Science of the Spirit


Countering the excuses that prevent us from making life changes

The mind is a wonderful thing.

It's also a complete liar that constantly tries to convince us not to take actions we know are good for us, and stops many great changes in our lives.

Scumbag mind.

I've had to learn to watch these rationalizations and excuses very carefully, in order to make the changes I've made in my life: a healthier diet, regular exercise, meditation, minimalism, writing daily, getting out of debt, quitting smoking, and so on.

If I hadn't learned these excuses, and how to counter them, I would never have stuck to these changes. In fact, I failed many times before 2005 (when I started changing my life), because these excuses had complete power over me.

Let's expose the cowardly mind's excuses and rationalizations once and for all.

First, the main principle: the mind wants comfort, and is afraid of discomfort and change. The mind is used to its comfort cocoon, and anytime we try to push beyond that comfort zone very far or for very long, the mind tries desperately to get back into the cocoon. At any cost, including our long-term health and happiness.


The common regrets of the terminally ill

Priorities become crystal clear when people know their days are numbered, Bronnie Ware realised while working with terminally ill patients. She shares the five most common regrets the dying have.
For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone's capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them


Defining intelligence: What Killer Whales can teach us

The following is an adapted excerpt from Dave Neiwert's new book, Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us (Overlook Press, 2015).

© Unkown
Orcas live a dream of man. They soar effortlessly, free of gravity, like birds or fairies through the air, gliding above the landscape and observing it from far above. Men have had this dream for as long as they have dreamed. It is why one of their greatest inventions is a machine that lets them fly. It is why, when we create a mythological ideal of a human and call him Superman, one of his chief attributes is that he can fly with grace and ease, as though gravity does not exist for him.

That describes the ethereal daily life of killer whales: gliding sylphlike through their element, their large pectoral fins spread like wings, soaring above the canyons and cliffs of the ocean floor, swooping and diving weightlessly at their leisure, with intelligent minds that rule over all they survey.


Consciousness is far less powerful than previously thought: New study reveals

© Waking Times
Associate Professor of Psychology Ezequiel Morsella's "Passive Frame Theory" suggests that the conscious mind is like an interpreter helping speakers of different languages communicate.

"The interpreter presents the information but is not the one making any arguments or acting upon the knowledge that is shared," Morsella said. "Similarly, the information we perceive in our consciousness is not created by conscious processes, nor is it reacted to by conscious processes. Consciousness is the middle-man, and it doesn't do as much work as you think."

Morsella and his coauthors' groundbreaking theory, published online on June 22 by the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, contradicts intuitive beliefs about human consciousness and the notion of self.

Consciousness, per Morsella's theory, is more reflexive and less purposeful than conventional wisdom would dictate. Because the human mind experiences its own consciousness as sifting through urges, thoughts, feelings and physical actions, people understand their consciousness to be in control of these myriad impulses. But in reality, Morsella argues, consciousness does the same simple task over and over, giving the impression that it is doing more than it actually is.

Comment: Suggested readings:


Near-death experiences change the brain

© Patrick Bernath/CNW/Air Transat
Meleni Tesic, flight director, First officer Dirk De Jager and Capt,. Robert Piche hold a news conference in Montreal four days after their plane crash-landed in the Azores in August, 2001.
On Aug. 24, 2001, Air Transat Flight 236, bound for Lisbon from Toronto, rain out of fuel over the ocean. For 30 minutes, the 306 passengers and crew on board lived with the realization that their plane could crash — and they could all die.

The plane eventually crash-landed in the Azores and all survived (80 were hospitalized), but the experience became seared in the survivors' brains.

Now brain imaging shows the trauma literally changed the survivors' brains.

Brain imaging of eight of those passengers, conducted nine years later, revealed the memories of that terrifying experience remained crystal clear and lit up distinct areas of the brain related to memory, emotion and visual processing.

The event also appears to have heightened their reactions to other negative life events.

This traumatic incident still haunts passengers regardless of whether they have PTSD or not," lead researcher Daniela Palombo, a post-doctoral researcher at the Boston University School of Medicine, told the Toronto Star.

"They remember the event as though it happened yesterday, when in fact it happened almost a decade ago (at the time of the scans)."

The neuroimaging study — believed to be the first examination of a group of people who all experienced the same trauma — was published online in the journal Clinical Psychological Science (CPS)

"Research on highly traumatic memory relies on animal studies, where brain responses to fear can be experimentally manipulated and observed," Brian Levine, senior scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, and senior author on the paper, said in a press release. "Thanks to the passengers who volunteered, we were able to examine the human brain's response to traumatic memory at a degree of vividness that is generally impossible to attain."


Reliance on culture and social learning main determinant of human behavior and can persist in lineages for millennia

© Wikimedia Commons
Why do people in different parts of the world eat different foods? Two ASU researchers have found social learning is responsible.
For more than a century, scientists have debated why people in different parts of the world eat different foods, follow different social norms and believe in different origin stories.

Is the variation in behavior a result of the environments that we have inhabited or the effect of cultural history and traditions that may have persisted over millennia?

At stake is understanding whether human uniqueness is driven by our large brains and intelligence, allowing us to adapt to different environments, or by our unprecedented reliance on social learning or culture.

In research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, ASU researchers Sarah Mathew and Charles Perreault find that the main determinant of human behavior is social learning, which is contrary to established assumptions of current thinking in cognitive sciences, psychology and human behavioral ecology.

"Because humans are an unusually smart species, it is tempting to think that individuals figure out on their own the stuff they need to live in different environments," Mathew said. "But we show that humans do much of what they do because it's how their parent generation did it."


May the force be with you: Researchers find evidence of human bioenergy field

© Mike McHolm/Flickr
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.

Biochemist John Norman Hansen, Ph.D., at the University of Maryland has found evidence of what he believes is a bioenergy field around humans. Such a field has been speculated about and alluded to in spiritual traditions for thousands of years, but now scientific investigation has indicated such a field does exist.

Dr. Hansen conducted hundreds of experiments with dozens of subjects, and his results are consistently replicable. Other scientists have also replicated his results, including Willem H. van den Berg of the department of biochemistry and biophysics at the Johnson Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and physicist William van der Sluys at Gettysburg College, who published their study in the Journal of Scientific Exploration on March 15.

2 + 2 = 4

Mood disorders: More alike than distinct?

Patients with bipolar disorder (BP) and those with major depressive disorder (MDD) may have more in common than previously thought, new research suggests.

These patient groups performed similarly on a cognitive task, and both groups were slower and less accurate than healthy control participants.

2 + 2 = 4

The powerful opportunities that come with making a mistake

Just as it is human nature to make mistakes, it is human nature to beat yourself up afterwards. Of course, this does not mean this is productive way to cope. A human's imperfect nature makes it easy to feel regret for things we have done and makes us more susceptible to feelings of shame and guilt.

There's just one thing you must always remember; your mistakes do not define you. One of the best ways to overcome the feelings of shame and guilt that often accompany a mistake is to look at them as opportunity for learning and growth. Let's examine the eight reasons why mistakes are actually opportunities.


Children have an innate sense of restorative justice

© RobHainer/iStockphoto
Children as young as three show a natural inclination towards restorative justice fed by a strong concern over the welfare of victims, say researchers.

A new study, published today in Current Biology, reveals three and five-year-olds are sensitive to harm to others and given a choice would rather restore things to help the victim than punish the perpetrator.

The researchers say the findings, based on experiments with 112 three-year-olds and 79 five-year-olds in Germany, provide insights into the roots of justice in human society.

Previous studies have shown children are more likely to share with a puppet that helps another individual than with one who behaves badly.

They also prefer to see punishment delivered to a doll that deserves it than one that doesn't. By the age of six, children will pay a price to punish fictional and real peers. Preschoolers can also be encouraged with threats of punishment to behave more generously.