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Sat, 16 Dec 2017
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


The culture of hungry ghosts

Hungry Ghosts
"No society can understand itself without looking at its shadow side." ― Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
Something wicked bubbles just beneath the surface of the collective conscience. Our society is rife with corruption, predation, perversion, over-consumption, violence, addiction and so much more. Somehow enough is never enough, as if the driving force behind human existence is pure want.

This is not true, though, for we know that spiritually well beings are content beings, looking no further than the present moment's blessings for satisfaction. We don't have an inherent need for want. Want is a symptom, not the condition. It's something that enters when the spirit is untended to.


The great swindle of truth and beauty

© Odd Nerdrum, artist
"What would Jesus drink?" Kitsch art
A high culture is the self-consciousness of a society. It contains the works of art, literature, scholarship and philosophy that establish a shared frame of reference among educated people. High culture is a precarious achievement, and endures only if it is underpinned by a sense of tradition, and by a broad endorsement of the surrounding social norms. When those things evaporate, as inevitably happens, high culture is superseded by a culture of fakes.

Faking depends on a measure of complicity between the perpetrator and the victim, who together conspire to believe what they don't believe and to feel what they are incapable of feeling. There are fake beliefs, fake opinions, fake kinds of expertise. There is also fake emotion, which comes about when people debase the forms and the language in which true feeling can take root, so that they are no longer fully aware of the difference between the true and the false. Kitsch is one very important example of this. The kitsch work of art is not a response to the real world, but a fabrication designed to replace it. Yet both producer and consumer conspire to persuade each other that what they feel in and through the kitsch work of art is something deep, important and real.

Anyone can lie. One need only have the requisite intention - in other words, to say something with the intention to deceive. Faking, by contrast, is an achievement. To fake things you have to take people in, yourself included. In an important sense, therefore, faking is not something that can be intended, even though it comes about through intentional actions. The liar can pretend to be shocked when his lies are exposed, but his pretence is merely a continuation of his lying strategy. The fake really is shocked when he is exposed, since he had created around himself a community of trust, of which he himself was a member. Understanding this phenomenon is, it seems to me, integral to understanding how a high culture works, and how it can become corrupted.


America's painful self-delusion: Resolving our cognitive dissonance

America is the only nation brought forth by a set of beliefs, and those beliefs, captured so eloquently in our founding documents, are some of the most powerful and inspiring ever conceived. We consider this to be the land of the free, where the individual is supreme and nothing prevents us from going as far as our talents can take us. That image of America - that "brand" - is incredibly strong.

However, there's a very large gap between that long-held image and the reality of America today. What was once a government built for the people is now a government run for the rich and powerful, one that throws the people under the bus whenever their interests differ from those of the corporate and political leaders who run the show.

And living in one world (the corrupt) while stubbornly believing you live in another (the ideal), despite mounds of evidence, causes a distinct kind of stress, often called cognitive dissonance.

Psychologists suggest that when people are in a state of cognitive dissonance, they'll search for a way to resolve it, either by rejecting one view or the other as either wrong or unimportant. If you're a smoker looking at the link between smoking and cancer, for example, you'll either quit smoking or decide that the research is biased, wrong, or doesn't apply (in other words, that you're smart enough to quit before the long-term damage is done).

Comment: Quote from Jordan Peterson:
"I do believe we are in a period of chaos - and in a period of chaos the time horizon shrinks - because the outcome is uncertain ... sometimes the outcome is catastrophe."
See also: Inspired by Jordan Peterson: Insisting on truth in a time of chaos

Cloud Grey

New research suggests five different types of depression and anxiety each with its own symptoms and effects on the brain

depression depression
© foto ilustrativa/ pixabay.com
Psychologists typically find that anxiety and depression share many overlapping symptoms.

Instead of being 'depressed' and/or 'anxious', new research suggests five different types of depression and anxiety.

The five are tension, anxious arousal, general anxiety, anhedonia - the inability to feel pleasure - and melancholia.

Each type has its own particular symptoms and effects on the brain.

Comment: Some useful tips for regulating your emotions:


Interview with Adrian Raine: How to spot a murder's brain

Normal brain vs. murderer's brain
© Public Domain
Scans of a normal brain, left, beside that of murderer Antonio Bustamante, who was spared the death penalty after a jury was shown these pictures.
In 1987, Adrian Raine, who describes himself as a neurocriminologist, moved from Britain to the US. His emigration was prompted by two things. The first was a sense of banging his head against a wall. Raine, who grew up in Darlington and is now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was a researcher of the biological basis for criminal behaviour, which, with its echoes of Nazi eugenics, was perhaps the most taboo of all academic disciplines.

In Britain, the causes of crime were allowed to be exclusively social and environmental, the result of disturbed or impoverished nurture, rather than fated and genetic nature. To suggest otherwise, as Raine felt compelled to, having studied under Richard Dawkins and been persuaded of the "all-embracing influence of evolution on behaviour", was to doom yourself to an absence of funding. In America, there seemed more open-mindedness on the question and, as a result, more money to explore it. There was also another good reason why Raine headed initially to California: there were more murderers to study than there were at home.


Does anyone really know what that generic term, mindfulness, really means?

mindfulness workshop
© Getty Images
A mindfulness workshop in Germany but the concept itself is ill defined.
You've probably heard of mindfulness. These days, it's everywhere, like many ideas and practices drawn from Buddhist texts that have become part of mainstream Western culture.

But a review published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science shows the hype is ahead of the evidence. Some reviews of studies on mindfulness suggest it may help with psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, and stress. But it's not clear what type of mindfulness or meditation we need and for what specific problem.

The study, involving a large group of researchers, clinicians and meditators, found a clear-cut definition of mindfulness doesn't exist. This has potentially serious implications. If vastly different treatments and practices are considered the same, then research evidence for one may be wrongly taken as support for another.

At the same time, if we move the goalposts too far or in the wrong direction, we might lose the potential benefits of mindfulness altogether.

Comment: As with many ancient practices, mindfulness or meditation, can become corrupted and watered-down losing their original benefits.


Who you spend time with will tell you who you are

three women
© unsplash
Who do you spend time with?

How do they make you who you are?

James Altucher calls this your 'scene.' As Jim Rohn put it, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. As my dad told me once as a kid, "Ryan, you become like your friends."

Or as Goethe famously said it better and earlier (about 170 years before any of them), "Tell me with whom you consort with and I will tell you who you are." And before him, Seneca wrote to a friend:
Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won't make crooked straight.
The fact is, the people we surround ourselves with help set the baseline for what we think is ok, what we think is possible and what we're exposed to.


Six toxic thoughts that successful people avoid

lost in thought
© Getty Images
Your self-talk (the thoughts you have about your feelings) can make or break your career. When you make a mistake, they either magnify the negativity or help you turn that misstep into something productive.

Negative self-talk is unrealistic, unnecessary, and self-defeating. It sends you into a downward emotional spiral that is difficult to pull out of.

All self-talk is driven by important beliefs that you hold about yourself. It plays an understated but powerful role in success because it can both spur you forward to achieve your goals and hold you back.
"He who believes he can and he who believes he cannot are both correct." -Henry Ford
TalentSmart has tested the emotional intelligence (EQ) of more than a million people and found that 90% of top performers are high in EQ. These successful, high EQ individuals possess an important skill-the ability to recognize and control negative self-talk so that it doesn't prevent them from reaching their full potential.

These successful people earn an average of $28,000 more annually than their low EQ peers, get promoted more often, and receive higher marks on performance evaluations. The link between EQ and earnings is so direct that every point increase in EQ adds $1,300 to an annual salary.

When it comes to self-talk, we've discovered some common thoughts that hold people back more than any others. Be mindful of your tendencies to succumb to these thoughts, so that they don't derail your career:

Comment: See also:

Snakes in Suits

Strange new trait discovered associated with psychopathy

© Unknown
This strange sign could help you spot a psychopath.

Psychopaths find it hard to tell the difference between simple odours like fish and oranges, research finds.

The finding comes from 79 non-criminal psychopaths whose smelling capabilities were tested.

Each was checked out for psychopathic traits: how much they manipulated people, whether they had erratic lifestyles, how callous they were and their criminal tendencies.

They were then given various common smells to identify, such as coffee, fish, orange, apple, peppermint, banana and liquorice.

Comment: Interesting set of scents they chose. They are all quite distinct from each other and not something that would be easily mistaken under normal circumstances. See also:

Cupcake Choco

Declining mental health? Turkey's girls and women struggle with body image

turkish women
© REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Women use their cellphones as they travel on a ferry over the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey, July 4, 2017.
The death of 35-year-old Ozge Seker in October shortly after her weight loss surgery has put the spotlight on risky gastric sleeve surgery in Turkey. Her death, due to complications and infection, has brought to the surface the ugly reality of the many unreported deaths all over the country following this type of surgery. While the promotion of this medical intervention as a shortcut for losing weight has become big business, the public is not sufficiently aware of the risks of such gastric surgeries and seems blinded by the media's reports of celebrities' overnight weight loss.

Nationwide debate sparked by Seker's death led to a swift response from the Ministry of Health. On Oct. 20, it released a statement explaining new criteria for gastric sleeve surgery, aiming to minimize the risk of such medical procedures. But the circumstances of Seker's death, including that she weighed only 78 kilograms (172 pounds) prior to it, alarmed the public. "Have we all become nuts about our body image?" wrote Ayse Arman, daily Hurriyet columnist and one of the most popular female journalists in the country. She continued, "What is the big deal if she was seven or eight kilos heavier than what she idealized? At least she would be alive today."

Comment: This article seems to be taking the same tack that many media do confronted with the issue of body-dysmorphia - blame the media, blame consumerism, blame men. While there certainly are issues of being surrounded by perfect bodies constantly (which affects men as well as women), clearly the issue is multi-faceted.

Part of the issue, rarely addressed, is that the same problem leading to rising obesity rates is also leading to poorer mental health - the foods we eat. As more and more nations begin adopting the Western diet of crappy processed food, picking up the low-fat mantra, they increasingly become subject to the diseases of civilization - including declining mental well-being. It seems its more a question of overall health; as waistlines tend to grow in concert with a tendency to obsess over appearance. "Self-confidence" and "body positivity" movements aren't going to help a whit if your brain isn't functioning properly, due to a diet filled with crap.

Take away the SJW veneer of fat-shaming, sizeism and micro-aggressions and you'll see that there's a very real physiological issue at play; one that could be solved, at least on the individual level, if we're willing to put aside the victim mentality and examine it head-on.