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Mon, 20 Nov 2017
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit
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Brain

How challenging situations activate cognitive shifts

Challenging situations make it more difficult to understand where you are and what's happening around you, new research demonstrates. The finding suggests that challenging situations cause the brain to abandon nuanced, context-based cognition and shift to reflexive action.

Previous research suggests that long-term memories formed under stress lack the context and peripheral details encoded by the hippocampus, making false alarms and reflexive reactions more likely. These context details are necessary for situating yourself in space and time, so struggling to acquire them has implications for decision-making in the moment as well as in memory formation.

Biased cognition during high arousal states is a relevant to a variety of topics, from the development of post-traumatic stress disorders or stress-triggered addictive behaviors to forensic considerations regarding crimes of passion.

Comment: See also: Waking the Tiger: An interview with Peter Levine


Gear

Unhealed trauma may cause physical illness

We've known for a long while that unresolved emotional trauma can cause lifelong behavioral problems. Most notably, Dr. Gabor Maté has explained how addictions arise in people who've suffered wounds in the past, mostly during their childhood years, and how those wounds continue to manifest in negative ways throughout their lives.

While this is not something that can easily be pinned down by medical research, it does make sense intuitively, and the improvements people see in their lives once traumatic experiences are reconciled and put to rest offers sufficient testimony to support this idea.

Comment:


Question

Are you only as happy as your unhappiest child?

© Don McPhee for the Guardian
‘Yes, children are trouble – but is life about avoiding trouble at all costs?’
An article published this week in the digital magazine Aeon carries the headline: "Kids? Just say no," which purports to make "the moral case against procreation". The author, a philosopher called David Benatar, claims that "coming into existence is always a serious harm". He describes himself as an "antinatalist". "Even if life isn't pure suffering," he ponders, "coming into existence can still be sufficiently harmful to render procreation wrong. Life is simply much worse than most people think."

This is a point of view I find verging on the pathological, but it is true that the reasons not to have children are sufficiently numerous that it makes you wonder why so many people do it.

Apart from anything else, people who don't have children are, according to numerous surveys, consistently happier. The moment you have children, you are burdened with worries and responsibilities for the rest of your life. You are only ever as happy as your unhappiest child.

So, what is the motivation? The answer to this, as far as I'm concerned, is pretty much: "Well, what else are you going to do?" For me, life isn't the pursuit of happiness. Life is the pursuit of meaning.

Comment: Jordan Peterson: " Transcend your suffering"
This is the most profound speech of the 21st century.

Its balance of emotional wrath and cogent argument makes it undeniably sincere, and yet, entirely reasonable. Peterson rips apart the victim mindset that plagues our culture -- a plague that is quietly nourished by our intelligentsia.

It's not that the victim mindset is wrong -- it's correct. Everyone's a victim! But instead of masturbating over our collective self-pity, we ought to try to lessen the load of our victim-hood. Start with yourself: what are you doing that is making your life more painful? If you ask yourself that question, and you sincerely want to know the answer, it will immediately become clear that you are your own worst enemy. And how can you complain about society when you won't improve your individual inadequacies?

And so Dr Peterson places the blame squarely on the individual. Which is the primary discovery of the West: the necessity of individual responsibility. That's not "Blaming the Victim" -- it's a realistic approach to life. No one is going to shelter and protect you indefinitely, so you'll have to do it yourself. And anyone who suggests otherwise will most likely enslave you.

In short, Dr. Peterson shows how the correct response to the suffering of life is to confront it forthrightly. And with that, he drops the mic on western civilization




Brain

Burnout: When minds turn to ash

© Izhar Chen
When Steve first came to my consulting room, it was hard to square the shambling figure slumped low in the chair opposite with the young dynamo who, so he told me, had only recently been putting in 90-hour weeks at an investment bank. Clad in baggy sportswear that had not graced the inside of a washing machine for a while, he listlessly tugged his matted hair, while I tried, without much success, to picture him gliding imperiously down the corridors of some glassy corporate palace.

Steve had grown up as an only child in an affluent suburb. He recalls his parents, now divorced, channeling the frustrations of their loveless, quarrelsome marriage into the ferocious cultivation of their son. The straight-A grades, baseball-team captaincy and Ivy League scholarship he eventually won had, he felt, been destined pretty much from the moment he was born. "It wasn't so much like I was doing all this great stuff, more like I was slotting into the role they'd already scripted for me." It seemed as though he'd lived the entirety of his childhood and adolescence on autopilot, so busy living out the life expected of him that he never questioned whether he actually wanted it.

Comment: Finding a healthy balance between our work, social, and personal lives can be very difficult. With the advent of cell phones and social media, for all their usefulness, finding that balance has become even more tricky. After all, we must pay rent on life, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the process of creating a life for ourselves that we find worth living.

One way to help deal with the stress that comes with paying rent on life and facing reality is Éiriú Eolas. Other ways can be found here:


Sheeple

More creative people tend to have poorer sleep

People who are more creative go to sleep later, get up later and have worse sleep overall, research finds.

Both visually and verbally creative people reported worse sleep.

Their sleep was more disturbed during the night and they had more problems functioning during the day as a result.

Neta Ram-Vlasov, the study's first author, said:
"Visually creative people reported disturbed sleep leading to difficulties in daytime functioning.

In the case of verbally creative people, we found that they sleep more hours and go to sleep and get up later.

In other words, the two types of creativity were associated with different sleep patterns.

This strengthens the hypothesis that the processing and expression of visual creativity involves different psychobiological mechanisms to those found in verbal creativity."

Comment: Hidden epidemic: We are as dream-deprived as we are sleep-deprived


Butterfly

People find altruistic behaviour attractive, especially women

The behaviour is particularly attractive to women, although men also rate it highly.

Being altruistic - helping others without thought of reward - is particularly attractive to women, research finds.

But both men and women find those who are altruistic more attractive.

The results come from three studies including over 1,000 people.

Comment: If people are attracted to altruism, natural selection would dictate that generations to come would be more generally altruistic than the present ones. That would be good news, for a change. But it is probably not as simple as that. Free will is real, and that means that the future is always open.


Hearts

Eight Habits of Considerate People

Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said, "Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax." It's true. Being kind and considerate softens people and makes them malleable to your way of thinking.

But I see another meaning there, too. I think he's also saying that being considerate of others is an integral part of what it means to be human. Charles Darwin would have agreed. He argued that our instinct to be considerate is even stronger than our instinct to be self-serving.

As obvious as that may seem, it's only recently that neuroscience has been able to explain why. Research conducted by Dacher Keltner at Berkeley showed that our brains react exactly the same when we see other people in pain as when we experience pain ourselves. Watching someone else experience pain also activates the structure deep inside the brain that's responsible for nurturing behavior, called the periaqueductal gray.

Being considerate of others is certainly a good career move, but it's also good for your health. When you show consideration for others, the brain's reward center is triggered, which elevates the feel-good chemicals dopamine, oxytocin, and endogenous opioids. This gives you a great feeling, which is similar to what's known as "runner's high," and all that oxytocin is good for your heart.
"Being considerate of others will take you further in life than any college or professional degree." - Marian Wright Edelman

Family

Unschooling: learning and living in the now


My daughter is a baker. When people ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she responds breezily: "A baker, but I already am one."
You see, with unschooling there is no postponement of living and doing. There is no preparation for some amorphous future, no working toward something unknown.

There is simply life.

The question of what a child wants to be when she grows up is a curious one well-rooted in our schooled society. Disconnected from everyday living and placed with same-age peers for the majority of her days and weeks, a schooled child learns quickly that "real life" starts after. It starts after all of the tedium, all of the memorizing and regurgitating, all of the command and control. It starts after she is told what to learn, what to think, whom to listen to. It starts after her natural creativity and instinctive drive to discover her world are systematically destroyed within a coercive system designed to do just that. She must wait to be.

With unschooling there is no after. There is only now. My daughter is a baker because she bakes. She is also many other things. To ask what a child wants to be when she grows up is to dismiss what she already is, what she already knows, what she already does.

Baking brings my daughter daily joy and fulfillment while also helping to nourish her family and friends. She writes a baking blog, sharing her recipe adaptations and advice. She reads cookbooks, watches cooking shows (The Great British Baking Show is a favorite), talks to other bakers--both adults and kids--to get ideas and tips. She learned this all on her own, following her own interests, and quickly outgrowing the library children's room cookbook section to the adult aisles.

Comment: See also: "Class Dismissed": New film promotes homeschooling


Butterfly

Restoring the body's natural balance: How toning your vagus nerve can relieve pain and inflammation

Eight Ways to Boost Your Vagal Tone Naturally

A few simple practices that everyone can do, could be the secret to relieving pain and inflammation. In her article "Hacking the Nervous System", Gaia Vince, science journalist and editor of New Scientist, describes how a woman suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis was successfully treated with a device that stimulated the vagus nerve. No pills, no morphine, no side-effects; just stimulating a nerve. Not only that, Gaia goes on to explain that by stimulating the vagus nerve we can find relief from inflammation, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and other ailments, and we don't necessarily require a device to do so.

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body. It starts at the base of the brain and runs through the whole torso, through the neck via the vocal cords, then passes around the digestive system, liver, spleen, pancreas, heart and lungs. It is an integral nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our rest and digest capacities, a calming and soothing force in our bodies. As opposed to the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our 'fight or flight' responses.

The tone of the vagus nerve is important to our health and is key to how well our bodies adapt to stress and recover equilibrium after a stressful event. High vagal tone improves the functioning of many of the body's systems. It reduces the risk of strokes and heart attacks and regulates blood sugar levels. It's also associated with feeling calmer and more contented. Low vagal tone, however, is linked to cardiovascular diseases, strokes, diabetes, depression, chronic fatigue and other auto-immune disorders, and much higher rates of all inflammatory conditions including endometriosis, Crohn's, lupus etc.

Comment: Éiriú Eolas is a scientifically proven breathing and meditation program that is designed to stimulate the vagus nerve, reducing stress while also helping to heal emotional wounds. Visit the Éiriú Eolas site to learn more about the scientific background of this program and then try it out, free of charge.

More nervy facts about the vagus nerve:


Hourglass

Coming to terms with the prospect of dying


Palliative-care
Palliative-care doctors explain the "existential slap" that many people face at the end.

Nessa Coyle calls it "the existential slap" - that moment when a dying person first comprehends, on a gut level, that death is close. For many, the realization comes suddenly: "The usual habit of allowing thoughts of death to remain in the background is now impossible," Coyle, a nurse and palliative-care pioneer, has written. "Death can no longer be denied."

I don't know exactly when my mother, who eventually died of metastatic breast cancer, encountered her existential crisis. But I have a guess: My parents waited a day after her initial diagnosis before calling my brother, my sister, and me. They reached me first. My father is not a terribly calm man, but he said, very calmly, something to this effect: "Your mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer."

There was a pause, and then a noise I can best describe as not quite a sob or a yell, but feral. It was so uncharacteristic that I didn't know then, and I still don't know, whether the sound came from my father or my mother.

I think that was the moment of her-and their-existential slap.

Comment: Some other thoughts on this rather somber subject: