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Fri, 22 Nov 2019
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Snorting powdered toad secretions just once is linked to feeling happier for a month

© kuhnmi/Wikimedia, CC-BY-2.0
In the last few years, evidence has been emerging that several psychedelics seem to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Now scientists have tested a new compound - and early trials indicate that it, too, has potential.

As with many other psychedelics, this one comes from nature, too. Specifically, we're talking 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), secreted by the Colorado River toad (Incilius alvarius).

Among a small group of people, researchers led by Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that inhaling dried-and-powdered toad secretions resulted in increased life satisfaction, better mindfulness, and a decrease in psychopathological symptoms for the duration of the four-week-long study.

According to the team, this result shows more research is needed into the potential beneficial effects of 5-MeO-DMT.

Comment: See also: Exploring the frontiers of psychedelics


The humans are waking up (maybe)

eye closeup
You run into a lot of despair in this line of work. The more you learn about the mechanisms of power, the more hopeless things seem at first glance.

The political system is totally locked down, with anyone who tries to upend the status quo being aggressively sabotaged by the mass media and their own political party.

Technology, which futurists have long heralded as the deus ex machina which will liberate humanity from its self-destructive ways, is owned by plutocrats with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, and is pervasively infiltrated by murderous intelligence agencies from top to bottom.

Comment: It's hard to say for sure whether this is simply some wishful thinking on the part of Johnstone, or there really is a mass-awakening phenomenon at play here. Keeping a constant eye on the headlines, as we do here at SOTT, certainly doesn't make one optimistic for any kind of evolution in consciousness. It seems quite likely that a good majority of people on this planet aren't ready for any kind of awakening - but what about the ones who are? Regardless, the best approach is to not worry about what everyone else is doing and try evolve yourself. Your efforts may have a currently unknown effect on humanity at large.


Similar brains but mouse studies don't always tell the right story

Human Brain
The most detailed study of its kind has found human brains are remarkably similar to mouse brains. But it also found subtle differences that could explain why many psych drugs that show promise in mouse studies don't work in people.

The outer layer of the human brain, called the cortex, is a bona fide biological marvel, playing a leading role in thinking, talking, remembering, moving limbs and, for good measure, consciousness.

Such superpowers call for serious kit.

Our brain boasts 16 billion neurons, the cells that relay messages, and a supporting cast of 61 billion other cells that provide neurons with scaffolding, insulation, nutrition and protection from disease.

In all, the human cortex is 1000 times bigger than that of the mouse, a species we parted company with 65 million years ago when our last common ancestor is believed to have lived.

Despite that evolutionary gulf, research led by Ed Lein from the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, US, has found that we share a surprising amount of brain architecture with our rodent cousins.


DNA intelligence tests ignore reasons why kids succeed

Child Prodigy
© tournee/Adobe
A child prodigy considers a math equation.
It's 2019. Prenatal genetic tests are being used to help parents select from healthy and diseased eggs. Genetic risk profiles are being created for a range of common diseases. And embryonic gene editing has moved into the clinic. The science community is nearly unanimous on the question of whether we should be consulting our genomes as early as possible to create healthy offspring. If you can predict it, let's prevent it, and the sooner, the better.

When it comes to care of our babies, kids, and future generations, we are doing things today that we never even dreamed would be possible. But one area that remains murky is the long fraught question of IQ, and whether to use DNA science to tell us something about it. There are big issues with IQ genetics that should be considered before parents and educators adopt DNA IQ predictions.

IQ tests have been around for over a century. They've been used by doctors, teachers, government officials, and a whole host of institutions as a proxy for intelligence, especially in youth. At times in history, test results have been used to determine whether to allow a person to procreate, remain a part of society, or merely stay alive. These abuses seem to be a distant part of our past, and IQ tests have since garnered their fair share of controversy for exhibiting racial and cultural biases. But they continue to be used across society. Indeed, much of the literature aimed at expecting parents justifies its recommendations (more omegas, less formula, etc.) based on promises of raising a baby's IQ.

