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Wed, 21 Nov 2018
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


How to harness your anxiety

© Aart-Jan Venema
Research shows that we can tame anxiety to use it as a resource.

Anxiety has long been one of the most feared enemies in our emotional canon. We fear its arrival, feel helpless and trapped under its spell, and grant it power to overtake us in new, exciting and challenging situations. But what if we've been going about it all wrong?

Research shows that anxiety can actually be a pathway to our best selves. A range of new neuroscience, along with ideas from ancient philosophy, Charles Darwin, early social scientists and positive psychology, have all pointed in this direction.

To be sure, severe anxiety can be debilitating. But for many people who experience it at more moderate levels it can be helpful, if we are open enough to embrace and reframe it.

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There's an unspoken homophobia propelling the transgender movement in children

child art
When I was a Ph.D. student in sexology, I had a conversation with a colleague that forever cemented, in my mind, why I needed to speak out against the transitioning of children with gender dysphoria. Nowadays, every left-leaning parent and educator seems content to take a child's word at face value if they say they were born in the wrong body, not realizing that by doing so, an important conversation is being brushed aside.

On the day in question, our research lab had just finished our weekly meeting, and I chatted with my colleague as I packed up my things to head back to my office. He had told me previously about his son, who from the moment he was born, announced that a mistake had been made - "I'm a girl," he would say.

As a little boy, his son loved playing with dolls. He would wear his mother's dresses and high heels, and wanted to grow his hair long like Princess Jasmine from the movie, "Aladdin." At school, he preferred the company of girls to that of boys, who were rambunctious and mean. After many years of therapy and fighting constantly about the course of action they would take, his son had come out as gay.

I grew up as a straight woman in the gay community, at a time when homophobia was rampant in North American society. I witnessed the harassment and ignorance that my friends faced on a daily basis. Most, as a result, hid their sexual orientation from anyone outside of the community, and few were openly out to their families.


Kaizen: The one-minute principle for self-improvement

Nishikawa Sukenobu
© Nishikawa Sukenobu
At the heart of this method is the idea that a person should practice doing something for a single minute, every day at the same time.
Almost all of us periodically set ourselves a new goal or challenge - and just as often in the end we fail to achieve it. We end up telling ourselves that we're just not ready yet, that we'll do it next week, next month...next year.

We might even pursue them with zeal at the start. But once we've made a small amount of effort, we'll tell ourselves we've done enough, and it's time to take this whole "starting a new life" thing more slowly.

Why does it always turn out like this? The answer's fairly obvious: because we try to achieve too much, too fast, we get sick of the new responsibility and, because it's difficult to change old habits and try something new.


How to stop being busy all the time - Do fewer things, better

Why you can't stop being busy
© Jocelyn K. Glei
Why you can't stop being busy
If you are reading this, it's likely because you are feeling overwhelmed. Like most of us.

We keep pushing our limits wanting to do more and more. But, in the end, we feel guilty for not accomplishing everything we wanted. No matter how hard we try, we are just stretching ourselves too thin.

Busyness is a tricky state of mind - it's like getting caught in quicksand. The more you try to escape, the more you get sucked down.

So, how can you rescue yourself?

Comment: The dis-ease of being busy

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The Truth Perspective: The Theory Of Positive Disintegration, Or How Not To Be An NPC

npc meme
Memes. They're modern poetry, aphorism, political cartoonery, social commentary, and idle hilarity all mixed in one. They are also dangerously dehumanizing, apparently. Because some people just can't take a joke. Twitter has banned thousands of joke accounts propagating the NPC meme. It was fun while it lasted. Technically, it's still fun, because you can kill a meme account, but you can't kill a meme. Even if you're very, very outraged. And the NPC meme has its targets literally shaking with outrage right now. How come? Because the NPC meme is such an accurate representation of what it means to be social justice warrior. And the mirror of truth is difficult to behold. Seeing yourself as you actually are is a terrifying thing. The SJWs are being shown to themselves in a mirror, clearly, and they do not like what they see. And their response is humorously predictable: the very behavior being lampooned in the memes they're so offended by.

Today on the Truth Perspective we'll be discussing the 2018 greatest meme, and the surprising psychology beneath it. Why do some people actually resemble NPCs? Why can't they see that they resemble NPCs? Why are they so outraged? And is it possible for an NPC to become 'playable', to grow an actual sense of individuality and authenticity? Dabrowski's theory of positive disintegration has the answers!

Running Time: 01:14:29

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The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world

watching TV watching you
© Illustration: Andrea Ucini
Constant fragmentation of our time and concentration has become the new normal.

We check our phones every 12 minutes, often just after waking up. Always-on behaviour is harmful to long-term mental health, and we need to learn to the hit the pause button.

It is difficult to imagine life before our personal and professional worlds were so dominated and "switched on" via smartphones and the other devices that make us accessible and, crucially, so easily distractible and interruptible every second of the day. This constant fragmentation of our time and concentration has become the new normal, to which we have adapted with ease, but there is a downside: more and more experts are telling us that these interruptions and distractions have eroded our ability to concentrate.

We have known for a long time that repeated interruptions affect concentration. In 2005, research carried out by Dr Glenn Wilson at London's Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect. Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, twice that found in studies on the impact of smoking marijuana. More than half of the 1,100 participants said they always responded to an email immediately or as soon as possible, while 21% admitted they would interrupt a meeting to do so. Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night's sleep.

Comment: Some good advice and exercises in the above piece. However, one wonders if anyone had the attention span to actually read it in its entirety!

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On the value of the evolutionary psychology model

sunset siloette woman
An ability to hold our instincts up to the light, rather than naïvely accepting their products in our consciousness as just the way things are, is the first step in discounting them when they lead to harmful ends.
- Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature
Big ideas often rock the boat, but few have rocked it as thoroughly as the idea of evolution by natural selection. The notion that humans evolved from non-human ancestors, through the survival of some mutations at the expense of others, offends countless cherished ideologies. Natural selection insults the religious conviction that our existence is divinely sanctioned, disturbs the progressive belief that selfish competition is a modern aberration, and disorients the widespread desire to find purpose and morality in the natural world. Given these transgressions, it's no wonder that evolution has serious public relations issues.

Comment: The author above takes a hard-line on Darwinian evolution, discounting the possibility that there are other factors at play. It's not a strong argument if one is up-to-date on the latest genetic research and drops the materialist outlook. Nevertheless, evolutionary psychology is a useful model from which to view the human condition, as long as one keeps in mind its limitations.

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David Hume and the reason why you're probably wrong about everything you know

David Hume philosophy

Portrait of David Hume by Allan Ramsey 1754
If you judged David Hume the man by his philosophy, you may judge him as disagreeable.

He was a Scottish philosopher who epitomized what it means to be skeptical - to doubt both authority and the self, to highlight flaws in the arguments of both others and your own.

By all measures, however, in spite of his fierce attacks on all forms of dogma and certainty, it appears that in his personal life, he was a kind and thoughtful and admirable character. If we follow the trail of words from those who knew him, almost all had wonderful things to say.

Hume managed to accomplish something rare with his philosophy: Not only was it a robust theoretical framework for making partial sense of reality, but it helped him live well, too.

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'Becoming Homeless': Virtual reality experience found to boost empathy

virtual reality game
© L.A. Cicero
Fernanda Herrera, left, watches as a fellow student navigates through the VR experience that begins with an eviction notice.
A study that forced participants to experience what it's like to lose their home has offered strong evidence that virtual reality can pierce people's cloak of indifference much more effectively than traditional forms of media.

The study by Stanford University aimed to examine how relatively new VR technology affected people's level of empathy. The team conducted two two-month-long studies with more than 560 participants aged between 15 and 88, representing at least eight ethnic backgrounds.

When participants were engaged in their seven-minute 'Becoming Homeless' VR experience, in which they lost their jobs and homes, the study found that they had longer-lasting compassion compared to those who read about it or saw it on the news.

The VR experience led participants through several scenes, including selecting items to sell in their apartment in order to pay rent, finding shelter on a public bus, and protecting their belongings from being stolen by a stranger.


Deepities and the Politics of Pseudo-Profundity

anti-Trump rally London
The word deepity, coined by the philosopher Daniel Dennett, refers to a phrase that seems true and profound but is actually ambiguous and shallow. Not to be confused with lies, clichés, truisms, contradictions, metaphors, or aphorisms, deepities occupy a linguistic niche of their own. The distinguishing feature of a deepity is that it has two possible interpretations. On the first reading, a deepity is true but trivial. On the second, it's false but would be mind-blowing if it were true.

Consider, for instance, the phrase "love is just a word." On one reading, this is true but trivial. It's no deep insight that "love" - like "Ethiopia" or "subdermatoglyphic" or "word" - is just a word in the English language. But on a second reading, "love is just a word" asserts something mind-blowing if true: there is no emotion called "love," and everyone who thinks they've felt love is either lying or self-deceived. If true, this would change everything we thought we knew about our emotional lives. But it's plainly false. Whatever love is - an emotion, an illusion, a pattern of neuronal firings - it's not "just a word." By virtue of its ambiguity, the phrase "love is just a word" doesn't even achieve coherence, much less profundity.

The problem with deepities is not that they are arguments that initially seem convincing but collapse under scrutiny; it's that they aren't even arguments to begin with. Once you disambiguate a deepity - that is, once you notice it has two distinct meanings - you see that it contains no real argument at all, only an empty space where an argument should be. (Think of phrases like "love trumps hate" and "everything happens for a reason." Do they seem both true and important after you disambiguate them?)

Comment: See also: