Science of the Spirit


Signature of aging in brain: Researchers suggest that the brain's 'immunological age' is what counts

© Weizmann Institute of Science
Immunofluorescence microscope image of the choroid plexus. Epithelial cells are in green and chemokine proteins (CXCL10) are in red.
How the brain ages is still largely an open question -- in part because this organ is mostly insulated from direct contact with other systems in the body, including the blood and immune systems. In research that was recently published in Science, Weizmann Institute researchers Prof. Michal Schwartz of the Neurobiology Department and Dr. Ido Amit of Immunology Department found evidence of a unique "signature" that may be the "missing link" between cognitive decline and aging. The scientists believe that this discovery may lead, in the future, to treatments that can slow or reverse cognitive decline in older people.

Until a decade ago, scientific dogma held that the blood-brain barrier prevents the blood-borne immune cells from attacking and destroying brain tissue. Yet in a long series of studies, Schwartz's group had shown that the immune system actually plays an important role both in healing the brain after injury and in maintaining the brain's normal functioning. They have found that this brain-immune interaction occurs across a barrier that is actually a unique interface within the brain's territory.

This interface, known as the choroid plexus, is found in each of the brain's four ventricles, and it separates the blood from the cerebrospinal fluid. Schwartz: "The choroid plexus acts as a 'remote control' for the immune system to affect brain activity. Biochemical 'danger' signals released from the brain are sensed through this interface; in turn, blood-borne immune cells assist by communicating with the choroid plexus.This cross-talk is important for preserving cognitive abilities and promoting the generation of new brain cells."
Green Light

Willpower: Our greatest strength?

Mahatma Ghandi strength and willpower quote
© Unknown
According to cold, hard science, willpower is an unlimited resource. And small habit changes over time can drive big gains in our lives.

Comment: For some of the "cold, hard science" behind the claims in this article, the American Psychological Association has a great multi-part summary of the science behind willpower (with multiple citations) here:

What You Need to Know about Willpower: The Psychological Science of Self-Control

Willpower is a mind-body response and the active ingredient that allows us to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. Stress is the enemy of willpower, so say the latest findings of neuroscientists, psychologists, and life coaches in the field. Inadvertently, threats of terrorism, economic uncertainty, and work-related anxiety have done their share to hijack current society's self control. Simply put, we're living in a time that requires more willpower than ever when it may be harder to come by. Indulgences soothe us - from the after-work cocktail to the weekend shopping spree to excessive Facebook time or that extravagant piece of New York cheesecake. But opting for immediate gratification and having the universe influence our agenda keep long-term goals outside our grasp.

Comment: The Éiriú Eolas breathing and meditation program is an excellent tool for reducing stress, boosting willpower, and promoting mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Learn it for free here!

Learn more about Meditation and Its Benefits: If you apply the willpower you have to improving your health, increasing self-control, and learning about the world and self, you create a positive feedback loop that may lead to self-mastery.


Scientists discover tinkering with brain's decision circuits make rats go random

© Bob Carey/LATimes
Scientists have found a way to tinker with a brain switch that regulates whether we make choices based on experience or we resort to rolling the dice.

Their study, published online Thursday in the journal Cell, no doubt frustrated the lab rats that were pushed to the limit of their strategic abilities. But the results could offer insights into disorders and diseases that affect attention, memory and cognition.

Researchers managed to tinker with a switch that shifts rats from strategic behavior to random choices. The results could shed light on the cellular level of decision making and offer new insight into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. (Cell)

"Our brains have evolved to be strategic, so we have evolved to use our past experience to optimize future choice," said lead investigator Alla Y. Karpova, a neuroscientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus in Virginia.

"Against weak competitors, a strategic approach is probably useful, because if you figure out the approach of the opponent, you can actually do better than when you're just random. You can even out-compete them," Karpova said.

But random exploration may be more appropriate to a new situation full of mixed signals, where experience offers no guide. Some part of the brain has to decide how to decide.

Beauty behind the mask

© Casey Baugh
We can't wear masks forever. We can try, but they will crack.

The shells of armor and disguise we use to protect and hide ourselves will eventually shatter, tiny shards of ego crashing around us. The question is: when they do, and you are left bare for all the world to see, will you be brave enough to look yourself in the eye and find out who you really are, or will you chase around your own ghost trying to rebuild what never really was?

"If you pass your night
and merge it with dawn
for the sake of heart,
what do you think will happen?" ~ Rumi


Cognitive behavioral therapy the best treatment for social anxiety disorder

social anxiety

Large study reveals cognitive behavioral treatment most effective for social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder is most commonly treated with antidepressants, but these are not the most effective treatment.

A new study finds that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is more effective and the benefits continue after the initial treatment has finished.

The study, which is published in The Lancet Psychiatry, analysed 101 separate clinical trials, which examined different types of medications and talking therapies for social anxiety disorder (Mayo-Wilson et al., 2014).

The disorder is thought to affect around 1 in 8 people, and is more than just being shy.

Comment: Meditation is another way to help with anxiety, and the Éiriú Eolas technique is particularly helpful as it stimulates the vagus nerve which naturally produces the stress reducing hormone Oxytocin in the brain. This technique increases social connection and emotional intelligence, makes you more compassionate and makes you feel less lonely.


