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Fri, 14 Aug 2020
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


How well do you know the back of your hand, really?

back of hand
Many of us are spending a lot of time looking at our hands lately and we think we know them pretty well. But research from York University's Centre for Vision Research shows the way our brains perceive our hands is inaccurate.

In a new study, the Centre's director Laurence Harris, a Psychology professor in York's Faculty of Health, and graduate student Sarah D'Amour, found the brain's representation of the back of hands changes depending on the orientation in which they are held.

The study published the journal, Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE) today looked at how accurate healthy individuals are at judging the size of the back and the palm of their hand and how perception of hand size might be affected when viewing the hand in familiar or unfamiliar perspectives.

Using a novel technique that revealed the indivduals' implicit representation of their hands in the brain, researchers found the perceived width is different when the hand is held upright compared to when it is held sideways, but only for the back of the hand. There was no variation seen in perception for the palm.


Be conscious of what you are thinking

© Kleiton Silva
Since the dawn of New Age thought, proponents have emphasized the power of the mind in controlling biology. The notion of self-empowerment in managing health was adamantly condemned by the pharmaceutical industry, an industry whose livelihood is based upon selling drugs as the only path in controlling health. The public's perception that pharmaceuticals are the only way to regain health is conditioned by the industry's onslaught of drug commercials every ten minutes in TV programming. The financial power of the drug companies has also been used to manipulate medical school curricula so that practitioners are trained to devalue the role of the mind while they are encouraged to write drug prescriptions for their patients.

While medical practitioners have essentially dismissed the role of the mind in influencing health, science has fully established that a minimum of one third, and up to two thirds, of all positive medical interventions are due to the Placebo Effect, an expression of the real power of mind over matter.

Comment: More from Dr. Lipton:


For the full life experience, put down the devices and walk

© Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York/Wikipedia
Detail from A Snapshot, Paris (1911), by Alfred Stieglitz.
Pedestrian: a word fitted to the most drab, tedious and monotonous moments of life. We don't want to live pedestrian lives. Yet maybe we should. Many of history's great thinkers have been pedestrians. Henry David Thoreau and William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Walt Whitman, Friedrich Nietzsche and Virginia Woolf, Arthur Rimbaud, Mahatma Gandhi, William James - all were writers who hinged the working of their minds to the steady movement of their feet. They felt the need to get up and get the blood moving, leaving the page to put on a hat and go outside for a stroll. In doing so, they were in step with the antipodal forces of motion and rest, an impetus written into the laws of nature.

How many of us today are able to free ourselves from the page and head out the door when we rise from our desks? Even abiding by the dictates of nature, breathing deeply out in the open air as we set our legs into motion, it's likely we need to accomplish the undertaking as quickly and efficiently as possible. But in so doing, perhaps we still miss the essence of the activity itself. We forego the art of walking.

Comment: Walking: The incredible benefits of humankind's most basic form of exercise


Viktor Frankl: Saying Yes to Life in Difficult Times

Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl
Man's Search for Meaning is one of the most powerful arguments for human dignity of the 20th Century. The author is Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and a Jew, who spent about three years in concentration camps, including Auschwitz. His father, mother, brother and his pregnant wife all perished in the camps.

Frankl was astonishingly productive and soon after he was released in April 1945, he was back at work. The next year he wrote his memoir of Auschwitz. In German the title of the first edition was Trotzdem Ja Zum Leben Sagen: Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager, which translates roughly as "In spite of everything, say Yes to life: a psychologist's experience of the concentration camp". Later he added a section reflecting on his experiences and sketching what became the third school of Viennese psychology, logotherapy.

Man's Search for Meaning was an immediate best-seller which made the author famous around the world. By the time of his death in 1997, it had sold more than 10 million copies.

It's astonishingly contemporary, for more than any other book I've read, it speaks to the anxieties of a society in which suffering has no meaning and euthanasia seems like a plausible solution to life's pain.

Comment: See also:


How nurturing hope can keep you healthier and happier

Hope springs eternal – if you nurture it.
© Getty Images / ipopba
Hope springs eternal – if you nurture it.
Hope can erode when we perceive threats to our way of life, and these days, plenty are out there. As we age, we may struggle with a tragic loss or chronic disease. As we watch the news, we see our political system polarized, hopelessly locked in chaos. The coronavirus spreads wider daily; U.S. markets signaled a lack of hope with a Dow Jones free fall. Losing hope sometimes leads to suicide.

When there is no hope - when people cannot picture a desired end to their struggles - they lose the motivation to endure. As professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University, I've studied positive psychology, forgiveness, wellness and the science of hope for more than 40 years. My website offers free resources and tools to help its readers live a more hopeful life.

What is hope?

First, hope is not Pollyannaish optimism - the assumption that a positive outcome is inevitable. Instead, hope is a motivation to persevere toward a goal or end state, even if we're skeptical that a positive outcome is likely. Psychologists tell us hope involves activity, a can-do attitude and a belief that we have a pathway to our desired outcome. Hope is the willpower to change and the way-power to bring about that change.

Comment: Another way of saying this is having an aim in life - that gives us meaning, purpose and the fuel to work on one's self and one's well-considered ideals; that provides the foresight and the vision to keep going even under the most trying and challenging of circumstances.

See reality as objectively as possible. And have hope.

SOTT Logo Radio

MindMatters: Intentional Suffering: Paul and Gurdjieff on the True Meaning of Crucifixion

The most central image, metaphor and symbol in Christianity is the crucifixion of Jesus. The sign of the cross is ubiquitous in contemporary Western civilization, but what does it really symbolize? What meaning are we meant to derive from it, and how might it be understood and utilized in a way that is vivifying and spirit-strengthening? In this concluding examination of Timothy Ashworth's Paul's Necessary Sin - The Experience of Liberation, we examine the crucifixion in its relation to the death of sin, what Paul the Apostle found so compelling about it, and why he spent the rest of life trying to convey its significance to those he was in contact with.

This week on MindMatters we discuss these allegorical themes which have had the lasting power to affect the lives of many - over many centuries. We will also look at how some of these ideas have been carried over in the work of G.I. Gurdjieff, and how the exposure of humanity to its true, but potentially changeable condition, can be seen, known and addressed.

Books discussed: The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge

Running Time: 01:05:55

Download: MP3 — 60.4 MB

Blue Pill

People prone to disengage from difficult tasks and goals may experience greater cognitive decline after retirement

ageing population
© Reuters/John Kolesidis
Certain middle-aged and older adults, especially women who tend to disengage from difficult tasks and goals after they retire, may be at greater risk of cognitive decline as they age, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

"This study raises questions about how individual differences in motivation and gender may play a role in cognitive declines and points to the potential importance of continuing to engage in mentally stimulating activities in retirement," said lead author Jeremy Hamm, PhD, of North Dakota State University. "This may be a significant challenge for people who have a tendency to let go of goals when they encounter initial obstacles and setbacks."

The study, published in the journal Psychology and Aging®, analyzed data from Midlife in the United States, a national longitudinal survey of 7,108 participants aimed at identifying the factors that influence health as people age. Hamm and his team used a subset of 732 participants from the survey to examine the differences in cognitive function between retired adults and similar others who chose to continue working past retirement age. Half of the participants were female and 94% of participants were white.

Comment: See also:


Clash of perspectives on panpsychism: What it does—and does not—explain about consciousness

heads faces
In recent years the concept of panpsychism, "which entertains the possibility that all matter is imbued with consciousness," writes Annaka Harris, has been firing up cognitive scientists who plumb the nature of consciousness. Some entertain the possibility with enthusiasm and some entertain the possibility with the enthusiasm of an archer eyeing a choice target. Nautilus has sparked the debate with articles by leading thinkers about panpsychism, which continues this week with two new essays, by, respectively, Harris and science writer George Musser, and a rerun of our most popular essay on the subject, in support of panpsychism, by Norwegian philosopher Hedda Hassel Mørch. To amplify the clash, here are three more perspectives from Nautilus articles and interviews.


Philip Goff, author of Galileo's Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, philosopher and consciousness researcher at Durham University, United Kingdom:

While materialists and dualists believe that consciousness exists only within the brains of humans and other animals, panpsychists believe that consciousness pervades the universe, and is as basic as mass and charge. If panpsychism is true, the rainforest is teeming with consciousness. As conscious entities, trees have value in their own right: Chopping one down becomes an action of immediate moral significance. On the panpsychist worldview, humans have a deep affinity with the natural world: We are conscious creatures embedded in a world of consciousness.

Comment: Yet there is no reason why a scale of consciousness doesn't also imply a scale of value. Trees may have value, but humans have more value, for instance.

This view is much misunderstood. Drawing on the literal meaning of the term — "pan"=everything, "psyche"=mind — it is commonly supposed that panpsychists believe that all kinds of inanimate objects have rich conscious lives: that your socks, for example, may be currently going through a troubling period of existential angst.

This way of understanding panpsychism is wrong. Panpsychists tend not to think that literally everything is conscious. They believe that the fundamental constituents of the physical world are conscious, but they need not believe that every random arrangement of those particles results in a conscious subject. Most panpsychists will deny that your socks are conscious, while asserting that they are ultimately composed of things that are conscious.

Magic Wand

Two revision strategies that can prepare you for an exam much better than restudying your notes

Class Room
When studying for exams, it can be tempting to just re-read textbooks or attempt to memorise your notes. But psychologists know that there are actually much more effective ways of learning — they just require a bit of extra effort.

A recent paper in Applied Cognitive Psychology has highlighted two of these superior strategies. The team finds that university students whose revision involves testing themselves or making up questions about course material perform better in a later exam than those who simply restudy their notes.

Past research had already shown that generating questions or being tested during the learning process helps people retain information better than passively trying to absorb knowledge. These strategies are considered "desirable difficulties" that make the learning process harder or more effortful, but which are ultimately beneficial. But many previous studies only examined people's ability to learn in the lab, or had tested them very soon after the learning phase. In real life, of course, people learn in places like schools and universities, and tests may occur days or weeks after studying.


The psychology behind why toilet paper, of all things, is the latest coronavirus panic buy

toilet paper rolls empty shelf
Masks were the first to go. Then, hand sanitizers.

Now, novel coronavirus panic buyers are snatching up ... toilet paper?

Retailers in the US and Canada have started limiting the number of toilet paper packs customers can buy in one trip. Some supermarkets in the UK are sold out. Grocery stores in Australia have hired security guards to patrol customers.

Comment: See also: