Science of the Spirit

Light Sabers

Excessive gaming linked to visual distortions in real life

© Shutterstock
A great video game, like any worthwhile piece of art, will stick with you. When you're playing it, nothing can pull you away; when you're not playing it, you can't think about anything else. The game will embed itself in your subconscious, so much so that you'll start to have literal visions of it: Gems on a Guitar Hero note highway scroll by your eyes as you listen to music; a Mass Effect dialogue wheel pops up during a conversation with a friend; while driving, you imagine running over pedestrians à la Grand Theft Auto.

Some people know this as the "Tetris effect," but regardless of familiarity, many find the episodes startling and even frightening. Did I just see what I think I saw? Is this normal? Am I in too deep? Should I see a doctor?

Comment: For more on the effects of gaming on the brain see: Brains of Excessive Gamers Similar to Addicts

People 2

New study: Narcissism correlated with internet porn use

© Relativity Media
Sometimes science confirms the things we might have guessed: A new paper found that narcissists watch more online pornography, and the more internet porn people watched, the more narcissistic they tended to be.

The researchers, from the University of Houston - Clear Lake, tested narcissism levels on the participants, most of whom were heterosexual women between 18 and 61 years of age, using a standard 40-item questionnaire. They found that the higher respondents scored on the narcissism scale, the more likely they were to say they'd ever watched pornography; this held true even when excluding answers from men, who in this study and previous ones cop to watching more porn. And among the people who watched porn, higher narcissism was correlated with more hours watching internet porn.

Psychopathy: What you probably don't know about it

Have you ever worked for someone who you seriously thought might be crazy? About half of all workers have such an experience within a lifetime. The other half misses out on one of life's most perplexing and educational opportunities.

The subject is psychopathy. Knowledge and understanding of psychopathy is now advancing, and at an accelerating rate, after a decades-long period of no growth and slow growth. Good thing! Psychopathy is the very worst mental disorder; psychopathy and related conditions have cost millions of lives lost and trillions of dollars wasted, though it is still very poorly understood by most people. I am now speaking not as a medical or psychological professional, but as a professional project engineering manager who has been faced with numerous severe personnel and management problems not addressed in engineering or business school.

Psychopaths rule our world. 6% of the world's population are born genetic psychopaths. Do you know what that means for the rest of us?
Psychopathy is without a doubt the most destructive, the most deadly, and the least comprehensible of mental disorders. So, to promote understanding of psychopathy, the following points are offered:



Consciousness on-off switch discovered deep in brain

One moment you're conscious, the next you're not. For the first time, researchers have switched off consciousness by electrically stimulating a single brain area.
Off Switch

Scientists have been probing individual regions of the brain for over a century, exploring their function by zapping them with electricity and temporarily putting them out of action. Despite this, they have never been able to turn off consciousness - until now.

Although only tested in one person, the discovery suggests that a single area - the claustrum - might be integral to combining disparate brain activity into a seamless package of thoughts, sensations and emotions. It takes us a step closer to answering a problem that has confounded scientists and philosophers for millennia - namely how our conscious awareness arises.

Many theories abound but most agree that consciousness has to involve the integration of activity from several brain networks, allowing us to perceive our surroundings as one single unifying experience rather than isolated sensory perceptions.

One proponent of this idea was Francis Crick, a pioneering neuroscientist who earlier in his career had identified the structure of DNA. Just days before he died in July 2004, Crick was working on a paper that suggested our consciousness needs something akin to an orchestra conductor to bind all of our different external and internal perceptions together.

With his colleague Christof Koch, at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, he hypothesised that this conductor would need to rapidly integrate information across distinct regions of the brain and bind together information arriving at different times. For example, information about the smell and colour of a rose, its name, and a memory of its relevance, can be bound into one conscious experience of being handed a rose on Valentine's day.

'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.