Perfectionism and high self-criticism increase suicide risk

hidden cause of suicide

This hidden cause of suicide might surprise you.
Perfectionism is a bigger risk factor in suicide than is often thought, according to new research.

Perfectionism involves being highly self-critical, constantly striving to meet the standards of others (typically parents or mentors) and being unsure about the efficacy of one's own actions.

While a certain amount of perfectionism is adaptive and necessary, when it becomes an obsession, it can lead to a vicious cycle.

People in professions which have a strong emphasis on perfectionism - like lawyers, architects and physicians - are at a higher risk of suicide.

Comment: For more background on perfectionism, listen to the interview with Dr. Aleta Edwards on SOTT Talk Radio. Dr. Edwards is the author of the best-selling e-book Fear of the Abyss: Healing the Wounds of Shame and Perfectionism.


Who goes Nazi? Reflections on the Nazi-personalities around us

Dorothy Thompson
This article was first published in August 1941

Part I

It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one's acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times - in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis.

It is preposterous to think that they are divided by any racial characteristics. Germans may be more susceptible to Nazism than most people, but I doubt it. Jews are barred out, but it is an arbitrary ruling. I know lots of Jews who are born Nazis and many others who would heil Hitler tomorrow morning if given a chance. There are Jews who have repudiated their own ancestors in order to become "Honorary Aryans and Nazis"; there are full-blooded Jews who have enthusiastically entered Hitler's secret service. Nazism has nothing to do with race and nationality. It appeals to a certain type of mind.

It is also, to an immense extent, the disease of a generation - the generation which was either young or unborn at the end of the last war. This is as true of Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Americans as of Germans. It is the disease of the so-called "lost generation."

Sometimes I think there are direct biological factors at work - a type of education, feeding, and physical training which has produced a new kind of human being with an imbalance in his nature. He has been fed vitamins and filled with energies that are beyond the capacity of his intellect to discipline. He has been treated to forms of education which have released him from inhibitions. His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.

Comment: People don't really go to such parties anymore, but they can certainly play 'who Goes Nazi' on Facebook and other social media. See if you can tell from people's comments what it is inside them that informs their comments - either in support of, or in protest against - today's Authorities.

Consider also this important article concerning a fundamental difference between people: that their moral compass may be derived from within, or required from without:

Moral Endo-skeletons and Exo-skeletons: A Perspective on America's Cultural Divide and Current Crisis


Multi-tasking shrinks the brain and is linked with shortened attention span, depression, anxiety


People who text and surf the internet while watching TV have less grey matter in their brains compared to people who use only one media device at a time, or only use devices occasionally
Multi-tasking shrinks the brain, research suggests.

A study found that men and women who frequently used several types of technology at the same time had less grey matter in a key part of the brain.

Comment: Multi-tasking also causes people to make more mistakes, as well as lose focus on mental tasks. Researchers have found that it can take 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages.

Our big brain still prefers to do one thing at a time
Why You Can't Do 3 Things at Once: Study Shows Multi-Tasking Lets You Use Only Half Your Brain

Magic Wand

Dreaming can lead to amazing creative breakthroughs

© Jade Amazon Art & Design
Sometimes people spontaneously generate creative solutions to difficult problems through non-traditional methods, such as through epiphanies, intuitions or dreams. Psychologists use the term Eureka! Effect to describe the process in problem solving when a previously unsolvable puzzle becomes suddenly clear and obvious.

While these types of Aha! moments do happen during conscious waking states, the ones that occur in dreams are particularly fascinating. While we sleep, we become connected to the unconscious creative aspects of ourselves. The dream state is an important, vital time where expressions of the self can come through without judgment and flow with clarity and honesty. By gaining access to the unconscious mind, we can begin to pull heavily from intuition and our deeper self-knowledge that might be concealed or suppressed during our day-to-day life.
Alarm Clock

Your brain learns, processes complex information while you sleep

The idea that during sleep our minds shut down from the outside world is ancient and one that is still deeply anchored in our view of sleep today, despite some everyday life experiences and recent scientific discoveries that would tend to prove that our brains don't completely switch off from our environment.

On the contrary, our brains can keep the gate slightly open. For example, we wake up more easily when we hear our own name or a particularly salient sound such as an alarm clock or a fire alarm compared to equally loud but less relevant sounds.

In research published in Current Biology, we went one step further to show that complex stimuli can not only be processed while we sleep but that this information can be used to make decisions, similarly as when we're awake.

Our approach was simple: We built on knowledge about how the brain quickly automates complex chores. Driving a car, for example, requires integrating a lot of information at the same time, making rapid decisions and putting them into action through complex motor sequences. And you can drive all the way home without remembering anything, as we do when we say we're on "automatic pilot."

When we're asleep, the brain regions critical for paying attention to or implementing instructions are deactivated, of course, which makes it impossible to start performing a task. But we wanted to see whether any processes continued in the brain after sleep onset if participants in an experiment were given an automatized task just before.

Comment: For tips on how to improve your sleep, read Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival by T.S. Wiley.

The mind and the gut connect via the vagus nerve. The Eiriu-Eolas breathing and mediation program activates the vagus nerve and has been shown to reduce anxiety and promote a sense of calmness. You can try the program for free here.

See also:
The Neurobiology of grace under pressure: 7 habits that stimulate your vagus nerve and keep you calm, cool, and collected

Face life with Éiriú Eolas, a stress relief program