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Sun, 25 Aug 2019
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit

Monkey Wrench

How to stop emotional eating as a coping mechanism

slef talk
I once knew a very heavy man (let's call him Johnny) who ate a half dozen frankfurters whenever he felt too angry, lonely, depressed, anxious, or upset. Unfortunately he felt this way often and believed his frankfurter feasts were necessary to "cope" with these feelings. Johnny thoroughly enjoyed the frankfurters, but was extremely unhappy about his weight, as were his doctors. So he came to me for better coping tools.

Initially, I gave Johnny exactly what he asked for. I showed him some breathing techniques to help deactivate the sympathetic nervous system, which plays a strong role in producing the feeling one must urgently act on the impulse to overeat. I also helped him more specifically label his emotions so he might gain more of a sense of control. But once I'd given Johnny what he asked for, I also explained he might be approaching the entire issue with the wrong mindset.

See, if you consider emotional upset to be a "fire", then Johnny's paradigm was "I must put it out!" But if you think about it, you can have a very intense fire in your living room and, as long as it's contained by an effective fireplace, that fire actually becomes the center of hearth and home. People gather around the fireplace with a roaring fire, share stories, and make memories. It's only when there's a hole in the fireplace which allows sparks and embers to escape that the fire becomes dangerous. Similarly, it's only when emotions are allowed to "jump" out of the fireplace and become actual behavior that damage to your health is done, and this only happens when some type of rational justification makes it "OK" to act against your previously best laid plans.


Singing can create cohesion: Why the community that sings together stays together

© CoD Newsroom/Flickr
At the Illinois American Choral Directors Association conference.
In Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), the movie about the British band Queen, the scene that sticks in my mind depicts the Live Aid concert in London in 1985. Queen belt out their best-loved songs and the crowd is singing along, swaying, clapping and stamping its feet. I could empathise a potent sense of togetherness in the audience, a feeling of cohesion between thousands of fans, coming not only from a shared enjoyment of watching the band but, more importantly, from being part of the music-making. It's no wonder that the film shows the Live Aid donations start to climb during this set: we know that social bonding is associated with more prosocial behaviour. As a researcher, I am interested in how and why this sense of solidity from singing comes about.

Singing is universal. It is found in all cultures and, despite protestations of tone deafness, the vast majority of people can sing. Singing also often occurs in collective contexts: think about sports stadiums, religious services and birthday celebrations. Given these two characteristics, my colleagues and I wondered whether singing is a behaviour that evolved to bond groups together.

Comment: Harmony: The neuroscience of singing


'Real world' knowledge: Bring back home economics - our kids lack basic life skills

home economics
There are a lot of complaints that what is being taught in schools is not very practical in the real world. And it's true.

Modern students can unravel complex mathematical problems, but still lack the skills to put together a meal, or do anything that helps them live as independent human beings.

Sure, parents can pitch in and pick up the slack, teaching their kids skills they do not get at school. But still, the education system can do a better job of preparing these students to survive in the real world.

While schools are perfectly fine letting kids decide what courses to take and allowing them to handle important career and life decisions, they forget to teach them simple life skills that can have a huge impact on their daily lives.

Comment: Additional helpful 'real world' knowledge: The most useful life skills every 20-something should master

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MindMatters: "Everybody Knows That!" - Mass Beliefs and the Ideas That Shape Them

everybody knows that
If you're human, then chances are you believe something that "everybody knows" to be true. And if you're a thinking human, then chances are you know that such beliefs can turn out to be not so true after all. Everybody knew saturated fat is bad for you, after all. But now they don't and the opposite is true. Fancy that! Whether it's beliefs, emotions, or behaviors, social contagion is a real thing, and it's the shared nature of these phenomena that hold communities together in one relatively cohesive whole. Good, bad, or ugly, we all have to deal with trends, fads, memes, and world views.

But every mass belief has to start somewhere. How do we account for the source of new ideas? If two or more people come up with the same new idea at the same time, with no knowledge of each other, how do we account for that? Coincidence? Or something more? On a more general level, where do ideas even come from? What is creativity? How to trends propagate? And what is it that gives them their stubborn power to resist change?

Tune in today to MindMatters, where we tackle the age-old conflict between stability and change, repetition and novelty, order and chaos - and the mass beliefs that hold them all together.

Running Time: 00:55:34

Download: MP3 — 50.9 MB


Cause of near-death experiences still unknown and controversial

Tunnel of Light
© Shutterstock
About 10% of people report having mystical "near-death experiences," such as out-of-body sensations, according to a new study involving participants from nearly three dozen countries.

What's more, although the exact cause of these experiences remains a mystery, the authors say the phenomenon may be tied to certain sleep abnormalities.

The study findings suggest there may be a connection between near-death experiences and disorders of REM sleep, a phase of the sleep cycle in which dreaming is vivid and people are typically paralyzed. The researchers found that near-death experiences were more likely to occur in people who also reported symptoms of REM sleep disorders, such as sleep paralysis (when people feel conscious but can't move) or hallucinations just before falling asleep.

One hypothesis is that the brains of people who have these experiences may blend two types of consciousness — waking and dreaming states, according to a researcher not involved in the new study.

Still, the new study only showed an association and cannot prove that such disorders — which the researchers refer to as "REM sleep intrusion into wakefulness" — can cause near-death experiences. But "identifying the physiological mechanisms behind REM sleep intrusion into wakefulness might advance our understanding of near-death experiences," study lead author Dr. Daniel Kondziella, a neurologist at the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement.

The study was presented on Saturday (June 29) at the European Academy of Neurology Congress in Oslo, Norway. It has also been posted to the preprint website bioRxiv. It has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.


Brain-to-brain network established by researchers in the US

Brain to brain network
A receiver (centre) and two senders ready to work their brains. Come game time, they were in separate rooms.
US computer engineers have reported creating a way for two people to help a third person solve a problem using only their minds.

It's called BrainNet and, the team from the University of Washington says, it is the first demonstration of two things: a brain-to-brain network of more than two people, and a person being able to both receive and send information to others using only their brain.

They acknowledge it's a baby step on the road to telepathic communication, but it's a step, nonetheless.

"Our equipment is still expensive and very bulky, and the task is a game," says corresponding author Rajesh Rao. "We're in the 'Kitty Hawk' days of brain interface technologies. We're just getting off the ground."

The game in question is much like the old-school computer favourite Tetris, involving manoeuvring blocks of varying shapes into position to follow a specific line as they fall from the top of the screen.

In the version Rao and colleagues devised, three people played the one game, while sitting in separate rooms. Two, called "senders", could see the blocks and the lines but couldn't control the game. The third, the "receiver", could see the blocks but not the lines, but could tell the game to rotate a block when necessary to complete a line.

All wore electroencephalography caps that picked up electrical activity in their brains.


New research shows racial bias has its roots in sensory perception

Racial Bias
© Adrian Nakic/Getty Images
Race biases extend as far down as our sensory processes, new research suggests.
People's tendency to perceive members of their own racial group as different to each other and folks from other races as more homogenous could start early in the perceptual process, a new US study has found.

Intergroup bias is a well established psychological phenomenon that can result in stereotyping and discrimination, with real-world impacts ranging from the embarrassment of mixing two people up to the seriousness of selecting the wrong suspect from a police line-up.

But its cause is poorly understood. Brent Hughes, from the University of California, Riverside, and colleagues asked, "Are such mistakes based in errors of recollection and judgement, or do they emerge in the very way that we perceive members of other social groups?"

To test this, they took neural functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of 20 white people aged around 20 years while exposing them to a large set of ingroup (white) faces and outgroup (black) faces that changed gradually in similarity from identical to different.


The four stages of life and the search for meaning and purpose within each

life stages
Life is a bitch. Then you die. So while staring at my navel the other day, I decided that that bitch happens in four stages. Here they are.

Stage One: Mimicry

We are born helpless. We can't walk, can't talk, can't feed ourselves, can't even do our own damn taxes.

As children, the way we're wired to learn is by watching and mimicking others. First we learn to do physical skills like walk and talk. Then we develop social skills by watching and mimicking our peers around us. Then, finally, in late childhood, we learn to adapt to our culture by observing the rules and norms around us and trying to behave in such a way that is generally considered acceptable by society.

The goal of Stage One is to teach us how to function within society so that we can be autonomous, self-sufficient adults. The idea is that the adults in the community around us help us to reach this point through supporting our ability to make decisions and take action ourselves.

But some adults and community members around us suck.1 They punish us for our independence. They don't support our decisions. And therefore we don't develop autonomy. We get stuck in Stage One, endlessly mimicking those around us, endlessly attempting to please all so that we might not be judged.2

In a "normal" healthy individual, Stage One will last until late adolescence and early adulthood.3 For some people, it may last further into adulthood. A select few wake up one day at age 45 realizing they've never actually lived for themselves and wonder where the hell the years went.


You Are Fighting in The Most Important Battle of All Time

corporate media
If you are reading this, it's most likely the result of a series of events in your life which have drawn your interest and attention to the fact that our world is quite a bit different from what we've been told by our school teachers, by the news media, by Hollywood, and by politicians.

At some point, for whatever reason, you've come to realize that the consensus narratives in our society about what's going on are false. The tools that people are taught to use to inform themselves about their government, their nation and their world are not just full of inaccuracies, but deliberate distortions, ranging from the reasons we're given for why wars are started, to the way our political systems work, to where real power and authority actually lies, to the way nations and governments actually behave in the world.

This awareness has come with a degree of alienation. Not buying into the same consensus narratives about the world as your friends, loved ones and peers comes with an inability to relate to them on some levels, which can cause you to feel a lack of intimacy in those areas. You may have also found yourself the odd one out in conversations about politics or other controversial issues, maybe even lost old friends over it.

But you kept going anyway. For some of us, it's more important to be true to the truth than it is to fit in. You're one of those people.


Working with your hands does wonders for your brain

pottery wheel

Activities that use your hands relieve stress and help you solve problems.

I've been working hard on a proposal for a new book. This involves a lot of sitting and thinking. Since I started working on this project, a strange phenomenon has emerged.

I want to clean all the time.

While sitting at my desk, I fantasize about scrubbing things. I long to get at the dirty-ish sliding glass doors that I stare off into space through, while pondering my writing. I cleaned the bathroom last week as a "treat" and got a high from cleaning the tub. It's really weird.

Could this be a new way to procrastinate my writing that my sneaky brain has come up with?