Science of the Spirit


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Human brain subliminally judges 'trustworthiness' of faces

© Ronald Grant Archive
People associate features such as a furrowed brow with untrustworthiness.
The human brain can judge the apparent trustworthiness of a face from a glimpse so fleeting, the person has no idea they have seen it, scientists claim.

Researchers in the US found that brain activity changed in response to how trustworthy a face appeared to be when the face in question had not been consciously perceived.

Scientists made the surprise discovery during a series of experiments that were designed to shed light on the the neural processes that underpin the snap judgments people make about others.

The findings suggest that parts of our brains are doing more complex subconscious processing of the outside world than many researchers thought.

Jonathan Freeman at New York University said the results built on previous work that shows "we form spontaneous judgments of other people that can be largely outside awareness."

The study focused on the activity of the amygdala, a small almond-shaped region deep inside the brain. The amygdala is intimately involved with processing strong emotions, such as fear. Its central nucleus sends out the signals responsible for the famous and evolutionarily crucial "fight-or-flight" response.

True story: Native american awakes from war trauma speaking Russian, paints like dead Russian artist


Right: Russian painter Vassily Kandinsky (1866–1944). (Wikimedia Commons) Image of a soldier's silhouette via Thinkstock and image of a tunnel via Shutterstock
The universe is full of mysteries that challenge our current knowledge. In "Beyond Science" Epoch Times collects stories about these strange phenomena to stimulate the imagination and open up previously undreamed of possibilities. Are they true? You decide.

David Paladin's true story is one so full of hardship, perseverance, and metaphysical mystery, that it has captured the imagination of many over the past 70 years.

"Have you ever heard a story so powerful that it reverberated loudly through your interior landscape? Or it stopped you cold in your tracks and made you think - hard - about your life? I did in 1994, and it's still with me today," wrote Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D., in a post, referring to Paladin's story told to her by author Caroline Myss. "For weeks and weeks after attending a professional conference where I first heard this story, I told everyone I encountered this tale. And I mean everyone."
Snakes in Suits

Can one simple question identify narcissistic people?

© Credit: © lunamarina / Fotolia
Scientists have developed and validated a new method to identify which people are narcissistic: just ask them.
Scientists have developed and validated a new method to identify which people are narcissistic: just ask them.

In a series of 11 experiments involving more than 2,200 people of all ages, the researchers found they could reliably identify narcissistic people by asking them this exact question (including the note):

To what extent do you agree with this statement: "I am a narcissist." (Note: The word "narcissist" means egotistical, self-focused, and vain.)

Participants rated themselves on a scale of 1 (not very true of me) to 7 (very true of me).

(How narcissistic are you? Take the test here.)

Results showed that people's answer to this question lined up very closely with several other validated measures of narcissism, including the widely used Narcissistic Personality Inventory.

Comment: To become more informed on the subject of narcissism read:

Narcissism Victim Syndrome - a new diagnosis?

You can also review the following articles to gain a better understanding of the 'nature of the beast':

5 things you didn't know about Narcissistic personality disorders
Do Narcissists Dislike Themselves "Deep Down Inside"?
Hurting you isn't something narcissists do by accident

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Using brainwaves to predict audience reaction is a marketer's dream

© Thinkstock
A study conducted at the City College of New York (CCNY) in partnership with Georgia Tech looks to have found a highly reliable way to predict audience reaction to TV shows and commercials. The method involves studying the brainwaves of only a few individuals as they watch the content. According to the researchers, these observations of brain activity reflect with considerable accuracy how larger audiences will respond to the same content.

In the Nature Communications study, researchers explain how they analyzed the brainwaves of sixteen people who were connected to EEG electrodes as they watched mainstream television productions - namely scenes from The Walking Dead series and several commercials from the 2012 and 2013 Super Bowls.

The main indicator of engaging and appealing content was that different people's brains responded in the same way upon viewing. When similar brain activity was noted, it was when watching something that had a record of being popular with audiences based on social media data provided by the Harmony Institute and ratings from USA Today's Super Bowl Ad Meter. For example, very similar brainwaves were observed in participants as they watched a 2012 Budweiser commercial that featured a dog that fetched beer.

The public had previously voted the ad as their second favorite that year. On the flip side, there was much less "brain agreement" when those taking part saw a GoDaddy commercial featuring a kissing couple, which rated among the worst ads in 2012. The accuracy with which the method could predict reaction to Super Bowl commercials was put at an impressive ninety percent.
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The DIY neuroenhancers hacking their brains with electricity

Brain Simulation_2
© Motherboard
The discussion around neuroenhancement, especially the kind you might be able to try at home, has largely centred around brain-boosting chemicals. But smart drugs aren't the only way that more intrepid transhumanists are trying to spur their cognitive function.

On Tuesday night, I went along to meet a few neuroenchancement enthusiasts at London Hackspace, where they introduced me to their homebrew variety of a method of brain stimulation called transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS. This experimental technique applies a small electrical current to your head to try to stimulate certain areas of your brain. It's literally an attempt to jolt your neurons into firing.

I came across Dirk Bruere on a transhumanist subreddit, where he posted about the meeting. He explained in an email that he was trying to get a group together, ultimately to look into "less mainstream stuff like low intensity patterned magnetic fields, cold laser stimulation and the effects of modulated IR and microwaves," but that he'd bring his homemade tDCS kit along that evening.

The equipment was very simple; Bruere said part of the point was to show how cheap and easy it could be. Two wires came out of a black box with an LED and a tempting big red button. On the end of the red wire was an anode, on the end of a blue a cathode. Two small sponge pads fit the copper electrodes, and were soaked in salt water before being applied to the user's head. A Nike sweatband held them in place.

The mind gap: theories that seek to explain consciousness

© Credit: agsandrew/
Probably for as long as humans have been able to grasp the concept of consciousness, they have sought to understand the phenomenon.

Studying the mind was once the province of philosophers, some of whom still believe the subject is inherently unknowable. But neuroscientists are making strides in developing a true science of the self.

Here are some of the best contenders for a theory of consciousness.

Comment: For more on the subject of consciousness and information theory and related phenomena, read Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk's new book, Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.


Oldest medical report of near-death experience discovered

Anecdotes de Médecine
© - Book contributor: Fisher - University of Toronto. Digitizing sponsored by University of Ottawa
Cover of the book Anecdotes de Médecine, by Pierre-Jean du Monchaux (1733-1766).
Reports of people having "near-death" experiences go back to antiquity, but the oldest medical description of the phenomenon may come from a French physician around 1740, a researcher has found.

The report was written by Pierre-Jean du Monchaux, a military physician from northern France, who described a case of near-death experience in his book Anecdotes de Médecine. Monchaux speculated that too much blood flow to the brain could explain the mystical feelings people report after coming back to consciousness.

The description was recently found by Dr. Phillippe Charlier, a medical doctor and archeologist, who is well known in France for his forensic work on the remains of historical figures. Charlier unexpectedly discovered the medical description in a book he had bought for 1 euro (a little more than $1) in an antique shop.

Stress hormones promote brain's building of negative memories

Arizona State University researcher Sabrina Segal and her colleagues measured salivary alpha-amylase to chart the levels of the brain neurotransmitter norepinephrine.

Credit: Public domain
When a person experiences a devastating loss or tragic event, why does every detail seem burned into memory; whereas, a host of positive experiences simply fade away?

It's a bit more complicated than scientists originally thought, according to a study recently published in the journal Neuroscience by Arizona State University researcher Sabrina Segal.

When people experience a traumatic event, the body releases two major stress hormones: norepinephrine and cortisol. Norepinephrine boosts heart rate and controls the fight-or-flight response, commonly rising when individuals feel threatened or experience highly emotional reactions. It is chemically similar to the hormone epinephrine -- better known as adrenaline.

In the brain, norepinephrine in turn functions as a powerful neurotransmitter or chemical messenger that can enhance memory.

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Science of out of body experiences

© Dreamstime
Hyderabad -Daljeet (name changed) remembers "everything" about the accident 20 years ago. There was his bike, the car that had screeched to a stop ahead of him and that sickening moment he went headlong into glass and metal.

"I have never been able to properly describe what happened that night. I have, however, recounted the story at least 5,000 times to friends, family and experts. Seconds after the crash, I felt myself floating into a sleep... I guess my body had given up. And then suddenly, I was hovering a few feet away from the scene and looking at the crowd - no smell, no breathing but surrounded by throbbing lights and a strange humming.

Doctors would later say the glass from the car had blinded me and that my head and neck had taken a massive jolt rendering me unconscious. But I still remember the face of the man who had first pulled me out, him screaming, Usko uthao, usko uthao, and my torn blue shirt. Two months later, I surprised my mother with the details of the accident and that's when it occurred to me, I was outside my body for maybe a minute. I was also able to vividly describe my rescuers and as the years passed, my descriptions went from family discussions to at least 10 counselling sessions."

But Daljeet believes that just one of his therapists may have really paid any attention to his story.

"The others claimed my brain had simply gone into this 'safe mode' to protect itself and me. They said it was a natural reaction; but what about those faces, the model of the ambulance vehicle...what about those details? I would like to believe it was an experience, a moment of clarity in which I was between worlds."

Then, there's the case presented by a leading surgeon from Hyderabad.

"During one of the several surgeries I've had over the years, a nurse happened to comment on the body of one of the patients on the operating table. She said she was 'fat' and that it was getting increasingly difficult to manoeuver amidst all the flab. There's no possible way the patient could've heard the comment, but two days later, following recovery, I walked into a massive argument between staff and the patient and we had to apologise. It was the strangest thing. How did a patient, breathing through a machine, with her chest open, hear a whisper?"