Science of the Spirit

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Can psychopaths be blamed for their actions? A summary of the empirical and philosophical arguments

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Ted Bundy
They are glib and superficially charming. They have a grandiose sense of self worth. They are often pathological liars and routinely engage in acts of cunning and manipulation. If they do something wrong, they are without remorse.

Their emotional responses are typically shallow, and they commonly display a high degree of callousness and a lack of empathy. They are impulsive, irresponsible, parasitic and promiscuous. Some of them torture cats. Who are they? Psychopaths, of course.

Psychopaths fascinate the public. Although they are relatively uncommon within the general population, they are often overrepresented in prison populations, and are more likely to be responsible for the most heinous violent crimes, such as repeated acts of predatory violence and serial killings. They are also said to be overrepresented in the upper echelons of corporate and political life. If nothing else is true, they appear to have a significant impact on social life. Part of this impact seems to be helped by the fact that psychopaths don't play by the same moral rules as the rest of us.

Comment: If we don't 'blame' psychopaths for doing what they do because they cannot do otherwise, then we equally can't blame their victims for becoming their victims. Thus the only solution for a blameless world would be to ensure no harm to all parties by separating the psychopaths from the humans. Otherwise no crimes are punished and everything descends into anarchy.

Right there you run into major problems. How do you successfully quarantine some half a billion people? The high-functioning psychopaths-in-power could surely work out how to quarantine that many 'leftists' and 'radicals' - they have, after all, lots of experience doing it.

But could humans do likewise? Most aren't even at the point where they grok what a psychopath is, and the scale of how many there are, thus civilization will have been destroyed before anything can be done about the problem. And that's just the clinical psychopaths. Then there's that whole other subset walking the halls of power...

The above research is stuck at the 19th century discovery that psychopaths suffer or are afflicted by 'moral insanity', or 'moral imbecility'. Of course psychopaths don't do morality. That was established over 150 years ago. But the waters were subsequently muddied by... psychopaths in the psychological professions!


How illness and vulnerability can be used to recognize and process buried emotions

Whenever I'm under the weather, I'm compelled to stay inside and forgo other plans. Some simply employ the "push through it" mentality, but not me. My body is telling me to stop, I'd say. To stop what I'm doing — to rest and slow down.

And in the stillness, in the quiet, my physiological discomfort intensifies my vulnerability (and I'm certainly an emotional and vulnerable individual, in general). I think and overthink. I feel deeply. When there is an unresolved, nagging issue, it will certainly rear its head even more in sickness.

When our bodies undergo physical stress, our mental and emotional states may align accordingly. Sickness can give way to rough thoughts, nitty gritty emotions and unpleasantries. Yet, is that necessarily bad for our psychological well-being?

In Tori Rodriguez's 2013 article, she explains that as a psychotherapist, she sees many clients who struggle with distressing emotions.

"In recent years, I have noticed an increase in the number of people who also feel guilty or ashamed about what they perceive to be negativity," she said. "Such reactions undoubtedly stem from our culture's overriding bias toward positive thinking. Although positive emotions are worth cultivating, problems arise when people start believing they must be upbeat all the time."

Comment: In his book, When the Body Says No, Dr. Gabor Maté explains that the emotional centers of the brain are physiologically connected with the immune system. People who continually suppress their emotions have increased risks of disease and death. He recommends that we learn to be curious about our symptoms of disease to begin an investigation of how we live our lives and how we might possibly live differently, in a more healthy fashion.

Dr. Gabor Maté: "When the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection"

Listening to our emotions and learning to heed their valuable insights


Even if you sleep well, being a night owl is harmful to your health

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When reluctant to go to sleep, children may hear their parents quote Benjamin Franklin: "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." We're brought up to believe those who hit the sack early and rise with the sun have a competitive edge in the typical 9-to-5 environment, while those who love to burn the midnight oil are better apt to live "outside the norm." However, according to a recent study to be published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, early birds have an edge when it comes to health, because night owls face a greater risk of diseases like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and sarcopenia — even with sufficient sleep.

The biological clocks of early birds are in line with societal expectations of when someone should wake up and go to sleep, while night owls reach peak performance while most are sleeping. These sleep tendencies or chronotypes go beyond preference; they are believed to be predetermined by our genes. A 2012 study published in the journal Annals of Neurology found variations to a gene called PER1 — part of a group of genes that affect circadian rhythms — are linked to circadian timing and the tendency toward living as a night owl or an early bird.

Although we know chronotypes can develop a circadian preference in our behavioral and biological rhythm when it comes to the light-dark cycle, the relationship between chronotype and metabolic disorders has seldom been discussed. Nan Hee Kim, one of the study authors from Korea University College of Medicine in Ansan, Korea, and colleagues sought to explore whether late chonotype, otherwise called a night owl, is related to metabolic abnormalities and body composition in middle-aged adults. So, they analyzed over 1,600 participants, between the ages of 47 and 59, from the population-based cohort Korean Genome Epidemiology Study (KoGES).


Chronic Googlers overestimate their own intelligence

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People across the world have become used to turning to Google and Yahoo to look up information and advice on a whole host of topics, but a new study shows that search engines are actually inflating people's perception of their own knowledge.

In a study called "Searching for Explanations: How the Internet Inflates Estimates of Internal Knowledge," researchers conducted nine different experiments that suggested those who learn something online feel they are smarter than those who learn it through books or via a teacher.

The findings were published in the American Psychological Association Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, where researchers said that "searching the Internet for explanatory knowledge creates an illusion whereby people mistake access to information for their own personal understanding of the information."

Comment: Is Google Making Us Stupid?


Life is full of uncertainty, we've just got to learn to live with it


While it can make negative events worse, uncertainty also makes positive events more exciting.
Experiments dating back to the 1960s show people have less of a reaction to viewing an unpleasant image or experiencing an electric shock when they know it's coming than when they're not expecting it. That's because uncertainty, a long-known cause of anxiety, makes it difficult to prepare for events or to control them.

People vary in their desire to minimise uncertainty. Those who react by worrying focus on potential threats and risks such as "what if I don't get the promotion?" or "what if I get sick?". Worry can be useful when it leads to adaptive behaviours that reduce threat, but chronic worry may cause harmful levels of stress that can affect heart health and the functioning of the immune system, among other things.


Learning to move through avoidance caused by anxiety and stress

Regardless of whether you struggle with anxiety, you probably avoid all sorts of things. We all do. These can include painful feelings; difficult conversations; bills and big projects; or situations where we might be judged or rejected.

We avoid these things for all sorts of reasons, according to Melanie A. Greenberg, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Marin County, Calif., who specializes in managing stress, mood and relationships. It can be because we're scared or anxious; because we don't feel competent or don't know where to start; or because the problem feels too big.

It's an unconscious habit that worked in childhood when we didn't have the skills or power to change the situation, Greenberg said. (For instance, as a teen you hung out with your friends instead of trying to set limits at home with a critical parent, she said.)

However, when we avoid something today, we don't give ourselves the opportunity to learn new skills or solve problems, Greenberg said.

We don't learn that we can tolerate discomfort, said Sheri Van Dijk, MSW, a psychotherapist in Sharon, Ontario, Canada. We "train our brain that this is something we should be fearful of ... and that we are [incapable] of getting through the difficult situation."

Comment: Learning to manage stress and calm anxiety helps us to unfreeze and to begin to tackle those things that we are avoiding. One of the best tools for overcoming stress is the Éiriú Eolas technique which can be learned here. It will help you to heal emotional wounds; anything that may hinder or prevent you from leading a healthy and fulfilling life.


How music improves brain function

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While previous studies have found that listening to music (especially classical music) has a positive impact on a person's cognitive ability and brain function, the molecular mechanisms responsible for these benefits had remained unclear - until now.

Researchers from the Haartman Institute Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Helsinki in Finland, the University of the Arts' Sibelius Academy (a music institution) and the Aalto University Department of Information and Computer Science investigated the effect of a musical performance on the gene expression profiles of professional musicians.

"Several neuroscientific studies have demonstrated that the brains of professional musicians and non-musicians differ structurally and functionally and that musical training enhances cognition," the authors wrote in a recent edition of the journal Scientific Reports.

"However, the molecules and molecular mechanisms involved in music performance remain largely unexplored."

They investigated the effect that music has on the genome-wide peripheral blood transcriptome of professional musicians. The research team analyzed the gene expression profiles of members of a professional orchestra (Tapiola Sinfonietta) and the Sibelius-Academy after a two-hour long concert performance, and then again following a "music-free" control session.


Research shows you can build a better brain with exercise and environmental enrichment

Have you ever considered that you can build a better brain for yourself? One that is more resilient and less susceptible to emotional ruts?

Research suggests that you can. Your brain is ready to create more connections, work more efficiently, and process emotions with greater ease.


Recent studies show that you can build a better brain by doing two things:

1) Enriching your environment

2) Exercising

In a new joint study researchers from Cologne, Munich and Mainz have found that enriched environments promote the regeneration of cells in the hippocampus and improve the connectivity of new neurons.

Comment: The brain also needs adequate nutrition to function optimally, so it is important to maintain a diet that minimizes carbohydrates and includes sufficient quantities of good quality saturated fats, and may also include supplementation with essential nutrients.


People can draw energy from each other - the same as plants do

A biological research team at Bielefeld University has made a groundbreaking discovery showing that plants can draw an alternative source of energy from other plants. This finding could also have a major impact on the future of bioenergy eventually providing the evidence to show that people draw energy from others in much the same way. Members of Professor Dr. Olaf Kruse's biological research team have confirmed for the first time that a plant, the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, not only engages in photosynthesis, but also has an alternative source of energy: it can draw it from other plants.

The research findings were released this week in the online journal Nature Communications published by the renowned journal Nature. Flowers need water and light to grow and people are no different. Our physical bodies are like sponges, soaking up the environment.
"This is exactly why there are certain people who feel uncomfortable in specific group settings where there is a mix of energy and emotions," said psychologist and energy healer Dr. Olivia Bader-Lee.
Plants engage in the photosynthesis of carbon dioxide, water, and light. In a series of experiments, Professor Dr. Olaf Kruse and his team cultivated the microscopically small green alga species Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and observed that when faced with a shortage of energy, these single-cell plants can draw energy from neighboring vegetable cellulose instead.

Comment: There is another effective way of maintaining inner resistance and learning proper energy regulation. The Éiriú Eolas breathing program has had profound healing effects in its practitioners due to the stimulation of the vagus nerve and polyvagal system. It helps to effectively manage the physiological, emotional, and psychological effects of stress, helps to clear blocked emotions, and helps improve thinking ability. The program will unlock your social systems and heal imbalances related with depression, anxiety, trauma, etc. You can try it for free at

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Three inner virtues which unexpectedly come with age

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On top of wisdom, there are three inner virtues which unexpectedly come with age.

People become more trusting as they get older, a new study finds.

This is just the reverse of the stereotype of cynical, suspicious, grumpy seniors played on by many a sitcom.

And trust is not the only inner virtue that comes with age.

Dr Claudia Haase, one of the study's authors, said that greater trust may lead to more happiness with age:
"When we think of old age, we often think of decline and loss.

But a growing body of research shows that some things actually get better as we age.

Our new findings show that trust increases as people get older and, moreover, that people who trust more are also more likely to experience increases in happiness over time."
On top of greater trust and happiness, people often experience more optimism with age.

Dr Haase said:
"We know that older people are more likely to look at the bright side of things.

As we age, we may be more likely to see the best in other people and forgive the little let-downs that got us so wary when we were younger."
The conclusions come from two groups of people, one huge sample of almost 200,000 people from 83 countries.