Science of the Spirit


Proving the paranormal: Scientific discussions

paranormal research
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A growing number of scientists are calling for a shift in scientific methods to acknowledge phenomena commonly experienced but difficult to study according to conventional methods.

Here's a look at some insights from scientists who explore paranormal phenomena or matters related to human consciousness. They discuss how science can move forward.

Dr. Gary Schwartz

gary schwartz paranormal research
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Dr. Gary Schwarz
Dr. Gary Schwartz received his doctorate from Harvard, taught psychiatry and psychology at Yale, and is now a professor at the University of Arizona. He has studied individuals who say they are able to predict the future.

"If you're going to test someone who claims to do extraordinary things, it's essential that you design the experiment to be as close as possible to what they actually do," said Dr. Schwartz on his website." And if you don't design an experiment around their actual skills, you can end up asking people to do things that they actually can't do or that don't really represent what they do."

Schwartz tailors the tests specifically to the individual abilities instead of imposing a cookie-cutter test of precognition. Not everyone who can predict the future can predict it in the same way, he says. He has found people he considers "the real deal."

Dr. Bernard Beitman

Dr. Bernard Beitman, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia, proposes the establishment of a transdisciplinary study called "Coincidence Studies."

He wrote in a 2011 paper: "One of the biggest challenges in the development of the new discipline of Coincidence Studies is providing a systematic place in scientific research for subjectivity and for human consciousness. Meaningful coincidences depend upon the mind of the observer. The question of how to develop methods and an accompanying technical language that includes and respects the subjective element built into the fabric of coincidence needs to be answered."

Humans better lie detectors than assumed, but with a twist: It's the unconscious mind that spots a lie even when the conscious mind fails

New study finds that the conscious mind may hamper our abilities to detect lying.

It's remarkably difficult to tell when other people are lying.

That's not just my opinion, that's the result of many studies on lying conducted over the years.
Lies, lying, you lie
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As, Leanne ten Brinke, the author of a new study investigating lie detection, says:
"Our research was prompted by the puzzling but consistent finding that humans are very poor lie detectors, performing at only about 54% accuracy in traditional lie detection tasks."
Given that 50% is pure chance, this isn't much of an improvement.
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Incompetent Sociopaths? We get the leaders we deserve

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What is the shelf life of a system that rewards confidence-gaming sociopaths rather than competence?

Let's connect the dots of natural selection and the pathology of power.

In his 2012 book The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, author Kevin Dutton described how the attributes of sociopathology are in a sense value-neutral: the sociopathological attributes that characterize a dangerous criminal may also characterize a cool, high-performing neurosurgeon.

As Dutton explains in his essay What Psychopaths Teach Us about How to Succeed (Scientific American):
Psychopaths are fearless, confident, charismatic, ruthless and focused. Yet, contrary to popular belief, they are not necessarily violent. Far from its being an open-and-shut case--you're either a psychopath or you're not--there are, instead, inner and outer zones of the disorder: a bit like the fare zones on a subway map. There is a spectrum of psychopathy along which each of us has our place, with only a small minority of A-listers resident in the "inner city."

Comment: Before swallowing Dutton's apologia for psychopaths as a necessary part of society, make sure to read the following:

Martha Stout demolishes Kevin Dutton's book on the 'wisdom' of psychopaths
The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton -- book review

While there is obviously a place for high-functioning sociopaths in professions which reward those characteristics, what about sociopaths who substitute deviousness and deception for competence? For some context, let's turn to the Pathology Of Power by Norman Cousins, published in 1988.

Cousins was particularly concerned with the National Security State, a.k.a. the military-industrial complex, which at that point in U.S. history was engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Empire. Cousins described the pathology of power thusly:
"Connected to the tendency of power to corrupt are yet other tendencies that emerge from the pages of the historians:

1. The tendency of power to drive intelligence underground;
2. The tendency of power to become a theology, admitting no other gods before it;
3. The tendency of power to distort and damage the traditions and institutions it was designed to protect;
4. The tendency of power to create a language of its own, making other forms of communication incoherent and irrelevant;
5. The tendency of power to set the stage for its own use.
In broader terms, we might add: the tendency of power to manifest hubris, arrogance, bullying, deception and the substitution of rule by Elites for rule of law.

Natural selection isn't only operative in Nature; it is equally operative in human organizations, economies and societies. People respond to whatever set of incentives and disincentives are present. If deceiving and conning others is heavily incentivized, while integrity and honesty are punished, people will gravitate to running cons and embezzlement schemes.

What behaviors does our Status Quo reward? Misrepresentation, obfuscation, legalized looting, embezzlement, fraud, a variety of cons, gaming the system, deviousness, lying and cleverly designed deceptions.

Let's connect the pathology of power and the behaviors selected by our Status Quo. What we end up with is a system that selects for a specific category of sociopaths: those whose only competence is in running cons.

No wonder we have a leadership that is selected not for competence but for deviousness. What's incentivized in our system is spinning half-truths and propaganda with a straight face and running cons that entrench the pathology of power.

What is the shelf life of a system that rewards confidence-gaming sociopaths rather than competence? Unless we change the incentives and disincentives, the system is doomed.

Comment: A confidence game can only be run on those willing to be conned. Just as a wise hiker will educate him/herself on the dangers of the wilderness, it is our responsibility to make ourselves aware of our own vulnerabilities and take steps to eliminate them. Knowledge does indeed protect. One of the best places to start is Andrew Loboczewski's landmark book, Political Ponerology.


Another reason to not mix work and family: Money makes parenting less meaningful

Money and parenting don't mix. That's according to new research that suggests that merely thinking about money diminishes the meaning people derive from parenting. The study is one among a growing number that identifies when, why, and how parenthood is associated with happiness or misery.

"The relationship between parenthood and well-being is not one and the same for all parents," says Kostadin Kushlev of the University of British Columbia. While this may seems like an obvious claim, social scientists until now have yet to identify the psychological and demographic factors that influence parental happiness.

New research being presented today at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) conference in Austin offers not only insight into the link between money and parental well-being but also a new model for understanding a variety of factors that affect whether parents are happier or less happy than their childless counterparts.

Money creates conflicting goals

Fascinated by research suggesting that parenting is linked to lower well-being, Kushlev and his adviser Elizabeth Dunn sought to determine which aspects of life might influence how much pleasure and pain people got out of being parents. They specifically looked at the influence of wealth on meaning in parenthood.

Empathy works! Caring for animals may correlate with positive traits in young adults

Young adults who care for an animal may have stronger social relationships and connection to their communities, according to a paper published online today in Applied Developmental Science.

While there is mounting evidence of the effects of animals on children in therapeutic settings, not much is known about if and how everyday interactions with animals can impact positive youth development more broadly.

"Our findings suggest that it may not be whether an animal is present in an individual's life that is most significant but rather the quality of that relationship," said the paper's author, Megan Mueller, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and research assistant professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. "The young adults in the study who had strong attachment to pets reported feeling more connected to their communities and relationships."
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How to handle manipulators

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In an earlier column addressing toxic friendships, I briefly described the "social exchange" theory of friendship development: Friendships and other relationships involve their own versions of economic systems, in that we make investments in them using "relationship acumen" akin to "financial acumen."

This may sound callous, but the truth is that few of us are willing to invest time and energy into activities or relationships that do not promise some measure of return. In business, we hear about the metric called Return on Investment, or ROI. When the expected return outweighs projected costs - in terms of cash, publicity, good will, exposure, leverage, or a host of different currencies - it is much more likely that the investment will be made.

Friendships also involve an ROI analysis, even if we don't consciously crunch any numbers or measure our expectations for outcome. Friendships are often established on the basis of shared interests, proximity, or similarity between acquaintances. We slowly open ourselves up to a growing relationship with another person with whom we feel some affinity.
Better Earth

8 ancient beliefs now backed by modern science

The Earth may not be flat nor is it the center of the universe, but that doesn't mean old-world intellectuals got everything wrong. In fact, in recent years, modern science has validated a number of teachings and beliefs rooted in ancient wisdom that, up until now, had been trusted but unproven empirically.

A full 55 pages of Arianna Huffington's new book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, are dedicated to these scientific breakthroughs that often confirm the power of ancient psychology and contemplative practices. On an intuitive level, we've known for centuries that these lifestyle practices can help us lead happy, healthy and balanced lives. But now, with the support of hard science, we can embrace these pieces of ancient wisdom and start really living them.

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Some of the key elements seem to be the capacity to live for a greater goal, to share it with others, and to SEE reality as it is (which also involves acquiring knowledge about the lies behind conventional medical treatments, cultural programming, and the world at large).

This is why we often recommend the Éiriú Eolas program, a series of very simple exercises that you can practice at any time and place. Its benefits stem from the stimulation of the vagus nerve.

And what does the vagus nerve do?
- Vagus nerve's role in regulating inflammation
- Vagus Nerve Controls Intestinal Inflammation
- Nerve stimulation for severe depression changes brain function

The vagus nerve stimulation has also been proven to improve social relationships, altruistic tendencies, and social bonding.

You can find out more visiting the Éiriú Eolas website.

If you are one of the many people who have difficulties meditating with "an empty mind", this program might help you. It contains a series of affirmations that keep you focused and appeal to the creative side in all of us, the thirst for knowledge about oneself and the world, and allows for emotional release, which helps work toward a more fulfilling life and a happiness that is based on knowledge.

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Criminal minds are different from yours, brain scans show

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CT scans of a human brain.
The latest neuroscience research is presenting intriguing evidence that the brains of certain kinds of criminals are different from those of the rest of the population.

While these findings could improve our understanding of criminal behavior, they also raise moral quandaries about whether and how society should use this knowledge to combat crime.

The criminal mind

In one recent study, scientists examined 21 people with antisocial personality disorder - a condition that characterizes many convicted criminals. Those with the disorder "typically have no regard for right and wrong. They may often violate the law and the rights of others," according to the Mayo Clinic.

Brain scans of the antisocial people, compared with a control group of individuals without any mental disorders, showed on average an 18-percent reduction in the volume of the brain's middle frontal gyrus, and a 9 percent reduction in the volume of the orbital frontal gyrus - two sections in the brain's frontal lobe.

Springtime suicide peak still puzzles scientists

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Springtime does not necessarily bring relief to people with depression. In fact, suicide rates around the world peak in spring.

On an average day, 105 Americans lose their lives to suicide. And counterintuitively, more of these lives are lost when the weather is warm and the sun shines bright.

Folk wisdom holds that winter is the most common time for suicides, with depressive symptoms exacerbated by cold, dark weather. Another myth suggests that suicides spike around the holidays, when struggling people feel left out of the cultural cheer.

In fact, studies dating back to the late 1800s find that suicides peak in the spring and are lowest in winter. One 1995 study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine examined monthly suicide rates in 28 countries and found that in 25 in the Northern Hemisphere, suicides were most common in May and ebbed in February.

Similar findings occur in the Southern Hemisphere - in South Africa, for example, suicides peak in the southern spring, in September and October, according to a 1997 study in the journal Psychiatry Research.

The reason for this seasonality is unknown, but there are hints. Some researchers think weather or the ebb and flow of sociality drives the trend; others blame inflammatory processes that increase in spring.

Sleep deprivation: The 10 most profound psychological effects

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Lack of sleep may feel horrible, but what is it really doing to the mind and brain?
American Randy Gardner holds the record for the longest ever scientifically documented intentional period without sleep. Without the aid of stimulants, he managed to stay awake for 264.4 hours, or 11 days and 24 minutes. Part of his motivation was to show that sleep deprivation wasn't that bad for you. He was wrong: it is bad for you.

In fact he suffered paranoia, hallucinations, moodiness and a whole host of psychological problems, many described below. It's just he did not notice many of the problems: that's how sleep deprivation gets you.

Here are 10 of the most profound psychological effects of sleep deprivation, on top of the fact that it feels horrible.

1. Sleepy brains work harder

Since brains that are sleep deprived aren't as efficient, they have to work harder.

This has been demonstrated in brain imaging studies which show the brains of the sleep deprived desperately pumping energy into the prefrontal cortex, trying to overcome the effects of sleep deprivation.