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Wed, 01 Dec 2021
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Science of the Spirit

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Learning by experiment is all in a day's play: Rudiments of the scientific method seen in four-year-old children

© MBI / Alamy
Children can design simple experiments to explore their world
Preschool children spontaneously invent experiments in their play, according to research published this month in Cognition. The findings suggest that basic scientific principles help very young brains to learn about the world.

Psychologists have been drawing a comparison between cognitive development and science for years -- an idea referred to as 'the child as scientist'. But recently scientists have been trying to discover whether this is more than just a neat analogy.

In the latest study, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge and Stanford University in California presented four- to five-year-old children with a specially designed toy that lit up and played music when the child placed certain beads on it.

In cases in which the children didn't know which beads made the toy play, the researchers found that the kids tested each possibility in turn in order to find out -- much like the way in which scientists devise their experiments to test individual variables separately. Laura Schulz, one of the researchers from MIT, explains that it's the same idea that you use when trying to find out which of your keys opens a door: "You might change the position of the key, you might change the key, but you're not going to change both at once," she says.

Magic Wand

Out-of-the-blue panic attacks aren't without warning - body sends signals for hour before

Panic attacks that seem to strike sufferers out-of-the-blue are not without warning after all, according to new research.

A study based on 24-hour monitoring of panic sufferers while they went about their daily activities captured panic attacks as they happened and discovered waves of significant physiological instability for at least 60 minutes before patients' awareness of the panic attacks, said psychologist Alicia E. Meuret at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

In a rare study in which patients were monitored around-the-clock, portable recorders captured changes in respiration, heart rate and other bodily functions, said Meuret, lead researcher on the study.

Comment: For people who are traumatized to the point of disconnecting from the signals their body is sending, or from the emotions that arise after being triggered by an external stimuli, indeed Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) isn't an adequate solution. But there are other solutions. One of them is Somatic Experience, as described In Peter Levine's book In An Unspoken Voice. The other is Éiriú Eolas breathing program. Both focus on bringing awareness to what ever trauma and stress that are locked in the body, and by gentle and careful exercises work on releasing the accumulated pressure, which in its dissociated and suppressed state leads to panic attacks, diseases or chronic maladaptive behavior.


Where Is Now? The Paradox Of The Present

© Manu Mejias/ESO
The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile captured this striking view of the nebula around the star cluster NGC 1929 within the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way separated by a mere 179,000 light years.
The night sky is a time machine. Look out and you look back in time. But this "time travel by eyesight" is not just the province of astronomy. It's as close as the machine on which you are reading these words. Your present exists at the mercy of many overlapping pasts. So where, then, is "now"?

As almost everyone knows, when you stare into the depths of space you are also looking back in time. Catch a glimpse of a relatively nearby star and you see it as it existed when, perhaps, Lincoln was president (if it's 150 light-years away). Stars near the edge of our own galaxy are only seen as they appeared when the last ice age was in full bloom (30,000 light-years away). And those giant pinwheel assemblies of stars called galaxies are glimpsed, as they existed millions, hundreds of millions or even billions of years in the past.

We never see the sky as it is, but only as it was.

Stranger still, the sky we see at any moment defines not a single past but multiple overlapping pasts of different depths. The star's image from 100 years ago and the galaxy image from 100 million years ago reach us at the same time. All of those "thens" define the same "now" for us.


Innate Tendency of Humans to Appreciate Another's Hospitality: Scholars Study the Evolution of Human Generosity

© Michele Desubleo
Ancient Greek Hospitality depicted in Homer’s Fable The Odyssey.
Imagine you're dining at a restaurant in a city you're visiting for the first - - and, most likely the last - - time. Chances are slim to none that you'll ever see your server again, so if you wanted to shave a few dollars off your tab by not leaving a tip, you could do so. And yet, if you're like most people, you will leave the tip anyway, and not give it another thought.

These commonplace acts of generosity - - where no future return is likely - - have long posed a scientific puzzle to evolutionary biologists and economists. In acting generously, the donor incurs a cost to benefit someone else. But choosing to incur a cost with no prospect of a compensating benefit is seen as maladaptive by biologists and irrational by economists.

Comment: Maladaptive and irrational only from a point of view of those who've been ponerized, and thus unable to make the distinction between healthy and pathological thought processes and logic. True human kindness and generosity doesn't require a reason or an incentive.

If traditional theories in these fields are true, such behaviors should have been weeded out long ago by evolution or by self-interest. According to these theories, human nature is fundamentally self-serving, with any "excess" generosity the result of social pressure or cultural conformity.

Comment: To learn more on the sacred rite of hospitality and how it's both the host and the guest responsibility to respect it in order to establish close and cooperative relationship, read Cassiopaea forum's thread The Odyssey - question for all!


Interrupted Sleep Impairs Memory in Mice

© iPhotostock
With the novel use of a technique that uses light to control brain cells, Stanford University researchers have shown that fragmented sleep causes memory impairment in mice.

Until recently scientists have been unable to tease out the effects on the brain of different yet intertwined features of sleep. But these investigators were able to overcome that problem and come to their findings by using the novel method, known as optogenetics, to manipulate brain cells to affect just one aspect of sleep.

The study shows that "regardless of the total amount of sleep, a minimal unit of uninterrupted sleep is crucial for memory consolidation," the authors write in the study that will be published online July 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study was co-led by Luis de Lecea, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, whose work focuses on the neural circuitry underlying wakefulness, and H. Craig Heller, PhD, professor of biology.

Experts have long hypothesized that sleep is important for memory, but this has been a difficult area to study - in part because of the sleep-deprivation techniques used in research. Gentle handling is one way to keep animal subjects from sleeping but, as de Lecea explained, "Rodents are very sensitive to physical awakenings. If you wake an animal up it's going to be up for awhile, and it will experience stress." And stress itself has been shown to affect memory.


Older People Find It Harder to See the Wood for the Trees

© Simon Savidge
When looking at a picture of many trees, young people will tend to say: "This is a forest". However, the older we get, the more likely we are to notice a single tree before seeing the forest. This suggests that the speed at which the brain processes the bigger picture is slower in older people. In a new study published in the July-August issue of Elsevier's Cortex, researchers have found that these age-related changes are correlated with a specific aspect of visual perception, known as Gestalt perception.

Markus Staudinger, together with Gereon R. Fink, Clare E. Mackey, and Silke Lux, investigated the brain's ability to focus on the local and global aspects of visual stimuli, in a group of young and elderly healthy subjects. They also studied how this ability is related to Gestalt perception, which is the mind's tendency to perceive many similar smaller objects as being part of a bigger entity. As expected, older people found it more difficult to concentrate on the global picture, but they also had trouble with the Gestalt principle of Good Continuation - the mind's preference for continuous shapes.

Participants in the study were shown groups of letters which were arranged in a pattern so that they formed a larger letter (see below), and asked whether a letter appeared on the local or global level. Importantly, the number of small letters forming the pattern was then varied. Usually, the smaller the letters are in the pattern, the easier it is to perceive the larger letter, and this was indeed true for the younger participants in the study. However, varying the number or letters did not help the older people, who remained slower to notice the global figure.


Meditation and Autism

© istockphoto.com/CAP53
Meditation is as old as the hills. Now, some researchers are conducting new studies into its benefits. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has used high-tech imaging tools to examine the brains of Buddhist monks as they practice meditation.

He has discovered that meditation stimulates the parts of the brain associated with empathy, attention and mind-body interaction. His colleague, professor of psychology Barbara Fredrickson, discovered that even novice meditators reported increased feelings of love and connection with others, the same benefits attributed to ingesting oxytocin. Further, the vagal tone, a heart rhythm associated with the "calm-and-connect" response is strengthened as well.

During the the Second World Congress on Positive Psychology, which meets July 23-26 in Philadelphia, Davidson will talk about meditation and neuroplasticity - the idea that the brain is constantly changing in response to experience and the environment, thus positivity can be learned. He contends that meditation not only benefits people psychologically, but it actually improves their immune system. In a recent study, he took two groups of adults, one that meditated and the control group that did not. After eight weeks, both groups were given flu shots. Those who meditated produced more antibodies, suggesting a connection between meditation and immune function.

Comment: To explore the many amazing benefits of meditation for yourself, please see the Eiriu Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program.

Magic Wand

Humans 'predisposed' to believe in the supernatural

Are humans programmed to believe in gods and in an afterlife? Forty separate studies (both analytical and empirical) conducted in 20 countries conclude that humans are predisposed to believe in gods and in afterlife.

© Unknown
Both theology and atheism are reasoned responses to what is a basic impulse of the human mind, the studies suggest.

Fiftyseven researchers, led by Oxford University experts, carried out the studies for three years, representing a diverse range of cultures.

They wanted to ascertain if concepts such as gods and an afterlife are entirely taught or are basic expressions of human nature, according to an Oxford statement.


How Domestic Abuse Can Scar an Unborn Child for Life

Domestic Violence Babies
© Main Online
Legacy: Pregnant women exposed to great stress may affect their babies later in life
High levels of stress during pregnancy can cause an unborn child to have lifelong mental scars, according to researchers.

They believe a mother facing unnecessary crises can leave an imprint in the brains of her children, making them less able to cope as they get older.

The study team asked 25 mothers whether they had suffered extreme stress caused by abuse from boyfriends or husbands while they were pregnant, and then rated their emotional level. They then monitored the behaviour of a particular gene in their children, who were aged nine to 19.

The gene - called the glucocorticoid receptor - is involved in the brain's response to stress.

The German researchers found that the gene was far less active in children whose mothers were victims of domestic abuse when they were pregnant. Abuse after pregnancy did not appear to affect the way the gene responded in the brains of their children.


Peer Pressure Causes People to Literally Alter Their Memories of Recent Events

© iStockphoto
Humans are highly social animals and for many years, psychologists have observed a variety of both positive and negative effects resulting from a human tendency called "memory conformity."

When groups of people are exposed to a similar experience, their recollections of the experience, as well as their feeling and values related to the event, tend to reshape over time in order to conform to those of their peers.

Empirical evidence of memory conformity and social compliance have been suggested by classic physiological studies conducted since the 1950s. Famous experiments and studies have been conducted in school, prison and workplace settings.

But earlier this week, the Journal of Science published a study providing the strongest neurological evidence yet in support of the existence of memory conformity.

In the study, Micah Edelson and colleagues showed a documentary to a group of volunteer test subjects. Later, the subjects were asked questions about the documentary while their brain activity was monitored by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).