Science of the Spirit


A conscious universe: Does science allow for life after death?

Some international physicists are convinced, that our spirit has a quantum state and that the dualism between the body and the soul is just as real to as the "wave-particle dualism" of the smallest particles.

Dr. James G. of San Francisco, a former coworker of the German Max-Planck Society in Frankfurt, reported the following incredible story. "I studied not only in the USA, but I also studied chemistry in London for a few semesters. When I came to England, the student housing was full, so I added my name to a waiting list. A short time later, I received the joyous news that a room had become available. Shortly after I had moved in, I awoke one night and in the twilight was able to see a young man with curly, black hair. I was terrified and told the alleged neighbor that he had the wrong room. He simply cried and looked at me with great sadness in his eyes.

"When I turned on the light, the apparition had disappeared. Since I was one hundred percent sure it had not been a dream, I told the housemaster about the strange encounter the next morning. I gave her a detailed description of the young man. She suddenly paled. She looked through the archives and showed me a photo. I immediately recognized the young man who had visited me in my room the evening before. When I asked her who he was, she replied with a quivering voice that it was the previous renter. She then added that my room had become available because he had taken his life shortly before." The author would never have recorded the story had "James" not been an absolutely trustworthy person.

Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Dürr, former head of the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich, represents the opinion that the dualism of the smallest particles is not limited to the subatomic world, but instead is omnipresent. In other words: the dualism between the body and the soul is just as real to him as "wave-particle dualism" of the smallest particles. According to his view, a universal quantum code exists that applies for all living and dead matter. This quantum code supposedly spans the entire cosmos. Consequently, Dürr believes - again based on purely physical considerations - in an existence after death. He explains this as follows in an interview he gave:

Comment: The problem with this analogy is that a wave is not analogous to a mind (at least according to how we normally think of waves or minds). For the analogy to work, we should posit that waves have some degree of sentience, which implies panpsychism, i.e., everything has some degree of awareness, not just organisms with brains.


Brain science: We don't know as much as we think we do

brain mind
© Tim Lahan
Are we ever going to figure out how the brain works?

After decades of research, diseases like schizophrenia and Alzheimer's still resist treatment. Despite countless investigations into serotonin and other neurotransmitters, there is still no method to cure clinical depression. And for all the excitement about brain-imaging techniques, the limitations of fMRI studies are, as evidenced by popular books like Brainwashed and Neuromania, by now well known. In spite of the many remarkable advances in neuroscience, you might get the sinking feeling that we are not always going about brain science in the best possible way.

This feeling was given prominent public expression on Monday, when hundreds of neuroscientists from all over the world issued an indignant open letter to the European Commission, which is funding the Human Brain Project, an approximately $1.6 billion effort that aims to build a complete computer simulation of the human brain. The letter charges that the project is "overly narrow" in approach and not "well conceived." While no neuroscientist doubts that a faithful-to-life brain simulation would ultimately be tremendously useful, some have called the project "radically premature." The controversy serves as a reminder that we scientists are not only far from a comprehensive explanation of how the brain works; we're also not even in agreement about the best way to study it, or what questions we should be asking.

The European Commission, like the Obama administration, which is promoting a large-scale research enterprise called the Brain Initiative, is investing heavily in neuroscience, and rightly so. (A set of new tools such as optogenetics, which allows neuroscientists to control the activity of individual neurons, gives considerable reason for optimism.) But neither project has grappled sufficiently with a critical question that is too often ignored in the field: What would a good theory of the brain actually look like?

Comment: Probably the biggest reason brain science is at an impasse is philosophical: materialism makes the problem insoluble. If everything is physical, there is no logical way of explaining how word meanings, for example, can be 'stored' in neurons. See: The Heretic: Who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him?


Brain activity in sex addiction similar to that of drug addiction

Pornography triggers brain activity in people with compulsive sexual behaviour - known commonly as sex addiction - similar to that triggered by drugs in the brains of drug addicts, according to a University of Cambridge study published in the journal PLOS ONE. However, the researchers caution that this does not necessarily mean that pornography itself is addictive.

Although precise estimates are unknown, previous studies have suggested that as many as one in 25 adults is affected by compulsive sexual behaviour, an obsession with sexual thoughts, feelings or behaviour which they are unable to control. This can have an impact on a person's personal life and work, leading to significant distress and feelings of shame. Excessive use of pornography is one of the main features identified in many people with compulsive sexual behaviour. However, there is currently no formally accepted definition of diagnosing the condition.
"There are clear differences in brain activity between patients who have compulsive sexual behaviour and healthy volunteers" - Valerie Voon
In a study funded by the Wellcome Trust, researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge looked at brain activity in nineteen male patients affected by compulsive sexual behaviour and compared them to the same number of healthy volunteers. The patients started watching pornography at earlier ages and in higher proportions relative to the healthy volunteers.

Comment: Journal Reference: Valerie Voon, Thomas B. Mole, Paula Banca, Laura Porter, Laurel Morris, Simon Mitchell, Tatyana R. Lapa, Judy Karr, Neil A. Harrison, Marc N. Potenza, Michael Irvine. Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (7): e102419 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102419


Authoritarians! New study shows that nice people are more likely to cause harm to others

good vs evil
Personality type was found to predict obedience in a study that asked the subjects to administer painful electric shocks to others, and the nice people were more likely to do as they were told. Those who scored as Conscientious and Agreeable on a personality test (specifically the Big Five Mini-Markers questionnaire) were more likely to be willing to administer higher-intensity electric shocks to an innocent victim.

This study was an extension of a previous famous study, called the Milgram study, in which subjects were tested on their willingness to obey an authority figure. In the original Milgram study of 1961 the experiment tested how far someone would go in obeying an order to give another person (an actor that faked feeling pain) a painful electric shock. In the experiment, someone played the part of being a teacher who asked the subjects questions. With each "wrong" answer, the subject was told to shock the actor who then screamed as if in pain. A shock of 450 volts is very painful and can cause death, however, 65 percent of the subjects in the Milgram study were willing to administer this level of electric shock despite the fact that it made the person receiving the shock scream as if he was feeling intense pain.

Comment: Comment:

Being nice to everyone is weakness. The problem may lie in social pressure to "be nice" and the so-called "be nice program" we see all around us. Why not try something like "be good", or even better, "be awesome."


Is the internet making us stupid?

© Thinkstock
A new study has found spending hours glued to a computer screen had a negative impact on cognition.
Reading online could be making us dumber, a University of Victoria study has found.

The study of offline and online reading behaviour found spending hours glued to a computer screen had a negative impact on cognition, concentration, comprehension, absorption and recall rates.

People were reading more text than ever, but retaining less of it.

Victoria's School of Information Management's Dr Val Hooper said people today almost expected to be interrupted when using their computers.

"Multitasking when reading online was common, with activities such as reading emails, checking news, exploring hyperlinks and viewing video clips providing distractions, which could have something to do with it."

While readers were churning through more content online, they were much more likely to be skim reading and scanning than absorbing anything of substance.

How your brain deals with a breakup

couple painting
© unknown
The thing about breaking up is that it's way less fun than falling in love. It's kind of like jumping into a pile of hot garbage. It's also like trying to kick a cocaine habit.

I should know. About two months ago, the girl that I loved like a maniac was totally driving me crazy (not that I was making her feel particularly sane), so we decided that the year-long rollercoaster of strife-ridden romance we had (mostly) enjoyed had come to its final stop. As twentysomething New York transplants with poor relationship models do, we broke up.

The resulting withdrawal? In a word: awful.

Comment: For a gentle way to ease life's stresses see: Éiriú Eolas, an amazing stress control, healing and rejuvenation program.


Sex and drug addiction linked in the brain

Sex & Drug Addiction
© solarseven/
People with so-called "sex addictions" may have patterns of brain activity similar to those of people with drug addictions, a new study finds.

When people in the study who reported compulsive sexual behavior watched pornography, they experienced heightened brain activity in the same regions where activity is heightened during drug use in people with drug addiction.

The study provides evidence in the fierce debate over whether compulsive sexual behavior - also known as hypersexuality - should be considered a true mental-health disorder, and be included in the DSM-5, the American Psychological Association's handbook of mental-health disorders.

"There's a large literature that developed over the past three or four decades of how individuals respond to drug abuse, and we wanted to examine within that framework whether we see similarities and differences [to compulsive sexual behavior]," said Dr. Marc Potenza, a psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine who co-authored the new study. Although people with sexual compulsive behavior have shown behaviors similar to those of people with drug addiction, the researchers hoped to find similarities in brain activity as well.

Potenza and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom showed sexually explicit content, such as pornographic videos, to two groups of people - one group of people who reported compulsive sexual behavior and another group who didn't have such compulsions - and took magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images of their brain activity. The goal was to see how their brains responded to sexual and nonsexual cues, Potenza said.

Amputee Stephen Sumner cures phantom limb pain with mirrors

mirror therapy
© Matt Wilson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
Mirror therapy can heal phantom limb pain experienced by amputees.
One of the few Khmer words Stephen Sumner knows is chhue. It means 'pain', and it's something Cambodian people know a lot about from their three-decade-long civil war. Stephen, 53, is a brawny Canadian with an ebullient, even boisterous, manner. This is his third time here in as many years. He rides around on a longtail bicycle with a stack of lightweight mirrors behind the saddle, going to villages, hospitals and physical rehabilitation centres looking for people who have lost their limbs.

Just as the pain of war lingers long after it is over, so an amputee can still feel pain in parts of a limb no longer attached to their body; a foot or a hand that they no longer own. It can be harrowing and difficult to treat with medication or surgery. Stephen helps people deal with their phantom pain, and he does it with mirrors.

We're in Spean Tomneap village in the Battambang province of north-western Cambodia - the most heavily land-mined region in one of the most heavily land-mined countries of the world. In Cambodia, landmines and unexploded ordnance killed around 20,000 people and injured 44,000 more between 1979 and 2011. Despite public information drives and de-mining programmes, it is still not unheard of for farmers to step on anti-personnel mines in the fields.

We've driven up along a mud road lined by fields and houses surrounded by tangled greenery. Stephen is perched on the landing near the staircase of a weathered wooden house on stilts. Chickens scurry about. A few onlookers gather.

Cracking the code of how the brain processes emotions

Brain and emotions
© Cornell University
Feelings are personal and subjective, just like all of psychology, but the human brain turns them into a standard code that objectively represents emotions across different senses, situations and even people, according to a new paper.

The authors set out to gain insight into how the brain represents our innermost feelings - what they call the last frontier of neuroscience - and upend the long-held view that emotion is represented in the brain simply by activation in specialized regions for positive or negative feelings.

"We discovered that fine-grained patterns of neural activity within the orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with emotional processing, act as a neural code which captures an individual's subjective feeling," says senior author Adam Anderson, associate professor of human development in Cornell University's College of Human Ecology.

"If you and I derive similar pleasure from sipping a fine wine or watching the sun set, our results suggest it is because we share similar fine-grained patterns of activity in the orbitofrontal cortex." Anderson says.

For the study, the researchers presented participants with a series of pictures and tastes during functional neuroimaging, then analyzed participants' ratings of their subjective experiences along with their brain activation patterns.

US military developing brain implants to restore memory

Restoring Active Memory program
DARPA's Restoring Active Memory program aims to bridge memory gaps in veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury and others.
The U.S. military has chosen two universities to lead a program to develop brain implants to restore memory to veterans who have suffered brain injuries, officials said at a news conference yesterday (July 8).

The Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program is a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the branch of the U.S. Department of Defense charged with developing next-generation technologies for the military. The initiative aims to develop wireless, fully implantable "neuroprosthetics" for service members suffering from traumatic brain injury or illness, DARPA Program Manager Justin Sanchez said at the news conference.

DARPA has selected two teams of researchers to develop the implants: The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.