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Sat, 25 May 2019
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Are memories reliable? Expert explains how they change more than we realize


Tiny mistakes can appear in our memories every time we recall past events.
Your memory probably isn't as good as you think it is. We rely on our memories not only for sharing stories with friends or learning from our past experiences, but we also use it for crucial things like creating a sense of personal identity. Yet evidence shows that our memory isn't as consistent as we'd like to believe. What's worse, we're often guilty of changing the facts and adding false details to our memories without even realising.

To understand a bit about how remembering works, consider the "telephone game" (also known as "Chinese whispers"). In the game, one person quietly whispers a message to the person beside them, who then passes it on to the next person in line, and so on. Each time the message is relayed, some parts might be misheard or misunderstood, others might get innocently altered, improved, or forgotten. Over time the message can become very different from the original.


The vagus nerve - How inflammation can be controlled by the brain

vagus nerve
I read an article yesterday that has me extremely excited about the implications. The article is called "Hacking the Nervous System" by Gaia Vince. In the article, the author describes the experience of a woman who suffered from severe, debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and her eventual treatment with a device which minimized inflammation by simply stimulating the vagus nerve. What this means is that by activating the vagus nerve which works through the parasympathetic nervous system we can greatly influence inflammation and the immune system. The role of the brain on body inflammation can be profound. If you suffer from digestive complaints, high blood pressure, depression or any inflammatory condition, please read on. Let me explain the possible implications step by step.

Comment: For a comprehensive breathing and meditation program specifically designed for vagus nerve stimulation visit the Éiriú Eolas site. Learn more about the scientific background of this program and then try it out, free of charge.

See also:

Light Saber

Sometimes it's better to deflect those awkward Christmas conversations

Christmas would be great if we just agreed not to talk at all

Christmas dinner
© L. Willinger/FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"Now here's the thing with the Irish backstop..."
Christmas holidays can be wonderful - time off work, eating yourself into a stupor, drinking for no reason - but it's also when you're most likely to run into awkward conversations about politics, your love life, or everything in between.

"Everyone is tired, and it's the end of the year, and we're quite emotional," says clinical psychologist and columnist Linda Blair. "If you're spending the holidays with people you're related to - you know, you can love people without liking them - and it's busy and you're travelling, everything can just get aggravated."

It may sound dire (and very familiar), and sometimes you just want to avoid the questions, but there are a couple of key tricks that you can use to keep conversation from going downhill too rapidly. So avoid another long argument about whether millenials are selfish, or whether Brexit is good for the country, with our expert Christmas conversation tips.

Comment: See also: The art of navigating family during the holidays

Gift 2

Joy from giving outlives joy from getting

2 womengift
© unknown
In this season of giving and getting, the findings are in. It is more blessed to give than to receive.

According to two new studies conducted by researchers with the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, giving to others rather than to ourselves makes us happier.

Have you ever noticed that your enjoyment in a repeated activity or event decreases over time no matter how wonderful it is? When this happens, you are experiencing what researchers call hedonic adaptation. The joy of having our own desires met is always fleeting. Perhaps surprisingly, however, giving to others creates a more lasting happiness.

"If you want to sustain happiness over time, past research tells us that we need to take a break from what we're currently consuming and experience something new," says study co-author Ed O'Brien, of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, in a release from the Association for Psychological Science. "Our research reveals that the kind of thing may matter more than assumed: Repeated giving, even in identical ways to identical others, may continue to feel relatively fresh and relatively pleasurable the more that we do it."


Aim high: Do everything in your control to become your best self

victory, best self

The world is full of paradoxes. One of the biggest is the tradeoff between having high and low expectations.

On the one hand, we need to expect to win at life, otherwise; what's the point of even trying? But on the other hand, we can't be discouraged when we lose.

The two different concepts are perfectly explained by the following two quotes.
  1. "You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win." - Zig Ziglar
  2. "Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed."― Alexander Pope
The first quote says we should expect to win, the second one says we shouldn't expect to win. So which attitude do you pick?

This is a hard concept to wrap your head around. It took me years to find a balance that worked for me.


The lonely Americans: Research finds 76% of people surveyed show serious signs of loneliness

Folks feeling lonely as the holidays approach have a lot of company, a new study suggests.

Loneliness appears to be widespread among Americans, affecting three out of every four people, researchers have found.

Further, loneliness appears to spike at specific times during adulthood. Your late 20s, mid-50s and late 80s are times when you are most at risk of feeling lonely.

Wisdom appeared to be a strong factor in avoiding feelings of loneliness, the researchers said. People who had qualities of wisdom -- empathy, compassion, control over their emotions, self-reflection -- were much less likely to feel lonely.

The extent of loneliness detected in the study was a "surprise, because this was a normal population," said senior researcher Dr. Dilip Jeste, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience with the University of California, San Diego. "This was not a group of people at high risk for emotional problems."

Comment: Why loneliness is painful: Helping humans survive by motivating us to seek connection with others


Jaded: Voters have high tolerance for politicians who lie, even those caught doing it

Bill Hillary Clinton
© Reuters / Pool
In a modern democracy, peddling conspiracies for political advantage is perhaps not so different from seeding an epidemic.

If a virus is to gain a foothold with the electorate, it will need a population of likely believers ("susceptibles" in public-health speak), a germ nimble enough to infect new hosts easily (an irresistible tall tale), and an eager "Amen choir" (also known as "super-spreaders").

Unleashed on the body politic, a falsehood may spread across the social networks that supply us with information. Facebook is a doorknob slathered in germs, Twitter a sneezing coworker, and Instagram a child returning home after a day at school, ensuring the exposure of all.

But if lies, conspiracies and fake news are really like germs, you might think that fact-checking is the cure, and truth an effective antidote.

If only it were that easy.

Snow Globe

'Stupid' & 'lazy': The road to hell is paved with overly simplistic labels


"This is my favorite thing about being raised in Africa: We don't do labels very well; we don't do this, 'Oh, you're a Democrat; oh, you're a Republican.' Because we live in the real world."
-Dambisa Moyo

Unfortunately, many of us have developed corrosive habits in how we relate to ourselves and others. It's critically important that we approach this conversation with curiosity, rather than criticism, to avoid perpetuating a vicious cycle, though it is often hard to avoid pangs of regret when trying to figure out how to do a better job. It's challenging, especially early on, to tolerate the shameful and painful emotions which can come up when we really start to work on issues, and even more challenging early on to be grateful for the opportunities we give ourselves.

The road to hell is paved with overly simplistic labels

Counterproductive habits show up in many ways, typically unconsciously shaping our choices so that we repetitively feel bad and get into negative situations without quite knowing why. In the absence of self-awareness, when we feel incapable of doing anything well, it's much harder to see the possibilities for realistic, positive change. It's pretty much also impossible to stay with the details of what is going on so we can sort things out. One way we can begin to pay attention is by catching the words we use during self-talk, the labels we use with ourselves and others when we are coming from more toxic places. When I hear people use these words, I take it as a clue there is more to the story than there appears to be.

Comment: The author does have a point - people have become careless in flinging epithets, often without any consideration of whether they are justified. We also often shortchange ourselves by using overly harsh labels. However, there are times when such labels are entirely appropriate, and saying that we should always refrain from using them borders on snowflakery. Can we no longer handle unvarnished truths?


Addiction and a lack of purpose


How the opioid epidemic is related to a "purpose deficient" culture.

As you are no doubt aware, presently the United States is experiencing an opioid epidemic. There are many reasons for this - one of the most obvious being the reckless over-subscription of opiate-based painkillers by doctors, leading to dependency. But on a psychological level, we have to take into account the strong relationship between addiction and the lack of a sense of purpose.

To some extent, addiction is the result of a lack of purpose. It's partly the consequence of experiencing what the psychologist Viktor Frankl called the 'existential vacuum' - feeling as though there is no purpose or meaning to your life. With a strong sense of purpose, we become very resilient, able to overcome challenges, and to bounce back after setbacks. We are also better able to deal with - and perhaps more motivated to overcome - the painful effects of past trauma. We never wake up in the morning with no reason to get out of bed. Life seems easier, less complicated and stressful. Our minds seem somehow tauter and stronger, with less space for negativity to seep in.

Comment: Social connections and bonding: Everything we think we know about addiction is wrong


Extrinsic goals vs intrinsic goals: The reasons why there is a rise in children's mental disorders

children at play
There's a reason kids are more anxious and depressed than ever.

Rates of depression and anxiety among young people in America have been increasing steadily for the past 50 to 70 years. Today, by at least some estimates, five to eight times as many high school and college students meet the criteria for diagnosis of major depression and/or anxiety disorder as was true half a century or more ago. This increased psychopathology is not the result of changed diagnostic criteria; it holds even when the measures and criteria are constant.

The most recent evidence for the sharp generational rise in young people's depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders comes from a just-released study headed by Jean Twenge at San Diego State University.[1] Twenge and her colleagues took advantage of the fact that the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a questionnaire used to assess a variety of mental disorders, has been given to large samples of college students throughout the United States going as far back as 1938, and the MMPI-A (the version used with younger adolescents) has been given to samples of high school students going as far back as 1951. The results are consistent with other studies, using a variety of indices, which also point to dramatic increases in anxiety and depression - in children as well as adolescents and young adults - over the last five or more decades.