Welcome to Sott.net
Sun, 07 Feb 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Empathy with strangers can be learned

© weerapat1003 / Fotolia
Surprisingly positive experiences with people from another group trigger a learning effect in the brain, which increases empathy.
We can learn to empathize with strangers. Surprisingly positive experiences with people from another group trigger a learning effect in the brain, which increases empathy. As researchers from the University of Zurich reveal, only a handful of positive learning experiences already suffice for a person to be-come more empathic.

Conflicts between people from different nationalities and cultures often stem from a lack of empathy or compassion for 'the stranger'. More empathy for members of other groups could thus encourage peaceful coexistence. A study conducted by the University of Zurich examined whether empathy with strangers can be learned and how positive experiences with others influence empathic brain responses.

Santa Hat

Resisting family triggers during the holidays

© Shutterstock
It's a common refrain every year during the holidays: Dealing with your family, particularly parents, can be a real nightmare. There's the usual concerns. Will they talk to you like you're still 12? How long until your weird uncle says something racist? But for anyone from an alcoholic family, the concern gets piled upon: How long til someone triggers one of those character defects from no-longer-useful childhood survival skills? What if one of those parents is still drinking? How long til we're screaming at each other?

I used to live in denial that my father could bring out the worst in me. I'd hear other people get exasperated about visiting their families at holidays and wonder why they found it so difficult. My parents are lovely, I always thought. They're interesting and curious. They have insightful wisdoms! And all this was true, but I conveniently forgot that around the last night of every trip home, my dad and I would land ourselves in a knock-down, drag-out fight. The kind where I don't recognize myself as a person anymore. The kind where I can't totally remember or understand what happened the next day because I'm never fully sure how they started.

People 2

The relationship between words and emotions

Do you feel something less strongly if you don't have a word for it?

There's plenty of disagreement over how to define emotions, but at least one thing is certain: They are intensely personal things. A flood of anger, a flash of annoyance—that feeling is yours, is a result of your own unique set of circumstances, is shaping the way you see the world at a given moment.

At the same time, though, our emotions are also shaped by the world around us, and different cultures collectively experience emotions in different ways. Korea, for example, has han, or the state of feeling sad and hopeful at the same time. Finland, Denmark, and Norway all have their own terms for the specific kind of coziness that comes from being warm on a cold day, surrounded by loved ones.

In the recently published The Book of Human Emotions, the cultural historian Tiffany Watt Smith collected emotion words like these from around the world. I spoke to her about how vocabulary can affect the experience of feeling. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Comment: Mapping the emotions we don't have language for


Disengage from the matrix: Changing in the river of change

No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it is not the same river, and it is not the same man. There is nothing permanent except change. - Heraclitus
It seems things change more than we think - way more and in more ways. Even when we're aware of the underlying reality of constant change, we reference new changes by our memory and perception of old changes. And those were based on previous reference points.

We seem to be judging change by points of previous attachment, even though they continually shift. That cannot be very accurate. Nor fully conscious.

While assessing a particular situation, as my mind wandered backward to find context, I was surprised to realize how strongly and easily I was able to reference my previous "points of view". It jolted me knowing I'm not that person any more yet it was so very available in my consciousness. But that's how the mind is wired. A lot of information is stored there awaiting activation depending on our perspective and awareness. Hence we often have to wade through a mire of influences whether we want to or not.


Santa Hat

Ancient Tibet, "Star Wars" and Jedi training

© 20th Century Fox
Let's start here: there are pre-conditions for the popularity of the Star Wars films. New previously unseen Space, huge amounts of it. Heroes in that space. The capacity to perform paranormal feats. A Force that feeds into that capacity. A battle between the light and dark aspects of the Force.

Yes, a director could take those pre-conditions and distort and strangle them in the making of a film, but without those elements the Star Wars movies wouldn't exist at all.

Drilling down further—The Jedi, in whom the Force is naturally strong, undergo training. This factor pulses in the audience's subconscious, because it makes a kind of sense. If an individual can perform paranormal feats and control them...he needs to learn how. He needs to go to school. He needs to practice, as an athlete does. Perhaps the paranormal isn't just a child's fantasy. Maybe it's more than that. Suppose it is. Suppose these societies we live in, these civilizations, are built to exclude such possibilities. Suppose, in the glorification of technology, an omission has occurred—an intentional omission. Suppose a deadening "realism" is the arbitrary substitute for paranormal ability. Suppose this is a long con of immense obfuscation.

Read Dean Radin's classic, The Conscious Universe: Radin presents a compelling case via a far-reaching analysis of paranormal laboratory experiments and their results.

When I first read his breakthrough book, I was floored. Far from merely recounting anecdotes of paranormal phenomena, Radin was proving that decades of well-formed and well-conducted published laboratory studies, in the areas of telepathy and psychokinesis, revealed that these human capabilities exist. He had performed a staggering feat. He had shown the science was valid.

It remains for other branches of the scientific community to catch up, to admit their consensus about reality is provincial, distorted, and pathetically behind the times. They are now the Roman Church of old, denying Galileo and Bruno.

Two years ago, Radin spoke at a conference, Electric Universe, in New Mexico. He described his recent pilot study on time and precognition.

A small group of advanced meditators who use the "non-dual" technique, were tested. While meditating, they were subjected to random interruptions: a flash of light and a beeping sound. Measuring their brain activity, Radin found that significant brain changes occurred BEFORE the light flashes or the beeps.

