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Fri, 28 Oct 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit

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Is our addiction to technology flattening the range of our emotional experiences?

© Victor Blue
Over the past generation there seems to have been a decline in the number of high-quality friendships.

In 1985, most Americans told pollsters that they had about three confidants, people with whom they could share everything. Today, the majority of people say they have about two. In 1985, 10 percent of Americans said they had no one to fully confide in, but by the start of this century 25 percent of Americans said that.

All of this has left people wondering if technology is making us lonelier. Instead of going over to the neighbor's house, are we sitting at home depressingly surfing everybody else's perfect lives on Facebook?

Comment: The Complete Guide to Breaking Your Smartphone Habit


Pot-belly of ignorance: What you read changes how effectively your mind operates

© Luke MacGregor / Reuters
What you eat makes a huge difference in how optimally your body operates. And what you spend time reading and learning equally affects how effectively your mind operates.

Increasingly, we're filling our heads with soundbites, the mental equivalent of junk. Over a day or even a week, the changes, like those to our belly, are barely noticeable. However, if we extend the timeline to months and years, we face a worrying reality and may find ourselves looking down at the pot-belly of ignorance.

If you think of your mind as a library, three things should concern you.
  1. The information you store in there — its accuracy and relevance;
  2. Your ability to find/retrieve that information on demand; and
  3. Finally your ability to put that information to use when you need it — that is, you want to apply it.
There is no point having a repository of knowledge in your mind if you can't find and apply its contents (see multiplicative systems).

Let's take a look at what you put into your mind.

Comment: You are what you read: How deep reading is effective brain exercise

2 + 2 = 4

Commonly misused words that make smart people look stupid

© Getty Images
We're all tempted to use words that we're not too familiar with. We throw them around in meetings, e-mails and important documents (such as resumes and client proposals), and they land, like fingernails across a chalkboard, on everyone who has to hear or read them.

No matter how talented you are or what you've accomplished, using words incorrectly can change the way people see you and forever cast you in a negative light. You may not think it's a big deal, but if your language is driving people up the wall you need to do something about it.

It's the words that we think we're using correctly that wreak the most havoc, because we don't even realize how poorly we're coming across. After all, TalentSmart has tested the emotional intelligence of more than a million people and found that self-awareness is the area where most people score the lowest.

We're all guilty of this from time to time, myself included.

When I write, I hire an editor to review my articles before I post them online. It's bad enough to have a roomful of people witness your blunder and something else entirely to stumble in front of 100,000!

Comment: You can read more on commonly misused words below:

Commonly Misused Words and Phrases


What happens in the brain when it comes to decision making?

© Family Business / Fotolia
Results of a new study challenge the traditional view of decision making.
Choices, it is commonly understood, lead to action - but how does this happen in the brain? Intuitively, we first make a choice between the options. For example, when approaching a yellow traffic light, we need to decide either to hit the breaks or to accelerate the car. Next, the appropriate motor response is selected and carried out, in this case moving the foot to the left or to the right. Traditionally, it is assumed that separate brain regions are responsible for these stages. Specifically, it is assumed that the motor cortex carries out this final response selection without influencing the choice itself.

Two Tübingen Neuroscientists, Anna-Antonia Pape and research group leader Markus Siegel of the Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN) and MEG Center, have found evidence that challenges this intuitive division between a 'deciding' and a 'responding' stage in decision making. The results of their study have been published in the latest Nature Communications.

While recording brain activity using magnetoencephalography (MEG) to monitor activity in motor areas, Pape and Siegel set 20 human subjects the simple task of deciding whether or not a field of dots on a screen was slowly moving together. The subjects could respond "yes" or "no" by pressing a button with either their left or their right hand. The mapping from choice (yes/no) to response (left/right button) changed randomly on each trial, with a short cue telling subjects the current configuration. This ensured the participants' brains could not plan a motor response, i.e. the correct button press, during choice formation. Astonishingly, while the test subjects were able to press the 'correct' button most of the time, subjects still showed a strong tendency towards motor response alternation. In other words, they often simply pressed the button they had not pressed in the trial just prior to the current one. This tendency was pronounced enough to detract from subjects' overall decision task performance.

Comment: See also:

Light Saber

Learning from failure: Why our mistakes are fundamental to future success

Ask a hundred people you meet this week what instances spurred their biggest growth in life (any dimension of it) and I'll wager most of those stories will fall under the umbrella of "mistakes." And the bigger the flub, you'll find, the more learning (and benefit) they probably received in the long-term. You'd think that knowing this we'd welcome the missteps and embrace them as the natural, productive, and highly potent opportunities they are. But not so much. Instead, we live in fear of them, try to circumvent them, endeavor to hide them even when they inevitably happen. We get thrown off by a skewed perception (social media and otherwise driven) that others magically operate out of perfection. We fall prey to the idea that when we make a mistake, we have a problem instead of an opening. It's too bad really—because in doing so we cut ourselves off from perhaps our most effective catalysts for change...and success.

