Science of the Spirit


Dreams more accurately track thought and emotion than waking

Dreams give us more accurate information on mental life than wake reports.

Sweet dreams
© Franz Schrotzberg
Ever since Freud clinicians in the psychodynamic tradition have argued that dreams provide more accurate information about the emotional and psychic state of a patient than their waking reports.

These claims were buttressed to some extent by the spate of neuroimaging studies of the dreaming brain that demonstrated very high activation levels in the limbic emotional brain as well as lower activation levels in dorsal prefrontal regions (that normally regulate and inhibit impulses and emotions) during the dream state.

It was as if the dream state simultaneously involved a revved-up boosting or stimulation of emotional expression and then a pronounced loosening of restraints on the already over-stimulated emotional brain during the dream state. It is no wonder that careful observers of dreams argued that they better reflected our emotional states than anything we would say or do during waking life.

Riding your Flow: Enhancing creativity and productivity

Why is that we tend to be more successful at pursuits we are genuinely passionate about? Why does time seem to drag when you are completely bored and uninterested in a task? How come you can easily lose yourself in a task that really piques your interest?

According to positive psychology, doing things that you find genuinely interesting and stimulating can put you into a state Flow, which is defined as an 'optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.' During flow, self-awareness and the ego can dissolve, meaning you become completely focused and immersed in the activity for its own sake. Flow has been linked to enhanced performance and creativity across a wide range of activities, such as sports, artistic pursuits, and even in the workplace. Perhaps you can visualize a time when you became so focused and passionate about something that time just dissipated?
Arrow Up

PET scans reveal psychopathic markers

In the USA, our current system of government is not working; not unusual, since there has never been a lasting system of governance that has worked. All 'ocracies' and 'isms' currently in place will in time be thrown upon the refuse pile, to join a heap of other failed systems throughout history. Why can't we get it right? After thousands of years spent in refinement of dozens of systems, we are no closer to fair governance today than we were in the times of Sumeria.

The reason for this is simple. If we are to compare a Political System to a clock, we can envision that there are cogs, all turning in harmony, that produce a desired result. For a clock, the desired result is the correct time to be displayed. For a Political System, the goal would be to have a fair, transparent system constructed to maintain aspects of society that cannot be handled at a family level. Township, town, city, county, state, federal; all doing only what is required at that level, and no more. All levels would report to the people of problems, progress and major decisions.

The reason the Utopian vision just described can't take place is that one of the cogs is not engineered correctly; one bad cog will render the entire system dysfunctional. If you were a baker, and had to make all of your bread from scratch, the first thing to do would be to get your ingredients together. You've made your bread, and when you tasted, knew something was wrong. What would you do first? Check the ingredients is what I would do. If one ingredient is bad, then it spoils the whole batch of dough.

We used to drain a person's blood unto death for a head cold. (To much Iron in the blood!)

We used to think if you sailed far enough on the ocean, you would fall of the edge of the earth.

We used to think the sun revolved around the earth.

As a species, we've thought the silliest things, but we only know they are silly because the sciences have proven otherwise. In examination then, if the 'ocracies' and 'isms' that have been attempted over several millennia have all failed, then perhaps the problem lies in another direction?

Mouse study reveals part of the brain that reacts to the 'love hormone'

Love Hormone
According to researchers, "Oxytocin, the body’s natural love potion, helps couples fall in love, makes mothers bond with their babies, and encourages teams to work together. Now new research at Rockefeller University reveals a mechanism by which this prosocial hormone has its effect on interactions between the sexes, at least in certain situations."
The discovery of a small group of neurons that respond to oxytocin in mice has shed new light on how the so-called "love hormone" actually causes females to become sexually interested in a potential mate, claims a new study appearing in the October 9 edition of Cell.

The discovery was made by researchers from Rockefeller University, who had initially set out to locate a new type of interneuron, a neuron that relays messages to other neurons across relatively short distances. The study authors started creating profiles of the genes expressed in interneurons using a technique known as translating ribosome affinity purification (TRAP) when they found receptors that respond to oxytocin in the prefrontal cortex.

According to BBC News science reporter Melissa Hogenboom, the neurons control sexual behavior in mice. When the scientists switched off the neurons, meaning that they were no longer receptive to oxytocin, the female mice lost interest in mating during their sexually-active period and were "no more attracted to a mate than to a block of Lego," Hogenboom added.

Co-author Dr. Nathaniel Heintz told BBC News that the results were "pretty fascinating because it was a small population of cells that had such a specific effect." He explained that the researchers used toxins that block the ability of cells to transmit signals to other neurons in order to observe the impact it had on the female mice.

"This internal hormone gets regulated in many different contexts; in this particular context, it works through the prefrontal cortex to help modulate social and sexual behavior in female mice," Dr. Heintz added. "It doesn't mean it's uniquely responsible because the hormone acts in several important places in the brain but it does show that this particular cell type is required for this aspect of female social behavior."

Depression: 10 fascinating insights into a misunderstood condition

Ten insights into a very common and widely misunderstood condition.
Depressed people feel helpless, hopeless, worthless and that their lives are out of control. Easy enough to state but much harder to treat, and still harder to deal with. But depression is a much more complex condition than many realise. It's more than just 'being sad' all the time or thinking that life has no meaning.

Here are ten fascinating facts about depression that provide some insights into a complex and very common condition.

1. No specific goals

People who are depressed have a tendency to over-generalise and abstract ("It's all the same to me, I don't care...").

That's why depressed people tend to have more generalised goals than those who are not depressed (Dickinson, 2013).

For example, depressed people may say to themselves: "I want to be happy," but this gives no indication about how it will be achieved.

Non-depressed people, in contrast, are more likely to have specific goals like: "I will keep in touch with my family by phoning them once a week."

Since they are so precise, specific goals are more likely to be achieved than generalised goals.
Chart Pie

5 classic signs of depression most people don't recognize

© Brandon Warren
A hidden epidemic: research reveals many Americans are depressed without knowing it.
Americans are more depressed now than they have been in decades, even if they don't know it, a new study finds.

Data from 6.9 million adults and adolescents from across the US found that Americans now report more psychosomatic symptoms of depression than similar studies in the 1980s (Twenge, 2014).

Dr. Jean Twenge, the study's author, said:
"Previous studies found that more people have been treated for depression in recent years, but that could be due to more awareness and less stigma.

This study shows an increase in symptoms most people don't even know are connected to depression, which suggests adolescents and adults really are suffering more."
Symptoms of depression that many reported, but which people appeared not to know were signs of depression included:
  1. Poor appetite.
  2. Problems sleeping.
  3. Lack of concentration.
  4. Restlessness.
  5. Feeling overwhelmed.

Comment: Ok, so things are bad. Now, what can we do to heal? Check out:

Mass nervous breakdown: Millions of Americans on the brink as stress pandemic ravages society

Éiriú Eolas increases neural plasticity, facilitating information processing, psychological well-being and stress relief.

Snakes in Suits

Examining terrorist propaganda - really?

Queen's professor David Skillicorn is examining terrorist propaganda (or is he?)
New research out of Queen's University could give insight into what terrorists are thinking. Professor David Skillicorn (School of Computing) analyzed language used in two jihadist magazines to gain intelligence about terrorist strategy.

He examined the language used in Inspire, an online magazine reportedly published by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which aims to increase the availability of their message, and the Islamic State News published by ISIS. Inspire has attracted attention because of its goal of attracting lone-wolf attacks in Western countries.

"The payoff from understanding how this all works is that intelligence and law enforcement analysts can get insight into what the 'bad guys' are doing from the speeches and documents that they produce, often for other purposes," says Dr. Skillicorn. "And because so much of it is impossible to manipulate because it's subconscious, it provides unfiltered insights."

Dr. Skillicorn's research focuses on reverse engineering language to get access to the mental state that generated it. This latest paper is one in a series exploring how mental state affects language (e.g. influence in elections, deception in legal proceedings, and fraud in financial statements), and how language reveals mental state (e.g. jihadist language in Islamist forums).

Comment: No serious research into what "terrorists are thinking" or gaining an "insight into what the 'bad guys' are doing" is possible without first studying ones own psychology - "do I / can I really think objectively?" - to see the world as it is, based on facts. Often so-called experts are actually just 'useful idiots' promoting the official narrative without realising it.

See how thinking works cognitive psychology studies everyone should know

A few good books that go deeper in how our thinking works - mostly unbeknownst to us - are:
Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious
Thinking, Fast and Slow
You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself

To begin to truly understand the 'bad guys' is to study the vital issue of psychopathy The ramifications of psychopaths wielding power in society is discussed in the book "Political Ponerology".

"Political Ponerology is a study of the founders and supporters of oppressive political regimes. Lobaczewski's approach analyzes the common factors that lead to the propagation of man's inhumanity to man. Morality and humanism cannot long withstand the predations of this evil. Knowledge of its nature and its insidious effect on both individuals and groups - is the only antidote."

Take 2

How movies trick your brain into experiencing temporary tastes of psychosis

black swan schizophrenia
© Talma Hendler, Gal Raz and Eyal Sorek
This intense scene from Black Swan engages brain networks of "mental empathy" in pattern similar to those observed with schizophrenic patients. [editor's note]
There's a scene near the end of Black Swan, where Nina finally loses her grip on reality. Nina, played by Natalie Portman, is the protagonist of this 2010 psychological thriller, a ballerina stressed to the breaking point by competing with another dancer for a starring role. She begins to hallucinate black feathers poking through her skin, a sign she's becoming the part she's meant to play.

When people watch this scene, their brain activity bears some resemblance to a pattern that's been observed in people with schizophrenia, said Talma Hendler, a neuroscientist at Tel Aviv University in Israel, said at a recent event here sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

"My suggestion to you is that as Nina is getting crazier and crazier, the audience experiences something like schizophrenia," Hendler said.

Darren Aronofsky, who directed Black Swan, was onstage with Hendler, and he took this as a compliment. Aronofsky has a remarkable knack for putting his audience in the mindset of mentally unstable and anguished characters (recall the tortured mathematician in Pi, or Micky Rourke's battered wrestler, desperate for a comeback in The Wrestler).

Comment: More about Black Swan movie psychology can be found here.


That's why childhood psychological abuse should be as taboo as sexual or physical abuse: Large new study reveals how harmful psychological abuse in childhood can be

© Ardinnnn
Children who are neglected and emotionally abused experience similar, if not worse, psychological problems than those who are sexually or physically abused.

Despite this, childhood victims of psychological mistreatment rarely receive treatment and their suffering frequently goes unidentified.

Those are the conclusions of a new study of 5,616 youths who had faced different types of childhood abuse (Spinazzola et al., 2014).

The study is published in the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.

Conspiracy theories: the ironclad logic and how to break it

© Credit: Flickr/dexterd, CC BY
Conspiracy theories are so hard to debunk because they use science.
As the United Nations warns of the dire consequences of global warming, the commitment of the current Australian government to the reality of climate change remains unclear, with a history of disturbingly uninformed commentary on the issue and a climate policy with a decidedly ad hoc flavour.

Even the prime minister's business adviser, Maurice Newman, suspects the World Meteorological Organisation of conspiracy and propaganda.

Let's be very clear - to deny the science of climate change is to believe in a conspiracy. It may be thought of as a conspiracy between scientists and "the left", the UN, or all of them, but it is a necessary part of any such position.

Those in public life who deny climate science have long had a free reign in the media, appealing to the right for alternative views to be heard, claiming that this or that study is flawed, or explicitly claiming that a conspiracy exists.

The genius of conspiracy theories is that you can't prove them wrong, and this is true for two reasons.

Comment: Are you irate, irritable and irrational when presented with evidence that goes against your preconceived notions of how the world operates? Looking for a solution to your stress?

Then, open your eyes: Conspiracy theories confronting cognitive dissonance