Science of the Spirit


Putin: 'Love is the meaning of life'

© RIA Novosti/Michael Klimentyev
Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Vladimir Putin is known for his sharp wit, but musings on love are a relative novelty. In an unexpected remark Friday, the Russian president spoke of the "meaning of life," saying that for him "in general" it is love that matters.

Briefly digressing from politics, Putin ventured a philiosophical observation that "multifaceted" love is the basis of all actions and the essence of being.

"The meaning of our whole life and existence is love," Putin told his audience at the 15th Congress of the Russian Geographical Society. "It is love for the family, for the children, for the motherland. This is a multifaceted phenomenon; it lies at heart of any of our behaviors."

Comment: Love is light is knowledge. To love you must know.
 And to know is to have light.
 And to have light is to love. 
And to have knowledge is to love.

Despite extreme defamation and lies Putin makes sure for others to have the chance to know and to love.


Are we only as old as we think we are?

senior citizen gymnast
© Unknown
Octogenarian Johanna Quaas showed off her skills at the 2012 Cottbus World Cup in Germany
Are we as old as our age, or only what age we think we are?

That's something that Harvard University psychologist Ellen Langer has been examining for over three decades.

Through different experiments with senior citizens, she tries to show the deep connection between body and mind.

She believes it's possible for a person's mind to help remedy a physical ailment. To examine this, she's conducted numerous studies that focus on an individual's expectation of aging versus the real symptoms of aging.

Showing people pictures of others receiving emotional support reduces brain response to threat

emotional support
Being shown pictures of others being loved and cared for reduces the brain's response to threat, new research from the University of Exeter has found.

The study discovered that when individuals are briefly presented pictures of others receiving emotional support and affection, the brain's threat monitor, the amygdala, subsequently does not respond to images showing threatening facial expressions or words. This occurred even if the person was not paying attention to the content of the first pictures.

Forty-two healthy individuals participated in the study, in which researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brain response.

The study, published this week in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, suggests that being reminded of being loved and cared for dampens the threat response and may allow more effective functioning during, and activation of soothing resources after, stressful situations. This was particularly true for more anxious individuals.
2 + 2 = 4

We are all confident idiots: 'The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance'

© Gregg Segal
Last March, during the enormous South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, the late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live! sent a camera crew out into the streets to catch hipsters bluffing. "People who go to music festivals pride themselves on knowing who the next acts are," Kimmel said to his studio audience, "even if they don't actually know who the new acts are." So the host had his crew ask festival-goers for their thoughts about bands that don't exist.

"The big buzz on the street," said one of Kimmel's interviewers to a man wearing thick-framed glasses and a whimsical T-shirt, "is Contact Dermatitis. Do you think he has what it takes to really make it to the big time?"

"Absolutely," came the dazed fan's reply.

Comment: For more information on the Dunning-Kruger Effect, see these Sott links:


Magic mushrooms create a hyperconnected brain and might offer a new treatment for depression

Magic Mushrooms
© Reuters/Jerry Lampen
Boxes containing magic mushrooms are displayed at a coffee and smart shop in Rotterdam November 28, 2008.
Magic mushrooms may give users trippy experiences by creating a hyperconnected brain.

The active ingredient in the psychedelic drug, psilocybin, seems to completely disrupt the normal communication networks in the brain, by connecting "brain regions that don't normally talk together," said study co-author Paul Expert, a physicist at King's College London.

The research, which was published Oct. 28 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, is part of a larger effort to understand how psychedelic drugs work, in the hopes that they could one day be used by psychiatrists in carefully controlled settings to treat conditions such as depression, Expert said.

Magic mushrooms

Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, is best known for triggering vivid hallucinations. It can make colors seem oversaturated and dissolve the boundaries between objects.

But the drug also seems to have more long-lasting effects. Many people report intensely spiritual experiences while taking the drug, and some studies even suggest that one transcendent trip can alter people's personalities on a long-term basis, making those individuals more open to new experiences and more appreciative of art, curiosity and emotion.

People who experiment with psilocybin "report it as one of the most profound experiences they've had in their lives, even comparing it to the birth of their children," Expert told Live Science.


How Psychedelics Saved My Life

Magic mushrooms: How they affect the brain's emotion centers


Robot makes people feel like a ghost is nearby

Ghost Simulation
© Alain Herzog/EPFL
In 2006, cognitive neuroscientist Olaf Blanke of the University of Geneva in Switzerland was testing a patient's brain functions before her epilepsy surgery when he noticed something strange. Every time he electrically stimulated the region of her brain responsible for integrating different sensory signals from the body, the patient would look back behind her back as if a person was there, even when she knew full well that no one was actually present.

Now, with the help of robots, Blanke and colleagues have not only found a neurological explanation for this illusion, but also tricked healthy people into sensing "ghosts," they report online today in Current Biology. The study could help explain why schizophrenia patients sometimes hallucinate that aliens control their movements.

"It's very difficult to try to understand the mechanisms involved in something so strange," says cognitive neuroscientist Henrik Ehrsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who was not involved with the study. "It's very encouraging, very impressive, the way this team is making science out of this question."

Ghosts and apparitions are a common theme in literature and religion. In real life, patients suffering from schizophrenia and epilepsy sometimes report sensing a presence near them. After studying such cases, Blanke found some striking similarities in how epilepsy patients perceive these eerie "apparitions," he says. Almost all patients said the presence felt like a human being positioned right behind their back, almost touching them, with malicious intentions. Patients with brain damage on the left hemisphere felt the ghost at their right side, and vice versa.
People 2

Sense of meaning and purpose in life linked to longer lifespan

© Martinan / Fotolia
A UCL-led study of 9,050 English people with an average age of 65 found that the people with the greatest well-being were 30% less likely to die during the average eight and a half year follow-up period than those with the least well-being.

The study, published in The Lancet as part of a special series on aging, was conducted by researchers from UCL, Princeton University and Stony Brook University. It used questionnaire answers to measure a type of well-being called 'eudemonic well-being', which relates to your sense of control, feeling that what you do is worthwhile, and your sense of purpose in life. People were divided into four categories based on their answers, ranked from highest well-being to lowest well-being.

The results were adjusted for age, sex, socio-economic status, physical health, depression, smoking, physical activity and alcohol intake, to rule out as many factors as possible that could influence both health and well-being. For example, terminal illnesses could reduce both well-being and life expectancy.

Over the next eight and a half years, 9% of people in the highest well-being category had died, compared with 29% in the lowest category. Once all the other factors had been taken into account, people with the highest well-being were 30% less likely to die over the study period, living on average two years longer than those in the lowest well-being group.

Brain dissociates emotional response from explicit memory in fearful situations

© Marek
"In the traumatic events seems that over time there is a portion of memory that is erased or we do not have access, we forget the details but still maintaining the emotional reaction. The imprint is divided into two separate paths. The brain dissociates the explicit memory of a negative event from the emotional response."
Researchers at the Cognition and Brain Plasticity group of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and the University of Barcelona have been tracking the traces of implicit and explicit memories of fear in human. The study has been published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and describes how in a context of fear, our brain differently encodes contextual memory of a negative event (the place, what we saw...) and emotional response associated.

The study measures electrodermal activity of 86 individuals in a fearful generated in the laboratory and in a neutral context in which they have to learn a list of words. One week and two weeks after the experiment they are tested to see which words they remembered.

"In both contexts" explains Pau Packard, author of the study, "forgetting curve was normal. Over time they forgot all the words, the explicit trace. Moreover in the fearful context the electrodermal activity, the emotional implicit response, was exactly the same, much higher than in the neutral context."

What we believed about the soul and afterlife as children is what we believe as adults, researchers say

© Thinkstock
If you believed that Chuckie Cheese was heaven when you were a kid, there's a good chance you still believe that today.

According to a new study from Rutgers University, what we believe about the soul and afterlife as children shapes what we believe about them as adults - regardless of what we say.

"My starting point was, assuming that people have these automatic - that is, implicit or ingrained - beliefs about the soul and afterlife, how can we measure those implicit beliefs?" said Stephanie Anglin, a doctoral student in psychology in Rutgers' School of Arts and Sciences.

Anglin recruited 348 undergraduate psychology students for the study. The students, with an average age of 18, completed a survey about their current beliefs on the soul and afterlife, as well as their beliefs on both at the age of 10. What she found was that their explicit beliefs - or what they said they believed now - did not match their implicit beliefs. Instead, their implicit beliefs were more in line with what they believed as children.

Even when comparing implicit belief systems by religious affiliation, including believers and non-believers, Anglin found no difference. "That suggests that implicit beliefs are equally strong among religious and non-religious people," she said.

Feeling down? Melancholy tunes can have beneficial emotional effects

Participants in the study revealed that most of the sad songs they listen to are slow in tempo and some of the most popular titles chosen, included: Beethoven’s Midnight Sonata, Ah Bing’s Moon Reflected in the Second Spring and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Mr Barber is pictured left and Beethoven is illustrated right.
  • Researchers at the Free University of Berlin discovered that nostalgia rather than sadness is the most frequent emotion evoked by sad music
  • Melancholy music can improve a person's emotional wellbeing, they said
  • People experience more than three emotions when listening to sad songs
  • Most of us choose to listen to sad music when feeling lonely or distressed
Turn up those tearjerkers and dig out your Radiohead albums, because scientists claim that melancholy music can actually lift your spirits. A new study has revealed that listening to sad songs can improve a person's emotional well-being as well as make us feel at peace and nostalgic.

It found that most people experience more than three emotions when listening to sad songs, which provoke a more complex reaction than happy pop songs.

Music and brain researchers Liila Taruffi and Stefan Koelsch, of the Free University of Berlin, surveyed 722 people across the globe to understand how often they listen to miserable tracks and how they feel at the time. 'For many individuals, listening to sad music can actually lead to beneficial emotional effects,' they wrote in their study, which is published in the journal Plos One. 'Music-evoked sadness can be appreciated not only as an aesthetic, abstract reward, but [it] also plays a role in well-being, by providing consolation as well as regulating negative moods and emotions.'

The study says that sad music stirs up a mixture of complex and 'partially positive' emotions, including nostalgia, peacefulness, tenderness, transcendence, and wonder, Pacific Standard reported. 'Results show four different rewards of music-evoked sadness: reward of imagination, emotion regulation, empathy, and no "real-life" implications,' the study says. Surprisingly, nostalgia rather than sadness is the most frequent emotion evoked by sad music. Nostalgia was the most common emotion experienced by listeners in Europe and the US, while people in Asia mostly reported feeling a peace.

Comment: See also:
  • Music as medicine for your brain

Try it for yourself! Above are some renditions of the pieces used in the study.