When we think of success, our minds naturally zero in on the desired outcome. Success is the ultimate goal, the end product, the final result we wanted all along. While successfully attaining an individual outcome is gratifying, there's the whole process from desire to result that we tend to gloss over, not to mention the bigger perspective we get on what's possible to desire (and achieve). Mistakes are an essential part of any transformation. Not only do they underscore the whole fallible humanity we're working with, but they bust open the entire process of transformation, helping us break through into deeper dimensions of commitment while redirecting us toward more constructive pathways.

Comment: Growth mindset: Your reaction to failure determines your potential for future success


Neurosculpting: Can we relieve stress & anxiety by sculpting the mind?

Neurosculpting is a relatively new therapy. When you first hear the term, you may conjure an earnest Michelangelo chiselling away at a block of quarried marble. And what would emerge from his concentrated efforts? The exquisite human brain, of course, with each hemisphere shimmering in perfect symmetry. Neurosculpting may not equal Michelangelo, but it does reflect certain principles that flowered during the Renaissance: balance, perspective, and grace.

So what exactly is Neurosculpting? In essence, it is the fusion of Science and Spirituality; where current research in brain function and anatomy informs the ancient practice of meditation. The main objective of Neurosculpting, is to shape our thoughts in ways that will enhance an inner sense of calm and well-being.


Being kind to others does make you 'slightly happier'

© highwaystarz / Fotolia
An act of kindness.
Researchers conclude that being kind to others causes a small but significant improvement in subjective well-being. The review found that the effect is lower than some pop-psychology articles have claimed, but also concluded that future research might help identify which kind acts are most effective at boosting happiness.

The claim that 'helping makes you happy' has become a staple of pop psychology and self-help manuals. Performing 'random acts of kindness' has been touted as a sure-fire way of boosting your mood -- doing good makes you feel good, as well as benefiting others. But do these claims stack up, or are they 'too good to be true'?

In order to find out, a team from the universities of Oxford and Bournemouth carried out a systematic review of the scientific literature. They analysed over 400 published papers that had investigated the relationship between kindness and happiness, and identified 21 studies that had explicitly put the claim to the test -- that being kind to others makes us happier. They then conducted a meta-analysis, which statistically combines the results of these previous studies. On this basis, they calculate that there is indeed an overall effect of kindness on happiness, but that the size of the effect is relatively modest -- equivalent to less than one point on a 0-10 happiness scale.

Comment: Related articles:


How the performing arts can set the stage for more developed brain pathways

Dance and music training have even stronger effects on the brain than previously understood -- but in markedly different ways, say researchers

© taniho / Fotolia
All that time you spent in piano lessons and dance classes as a youngster may have seemed like a pain, but new research now confirms what your parents claimed: it's good for mind and body.
Endless hours at the barre. Long afternoons practising scales. All that time you spent in piano lessons and dance classes as a youngster may have seemed like a pain, but new research now confirms what your parents claimed: it's good for mind and body.

In fact, a recent study published in NeuroImage by a team of researchers from the the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research, proves that dance and music training have even stronger effects on the brain than previously understood -- but in markedly different ways.

The researchers used high-tech imaging techniques to compare the effects of dance and music training on the white matter structure of experts in these two disciplines. They then examined the relationship between training-induced brain changes and dance and music abilities.

Comment: Related articles:


Dying woman picks road trip over chemotherapy

© Ramie Liddle
Norma and her son Tim
When 90-year-old Norma Bauerschmidt was diagnosed with terminal cancer, her immediate instinct was to refuse treatment and instead find a more positive way to spend her final days.

So she embarked on the road trip of lifetime and unwittingly became an internet hit along the way, when the Facebook page about her travels started attracting more than 440,000 followers.

Light Saber

The unique habits of genuinely confident people

© Getty
True confidence—as opposed to the false confidence people project to mask their insecurities—has a look all its own. One thing is certain: truly confident people always have the upper hand over the doubtful and the skittish because they inspire others and they make things happen.
Whether you think you can, or you think you can't—you're right. - Henry Ford
Ford's notion that your mentality has a powerful effect on your ability to succeed is seen in the results of a recent study at the University of Melbourne that showed that confident people earn higher wages and get promoted more quickly than anyone else.

Indeed, confident people have a profound impact on everyone they encounter. Yet, they achieve this only because they exert so much influence inside, on themselves.

We see only their outside. We see them innovate, speak their mind, and propel themselves forward toward bigger and better things.

And, yet, we're missing the best part.

We don't see the habits they develop to become so confident. It's a labor of love that they pursue behind the scenes, every single day.

Comment: Further reading: