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Tue, 26 Mar 2019
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Loneliness is bad for the brain

Loneliness is bad for the brain
© RawPixel/iStock
Mice yanked out of their community and held in solitary isolation show signs of brain damage.

After a month of being alone, the mice had smaller nerve cells in certain parts of the brain. Other brain changes followed, scientists reported at a news briefing November 4 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

It's not known whether similar damage happens in the brains of isolated humans. If so, the results have implications for the health of people who spend much of their time alone, including the estimated tens of thousands of inmates in solitary confinement in the United States and elderly people in institutionalized care facilities.

The new results, along with other recent brain studies, clearly show that for social species, isolation is damaging, says neurobiologist Huda Akil of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "There is no question that this is changing the basic architecture of the brain," Akil says.

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The 'hard problem' of consciousness - Could consciousness all come down to the way things vibrate?

© agsandrew/Shutterstock
What do synchronized vibrations add to the mind/body question?
Why is my awareness here, while yours is over there? Why is the universe split in two for each of us, into a subject and an infinity of objects? How is each of us our own center of experience, receiving information about the rest of the world out there? Why are some things conscious and others apparently not? Is a rat conscious? A gnat? A bacterium?

These questions are all aspects of the ancient "mind-body problem," which asks, essentially: What is the relationship between mind and matter? It's resisted a generally satisfying conclusion for thousands of years.

The mind-body problem enjoyed a major rebranding over the last two decades. Now it's generally known as the "hard problem" of consciousness, after philosopher David Chalmers coined this term in a now classic paper and further explored it in his 1996 book, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.

Chalmers thought the mind-body problem should be called "hard" in comparison to what, with tongue in cheek, he called the "easy" problems of neuroscience: How do neurons and the brain work at the physical level? Of course they're not actually easy at all. But his point was that they're relatively easy compared to the truly difficult problem of explaining how consciousness relates to matter.

Over the last decade, my colleague, University of California, Santa Barbara psychology professor Jonathan Schooler and I have developed what we call a "resonance theory of consciousness." We suggest that resonance - another word for synchronized vibrations - is at the heart of not only human consciousness but also animal consciousness and of physical reality more generally. It sounds like something the hippies might have dreamed up - it's all vibrations, man! - but stick with me.


Vacation is a poor substitute for leisure


For many of us, rest in the historical sense—the active version—is only imaginable after a lifetime of work, in retirement.
More than two thousand years ago, the Roman stoic philosopher Seneca wrote a letter to his friend Paulinus, urging against a certain type of rest:
I do not summon you to slothful or idle inaction, or to drown all your native energy in slumbers and the pleasures that are dear to the crowd.

That is not to rest;
To the stoics rest and leisure were active pursuits. Rest did not mean, as it often does today, vacation, days off, or a day or two spent catching up on sleep.

For many of us, rest in the historical sense-the active version-is only imaginable after a lifetime of work, in retirement. And even then, many who retire and find themselves filled with the anxiety that they must "do something" and may only slowly discover the type of contemplation, leisure, and mindfulness that was the accepted definition of rest for centuries.


What is that weird head sensation called ASMR?

© 123vid
Many people experience Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), a relaxing sensation often triggered by gentle whispering which creates a "low-grade euphoria" characterized by "a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin. We are finally working out what it is and that it can be good for you.

The phenomenon first came to people's attention in 2007, in an online forum thread titled "weird sensation feels good". Many names were suggested, notably "attention-induced head orgasm" -- a misnomer because the feeling is not as sudden or short-lived as an orgasm, and is distinct from sexual arousal.

The term that stuck was coined in 2010 by cybersecurity expert Jennifer Allen: "autonomous sensory meridian response", or ASMR. She wanted something that represented the key elements of the sensation, but that sounded scientific, so people wouldn't be embarrassed to talk about it. It worked: those who experience the phenomenon are now a thriving online community. For instance, the ASMR subreddit has about 165,000 subscribers. The sensation has been popularised by pharmacologist Craig Richard of Shenandoah University in Virginia, who set up the website ASMR University.

"A lot of people said 'woah, I thought I was the only one who experienced this'"


Feeling lonely and depressed? Decrease your use of social media

subway passengers
© Reuters / Lucas Jackson
A University of Pennsylvania study has proven that reducing social media use to 10 minutes a day (like that's even possible) can help reduce depression and loneliness.

Feeling depressed, lonely, disconnected? A new study from the University of Pennsylvania suggests prolonged exposure to social media might be the cause - which for some will come as little surprise, even though it seems to be the exact opposite of what social networks are supposed to do.

While similar studies have been conducted in the past, the researchers at Penn say that none have attempted to show in such a comprehensive and realistic way how social media use can actively harm a user's well-being. The study entitled "No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression" was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

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SOTT Logo Radio

The Truth Perspective: Insight, Or Why It's Not Just Your Boss Who Lacks Self-Awareness

If you're like almost everyone else, you think you're special: smarter than average, kinder than average, more attractive, a better driver than most, ahead of the curve in your profession, and self-aware too. But chances are you're wrong. The vast majority of people think they're self-aware: they think they know themselves and how they appear to others. But the vast majority are wrong: self-awareness is a relatively rare skill. A small minority seem born with it, a slightly larger minority have learned it. But luckily, despite your likely lack of self-awareness, you too can learn it. It'll just take some effort - and some intense discomfort.

This is the subject of Tasha Eurich's recent book, Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, And Why The Answers Matter More Than We Think. Today on the Truth Perspective we discuss Eurich's book, the insights she shares, and some of the tools that are proven to work to help us raise our self-awareness, and thus help us succeed in our jobs and relationships.

Running Time: 01:32:15

Download: MP3


Peter Hitchens reviews philosopher John Gray: An atheist who rebukes banal atheists

john gray

John Gray
Seven Types of Atheism
By John Gray
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018)

This is a justifiably testy book, by an atheist about atheists. Perhaps it means that the long and lucrative fashion for books about how God does not exist, and how God is simultaneously hateful and wicked, is over. Since John Gray is a capable thinker, knowledgeable about philosophy and a respecter of facts, the recent outburst of arguments for and even about atheism, presented as if they were fresh discoveries, must have struck him as thin. As he himself says, atheism does not really amount to very much. It is just an absence, even if it is a willful one. There is no Gospel of Godlessness, as such, no anti-scripture to which the unbeliever may turn for guidance or solace.

Yet Professor Gray is chilly toward conventional Western religious belief, seeing it as confining rather than liberating. He thinks that by stepping outside monotheism altogether some have "found freedom and fulfilment." Such people are "not looking for cosmic meaning" and so are "content with the world as they found it." Are they? Is he? How odd if so. He writes, with what looks like scorn for the Abrahamic faiths, that "religion is universal, whereas monotheism is a local cult."


Perfection at any cost?

© Kevin Lamarque
A trait that's often seen as good can actually be destructive. Here's how to combat it.

When the psychologist Jessica Pryor lived near an internationally renowned university, she once saw a student walking into a library holding a sleeping bag and a coffee maker.

She's heard of grad students spending 12 to 18 hours at a time in the lab. Their schedules are meant to be literally punishing: If they're scientists-in-training, they won't allow themselves to watch Netflix until their experiments start generating results. "Relationships become estranged-people stop inviting them to things, which leads them to spend even more time in the lab," Pryor told me.

Along with other therapists, Pryor, who is now with the Family Institute at Northwestern University, is trying to sound the alarm about a tendency among young adults and college students to strive for perfection in their work-sometimes at any cost. Though it is often portrayed as a positive trait-a clever response to the "greatest weaknesses" question during job interviews, for instance-Pryor and others say extreme perfectionism can lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation.

Comment: What's driving young peoples' obsession with perfection?


Douglas Murray in conversation with Jordan Peterson

murray peterson
This is a wide ranging and thought-provoking conversation between Jordan Peterson and Douglas Murray on the veracity and usefulness (as well as the dangers) of IQ testing, and where the Left and Right 'go wrong', thus contributing to the polarization of Western society.

Check out unherd.com

Snow Globe

The pursuit in 'interestingness': Giving goals a fluidity that can accommodate new information

woman dreaming, hyperdimensional
The late physicist Richard Feynman famously won a Nobel Prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics. But here's something most people don't know about him: He was also a world-class safecracker.

In the 1940s, in the New Mexico Desert, Feynman was bored while working on the Manhattan project that would birth the atomic bomb. Naturally, then, he decided to occupy himself by pulling pranks on his colleagues.

Knowing that most of them were relatively careless when dealing with the safes that stored top secret documents - whether forgetting to lock them, or leaving them on factory settings, or choosing obvious dates as their codes - he began leaving notes in the place of their work like:
"I borrowed document no. LA4312 - Feynman the safecracker."
Eventually, he got so good at it that the Colonel in charge of his unit began advising people that if Feynman had been anywhere near their safe, it was a part of their job to change their combination lock once more.

This story is one of many stories Feynman tells in his autobiography Surely, You're Joking Mr. Feynman!, where his playful nature gets the better out of both him and his attention.