Science of the Spirit


New technique helps find hidden consciousness in coma patients

Brain Networks
© Srivas Chennu
These are brain networks in two vegetative patients (left and middle), alongside a healthy person (right). The vegetative patients were both unresponsive, but the one in the middle had brain activity similar to that of a healthy person.
Some patients who are in a coma may be aware of their surroundings even though they can't visibly communicate with others, and now, scientists have found a new way to help identify these patients.

Consciousness is one of the most mysterious phenomena. Scientists still don't know exactly how the brain activity gives rise to consciousness, but they have been able to find some differences between a conscious brain and an unconscious one. Such insight could help researchers design tests for the minority of comatose patients who may be "aware" but who are unable to show it.

In a new attempt to tackle this issue, researchers looked at 32 comatose patients and 26 healthy people. Some of the comatose patients were diagnosed as "minimally conscious," meaning there was some evidence that they may have retained some awareness of their surroundings (for example, the patient could follow simple commands, such as squeezing a finger). But others were diagnosed as "vegetative," which means they were thought to have lost all conscious awareness, even though they could breathe on their own or open their eyes.

Scientists sniff out unexpected role for stem cells in the brain

© Belluscio Lab, NINDS
Adult-born cells travel through the thin rostral migratory stream before settling into the olfactory bulb, the large structure in the upper right of the image.
For decades, scientists thought that neurons in the brain were born only during the early development period and could not be replenished. More recently, however, they discovered cells with the ability to divide and turn into new neurons in specific brain regions. The function of these neuroprogenitor cells remains an intense area of research. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that newly formed brain cells in the mouse olfactory system -- the area that processes smells -- play a critical role in maintaining proper connections. The results were published in the October 8 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

"This is a surprising new role for brain stem cells and changes the way we view them," said Leonardo Belluscio, Ph.D., a scientist at NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and lead author of the study.

The olfactory bulb is located in the front of the brain and receives information directly from the nose about odors in the environment. Neurons in the olfactory bulb sort that information and relay the signals to the rest of the brain, at which point we become aware of the smells we are experiencing. Olfactory loss is often an early symptom in a variety of neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

In a process known as neurogenesis, adult-born neuroprogenitor cells are generated in the subventricular zone deep in the brain and migrate to the olfactory bulb where they assume their final positions. Once in place, they form connections with existing cells and are incorporated into the circuitry.

Dr. Belluscio, who studies the olfactory system, teamed up with Heather Cameron, Ph.D., a neurogenesis researcher at the NIH's National Institute of Mental Health, to better understand how the continuous addition of new neurons influences the circuit organization of the olfactory bulb. Using two types of specially engineered mice, they were able to specifically target and eliminate the stem cells that give rise to these new neurons in adults, while leaving other olfactory bulb cells intact. This level of specificity had not been achieved previously.

A neurotic personality increases the risk of Alzheimer disease

Women who worry, cope poorly with stress and/or experience mood swings in middle age run a higher risk of developing Alzheimer disease later in life. This is the conclusion of a study carried out at the Sahlgrenska Academy that followed 800 women for nearly 40 years.

The study, which will be published in the scientific journal Neurology, started in 1968 when 800 women in Gothenburg took a personality test that measured, among other things, their levels of neuroticism and extroversion.

High stress

The women in the study stated whether they had experienced long periods of high stress, and underwent memory tests. At the follow-up in 2006, nearly 40 years later, around one fifth of these women had developed dementia conditions.

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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

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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."