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Thu, 22 Jun 2017
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Heart - Black

Meditation and the dark recesses of the mind

© Cameron Gray
Aaron Alexis was in search of something. He started attending a Buddhist temple and learned to meditate; he hoped it would bring him wisdom and peace. "I want to be a Buddhist monk," he once told a friend from the temple. His friend advised him to keep studying. Aaron did. He learned Thai and kept going to the temple, chanting, and meditating. But then other things got in the way.

On 16 September 2013, Aaron drove into Washington's Navy Yard. It was eight o'clock in the morning. He'd been working there not long before, and security let him in. He walked out of the car with a large bag and briefly disappeared into a toilet. Minutes later the security cameras caught him holding a shotgun. Aaron walked briskly and hid behind a wall for a few seconds before advancing through the building. Within 30 minutes twelve people were dead. He killed randomly, first using his shotgun and then, after running out of ammunition, using the handgun belonging to a guard he'd just killed. He died after an exchange of gunfire with the police.

It took only 24 hours for a journalist to notice that Aaron had been a Buddhist, prompting her to write an article that asked, 'Can there be a less positive side to meditation?' Western Buddhists immediately reacted. One wrote, "This man represented the Dharma teachings no more than 9/11 terrorists represented the teachings of Islam."

Family

Negative thoughts can harm your health at the DNA level

Lose your temper on the road? Frustrated with colleagues at work? You may be cutting your life short, warns molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn--who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2009--and health psychologist Elissa Epel, who studies stress and aging.

The authors claim in their new book, The Telomere Effect, that negative thoughts harm your health at the DNA level. Research has shown that a person's "social relationships, environments and lifestyles" affect their genes. "Even though you are born with a particular set of genes, the way you live can influence how they express themselves."

Blackburn and Epel say components of DNA called telomeres determine how fast your cells age. Short telomeres are one of the major reasons human cells grow old, but lab tests have shown that they can also grow longer. In other words, aging "could possibly be accelerated or slowed -and, in some aspects, even reversed."

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Magnify

Inversion: A rare and crucial skill that nearly all great thinkers use to their advantage

The ancient Stoic philosophers like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus regularly conducted an exercise known as a premeditatio malorum, which translates to a "premeditation of evils."

The goal of this exercise was to envision the negative things that could happen in life. For example, the Stoics would imagine what it would be like to lose their status in society or to be abandoned by their spouse or to have all of their worldly possessions stolen.

The Stoics believed that by imagining the worst case scenario ahead of time, they could overcome their fears of negative experiences and make better plans to prevent them. While most people were focused on how they could achieve success, the Stoics also considered how they would manage failure. What would things look like if everything went wrong tomorrow? And what does this tell us about how we should prepare today?

This way of thinking, in which you consider the opposite of what you want, is known as inversion. When I first learned of it, I didn't realize how powerful it could be. As I have studied it more, I have begun to realize that inversion is a rare and crucial skill that nearly all great thinkers use to their advantage.

Hearts

A crisis hormone? Oxytocin is not just for love and cuddling

Oxytocin plays an important role in bonding. It is often called the "love hormone" or "cuddle chemical", but American and Norwegian researchers have found out that it may as well be called a "crisis hormone."

When we hug someone, oxytocin is released into our bodies by our pituitary gland, lowering both our heart rates and our cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for stress, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that acts on the limbic system, the brain's emotional centre, promoting feelings of contentment, reducing anxiety and stress, and even making mammals monogamous. It is the hormone responsible for us all being here today.

"When people notice that their partner is showing less interest in their relationship than they are, the level of this relationship-building hormone increases," says Andreas Aarseth Kristoffersen, a research assistant in NTNU's Department of psychology.

Cell Phone

Instagram and Snapchat rate the worst for youngsters' mental health

© Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
Young people experience increased rates of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and poor sleep because of popular social media platforms, according to a new UK study. Instagram and Snapchat can be particularly damaging, the study says.

Social media are "more addictive than alcohol and cigarettes," according to the report published on Friday by the independent health education charity Royal Society for Public Health and its Young Health Movement.

Ninety-one percent of youngsters use online social networks, and it can negatively affect their lives, according to the group's findings. Almost 1,500 youngsters were surveyed, aged from 14 to 24.

The researchers say those spending more than two hours per day on social network sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram "are more likely to report poor mental health, including psychological distress."

Those surveyed were asked to rate five popular social platforms - YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram - by 14 points to determine their influence on young people's health and well-being.

Comment: Further reading:


Bullseye

Why "positive thinking" won't help you out

© Life Hack
Have you ever been told to just "think positive" and your problems will go away?

Or that to achieve your goals in life, all you have to do is visualize it with positive intent?

It's a philosophy that's been popular for decades thanks to books like How to win Friends and Influence People and Think and Grow Rich.

But is it really helping us live more meaningful and fulfilling lives? Not exactly.

In fact, according to spiritual guru, Osho, it might just be one of the biggest "bullshit philosophies" there is.

Newspaper

Boy claims he murdered in a past life, says deformation is punishment

A little boy in Sri Lanka seemed to have memories of being his deceased uncle in a past life. He said he murdered his fiancée, and indeed that uncle had murdered his fiancée—a tightly guarded family secret his father said he could not have known.

Shortly before he died, a man named Ratran in Sri Lanka told his brother, Tileratne Hami, he would be reborn as his son. When a son was born to Hami 19 years later, that son was slightly deformed.

Info

Dunning-Kruger effect - The illusion of competence

© Photo courtesy Wikipedia
Look out! Head-on car crash in rural South Dakota in 1932. Eighty per cent of drivers rate themselves as above average.
One day in 1995, a large, heavy middle-aged man robbed two Pittsburgh banks in broad daylight. He didn't wear a mask or any sort of disguise. And he smiled at surveillance cameras before walking out of each bank. Later that night, police arrested a surprised McArthur Wheeler. When they showed him the surveillance tapes, Wheeler stared in disbelief. 'But I wore the juice,' he mumbled. Apparently, Wheeler thought that rubbing lemon juice on his skin would render him invisible to videotape cameras. After all, lemon juice is used as invisible ink so, as long as he didn't come near a heat source, he should have been completely invisible.

Police concluded that Wheeler was not crazy or on drugs - just incredibly mistaken.

The saga caught the eye of the psychologist David Dunning at Cornell University, who enlisted his graduate student, Justin Kruger, to see what was going on. They reasoned that, while almost everyone holds favourable views of their abilities in various social and intellectual domains, some people mistakenly assess their abilities as being much higher than they actually are. This 'illusion of confidence' is now called the 'Dunning-Kruger effect', and describes the cognitive bias to inflate self-assessment.

To investigate this phenomenon in the lab, Dunning and Kruger designed some clever experiments. In one study, they asked undergraduate students a series of questions about grammar, logic and jokes, and then asked each student to estimate his or her score overall, as well as their relative rank compared to the other students. Interestingly, students who scored the lowest in these cognitive tasks always overestimated how well they did - by a lot. Students who scored in the bottom quartile estimated that they had performed better than two-thirds of the other students!

Info

The dark side of laughter

When you hear someone laugh behind you, you probably picture them on the phone or with a friend - smiling and experiencing a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Chances are just the sound of the laughter could make you smile or even laugh along.

But imagine that the person laughing is just walking around alone in the street, or sitting behind you at a funeral.

Suddenly, it doesn't seem so inviting.

The truth is that laughter isn't always positive or healthy. According to science, it can be classified into different types, ranging from genuine and spontaneous to simulated (fake), stimulated (for example by tickling), induced (by drugs) or even pathological. But the actual neural basis of laughter is still not very well known - and what we do know about it largely comes from pathological clinical cases.

Laughter and the appreciation of humor are vital components of adaptive social, emotional and cognitive function. Surprisingly, they are not uniquely human.

Comment: For more on the benefits of laughter see: The Health & Wellness Show: Don't Panic, Lighten Up!


People 2

The mental and psychological benefits of being in a bad mood

© Shutterstock
Homo sapiens is a very moody species. Even though sadness and bad moods have always been part of the human experience, we now live in an age that ignores or devalues these feelings.

In our culture, normal human emotions like temporary sadness are often treated as disorders. Manipulative advertising, marketing and self-help industries claim happiness should be ours for the asking. Yet bad moods remain an essential part of the normal range of moods we regularly experience.

Despite the near-universal cult of happiness and unprecedented material wealth, happiness and life satisfaction in Western societies has not improved for decades.

It's time to re-assess the role of bad moods in our lives. We should recognize they are a normal, and even a useful and adaptive part of being human, helping us cope with many everyday situations and challenges.

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