Science of the Spirit


'Materialism is baloney': Interview with scientist Bernardo Kastrup

Interview with philosopher and author, Bernardo Kastrup examines the limits of scientific materialism.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Bernardo Kastrup, PhD., author of, Why Materialism Is Baloney. During the interview Kastrup discusses human consciousness as an emergent property of the brain: Download MP3 (47 min.)

click here for Bernardo's Website

Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Bernardo Kastrup back to Skeptiko. Bernardo has a PhD in computer engineering and has worked as a scientist in some of the world's leading research laboratories, including those particle smashing folks at CERN. He's here to talk about his new book, Why Materialism is Baloney. He's been a very popular guest on Skeptiko and it's great to have you back Bernardo. Thanks for joining me.

Bernardo Kastrup: Thanks for having me back. It was fun last time.

Alex Tsakiris: It's fun to have you here. Tell us about this book with this very provocative title that won't be surprising to a lot of our listeners but certainly will be provocative to a lot of people, Why Materialism is Baloney.

Bernardo Kastrup: The first time I disclosed this title, people were sure my publisher wouldn't accept it and I thought probably they won't, but they did and I'm very glad. It reflects the essence of the book. It's an effort I made over the past few years to organize my own thoughts about why materialism simply doesn't make sense. Why - it sounds so plausible because it's so embedded in the culture for so long for 300 - 400 years, since the beginning of the enlightenment. But if you really look into it you see that it doesn't add up. Not only does it not add up it's also not necessary to explain reality.

People would rather be electrically shocked than left alone with their thoughts

At some point today you will disengage from the rest of the world and just think. It could happen any number of ways: if your mind wanders from work, while you're sitting in traffic, or if you just take a quiet moment to reflect. But as frequently as we drift into our own thoughts, a new study suggests that many of us don't like it. In fact, some people even prefer an electric shock to being left alone with their minds.

"I'm really excited to see this paper," says Matthew Killingsworth, a psychologist at the University of California (UC), San Francisco, who says his own work has turned up a similar result. "When people are spending time inside their heads, they're markedly less happy."

Comment: It is difficult to see a connection here but people are entitled to their own interpretation.


Was Karl Marx a full-blown psychopath?

World opinion is sharply divided concerning Marxists and non-Marxists. You could almost say that Marxists and non-Marxists are two very different kinds of beings.

The common perception of the term "psychopath" is the criminal psychopath, such as John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy. But there is a growing awareness that the distinguishing factor in the psychopathic condition is the absence of emotional connection - no sympathy, no empathy, no conscience, no remorse, no guilt - whether the psychopath is chopping up human bodies or defrauding investors of billions of dollars. Identified sub-types include Political Psychopaths, Corporate Psychopaths, and Military Psychopaths, in addition to mass murderers.

Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Professor Robert Hare is a leading expert on Psychopathy, having co-written the excellent book, Snakes in Suits, and having devised the Hare Psychopathy Checklist - Revised (PCL-R). The Hare Checklist is a tool for professional use, by trained professionals. From the Hare Checklist (see below), many particular traits may be associated with psychopathic behavior, and only a trained professional is capable of making a definitive judgment. Most psychopaths do not display all traits, nor to the same degree. Karl Marx loved his children but provided for them very poorly, Casey Anthony would rather not have had a child, preferring to party. Casey Anthony exhibited psychopathic behavior patterns, and in her trial, the prosecutor specifically compared Anthony's behavior to the traits listed in the Hare Checklist. The Hare Checklist grades each of twenty items, looking for a total score to determine the degree of dysfunction. Karl Marx can be speculatively scored against the Hare PCL-R insofar as we have a track of his behavior from his family history, from his letters and writings, and from his contemporary associates (radicals all) as indicated by the numbered checklist items below.

Comment: For further information about the topic psychopaths have a look here:


Magic mushrooms put brain in a 'waking dream' state

© Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage
Psychedelic mushrooms can do more than make you see the world in kaleidoscope. Research suggests they may have permanent, positive effects on the human brain.

In fact, a mind-altering compound found in some 200 species of mushroom is already being explored as a potential treatment for depression and anxiety. People who consume these mushrooms, after "trips" that can be a bit scary and unpleasant, report feeling more optimistic, less self-centered, and even happier for months after the fact.

But why do these trips change the way people see the world? According to a study published today in Human Brain Mapping, the mushroom compounds could be unlocking brain states usually only experienced when we dream, changes in activity that could help unlock permanent shifts in perspective.

The study examined brain activity in those who'd received injections of psilocybin, which gives "shrooms" their psychedelic punch. Despite a long history of mushroom use in spiritual practice, scientists have only recently begun to examine the brain activity of those using the compound, and this is the first study to attempt to relate the behavioral effects to biological changes.

After injections, the 15 participants were found to have increased brain function in areas associated with emotion and memory. The effect was strikingly similar to a brain in dream sleep, according to Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, a post-doctoral researcher in neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and co-author of the study.
Better Earth

11 characteristics of bona fide happy people

Only a third of Americans describe themselves as "very happy." Perhaps that's why there's such a market for happiness-related wisdom: Amazon has over 64,000 books on happiness ready for your ordering.

But you don't need to read every book to get a survey of the happiness literature. Below, we've combined thoughts from a few insight-packed Quora threads with the latest in psychological research.

1. Happy people savor it.

"Old cliches like 'stopping to smell the roses' and 'it's the little things in life'?" asks user Durga Ranjan. "They're true. The happiness researchers call it 'Savoring.'"

Savoring an experience is "mindfully attending to and appreciating a positive stimulus," writes Loyola University-Chicago psychologist Fred B. Bryant. His examples of experiences to savor include "a virtuoso musical performance, eating a gourmet meal, soaking in a warm bath, receiving a compliment, spending time with a good friend, or winning an honor or award."

2. Happy people don't compare themselves to others.

How you cope with stress may increase your risk for insomnia

Coping with a stressful event through behavioral disengagement -- giving up on dealing with the stress -- or by using alcohol or drugs each significantly mediated the relationship between stress exposure and insomnia development.
A new study is the first to identify specific coping behaviors through which stress exposure leads to the development of insomnia.

Results show that coping with a stressful event through behavioral disengagement -- giving up on dealing with the stress -- or by using alcohol or drugs each significantly mediated the relationship between stress exposure and insomnia development. Surprisingly, the coping technique of self-distraction -- such as going to the movies or watching TV -- also was a significant mediator between stress and incident insomnia.

Furthermore, the study found that cognitive intrusion -- recurrent thoughts about the stressor -- was a significant and key mediator, accounting for 69 percent of the total effect of stress exposure on insomnia.

"Our study is among the first to show that it's not the number of stressors, but your reaction to them that determines the likelihood of experiencing insomnia," said lead author Vivek Pillai, PhD, research fellow at the Sleep Disorders & Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. "While a stressful event can lead to a bad night of sleep, it's what you do in response to stress that can be the difference between a few bad nights and chronic insomnia."

Study results are published in the July 1 issue of the journal Sleep.

Comment: There is one proven technique that can assist you with reducing your stress, calming and focusing your mind, creating better links between body and mind and thus improving quality of life, increasing sense of connection with others in your community. It will help you to have improved overall health, a stronger immune system, better impulse control, reduced inflammation, etc. It will also help you to heal emotional wounds; anything that may hinder or prevent you from leading a healthy and fulfilling life.

To learn more about the importance of breathing exercises to relieve stress visit the Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program here.


Laughter shown to improve age-related memory loss

laughing woman
© unknown
You don't need a doctor to tell you that a giggle session is good for the soul, but new research shows that it can also be good for your brain.

A recent study of people with diabetes (rising numbers in North America) found that laughter could reduce age-related memory loss.

I'm all for it! Life is short, after all, and if can't have a bring-you-to-tears laughter session now and again, well, what's it all for?

Comment: See also:


On the nature of mind and brain

What is the true nature of mind, and what is the real function of our brains? The purpose of this article is to provide evidence that strongly indicates that you are not your brain, or your body for that matter, and that the nature of mind, of memory, and of our brains may actually be vastly different than we have been led to believe.

Since time immemorial, man has been fascinated by the mind, leading great thinkers from Hippocrates to Descartes to ponder the nature of mind with wonder. Fast forward to modern times and observe how the mind is still revered and is dominating our culture. We have a lot of firm beliefs about the nature of mind, and I believe the ego - our limited perception of ourselves - and thus human ignorance, is intricately tied in with these beliefs.

But the truth of the matter is that we only understand a fraction of the minds potential, i.e. it's capability of rote memorization and other analytically orientated functions, and we use even less.

We know hardly anything about the brain let alone the nature of mind. Is it possible that we are missing crucial aspects of its function and entire areas of development and potential that simply slide under the radar because they are not accepted by modern thought?

Brain cells in amygdala make judgments based on a viewer's subjective opinions instead of true emotion expressed

Cedars-Sinai-led investigators say some brain cells in a structure called the amygdala appear to make judgments based on a viewer's subjective opinions instead of true emotion expressed.

When evaluating another person's emotions - happy, sad, angry, afraid - humans take cues from facial expressions. Neurons in a part of the brain called the amygdala "fire" in response to the visual stimulation as information is processed by the retina, the amygdala and a network of interconnected brain structures. Some of these regions respond just to the actual features of the face, whereas others respond to how things appear to the viewer, but it is unknown where in the brain this difference arises.

Although the amygdala's importance in face recognition and emotional assessment is well-known, little is understood about how these processes work, but research led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai and the California Institute of Technology has found that at least some of the brain cells that specialize in recognizing emotions may represent judgments based on the viewer's preconceptions rather than the true emotion being expressed.

With colleagues from Huntington Memorial Hospital, using electrodes placed deep in the brain for unrelated diagnostic purposes, investigators recorded electrical activity of individual neurons and found a subset that were "emotion-selective" because their responses distinguished between happy and fearful faces.

Are you seen as jerk at work? A new study reveals that many people are oblivious to how they come across to counterparts and colleagues

Jill Abramson was recently ousted from her position as the executive editor of The New York Times for being, among other things, too "pushy." But did Abramson - who has also been described by the media as "polarizing" and "brusque" - know during the course of her tenure that others viewed her as being overly assertive? A new study from the Columbia Business School suggests that there's a great chance she didn't.

"Finding the middle ground between being pushy and being a pushover is a basic challenge in social life and the workplace. We've now found that the challenge is compounded by the fact that people often don't know how others see their assertiveness," said Daniel Ames, professor of management at Columbia Business School and co - author of the new study. "In the language of Goldilocks, many people are serving up porridge that others see as too hot or too cold, but they mistakenly think the temperature comes across as just right - that their assertiveness is seen as appropriate. To our surprise, we also found that many people whose porridge was actually seen as just right mistakenly thought their porridge came off as too hot. That is, they were asserting themselves appropriately in the eyes of others, but they incorrectly thought they were pushing too hard."