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Thu, 20 Feb 2020
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


You can learn anything if you understand how your brain works

A new book explains six keys to learning that can help anyone overcome barriers to success in school or in life.

learning, study
Recently, a close friend's niece was having trouble graduating from college. She needed to pass a math class to graduate but wouldn't take it because she feared flunking it. A belief that she just wasn't "good at math" was keeping her stuck in graduation limbo, unable to move on with her life.

I know my friend's niece isn't the first person to be cowed by a math course or some other seemingly insurmountable barrier to success. Maybe someone gave you the message that you weren't talented enough to succeed in a particular field; or you just didn't have the confidence to persevere when you struggled.

Now, a new book, Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead, and Live Without Barriers by Jo Boaler, explains what's wrong with this attitude. Boaler, a Stanford University math professor, argues that people can learn just about anything once they understand how their brains work and how to support their own learning. Her book is a call to discard old notions of "giftedness" and to fully embrace the new science of the mind, thereby transforming schools, organizations, and workplaces into environments that support rather than limit success.

Comment: Also something to consider: Look up from your screen! Children learn best when their bodies are engaged in the living world
Many adults appreciate the power of computers and the internet, and think that children should have access to them as soon as possible. Yet screen learning displaces other, more tactile ways to discover the world. Human beings learn with their eyes, yes, but also their ears, nose, mouth, skin, heart, hands, feet. The more time kids spend on computers, the less time they have to go on field trips, build model airplanes, have recess, hold a book in their hands, or talk with teachers and friends. In the 21st century, schools should not get with the times, as it were, and place children on computers for even more of their days. Instead, schools should provide children with rich experiences that engage their entire bodies.
And that goes for adults as well: Keep moving: Exercise not only helps avoid brain shrinkage but increases cognitive abilities


Music Therapy: Doctors are recommending music for a wide variety of conditions

music therapy
Music has proven time and again to be an important component of human culture. From its ceremonial origin to modern medical usage for personal motivation, concentration, and shifting mood, music is a powerful balm for the human soul. Though traditional "music therapy" encompasses a specific set of practices, the broader use of music as a therapeutic tool can be seen nowadays as doctors are found recommending music for a wide variety of conditions.

Comment: Read more about the magic of music for the body and soul:


Is low-grade inflammation making you mentally sluggish?

Inflamed brain
© Getty Images
New research finds a link between mild inflammation and cognitive sluggishness

Certain types of cognitive sluggishness, mental fatigue, and "brain fog" may be linked to systemic inflammation, according to a new study. These findings were published in the November issue of NeuroImage.

As a control, each participant performed the same neuro-cognitive assessments on a different day after receiving a placebo injection of water that did not trigger acute low-grade inflammation.

Inflammation levels were measured by assessing interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels in blood samples taken on each day of brain processing and EEG testing.

As mentioned, the results showed that acute low-grade inflammation appears to affect brain activity related to staying alert. "Mild inflammation selectively increased alerting-related alpha suppression; a greater inflammatory response was correlated with more alpha suppression," the authors write.

Comment: The techniques of the Éiriú Eolas breathing and meditation program are geared towards stimulating the vagus nerve naturally, healing the mind and body. You can try the program online for free.

See also:


Being kind could help you live longer

What can kindness do for you? Give you a warm glow perhaps, or a feeling of well-being? While that may be true, scientists and academics at a new research centre say it can do much more - it can extend your life.
kind to others
Dr Harding says it can be easier to be kind to others, rather than ourselves
The staff at UCLA's Bedari Kindness institute are ready for the jokes.

"We look at the scientific point of view. We aren't sitting around in circles, holding hands. We're talking about the psychology, the biology, of positive social interactions," says Daniel Fessler, the institute's inaugural director.

Ahead of World Kindness Day this week, what does it actually mean to be kind - and why is it important?

This is what the experts want to examine. And they are deadly serious about it. After all, it could be a matter of life and death, they say.

Mr Fessler's work has looked at how people can be motivated to be kind simply by witnessing acts of kindness - and working out who is affected by this "contagious kindness".

"I think it's fair to say we live in an unkind age right now," he says. "Both domestically in the United States and around the world, what we are seeing is increasing conflict between individuals who hold different political views or belong to different religions."

Kindness, he says, is "the thoughts, feelings and beliefs associated with actions intending to benefit others, where benefiting others is an end in itself, not a means to an end".

Comment: See also,

Light Saber

Ten habits that mentally strong people rely on

habits of mentally strong

To increase your mental strength, you simply need to change your outlook. When hard times hit, people with mental strength suffer just as much as everyone else. The difference is that they understand that life’s challenging moments offer valuable lessons.
Despite West Point Military Academy's rigorous selection process, one in five students drop out by graduation day. A sizeable number leave the summer before freshman year, when cadets go through a rigorous program called "Beast." Beast consists of extreme physical, mental, and social challenges that are designed to test candidates' perseverance.

University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth conducted a study in which she sought to determine which cadets would make it through the Beast program. The rigorous interviews and testing that cadets went through to get into West Point in the first place told Angela that IQ and talent weren't the deciding factors.

So, Angela developed her own test to determine which cadets had the mental strength to conquer the Beast. She called it the "Grit Scale," and it was a highly accurate predictor of cadet success. The Grit Scale measures mental strength, which is that unique combination of passion, tenacity, and stamina that enables you to stick with your goals until they become a reality.

To increase your mental strength, you simply need to change your outlook. When hard times hit, people with mental strength suffer just as much as everyone else. The difference is that they understand that life's challenging moments offer valuable lessons. In the end, it's these tough lessons that build the strength you need to succeed.

