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Sun, 25 Aug 2019
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For health and well-being, spend two hours a week in nature

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:


Info

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

vibrations
© 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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Doberman

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.

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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


Brain

Imagination can change perception of reality on a neural level

brain
© 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.

Info

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.

Galaxy

Caitlin Johnstone: On authentic spirituality

contemplation sit tree
Spirituality, as it is implemented in our world today, is almost entirely useless.

No, that's not fair, I take that back. Spirituality as it is implemented in our world today has been very useful for giving people pleasant narratives to tell themselves about the nature of reality, for helping people to compartmentalize and dissociate away from their feelings and their psychological trauma, and for giving people a sense of belonging and the egoically pleasing feeling of having superior beliefs to other people.

Spirituality as it is implemented in our world today is great for escapism, in the same way that doing drugs, playing video games or binging on Netflix is great for escapism. I think it's fair to say that more than 99 percent of what is generally practiced and recognized as spirituality today is nothing other than glorified escapism, whether you're talking about organized religious spirituality, casual spiritual-but-not-religious spirituality, or even individuals who've made potentially authentic spiritual practices totally central in their lives.

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Headphones

How listening to music 'significantly impairs' creativity

music laptop listen
The popular view that music enhances creativity has been challenged by researchers who say it has the opposite effect.

Psychologists from the University of Central Lancashire, University of Gävle in Sweden and Lancaster University investigated the impact of background music on performance by presenting people with verbal insight problems that are believed to tap creativity.

They found that background music "significantly impaired" people's ability to complete tasks testing verbal creativity - but there was no effect for background library noise.

Comment: Could it be that because listening to particular kinds of music already engages creativity, memory recall, visualization and so on, attempting to do more than just listening to the music is akin to multi-tasking?


Play

Stoic practices that can make us happier ...or less unhappy

ancient philosophers
Learn from the Stoics - turns out they knew a thing or two - and try these 4 rituals for a happier life.

Alright, you've probably read a zillion articles about happiness online and you're not a zillion times happier. What gives?

Reading ain't the same as doing. You wouldn't expect to read some martial arts books and then go kick ass like Bruce Lee, would you? All behavior, all changes, must be trained.

The ancient Stoics knew this. They didn't write stuff just to be read. They created rituals - exercises - to be performed to train your mind to respond properly to life so you could live it well.

From The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living:
That's why the philosophers warn us not to be satisfied with mere learning, but to add practice and then training. For as time passes we forget what we learned and end up doing the opposite, and hold opinions the opposite of what we should. - Epictetus, Discourses, 2.9.13-14
And what's fascinating is that modern scientific research agrees with a surprising amount of what these guys were talking about 2000 years ago.

Brain

Men more likely than women to face mental illness and substance abuse

medication doctor
© Getty Images
June marks National Men's Health Month, an opportunity to examine the prevalence of drug misuse and substance use disorders (SUDs) in men. Compared to women, men are more likely to engage in illicit drug use and to begin using alcohol or drugs at a younger age. These risk factors contribute to a rate of substance dependence in men that is twice that of women; men are also more likely to experience an opioid overdose. In fact, of the 47,600 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017, two-thirds were among men.

This disparity is also true for alcohol and other drugs. For example, men are more likely to drink excessively, which is associated with higher rates of alcohol-related deaths, hospitalizations, and risky behavior, such as drinking and driving. For other drugs, such as marijuana, use in males is higher, as is the prevalence of cannabis use disorder.