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Sat, 25 Mar 2017
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Boat

How to die well

© Adrian Lyon—Gallery Stock
I first met Stephanie in the Intensive Care Unit. She was an urgent admission — in shock, her blood pressure was almost unmeasurable. Over the previous month, the rate of cancerous fluid building up around her lungs had increased. She had used the permanent drainage tube in her chest wall more frequently to manage her shortness of breath. But in the process, she had made her blood pressure dangerously low. She was unconscious and mumbling incoherently. Her kidneys and liver weren't getting enough blood and were effectively dying. We worked quickly. And we were lucky enough to be able to rehydrate her before her organs became permanently damaged. Slowly, she woke up again. We had saved her.

Stephanie was a 60-year-old wife, mother and grandmother. She loved life. Wine tastings, gardening, spending time with her family — this didn't stop when she was diagnosed. When she had learned that the cancer had spread to the other lung and brain, she took a deep breath and went back into the ring to fight. She signed up for more chemotherapy. If she worked hard, she thought, she could beat it.

Comment: Writing your own obituary to inspire others


Brain

Rhythmic breathing and correct inhalation is key to controlling fear and emotional responses

We live in a fearful world with exposure to a deluge of stressors everyday. As much as fear is a result of reacting to the actual or perceived events in our lives, it is also a biological function of the human body, and when equipped with an understanding of how the body manages the emotional system, we can easily outsmart it, tricking ourselves into emotional balance.

This perspective is scientifically validated by new research from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago Illinois, which discovered how the various rhythmic patterns of breath profoundly impact memory recall and the emotional body, specifically the fear response.

The brain creates electrical impulses which link physical functions to emotional reactions, and the electrical activity of the brain is deeply affected by our breathing patterns. The outcome of this balance is determined by whether or not we are inhaling or exhaling, as well as if we are breathing through the nose or the mouth, as each variable creates a different electrical response within the brain.

Comment: The points covered in the above article - and many more - are discussed at length in the following presentation of
Éiriú Eolas- The revolutionary breathing and meditation program. Watch it and give it a good try over several weeks.
You'll be very happy you did!




Music

Neuroplasticity may explain the healing powers of music

© ISTOCK.COM/KUZMA

The principles of neuroplasticity may underlie the positive effects of music therapy in treating a diversity of diseases.


A man with Parkinson's disease sitting in a crowded restaurant has to use the rest room, but he cannot get there. His feet are frozen; he cannot move. The more he tries, the more stressed he becomes. People are beginning to stare at him and wonder what is wrong. Then he remembers the song "You Are My Sunshine," which his music therapist taught him to use in situations like this. He starts humming the tune. In time with the music, he steps forward—one foot and then the other—and begins walking to the beat in his head. Still humming, he makes it to the rest room, avoiding a potentially embarrassing situation.

Freezing of gait is a common occurrence for many people with Parkinson's disease. Such struggles can limit social experience and lead to seclusion and depression. Unfortunately, available pharmacological and surgical treatments for Parkinson's do a poor job of quelling this and many other symptoms. But where conventional medicine has failed, music therapy can sometimes provide relief.

Music therapy is the use of music by a credentialed professional as an intervention to improve, restore, or maintain a non-music-related behavior in a patient or client. As a music therapist, I have worked with many people with Parkinson's disease and have seen how music can provide an external cue for patients to walk in time to, allowing them to overcome freezing. I have also used group singing to help patients with Parkinson's improve their respiratory control and swallowing. Impaired swallowing can lead to aspiration pneumonia, which is a leading cause of death among this patient population.

Comment: The brain is actually a supple, malleable organ, as ready to unlearn as it is to learn, capable of resetting and repairing its internal communications. Far more than once dreamed possible, the brain can—if not always cure—heal itself.


Megaphone

Perpetually raging about the world's injustices? You're probably overcompensating

© akg-images/Newscom
When people publicly rage about perceived injustices that don't affect them personally, we tend to assume this expression is rooted in altruism—a "disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others." But new research suggests that professing such third-party concern—what social scientists refer to as "moral outrage"—is often a function of self-interest, wielded to assuage feelings of personal culpability for societal harms or reinforce (to the self and others) one's own status as a Very Good Person.

Outrage expressed "on behalf of the victim of [a perceived] moral violation" is often thought of as "a prosocial emotion" rooted in "a desire to restore justice by fighting on behalf of the victimized," explain Bowdoin psychology professor Zachary Rothschild and University of Southern Mississippi psychology professor Lucas A. Keefer in the latest edition of Motivation and Emotion. Yet this conventional construction—moral outrage as the purview of the especially righteous—is "called into question" by research on guilt, they say.
Feelings of guilt are a direct threat to one's sense that they are a moral person and, accordingly, research on guilt finds that this emotion elicits strategies aimed at alleviating guilt that do not always involve undoing one's actions. Furthermore, research shows that individuals respond to reminders of their group's moral culpability with feelings of outrage at third-party harm-doing. These findings suggest that feelings of moral outrage, long thought to be grounded solely in concerns with maintaining justice, may sometimes reflect efforts to maintain a moral identity.

Comment: See also:


Cloud Grey

Epidemic of loneliness: One in eight people have no close friends to turn to

© Getty
More than one in eight adults claim they feel lonely and don't have any close friends
Loneliness is on the rise with more than one in eight adults saying they do not have a close friend - an increase on previous years, according to research.

Almost seven million people in the UK - 13 per cent - do not have someone they would call a close chum, up from one in 10 (10 per cent) when the same question was asked in 2014 and 2015, charities Relate and Relationships Scotland say.

The charities' report, You're Not Alone - The Quality of the UK's Social Relationships, also found that almost half (45 per cent) of UK adults felt lonely at least some of the time and almost a fifth (18 per cent) felt lonely often or all of the time.

Comment: 90-Year-Old's advice to combat loneliness


Heart

Slaying the dragon within us

This is the first Big Ideas Lecture I completed, back in 2002. I read a book for very young children by Jack Kent called "There's no Such Thing as a Dragon" to a group of University of Toronto alumni (most over 65). I explained what it meant: Pay attention -- or else.

Magnify

The limitations of reason: Why facts don't change our minds

© Gérard DuBois
In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.

Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.

As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they'd been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner's office—the scores were fictitious. The students who'd been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.

In the second phase of the study, the deception was revealed. The students were told that the real point of the experiment was to gauge their responses to thinking they were right or wrong. (This, it turned out, was also a deception.) Finally, the students were asked to estimate how many suicide notes they had actually categorized correctly, and how many they thought an average student would get right. At this point, something curious happened. The students in the high-score group said that they thought they had, in fact, done quite well—significantly better than the average student—even though, as they'd just been told, they had zero grounds for believing this. Conversely, those who'd been assigned to the low-score group said that they thought they had done significantly worse than the average student—a conclusion that was equally unfounded.

"Once formed," the researchers observed dryly, "impressions are remarkably perseverant."

Comment: It's unfortunate that the author uses the cognitive biases in this article to support her anti-Trump stance, as the psychological research is certainly compelling. Ironically, it appears the author herself is falling prey to the very biases that are being discussed.


People 2

Online dating study shows ideal partner wish lists ineffective

© Shutterstock
Dating apps are an extremely popular way to socialize and pick up others these days, but recent research suggests they might actually lead people to lower their standards as well.

According to researchers at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, singles tend to have a clear idea as to what's on their dating wish lists, but are actually more likely to go out with people they met online who don't actually meet those requirements.

A recent study finds that using online dating apps may cause people to lower their standards when choosing potential mates.

Behavioral economists Stephen Whyte and Professor Benno Torgler were behind the research published as "Preference vs Choice in Online Dating" in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking. They watched the behavior of nearly 42,000 people between the ages of 18 and 80 who were using an Australian dating site called "RSVP" from Jan. 2016 through April 2016. About 78 percent of the participants were men.

Display

Five new brain 'disorders' born out of the digital age

© CBC
It's hard to remember what life was like before we had the internet at our fingertips, smartphones in our pockets, and a laptop on every desk. Today, our brains are racing to adapt to the digital age. Cognitive neuroscientists say all that time we now spend in front of screens has changed the way we read and comprehend. Internet browsing has shortened both our attention spans and our patience. And it's doing a number on our memories.

In one recent study, researchers asked people a series of trivia questions. Half the group was allowed to use Google, the other half was not. Then, in the second half of the study, all participants were given a new round of easier questions and told they could choose whether or not to use Google to answer them. Sounds pretty standard, right? But those who used the internet in the first round really struggled to answer any questions in the second round while relying solely on their own knowledge and memories. One-third of them didn't even try, reaching for Google immediately.

"Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don't bother,"
says lead author Dr. Benjamin Storm. "As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives."

People 2

The evolutionary purpose of depressive rumination

The phenomenon of depression is among the most common psychological disorders in the United States. It is estimated that about 16 million Americans experience a depressive episode every year, while around 350 million (5% of the world's population) suffer from some form of depression. The symptoms vary from weight gain, weight loss, insomnia, and oversleeping to an inability to feel pleasure, sadness, and loss of focus. The causes for depression vary as well, but common depressive episodes revolve around major events such as death, illness, and loss.

The general understanding within the medical community is that depression is a psychological disorder cured with antidepressants, a little therapy, and perhaps engagement in extracurricular and outdoor activities. However, one theory suggests depression is more than a mental disorder.

In a 2009 publication by Paul W. Andrews of Virginia Commonwealth University and J. Anderson Thompson, Jr. of the University of Virginia, depression was observed as an evolutionary trait for extensive analysis and problem-solving. The abstract of the publication reads:
[...] Depressed people often have severe, complex problems, and rumination is a common feature. Depressed people often believe that their ruminations give them insight into their problems, but clinicians often view depressive rumination as pathological because it is difficult to disrupt and interferes with the ability to concentrate on other things. Abundant evidence indicates that depressive rumination involves the analysis of episode-related problems. Because analysis is time consuming and requires sustained processing, disruption would interfere with problem-solving.