Science of the Spirit

Magic Hat

Blindness a psychological issue? Woman with DID switched personalities and could suddenly see again

It had been more than a decade since "B.T." had last seen anything.

After suffering a traumatic accident as a young woman, doctors diagnosed her with cortical blindness, caused by damage to the visual processing centers in her brain. So she got a seeing eye dog to guide her and grew accustomed to the darkness.

Besides, B.T. had other health problems to cope with — namely, more than 10 wildly different personalities that competed for control of her body. It was while seeking treatment for her dissociative identity disorder that the ability to see suddenly returned. Not to B.T., a 37-year-old German woman. But to a teenage boy she sometimes became.

With therapy, over the course of months, all but two of B.T.'s identities regained their sight. And as B.T. oscillated between identities, her vision flicked on and off like a light switch in her mind. The world would appear, then go dark.

Writing in PsyCh Journal, B.T.'s doctors say that her blindness wasn't caused by brain damage, her original diagnosis. It was instead something more akin to a brain directive, a psychological problem rather than a physiological one.

B.T.'s strange case reveals a lot about the mind's extraordinary power — how it can control what we see and who we are.

Life Preserver

Life is work: How to lift yourself back up

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Life is hard. This is a fact that even children are exposed to, when they enter school and encounter bullies and unfair teachers. It continues on through adulthood, as we struggle with money, fall in love and then fall out, lose friendships and get caught up in the rat race. Throughout the process of making our day-to-day life manageable, we can forget that we're human beings who, above all else, need acceptance and kindness to thrive. And we often forget that the person whose care and support has the greatest impact on us is our self.

We're always told to step back, take a deep breath and practice self-love, but how often do we actually do that? Very often, we may not even know where to start. It's always easy to see the good in others, but in ourselves, not so much. But we have to learn to love ourselves from the inside out, and there are a few activities you can start today that will help you get in touch with all your best qualities and help you realize what a wonderful, capable person you are.
"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more." - Melody Beattie

Comment: The neuroscience of gratitude: Small acts of generosity


Study shows religious kids are meaner than secular kids

In a study to find out if kids who grow up with a strong religious background are nicer, more compassionate and more kind than secular children, it was revealed that religious kids are simply more mean, less-tolerant, more-punitive, and less-forgiving than kids who don't grow up in a religious household.

Looking at mostly Christian, Muslim and secular children, researchers from a number of different universities around the world coordinated to compare the behavior and attitudes a group of around 1200 children from many backgrounds. The study conducted social experiments to determine how the children reacted in differing scenarios involving concepts like sharing, as well as their reactions to scenarios where bullying occurred. Included were four key tests:

Comment: For more on this topic see:


The Shamans of the world tell us: "We are not alone"

To disregard the problems facing the Earth and to proceed with business as usual in education would be a betrayal of trust. Our students want to know how to make a difference. They need hope. And it won't come if all we can offer is another scientific theory or technological fix. We must expand our vision to seek non-scientific alternatives. To make a difference, we must search for different understandings. Let us look to the wisdom of our ancestors. They believed that intelligence is not restricted to humans but is possessed by all creatures - plants as well as animals — and by the Earth itself.

They also believed in spirits. Human welfare was understood to depend on tapping into these wellsprings of wisdom, and all ancient societies (just like indigenous peoples today) had specialists skilled in communication with the natural world and with spirits. These people we now call shamans, and this article argues for the inclusion of shamanic practice in the educational curriculum. Shamanism gives working access to an alternative technique of acquiring knowledge. Although a pragmatic, time-tested system, it makes no claim to be science. Its strengths and limitations are different from those of the sciences and thus complement them. Being affective and subjective, shamanism offers another way of knowing.


Art does heal: scientists say appreciating creative works can fight off disease

Researchers from California University in Berkeley say studies show great nature and art boost the immune system

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Art does heal: scientists say appreciating creative works can fight off disease.
The healing power of art and nature could be real after scientists discovered they boost your immune system.

Seeing such spine-tingling wonders as the Grand Canyon and Sistine Chapel or listening to Schubert's Ave Maria can fight off disease, say scientists.

Great nature and art boost the immune system by lowering levels of chemicals that cause inflammation that can trigger diabetes, heart attacks and other illnesses.


Heart - Black

Traumatic life events are the biggest cause of anxiety & depression

It's estimated that 1 in 10 U.S. adults struggle with depression1 and another 40 million have anxiety. It's quite common, too, for someone with depression to also have anxiety. In fact, close to half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety.2

There's no doubt that both of these mental health conditions are at epidemic proportions, but the unanswered question remains why? Oftentimes you hear about depression or anxiety running in families, which leads to an assumption that your genetics may be to blame.

Another popular theory is that depression is due to some sort of 'chemical imbalance' in your brain (more on this later). But the truth is, in most cases no one really knows why some people are depressed or anxious while others are not, and most likely there are multiple factors at play.

Among them, and perhaps most important, could in fact be your life experiences, and particularly your experience of traumatic events.

People 2

Neuroplasticity: Can you really think yourself into a different person?

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For years she had tried to be the perfect wife and mother but now, divorced, with two sons, having gone through another break-up and in despair about her future, she felt as if she'd failed at it all, and she was tired of it. On 6 June 2007 Debbie Hampton, of Greensboro, North Carolina, took an overdose of more than 90 pills - a combination of ten different prescription drugs, some of which she'd stolen from a neighbor's bedside cabinet. That afternoon, she'd written a note on her computer: "I've screwed up this life so bad that there is no place here for me and nothing I can contribute." Then, in tears, she went upstairs, sat on her bed, swallowed her pills with some cheap Shiraz and put on a Dido CD to listen to as she died. As she lay down, she felt triumphant.

But then she woke up again. She'd been found, rushed to hospital, and saved. "I was mad," she says. "I'd messed it up. And, on top of that, I'd brain-damaged myself." After Debbie emerged from her one-week coma, her doctors gave her their diagnosis: encephalopathy. "That's just a general term which means the brain's not operating right," she says. She couldn't swallow or control her bladder, and her hands constantly shook. Much of the time, she couldn't understand what she was seeing. She could barely even speak. "All I could do was make sounds," she says. "It was like my mouth was full of marbles. It was shocking, because what I heard from my mouth didn't match what I heard in my head." After a stay in a rehabilitation centre, she began recovering slowly. But, a year in, she plateaued. "My speech was very slow and slurred. My memory and thinking was unreliable. I didn't have the energy to live a normal life. A good day for me was emptying the dishwasher."

People 2

9 red flags for therapists that indicate relationship trouble

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The sound of his chewing is beyond annoying. And let's not get started on how she never ever makes the bed. "These little issues are totally normal in any relationship, and aren't indicative of whether or not your romance will survive," says Melissa Cohen, a couples therapist in Westfield, New Jersey. But, according to Cohen and many other relationship experts, there are several warning signs they notice during sessions that signal bigger problems—and threaten the viability of their patients' relationships. Ready to assess the strength of your union? Here are 9 big red flags to look out for.

1. Your conflicts include criticism and contempt.

Instead of saying, "Please unload the dishwasher" it sounds more like this: "Do you have some sort of mental condition? Or are you just too stupid to remember to do what I asked?" Notice how the criticism is not about the task—it's about the person. Any version of "What is wrong with you?" basically attacks the other person's character, which, when done regularly, can chip away at the relationship. As for the contempt part, that means you feel superior to you partner. Often, this can sound like, "Why do I have to do everything around here? You do nothing to help out." Contempt is also expressed non-verbally: eye-rolling, sneering, or imitating the person's mannerisms. And contempt just causes more conflict.

If you are stuck in a cycle of negativity, Cohen suggests that you make five positive comments to offset one negative comment. "If, say, you criticized your husband about his terrible driving, force yourself to make at least five endearing comments throughout the rest of the day to smooth things over," she says.

2 + 2 = 4

Emotions are action-requiring neurological programs, revisited

When I wrote The Language of Emotions, I had not yet found a concise definition of emotions anywhere, so I sort of tap-danced around the issue and dove into my own empathic view of emotions as unique messengers that carry specific gifts. But I read a wonderful book last year that presented the perfect definition: emotions are action-requiring neurological programs — and I relied upon this definition in my newest book, The Art of Empathy. It is an absolutely magnificent frame through which to view emotions!

This definition comes from neuroscientist Antonio Damasio's book, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. It's a good, though quite involved read, in which Damasio lays out some theories of consciousness, based on his work as a research scientist. How does a brain create a mind? How does the mind create a self? What are the connections between wakefulness, consciousness, mind, and self? Can you be awake but not conscious? (Yes, for instance, in epileptic "absence" seizures, where you can be walking around but have no conscious awareness of anything you're doing, and no memory of anything you did during the seizure.)


2 + 2 = 4

Having kids can make parents less empathetic

Emotional investment in children can make people feel like they don't have as much space to care about anyone else.

Throughout my wife's pregnancy, it seemed like everyone who already had kids was eager to tell us about the
changes parenting would bring to our lives. Some were mundane but a little scary (losing the opportunity to shower every day), others profound and hopeful (a powerful new sense of purpose).

At any rate, most of them were right—just a few weeks into her life, our daughter has already changed me in many ways. Some new experiences seem par for the course—feeling less annoyed by crying kids on planes, embarrassingly tearing up to dad-themed commercials—but other changes have surprised me. I've grown more suspicious of strangers, for example. I've mentally rehearsed potential sidewalk conflicts. I've researched nearby boxing gyms, as though by becoming stronger or more threatening, I could somehow keep her safe.