that these people have had a hard life. Until now the focus has been directed at their antisocial behaviour and lack of empathy. And the explanation for this is based on biology, instead of looking at what these people have experienced."

Through her experience as a psychologist, Gullhaugen has found, in fact, that there is a discrepancy between the formal characteristics of psychopathy and what she has experienced in meeting psychopaths.

Comment: Red flag #1: right there we can see she has failed to factor in the psychopaths' ability to manipulate her perception in their favour!

Gullhaugen thought if psychopathic crim­inals are as hardened as traditional descrip­tions would have it, you would not find vulnerabilities and psychiatric disorders among them. She wondered if perhaps we have asked the wrong questions, and studied the issue in the wrong way.

Comment: Red flag #2: psychopaths don't have "vulnerabilities". If someone has been diagnosed as a psychopath with a certain degree of probability, then a second or third diagnosis points to schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder or some other psychiatric disorder, it means that one of the diagnoses is incorrect. While you cannot have a "vulnerable psychopath", you most certainly can have psychopaths who fool even the world's foremost experts in the field.

With the same intense desire to get behind the mask as Clarice had in her meeting with Hannibal Lecter in the movie "The Silence of the Lambs," Gullhaugen has burrowed into the minds of psychopaths.

Comment: If there is perhaps some value to be salvaged from Gullhaugen's research data, it appears to suggest that there are very few psychopaths left in prisons - they have all been transferred to the TSA, the SEC, the police forces, the courts, the corporations, the military, the halls of Congress...

It has been amazing to that during the Anders Breivik trial no one in Norway raised the possibility that he is a psychopath, instead preferring to believe that he was 'schizophrenic', 'psychotic', 'insane' or 'poorly raised', etc.

Gullhaugen is welcome to continue 'looking for the Hannibal behind the Cannibal' - looking into the bottomless void, in other words - until she finds the human she mistakenly believes is behind their Mask of Sanity, but meanwhile the rest of us in the reality-based community have to deal with the consequences of psychopaths' actions day after day.


Giving Time Can Give You Time

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Many people these days feel a sense of "time famine" - never having enough minutes and hours to do everything. We all know that our objective amount of time can't be increased (there are only 24 hours in a day), but a new study suggests that volunteering our limited time - giving it away - may actually increase our sense of unhurried leisure.

Across four different experiments, researchers found that people's subjective sense of having time, called 'time affluence,' can be increased: compared with wasting time, spending time on oneself, and even gaining a windfall of 'free' time, spending time on others increased participants' feelings of time affluence.

Lead researcher and psychological scientist Cassie Mogilner of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania believes this is because giving away time boosts one's sense of personal competence and efficiency, and this in turn stretches out time in our minds. Ultimately, giving time makes people more willing to commit to future engagements despite their busy schedules.
Magic Wand

Scientific evidence supports mindfulness practices, studies suggest

Studies have shown meditation does have medical value

Meditation has been around for thousands of years. Meditation techniques include specific postures, focused attention or an open toward distractions.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, meditation is used to increase calmness and relaxation, improve psychological balance, cope with illness, or enhance overall health and well-being.

Is meditation a really effective therapy? Science has looked at meditation throughout the years and has found not only does mediation provides you with calmness and relaxation but does have therapeutic value when it comes to medical conditions.

A meta-analysis conducted by the University of Kentucky had found Transcendental Meditation an effective treatment high blood pressure with the added benefits of bypassing possible side effects from anti-hypertension drugs.

Comment: Reader is encouraged to look at this wonderful program Eiriu Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program


Karezza: Couples Say Orgasm-Free Sex Sparks Intimacy

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The headlines are clear: When it comes to sex, reaching orgasm should be any couple's ultimate goal. And yet some couples are rejecting that idea. The practice of karezza has become increasingly popular among pairs trying to reignite the "spark" in their relationships, ABC News reported. And karezza sex doesn't involve climax.

Karezza, which gets its name for the Italian word for "caress," is a "gentle, affectionate form of intercourse in which orgasm is not the goal, and ideally does not occur in either partner while making love," Marnie, a blogger for karezza website "Reuniting" wrote. Instead, emotional connection and affection are emphasized. ABC News spoke to 51-year-old Matt Cook who practices karezza with his wife of 25 years. He says that karezza has improved his sex life and his relationship with his wife. "It creates a deep feeling in a relationship that is very difficult to describe," he said. "[It's] much deeper than conventional sex."
Eye 2

Psychopathic Bosses and Institutional Bullying

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Unions Tasmania chief Kevin Harkins
Complaints of workplace bullying have doubled in Tasmania this year and union leaders say the problem is being covered up by "hush money" payments.

Unions Tasmania chief Kevin Harkins told a Federal Government inquiry that laws were no match for a new breed of "workplace psychopaths".

"Bullying has changed in the workplace it used to be traditional 'initiations' but it's a lot more complex now it's bullying by workplace psychopaths and the measures used to deal with it are token measures," he said.

"Bullying and harassment are now the largest issue in the workplace in Australia and I don't think anyone yet has their head around it."

Mr Harkins said the problem was rife in government agencies and he had personal experience of bullying in the workplace which he suspected may have contributed to the suicide of a former colleague.
2 + 2 = 4

Journaling Benefits Trauma

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For me personally, June has proven to be a rather disappointing and fruitless month. Just when things began to look brighter, I was involuntarily assigned to be the middle vehicle in a double fender-bender two days ago, and my car now needs almost $1,000-worth of repairs. And as a perfect metaphor for the crappiness of the past month, for whatever reason I was not paid my stipend yesterday for the month of June.

I don't often like to talk about my sour feelings with other people because a.) I'm bad at it, and b.) I have another outlet.

Everyday for the past 12 years (save for a few angsty months in 8th grade), I've been writing in a journal. A good, old-fashioned, hardbound, acid-free journal. Most entries are about the frivolous happenings of the day at school, but as I've gotten older, they've increasingly helped me outline my thoughts and feelings while keeping my head on straight.

Feeling so low, I journaled the night before my car accident, listing ten qualities I liked about myself. Remembering what I wrote as I spent the next day at the body shop and on the phone with the police and insurance companies is, I believe, what kept me from simply bursting into tears and throwing up my hands in defeat.

Comment: For more information, see this Sott article:

Writing to Heal

2 + 2 = 4

Validation is Important for Adult Trauma Healing

Many people face a traumatic event in adult life. Be it a serious car accident, combat, rape, a natural disaster or the loss of a child, people are often confronted with a horrific event that threatens death or serious injury to themselves or someone else, or involves the traumatic loss of a friend or loved one.

While such trauma is in itself physically and emotionally assaultive, trauma theorist Robert Stolorow proposes that beyond the actual event, it is the emotions suffered after the event that become the unbearable emotional pain of trauma.
  • Difficult to articulate and unrecognized by many, the emotional aftermath of adult trauma often goes unvalidated and unhealed.
  • Drawing upon his own traumatic loss of a young wife, Stolorow reports that in the unreal time that stretches slowly after a trauma, there is an "excruciating sense" of being outside normal life, alone with feelings that no one else can understand.
Stolorow's contribution to the field is his articulation of these feelings in a way that becomes an invaluable resource for validation.

EDTP Found Useful in Helping with Childhood Depression-Anxiety

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Although emotional problems are common in childhood, current therapeutic interventions are generally not designed to treat co-existing psychological conditions.

This presents a problem as approximately 8 to 22 percent of children suffer from anxiety, often combined with other conditions such as depression.

To address this need, University of Miami psychologist Jill Ehrenreich-May and her collaborator Emily Bilek analyzed the efficacy and feasibility of new type of intervention.

The approach, called the Emotion Detectives Treatment Protocol (EDTP) adapts two treatment techniques used for adults and adolescents.