Science of the SpiritS


Neurobiologists Find that Weak Electrical Fields in the Brain Help Neurons Fire Together

© Image from Figure 4 in Anastassiou et.,Nature Neuroscience, 2011Ephaptic coupling leads to coordinated spiking of nearby neurons, as measured using a 12-pipette electrophysiology setup developed in the laboratory of coauthor Henry Markram.
Coordinated behavior occurs whether or not neurons are actually connected via synapses.

The brain - awake and sleeping - is awash in electrical activity, and not just from the individual pings of single neurons communicating with each other. In fact, the brain is enveloped in countless overlapping electric fields, generated by the neural circuits of scores of communicating neurons. The fields were once thought to be an "epiphenomenon, a 'bug' of sorts, occurring during neural communication," says neuroscientist Costas Anastassiou, a postdoctoral scholar in biology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

New work by Anastassiou and his colleagues, however, suggests that the fields do much more - and that they may, in fact, represent an additional form of neural communication.

"In other words," says Anastassiou, the lead author of a paper about the work appearing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, "while active neurons give rise to extracellular fields, the same fields feed back to the neurons and alter their behavior," even though the neurons are not physically connected - a phenomenon known as ephaptic coupling. "So far, neural communication has been thought to occur at localized machines, termed synapses. Our work suggests an additional means of neural communication through the extracellular space independent of synapses."


Flashback Following the principles we claim to hold/being the people we claim to be

If we transcend the sad, desperate triumphalist rhetoric of an empire in decline -- that is, if we break from the conventional platitudes about the inherent benevolence and superiority of the United States that underlie the politics of both major parties -- we can see clearly the breadth and depth of the problems we face.

Though it is easy for progressive people to focus on the smug frat-boy arrogance of George W. Bush and the shortsightedness, mendacity, and incompetence of his administration, the problem is not simply the reactionary policies of the current gang of thugs and thieves in Washington. Nor is the problem simply the timidity of a Democratic Party bereft of ideas, political acumen, or moral clarity in the face of the right-wing project. The problem is that we live in political, economic, and social systems that are fundamentally unjust and unsustainable.

Where do we look for insights into a path out of the madness of this system of white supremacy and patriarchy, of imperial domination and soulless capitalism, of an unsustainable high-energy/high-technology affluent society?

Eye 2

Predators in our midst - Swiss therapist 'abused 114 patients'

Christof Scheurer, speaker of the public prosecutor's office (R), speaks while Gabriele Berger, the head of Bern police's special investigations unit, listens at a press conference in Bern.
A social worker in Switzerland has confessed to sexually assaulting more than 100 mentally and physically disabled children and adults in care homes across Europe.

The 54-year-old man, who has not been identified, committed the crimes in a 28-year span, since 1982.

Swiss authorities said Tuesday that he had abused people while working as a therapist in nine different care homes in Switzerland and Germany.

The man, who is from Bern in Switzerland, has admitted to an overall 114 counts of sexual abuse.

All his victims have mental disabilities and some were even physically disabled, the Bern police said. The man has also confessed to eight attempted sexual assaults.

Authorities have so far identified 122 of his victims, most of them males, with the youngest being one year old at the time of the crime. Forty-two of them were over 18.


A mother's grief: The startling images which show how chimpanzees mourn their dead just like humans

Chimpanzees appear to mourn their dead infants just like humans, scientists have discovered.

Chimpanzee mothers establish close physical relationships with their young, carrying them for up to two years and nursing them until they are six.

But now scientists have filmed how one chimpanzee mother, whose 16-month-old infant died, apparently begins the grieving process.

It's the latest evidence highlighting just how similar chimps and other great apes are to humans.

© unknownGrieving process: A chimpanzee mother tenderly lays her dead 16-month-old infant on the ground after carrying the body for more than 24 hours. Scientists filmed this heartbreaking footage in Chimfunshi, Zambia
The ape continued to carry the body for more than 24 hours before tenderly laying on the ground. Then from a short distance she watched over her child.

Periodically she returns to the body and touches the face and neck with her fingers to establish it was dead.


The Psychology of Food Riots: When Do Price Spikes Lead to Unrest?

Summary: The connection among rising prices, hunger, and violent civic unrest seems intuitively logical. But there was more to Tunisia's food protests than the logic of the pocketbook. The psychological element -- a sense of injustice that arises between seeing food prices rise and pouring a Molotov cocktail -- is more important.

Evan Fraser is Canada Research Chair in Global Human Security at the University of Guelph. Andrew Rimas is Editor of Improper Bostonian. They are the authors of Empires of Food: Feast Famine and the Rise and Fall of Civilization.

The year 2010 was a tough one for the global food system. Wildfires, fueled by record temperatures and a summer drought, burned away much of Russia's wheat harvest, spurring the Kremlin to halt exports. Throughout the fall, commodities prices skyrocketed. The United Nations panicked and called an emergency summit in September. World food prices rose to a record high in December 2010. So far, 2011 has not been much better: in January, food prices were identified as one trigger for Tunisia's unrest as well as for riots across much of northern Africa, including Egypt, a country that depends heavily on Russian grain. It seems that a food crisis along the lines of the one in 2008, when rioters in dozens of countries furiously protested the price of grain, might again be in the works.

Assuming a connection among rising prices, hunger, and violent civic unrest seems logical. Many commentators have emphasized it, including Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, who warned of mass starvation and other "dire consequences" if food prices were allowed to rise too high: "As we know . . . those kinds of questions sometimes end in war." For its part, the UN emergency summit last fall concluded with a reminder of the pledge taken during the 2009 World Food Summit: Countries must "refrain from taking measures that are inconsistent with the [World Trade Organization] rules." In other words, the UN reaffirmed that free trade and increased agricultural production are the best means to achieve food security.


Does oxytocin the 'love hormone' foster racism?

© Sipa Press/Rex FeaturesGerman neo-Nazis feeling the love of the pack at a demonstration.
Carsten de Dreu, 44, a professor of psychology at the University of Amsterdam, describes himself as a social psychologist with an interest in evolutionary theory. He is president of the European Association of Social Psychology and has published more than 100 scholarly articles on conflict resolution in organisations, group decision-making and creativity and innovation.

More recently, he has been exploring the role of the "love" hormone oxytocin in group dynamics and inter-group competition. His latest experiments, the results of which have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicate a potentially more negative side.


Emotional Abuse in Committed Relationships: Effects on Children

What is the most profound form of child abuse?

Families do not interact predominantly by language. That might surprise you, until you consider that humans bonded in extended families for millennia before we had language. Even today, the most sensitive communications that can have far-reaching consequences on our lives occur between parents and infants through tone of voice, facial expressions, touch, smell, and body posture, not language.

Though less obvious than interactions with young children, most exchanges with older children and between intimate partners also occur within an unconscious process of emotional attunement. Without realizing it, we tune our emotions to the people we love. That's how you can come home in one mood, find your partner or children in a different mood and, bam! - all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you're in their mood. Quite unconsciously, you automatically react to each other.

Emotional attunement, like most emotional processes, is negatively biased. Probably because negative emotions are more important for immediate survival - giving us the instant capability to avoid snakes in the grass and fend off saber tooth tigers - they gained priority processing in the primitive brain and continue to have undue influence in modern times. To keep from being "brought down" by the other's negative mood, many families attempt to dull their sensitivity to the emotional world of one another. This puts them squarely on the road to dissolution, as it stenches the lifeblood of relationships -- compassion and appreciation -- both of which require openness to attunement.

Alarm Clock

SOTT Focus: How Societies Regress to Become Pathocracies

Red PillPress/
A pathocracy is a social movement, society, nation, or empire wherein a small pathological minority takes control over a society of normal people. The pathological minority habitually perpetrates evil deeds on its people and/or other people.

Almost everyone knows that pathocracies have been responsible for tremendous death and destruction throughout history. What less people are willing to acknowledge is that pathocracies continue to perpetrate death and destruction today. Billions of people throughout the world live in perpetual poverty and hunger or lack access to safe water, despite the fact that the resources exist to provide adequate food and safe water to all of the world's citizens. Millions of others are perpetually exposed to the horrors of war.

Therefore, it would behoove us all to understand how pathocracies develop and perpetrate their damage, and how to recognize them. A book on that subject, titled Political Ponerology - A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes, was written by Andrew M. Lobaczewski. Lobaczewski, a psychiatrist, began the research that eventually led to the book more than half a century ago, in collaboration with other researchers, all who are all now dead. The research was conducted in secret, as the researchers were all victims of Joseph Stalin's totalitarian regime, which obviously provided fodder for much of the book's content.


Consulting with Your Wisest Self

The undervalued version of yourself is only one of many "self states." By a self state, I mean the way we think and feel in a particular situation or role. You are still you, but if you think about it you can recognize that you also feel almost like a different person when you are with your parents compared to when with your best friend, or when you are with the highway patrol officer who has stopped you for speeding, your supervisor at work, or face-to-face with the person in your life you most respect.You switch selves according to the situation, but have you ever thought about switching selves to make yourself feel better?

It is far easier than trying to make your undervalued self change, since it is instinctive and serves the purpose I describe in The Undervalued Self. Rather, you can see your progress with it by how little time you are in that state where you undervalue your true worth. It can be difficult to switch out of it, of course, but this is another tool to try, not one based on changing what cannot be changed. As I always say, the best self to turn to is your linking, loving self. But what if you are alone among a bunch of rankers and having trouble staying focused on those who care for you but are not around? At such times you might do better with your wisest self. But you will need to get to know it better.


Parents pass on 'irrational fear' of spiders and snakes to their children

© AlamyIrrational phobia: People are not born with an innate fear of creepy crawlies - but we learn how to be scared of them in the first years of life, scientists believe
If you're terrified of spiders, or fearful of snakes, then blame your parents.

A study challenges the widely held view that we are hard-wired to fear creepy crawlies and instead suggests we learn to be scared of them in the first years of life.

Fear of snakes is one of the most common - and in Britain - irrational phobias. Half the population is thought to suffer even though most have never actually seen a snake.

Experts at Rutgers University in Newark showed seven-month-old babies two videos side by side - one of a snake and another of a non-threatening animal.

At the same time, the babies were played a recording of either a fearful human voice or a happy one.

The infants spent more time looking at the snake videos when listening to the fearful voices, but showed no signs of fear themselves, the researchers report in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.