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Tue, 25 Apr 2017
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit

People 2

Luke Ruehlman, aged two: I was a woman called Pam in a past life

© Screengrab/Fox 2
An internet search revealed a woman called Pam did die in a fire.
When Luke Ruehlman began talking about a woman named Pam, his mother Erica assumed it was just an imaginary friend.

She had no idea where her toddler son had picked up the name or why he was so obsessed with it.

The Ohio woman said she initially didn't think it was strange, other than the fact that the family didn't know any Pams.

But things became really strange when she quizzed him about where he had got the name from and why he liked it.

The then-two-year-old told his parents he used to be Pam, a girl with black hair, he said.


Human communication slants towards the positive across multiple languages and many modes

Billions of words analysed in 10 world languages and this mood keeps shining through.

Across multiple languages and in many modes — movie subtitles, music lyrics, Russian literature — human communication skews towards the positive, a new study finds.

Scientists have gathered billions of words from Korean Twitter feeds, Arabic movie subtitles, The New York Times and much more to try and answer an age-old question about whether human beings tend to talk more about the brighter side of life.


Trying to understand the teenage mind

© Thinkstock
To their parents, teenagers may seem like the laziest, most foolish, and most self-centered beings on the planet, but according to one prominent UK cognitive neuroscience professor, adults shouldn't hold such behaviors against them - that's just how their brains are wired.

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a professor at University College London and the deputy director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, recently told The Telegraph that when adolescents tell their elders that, "nobody understands them," they might be right, neurologically speaking.

Over the past decade, Blakemore and her colleagues have been analyzing the development of the brain before and during the teenage years.

Among their findings are changes to grey matter in the prefrontal cortex responsible for some of the drastic changes in attitude during this time of life.

Blakemore and the researchers working in her lab have regularly been reporting new discoveries of observable, measurable changes in the structure and function of adolescent brains, the British newspaper said. Not only is she working to learn how the mind of a teenager works, she wants to use that information to change education policy to better maximize their learning potential.

"We work with many schools all over London for research purposes, and I hope that in the next 20 years or so we will be applying more evidence-based science in education because at the moment there is not much," she told the Telegraph on Saturday. "We know a lot about how the teenage brain learns and how it develops but it hasn't filtered through yet."


Smart negotiations: A sturdy chair for a tough-willed politician

As yet another summit passes into history, journalists are trying hard to interpret something which continues to puzzle them: how on Earth could the four presidents stay clear-headed throughout sixteen hours of negotiations and stick to their respective agendas to the very end?

President Putin, however, opted for a chair from another set – a hard one, with a straight back
The venue for the February 11 Normandy Four meeting remained the same as in September of last year: the vast marble-and-glass Independence Palace in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. The room for negotiations, however, was shifted from a spacious hall with a large table to the "Green Room" proposed by President Putin. The room features a low coffee table in the middle, which is impossible to bend towards and absolutely ill-fitted for 16-hour-long negotiations.

While the extended negotiations with other members of the delegations were held in a larger room, the four heads of states stuck to the Green one.

The room was furnished with a soft sofa and two armchairs from the same set, which were taken by Presidents Hollande and Poroshenko and Chancellor Merkel.

Comment: Again and again Russians show much higher intelligence and competence when it comes to diplomacy and political negotiations. Perhaps it has something to do with Lavrov smoking, and the other side being utterly stupid when it comes to analyzing situations and people.


Develop your thinking skills through writing

Better thinking come from practice. What are some good ways to practice? You can sit and think, for starters, you can work on specific puzzles and problems. You can have interesting discussions with others. There may not be a "best" way to practice your thinking skills and boost your brainpower, but one of the most powerful is to write.

Why writing? Because unless you are just copying words, to write is to think. There are three basic ways in which writing helps your thinking skills.

1. Writing clarifies your thoughts

You may have noticed how much clearer an argument or opinion becomes to you once you express it. Talking forces you to clarify your thoughts, but not just to the other person. Putting thoughts into words is also a process of telling yourself the logic behind what you "felt" or what you only partly understood. You try to make the other person understand, but you are often also bringing yourself to that understanding, or at least a better one. You are thinking aloud.

Writing accomplishes the same thing. It is essentially like talking to the paper or computer screen. Compared to talking, it has the disadvantage of not giving you outside feedback. On the other hand, you get to express and develop your thoughts without interruption. This is a great way to work on your thinking skills. Boost your brainpower by exercising your "explain power."

Comment: See also:

Book 2

Reading as a form of life-support

© The Independent, UK
Reading a gripping novel causes biological changes in the brain which last for days as the mind is transported into the body of the protagonist.
One in three adults in the UK - or 16m people - rarely or never read for pleasure. A new survey of 4,164 adults, including both those who read and those who don't, found that adults who read for just 20 minutes a week are 20% more likely to feel satisfied with their lives.

Our research was not focused on people who are unable to read as a result of literacy difficulties or other impairments. We looked instead at people who can read - and often have been regular readers in the past - but who have lost the reading habit, often through a significant life-event, such as having children or falling ill. Two fifths of respondents for the survey, which I helped to conduct for the charity campaign Galaxy Quick Reads, cited lack of time as the chief barrier.

Mood and relaxation

Non-readers were 28% more likely to report feelings of depression than those who read regularly for pleasure. One in five readers said that reading helps them to feel less lonely. Both findings resonate strongly with our previous research at the University of Liverpool, in partnership with national charity, The Reader Organisation, on their shared-reading aloud model for adults and children.

Comment: For more information on the benefits of reading see:


Everyone can sing

Very few people are truly tone-deaf. Most just need to practice, a new study finds.

© carulmare/Flickr
Many universities have performance choirs, but the one at Morley College, an adult- education school in London, has an unusual caveat: It's a chorus for people who can't sing.

For the past 15 years, the school has run both choirs and special classes for people who want to learn to sing better (or at all).

But what about the truly tone-deaf, you ask? Those who couldn't carry a tune in a basket?

Comment: Studies have also shown that group singing helps with shared emotional experiences, social bonding and improves cognitive function. So don't worry about how you sound - sing out loud and strong!


Debunking the myth of creative genius: Effort and unwavering perseverance are the keys to creativity

© Unknown
We tend to romanticize creativity and innovation. We think of a select group of scientists, philosophers, inventors, artists, authors and composers as different from the rest of us. After all, the rest of us are mere mortals.

We put these individuals in a special category called "genius." We assume these individuals — like Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Mozart and Marie Curie — had what we don't, and thereby are the only ones who can be creative, the only ones who can create.

We assume creation is a magical, mystical process that regular people just aren't privy to. We assume creation happens spontaneously through aha! moments and epiphanies that strike like lightning. We assume creativity is like a stroll along a quiet street or a steady stream: smooth, effortless, graceful, forward moving.

We assume creation looks just like Mozart's own process, which he described in 1815 in a letter to Germany's General Music Journal:
When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer; say traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. All this fires my soul, and provide I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost finished and complete in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful state, at a glance...
Kevin Ashton features Mozart's letter in his new book How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention and Discovery. The letter reveals that Mozart's symphonies came to him as whole creations. All he had to do was transcribe the compositions from his imagination.

Or does it?

Decades after Mozart's letter was published in the German journal, his biographer showed that it was actually a fake (which others have confirmed).

Comment: Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes or a blessing bestowed. It's a skill that anyone can learn and work to improve.


The brain, interrupted

Babies are increasingly surviving premature birth - but researchers are only beginning to understand the lasting consequences for their mental development.
© Paddy Mills
Fabienne never found out why she went into labour three months too early. But on a quiet afternoon in June 2007, she was hit by accelerating contractions and was rushed to the nearest hospital in rural Switzerland, near Lausanne. When her son, Hugo, was born at 26 weeks of gestation rather than the typical 40, he weighed just 950 grams and was immediately placed in intensive care. Three days later, doctors told Fabienne that ultrasound pictures of Hugo's brain indicated that he had had a severe haemorrhage from his immature blood vessels. "I just exploded into tears," she says.

Comment: A ketogenic diet and meditation creates beneficial neuroplastic changes. For more info, see:


Third Man Factor: The hallucinatory effects of survival

© unknown
Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
But who is that on the other side of you?

If you're unfamiliar with the poem, it was written by T.S. Elliot after reading a strange account from famed Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton. During the last leg of his 1914-1917 expedition, he was hiking with his two remaining companions, desperately trying to reach a British whaling station. They were low on food, dehydrated, poorly equipped, and very near death's door.

That's when he reported sensing an unseen member among the group. For whatever reason, he felt that there was a fourth person traveling with them, who despite being impossible to see, was a very comforting and encouraging presence. After they made it to the whaling station, Shackleton kept this detail to himself, before revealing it to a reporter many years later. After news of this encounter reached his former comrades, they too admitted to sensing this strange presence.