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Tue, 21 Aug 2018
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Study: Loneliness begins in your genes and could be damaging your heart

lonely girl beach
© Storyblocks
A lonely woman on a beach.

Loneliness may not be entirely down to a floundering social life. A new study has found that a person's gene coding may contribute to a crippling feeling of isolation.

Scientists at Cambridge University explored the biological causes of loneliness as well as whether the onset of life-threatening depressive feelings are a cause or symptom of social withdrawal.

During the study, which has been published in the journal Nature, researchers gleaned data from hundreds of thousands of people thanks to the UK Biobank. Using survey responses from 452,000 volunteers in the databank, the research team were able pinpoint 15 genomic loci that are likely to contribute to loneliness in certain people.

Comment: One always needs to be leery of claims of genetic basis for general traits. The science of genetics is incredibly young and incredibly complex. At this point, very little is known about how genes actually interact and how epigenetics affect outcomes. While there is little doubt that genetics play a role in how a number of traits are expressed, they are simply part of a very complicated picture. The age of genetic determinism will likely end as soon as the zeitgeist catches up with the latest science.

See also:


Ways to think about... Consciousness

© Arthur Yu/EyeEm/Getty
Can a mind ever know itself? Maybe we don't want to know: solving the 'hard problem' of consciousness could threaten our sense of self and free will

It is a concept so intrinsic to the fabric of our reality that starting to pick away at it leaves us feeling quite unravelled. "We can come closer to defining what it is to be an elephant than what it is to be conscious," says Nicholas Shea, who researches philosophy of the mind at the University of Oxford.

Consciousness is the essence of what it is to be "you". It is all your subjective experiences - from the feeling of the sun's warmth on your skin to the desolation of grief - conjured up somehow by your brain. "It still seems to many people, sometimes to me, very hard to see how things happening in the physical world could give rise to any sort of conscious experience at all," says neuroscientist Anil Seth at the University of Sussex, UK.

Comment: Perhaps a part of 'growing' consciousness means allowing ourselves to think on - and become aware of - possibilities where we thought none existed previously.


Anticipating stress negatively affects your working memory

Anticipating stress messes with your memory, new research finds.

People who woke up feeling the day would be stressful had worse memory later on, even if the stress did not materialise.

Mr Jinshil Hyun, the study's first author, said:
"Humans can think about and anticipate things before they happen, which can help us prepare for and even prevent certain events.

But this study suggests that this ability can also be harmful to your daily memory function, independent of whether the stressful events actually happen or not."
Working memory was the type affected by anticipating stress.

Dr Martin Sliwinski, study co-author, explained its function:

Comment: An excellent deep breathing technique for dealing with stress is Éiriú Eolas See also:

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Researchers find not sharing dishwashing duties is most likely way to damage a relationship

couple sharing dishwashing
Sharing out the dishwashing duties more fairly could be one of the best ways to improve a relationship, new research suggests. Out of all household chores, (not) doing the dishes is the most likely to damage a relationship.

Women in heterosexual relationships who did more dishes than their partners reported:
  • Lower relationship satisfaction,
  • more relationship conflict,
  • and worse and less sex.
The study looked at different household tasks including shopping, cleaning and laundry. It revealed that there is something particularly irritating about doing the dishes.


Jordan Peterson's view on Cain and Abel

Spurred by social comparison, Cain and Abel represent rival responses to the suffering inherent in the human condition following the rise of self-consciousness. Abel's suffering leads to his self-development as a warrior. Cain's suffering leads to envy, malevolence, and murder. This essay explicates and develops Peterson's interpretation of the story.
Cain and Abel
In his "Biblical Series V: The Hostile Brothers" and in his international best seller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan Peterson provides a rich interpretation of the story of Cain and Abel. The archetypal brothers both suffer, but their radically different responses to their suffering represent perennial human options.

After becoming self-conscious and leaving the Garden of Eden, "Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, 'I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord'" (Genesis 4:1). Cain is not just the first-born son, Peterson notes, but the first-born human being.

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Spirit release therapy: The case of Clara

doorway enter the light
Alan Sanderson is a psychiatrist specializing in hypnotherapy, who has become an advocate of spirit release therapy - a technique by which a hypnotherapist communicates directly with spirit entities purportedly harassing a patient. One of his cases, dating from 1995, involves a patient he calls Clara. He has written about it at some length in an article called "Clara - Spirit Releasement Therapy in a Case Featuring Depression and Panic" (European Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, April 4, 1998). He also alludes to the case in a more recent article, "Spirit Release in Clinical Psychiatry - What Can We Learn?" (2014) Here I want to present an abridged version of the case, relying primarily on the first, more detailed article. (All quotations are taken from the 1998 paper.)

What intrigues me the most about those case are its obvious parallels to numerous case histories recounted in Carl Wickland's 1924 book Thirty Years Among the Dead. (Clicking this link automatically downloads a PDF to your downloads folder. The book can also be purchased at Amazon.) Wickland used a medium (his wife) to contact the spirits, while Sanderson uses hypnosis. But the resulting dialogues are strikingly similar.

Sanderson notes that "possession" cases, as studied by himself and other researchers, can involve a wide variety of conditions, including phobias, addictions, and depression. "The great majority of these cases lack a subjective sense of possession. While the patient may have the feeling of spirit proximity, for instance that a deceased relative has been close by, the identification of a spirit presence usually comes as a surprise." In other words, we're not talking about dramatic, obvious "demonic" behavior or manifestations a la The Exorcist. (I'm not sure I would use the term "possession" for these cases; "obsession" or "harassment" seem like better words.)

Comment: The idea that spirits can 'possess' humans - and that these possessions can be responsible for a variety of behaviors and mental illnesses - has been a widespread folk belief. But the belief in scientific materialism has all but wiped it out from common medical theory and practice. But this is irrational. Even if one does not believe in the existence of such 'spirits', it's rational to act as if they do exist - if doing so has some practical value. For whatever reason, such phenomena present as - and are experienced as - independent beings. If they are in fact or not, that's just the reality we have to deal with it. And it's probably healthier to deal with it than to just pretend it doesn't happen.

He finds Clara's case to be of particular interest "because the patient's complaints of depression, anxiety, headache and panic are common symptoms and the picture in no way resembled that of the popular concept of possession." He tells us that Clara had no longterm history of mental problems or psychiatric treatment, was raised in a stable family, and reported a normal childhood. By the time she came to him, however, she was seriously depressed, drank and smoked heavily, and had gained more than twenty pounds in a few months.


Shivers down the spine: Why we get the chills when we aren't cold

© Courtesy Rex Features/Paramount
A few years ago, I proposed that the feeling of cold in one's spine, while for example watching a film or listening to music, corresponds to an event when our vital need for cognition is satisfied. Similarly, I have shown that chills are not solely related to music or film but also to the practice of science (mainly physics and mathematics) and to the social logic of religious rituals. I believe that chills and aesthetic emotions in general can teach us something that we do not know yet. They can help us to understand what truly matters to the mind and to the society of minds.

When cold or sick, humans shiver. Shivering is a muscle tremor that produces heat which allows the body to maintain its core temperature in a changing world. Human core temperature can vary temporarily between about 28 to 42 degrees Celsius. Outside these thresholds, death occurs. Humans also shiver in the case of a fever, as heat slows down the rate of pathogen growth and improves the immune response of a living body. Goosebumps or piloerection (the bristling of hairs) can be side effects, as the muscle tremor causes hair to become erect which creates a thin layer of air, thus minimising heat loss. Strangely enough, humans also shiver independently of any such events. For instance, certain social situations seem to provoke the shivers.

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The 2 personality traits that indicate high intelligence

intelligence, High IQ
Introverts who have more stable personalities have higher levels of general knowledge, research finds.

These two personality factors, along with being open to experience, predict people's general knowledge.

General knowledge - or as psychologists call it, crystallised intelligence - is one of two broad aspects of intelligence.

General knowledge is often linked to success in life because innate talent is not enough - application matters.

The other type is called 'fluid intelligence', and refers to abstract reasoning and the speed at which the brain works.

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Negativity is one of the most powerful relationship killers

Sad woman
Researchers looked at the effect of negative events such as losing a job, the death of a loved one or financial problems.

Negativity is one of the most powerful relationship killers.

Reducing negativity is the key to getting through tough points in a relationships, new research finds.

Small negative gestures in a relationship are much more powerful than positive actions, psychologists have found.


The strong personality trait that is linked to empathy

Empathic people
Empathic people are likely to have this personality trait.

People with the personality trait of agreeableness are more likely to be highly empathic, research finds.

Agreeable people tend to be friendly, warm and tactful - always taking into account other people's feelings.

Interestingly, the study also found links between empathy and being neurotic, although neurotic people were more focused on themselves, while agreeable people focused on the other person.

Comment: More on the trait that speaks to our humanity: