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Sun, 25 Jul 2021
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Science of the Spirit

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Book Review: Unnatural: The Heretical Idea of Making People By Philip Ball

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Around 30,000 years ago, while the sun was setting on the last Neanderthals in Spain, people in what is now Germany carved figurines from mammoth tusks. The known examples include a bird, sufficiently naturalistic as to suggest a cormorant, and a couple of figures that seem to combine human bodies with lions' heads. Deep in the prehistory of art, even as people taught themselves to represent natural creatures, they channelled their creativity into images of unnatural beings. We can only speculate on what these images meant, but we can hardly doubt that they meant a great deal.

The theme reappears in classical times: Daedalus the inventor designs the labyrinth that imprisons the Minotaur, product of an unnatural union between a bull and a woman that Daedalus helped engineer by luring the bull with an artificial cow. He makes wings of feathers and wax, which melts when his son Icarus flies too close to the sun, showing that trying to outsmart nature is a dangerous game. In the 1920s, the muscularly ironic scientist JBS Haldane took Daedalus as the title for an essay foreseeing a future in which only a minority of babies would be "born of woman"; most would be conceived and gestated in vitro.

He remarked that biological inventions were almost invariably regarded as perversions, "indecent and unnatural". This was indeed how in vitro fertilisation was greeted, as Philip Ball discusses at length in the second half of Unnatural, having set the scene by exploring the myths and fantasies that still shape contemporary debates about reproductive technologies.

Haldane, a biologist with a classics degree and an abiding interest in mythology, might have emitted a harrumph of approval for the breadth of Ball's classical reference, which extends to the neologism "anthropoeia": "making people". Labelling Ball a science writer sells his writing short, for its value lies above all in a range that dissolves the awkward silences between science and the larger culture of which it is part. JBS might also have acknowledged a productivity that echoes his own copious output. Although Unnatural reveals no hint of haste, it's only a year since the publication of Ball's previous and equally substantial book, The Music Instinct.


Planning and visualization lead to better food habits

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Study by McGill psychology researcher suggests simple ways of improving the way we eat.

If you want to improve the way you eat, the best way to do so is to both make an action plan and visualize yourself carrying it out, according to McGill researchers.

"Telling people to just change the way they eat doesn't work; we've known that for a while," says Bärbel Knäuper of McGill's Department of Psychology."But research has shown that if people make a concrete plan about what they are going to do, they are better at acting on their intentions. What we've done that's new is to add visualization techniques to the action plan."

In a study recently published in Psychology and Health, Knäuper and her students asked 177 students at McGill's New Residence Hall to set themselves the goal of consuming more fruit for a period of seven days. All the students in the study ended up consuming more fruit over the course of the week than they had before hand. But those who made a concrete plan, wrote it down and also visualized how they were going to carry out the action (i.e. when, where and how they would buy, prepare and eat fruit) increased their fruit consumption twice as much as those who simply set out to eat more fruit without visualizing and planning how they were going to do it.

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Staring Contests Are Automatic: People Lock Eyes to Establish Dominance

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Imagine that you're in a bar and you accidentally knock over your neighbor's beer. He turns around and stares at you, looking for confrontation. Do you buy him a new drink, or do you try to outstare him to make him back off? New research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that the dominance behavior exhibited by staring someone down can be reflexive.

Our primate relatives certainly get into dominance battles; they mostly resolve the dominance hierarchy not through fighting, but through staring contests. And humans are like that, too. David Terburg, Nicole Hooiveld, Henk Aarts, J. Leon Kenemans, and Jack van Honk of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands wanted to examine something that's been assumed in a lot of research: that staring for dominance is automatic for humans.

Arrow Down

The Midlife Crisis Is a Total Myth

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He - the person is usually depicted as a "he" - turns off the alarm, stares into a bowl of soggy cereal, puts on a tired-looking suit and goes to the office for more of the same drab routine. And so it continues until one day, usually the day he realizes he is mortal (or starting to lose his hair), he goes berserk: He bangs his secretary, quits his job and buys a red convertible.

And we all nod, acknowledging the inevitable midlife crisis. One made Monica Lewinsky famous, another won an Academy Award for "American Beauty," and the concept is as embedded in our culture as the belief in the power of positive thinking.

But the idea that midlife crises are common is a myth, experts say.

"It makes for good novels or good movies, but it is not really accurate," said psychologist Margie Lachman of Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

"There is no specific time in life that predisposes you to crisis," said Alexandra Freund, a life-span researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

"There can be times when things crystallize as very problematic, a very deep disturbance in your life," Freund told LiveScience. "People experience these types of crises, but they are not at all related to age."

Instead, Lachman said, crises are usually spurred by some event that can happen at most any age, such as a career setback, the death of a friend or relative, or an illness.

Epidemiologists have found no spike in negative events - such as career disillusionment - in middle age, Freund explained.

So if the revitalized libido and sudden hankerings for sports cars are purely the stuff of Hollywood, then what does happen to a person during these years?


Language May Play Important Role in Learning the Meanings of Numbers

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Nicaraguan homesigners surrounded by hearing individuals who deal with large numbers all of the time do not have a complete understanding of numbers greater than three. Researchers conclude this is because they are not being taught numbers or number words. Here, American sign language for "three," "seven" and "eight" are shown.
View videos (video1, video2) showing examples of deaf Nicaraguans communicating with self-developed gestures called "homesigns."

New research conducted with deaf people in Nicaragua shows that language may play an important role in learning the meanings of numbers.

Field studies by University of Chicago psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow and a team of researchers found deaf people in Nicaragua, who had not learned formal sign language, do not have a complete understanding of numbers greater than three.

Researchers surmised the lack of large number comprehension was because the deaf Nicaraguans were not being taught numbers or number words. Instead they learned to communicate using self-developed gestures called "homesigns," a language developed in the absence of formal education and exposure to formal sign language.

"The research doesn't determine which aspects of language are doing the work, but it does suggest that language is an important player in number acquisition," said Betty Tuller, a program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, which funded the research.

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Can Dreams Predict the Future?

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Many people report that they have had premonitions of disasters in their dreams.
When disaster strikes, people often claim that they foresaw the tragedy. But are such premonitions really possible? In an extract from his new book Paranormality, psychologist Richard Wiseman explains how our sleeping minds can trick us.

Aberfan is a small village in south Wales. In the 1960s, many of those living there worked at a nearby colliery that had been built to exploit the large amount of high-quality coal in the area. Although some of the waste from the mining operation had been stored underground, much of it had been piled on the steep hillsides surrounding the village. Throughout October 1966 heavy rain lashed down on the area and seeped into the porous sandstone of the hills. Unfortunately, no one realised that the water was then flowing into several hidden springs and slowly transforming the pit waste into soft slurry.

Just after nine o'clock on the morning of 21 October, the side of the hill subsided and half a million tonnes of debris started to move rapidly towards the village. Although some of the material came to a halt on the lower parts of the hill, much of it slid into Aberfan and smashed into the village school. A handful of children were pulled out alive during the first hour or so of the rescue effort, but no other survivors emerged. One hundred and thirty-nine schoolchildren and five teachers lost their lives in the tragedy.

Psychiatrist John Barker visited the village the day after the landslide. Barker had a longstanding interest in the paranormal and wondered whether the extreme nature of events in Aberfan might have caused large numbers of people to experience a premonition about the tragedy. To find out, Barker arranged for a newspaper to ask any readers who thought they had foreseen the Aberfan disaster to get in touch. He received 60 letters from across England and Wales, with over half of the respondents claiming that their apparent premonition had come to them during a dream.


The Pathocrats

The concepts in the following video, even the term "Pathocrat", is taken from the seminal book Political Ponerology: A Science of Evil Adjusted for Political Purpose by Andrew Lobaczewski. We find it curious that this book is not even mentioned in the video.

An evolutionary perspective on psychopaths in power.
Political Ponerology: A Science on The Nature of Evil adjusted for Political Purposes, by Dr. Andrew Lobaczewski

Here's a link that discusses the book.

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Political Ponerology: A Science on The Nature of Evil adjusted for Political Purposes

Comment: Now more than ever people need to understand the devastation and suffering wrought on our world by the few at the expense of the many. Presented for the first time on Sott.net, what follows is Laura Knight-Jadczyk's comprehensive review of Political Ponerology: A Science on The Nature of Evil adjusted for Political Purposes, the product of monumental efforts from intrepid researchers of a generation past to bring humanity into awareness about the psychopaths that rule our world.

Political Ponerology: A Science on The Nature of Evil adjusted for Political Purposes by Andrew M. Lobaczewski with commentary and additional quoted material by Laura Knight-Jadczyk
Pathocracy is a disease of great social movements followed by entire societies, nations, and empires. In the course of human history, it has affected social, political, and religious movements as well as the accompanying ideologies and turned them into caricatures of themselves. This occurred as a result of the participation of pathological agents in a pathodynamically similar process. That explains why all the pathocracies of the world are, and have been, so similar in their essential properties.

Identifying these phenomena through history and properly qualifying them according to their true nature and contents - not according to the ideology in question, which succumbed to the process of caricaturization - is a job for historians.

The actions of [pathocracy] affect an entire society, starting with the leaders and infiltrating every town, business, and institution. The pathological social structure gradually covers the entire country creating a "new class" within that nation. This privileged class [of pathocrats] feels permanently threatened by the "others", i.e. by the majority of normal people. Neither do the pathocrats entertain any illusions about their personal fate should there be a return to the system of normal man.

- Andrew M. Lobaczewski, Political Ponerology: A science on the nature of evil adjusted for political purposes

Comment: Andrew M. Lobczewski's book is available from QFG Publishing. Get your copy today and protect yourselves and your loved ones from the evil that is eating this world inside out.


Eight changes to my life as a result of just four weeks of daily meditation

Comment: All of the benefits listed in this article are real, and much, much more with the Éiriú Eolas stress control, healing and rejuvenation program available online FREE!

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Last month, I read a study showing that just eight weeks of daily meditation leads to increased grey matter densities in areas of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress-regulation. I shared this with some friends, and we immediately formed a meditation group, committed to meditating for eight weeks straight in order to duplicate the results.

In just one day of meditation I saw improvements, but I feared writing about them due to possible placebo effects. But now, I'm becoming more and more confident in the power of meditation. I'm four weeks into the program, and here's what I've noticed:


Child brain scans to pick out future criminals

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The researchers argue that, by predicting which children have the potential to be trouble, treatments could be introduced to keep them on the straight and narrow
The seeds of criminal and anti-social behaviour can be found in children as young as three, scientists have claimed.

More researchers believe that violent tendencies have a biological basis and that tests and brain imaging can pick them up in children.

They argue that, by predicting which children have the potential to be trouble, treatments could be introduced to keep them on the straight and narrow. If the tests are accurate enough then a form of screening could be introduced in the same way we test for some diseases.

The theories were put forward by two leading criminologists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.

Prof Adrian Raine, a British criminologist, argued that abnormal physical brain make-up could be a cause of criminality, as well as helping to predict it.

His studies have shown that psychopaths and criminals have smaller areas of the brain such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, both of which regulate and control emotion and behaviour. He also believes that a lack of conditioning to fear punishment, which can be measured in toddlers before disruptive behaviour is apparent, could also be a strong indicator.