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Fri, 04 Dec 2020
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MindMatters: Ibn 'Arabi's Alchemy of Human Happiness: Interview with Stephen Hirtenstein

The philosophy and practice of alchemy, in one form or another, has been around for millennia and espoused by many different cultures, the idea centering around the chemical and physical transformation of some common ore to its highest most valuable state, gold. Modern chemistry naturally discounts this view as outdated and simply not true. But what if that is to miss the point? What if the true alchemical process has little to do with base and precious metals and everything to do man's inner state of being - and the state of his soul?

One of the most important sections of Ibn Arabi's prolific Futūḥāt, the 167th chapter called 'The Alchemy of Human Happiness', focuses on this very subject. Joining us this week on MindMatters we again have the opportunity to discuss the wisdom of the Sufi master Ibn Arabi with Prof Stephen Hirtenstein and his own translation from the original Arabic of the chapter in question.

Can self-perfection bring happiness? Are there paths by which this happiness may be attained? And can personal fulfillment be a byproduct of such a path? Join us as we ask these questions and examine the text that may bring the alchemical process much closer to the everyday work of self growth than one might otherwise imagine.

Running Time: 01:39:33

Download: MP3 — 91.1 MB


At what point in its development can a human being feel pain?

planned parenthood

Editor's note
: See also Dr. Wells's earlier article, "Why Should a Baby Live?"

This is Part Two of a two-part series about abortion. This part focuses on the second question I raised in Part One: At what point in its development can a human being feel pain? I will attempt to answer the question scientifically, as a developmental biologist. By "scientific" I mean based on evidence, not on materialistic story-telling or the current "scientific consensus." I will conclude with a brief personal reflection.

The title of my first essay was "Why Should a Baby Live?" It was adapted from a 2012 article by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, "After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?" That article cites a 1985 book co-authored by Peter Singer titled Should the Baby Live? Ten years before, Singer had published his seminal work, Animal Liberation. In that book he wrote: "The Darwinian revolution was genuinely revolutionary. Human beings now knew that they were not the special creation of God, made in the divine image and set apart from the animals; on the contrary, human beings came to realize that they were animals themselves." (p. 214) Singer argued that animals, like humans, deserve protection because of their ability to suffer. The fact that they cannot speak is irrelevant. We cannot refuse "to attribute pain to those who do not have language... Human infants and young children are unable to use language. Are we to deny that a year-old child can suffer? If not, language cannot be crucial." (p. 15)

Giubilini and Minerva flipped the logic of the Catholic belief that "fetuses and newborns share the same moral status" to argue that because "abortion is largely accepted," newborns (like fetuses) do not have a right to life. But I would flip Peter Singer's logic: If we cannot deny that a year-old child can feel pain, how are we to deny that a fetus can feel pain?

Comment: See also:


Scientists say your mind isn't confined to your brain, or even your body

Male/Female brain
© YouTube
You might wonder, at some point today, what's going on in another person's mind. You may compliment someone's great mind, or say they are out of their mind. You may even try to expand or free your own mind.

But what is a mind? Defining the concept is a surprisingly slippery task. The mind is the seat of consciousness, the essence of your being. Without a mind, you cannot be considered meaningfully alive. So what exactly, and where precisely, is it?

Traditionally, scientists have tried to define the mind as the product of brain activity: The brain is the physical substance, and the mind is the conscious product of those firing neurons, according to the classic argument. But growing evidence shows that the mind goes far beyond the physical workings of your brain.

No doubt, the brain plays an incredibly important role. But our mind cannot be confined to what's inside our skull, or even our body, according to a definition first put forward by Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and the author of the 2016 book, Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human.

He first came up with the definition more than two decades ago, at a meeting of 40 scientists across disciplines, including neuroscientists, physicists, sociologists, and anthropologists. The aim was to come to an understanding of the mind that would appeal to common ground and satisfy those wrestling with the question across these fields.


Face-to-face connectedness, oxytocin and your vagus nerve

Social connectedness
© www.gethealthystayhealthy.com
This Psychology Today blog post is phase three of a nine-part series called "The Vagus Nerve Survival Guide." The nine vagal maneuvers featured in each of these blog posts are designed to help you stimulate your vagus nerve — which can reduce stress, anxiety, anger, and inflammation by activating the "relaxation response" mechanisms of your parasympathetic nervous system.

