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Sat, 25 Feb 2017
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


9 Stoic principles to help you keep calm in times of chaos

Observing individuals who lead a creative life, we can identify elements of expertise, grit, an understanding, and passion. What's easy to overlook is the inner system within an individual—the set of principles that govern their mind and behavior. When failure ensues or the need to adapt is necessary, how does one respond? What do they tell themselves? In other words, what's their philosophy?

Not only does philosophy teach us how to live well and become better humans, but it can also aid in overcoming life's trials and tribulations. Some schools of thought are for more abstract thinking and debate, whereas others are tools that are immediately practical to our current endeavors.

Comment: See also


Blunted reward response found in brains of depressed children

© Robert Boston/Washington University School of Medicine
Clinically depressed children don't respond to rewards the same way as other children do, a study of brain waves done at Washington University in St. Louis shows.

Previous research from the same group of scientists found that a reduced ability to experience joy is a key sign of clinical depression in young children. The findings in the new study could help explain the biological underpinnings of the earlier discovery.

Senior investigator Joan L. Luby, director of Washington University's Early Emotional Development Program, says
"These findings may show us how the brain processes emotions in young children with depression. The pleasure we derive from rewards—such as toys and gifts—motivates us to succeed and seek more rewards. Dampening the process early in development is a serious concern because it may carry over to how a person will approach rewarding tasks later in life."


A good dose of Stoic philosophy is necessary for coping with troubling times

© WordPress.com
Some of us are stressed. Others are overworked, struggling with the new responsibilities of parenthood, or moving from one flawed relationship to another. Whatever it is, whatever you are going through, there is wisdom from the Stoics that can help.

Followers of this ancient and inscrutable philosophy have found themselves at the centre of some of history's most trying ordeals, from the French Revolution to the American Civil War to the prison camps of Vietnam. Bill Clinton reportedly reads Roman Emperor and stoic Marcus Aurelius's Meditations once a year, and one can imagine him handing a copy to Hillary after her heart-wrenching loss in the US presidential election.

Stoicism is a school of philosophy which was founded in Athens in the early 3rd century and then progressed to Rome, where it became a pragmatic way of addressing life's problems. The central message is, we don't control what happens to us; we control how we respond.

Comment: Ancient principles of Stoicism for the modern world:


Harmony: The neuroscience of singing

© UpLift
Singing Together Brings Heartbeats Into Harmony
The neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. When we sing with other people this effect is amplified.
The science is in. Singing is really, really good for you and the most recent research suggests that group singing is the most exhilarating and transformative of all.

The good feelings we get from singing in a group are a kind of evolutionary reward for coming together cooperatively.

The research suggests that creating music together evolved as a tool of social living. Groups and tribes sang and danced together to build loyalty, transmit vital information and ward off enemies.

Science Supports Singing

What has not been understood until recently is that singing in groups triggers the communal release of serotonin and oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and even synchronises our heart beats.

Group singing literally incentivised community over an "each cave dweller for themselves" approach. Those who sang together were strongly bonded and survived.

Comment: See also: Singing together encourages social bonding


Gaslighting: An insidious form of emotional abuse

Once in a while, it's normal to have a fleeting moment where you question your own sanity, like when you're severely sleep deprived or stressed out. But if a relationship leaves you constantly second-guessing your own instincts and feelings, you may be a victim of a sophisticated form of emotional abuse: gaslighting. Like other types of abuse, gaslighting can happen in all sorts of relationships, including personal, romantic, and professional.

Ben Michaelis, PhD, a New York City-based clinical psychologist, has worked with victims of gaslighting. For one of his patients—we'll call her Marie—the gaslighting began when her husband shouted another woman's name during sex. When she tried to discuss the incident with him, he flatly denied what he'd said and told Marie she was hearing things. Marie figured she must have had too much to drink. But then the lying continued: Marie's husband would change his alibi constantly, and when Marie questioned him, he'd say she was acting delusional. It wasn't until almost a year later when Marie realized her husband had been hiding an affair the whole time.

"[Gaslighting] is like someone saying the sky is green over and over again, and at first you'll be like 'no, no,'" says Gail Saltz, MD a psychiatrist and host of the podcast The Power of Different. "Then over time the person starts to manipulate you into saying 'I guess I can't really see what color the sky is.' It's just this sense of unreality."

Comment: Many psychiatric professionals agree that even strong, intelligent, confident, and stable people can become vulnerable to this form of emotional manipulation. Intelligence and emotions are not the same thing and a gaslighters' key maneuver is to prey on emotion rather than intelligence. Gaslighting is a specific, conscious, deliberate tactic of manipulation and control.

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Study finds happiness more reliant upon mental health and relationships than money

© kati / Global Look Press
The phrase "money can't buy happiness" may actually be true, according to a new study. The research found that mental illness and failed relationships are more damaging to a person's contentment than poverty.

The 'Origins of Happiness' study, conducted by a team of researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE), analyzed data from the US, UK, Germany, and Australia. It found that although average incomes have more than doubled over the past 50 years, people have not become any happier. Additionally, income inequality was found to explain just 1 percent of happiness variations.

Instead, the biggest single predictor of happiness was mental health, explaining over 4 percent of happiness variations.

The researchers found that eliminating depression and anxiety could reduce misery by 20 percent, compared to just 5 percent if poverty was alleviated.

"Tackling depression and anxiety would be four times as effective as tackling poverty," report co-author Richard Layard said, as quoted by the Guardian.


Is self-control just empathy with your future self?

The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves.

You've likely seen the video before: a stream of kids, confronted with a single, alluring marshmallow. If they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, they'll get two. Some do. Others cave almost immediately.

This "Marshmallow Test," first conducted in the 1960s, perfectly illustrates the ongoing war between impulsivity and self-control. The kids have to tamp down their immediate desires and focus on long-term goals—an ability that correlates with their later health, wealth, and academic success, and that is supposedly controlled by the front part of the brain. But a new study by Alexander Soutschekat the University of Zurich suggests that self-control is also influenced by another brain region—and one that casts this ability in a different light.

Press your right index finger to the top of your right ear, where it meets your head. Now move up an inch and back an inch. You're now pointing at your right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ). This area has long been linked to empathy and selflessness. But Soutschek, by using magnetic fields to briefly shut down the rTPJ, has shown that it's also involved in self-control.


The wondrous effects of music on the aging brain

Music predates language and speaks to us on a primal level. Thinking back to your adolescence, you probably associate key memories with the soundtracks that played during these formative years.

Before this, music likely began shaping your reality during infancy — there's even evidence that babies respond to music while still in the womb. At the other end of the spectrum, elderly people, too, including those struggling with degenerative conditions, come alive again when they hear their favorite tunes.

"What is it about music that moves us so intensely and directly, and how can it be employed in the treatment of neurological and physical disorders?" Such are the questions answered and explored in the above documentary, "Music on the Brain."

Miraculous Results Simply by Sharing Music With Dementia Patients

In the later stages of Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, patients often become moody and withdrawn. They may forget events as well as their own personal history, leading to a loss of identity and self.

The simple act of listening to music may help people with Alzheimer's to reconnect with the people around them and even remember past life events, which is why the non-profit organization Music & Memory has made this their mission.

Comment: Related reading:


Parts of brain regions cycle in and out of sleep, even when you're awake

© Elena Kallis
When we're in a deep sleep, our brain's activity ebbs and flows in big, obvious waves. New research from Stanford has found that those same cycles exist when we're awake as well, with tiny portions of the brain independently falling asleep and waking back up all the time.

According to the study, published December 1, 2016 in Science, when neurons in the brain cycle into the more active, or on state, they are better at responding to the world. Neurons, specialized cells that conduct electrical impulses, are the basic data processing units, the 'chips', of the brain.

The team used special super-sensitive probes that could record activity from a column of neurons in the brain. In the past, people had known that individual neurons go through phases of being more or less active, but with this probe the researchers saw for the first time that all the neurons in a given column cycled together between firing very rapidly then firing at a much slower rate, similar to coordinated cycles in sleep.

Kwabena Boahen is a professor of bioengineering and electrical engineering at Stanford and a senior author on the paper. Boahen said:
During an on state the neurons all start firing rapidly. Then all of a sudden they just switch to a low firing rate. This on and off switching is happening all the time, as if the neurons are flipping a coin to decide if they are going to be on or off.
Those cycles - which happen in seconds or fractions of seconds - weren't as visible in the awake brain because the wave doesn't propagate much beyond that column of neurons, unlike during sleep when the wave spreads across almost the entire brain and is easy to detect.

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Illusion reveals that the brain fills in peripheral vision

© Association for Psychological Science
What we see in the periphery, just outside the direct focus of the eye, may sometimes be a visual illusion, according to new findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The findings suggest that even though our peripheral vision is less accurate and detailed than what we see in the center of the visual field, we may not notice a qualitative difference because our visual processing system actually fills in some of what we "see" in the periphery.

"Our findings show that, under the right circumstances, a large part of the periphery may become a visual illusion," says psychology researcher Marte Otten from the University of Amsterdam, lead author on the new research.

"This effect seems to hold for many basic visual features, indicating that this 'filling in' is a general, and fundamental, perceptual mechanism."

As we go about daily life, we generally operate under the assumption that our perception of the world directly and accurately represents the outside world. But visual illusions of various kinds show us that this isn't always the case. As the brain processes incoming information about an external stimulus, we come to learn, it creates a representation of the outside world that can diverge from reality in noticeable ways.

Otten and colleagues wondered whether this same process might explain why we usually feel as though our peripheral vision is detailed and robust when it isn't.

"Perhaps our brain fills in what we see when the physical stimulus is not rich enough," she explains. "The brain represents peripheral vision with less detail, and these representations degrade faster than central vision. Therefore, we expected that peripheral vision should be very susceptible to illusory visual experiences, for many stimuli and large parts of the visual field."