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Fri, 30 Sep 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Stephen Porges - The Polyvagal Theory explained

William Stranger interviews Dr. Stephen Porges.

The Polyvagal Theory introduced a new perspective relating autonomic function to behavior that included an appreciation of autonomic nervous system as a "system," the identification of neural circuits involved in the regulation of autonomic state, and an interpretation of autonomic reactivity as adaptive within the context of the phylogeny of the vertebrate autonomic nervous system.


Stephen Porges - Neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina - Department of Psychiatry (UNC Chapel Hill).

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Life Preserver

Children exposed to religion have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction - study

© Shutterstock
A study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science determined that children who are not exposed to religious stories are better able to tell that characters in "fantastical stories" are fictional - whereas children raised in a religious environment even "approach unfamiliar, fantastical stories flexibly."

In "Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds," Kathleen Corriveau, Eva Chen, and Paul Harris demonstrate that children typically have a "sensitivity to the implausible or magical elements in a narrative," and can determine whether the characters in the narrative are real or fictional by references to fantastical elements within the narrative, such as "invisible sails" or "a sword that protects you from danger every time."

However, children raised in households in which religious narratives are frequently encountered do not treat those narratives with the same skepticism. The authors believed that these children would "think of them as akin to fairy tales," judging "the events described in them as implausible or magical and conclude that the protagonists in such narratives are only pretend."


Why scientists deny psychic phenomena

© Fractal Enlightenment
Even though films like 'Inception', 'Waking Life' and more recently, 'John Dies at the End' and 'Now You See Me' wouldn't be approachable without assuming the authenticity of unexplainable events, most people, including most scientists, are unaware of the vast abundance of compelling scientific evidence for psychic phenomena, which has resulted from over a century of para-psychological research. Thousands of archaeological finds also suggest the use of such phenomenon in prehistoric times.

Hundreds of carefully controlled studies - in which psi researchers continuously redesigned experiments to address comments from their critics - have produced results that demonstrate marginal but statistically significant effects for psi phenomena, especially with regard to telepathy, precognition, and psychokinesis.

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, Neurologist Vilaynur Ramachandran and Physicist Dean Radin are modern scientific pioneers in this field, and speak of compelling evidence for psychic phenomena, which imply that our minds are also more interconnected to one another than previously imagined.

Comment: Related...

Farewell to 'psychic research'?

Are we all psychic? Scientists believe that animals - including humans - have a collective consciousness


Friends have more DNA in common than strangers

© MJTH/Shutterstock.
Friends may share more in common than you'd think.
People may unsuspectingly choose friends who have some DNA sequences in common with them, a new analysis finds.

Researchers compared gene variations between nearly 2,000 people who were not biologically related, and found that friends had more gene variations in common than strangers.

The study lends a possible scientific backing for the well-worn clichés, "We're just like family," or "Friends are the family you choose," the researchers said.

"Humans are unique in that we create long-term connections with people of our species," said Nicholas Christakis, a social scientist at Yale University involved in the study. "Why do we do that? Why do we make friends? Not only that, we prefer the company of people we resemble."

The researchers did the study because they wanted "to provide a deep evolutionary account of the origins and significance of friendship," Christakis said.

The new study is based on data from the Framingham Heart Study, which is a large, ongoing study looking at heart disease risk factors in the people living in one town: Framingham, Massachusetts. The researchers looked at data on people's DNA, as well as who was friends with whom.

After analyzing almost 1.5 million markers of gene variations, the researchers found that pairs of friends had the same level of genetic relation as people did with a fourth cousin, or a great-great-great grandfather, which translates to about 1 percent of the human genome.


A conscious universe: Does science allow for life after death?

Some international physicists are convinced, that our spirit has a quantum state and that the dualism between the body and the soul is just as real to as the "wave-particle dualism" of the smallest particles.

Dr. James G. of San Francisco, a former coworker of the German Max-Planck Society in Frankfurt, reported the following incredible story. "I studied not only in the USA, but I also studied chemistry in London for a few semesters. When I came to England, the student housing was full, so I added my name to a waiting list. A short time later, I received the joyous news that a room had become available. Shortly after I had moved in, I awoke one night and in the twilight was able to see a young man with curly, black hair. I was terrified and told the alleged neighbor that he had the wrong room. He simply cried and looked at me with great sadness in his eyes.

"When I turned on the light, the apparition had disappeared. Since I was one hundred percent sure it had not been a dream, I told the housemaster about the strange encounter the next morning. I gave her a detailed description of the young man. She suddenly paled. She looked through the archives and showed me a photo. I immediately recognized the young man who had visited me in my room the evening before. When I asked her who he was, she replied with a quivering voice that it was the previous renter. She then added that my room had become available because he had taken his life shortly before." The author would never have recorded the story had "James" not been an absolutely trustworthy person.

Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Dürr, former head of the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich, represents the opinion that the dualism of the smallest particles is not limited to the subatomic world, but instead is omnipresent. In other words: the dualism between the body and the soul is just as real to him as "wave-particle dualism" of the smallest particles. According to his view, a universal quantum code exists that applies for all living and dead matter. This quantum code supposedly spans the entire cosmos. Consequently, Dürr believes - again based on purely physical considerations - in an existence after death. He explains this as follows in an interview he gave:

Comment: The problem with this analogy is that a wave is not analogous to a mind (at least according to how we normally think of waves or minds). For the analogy to work, we should posit that waves have some degree of sentience, which implies panpsychism, i.e., everything has some degree of awareness, not just organisms with brains.


Brain science: We don't know as much as we think we do

© Tim Lahan
Are we ever going to figure out how the brain works?

After decades of research, diseases like schizophrenia and Alzheimer's still resist treatment. Despite countless investigations into serotonin and other neurotransmitters, there is still no method to cure clinical depression. And for all the excitement about brain-imaging techniques, the limitations of fMRI studies are, as evidenced by popular books like Brainwashed and Neuromania, by now well known. In spite of the many remarkable advances in neuroscience, you might get the sinking feeling that we are not always going about brain science in the best possible way.

This feeling was given prominent public expression on Monday, when hundreds of neuroscientists from all over the world issued an indignant open letter to the European Commission, which is funding the Human Brain Project, an approximately $1.6 billion effort that aims to build a complete computer simulation of the human brain. The letter charges that the project is "overly narrow" in approach and not "well conceived." While no neuroscientist doubts that a faithful-to-life brain simulation would ultimately be tremendously useful, some have called the project "radically premature." The controversy serves as a reminder that we scientists are not only far from a comprehensive explanation of how the brain works; we're also not even in agreement about the best way to study it, or what questions we should be asking.

The European Commission, like the Obama administration, which is promoting a large-scale research enterprise called the Brain Initiative, is investing heavily in neuroscience, and rightly so. (A set of new tools such as optogenetics, which allows neuroscientists to control the activity of individual neurons, gives considerable reason for optimism.) But neither project has grappled sufficiently with a critical question that is too often ignored in the field: What would a good theory of the brain actually look like?

Comment: Probably the biggest reason brain science is at an impasse is philosophical: materialism makes the problem insoluble. If everything is physical, there is no logical way of explaining how word meanings, for example, can be 'stored' in neurons. See: The Heretic: Who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him?


Brain activity in sex addiction similar to that of drug addiction

Pornography triggers brain activity in people with compulsive sexual behaviour - known commonly as sex addiction - similar to that triggered by drugs in the brains of drug addicts, according to a University of Cambridge study published in the journal PLOS ONE. However, the researchers caution that this does not necessarily mean that pornography itself is addictive.

Although precise estimates are unknown, previous studies have suggested that as many as one in 25 adults is affected by compulsive sexual behaviour, an obsession with sexual thoughts, feelings or behaviour which they are unable to control. This can have an impact on a person's personal life and work, leading to significant distress and feelings of shame. Excessive use of pornography is one of the main features identified in many people with compulsive sexual behaviour. However, there is currently no formally accepted definition of diagnosing the condition.
"There are clear differences in brain activity between patients who have compulsive sexual behaviour and healthy volunteers" - Valerie Voon
In a study funded by the Wellcome Trust, researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge looked at brain activity in nineteen male patients affected by compulsive sexual behaviour and compared them to the same number of healthy volunteers. The patients started watching pornography at earlier ages and in higher proportions relative to the healthy volunteers.

Comment: Journal Reference: Valerie Voon, Thomas B. Mole, Paula Banca, Laura Porter, Laurel Morris, Simon Mitchell, Tatyana R. Lapa, Judy Karr, Neil A. Harrison, Marc N. Potenza, Michael Irvine. Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (7): e102419 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102419


Authoritarians! New study shows that nice people are more likely to cause harm to others

Personality type was found to predict obedience in a study that asked the subjects to administer painful electric shocks to others, and the nice people were more likely to do as they were told. Those who scored as Conscientious and Agreeable on a personality test (specifically the Big Five Mini-Markers questionnaire) were more likely to be willing to administer higher-intensity electric shocks to an innocent victim.

This study was an extension of a previous famous study, called the Milgram study, in which subjects were tested on their willingness to obey an authority figure. In the original Milgram study of 1961 the experiment tested how far someone would go in obeying an order to give another person (an actor that faked feeling pain) a painful electric shock. In the experiment, someone played the part of being a teacher who asked the subjects questions. With each "wrong" answer, the subject was told to shock the actor who then screamed as if in pain. A shock of 450 volts is very painful and can cause death, however, 65 percent of the subjects in the Milgram study were willing to administer this level of electric shock despite the fact that it made the person receiving the shock scream as if he was feeling intense pain.

Comment: Comment:

Being nice to everyone is weakness. The problem may lie in social pressure to "be nice" and the so-called "be nice program" we see all around us. Why not try something like "be good", or even better, "be awesome."


Is the internet making us stupid?

© Thinkstock
A new study has found spending hours glued to a computer screen had a negative impact on cognition.
Reading online could be making us dumber, a University of Victoria study has found.

The study of offline and online reading behaviour found spending hours glued to a computer screen had a negative impact on cognition, concentration, comprehension, absorption and recall rates.

People were reading more text than ever, but retaining less of it.

Victoria's School of Information Management's Dr Val Hooper said people today almost expected to be interrupted when using their computers.

"Multitasking when reading online was common, with activities such as reading emails, checking news, exploring hyperlinks and viewing video clips providing distractions, which could have something to do with it."

While readers were churning through more content online, they were much more likely to be skim reading and scanning than absorbing anything of substance.


How your brain deals with a breakup

© unknown
The thing about breaking up is that it's way less fun than falling in love. It's kind of like jumping into a pile of hot garbage. It's also like trying to kick a cocaine habit.

I should know. About two months ago, the girl that I loved like a maniac was totally driving me crazy (not that I was making her feel particularly sane), so we decided that the year-long rollercoaster of strife-ridden romance we had (mostly) enjoyed had come to its final stop. As twentysomething New York transplants with poor relationship models do, we broke up.

The resulting withdrawal? In a word: awful.

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