Face-to-face social connectedness fortifies the "tend-and-befriend" parasympathetic response and engages your vagus nerve. This improves vagal tone and counteracts stress responses associated with "fight-or-flight" mechanisms. Social connectedness has also been clinically proven to improve heart rate variability (HRV), which is the measurement of variations within beat-to-beat intervals and indicates a healthy heart.

As I described in the introduction to this series, your vagus nerve is the prime driving force of the parasympathetic nervous system which regulates your "rest-and-digest" or "tend-and-befriend" responses. On the flip side, to maintain homeostasis, the sympathetic nervous system drives your "fight-or-flight" responses. Ideally, within your autonomic nervous system, the ongoing tug of war between these two polar opposite mechanisms creates a "yin-yang" type of harmony marked by homeostatic balance.

Comment: To reap the benefits of stimulating the vagus nerve, try the Éiriú Eolas breathing and meditation program online for free.

See also:


Meta-analysis indicates the Mozart effect might be the real thing

Mozart Concert
© Onur Erdoğan / Voice of America
Pianists Güher & Süher Pekinel playing Mozart at the Mersin International Music Festival in Turkey.
The idea that listening to Mozart can help people with epilepsy has been around since the early 1990s.

It has been treated with not a little scepticism, but also not ignored: there have been studies (this one, for example) and even studies of studies (this meta-analysis is from as early 1999). The brief has also expanded from just Mozart to other forms of music.

In fact, there has been such "a flow of new research in the last few years", according to Gianluca Sesso from Italy's University of Pisa, that it was again "time to stand back and look at the overall picture" - which is what he and colleague Federico Sicca did.

In a paper published in the journal Clinical Neurophysiology and just presented at a virtual meeting of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, they present findings which, they say, "may overturn current scepticism about the effect".

They looked at 147 published articles, evaluated them according to relevance and quality, then selected the 12 pieces they thought represented the best available science on the topic.

They found, they say, that listening to Mozart, especially on a daily basis, led to a significant reduction in epileptic seizures, and also to a reduced frequency of interictal epileptiform discharges - abnormal brain activities commonly seen in epileptic patients.

These effects occurred after a single listening session and were maintained after a prolonged period of treatment.


Unconscious learning underlies belief in God; stronger beliefs in people who can unconsciously predict complex patterns

figure with dimension stuff
© Unknown
Individuals who can unconsciously predict complex patterns, an ability called implicit pattern learning, are likely to hold stronger beliefs that there is a god who creates patterns of events in the universe, according to neuroscientists at Georgetown University.

Their research, reported in the journal, Nature Communications, is the first to use implicit pattern learning to investigate religious belief. The study spanned two very different cultural and religious groups, one in the U.S. and one in Afghanistan.

The goal was to test whether implicit pattern learning is a basis of belief and, if so, whether that connection holds across different faiths and cultures. The researchers indeed found that implicit pattern learning appears to offer a key to understanding a variety of religions.

"Belief in a god or gods who intervene in the world to create order is a core element of global religions," says the study's senior investigator, Adam Green, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience at Georgetown, and director of the Georgetown Laboratory for Relational Cognition.
"This is not a study about whether God exists, this is a study about why and how brains come to believe in gods. Our hypothesis is that people whose brains are good at subconsciously discerning patterns in their environment may ascribe those patterns to the hand of a higher power. "

People 2

Factors involved in psy­cho­pathy and schizo­phrenia already present in new­born brain cells

baby dna
© Iita Noman
Would testing for schizophrenia or psychopathy cause more harm than good?
Would you prefer to be told that your newborn is likely to grow up into a psychopath? Or that they may develop schizophrenia? What if, after receiving a positive result, it would be possible to prevent this from happening?

Prognostic factors for psychopathy and schizophrenia can be observed in human brain cells already in the second trimester of pregnancy. In principle, newborns could be tested and their risk of developing a disorder assessed. Whether such testing would engender too much suffering is another matter.

"Regardless of the disease, the easiest and least expensive way of reducing suffering is prevention or alleviation in advance," says Professor Jari Koistinaho, director of the Neuroscience Center.

Nevertheless, testing would be associated with risks and difficult questions.

Comment: First and foremost, society needs to educate itself on psychopathy, this would also go some way to providing itself with a defense from the damage caused by it: Also check out SOTT radio's:


The high price of perpetual fear

I've gone on for a long time about fear making humans stupid, and even about it being a weapon and a brain poison. But I've also wondered at times whether people would hit fear-fatigue... that point where people have simply had enough fear and walk out from under it.

As it turns out, however, I was a bit optimistic on fear fatigue. I've been reading Robert Sapolsky's newest book, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best And Worst, and was disappointed to learn what the best new research shows on the long-term application of fear. (Or, in the academic terminology, sustained stress.)

My disappointment, however, was soon tempered by two things:
  1. I gained information on how fear poisoning works.
  2. That human neurology is immensely variable, that there are exceptions to everything, and that if the whole picture were actually as dark as the most troubling findings, we'd have devolved into nothing but murderous monkeys long ago.
I barely need to say this, but 2020 has been The Year of Fear. I'm a bit amazed by the extent of it. There is a certain appeal to soaking up all the fear stories in normal times - our ability to look evil in the eye makes us appear vibrant - but 2020 has pushed far beyond that level. What we're encountering is much more than simple fear porn, and there are certain outlets (including websites) that I can only describe as obscene.

This is more destructive than people realize.

Comment: See also: And if you still haven't yet seen or tried it: Éiriú Eolas - The revolutionary breathing and meditation program:

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MindMatters: Interview with John Buchanan: Alfred North Whitehead - A Philosophy For Our Time

john buchanan
We've made numerous references to Alfred North Whitehead and process philosophy on MindMatters, but who was Whitehead, and what makes his philosophy so interesting, and relevant? Today on the show, we are joined by John Buchanan, co-editor of the recently released volume Rethinking Consciousness, in which he has a paper highlighting the similarities between Jim Carpenter's first sight theory and Whitehead's process philosophy.

In our discussion with John we discuss Whitehead, some of the things that made his philosophy so revolutionary, why he isn't more well known today, and why he should be. His philosophy rejects the atheism and materialism of the current 'scientific' worldview, making room for the entire range of human experience. Another advantage is that Whitehead as a mathematician was well versed in the relativity and quantum theories that have come to characterize our contemporary science and technology, and his philosophy accounts for them too. We also discuss the intriguing parallels with first sight theory and its implications for a philosophy of perception and consciousness, and the nature of reality.

Running Time: 01:34:03

Download: MP3 — 86.1 MB


Children use both brain hemispheres to understand language, unlike adults says new finding

Brain Scans
© Georgetown University Medical Center
Examples of individual activation maps in each of the age groups. Strong activation in right-hemisphere homologs of the left-hemisphere language areas is evident in the youngest children, declines over age, and is entirely absent in most adults.
Infants and young children have brains with a superpower, of sorts, say Georgetown University Medical Center neuroscientists. Whereas adults process most discrete neural tasks in specific areas in one or the other of their brain's two hemispheres, youngsters use both the right and left hemispheres to do the same task. The finding suggests a possible reason why children appear to recover from neural injury much easier than adults.

The study, published Sept. 7, 2020, in PNAS, focuses on one task — language — and finds that to understand language (more specifically, processing spoken sentences), children use both hemispheres. This finding fits with previous and ongoing research led by Georgetown neurology professor Elissa L. Newport, PhD, a former postdoctoral fellow Olumide Olulade, MD, PhD, and neurology assistant professor Anna Greenwald, PhD.

"This is very good news for young children who experience a neural injury," says Newport, director of the Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery, a joint enterprise of Georgetown University and MedStar National Rehabilitation Network. "Use of both hemispheres provides a mechanism to compensate after a neural injury. For example, if the left hemisphere is damaged from a perinatal stroke — one that occurs right after birth — a child will learn language using the right hemisphere. A child born with cerebral palsy that damages only one hemisphere can develop needed cognitive abilities in the other hemisphere. Our study demonstrates how that is possible."

Their study solves a mystery that has puzzled clinicians and neuroscientists for a long time, says Newport.

In almost all adults, sentence processing is possible only in the left hemisphere, according to both brain scanning research and clinical findings of language loss in patients who suffered a left hemisphere stroke.

But in very young children, damage to either hemisphere is unlikely to result in language deficits; language can be recovered in many patients even if the left hemisphere is severely damaged. These facts suggest that language is distributed to both hemispheres early in life, Newport says. However, traditional scanning had not revealed the details of these phenomena until now. "It was unclear whether strong left dominance for language is present at birth or appears gradually during development," explains Newport.