Science of the Spirit

Magic Wand

Our model of the world gives us the capacity for wonder

The awe and wonder of childhood
My son recently asked me if it was possible that we lived on a speck of dust in a much larger universe. He explained that he had just watched Horton Hears a Who again and it had him thinking. I, ever eager to promote the impossible, said I don't see why not. And he walked about blissfully conjuring the possibilities.

What is it about fantastic speculation that makes it so compelling a past time? Many of us read science fiction, or watch documentaries about aspects of our world that we will never experience, and yet we love it. We love to hear that there may be parallel universes or ways to go back in time. I recently read an article (link is external) in National Geographic magazine that argued that we may live in the center of a black hole, created in a multiverse, where black holes that experience just the right conditions expand into universes like our own—as if they were flowers. I felt like I had taken mescal after reading that article. I walked around for a week just smiling at everything.

But why?

To my knowledge, no other species cares if we live inside or outside of a blackhole. No other species considers it interesting that quantum probability requires something to collapse the wave function (like consciousness) or else that there are many worlds, infinite and ever increasing parallel universes in which every possibility happens. All of these theories are like drugs—like mind-expanding mushrooms that open Huxley's doors of perception. They each carry with them such a fantastic vision of reality that we are forced to rethink our place in the universe and thereby the limits of who we are as individuals, as a species, and as life itself.

What is it that makes this capacity for wonder possible?

The answer lies in part in how we understand ourselves.

Comment: As our model of the world and our self-conception is linked, it becomes clearer that if we want to have a more valid picture of ourselves and the world we inhabit, we need to be willing to keep learning throughout our lives. That includes being willing to seek out truth, questioning the world view we have been presented with by our families and culture, and to be able to look at ourselves daily and understand our own psychological processes. We may find that our world is quite different than we imagine - and that knowledge can be life-changing.


Rumination makes bad events feel closer

© John Gomez/iStockphoto
How do emotions affect our psychological sense of time?
Ruminating about something bad that happened to you can make it feel like the event happened 'just yesterday', say researchers.

Their new study gives insight into a concept known as 'psychological distance', and could help in the treatment of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

"If you're constantly having intrusive unwanted thoughts about an emotional event it really makes it feel like it's just happened yesterday, or last week," says research team member, Dr Tom Denson of the University of New South Wales' School of Psychology.

Previous research has found that when we remember events or places that are associated with particular feelings we experience them as having a certain psychological distance.

"Depending on our emotional state we tend to see things as either closer or further away," says Denson.

For example a country which is home to enemies we fear may seem closer than it actually is.

But how do emotions affect our psychological sense of time?


Two personality traits for men and women that contribute to a longer lifespan

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Men with conscientious personality traits and those who are open to experience live longer, a new study finds. For women, those who are more agreeable and emotionally stable enjoy a longer life.

The kicker is that it's your friends — not you — who are better at judging these personality traits from the outside.

The results, published in the journal Psychological Science, come from one of the longest studies in history, spanning 75 years (Jackson et al., 2015).

Dr Joshua Jackson, the study's first author, said:
"You expect your friends to be inclined to see you in a positive manner, but they also are keen observers of the personality traits that could send you to an early grave."
The researchers used data from research that began in the 1930s, following a group of couples then in their mid-20s.

Almost all were about to be married and tests of their personality traits were conducted on the engaged couples and their friends also reported on the couple's personalities.

Comment: The comment from the study's author that our friends see us more objectively that we do falls in line with current cognitive science. It's similar to the fascinating insight shown in Timothy Wilson's book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious.

Book 2

Writing your way to happiness by editing your personal narratives

The scientific research on the benefits of so-called expressive writing is surprisingly vast. Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person's health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.

Now researchers are studying whether the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.

The concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn't get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.

It may sound like self-help nonsense, but research suggests the effects are real.

Comment: See also:

Black Magic

Yoga and other New Age practises lead to the Dark Side, says Irish priest


Calling down Satanic forces in the Belly of the Beast?
Fr. Roland Colhoun, who is based in the Waterside, issued caution when saying mass in Drumsurn two Sundays ago, when he says he was drafted in at short notice. He said his sermon was based on the devil and exorcism.
"I mentioned a number of things that are part of the new age movement. It's so embedded in our culture now that it has gained a kind of a respectability, but the new age practices, they're certainly not good for us and the Church is very concerned about people employing them and has written specific documents on the new age movement. There is a great body of research (theological, spiritual and physiological) already done on it."
Fr. Colhoun said he mentioned yoga and Indian head massage. "The Indian head massage, while I haven't done a great study into it, the difficulty is that it involves the laying on of hands on another person's head. There is a risk when you do that because that is a rite we use in the sacramental practice for the communication of the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation, and ordination as well," said Fr Colhoun, "but if you do that outside of a sacramental rite you're running the risk of communicating a bad spirit, not the Holy Spirit."


Basic distinctions between criminal sociopaths and psychopaths

Many forensic psychologists, psychiatrists and criminologists use the terms sociopathy and psychopathy interchangeably. Leading experts disagree on whether there are meaningful differences between the two conditions. I contend that there are clear and significant distinctions between them.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), released by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013, lists both sociopathy and psychopathy under the heading of Antisocial Personality Disorders (ASPD). These disorders share many common behavioral traits which lead to the confusion between them. Key traits that sociopaths and psychopaths share include:
  • A disregard for laws and social mores
  • A disregard for the rights of others
  • A failure to feel remorse or guilt
  • A tendency to display violent behavior
In addition to their commonalities, sociopaths and psychopaths also have their own unique behavioral characteristics, as well.

Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage. They are likely to be uneducated and live on the fringes of society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place for very long. It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. Many sociopaths are able to form an attachment to a particular individual or group, although they have no regard for society in general or its rules. In the eyes of others, sociopaths will appear to be very disturbed. Any crimes committed by a sociopath, including murder, will tend to be haphazard, disorganized and spontaneous rather than planned.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people's trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature.

Comment: Psychopathy is untreatable. According to the experts, they are politicians, judges, church leaders, doctors, even teachers. To understand the suffering caused worldwide by these human-like beings, see:


Spotting the sociopath in your midst

© unknown
They always know how to get what they want from you. They know your weaknesses better than anyone, even yourself. They can always turn a no into a yes, and they don't seem particularly concerned with laws, safety, or right and wrong. They're the most predatory members of our society, and they'll take what they want, and hang you out to dry.

They're also a bit more complicated than all that.

In recent years, the term "sociopath" has become a loaded word. Uttering it creates an immediate knee jerk response in the listener, and for anyone who doesn't have any real world experience with a sociopath, hearing that word probably brings to mind a barrage of Hollywood villains, cop shows, and serial killers. Unfortunately, the media's portrayal of this mental condition couldn't be further from the truth.

Comment: It's best to cut off all contact with the psychopath, but first one must know how to identify them. For more on sociopaths and psychopaths see: There is also Robert Hare's books Without Conscience and Snakes in Suits as well as Martha Stout's The Sociopath Next Door.

Life Preserver

Learning to silence critical self-talk

Self-nurturing means, above all, making a commitment to self-compassion. - Jennifer Louden
When does your internal critic show up? Is it when you spill your coffee? When you forget to buy the bread? When you speak too harshly to your children? Is it when you made the C when you were striving for the A, or is it when you didn't get invited to the party?

There are many opportunities for the internal critic to sneak in and remind you of your faults, your failures and your frailties. For some, the internal critic appears with such regularity that it does its dirty work unnoticed. Anything we experience regularly tends to drop out of our awareness. We don't usually notice our breathing, our eyes blinking or the sensation of the shoes on our feet because those things happen to us all the time.

Comment: Self-criticism and perfectionism can become so habitual, that we fail to notice the continual stream of negative thoughts that slowly undermine our being. Learning to notice these thoughts and talk back to that critical 'parent' is more important than many people realize as our very lives might be at stake.

To learn more about self-critical thinking and 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.

People 2

Luke Ruehlman, aged two: I was a woman called Pam in a past life

© Screengrab/Fox 2
An internet search revealed a woman called Pam did die in a fire.
When Luke Ruehlman began talking about a woman named Pam, his mother Erica assumed it was just an imaginary friend.

She had no idea where her toddler son had picked up the name or why he was so obsessed with it.

The Ohio woman said she initially didn't think it was strange, other than the fact that the family didn't know any Pams.

But things became really strange when she quizzed him about where he had got the name from and why he liked it.

The then-two-year-old told his parents he used to be Pam, a girl with black hair, he said.


Human communication slants towards the positive across multiple languages and many modes

Billions of words analysed in 10 world languages and this mood keeps shining through.

Across multiple languages and in many modes — movie subtitles, music lyrics, Russian literature — human communication skews towards the positive, a new study finds.

Scientists have gathered billions of words from Korean Twitter feeds, Arabic movie subtitles, The New York Times and much more to try and answer an age-old question about whether human beings tend to talk more about the brighter side of life.