Comment: The most vital battle any of us will ever face is the psychological battle, the battle within; for success in the mind will determine success in all other endeavors: How to win the war for your mind


Study: Autistic adults who were not diagnosed until later in life grew up believing they were 'bad people'

autism older age asd

It is thought to be the first study of its kind that examines the phenomenon of receiving a diagnosis exclusively in middle age.
Many over-50s who were diagnosed with autism late in life had grown up believing they were bad people, according to a new study published in the journal Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine.

Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University interviewed nine adults about their experiences of being diagnosed with autism in their 50s. The participants were aged between 52 and 54.

As children, some participants recounted having no friends and being isolated from others, and as adults they could not understand why people treated them differently. Several had been treated for anxiety and depression.


Researchers find new class of neurons that map memories

MRI Brain Scan
© Salman Qasim/Columbia Engineering
Left: Screenshot of spatial memory task. Right: MRI scan showing the placement of recording electrodes (black circles) in a patient's brain.
Researchers have uncovered a new class of brain cell that acts like the red pin on a Google map to tell you where you found things on past journeys.

These neurons, dubbed memory-trace cells, are the place markers that record whether you had that mouth-watering gelati opposite the Trevi Fountain or just up the road from the Pantheon.

On a more sombre note, they are clustered in a part of the brain that takes an early hit in the onset of Alzheimer's disease and may well explain the appalling degradation of memory seen in that illness.

To unearth these very special neurons, the researchers, led by biomedical engineer Joshua Jacobs from Columbia University in the US, devised a clever video game, albeit one unlikely to rival Fortnite as a teen meme.

Players ride a trolley along a road bounded on each side by a brick wall which is divvied up into grey, blue and brown segments that act as reference points.

On the first run-through the player has to press a button when they reach an object, in one case an antique writing desk that could be a prop in a Stephen King spine tingler.

But it's on the second pass that things get really interesting. This time the player travels the same road with the desk taken away - the task is to press the button when they reach the point where they think the desk was.

None of this would be out of the ordinary if the gamer was just your average punter. Jacobs' players were, however, in a class of their own.

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MindMatters: Meaning in Chaos: Exploring Jordan Peterson's Maps of Meaning (Chapter 2)

maps of meaning
Dr. Jordan Peterson's 1999 classic Maps of Meaning contains much the raw material for his more recent lectures and writing. While a dense read at times, it's worth the effort. On this episode of MindMatters we take a look at the first sections in Chapter 2, which explore the universals of human experience: the unbearable present, the encounter with chaos, and its transformation into the ideal future.

With examples from everyday life and neuropsychology, Peterson shows how we are hardwired to respond to novelty, constantly comparing our present state with our ideal future - however vague our notion of it may be. And how the inescapable presence of chaos and novelty mean we must constantly adapt our goals and the steps we take to reach them, constantly learning in the process and constantly transforming the present into the future.

For a discussion on the Introduction and Chapter 1, see:

The Truth Perspective: An Introduction to Jordan Peterson's Maps of Meaning: Explaining Evil and Transforming Chaos

Running Time: 01:18:32

Download: MP3 — 71.9 MB


Stress hormone helps control the circadian rhythm of brain cells in rats

© University of Copengagen
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have shown how the brain's circadian rhythm in rats is, among other things, controlled by the stress hormone corticosterone - in humans called cortisol. This has been shown by means of a completely new method in the form of implanted micropumps.

As day turns into night, and night turns into day, the vast majority of living organisms follow a fixed circadian rhythm that controls everything from sleep needs to body temperature.

This internal clock is found in everything from bacteria to humans and is controlled by some very distinct hereditary genes, known as clock genes.

In the brain, clock genes are particularly active in the so-called suprachiasmatic nucleus. It sits just above the point where the optic nerves cross and sends signals to the brain about the surrounding light level. From here, the suprachiasmatic nucleus regulates the rhythm of a number of other areas of the body, including the cerebellum and the cerebral cortex.

However, these three areas of the brain are not directly linked by neurons, and this made researchers at the University of Copenhagen curious. Using test rats, they have now demonstrated that the circadian rhythm is controlled by means of signalling agents in the blood, such as the stress hormone corticosterone.

'In humans, the hormone is known as cortisol, and although the sleep rhythm in rats is the opposite of ours, we basically have the same hormonal system', says Associate Professor Martin Fredensborg Rath of the Department of Neuroscience.

He explains that recent years have seen an increasing, scientific focus on research on clock genes, one reason being that previous research on clock genes have found a correlation between depression and irregularities in the body's circadian rhythms.


Being close to water is good for the mind, body and soul

After her mother's sudden death, Catherine Kelly felt the call of the sea. She was in her 20s and had been working as a geographer in London away from her native Ireland. She spent a year in Dublin with her family, then accepted an academic position on the west coast, near Westport in County Mayo. "I thought: 'I need to go and get my head cleared in this place, to be blown away by the wind and nature.'"

Kelly bought a little house in a remote area and surfed, swam and walked a three-mile-long beach twice a day. "I guess the five or six years that I spent there on the wild Atlantic coast just healed me, really."

She didn't understand why that might be until some years later, when she started to see scientific literature that proved what she had long felt intuitively to be true: that she felt much better by the sea. For the past eight years, Kelly has been based in Brighton, researching "outdoor wellbeing" and the therapeutic effects of nature - particularly of water.

Comment: Here is another explanation for the healing effects of blue spaces:
The smell of the ocean breeze also contributes to your soothed state, which may have something to do with the negative ions in the air that you're breathing in. These oxygen atoms have an extra electron and occur in places like waterfalls and the ocean, says Shuster. A study published in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine suggests that negative ion therapy could be used to treat symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.