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Sat, 30 Apr 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Dr. Kelly Brogan: Sometimes suffering is inevitable

Challenges can be exactly what the doctor ordered. Sometimes even tragedy is part of our path.

Productivity. Certainty. Predictability. Consistency.

These words feel like a cozy blanket to our minds. And, at least since the Industrial Revolution, it has been a shared agreement that these values amplify and support the economy while also offering the average citizen an opportunity to opt into an illusion of safety. It is an illusion because there is no room for true individuality in a society that prizes a sense of safety over all else. There is no room for growth, there is no room for transformation, and there is no room for suffering. Writer and researcher Graham Hancock calls this the War on Consciousness, exacted through narrow definitions of permissible states of consciousness (and support of chemicals that suppress consciousness) in support of corporate and governmental control.

Perhaps this is the prison cell that we willingly walk into, sighing with relief as the door locks shut.


Increase your dopamine levels and feel good naturally

"Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional response, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them." - Psychology Today

There are a lot of articles on the internet about dopamine and how it affects your mood, behavior, energy, and focus. What's not commonly spoken about, however, is how dopamine is affected by your perception. Discussed more rarely still is the reason why your dopamine levels may be low. Below are 10 ways to increase your dopamine levels, courtesy of Power of Positivity, as well as my own observations regarding the underlying issues which may have led to each situation, and how to tackle them.


Mathematical ability revealed in brain scans

© Christian Chan
How your brain processes complex mathematical problems is very different from how it processes language.
Albert Einstein once said that his mathematical genius had nothing to do with language: "Words and language, whether written or spoken, do not seem to play any part in my thought processes."

And now high-definition brain scans prove he had a point. The ways that the brain processes language and complex mathematical concepts are quite different, according to a new study.

The notion that humans first developed mathematical abilities as an offshoot of early forms of language has been a long-standing hypothesis, according to the study authors. And some studies have suggested that the way the brain wrangles abstract math concepts has more in common with language processing than it does with simple number recognition and formula computing.

But this idea has opponents — including many mathematicians, the researchers noted — who argue that understanding complex math involves perception pathways that differ greatly from those that untangle words.

To find out which idea held true, researchers turned to a type of noninvasive scan called fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), which creates high-resolution images that can map changes in neural activity triggered by blood flow. In that way, researchers would be able to see which parts of the brain lit up during different types of tasks.

For the experiments in the study, the scientists selected 15 subjects who were trained mathematicians and 15 subjects who were well educated but did not specialize in math. The researchers posed a series of statements to each subject on a range of topics — math and nonmath — which participants were asked to identify as "true," "false" or "meaningless."


Our neuroplastic brains can adapt to change and evolve at any age

Yes, you can teach an old brain new tricks! Neuroplasticity is a fancy term that describes this phenomena but you may be wondering why this is important. Most people enjoy the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality but increasingly, everywhere you look, the world is changing at an unprecedented pace. It is never pleasant to see or be around people who clutch for control and remain rigid when the winds of change blow. Here are some interesting facts about what science is learning about our brains ability to adapt and evolve at any age.
A thin tall grass grows around a tall, strong tree that has a thick trunk and giant branches. When heavy winds come, the thin grasses flex and bend effortlessly and remain standing in the morning. The tree will lose many limbs and possibly blow over and become uprooted. -Zen Proverb
What is Neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity is defined as the brains ability to adapt, re-wire, and re-organize by creating new neural pathways. Neurons (nerve cells) can compensate as needed, either through consciously creating new habits, or in the case of injury and disease. This means that our environment and life's circumstances literally change the structure of our brains!


Green Light

Research shows that breathing alters perception

Breath is the only critical physiological function that operates unconsciously, but can, also, be directed consciously. While regulated by very complex chemical sensors in multiple places, it is, also, tied to specific activities, perceptions and emotions. The complexity of the neural circuits is breathtaking. While regulation of breath is critical to basic physiological survival, it is also used for stress reduction including mental relaxation and alteration of perceptions in meditation.

Now, research shows that neuronal circuits related to breathing rhythm synchronize oscillations with sensory brain circuits to determine perceptions. This is similar to brain waves (γ-rhythms) being tied to specific senses and the cortex. Synchronous oscillations between regions can provide a diagram that neuronal circuits are later built upon. Perceptions are very complex and mostly determined top down from the cortex, not simply by analysis of incoming sensory information. A previous post observed that self-observation alters perceptions. The fact that breathing rates are also able to alter perceptions may be the basis of powerful meditation techniques using self-observation of the breath. Only recently is it becoming clear how breathing alters perception.

This intriguing new research in animals shows that breathing rates bind together different senses through synchronization of brain circuits, and is critical in the integration of perception.

The brain mechanisms controlling breathing are so complex that they are only now being brought into focus. While breathing is tightly regulated by the amount of carbon dioxide, pH and oxygen through feed back loops related to blood sensors, there are many other factors and brain regions that impact on breathing. Breathing involves complex muscular events controlled by the vagus nerve and the motor cortex. As well as unconscious chemical regulation, it is also clear that emotions, stress and perceptions have a major impact on breathing rate. While fear and stress increase the breathing rate, conscious control of breathing is effective in stress reduction, relaxation and meditation.

Brain Centers Communicate with Synchronized Oscillations

The mechanism where breathing rates synchronize with sensory circuits is similar to other recent findings of brain wave synchronization. It has been demonstrated that gamma oscillations align major sensory input in the thalamus and the cortex. This, also, connects different sensory signals into a perception. Other studies have shown that synchronous waves form between the frontal cortex and the visual centers during very difficult tasks.

Very recently, synchronous oscillations from groups of neurons have been shown to correlate with quickly changing mental states, such as absorbing and analyzing new information. Two different regions involved with learning — the pre frontal cortex for executive control and striatum for habit learning — synchronize brain waves, which help to create new neuronal circuits. The other forms of neuroplasticity are too slow for many of the new connections that are formed.

Comment: Soothe your mind, body and spirit with the breath focused meditation of the Eiriu Eolas program.

Éiriú Eolas - Irish Gaelic for "Growth of Knowledge"

Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program is the modern revival of an ancient breathing and meditation program which is being acclaimed around the world as THE TOOL that will help you to:
  • Relax from the stresses of everyday life
  • Gently work your way through past emotional and psychological trauma
  • Release repressed emotions and mental blockages
  • Rejuvenate and Detoxify your body and mind
Éiriú Eolas removes the barriers that stand between you and True Peace, Happiness, and ultimately a successful, fulfilling life.

See also:


Hiking in nature is cleansing to the mind, body and soul

While it may seem obvious that a good hike through a forest or up a mountain can cleanse your mind, body, and soul, science is now discovering that hiking can actually change your brain... for the better!

Hiking In Nature Can Stop Negative, Obsessive Thoughts

Aside from the almost instant feeling of calm and contentment that accompanies time outdoors, hiking in nature can reduce rumination. Many of us often find ourselves consumed by negative thoughts, which takes us out of the enjoyment of the moment at best and leads us down a path to depression and anxiety at worst. But a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin.

To conduct this study, researchers compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment. They found those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and they also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination.

The researchers noted that increased urbanization closely correlates with increased instances of depression and other mental illness. Taking the time to regularly remove ourselves from urban settings and spend more time in nature can greatly benefit our psychological (and physical) well-being.

Comment: Further reading:


Repeatedly playing video games causes desensitization, diminished moral responses to violence

Rapidly advancing technology has created ever more realistic video games. Images are sharp, settings have depth and detail, and the audio is crisp and authentic. At a glance, it appears real. So real, that research has consistently found that gamers feel guilty committing unjustified acts of violence within the game.

Now, a new University at Buffalo-led study suggests that the moral response produced by the initial exposure to a video game decreases as experience with the game develops.

The findings provide the first experimental evidence that repeatedly playing the same violent game reduces emotional responses -- like guilt -- not only to the original game, but to other violent video games as well.

Yet why this is happening remains a mystery, according to Matthew Grizzard, assistant professor of communication and principal investigator of the study published in current issue of the journal Media Psychology, with co-authors Ron Tamborini and John L. Sherry of Michigan State University and René Weber of the University of California Santa Barbara.

"What's underlying this finding?" asks Grizzard. "Why do games lose their ability to elicit guilt, and why does this seemingly generalize to other, similar games?"

Comment: Further reading:

People 2

The hidden power of listening to your gut feelings

© Daiana Lorenz/Flickr
It's one of the most commonly doled out nuggets of professional advice: "Go with your gut." But it's a very challenging system to consistently implement.

"We spend our workdays in our outer world. We're interacting with our team members and clients. We don't have enough time in our inner world where we can reflect on those experiences and listen to what our gut might have to say," says Hana Ayoub, a professional development coach.

Why is trusting your gut so powerful? Because your gut has been cataloging a whole lot of information for as long as you've been alive. "Trusting your gut is trusting the collection of all your subconscious experiences," says Melody Wilding, a licensed therapist and professor of human behavior at Hunter College.

Comment: Although this article is geared towards the workplace the concepts can be applied to everyday life as well. For more on intuition and gut instict see:


What do narcissists see when they look into the mirror?

© Unknown
A core characteristic of narcissism is the tendency of people high in this personality trait to view themselves in as positive a light as possible. For women, this may involve trying to bolster their feelings of attractiveness, given the constant message these purveyors of physical attractiveness communicate about the need for women to look beautiful and sexy. For men, the self-focus translates into the need to out-do everyone else and a tendency to exploit others as shown in a large-scale analysis on existing studies conducted by University of Buffalo psychologist Emily Grijalva and colleagues (2015).

If the need for self-enhancement is at the core of narcissism, what is its cause? Do people high on narcissism need to make themselves look as successful as possible to cover up the gnawing hole in their self-esteem? Another extensive analysis of the available literature conducted by Grijalva along with University of Illinois psychologist Luyao Zhang (2016) examined the ability of people high in narcissism to engage in the kind of critical self-scrutiny that can temper an over-inflated sense of one's own importance.

Grijalva and Zhang were particularly interested in "self-insight self-enhancement," which involves comparing the way you rate yourself with the way others rate you. They also wished to examine which features of narcissism would be most subject to a self-enhancement bias. Would people high on narcissism be more likely to emphasize their "agency," or extraversion and arrogance, or their "communal" qualities, such as honesty and agreeableness?

Comment: Further reading: Narcissism epidemic: The societal shift from commitment to the collective to a focus on the individual


The heart as the center of consciousness

During organ transplantation there have been numerous reports of emotions, memories and experiences being transferred along with organ which is been transplanted from donor to the recipient.

Dr. Pearsall, an American cardiologist, has collected the cases of 73 heart transplant patients and 67 other organ transplant recipients and published them in his book, "The Hearts Code" (1). Here is a sample of a case that has been reported:
Claire Sylvia develops desire for chicken nuggets and green peppers.

On May 29, 1988, an American woman named Claire Sylvia received a heart transplant at a hospital in Yale, Connecticut. She was told that her donor was an 18 year-old male from Maine who had just died in a motorcycle accident.

Soon after her operation, Sylvia declared that she felt like drinking beer, something she hadn't particularly been fond of before. Later, she observed an uncontrollable urge to eat chicken nuggets and found herself drawn to visiting the popular chicken restaurant chain, KFC.

She also began craving green peppers which she hadn't particularly liked before. She started behaving in an aggressive and impetuous manner following the surgery. Sylvia also began having recurring dreams about a mystery man named Tim, whom she felt was the organ donor.

She searched for obituaries in newspapers published from Maine and was able to identify the young man whose heart she had received. His name had indeed been Tim. After visiting Tim's family, she discovered that he used to love chicken nuggets, green peppers and beer. These experiences are documented in her book, A Change of Heart (2).
In 1974, the French researchers Gahery and Vigier, working with cats, stimulated the vagus nerve (which carries many of the signals from the heart to the brain) and found that the brain's electrical response was reduced to about half its normal rate when stimulating the vagus nerve (3).

The heart appeared to be sending meaningful messages to the brain that it not only understood, but also obeyed (4). Later, neurophysiologists discovered a neural pathway and mechanism whereby input from the heart to the brain could inhibit or facilitate the brain's electrical activity (5).

Dr. Armour introduced the idea of functional "heart brain." His research revealed that the heart has a complex intrinsic nervous system that is sufficiently refined to qualify as a "little brain" in its own right, due to its independent existence.