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Sun, 15 Sep 2019
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Science of the Spirit


The goal of happiness: Aristotle's summary of Nicomachean ethics

The achievement of happiness, according to Aristotle, is the end goal of every man.

His reasoning is thus: All human activities are done in order to attain something that is good. We don't do something because we think it will be bad for us. In addition, most of these activities are not the main objective, but rather a means to a higher end. Consequently, the activity that is an end in itself, writes the prolific philosopher, is the highest good, and that good is happiness. We aim at happiness for its own sake, not because it will achieve something else. Happiness, therefore, is our greatest mission.

Supposing this to be our aim, Aristotle then proceeds in his Nicomachean Ethics to figure out how best to achieve this goal.

Comment: Many of the ancient philosophers had a good understanding of human beings and what makes us tick. Aristotle's views aren't too far off from what the Stoic philosophers were saying.

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MindMatters: Unstable Reality: When Objects Disappear And Reappear, And What It Means

"Just one of those things." Sometimes you just can't find your keys. Sometimes you lose your TV remote. But sometimes, an object might fall from your grasp, never to be seen again. Sometimes objects might disappear from their usual home, only to reappear in the same place days, weeks, or months later - sometimes in a completely unexpected and implausible location. Sometimes a missing object will even be replaced with a poor facsimile. Psychical researcher Mary Rose Barrington calls these phenomena "jotts". Most will dismiss them as "just one of those things", but if you're paying attention, something more seems to be going on here.

Today we discuss Barrington's book, JOTT, in which she provides nearly a hundred case studies, and a wide-ranging theory of what's really going on, with reference to a range of parapsychological phenomena. Her proposal is expansive, original, and has parallels with many of the ideas we've been covering on MindMatters, from Whitehead to Carpenter to Kastrup. Tune in to find out where those missing keys of yours may have gone, and why they went missing in the first place.

Running Time: 01:05:10

Download: MP3 — 59.7 MB


Empathy and dream-sharing: Researchers find a connection


What happens in your mind when you share a dream with another person, or they share a dream with you? How does dream-sharing impact or influence the way you think?

Modern psychologists have developed many models of how dreams are formed and what functions they serve in the brain-mind system. But few have investigated the psychological dynamics of sharing dreams in natural, healthy settings (i.e., not in a clinical or therapeutic context).

This might seem like an insignificant topic. Don't most people get bored listening to other people's dreams? Many people never even remember their dreams, let alone talk about them. Isn't dream-sharing really just an obscure and esoteric practice?

In a survey Michael Schredl and I analyzed for a recent article in the International Journal of Dream Research, we asked more than 5,000 American adults about their attitudes towards dreams.

Microscope 2

Can the legacy of trauma be passed down the generations?

generational trauma
© Javier Hirschfeld for the BBC
Our children and grandchildren are shaped by the genes they inherit from us, but new research is revealing that experiences of hardship or violence can leave their mark too.

In 1864, nearing the end of the US Civil War, conditions in the Confederate prisoner of war camps were at their worst. There was such overcrowding in some camps that the prisoners, Union Army soldiers from the north, each had the square footage of a grave. Prisoner death rates soared.

For those who survived, the harrowing experiences marked many of them for life. They returned to society with impaired health, worse job prospects and shorter life expectancy. But the impact of these hardships did not stop with those who experienced it. It also had an effect on the prisoners' children and grandchildren, which appeared to be passed down the male line of families.

While their sons and grandsons had not suffered the hardships of the PoW camps - and if anything were well provided for through their childhoods - they suffered higher rates of mortality than the wider population. It appeared the PoWs had passed on some element of their trauma to their offspring.

Comment: It's nice to see an article about genetic inheritance of trauma ending on a hopeful note. Genetic determinism is an outdated concept, despite the fact that it still gets touted in much of the mainstream press (and even academia). It's important to realize that we are more than sum of our genes and that the issues we have, whether learned or inherited, can be worked through.

See also:

Blue Planet

Is the human brain hard-wired for rural tranquillity?

© Getty Images
The brain does less processing when looking at rural landscapes
Humans may be hard-wired to feel at peace in the countryside and confused in cities - even if they were born and raised in an urban area.

According to preliminary results of a study by scientists at Exeter University, an area of the brain associated with being in a calm, meditative state lit up when people were shown pictures of rural settings. But images of urban environments resulted in a significant delay in reaction, before a part of the brain involved in processing visual complexity swung into action as the viewer tried to work out what they were seeing.

The study, which used an MRI scanner to monitor brain activity, adds to a growing body of evidence that natural environments are good for humans, affecting mental and physical health and even levels of aggression.

Comment: More trees please! Want to enjoy a long, happy life? Live near trees
A subsequent study specifically looked at how walking in nature influences rumination - which has been linked to the onset of depression and anxiety - using fMRI technology to map brain activity. Participants took a 90-minute walk in either a natural or urban setting and had their brains scanned before and after the walk. They were also surveyed on self-reported rumination levels, along with other psychological classifications. Heart rate and pulmonary functions associated with physical exertion levels were taken into account. The results?
"[P]articipants who walked in a natural setting versus an urban setting reported decreased rumination after the walk, and they showed increased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain whose deactivation is affiliated with depression and anxiety-a finding that suggests nature may have important impacts on mood." [source]

Light Sabers

Belief hygiene: The best way to evaluate your beliefs is to engage with people who disagree with you

belief hygeine, engaging others differing viewpoints
© Anthony Russo / The Times
If you don’t talk to people who hold different views, you will not know what they believe, and you won’t even know what you believe. Having conversations with people who hold beliefs different from yours affords you the opportunity to reflect — and only then can you evaluate whether your beliefs hold true.
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard famously observed that if everyone is a Lutheran then no one is a Lutheran. What he meant is that if you're born into a culture in which everybody has a similar worldview, you don't have an opportunity to develop genuine belief because your convictions are not subject to scrutiny.

Put another way, if you don't talk to people who hold different views, you will not know what they believe, and you won't even know what you believe. Having conversations with people who hold beliefs different from yours affords you the opportunity to reflect — and only then can you evaluate whether your beliefs hold true.

Immigration. Abortion. Gun control. The seemingly impossible issue du jour is irrelevant. What is relevant: To justify your confidence you must sincerely engage people who have solid arguments against your position.

Over the last few years, Americans seem to have convinced themselves that not speaking to people who hold different moral and political beliefs makes us better people — even on college campuses where intellectual sparring has historically been part of the curricula. It does not. However, it does make us less likely to revise our beliefs and more likely to convince ourselves that others should believe as we do.

Over time, failure to have conversations across divides cultivates a belief myopia that strengthens our views and deepens our divisions.

Comment: John Whitehead: If Americans can't agree to disagree, censorship won't stop until we are ALL silenced
We've allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we need someone else to think and speak for us. And we've allowed ourselves to become so timid in the face of offensive words and ideas that we've bought into the idea that we need the government to shield us from that which is ugly or upsetting or mean.

The result is a society in which we've stopped debating among ourselves, stopped thinking for ourselves, and stopped believing that we can fix our own problems and resolve our own differences.
Also check out: MindMatters: "Everybody Knows That!" - Mass Beliefs and the Ideas That Shape Them

Magic Wand

Why corporations want you to shut up and meditate

yoga washington monument
© Jacquelyn Martin / AP
People practice yoga on the National Mall near the Washington Monument in 2009.
Whatever ails you — be it anger, depression, or wanting a career change — there is a book on how mindfulness and meditation can help you attain your goals while bringing about a sense of contentedness. Rooted in a centuries-old Buddhist meditation practice, mindfulness, like the religion it originates from, is based on the Four Noble Truths, the first of which loosely translates to "Life is suffering." What causes suffering? Things like desiring and craving the unattainable and humans' greed and drive for dominance. And yet the poster children of greed and dominance, corporations with ethically dubious track records, from Goldman Sachs to Google and Monsanto, have implemented mindfulness-meditation training programs across all their levels. In 2018, Google's mindfulness guru, Chade-Meng Tan, quietly stepped down from his role at the company after an investigation uncovered past inappropriate behavior.

Stripped of all ethical and religious tenets, mindfulness meditation has morphed into a market-friendly practice, adaptable into any context. Even the US military deploys mindfulness among its commanders and troops, teaching them how to focus on their breath as they pull the trigger.

Comment: See also:


How mindfulness privatised a social problem

mindfulness abstract photo

The £3.4trn industry encourages a preoccupation with the symptoms of mental illness, rather than their social causes.

In December 2008, while forcibly evicting tenants from a concrete high-rise in south London, Southwark Council pulled off a remarkable feat of complacency. Though residents didn't know it at the time, every flat in the development that replaced the Heygate Estate would be sold to foreign investors, despite the council's repeated promises of new social housing.

Recognising that people were "stressed", councillors hired life coaches and "spiritual ministers" to run workshops teaching residents how to progress emotionally. The company behind the workshop, the Happiness Project, was founded by the British positive psychologist Robert Holden, the author of Shift Happens! The firm's motto was: "Success is a state of mind; happiness is a way of travelling; love is your true power."

Comment: It's a nuanced subject. In a sense, some form of self-practice that serves to better oneself and be aware of our own flaws and thinking errors is beneficial for anyone who undertakes it. It encourages one to take responsibility for their own stuff. On the other hand, placing the responsibility for social ills on the individual is dangerously deceptive and no amount of 'mindfulness' is going to correct problems which fundamentally have a social cause.

See also:


How the question "Who benefits from this?" can change your life

cui bono?
"Cui bono?" is a phrase you'll often see used on conspiracy-minded Youtube videos and discussion forums. It's Latin for "Who benefits?", and it refers to a perspective in legal analysis that the one who stands most to gain from a crime is often the perpetrator. It's the "motive" part of "means, motive and opportunity".

The term comes up in conspiracy circles a lot because motive is often the biggest plot hole in the official story promoted by the authorized narrative managers of the political/media class about a given event. The alleged Douma chemical attack last year, for example, had no discernible benefit to the Assad government whatsoever, but would have benefited the cornered Al-Qaeda affiliates in the city by provoking air strikes from the west, so there remains a lot of skepticism from those who don't automatically believe their government and the plutocratic media when they say that Damascus was responsible. Such skepticism is dismissively branded "conspiracy theory" by the establishment narrative managers, but it is fully justified.

So it's a useful concept for analyzing world events in a way that punches through the fog of imperial propaganda. But the question "Who benefits from this?" can, and should, be taken much further.


The cult of the selfie: Me, Me, Me - the neurotic satisfactions of the selfie generation

selfie generation
© Global Village Space
What makes the selfie generation narcissistic and in love with itself?
We humans are rather curious creatures, I'll admit. So many sides to our nature, so many colours to our emotions, so many journeys of our imaginations. But the question must arise, do we learn any more about these traits by making ourselves the perpetual object of our own fascination?

One would certainly assume so based upon the cult of the 'selfie' which rages around the world at this particular juncture of human evolution. I am tempted to say 'devolution', but going backwards would at least stand the chance of putting us in touch with something tangible, earthy even - whereas to live life as a virtual reality experience with one's own photographic image as the central point of attraction - fails to provoke my sense of admiration for the human race.

Comment: Are we more narcissistic than ever before? The answer is yes!