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Mon, 08 Feb 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


A new vision for dreams of the dying

© Jonathon Rosen
One evening in the late fall, Lucien Majors, 84, sat at his kitchen table, his wife Jan by his side, as he described a recent dream.

Mr. Majors had end-stage bladder cancer and was in renal failure. As he spoke with a doctor from Hospice Buffalo , he was alert but faltering.

In the dream, he said, he was in his car with his great pal, Carmen. His three sons, teenagers, were in the back seat, joking around.

"We're driving down Clinton Street," said Mr. Majors, his watery, pale blue eyes widening with delight at the thought of the road trip.



Break the cycle of procrastination by helping your neocortex defeat your recalcitrant limbic system

Your brain has a neocortex and a limbic system, and sometimes they fight. Here's how to get them to play nice.

Think about all the stuff you've been putting off—really, go ahead. Chances are you've been putting off thinking about the stuff you've been putting off, right? It's not that you don't think those things are important, or even that you believe they'll go away if you ignore them. So why are you procrastinating, and how can you stop that?

It Isn't As Bad As You Think

For starters, you probably procrastinate far less than you think. If we stop to think about it, there are lots of things that need to get done that almost always do get done, some way or another: eating when we're hungry, drinking when we're thirsty, going to sleep when we're tired—you get the idea.

No one has to nag us to eat, drink, or nap. These are all things that are good for us in the long run. But so are turning that report in on time and changing the oil in the car. In other words, not every beneficial behavior causes us to procrastinate.

There's only one factor that seems to separate the good behaviors that we do easily from those we routinely put off doing: how good they feel. In other words, we seem to have no problem doing things that are in our our long-term interest as long as they feel good in the here and now. It's only once those behaviors impose upfront effort or unpleasantness that the jig is up. It's as if all our brains care about is whether something feels good right this moment than whether it will turn out to be good for us later.



Want to raise creative kids? Encourage them to think for themselves and support their intrinsic motivation

They learn to read at age 2, play Bach at 4, breeze through calculus at 6, and speak foreign languages fluently by 8. Their classmates shudder with envy; their parents rejoice at winning the lottery. But to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, their careers tend to end not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Consider the nation's most prestigious award for scientifically gifted high school students, the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, called the Super Bowl of science by one American president. From its inception in 1942 until 1994, the search recognized more than 2000 precocious teenagers as finalists. But just 1 percent ended up making the National Academy of Sciences, and just eight have won Nobel Prizes. For every Lisa Randall who revolutionizes theoretical physics, there are many dozens who fall far short of their potential.

Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. We assume that they must lack the social and emotional skills to function in society. When you look at the evidence, though, this explanation doesn't suffice: Less than a quarter of gifted children suffer from social and emotional problems. A vast majority are well adjusted — as winning at a cocktail party as in the spelling bee.

What holds them back is that they don't learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn't make new.

Comment: Rather than fostering creative genius, overbearing parents may actually do great harm by instilling a fear of failure and potentially creating psychological problems that manifest later in life.


Spacing out and goofing off can open the door to creativity

© Washington Post
We believe that the opposite of focus— daydreaming, goofing off, spacing out— is to be avoided. Worse yet, having problems focusing is seen as an obstacle to overcome and even as pathological. Self-help books and productivity bloggers strive to keep us on task with advice and hacks.

When we fail to come up with the results we were hoping for, we wonder whether we just aren't working or concentrating hard enough. We've come to consider focus and being on as "good," and idleness— especially if it goes on for too long— as "bad" and unproductive. We feel guilty if we spend too much time doing nothing.

But in thinking this way, we make a fundamental mistake.

Truly successful people don't come up with great ideas through focus alone. They are successful because they make time to not concentrate and to engage in a broad array of activities like playing golf. As a consequence, they think inventively and are profoundly creative: they develop innovative solutions to problems and connect dots in brilliant ways. Dwight Eisenhower logged more hours on the golf course than any other U.S. president yet is also regarded as one of the best presidents this country has ever had.

In a time and age when everyone is over-scheduled and over-focused, creativity is more and more prized— it's the key to your effectiveness and success, in life and in business. It can also be a never- ending source of joy and happiness.

Here are three ways to "unfocus" for heightened creativity:

Comment: The Eiriu Eolas meditation program is an excellent way to use these principles. The exercises can be done any time anywhere, providing instant stress relief, and heightened creativity.


Expand your world by facing your fears

© Kool Cat's Photography/Flickr
Some fear is rational, keeping us appropriately cautious in the face of dangerous animals, hot stoves and contagions that could make us ill. But rational caution can turn to irrational panic about imagined terrors that are unlikely to occur or cause much actual damage if they did.

