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Sun, 23 Feb 2020
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


New research seeks to identify location of brain consciousness

Brain Scan
© Jonathan Nackstrand, AFP
A neuropsychologist points to a brain scan showing the brain activity of a paedophile at the Huddinge hospital near Stockholm.
A small amount of electricity delivered at a specific frequency to a particular point in the brain will snap a monkey out of even deep anesthesia, pointing to a circuit of brain activity key to consciousness and suggesting potential treatments for debilitating brain disorders.

Macaques put under with general anesthetic drugs commonly administered to human surgical patients, propofol and isoflurane, could be revived and alert within two or three seconds of applying low current, according to a study published today in the journal Neuron by a team led by University of Wisconsin-Madison brain researchers.

"For as long as you're stimulating their brain, their behavior — full eye opening, reaching for objects in their vicinity, vital sign changes, bodily movements and facial movements — and their brain activity is that of a waking state," says Yuri Saalmann, UW-Madison psychology and neuroscience professor. "Then, within a few seconds of switching off the stimulation, their eyes closed again. The animal is right back into an unconscious state."

Mice have been roused from light anesthesia before with a related method, and humans with severe disorders have improved through electric stimulation applied deep in their brains. But the new study is the first to pull primates in and out of a deep unconscious state, and the results isolate a particular loop of activity in the brain that is crucial to consciousness.

People 2

Help a Darwinist tell the difference between boys and girls

P.Z. Myers darwin evolution
© Mark Schierbecker
P.Z. Myers, atheist and Darwinist
Here's a glimpse into the ideological corruption of modern biology: P.Z. Myers, author of the atheist blog Pharyngula and a leading (and loud) Darwinist, assures us that he infers nothing about human sexual identity:
When I meet people, I don't know anything about their sperm count or their chromosome arrangement or even what their genitals look like (you don't have to show me), so all the sex details are irrelevant to our interactions. Gender matters because we have a huge amount of social capital, some good, some bad, invested in how people present themselves, and also because those gender signifiers are diverse and do a better job of reflecting how people see themselves in society, and how society sees them.

You know, when a population is identified as a discrete binary of two kinds of individuals, male and female, my usual thought is that the next step is to pair up individuals in bottles and do a genetic cross. That's not how we treat human beings in our communities.

Comment: Thank goodness for those members of the scientific community who are pushing back on the nonsense: Just as important as the societal dangers is that men and women must be treated differently in medical situations, such as heart attacks. Lying to oneself and one's practitioner can only complicate matters further and lead to tragedy.


In the "Mathematical Glory" of the Universe, Physicist Discovered the "Truly Divine"

Milky Way Galaxy
© ESA/Hubble & NASA
How did this slip through? John Horgan with Scientific American interviewed a physicist colleague, Christopher Search. The physicist is appealingly direct in rejecting the atheism associated with Stephen Hawking and other venerated names in the field. More than that, he says it was physics that brought him to a recognition of the "truly divine" in the universe:
Over the years my view of physics has evolved significantly. I no longer believe that physics offers all of the answers. It can't explain why the universe exists or why we are even here. It does though paint a very beautiful and intricate picture of the how the universe works. I actually feel sorry for people that do not understand the laws of physics in their full mathematical glory because they are missing out on something that is truly divine.

The beautiful interlocking connectedness of the laws of physics indicates to me how finely tuned and remarkable the universe is, which for me proves that the universe is more than random chance. Ironically, it was by studying physics that I stopped being an atheist because physics is so perfect and harmonious that it had to come from something. After years of reflecting, I simply could not accept that the universe is random chance as the anthropic principle implies.


For 'bioethicists', protecting children from dangerous decisions is 'neglectful' parenting

© Irina Murza via Unsplash
It's one thing when adults decide to radically alter their bodies to accord with their identified gender. But when these body-altering interventions are performed on children blocking normal puberty, mastectomies on 13-year-olds, etc. — that is a different kettle of fish.

"Treating" gender-dysphoric children via body-altering interventions should be deemed unethical because — among other concerns — children can't decide these things maturely, we don't know the long-term consequences to their health, we don't know how such potentially permanent alterations will impact their wellbeing, and some gender-dysphoric children cease identifying as their non-biological sex as they reach adulthood. Alas, much of mainstream medicine supports such interventions, at least when parents consent.

Comment: Parents are right to follow their instincts with respect to protecting their children from life-long harm. Gender dysphoria most always comes with a plethora of other mental issues, not the least of which is undiagnosed autism in girls. "Affirming care" is an easy, socially celebrated way for lazy doctors to bypass the hard work of coming to grips with a child's true issues.

Blue Planet

Philosopher and researcher Teilhard de Chardin and the incomplete nature of evolutionary theory

Teilhard de Chardin

Teilhard de Chardin
Why should advocates of intelligent design care about a French Jesuit priest who died more than 60 years ago? Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) along with being a Jesuit priest was also a geologist and paleontologist who made several trips to China to participate in geological and paleontological work (he was part of the team that discovered Piltdown Man, later revealed to be a hoax). But Teilhard is best known for his book The Phenomenon of Man, published in French in the 1930s and in English in 1955. In this book Teilhard lays out a vision for the evolutionary process that is at odds with the established scientific view but is consistent with his own religious convictions.

A Truncated View

Teilhard argued that the science of his time had a truncated view of evolution. Scientists studied the evolutionary process as if it were a movie playing on a screen in front of them with the scientists themselves as mere passive observers. Teilhard thought that evolution needed to be viewed from the inside, viewing humans not only as observers of evolution but also as its products. As such, Teilhard conceived evolution as occurring on four levels, only two of which were acknowledged by establishment scientists.


Would you stand up to an oppressive regime or would you conform? Here's the science

handmaid's tale
© Jasper Savage/Hulu/Channel 4
Margaret Atwood's novel, The Handmaid's Tale, described the horror of the authoritarian regime of Gilead. In this theocracy, self-preservation was the best people could hope for, being powerless to kick against the system. But her sequel, The Testaments, raises the possibility that individuals, with suitable luck, bravery and cleverness, can fight back.

But can they? There are countless examples of past and present monstrous regimes in the real world. And they all raise the question of why people didn't just rise up against their rulers. Some of us are quick to judge those who conform to such regimes as evil psychopaths - or at least morally inferior to ourselves.

But what are the chances that you would be a heroic rebel in such a scenario, refusing to be complicit in maintaining or even enforcing the system?

Comment: See also:


The American life is killing you

man with sack on head
I believe we are a species with amnesia, I think we have forgotten our roots and our origins. I think we are quite lost in many ways. And we live in a society that invests huge amounts of money and vast quantities of energy in ensuring that we all stay lost. A society that invests in creating unconsciousness, which invests in keeping people asleep so that we are just passive consumers of products and not really asking any of the questions.

~ Graham Hancock
If you're in the same boat as the typical American, your dilemma might look something like this:

You're enduring some type of chronic illness, over-stressed and rushed, unrewarding job, little or no savings, greatly in debt, fat mortgage, two vehicles in the driveway with a 5 or 7-year loan on each, lots of gadgets and toys to keep you occupied, huge TV, little free time for yourself due to your career and a demanding spouse, weekends filled with church and/or senseless entertainment, and a bathroom cabinet heavily stacked with pharmaceutical tic tacs to help cope with the emptiness of it all.

Apple Green

Babies are willing to give up food, showing altruism begins in infancy, study says

baby food research

Researcher in the "begging" group acts like he wants the food.
Picture this: a 19-month-old hungry baby picks up a delicious snack, but instead of gobbling it up gives it to an adult who appears to want it, too.

Now imagine dozens of different babies of the same age doing the same. And that's exactly what happened during a study published Tuesday that tests the beginnings of altruism in humans.

The babies "looked longingly at the fruit, and then they gave it away!" said Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, in a statement. "We think this captures a kind of baby-sized version of altruistic helping."

Meltzoff and his team studied nearly 100 babies who were 19 months old, a time when many babies are starting to have temper tantrums, especially when told no, according to the American Academy of Pediatricians (PDF). This is also the age that babies are likely to hit, bite or scratch others when denied what they want, a part of their developmentally appropriate experiments with new behaviors.

Comment: See also:


The precise meaning of emotion words is different around the world

word confetti
When you can't quite put your finger on how you're feeling, don't worry — there may be a non-English word that can help you out. There are hundreds of words across the world for emotional states and concepts, from the Spanish word for the desire to eat simply for the taste (gula) to the Sanskrit for revelling in someone else's joy (mudita).

But what about those words that exist across many languages — "anger", for example, or "happiness"? Do they mean the same thing in every language, or do we experience emotions differently based on the culture we are brought up in? Is the experience we call "love" in English emotionally analogous with its direct translation into Hungarian, "szerelem", for example?

In a new paper in Science, Joshua Conrad Jackson from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and colleagues looked at 2,439 distinct concepts (including 24 relating to emotion) from 2,474 languages. The team analysed the similarities and differences between languages based on patterns of "colexification": instances in which multiple concepts are expressed by the same word form.

In Persian, to use the team's example, the word ænduh can be used to express both grief and regret; in the Dargwa dialect, spoken in Dagestan in Russia, dard means grief and anxiety. It follows, therefore, that Persian speakers may understand grief as closer to regret, and Dargwa speakers closer to anxiety.

The analysis allowed the researchers to create networks of concepts that showed, for each language family, how closely different emotional concepts related to each other. These revealed wide variation between language families. For instance, in Tad-Kadai languages, which can be found in Southeast Asia, southern China, and Northeast India, "anxiety" was related to "fear"; in Austroasiatic languages, anxiety was closer to "grief" or "regret". In Nakh Daghestanian languages spoken mainly in parts of Russia, on the other hand, "anger" was related to "envy", but in Austronesian languages it was related to "hate", "bad", and "proud".

But there were some similarities. Words with the same emotional valence — i.e. that were positive or negative — tended to be associated only with other words of the same valence, in all language families across the world. Happiness, for example, was linked to other positive emotions, even if the specific associations were slightly different depending on the language family. (This wasn't always the case though: in some Austronesian languages, "pity" and "love" were associated, suggesting pity may be more positive or love more negative than in other languages). Similarly, low-arousal emotions like sadness were also unlikely to be compared to high-arousal emotions like anger.

And geography also seemed to matter: language families that were geographically closer tended to share more similar associations than those that were far away.

The study's findings suggest that emotional concepts do vary between languages up to a point, raising the question of just how similar supposedly universal experiences are. Of course, it's impossible to know exactly how somebody else is experiencing the world, and language can often be woefully inadequate when it comes to expressing our internal life. And while the research suggests that those emotional experiences may vary in subtle ways across the world, deep down it seems we're not so dissimilar at all.

- Emotion semantics show both cultural variation and universal structure

Comment: See also: How much does our language determine behavior?

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MindMatters: Wake Up! Gurdjieff on Sleep, Knowledge and Politics

In this discussion of G.I. Gurdjieff's central ideas we delve further into the key insights he had on the human individual's state of sleep and the implications that such a condition has for the state of humanity as a whole. 'Self-remembering', 'identification', and 'considering' are just some of the key concepts and terms Gurdjieff used to describe the goals and pitfalls of the individual on the path to self-knowledge. We also discuss what may be Gurdjieff's most lasting legacy: the 'mirror' that he held up to all people in all times and places, and how essential such a mirror is in order to see oneself and thus gain self-knowledge.

This week on MindMatters we also discuss Gurdjieff's cultural legacy: his writings, movements and music, and how his 'successors' have dealt with this legacy.

Running Time: 01:02:21

Download: MP3 — 58 MB