Science of the Spirit

Black Magic

What if a psychopathic god exists?


I am The Lord, your God!
If we're going to debate the existence of gods, we need to think about what sorts of gods we're supposed to be talking about - you can't just leave that question aside as if the answer were obvious. The Christian god, for example, looks positively psychopathic much of the time. What would you do if a god like that really existed?

Usually discussions and debates about the existence of gods don't do much to define what is meant by "god" - either no definition is discussed or a very minimal definition is given. There's value in that approach, but I think that occasionally more attention needs to be paid to what sort of god is being debated.

There are lots of reasons for this, but I'll focus on just one here: there can be significant moral implications to how you address and react to the issue, depending on what sort of god one is discussing. Remember, the end goal for many believers is to encourage worship of and obedience to their god. Is it moral to worship and obey a psychopath?


The nature of conscious thought may be rhythmic

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How our brains encode thoughts, such as perceptions and memories, at the cellular level is one of the biggest puzzles in neuroscience today. One theory suggests that ensembles of neurons represent each unique piece of information. No one knows, however, just what these ensembles look like, or how they form.

A new study, published in a recent issue of Neuron, sheds light on how neural ensembles form thoughts and support the flexibility to change one's mind. Earl Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, led the study which has identified groups of neurons that encode specific behavioral rules by oscillating in synchrony with each other. The nature of conscious thought, the results suggest, may be rhythmic.

"As we talk, thoughts float in and out of our heads. Those are all ensembles forming and then reconfiguring to something else. It's been a mystery how the brain does this," says Miller, who is also a member of MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. "That's the fundamental problem that we're talking about - the very nature of thought itself."

Using monkeys trained to respond to objects based on either their color or orientation, the team identified two neural ensembles. Such a task requires cognitive flexibility, which is the ability to switch between two distinct sets of rules for behavior.


Guilty pleasures: Feeling guilty enhances deliciousness of food

© Medical Daily
As the holiday season approaches, many people are going to enter it with a diet in place. Then, with the introduction of a single slice of pie, that diet will be shot. We will demur at first, citing calories and healthy living, but then we will have a bite, then another, and then before we know it, that diet has fallen by the wayside.

Research indicates that we do get rewarded for throwing away our winter weight goals, even if our waistlines may not feel the same way. That piece of pie tastes even more delicious if we indulge than it would otherwise. Of course, that is something that we have all experienced - but science indicates that it is true.

In a study published in The Journal of Marketing Research, researchers from Northwestern University said, "People who are primed with guilt subsequently experience greater pleasure than people who are not. People lack awareness of this automatic process."

The study consisted of six different experiments. In the first, the researchers split 40 participants into two groups. Both viewed six magazine covers. Half the group was forced to look at four of those six magazine covers that were health-related; the other half looked at covers that were completely unrelated.


Study: Meditation influences emotional processing even when you're not meditating

© Huffington Post
Meditation may influence the way the brain processes emotions -- even when you're not actually practicing it, a new study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience suggests.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Arizona, Boston University, the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies and Emory University found that meditation changes the way the amygdala brain region responds to emotional stimuli - but that this effect on emotional processing takes place even when a person is not in a state of meditation. The amygdala is a brain region involved in emotion and memory processing.

"This is the first time that meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state," study researcher Gaëlle Desbordes, of Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston University's Center for Computation Neuroscience and Neural Technology, said in a statement.

Researchers had study participants undergo one of three eight-week courses: one course was on mindful attention meditation, where they were trained to be more attentive and aware of their thinking, feeling and breathing; one course was on compassion meditation, where they were trained to feel compassion and kindness to other people and themselves; and one course just provided general health information.

Comment: The following articles are additional examples of how Meditation Techniques Have Different Effects on the body, brain and emotions:

Meditation builds up the brain
Meditation Makes You More Creative
Making Meditation Accessible
Meditation and Its Benefits
Meditation Reduces the Emotional Impact of Pain
Meditation Better Than Morphine?
Meditation As a Form of Mental Exercise to Improve the Brain

To learn more about an easy to use Meditation practice check out the Eiriu Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program here.

Eye 2

Inside the Psyche of the 1%


We are the '1%' (although our real number is more like 6%)
Do the rich and super-rich tend to be psychopaths, devoid of guilt or shame? Are the 1% lacking in compassion? Does their endless accumulation of possessions actually bring them little to no happiness? To each of these, the answer is "yes" - but a very qualified "yes" with lots of subtleties. Even more important is what these issues suggest for building a society which does not ravage the last remnants of wilderness and rush headlong into a climate change tipping point.

Strange concepts of psychopathy

The word "psychopath" often elicits an image of a deranged murderer. Despite Alfred Hitchcock's chair-gripping Psycho, stabbing victims in the shower is not a typical activity of psychopaths. They are more often con artists who end up in jail after cheating their victims. Classic definitions of psychopathy include features such as superficial charm, anti-social behavior, unreliability, lack of remorse or shame, above average intelligence, absence of nervousness, and untruthfulness and insincerity. [1]

Most of those in the mental health industry sternly observe that a strict set of consistent rewards and consequences is the only treatment which works with psychopaths. But they admit that even this treatment might not work too well. Progressives may dismiss observations by psychologists because the field tends to explore a behavioral pattern as it exists in a certain Western culture at a given point in history and then imagine that it characterizes all people at all times. Psychology has a long tradition of bending to current race, gender and sexual orientation biases. Its class bias is reflected by the dominant portrayal of psychopathy.

Comment: Interesting research, but the problem, at root, is not capitalism. The problem is a biological one. The mind of a psychopath is so totally alien to people with a normal psychological substratum that we are literally talking about two completely different species. It's not about which model you use as a lens through which to view the world, it's about getting educated to the fact that humanity has an "intra-species predator", as foremost expert on psychopathology Dr. Robert Hare has defined them.


Are social networking internet sites a factor in psychotic symptoms?

© Chums IT Systems
As Internet access becomes increasingly widespread, so do related psychopathologies such as Internet addiction and delusions related to the technology and to virtual relationships. Computer communications such as Facebook and chat groups are an important part of this story, says Dr. Uri Nitzan of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Shalvata Mental Health Care Center in a new paper published in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences.

In his study, the researcher presented three in-depth case studies linking psychotic episodes to Internet communications from his own practice. According to Dr. Nitzan, patients shared some crucial characteristics, including loneliness or vulnerability due to the loss of or separation from a loved one, relative inexperience with technology, and no prior history of psychosis or substance abuse. In each case, a connection was found between the gradual development and exacerbation of psychotic symptoms, including delusions, anxiety, confusion, and intensified use of computer communications.

The good news is that all of the patients, who willingly sought out treatment on their own, were able to make a full recovery with proper treatment and care, Dr. Nitzan says.


Is that nervous feeling social anxiety disorder, or is it simply a case of being shy?

Rhode Island Hospital researcher explores common mental disorder, treatment options and its impact on daily life

Most people are faced with embarrassment or humiliation at some point in their lives. Maybe they get nervous before a big presentation to the bosses at work. Maybe they get a bit anxious thinking about approaching an attractive stranger at a party. But where is the line between normal shyness and social anxiety disorder?

Rhode Island Hospital researcher Kristy L. Dalrymple, Ph.D., of the department of psychiatry, explores the variances between the two, and discusses the differing beliefs of over, and under-, diagnosis of social anxiety disorder (SAD) and its treatment options in a paper published in the Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics.

"There are many differing opinions about social anxiety disorder and the best treatment," Dalrymple said. "Should it be treated with medication, behavioral therapy, or both? The significant increase in the prescription of antidepressant medications (which often are used to treat SAD) over the past several years - an increase of 400 percent -- should be considered when determining the best approach. Are we simply medicating, or are we helping patients to truly improve their quality of life?"


Our unconscious minds can perform complex operations

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Who would have ever thought we could solve math equations in our sleep? Well, maybe our level of unconsciousness might have to be a bit more elevated but researchers from the Psychology Department at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem have found that we can actually read words and phrases or even solve multi-step mathematical problems without our having been consciously aware of them.

The team, headed by Dr. Ran Hassin, along with Dr. Anat Maril and graduate students Asael Sklar, Ariel Goldstein, Nir Levy and Roi Mandel, concluded that people can read and do math non-consciously. Their findings fly in the face of existing theories regarding unconscious processes. These previous theories state that reading and solving math problems, which are two prime examples of complex, rule-based operations, do, in fact, require consciousness.

The team was able to present sentences and equations unconsciously to their subject group of 270 university students. The technique they employed was Continuous Flash Suppression (CFS) which leaves one eye of the participant exposed to a series of rapidly changing images while the other eye is simultaneously exposed to a constant image. The rapidity of images to one eye dominates the consciousness of the participant. This allows the constant image to not be experienced consciously.


We're in this together: A pathbreaking investigation into the evolution of cooperative behavior

Humans are much more inclined to cooperate than are their closest evolutionary relatives. The prevailing wisdom about why this is true has long been focused on the idea of altruism: we go out of our way to do nice things for other people, sometimes even sacrificing personal success for the good of others. Modern theories of cooperative behavior suggest that acting selflessly in the moment provides a selective advantage to the altruist in the form of some kind of return benefit.

A new study published by Current Anthropology offers another explanation for our unusual aptitude for collaboration. The authors of the study argue that humans developed cooperative skills because it was in their mutual interest to work well with others - indeed ecological circumstances forced them to cooperate with others to obtain food. In other words, altruism isn't the reason we cooperate; we must cooperate in order to survive, and we are altruistic to others because we need them.

Previous theories located the origin of cooperation in either small group settings or large, sophisticated societies. Based on results from cognitive and psychological experiments and research on human development, this study provides a comprehensive account of the evolution of cooperation as a two-step process, which begins in small hunter-gatherer groups and becomes more complex and culturally inscribed in larger societies later on.


Fear of the dentist is passed on to children by their parents

© Unknown
The father acts as an intermediary for dentist fear between both mother and children.

Fear of visiting the dentist is a frequent problem in paediatric dentistry. A new study confirms the emotional transmission of dentist fear among family members and analyses the different roles that mothers and fathers might play.

A new study conducted by scientists at the Rey Juan Carlos University of Madrid highlights the important role that parents play in the transmission of dentist fear in their family.

Previous studies had already identified the association between the fear levels of parents and their children, but they never explored the different roles that the father and the mother play in this phenomenon.

América Lara Sacido, one of the authors of the study explains that "along with the presence of emotional transmission of dentist fear amongst family members, we have identified the relevant role that fathers play in transmission of this phobia in comparison to the mother."