While we all face fears, phobias are intense fears that have become irrational. Common phobias include fears of falling, injections, animals, blood and flying, and social phobia.

Suma Chand, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of psychiatry at Saint Louis University and a clinical psychologist, helps patients with phobias that have begun to overtake their lives.

2 + 2 = 4

Stoking the motivational fire: Neuroscience guides the way

As dawn breaks, Rob Young quietly ties the laces of his favorite running shoes, dons his distinctive kilt and hits the road to complete a marathon. Specifically, his 370th marathon in 365 days. Besides the mind-boggling 10,178 miles raced, thousands of dollars earned for charities, and shattering the world record for most finished marathons, Rob Young is exceptional in one simple regard: He doesn't give up. What drives him daily to push his body towards another 26.2-mile finish?

As an avid marathon runner myself and neuroscientist, I am compelled to understand how motivational fire is ignited and critically, which elements sustain it. Especially at the start of the new year, my thoughts turn to various resolutions. Whether your goal is to work out more or spend more time with family, chances are distractions and obligations will silently snuff the January motivation. Yet as it turns out, you only need to stoke two factors: attention and effort.

Comment: Groups motivated toward benefiting others perform better and are more cooperative


Cognitive Bias: How it shapes our reality

Four in-built mechanisms that shape the way we perceive the world
Cognitive bias is the biggest self-imposed obstacle to progress, not only for oneself but in the end, for all mankind. - Unknown
On a beautiful Pittsburgh morning in 1995, McArthur Wheeler decided to rob a bank. Not just one bank, but two. McArthur had a secret plan, one that he thought would make him exceptionally successful. It involved something very sour, a lemon.

McArthur had just recently discovered the "invisible ink," a substance commonly used in elementary science class. Lemon juice, when used as ink on paper and dried, only appears visible when heated. Unfortunately for McArthur, his ingenious plan involved covering his face in lemon juice and then robbing two banks.

Comment: Read more about confirmation bias and why it is hard to change your mind:


Secrets of genius: 7 key insights into creating a culture of innovation

© agsandrew/Shutterstock
Genius, as much as the word is overused today, can be held to mean the ability to make leaps of innovation.

Rejecting older theories that said genius is a product of genetics alone, author Eric Weiner explains why living in a place and time that encourages the flourishing of genius is necessary too.

Weiner, a former foreign correspondent for NPR, wrote The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places, from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley, to satisfy his curiosity as to why certain places and historical eras were more likely to produce large clusters of geniuses. And, of course, to learn what we, today, might do to make our own places more genius-friendly.

Comment: Further reading: Creative minds are wired differently than the rest of us

Evil Rays

Drowning in a sea of thought: Does schizophrenia suggest a filter theory of consciousness?

© Viralnova
Series of drawings by a schizophrenic illustrating how his perceptions changed as the episode became more severe. Image borrowed from this Viralnova page (http://www.viralnova.com/schizophrenic-art/), which includes other examples of schizophrenic art.
A new development in the study of schizophrenia could possibly be interpreted as providing support for the filter model of consciousness.

An NPR report tells us,
People with schizophrenia — more than 21 million worldwidetend to have less gray matter and fewer connections in their brain than healthy peers. But scientists aren't sure why. The research, for the first time, suggests that variations in a gene called complement component 4, or C4, for short, could be important. The gene had previously been known to help the immune system target infections.

A mutant form of the gene makes proteins that tag an excess number of brain synapses for destruction. This explanation meshes neatly with the tendency of schizophrenia to arise during adolescence, a period during which even healthy brains are busy pruning lots of connections.
What struck me about this story was the first sentence I quoted — that schizophrenics usually have "less gray matter and fewer connections in their brain" than other people. The new discovery suggests that a genetic malfunction causes the brain to clear away too many synaptic connections (a process called synaptic pruning).

Comment: Further reading: Scientists discover possible biological cause of schizophrenia that could lead to cure

Arrow Up

Kids can get big benefits from yoga

Kermit the Frog has a wonderful song - "It's Not Easy Being Green." And kids love this song because they can relate. After all, it's not easy being a kid today either. More and more is asked of them in school; they are hurried from one activity to the next; homework begins at much earlier grade levels now, and then there are all of the digital distractions that top off fully exhausting days and evenings.

It's Beginning to Show in the Classroom

Teachers are frustrated because attention spans seem to be so short and because they have to be entertainers if they want to engage learning in their classrooms. Parents worry that their kids won't pass the standardized state tests that often decide promotion to the next grade. So, they cart their kids to tutoring sessions, among all of the sports practices. Kids just don't have any non-stimulated time, and that is a huge concern. This is where yoga comes in.

Comment: Additional articles about the benefits of yoga for children: