Welcome to Sott.net
Thu, 25 Aug 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Free will may just be the brain's 'background noise,' scientists say

© Nemeziya/Shutterstock
It's a question that has plagued philosophers and scientists for thousands of years: Is free will an illusion?

Now, a new study suggests that free will may arise from a hidden signal buried in the "background noise" of chaotic electrical activity in the brain, and that this activity occurs almost a second before people consciously decide to do something.

Though "purposeful intentions, desires and goals drive our decisions in a linear cause-and-effect kind of way, our finding shows that our decisions are also influenced by neural noise within any given moment," study co-author Jesse Bengson, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Davis, wrote in an email to Live Science.

"This random firing, or noise, may even be the carrier upon which our consciousness rides, in the same way that radio static is used to carry a radio station."

This background noise may allow people to respond creatively to novel situations, and it may even give human behavior the "flavor of free will," Bengson said.


"I am a lovable person!": Why positive mantras backfire for some

© alachia
The positive mantra has long been a staple of self-help books.
According to many self-help books, the idea is simple and intuitive: repeating "I am lovable," or "I am confident," will move a person towards these states.

According to psychological research, though, these statements don't work for everyone and, for some, may even backfire (Wood et al., 2009).

Canadian psychologist Joanne V. Wood and colleagues decided to test the effects of what they term 'positive self-statements'.

First they wanted to see how many people used these kinds of statements.

A survey of 249 undergraduates showed that the majority used them from time-to-time and even more frequently during stressful period, like before exams.

Next, the researchers wanted to see what kind of effect these self-statements had on people's self-esteem.

Participants were asked to repeat "I am a lovable person," and their self-esteem was measured before and afterwards.


The disconnect of covert depression

Depression is often considered a "female disease," since affected women reportedly outnumber men by four to one. Yet male depression may be more rampant than we realize.

Many men try to hide their condition, thinking it unmanly to act moody. And it works: National studies suggest that doctors miss the diagnosis in men a full 70% of the time. But male depression also stays hidden because men tend to express depression differently than women do.

Research shows that women usually internalize distress, while men externalize it. Depressed women are more likely to talk about their problem and reach out for help; depressed men often have less tolerance for internal pain and turn to some action or substance for relief. Male depression isn't as obvious as the defenses men use to run from it. I call this "covert depression." It has three major symptoms. First, men attempt to escape pain by overusing alcohol or drugs, working excessively or seeking extramarital affairs. They go into isolation, withdrawing from loved ones. And they may lash out, becoming irritable or violent.

Comment: Covert depression hides under different masks - addictive behavior like alcoholism, pornography or substance abuse, obsessive behavior, perfectionism, workaholism etc. Depression may not always be about feeling bad either - in men emotional numbness or alexithymia can be an experience of depression. Coping mechanisms of covert depression is designed to keep overt depression at bay.

In close relationships, even non-psychopathic men who are unable to take ownership of their feelings can act them out in the form of psychological or physical violence. The ones who are emotionally numb and disengaged can also have a different effect on their partners who are more sensitive to feelings. In marital relationships, the female partner often becomes the carrier of the disowned feelings of the male partner. She may even act out those emotions and come across as a bitchy or depressed woman while the man remains more "normal". This is projective identification - where one projects one's feelings unconsciously on another; the receiver of the projection then acts out the projection as if it were her own feelings. Such burdens can be passed on to offspring as well as continuing the cycle of covert depression. Childhood wounds create both the injury and the defense mechanism used to hide the injury which become the foundation of depression in later life.

See the forum thread on the topic: Covert depression


The emotion that boosts self-control and saves you money

© Loving Earth
We have a new ally in the struggle to resist temptation.
The feeling of gratitude can help people resist temptation, according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Science.

While practising gratitude is now well-established as a powerful way to enhance happiness, its links to decision-making are much less clear.

Many people feel that emotions tend to get in the way of decision-making: that we should be 'cold' and 'calculating' to make the right choices.

For example, when we're faced with a tempting choice to spend (or waste) a whole load of money, we usually call on our powers of self-control to resist temptation.

The new research, though, finds that the emotions can also be harnessed to rein in desire.

In the study, conducted by Northeastern University's David DeSteno and colleagues, 75 participants were given a classic test of their financial self-control (DeSteno et al., 2014).


Is there a brain region associated with a belief in social justice?

© io9
Some people believe that we could live in a just world where everybody gets what they deserve. Others believe that's impossible. Now, neuroscientists say they have evidence that the "just world hypothesis" is a cognitive bias that's connected with a specific part of the brain.

This does not mean there is a "social justice center" in your brain. What neurologist Michael Schaefer and colleagues discovered is that there is a slightly different pattern of electrical impulses shooting through the brains of people who believe in a just world.

They asked people whether they believed in a just world, then put them in an fMRI machine and then asked them to ponder scenarios where people broke from social norms or conformed to them.

Previously, other neuroscientists had identified brain areas that become active when people perceive norm violations. So the group knew that if those areas were lit up in the fMRI, all they were seeing was a response to norm violations in general. But what they found was that a few additional brain regions became active in people who believe in a just world. So they now believe there could be some physiological component to a belief in social justice.


How the use of language can reveal the psychopath

© Thinkstock.com
For psychopaths, not only a lack of affect but also inappropriate emotion may reveal the extent of their callousness. Recent research suggested that much can be learned about these individuals by close examination of their language. Their highly persuasive nonverbal behavior often distracts the listener from identifying their psychopathic nature.1 For example, on a publically available police interview with murderer and rapist Paul Bernardo, his powerful use of communication via his hand gesturing is easily observable and often distracts from his spoken lies.2 The authors offer their insights into the unique considerations pertaining to psychopaths' communication.


Robert Pickton, convicted of the second-degree murder of six women in December 2007, initially was on trial for 26 counts of first-degree murder. He once bragged to a cellmate that he intended to kill 50 women. Details provided in court revealed brutal and heinous murders that often included torture, degradation, and dismemberment of the victims. The authors opine that Mr. Pickton probably would meet the criteria for psychopathy, a destructive personality disorder that combines a profound lack of conscience with several problematic interpersonal, emotional, and behavioral characteristics.

Comment: This article deals only with criminal psychopaths. But what most people are not aware of is that not all psychopaths are violent. Many of them are aware of the social rules and can control to some extent their behaviour to conform to them. This allows psychopaths to occupy high positions in politics, religion, banking, finance.

If you are interested in what it means for the rest of our society, we recommend to read the excellent work of Dr. Andrzej M. Łobaczewski Political Ponerology: The Scientific Study of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes which explains the phenomenon of psychopathy and its repercussions on our society. The book can be acquired here.
© en.pilulerouge.com
Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes


Music, language, and the brain: Are you experienced?

© doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094169.g002
Topographic maps of ERP waveforms (P2, N2 and LP) from the nogo condition across musicians, controls and bilinguals.

Each gradient represents a change of approximately 0.5 µV.
Have you ever thought about everything that goes into playing music or speaking two languages? Musicians for example need to listen to themselves and others as they play, use this sensory information to call up learned actions, decide what is important and what isn't for this specific moment, continuously integrate these decisions into their playing, and sync up with the players around them.

Likewise, someone who is bilingual must decide based on context which language to use, and since both languages will be fairly automatic, suppress one while recalling and speaking the other, all while continuously modifying their behavior based on their interactions with another listener/speaker. All of this must happen quickly enough for the conversation or song to flow and sound natural and coherent. It sounds exhausting, yet it all happens in milliseconds!

Playing music or speaking two languages are challenging experiences and complex tasks for our brains. Past research has shown that learning to play music or speak a second language can improve brain function, but it is not known exactly how this happens. Psychology researchers in a recent PLOS ONE article examined how being either a musician or a bilingual changed the way the brain functions. Although we sometimes think of music as a universal language, their results indicate that the two experiences enhance brain function in different ways.

Heart - Black

Soul Murder

Human consciousness, collectively and individually, is haunted by layers upon layers of ponerisation, past and present.
All men are created equal. All chattel are insured . . .

I saw the movie Belle the other day and a piece of it got stuck in my head. The costume drama, set in England in the 1780s, hinged on a real historical event: the monstrous voyage of the slave ship Zong in 1781, from West Africa to the Caribbean. Its cargo when it set out on its transatlantic voyage included some 470 tightly packed human beings - too tightly packed, it turns out. Disease ran through the cargo hold. Slaves and crewmen began to die. The ship got lost. They began running low on water. Eventually the surviving crew jettisoned . . . 132 live humans, still in chains. This was business as usual.

Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History, wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2008, commemorating the bicentennial of the official end of the slave trade in the British Empire: "Over almost four centuries, from roughly 1500 to 1870, 12 million to 13 million Africans were forced onto slave ships and sailed to New World plantations. . . . We know that during the middle passage, about 1.8 million of these enslaved men, women and children died, their bodies thrown overboard to the sharks that usually trailed the vessels."

Uh, we don't talk about this too much, do we? The era in question is the glorious Age of Exploration, when Europe went out and discovered the rest of the world. In the classrooms of my childhood, they taught us about the silk trade and the noble quest for new sea routes and that sort of thing. Go, civilization! I remember no unpleasant disclosures about the rape of Africa or the profit made by Europe's upper classes in human trafficking.

Belle's plot, though it involves fictionalized characters, addresses the real court case that followed the Zong's arrival in Jamaica. This case was not about the murder of 132 people but whether or not the ship's owners could collect insurance on the loss of 132 slaves.

Comment: On the effects of evil on human psychology, read Political Ponerology


Crazy, or unsuccessful healer? A shaman's view of mental illness

© unknown
Dr. Somé
The Shamanic View of Mental Illness

In the shamanic view, mental illness signals "the birth of a healer," explains Malidoma Patrice Somé. Thus, mental disorders are spiritual emergencies, spiritual crises, and need to be regarded as such to aid the healer in being born.

What those in the West view as mental illness, the Dagara people regard as "good news from the other world." The person going through the crisis has been chosen as a medium for a message to the community that needs to be communicated from the spirit realm. "Mental disorder, behavioral disorder of all kinds, signal the fact that two obviously incompatible energies have merged into the same field," says Dr. Somé. These disturbances result when the person does not get assistance in dealing with the presence of the energy from the spirit realm.

One of the things Dr. Somé encountered when he first came to the United States in 1980 for graduate study was how this country deals with mental illness. When a fellow student was sent to a mental institute due to "nervous depression," Dr. Somé went to visit him

Comment: It's a shame how the psychiatric industry treats the so-called mentally ill. Perhaps it is done out of sheer ignorance or, maybe, it is done on purpose to prevent the healing and enlightenment a true shaman can bring to communities.


Music of the hemispheres: Synchronized brain waves enable rapid learning, formation of new circuits

MIT study finds neurons that hum together encode new information.

The human mind can rapidly absorb and analyze new information as it flits from thought to thought. These quickly changing brain states may be encoded by synchronization of brain waves across different brain regions, according to a new study from MIT neuroscientists.

The researchers found that as monkeys learn to categorize different patterns of dots, two brain areas involved in learning - the prefrontal cortex and the striatum - synchronize their brain waves to form new communication circuits.

"We're seeing direct evidence for the interactions between these two systems during learning, which hasn't been seen before. Category-learning results in new functional circuits between these two areas, and these functional circuits are rhythm-based, which is key because that's a relatively new concept in systems neuroscience," says Earl Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT and senior author of the study, which appears in the June 12 issue of Neuron.