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Mon, 19 Aug 2019
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


How to raise mentally strong and resilient children

father and child
My five-year-old was a blubbering, hot mess. He tackled kindergarten fine nine months before, but the first day of summer camp was too much for him.

"I don't want to go. I don't want to go," he moaned, sobbing fat crocodile tears.

Most parents have been in situations like this. It's one of the toughest jobs of being a parent, helping kids through situations like this. But nudging them through is important.

Resiliency - in both children and adults -is achieved by confronting and pushing through the challenges our brain and body want to shrink from. Maybe it's getting on the school bus. Maybe, for adults, it's applying for one more job after being rejected a dozen times that month. Maybe it's facing a scary test result or a bully.

Whatever the challenge is, the important thing is recognizing you can face it. And the truth is you probably can. Both history and research offer evidence of a near-infinite human capacity to endure hardship and confront obstacles, even terrifying ones.


The mindfulness conspiracy

consumption illustration
© Illustration: Patryk Sroczyński
Mindfulness has gone mainstream, with celebrity endorsement from Oprah Winfrey and Goldie Hawn. Meditation coaches, monks and neuroscientists went to Davos to impart the finer points to CEOs attending the World Economic Forum. The founders of the mindfulness movement have grown evangelical. Prophesying that its hybrid of science and meditative discipline "has the potential to ignite a universal or global renaissance", the inventor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Jon Kabat-Zinn, has bigger ambitions than conquering stress. Mindfulness, he proclaims, "may actually be the only promise the species and the planet have for making it through the next couple of hundred years".

So, what exactly is this magic panacea? In 2014, Time magazine put a youthful blonde woman on its cover, blissing out above the words: "The Mindful Revolution." The accompanying feature described a signature scene from the standardised course teaching MBSR: eating a raisin very slowly. "The ability to focus for a few minutes on a single raisin isn't silly if the skills it requires are the keys to surviving and succeeding in the 21st century," the author explained.

Comment: The above point is well taken, but as always, the devil is in the details. Becoming more self-aware, recognizing the source of one's unnecessary suffering and working to resolve it doesn't necessarily make one complacent. Self-awareness is a tool that will, ideally, make one similarly aware of the outside world, together with all its injustices and disparities. Unfortunately, mindfulness has come to be a synonym for navel-gazing. Hyper-focus on the self can be detrimental if it's not paired with an equal hyper-focus on the world as it is (not how we wish it to be), and a greater awareness of how our own biases taint our ability to see the world objectively. It is only by seeing anything, on the micro or macro level, objectively that can we truly affect change.

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Science says silence is much more important to our brains than we think

silence shush
In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing 'product'. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan "Silence, Please". A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, "No talking, but action."

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: "We decided, instead of saying that it's really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let's embrace it and make it a good thing".

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Comment: It seems that the constant din of environmental noise is getting louder as our technological society continues to progress. The saying "silence is golden" becomes more and more applicable with each passing day. Placing a value on silence, and working to experience it periodically, could be a way to reset the brain for proper functioning.

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SOTT Logo Radio

MindMatters: The Triumph of Irrationalism and the Death of Metaphysics

Between hysteria, censorship, endless war and climate catastrophe it seems the world has fallen victim to chaos and irrationality. On today's show we take a hard look at the origins of this madness and what to do about it, utilizing a work by one of our favorite philosophers, R.G. Collingwood.

Collingwood, an English philosopher, archaeologist and historian, passed away in 1943. But just three years before he passed he published An Essay on Metaphysics and left the world a rigorous defense of truth, ethics, and metaphysics, as well as a warning as to what would happen if these 'ancient sciences' were neglected or cast aside by future generations.

On today's show we utilize the work that he left behind in order to understand why the world is the way it is, and to explore what it takes to be rational in a time of complete chaos.

Running Time: 01:16:07

Download: MP3 - 69.7 MB


For health and well-being, spend two hours a week in nature

© CC0 Public Domain
Spending at least two hours a week in nature may be a crucial threshold for promoting health and well-being, according to a new large-scale study.

Research led by the University of Exeter, published in Scientific Reports and funded by NIHR, found that people who spend at least 120 minutes in nature a week are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological well-being than those who don't visit nature at all during an average week. However, no such benefits were found for people who visited natural settings such as town parks, woodlands, country parks and beaches for less than 120 minutes a week.

The study used data from nearly 20,000 people in England and found that it didn't matter whether the 120 minutes was achieved in a single visit or over several shorter visits. It also found the 120 minute threshold applied to both men and women, to older and younger adults, across different occupational and ethnic groups, among those living in both rich and poor areas, and even among people with long term illnesses or disabilities.

Comment: For more on Mother Nature's bountiful benefits, see:


The hippies were right: It's all about vibrations, man!

© Getty Images
Why are some things conscious and others apparently not? Is a rat conscious? A bat? A cockroach? A bacterium? An electron?

These questions are all aspects of the ancient "mind-body problem," which has resisted a generally satisfying conclusion for thousands of years.

The mind-body problem enjoyed a major rebranding over the last two decades and is generally known now as the "hard problem" of consciousness (usually capitalized nowadays), after the New York University philosopher David Chalmers coined this term in a now classic 1995 paper and his 1996 book The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.

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Dogs mirror owner's stress

patting dog
The levels of stress in dogs and their owners follow each other, according to a new study from Linköping University, Sweden. The scientists believe that dogs mirror their owner's stress level, rather than vice versa. The study has been published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports.

Researchers at Linköping University have examined how stress levels in dogs are influenced by lifestyle factors and by the people that the dogs live with. Previous work has shown that individuals of the same species can mirror each others' emotional states. There is, for example, a correlation between long-term stress in children and in their mothers. The recently published study arose from scientists speculating whether similar mirroring of stress levels over long time periods can also arise between species, such as between the domesticated dog and humans. The researchers determined stress levels over several months by measuring the concentration of a stress hormone, cortisol, in a few centimetres of hair from the dog and from its owner.

Comment: See also:

Arrow Up

Free will is real

choice free will

Philosopher Christian List argues against reductionism and determinism in accounts of the mind
I can live without God, but I need free will. Without free will life makes no sense, it lacks meaning. So I'm always on the lookout for strong, clear arguments for free will. Christian List, a philosopher at the London School of Economics, provides such arguments in his succinct new book Why Free Will Is Real (Harvard 2019). I met List in 2015 when I decided to attend, after much deliberation, a workshop on consciousness at NYU. I recently freely chose to send him some questions, which he freely chose to answer. -John Horgan
Horgan: Why philosophy? Was your choice pre-determined?

List: I don't think it was. As a teenager, I wanted to become a computer scientist or mathematician. It was only during my last couple of years at high school that I developed an interest in philosophy, and then I studied mathematics and philosophy as an undergraduate. For my doctorate, I chose political science, because I wanted to do something more applied, but I ended up working on mathematical models of collective decision-making and their implications for philosophical questions about democracy. Can majority voting produce rational collective outcomes? Are there truths to be found in politics? So, I was drawn back into philosophy. But the fact that I now teach philosophy is due to contingent events, especially meeting some philosophers who encouraged me.

Comment: More from Christian List: Free will is real - you make choices, even if your atoms don't


Imagination can change perception of reality on a neural level

© K H Fung/Science Photo Library
An artificially coloured 3D magnetic resonance imaging scan of a human brain.
Imagining something into reality is probably a desire as old as imagination itself, but there might just be a slight bit more to it than mere wishful thinking.

A new study reveals how imagining a scenario that takes place in an emotionally neutral place can change our attitude to that place in reality.

To puzzle out how we learn from imagined events, researchers from Harvard University and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive Brain Sciences conducted an experiment, first in the US and then they replicated it in Germany.

Participants were asked to provide a list of people they really liked, people they disliked and a list of places they had neutral feelings towards. Then, while lying in an fMRI scanner, they were asked to imagine meeting someone from their liked-list at one of their neutral places.


New discovery showing how the nervous system passes information to progeny

Neuron Cell
© Als News Today
Can knowledge acquired during a lifetime be passed on to future generations? Using innovative technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9, optogenetics, and small RNA-sequencing analysis, scientists are closer to answering this question. On June 6, 2019, researchers at Tel Aviv University published in Cell a landmark study that shows how cells in the nervous system pass on information to future generations in worms.

A research study led by professor Oded Rechavi at the Department of Neurobiology, Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and Sagol School of Neuroscience, at Tel Aviv University led to the discovery of an RNA-based mechanism that enables neuronal responses to environment to be translated into heritable information that affects the behavior of progeny in Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) nematodes, a type of worm.

"We propose that small RNA regulation is a mechanism that allows the nervous system to communicate with the germline affecting the behavior of the next generations," wrote the team in the study co-authored by Rechavi's students Rachel Posner, Itai Toker, and their research collaborators.

The researchers wrote that the concept "that the nervous system can control the progeny" directly challenges "one of the basic dogmas of biology"- the Weismann Barrier.