This is the power of IQ testing sans DNA science. Until recently, the two were separate entities, with IQ tests indicating a coefficient created from individual responses to written questions and genetic tests indicating some disease susceptibility based on a sequence of one's DNA. Yet in recent years, scientists have begun to unlock the secrets of inherited aspects of intelligence with genetic analyses that scan millions of points of variation in DNA. Both bench scientists and direct-to-consumer companies have used these new technologies to find variants associated with exceptional IQ scores. There are a number of tests on the open market that parents and educators can use at will. These tests purport to reveal whether a child is inherently predisposed to be intelligent, and some suggest ways to track them for success.


The ancient Roman cure for panic attacks

© Ewan Morrison
I once suffered badly from panic attacks. At the time I was walking around with dangerously low self-esteem due to seeing myself as a "failure". My inner-critic was working overtime and causing me to have panic attacks in supermarkets, and this prevented me from purchasing food to feed myself with. I would stand in front of a hundred yogurts in the dairy aisle and my thoughts would start to race - a bit like this:
"Why are there are so many flavors and types of yogurt? Should I buy no fat or low fat or full fat? Which one is better for me? Should I buy a flavor that makes me happy or go with bio-active? Will it really make me healthier or it is all a lie? Is all advertising a lie? Do we really have any free will? Are all these happy shoppers around me brainwashed? Why is everyone staring at me? Why is it so hot in here and why is the terrible music getting louder? Why am I always so alone? I'll never fit in, that's why I'm such a failure! My God, why am I even alive?"
Such panic attacks might seem like something from a Woody Allen film but they were powerful enough for me to develop palpitations, sweaty palms, dizziness and nausea and I would invariably set down my empty shopping basket and run out of whatever supermarket I was in in a state physical distress, gasping for air and recoiling from the terrifying happy smiley world in which "normal" people bought dairy products with malicious displays of indifference to my predicament. My attacks were making me ill. After the supermarket panics then came the "eating for one" panics. And the thoughts went: "I can't bear eating alone," "I must stop being so alone," "I am doomed to be alone forever". I was losing a lot of weight and energy and was heading into a dangerous spiral of ill health.

If I had gone to a psychotherapist then we would have explored the incidents in my childhood that had created this "phobia", but this process might have actually made things worse (assuring me that my abnormality was deeply grounded within my personality) and nine months of exploration into my past life certainly would not have saved me from the immediate threat of damage to my internal organs from weight loss. I went down the Cognitive Behavioural route and my CBT therapist, thankfully, dealt with the problem very practically. He got me to (1) keep a diary of my panic attacks, noting times and places (2) look for and take note of places where I did not panic (3) eat in cafes or other places that did not cause me distress (4) observe my own thoughts during a panic attack and ask myself "is any of this happening to anyone else? Or is it just a product of my mind?"

Comment: See also:


Bias against left-handers

Left Right Brain
© Discover Magazine
Left-handed people are under-represented as volunteers in human neuroimaging studies, according to a new paper from Lyam M. Bailey, Laura E. McMillan, and Aaron J. Newman of Dalhousie University.

Bailey et al. analyzed a sample of 1,031 papers published in 2017, finding that just 3.2% of participants were non-right-handed, even though this group makes up about 10-13% of the general population.

These findings are hardly unexpected. The exclusion of non-right-handed people from neuroimaging (especially fMRI) studies is standard practice in the field. If anything, I was surprised by how high the 3.2% figure was.

The reason usually given for the right-handers-only policy is that non-right-handed people are more likely to have atypical brain lateralization of language.

In most people, language functions are found in the left hemisphere of the brain. About 4% of right-handers show right hemisphere or mixed-hemisphere lateralization of language, while in non-right-handers, the rate is about 30%.

Atypical language lateralization isn't harmful, but it could create difficulties for neuroscientists studying language, by adding variability to the results. So the focus on right-handers makes sense in this context.

Heart - Black

The toll that pathological narcissism takes on loved ones

Empirical research quantifies the impact of extreme self-absorption.
Since narcissists deep down feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world's fault. — M. Scott Peck
Narcissism can be healthy when it's associated with balanced self-love, security, and self-esteem. Healthy narcissism means having a great relationship with oneself and not feeling ashamed of tending to oneself in special ways.

Pathological Narcissism, On the Other Hand, Causes Problems

Per the DSM-5, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a long-standing pattern of "inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual's culture," leading to "clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning." All personality disorders may affect 1) cognition, how we think and perceive ourselves, others and the world; 2) affectivity, how we experience and process emotions; 3) interpersonal functioning, the way we think, feel and behavior in relationships; and 4) impulse control. NPD, affecting 0.5 to 1 percent of the US population, the majority (50-70 percent) male, includes:

Diagnostic Criteria
© American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

Comment: More on the detrimental effects of pathological narcissism:

Heart - Black

The problem of mindfulness: Panacea for all manner of modern ills?

© Phillip Suddik
Mindfulness promotes itself as value-neutral but it is loaded with (troubling) assumptions about the self and the cosmos
Three years ago, when I was studying for a Masters in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, mindfulness was very much in the air. The Department of Psychiatry had launched a large-scale study on the effects of mindfulness in collaboration with the university's counselling service. Everyone I knew seemed to be involved in some way: either they were attending regular mindfulness classes and dutifully filling out surveys or, like me, they were part of a control group who didn't attend classes, but found themselves caught up in the craze even so. We gathered in strangers' houses to meditate at odd hours, and avidly discussed our meditative experiences. It was a strange time.

Raised as a Buddhist in New Zealand and Sri Lanka, I have a long history with meditation - although, like many 'cultural Catholics', my involvement was often superficial. I was crushingly bored whenever my parents dragged me to the temple as a child. At university, however, I turned to psychotherapy to cope with the stress of the academic environment. Unsurprisingly, I found myself drawn to schools or approaches marked by the influence of Buddhist philosophy and meditation, one of which was mindfulness. Over the years, before and during the Cambridge trial, therapists have taught me an arsenal of mindfulness techniques. I have been instructed to observe my breath, to scan my body and note the range of its sensations, and to observe the play of thoughts and emotions in my mind. This last exercise often involves visual imagery, where a person is asked to consider thoughts and feelings in terms of clouds in the sky or leaves drifting in a river. A popular activity (though I've never tried it myself) even involves eating a raisin mindfully, where you carefully observe the sensory experience from start to finish, including changes in texture and the different tastes and smells.

Comment: Objective:Health #26 - Mindfulness - Corporate Scam or Key to Nirvana?


Caitlin Johnstone: The ultimate conspiracy revealed

looking glass
It's a trip how much mental energy people pour into arguments about world affairs while devoting almost none to the way their understanding and perception of those affairs is happening.

People will happily argue day in and day out about what political ideology is most correct or what should be done about a given problem, but it's rare for them to turn around and examine the sources of information that they've used to form those opinions. The fact that most of the information being circulated about what's going on in the world is owned by plutocrats who undeniably have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo rarely enters into mainstream awareness. Which is of course by design.

Even less common than people questioning the nature of the information they've received is for them to examine what happens to that information once it gets into their heads. Nearly everyone lives a life that is dominated by nonstop compulsive mental chatter which determines everything from one's emotional state to how their interest and attention moves, thereby creating cognitive biases and perceptual filters which shape how all future information will be interpreted. For most of us, thought serves not as the useful tool we evolved it to be, but as the writer, director and star of the entire show. As Ecknath Easwaran once said, "we don't think our thoughts, our thoughts think us."


The goal of happiness: Aristotle's summary of Nicomachean ethics

The achievement of happiness, according to Aristotle, is the end goal of every man.

His reasoning is thus: All human activities are done in order to attain something that is good. We don't do something because we think it will be bad for us. In addition, most of these activities are not the main objective, but rather a means to a higher end. Consequently, the activity that is an end in itself, writes the prolific philosopher, is the highest good, and that good is happiness. We aim at happiness for its own sake, not because it will achieve something else. Happiness, therefore, is our greatest mission.

Supposing this to be our aim, Aristotle then proceeds in his Nicomachean Ethics to figure out how best to achieve this goal.

Comment: Many of the ancient philosophers had a good understanding of human beings and what makes us tick. Aristotle's views aren't too far off from what the Stoic philosophers were saying.