Comment: See also:

People 2

A man's challenge of emotional presence

Awhile back, I was taking a tour of a cave in Missouri. As our trolley rolled through the cavern, I was surprised to see people taking pictures....of the walls of the cave. Not pictures of the cavern or some spectacular formation of stalagmites, just pictures of the wall. Rock. I found this rather bewildering and couldn't imagine these folks looking back in a few years at these dimly lit pictures or sharing them with their unfortunate friends.

This is perhaps an extreme example, but it's also something I see whenever I go on vacation. There are people who seemingly cannot walk a few feet without stopping to take a picture. You're seeing this phenomenon at music concerts, too. Instead of holding up a lighter, people hold up their digital cameras to snap a photo.

I've never been much of a picture person myself. To me the payoff - the documentation of a moment in time - is not worth the interruption of the moment itself. I want to soak the whole experience into my brain as it happens, letting it flow and taking it in through both my eyes instead of through the lens of a camera.

Of course I understand the desire to capture memories and recognize that for a photography buff, taking the picture is the experience. And how many pictures you like to take isn't a big deal or test of your manliness. Rather, I mention my feelings about picture taking simply because it relates to my philosophy toward life itself. My goal is to be as fully present in every moment of my life as possible. And I humbly submit that this goal is one that every man should strive for.

Being fully present in all aspects of our lives - emotional, physical, and mental - is a manful way to live. It involves the self-control necessary to focus and engage body and soul with the world, while avoiding being distracted from what really matters. And it requires the bravery to face the world head on - to open oneself up to both unmitigated pain and undiluted joy. The easier path is to pursue every shiny thing that crosses our way or to numb ourselves and sleepwalk through life. But the easy path is not the path of true manliness. Isn't it about time you started showing up for your life?

Comment: Also see


The amygdala is associated with charitable giving and positive social behavior, not just fear

© Lauren Brent
One rhesus macaque grooming another, the primary way these monkeys act prosocially toward one another. Work with these animals helped University of Pennsylvania researcher Michael Platt and other scientists draw their conclusions about the function of the amygdala.
The amygdala, a small structure at the front end of the brain's temporal lobe, has long been associated with negative behaviors generally, and specifically with fear. But new research from Michael Platt, the James S. Riepe University Professor in the psychology, neuroscience and marketing departments at the University of Pennsylvania, along with Steve Chang from Yale University and collaborators from Duke, shows this collection of nuclei can also influence positive social functions like kindness and what might be called charitable giving in humans.

Such a link could have implications for people with autism, schizophrenia or anxiety-related disorders, Platt said.

"What we're trying to do is both identify and understand the basic brain mechanism that allows us to be kind to each other and to respond to the experiences of other individuals," he said. "We're also trying to use that knowledge to evaluate potential therapies that could improve the function of these neural circuits, especially for those who have difficulty connecting with others."



Serving the dying: Death midwives

Western society has grown increasingly fearful of aging and death. But an increasing number of people are stepping forward to love and comfort the dying.

They call themselves death doulas, or death midwives. Some prefer the term 'end-of-life doula' or 'soul midwife.' And some, like me, are simply hospice volunteers. The roles vary, as do the titles. Some are paid, but most are not. Nevertheless these people are connected by a common thread—they are all drawn towards serving the dying. And whatever the moniker, a growing number of individuals, many with a background in yoga and meditation, are joining them.

Comment: See more: The Health and Wellness Show - Death: No One Gets Out of Here Alive


Helping others can protect you from the stress of getting lost in your own problems

You may think you're too overwhelmed with your personal troubles to cheer up a sad friend, the same way you're too busy at work to take a moment to recognize a colleague. But research suggests you're hardly doing yourself any favors by focusing on your own problems at the expense of supporting others.

According to a new small study, helping others can actually protect you from the negative effects of stress. For the study, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Yale University School of Medicine recruited 77 adults between ages 18 and 44. Each evening for two weeks, participants received a reminder to complete a series of questionnaires.

One questionnaire asked about any stressful events they'd experienced, related to work, relationships, finances, and other domains. Another asked participants to indicate any prosocial (helping) behaviors they'd demonstrated, from holding open a door to helping out with schoolwork. Other surveys asked participants to report how often they'd experienced certain positive and negative emotions that day, and to rate their mental health for that day on a scale from 0 to 100.

Comment: See also:

The Greatest Epidemic Sickness Known to Humanity
SOTT Talk Radio #64 - The 'Wetiko Virus' and Collective Psychosis: Interview With Paul Levy

Snakes in Suits

Keep calm and get out: What no one will tell you about dealing with the office psychopath

© Unknown
"My boss is a psychopath". It is such a common complaint that is has become a cliché, but this is because there are some psychological disorders that work very nicely in clearing a career path to the top.

Psychopaths, narcissists and machiavellians are known as the "dark triad" in leadership. They can be charming, charismatic and convincing (when they need you) and they project the sort of self-confidence and certainty that is reassuring in a chaotic world, says leadership and culture consultant, Quentin Jones.

While one per cent of the general population is psychopathic, it is four times that percentage among CEOs, according to research. These people are drawn to positions of power and fame and, all too often, our organisations reward them despite the bullying and destruction they leave in their wakes, says Jones, the managing director of CLS360.

Management writers will say you can deal with a bully by confronting them, or telling management or human resources - which may work if you are not dealing with a boss. A truly malevolent personality will chew you up and spit out your remains with distain.

Comment: Dealing with a cold blooded 'dark triad' individual is, as a rule, dangerously confusing. If they have an individual in their sights they are notoriously persistent in doing everything they can to take them down. But being aware is half the battle, and seeking serious and competent support, while becoming better informed, is the best way to avoid serious harm. Check out: