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Mon, 17 Feb 2020
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Giving your children experiences instead of toys boosts their intelligence and happiness

Mom with children
Recent studies have revealed that giving your child too many things to play with can result in the opposite of the desired effect - they may actually be less happy.

Childhood development researcher, Clair Lerner, suggests that when children are showered with toys and games, they start playing less. An abundance of toys can overwhelm and distract kids, making them lose the concentration needed to learn from these toys.

Lerner's discoveries were mirrored by Michael Malone, a professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Cincinnati.

Malone's studies showed that fewer but better toys lead to increased cooperation and sharing when it comes to valuable life skills. Furthermore, too many toys push children into more solitary play while causing a type of unproductive overload.

Control Panel

Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem

now later
If you've ever put off an important task by, say, alphabetizing your spice drawer, you know it wouldn't be fair to describe yourself as lazy.

After all, alphabetizing requires focus and effort — and hey, maybe you even went the extra mile to wipe down each bottle before putting it back. And it's not like you're hanging out with friends or watching Netflix. You're cleaning — something your parents would be proud of! This isn't laziness or bad time management. This is procrastination.

If procrastination isn't about laziness, then what is it about?

Etymologically, "procrastination" is derived from the Latin verb procrastinare — to put off until tomorrow. But it's more than just voluntarily delaying. Procrastination is also derived from the ancient Greek word akrasia — doing something against our better judgment.

"It's self-harm," said Dr. Piers Steel, a professor of motivational psychology at the University of Calgary and the author of The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done.

That self-awareness is a key part of why procrastinating makes us feel so rotten. When we procrastinate, we're not only aware that we're avoiding the task in question, but also that doing so is probably a bad idea. And yet, we do it anyway.

Comment: See also,

2 + 2 = 4

Social Nourishment + Restorative Solitude = Human Thriving

social interactions
Humans thrive on a smorgasbord of "social nutrition" that includes both restorative alone time and meaningful social interactions, according to a new study. The more choice people have about the social diet, the better they do.

The findings (Hall & Merolla, 2019) were published on December 6 in the journal Human Communication Research. Jeffrey Hall of the University of Kansas and Andy Merolla of UC Santa Barbara are the co-authors of this study.

Almost 400 people participated in this diary-based study. For 28 consecutive days, each participant documented his or her "social diet" along with feelings of subjective well-being. The researchers use the term "social biome" to describe the unique blend of social interactions and alone time that people experience in daily life.

"Your social biome can be thought of as homeostatic social system," Hall said in a news release. "Some interactions are required, like ones you have to do for your job, and some are habitual or routine. But some are intentional, personal and meaningful in ways that strongly link us to one another. We're working to identify the patterns of interactions that reflect a well-functioning social system."

Most people's "social biome" includes hanging out with friends or family, casual small talk with random strangers, occasional heart-to-heart conversations, periods of solitude, and more. Taken together, the diary entries from this study resulted in 10,368 snapshots of everyday sociability patterns and how people felt during various types of social engagement and during periods of solitude.

People 2

Summarizing the evidence for sex differences in cognition

brain skull model
In a previous post I examined the biological and social influences on sex and gender identity. Evidence suggests that biology plays a powerful role in the determination of sex as well as of gender identity, although social forces are also important particularly as they relate to gender role expression. In this essay I'll examine the evidence surrounding a related controversial topic: whether or nor there are cognitive differences between the sexes and, if so, whether they are biological or social in origin.

In what follows, I'll focus on individuals whose gender identity matches their biological sex. This leaves out nonbinary and transsexual persons, about whom there is far less research evidence. Nevertheless, given that transsexuals tend to have hypothalamuses that match their identified gender not their biological sex, it would be interesting to know if this produces cognitive differences as well. Some evidence suggests that the administration of sex hormones to those undergoing transition does influence cognition in expected ways. Other studies suggest that cognitive differences exist prior to hormone treatment, and that the cognition of transsexuals resembles that of their identified gender more than that of their biological sex (a finding that appears to lend further support to the hypothesis that gender dysphoria is produced by women's brains in men's bodies and vice versa).

This essay offers an exploration of mean group differences. Nothing here should be taken to imply that either sex should be excluded from certain cognitive tasks or professions. Nor should mean group differences, which are often quite small, be used to infer the capabilities of any given individual.


Richard Dawkins discovers his ideal idiom and audience

children painting
Some writers struggle for years to achieve a proper harmony in their work between style and substance. For some, that precious concinnity remains elusive till the end. So it is always something of a happy surprise when an author discovers his or her ideal idiom in the twilight of a long career. In a sense, Richard Dawkins has always been a writer of books for children — or, at any rate, for readers with childish minds — but not until now, it seems, has it occurred to him to write explicitly as a children's author. Tο this point, he has made a good living out of a relative paucity of gifts. As a third-tier zoologist, a popularizer of both scientific truths and pseudo-scientific speculations, and a tireless enemy of all religious beliefs (whether he understands them or not), he has gone far on an engagingly mediocre prose-style and an inflexible narrowness of mind. But, while his ambition has always been toward a certain intellectual gravity, even his putatively most serious (or most self-important) books have had an undeniably infantile quality about them. The Selfish Gene, for instance, was really little more than a cartoon of the molecular biology it pretended to explicate, a simplistic genetocentric reductionist fantasia so fraught with obvious logical errors and so prone to inadvertently and ineptly metaphysical claims that no truly mature mind could fail to recognize its fatuity. The God Delusion was, if anything, even more of a nursery entertainment: puerile rants, laboriously obvious jokes, winsomely preposterous conceptual confusions, a few dashes of naïve but honest indignation, attempts at philosophical reasoning so maladroit as to be touching in their guileless silliness. And I think it fair to say that nothing Dawkins has written for public consumption has lacked this element of beguiling absurdity — the delightful atmosphere of playtime on a long golden summer afternoon, alive with small figures shouting happily in shrill little voices and stumbling about in their parents' clothing, acting out scenes from what they imagine to be the daily lives of adults. But the bewitching effect has also always been diluted by his unfortunate failure to embody his ideas in a form suitable to their triviality.

Comment: Damning with faint praise at its finest. Dawkins is a childish mind writing for other childish minds. Thankfully there are still a few adults out there to bring balance to the universe.

Magic Wand

Want to change your life? Ditch New Year's Resolutions for habit tracking

habit tracking
It's an age-old conundrum -- every time January 1st rolls around, millions of Americans set New Year's Resolutions, but by the time February rolls around, one third of us have abandoned every single one. So, if you want to make 2020 the year you finally organize your finances, get in shape or complete any other monumental task, you may want to forget New Year's Resolutions. Instead of writing down grandiose goals, turn your attention to your daily habits.

What is habit tracking?

Habit tracking -- the practice of monitoring the tiny things you do every single day -- helps you set small and achievable goals that add up over time to produce huge changes in your life. It's a powerful tool that will help you establish healthy habits that'll stick for years to come.

Habits are so important because they are ultimately responsible for any change we make in our life. I'll never be able to publish a novel if I don't sit down every day and put words on the page. I'll never be able to get stronger if I don't workout every day (or at least a few times a week.) I'll never be able to be a more mindful and enlightened person if I don't meditate every morning.

Any huge goal you want to accomplish is virtually insurmountable unless you break it up into bite-sized habits that will, over time, lead you to your final destination.


The ripple effects of expressing gratitude

A new study shows that expressing gratitude affects not only the grateful person, but anyone who witnesses it.

Thank you, gratitude
Researchers studying gratitude have found that being thankful and expressing it to others is good for our health and happiness. Not only does it feel good, it also helps us build trust and closer bonds with the people around us.

These benefits have mostly been observed in a two-person exchange — someone saying thanks and someone receiving thanks. Now, a new study suggests that expressing gratitude not only improves one-on-one relationships, but could bring entire groups together — inspiring a desire to help and connect in people who simply witness an act of gratitude.

In this extensive study, Sara Algoe of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her colleagues ran multiple experiments to investigate how witnessing gratitude affects people's feelings toward the grateful person and the benefactor (the person who is being thanked).



Vagus Nerve: The mysterious nerve network that quiets pain and stress — and may defeat disease

Take a deep breath. Hug a friend. Reach for the ceiling and stretch your limbs. Each of these simple acts bestows a sense of calm and comfort. And each works its soothing magic in part by activating a complicated system of nerves that connects the brain to the heart, the gut, the immune system, and many of the organs. That system is known collectively as the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is one of the twelve cranial nerves, which sprawl out from the brain and into the body like an intricate network of roots. These nerve networks act as lines of communication between the brain and the body's many systems and organs. Some of the cranial nerves interpret sensory information collected by the skin, eyes, or tongue. Others control muscles or communicate with glands.

The vagus nerve, also called the "10th cranial nerve," is the longest, largest, and most complex of the cranial nerves, and in some ways it's also the least understood. Experts have linked its activity to symptom changes in people with migraine headaches, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, epilepsy, arthritis, and many other common ailments. The more science learns about the vagus nerve, the more it seems like a better understanding of its function could unlock new doors to treating all manner of human suffering.

Vagus is Latin for "wandering," which is apt when one considers all the different parts of the body the vagus nerve reaches. "It seems like every year somebody finds a new organ or system that it talks with," says Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Comment: Stimulate your vagus nerve through the breathing techniques and the meditation of Éiriú Eolas.

Magic Hat

The Art and Science of Tricking Your Brain: What the research says about 'fake it til you make it'

brain mask
During difficult times in your life, perhaps you've been told to "take a deep breath" or "try to smile more." Anxious about that big presentation at work? Just "stand up tall with confidence, and everything will be fine."

But to what extent is this kind of advice actually helpful? Can that forced smile trick your brain into believing that you're happy, and can that upright posture give you a feeling of confidence? Is it possible to change how you think or feel through physically changing your body?

The answer is yes.

But first, take a deep breath

Your body and mind are inextricably linked. So it follows that the way you breathe with your lungs can affect your mental state and the way you process stress with your brain.

Most people are aware that breathing deeply helps you to relax and has a powerful effect on how you feel. When you're stressed or overwhelmed, a deep breath can help bring your attention toward bodily sensations and away from whatever is making you feel anxious. It's harder for something to scare you when you're distracted by something else.


Three Stoic lessons from a galaxy far, far away

Star Wars

Luke gazing into the sunset.
It is no secret, to those who are familiar with the saga, that Star Wars is filled with wisdom. Those not familiar with Star Wars are at least familiar with its iconography, such as the helmet of Darth Vader — that great symbol of the dark side of the force.

Some are also likely familiar with the little green Jedi master, Yoda (not to be confused with the cute little creature of the same species from the Mandalorian). Yoda is first introduced in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke seeks him out on Dagobah to learn the ways of the Jedi. He appears again only briefly in The Return of the Jedi (but not without failing to impart some more wisdom), and is present throughout the prequel trilogy.

The great thing about being a reader of the Classics is that you can recognize almost immediately the Stoicism of Yoda's teachings (one may also locate some Buddhist elements as well, though I think that is to be expected given the similarities between the two). He preaches against attachment, cautions against giving into fear, and speaks of the Force with the same reverence that the Stoics spoke of Nature, among other things. So, let us look at some of the Stoic lessons we can learn from Yoda.

Comment: This also goes to show why a phenomena like the original Star Wars trilogy has had such a lasting cultural impression. The newer 'feminist' versions not included. The stories tell a classic archetypal hero's journey but also highlights differing modes of spiritual development through the Jedi and the Sith and a philosophical underpinning that is reminiscent of the ancient Stoics. See also: