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Nature bats last: Radical political theology

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© GALLO/GETTY
Rather than succumb to strictly religious or technological fundamentalism, a radical political theology 'leaves behind fear-based protection rackets and arrogance-driven control fantasies'
Politics without theology is dangerous, and we must construct a new worldview not reducible to just evidence and logic.

[An edited version of this talk was presented to the Veterans for Peace conference in Portland, OR, on August 4, 2011]

My title is ambitious and ambiguous: revolution and resistance (which tend to be associated with left politics), revelation and redemption (typically associated with right-wing religion), all framed by a warning about ecological collapse. My goal is to connect these concepts to support an argument for a radical political theology.

First, I realise that the term "radical political theology" may be annoying. Some people will dislike "radical" and prefer a more pragmatic approach. Others will argue that theology shouldn't be political. Still others will want nothing to do with theology of any kind. But a politics without a theology is dangerous, a theology without a politics is irrelevant, and radical is realistic.

By politics, I don't mean we need to pretend to have a traditional political programme that will lead us to the land of milk and honey; instead, I'm merely suggesting that we always foreground the basic struggle for power. By theology, I don't mean that we need to believe in supernatural forces that will lead us to a land of milk and honey; instead, I'm merely pointing out that we all construct a worldview that is not reducible to evidence and logic.

And all this needs to be radical - an unflinching honesty about that unjust and unsustainable nature of the systems in which we live. Whatever pragmatic steps we take in the world, they should be based on radical analysis if they are to be realistic.

Chess

How Meditation Makes You More Rational

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© masterscenter.net
A new study suggests that people who regularly practice Buddhist meditation make decisions in a more rational way.

It's no secret that humans are not entirely rational when it comes to weighing rewards. For example, we might be perfectly happy with how much money we're making - until we find out how much more the guy in the next cubicle is being paid.

But a new study suggests that people who regularly practice Buddhist meditation actually process these common social situations differently - and the researchers have the brain scans to prove it.

Stormtrooper

Stanford Prison Experiment Continues to Shock

Stanford Prison
© BBC
Forty years ago a group of students hoping to make a bit of holiday money turned up at a basement in Stanford University, California, for what was to become one of the most notorious experiments in the study of human psychology.

The idea was simple - take a group of volunteers, tell half of them they are prisoners, the other half prison wardens, place them in a makeshift jail and watch what happens.

The Stanford prison experiment was supposed to last two weeks but was ended abruptly just six days later, after a string of mental breakdowns, an outbreak of sadism and a hunger strike.

"The first day they came there it was a little prison set up in a basement with fake cell doors and by the second day it was a real prison created in the minds of each prisoner, each guard and also of the staff," said Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist leading the experiment.

People

Working Together Can Help Battle Effects of Fatigue

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© Unknown
Teams show more flexible thinking when fatigued than individuals, study finds.

Fatigue can lead to dangerous errors by doctors, pilots and others in high-risk professions, but individuals who work together as a team display better problem-solving skills than those who face their fatigue alone, new research shows.

"Teams appear to be more highly motivated to perform well, and team members can compare solutions to reach the best decision when they are fatigued. This appears to allow teams to avoid the inflexible thinking experienced by fatigued individuals," said Daniel Frings, PhD, a senior lecturer in social psychology at London South Bank University. His study was published online this week in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. The work was supported by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council, a government-funded organization serving the United Kingdom.

The study examined the problem-solving skills of 171 army officer cadets during a weekend training exercise. Individual cadets and teams of four cadets from the University of London Officers' Training Corps worked on a series of math problems. Some cadets were tested at the beginning of the training when they were rested, while others were tested at the end when they were exhausted from military drills, night watch duty, and a lack of sleep. The results showed that individual soldiers who were fatigued performed significantly worse on the tests than alert soldiers. However, teams of cadets performed just as well when they were tired as when they were alert.

Bulb

Children of depressed mothers have a different brain: MRI scans show their children have an enlarged amygdala

This release is available in French.

Researchers think that brains are sensitive to the quality of child care, according to a study that was directed by Dr. Sonia Lupien and her colleagues from the University of Montreal published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists worked with ten year old children whose mothers exhibited symptoms of depression throughout their lives, and discovered that the children's amygdala, a part of the brain linked to emotional responses, was enlarged.

Similar changes, but of greater magnitude, have been found in the brains of adoptees initially raised in orphanages. Personalized attention to children's needs may be the key factor. "Other studies have shown that mothers feeling depressed were less sensitive to their children's needs and were more withdrawn and disengaged," explained Drs. Sophie Parent and Jean Séguin of the University of Montreal's, who followed the children over the years.

Stop

Nothing new here: Experts link depression to abuse in early life

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© Unknown
Childhood abuse doubles the risk of a life blighted by depression, a study has found.

The research also shows that abused individuals are less likely to respond to depression treatments.

Scientists examined pooled data from 26 separate studies involving more than 23,000 participants. The "meta-analysis" revealed that people maltreated in childhood are twice as likely as those with no history of abuse to develop multiple and long-lasting episodes of depression.

Lead investigator Dr Andrea Danese, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said: "Identifying those at risk of multiple and long-lasting depressive episodes is crucial from a public health perspective.

"The results of our study indicate that childhood maltreatment is associated both with an increased risk of developing recurrent and persistent episodes of depression, and with an increased risk of responding poorly to treatment.

Magic Wand

Meditation and Its Benefits

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© thehappyself.com
Meditation is a term that refers to a group of techniques where a user trains his or her mind to a mode of consciousness to obtain certain benefits. Examples of meditations include mantra meditation, relaxation response, mindfulness meditation and Zen Buddhist meditation. Majority of the meditation techniques traces their origins as far back during the prehistoric times. The roots of the practice of meditation are strongly linked to religious practices. In the early days, meditation was used as an individual's way to engage with the spiritual dimension of the universe or to appease the gods or to communicate with a perceived supreme being.

Today in modern society, the adoption of meditation has extended its traditional use outside the scope of religion as people utilize it for health-related purposes. There is still no consensus on the universally accepted definition of meditation within the realm of scientific language, but the world of conventional modern medicine is slowly embracing the concept as an alternative or complementary form of medicine. By definition complementary and alternative medicine refers to a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of the conventional practice of medicine (NIH NCAM, USA).

Family

Are Beautiful People 'Selfish by Nature'?

Natalie Portman
© Steve Granitz/WireImage
A study suggests that people with symmetrical faces, such as Natalie Portman, are naturally more self-sufficient.
People with symmetrical faces are more self-sufficient and less likely to co-operate, new research suggests

Kate Moss, George Clooney, Natalie Portman or Cristiano Ronaldo may be many people's ideas of dream dates, but pioneering research that combines economics with biology suggests they may not be perfect life partners.

According to a study to be discussed this month at a gathering of Nobel prizewinners, people blessed with more symmetrical facial features, which are considered more attractive, are less likely to co-operate and more likely to selfishly focus on their own interests.

Santiago Sanchez-Pages, who works at the universities of Barcelona and Edinburgh, and Enrique Turiegano, of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, base their claims on the "prisoner's dilemma" model of behaviour, played out under laboratory conditions. Two players were each given the option of being a "dove" and co-operating for the greater good; or a "hawk", taking the selfish option, with a chance of gaining more if the other player chose "dove" and co-operated. The subjects' faces were then analysed.

Magic Wand

Saying swear words actually stresses your brain

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© GranniesKitchen
While there's nothing quite like reeling off a string of profanities to blow off some steam, our brains might not agree with that sentiment. Saying swear words out loud actually triggers reactions deep in the emotion centers of the brain.

That's the finding of Professor Jeffrey Bowers and Dr. Christopher Pleydell-Pearce, both of the University of Bristol's School of Experimental Psychology. They designed an experiment in which participants read from three lists: one with swear words on it, another with euphemisms for those swear words, and finally a list of neutral words with no profane connections. The test subjects consistently had a far greater autonomic response when reading the actual swears - in other words, swearing was more stressful than not swearing, neurologically speaking.

Book

Spoiler alert: Stories are not spoiled by 'spoilers'

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© Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Young Girl Reading
Many of us go to extraordinary lengths to avoid learning the endings of stories we have yet to read or see - plugging our ears, for example, and loudly repeating "la-la-la-la," when discussion threatens to reveal the outcome. Of book and movie critics, we demand they not give away any plot twists or, at least, oblige with a clearly labeled "spoiler alert." We get angry with friends who slip up and spill a fictional secret.

But we're wrong and wasting our time, suggests a new experimental study from the University of California, San Diego. People who flip to the last page of a book before starting it have the better intuition. Spoilers don't spoil stories. Contrary to popular wisdom, they actually seem to enhance enjoyment.

Even ironic-twist and mystery stories - which you'd be forgiven for assuming absolutely depend on suspense or surprise for success - aren't spoiled by spoilers, according to a study by Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of UC San Diego's psychology department, to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.