Science of the Spirit

Book 2

Reading as a form of life-support

© The Independent, UK
Reading a gripping novel causes biological changes in the brain which last for days as the mind is transported into the body of the protagonist.
One in three adults in the UK - or 16m people - rarely or never read for pleasure. A new survey of 4,164 adults, including both those who read and those who don't, found that adults who read for just 20 minutes a week are 20% more likely to feel satisfied with their lives.

Our research was not focused on people who are unable to read as a result of literacy difficulties or other impairments. We looked instead at people who can read - and often have been regular readers in the past - but who have lost the reading habit, often through a significant life-event, such as having children or falling ill. Two fifths of respondents for the survey, which I helped to conduct for the charity campaign Galaxy Quick Reads, cited lack of time as the chief barrier.

Mood and relaxation

Non-readers were 28% more likely to report feelings of depression than those who read regularly for pleasure. One in five readers said that reading helps them to feel less lonely. Both findings resonate strongly with our previous research at the University of Liverpool, in partnership with national charity, The Reader Organisation, on their shared-reading aloud model for adults and children.

Comment: For more information on the benefits of reading see:


Everyone can sing

Very few people are truly tone-deaf. Most just need to practice, a new study finds.

© carulmare/Flickr
Many universities have performance choirs, but the one at Morley College, an adult- education school in London, has an unusual caveat: It's a chorus for people who can't sing.

For the past 15 years, the school has run both choirs and special classes for people who want to learn to sing better (or at all).

But what about the truly tone-deaf, you ask? Those who couldn't carry a tune in a basket?

Comment: Studies have also shown that group singing helps with shared emotional experiences, social bonding and improves cognitive function. So don't worry about how you sound - sing out loud and strong!
Singing together encourages social bonding
Singing "Rewires" Damaged Brain
Singing as part of a choir has the same calming health benefits as yoga, study finds


Debunking the myth of creative genius: Effort and unwavering perseverance are the keys to creativity

© Unknown
We tend to romanticize creativity and innovation. We think of a select group of scientists, philosophers, inventors, artists, authors and composers as different from the rest of us. After all, the rest of us are mere mortals.

We put these individuals in a special category called "genius." We assume these individuals — like Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Mozart and Marie Curie — had what we don't, and thereby are the only ones who can be creative, the only ones who can create.

We assume creation is a magical, mystical process that regular people just aren't privy to. We assume creation happens spontaneously through aha! moments and epiphanies that strike like lightning. We assume creativity is like a stroll along a quiet street or a steady stream: smooth, effortless, graceful, forward moving.

We assume creation looks just like Mozart's own process, which he described in 1815 in a letter to Germany's General Music Journal:
When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer; say traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. All this fires my soul, and provide I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost finished and complete in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful state, at a glance...
Kevin Ashton features Mozart's letter in his new book How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention and Discovery. The letter reveals that Mozart's symphonies came to him as whole creations. All he had to do was transcribe the compositions from his imagination.

Or does it?

Decades after Mozart's letter was published in the German journal, his biographer showed that it was actually a fake (which others have confirmed).

Comment: Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes or a blessing bestowed. It's a skill that anyone can learn and work to improve.


The brain, interrupted

Babies are increasingly surviving premature birth - but researchers are only beginning to understand the lasting consequences for their mental development.
© Paddy Mills
Fabienne never found out why she went into labour three months too early. But on a quiet afternoon in June 2007, she was hit by accelerating contractions and was rushed to the nearest hospital in rural Switzerland, near Lausanne. When her son, Hugo, was born at 26 weeks of gestation rather than the typical 40, he weighed just 950 grams and was immediately placed in intensive care. Three days later, doctors told Fabienne that ultrasound pictures of Hugo's brain indicated that he had had a severe haemorrhage from his immature blood vessels. "I just exploded into tears," she says.

Comment: A ketogenic diet and meditation creates beneficial neuroplastic changes. For more info, see:


Third Man Factor: The hallucinatory effects of survival

© unknown
Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
But who is that on the other side of you?

If you're unfamiliar with the poem, it was written by T.S. Elliot after reading a strange account from famed Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton. During the last leg of his 1914-1917 expedition, he was hiking with his two remaining companions, desperately trying to reach a British whaling station. They were low on food, dehydrated, poorly equipped, and very near death's door.

That's when he reported sensing an unseen member among the group. For whatever reason, he felt that there was a fourth person traveling with them, who despite being impossible to see, was a very comforting and encouraging presence. After they made it to the whaling station, Shackleton kept this detail to himself, before revealing it to a reporter many years later. After news of this encounter reached his former comrades, they too admitted to sensing this strange presence.


Our illusions of self-control actually promote habitual behavior

We all want to improve our health, our wellness and our happiness. And in order to achieve our goals, we need to break bad habits and form good ones that actually stick. But despite our good intentions, we often fail to act on them. Even if we do, it rarely lasts.

There's no doubt about it: change is hard. And no matter how hard we try to change, the comforts of eating sugary snacks, shopping and online surfing are difficult to resist. We try everything, but despite our unremitting effort to change, we return to our vices with greater voracity.

Why do we fail to break bad habits?

To answer that question, we need to look at our perceived ability to judge our impulsive behaviors.


Research shows well connected communities are better able to manage in times of crisis

© Barbara Mills/University of Arizona
Pinedale Polychrome bowl from the Bailey Ruin, A.D. 1275-1325. This type of vessel was made during the megadrought that hit the Southwest from A.D. 1276-1299. The distribution of this type outside of its area of production was one of the ways that people kept connected during and after the drought.
The more you know your neighbors, the better off you may be when disaster strikes, a new study from the University of Arizona suggests.

Researchers in the UA School of Anthropology examined social networks in the late pre-Hispanic Southwest and found that communities that were more connected with their neighbors had a better chance of being able to successfully manage a crisis than did communities with fewer outside connections.

It's a finding that could have implications for crisis management research today.

"In a lot of modern research in crisis management, people are looking at how communities mobilize along social networks to overcome traumatic environmental crises, like we saw with Hurricane Katrina," said Lewis Borck, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate in the UA School of Anthropology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

"We've known for a long time that people rely on social networks during times of crisis. What we didn't know, or at least what we haven't really been able to demonstrate, is exactly what happened to the social networks at a regional scale as people began to rely on them, or how people modified and changed their networks in reaction to social and environmental crises," Borck said. "This research gives us insight into that."


Human soul found? Quantum theory of consciousness 'Orch OR' claims both science and religion are true

© The Inquisitr
Has the human soul been found by science? A controversial quantum theory of consciousness called "Orch OR" (which stands for "orchestrated objective reduction") recently had a review, and the scientists supporting this idea are claiming the recent discovery of quantum vibrations in "microtubules" inside brain neurons corroborates their beliefs.

In a related report by the Inquisitr, Stephen Hawking fears the Terminator movies may actually come true, but to this day, the "lowly" human brain still beats out supercomputers on multiple fronts. Louis Del Monte, the author of The Artificial Intelligence Revolution, also believes an AI singularity event will occur by 2045, but so far, computer AI can't even pass the Turing test.

In most religions, the totality of being human is divided into three parts; mind, soul, and body. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other religions typically equate the mind to the physical human brain, which works in conjunction with an immaterial human soul. What has had philosophers and scientists arguing for thousands of years is exactly how this process functions from a mechanical viewpoint. When it comes to the philosophy of the mind, dualism and physicalism have competed for the beliefs of scientists, with the latter claiming that all which exists in our world, including consciousness, is physical.

On the side of physicalism, some scientists claim the soul or consciousness can be reduced to mere computations conducted within the neural networks in the human brain, which means all consciousness can be explained by algorithms. Other scientists believe believe that quantum processes attributed to the human soul work in partnership with the observable neurological processes to produce the experience of human consciousness, although one is not completely dependent on the other to function. Essentially, these scientists claim the human brain is a quantum computer, and the informational state of qubits are influenced by the human soul.


Multi-sensory learning methods using gestures and pictures facilitate remembering words

© MPI f. Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences/ v. Kriegstein
Pictures facilitate learning: our brain remembers the words.
"Atesi" -- what sounds like a word from the Elven language of Lord of the Rings is actually a Vimmish word meaning "thought." Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig have used Vimmish, an artificial language specifically developed for scientific research, to study how people can best memorise foreign-language terms. According to the researchers, it is easier to learn vocabulary if the brain can link a given word with different sensory perceptions. The motor system in the brain appears to be especially important: When someone not only hears vocabulary in a foreign language, but expresses it using gestures, they will be more likely to remember it. Also helpful, although to a slightly lesser extent, is learning with images that correspond to the word. Learning methods that involve several senses, and in particular those that use gestures, are therefore superior to those based only on listening or reading.


Brains of 'SuperAgers' look 50 not 80

© Andreas Lindmark/Flickr
Researchers are trying to figure out why the brains of some older adults look 30 years younger than their peers.

While these so-called cognitively elite "SuperAgers" may be 80 or more years old, they have memories as sharp as those decades younger. SuperAgers were first identified in 2007 by scientists at Northwestern University's Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center.

3 big differences

A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience is the first to quantify brain differences of SuperAgers compared to normal older people.

Their unusual brain signature has three common components when compared with normal persons of similar ages:
  • thicker region of the cortex
  • significantly fewer tangles (a primary marker of Alzheimer's disease)
  • whopping supply of a specific neuron - von Economo - linked to higher social intelligence

Comment: von Economo cells or spindle cells are related to higher cognitive functions such as empathy and consciousness. It seems that cultivating and facilitating such values in those who have the genetic wiring would yield some very interesting results!