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Fri, 14 Aug 2020
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Science of the Spirit


14th-century Italian advice on how to survive an epidemic

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1376), the Italian author of the Decameron.
Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1376), the Italian author of the Decameron.

Giovanni Boccaccio's work taught citizens how to maintain mental wellbeing
in times of epidemics and isolation.

The spread of the Covid-19 virus has triggered an epidemic of advice. This advice is important, but it seems destined to make our lives more miserable and isolated. However, there is an unusual source of counsel which offers another way to deal with an epidemic. That source is the Decameron.

The Italian Renaissance author Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the Decameron in the wake of the plague outbreak in Florence in 1348. The disease ravaged the city, reducing the population by around 60 per cent. Boccaccio described how Florentines "dropped dead in open streets, both by day and by night, whilst a great many others, though dying in their own houses, drew their neighbours' attention to the fact more by the smell of their rotting corpses".

Social bonds broke down as "this scourge had implanted so great a terror in the hearts of men and women that brothers abandoned brothers, uncles their nephews, sisters their brothers", and "fathers and mothers refused to nurse and assist their children".

Some people retreated into their houses, while others formed groups and staggered through the city on multi-day benders. The ten friends who the Decameron follows leave Florence for a deserted villa in the countryside. Upon arriving in their rural idyll, they spend their days telling amusing and often racy stories.

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MindMatters: 'Adulthood of Spirit' - How To Leave Behind Childish Things And Become Spiritually Mature

paul sin
Today we discuss the key practices and processes by which individuals come to know themselves, others, and the divine, according to Timothy Ashworth's interpretation of the Apostle Paul's thought in his book Paul's Necessary Sin. Since 'The Fall', humanity has suffered from a 'darkening of the mind' or an identification with the things created - our own physical existence - and a blindness to higher realities. But this devolution, or 'sin', has a constructive component built in, when the knowledge of sin, as sin, becomes recognized and pointed out for what it is. When an individual sees this in oneself, he or she can then make the choice to think and act differently. The state of sin was necessary in order to gain knowledge about the nature of good and evil.

Paul saw this potential transformation as a way for people not only to form a better connection to others, but also as a path towards humanity's greater and more direct connection to God; a vivifying experience that raised the children of humanity into adults - who no longer required 'the laws' as a guide to living - but whose internal and living connection with the 'unseen' could then direct their lives: what Paul calls "righteousness through faith".

Running Time: 01:02:15

Download: MP3 — 57 MB


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 Soutschek at 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.


Most parents do not successfully transmit their political values to their children, study finds

donkey elephant flag
Less than half of all people in the United States adopt their parents' political party affiliation, according to new research published in the British Journal of Political Science. The study also discovered some factors that appear to influence whether parents successfully transmit their partisan identities to their children.

"Most parents want to raise their children with the 'right' values. What is right, of course, depends upon the parent but understanding what factors might aid or harm a parent's ability to successful transmit their values to their children is important to many, particularly in this era of hyper polarization," said study author Pete Hatemi, a distinguished professor at Penn State University.

"Generally speaking, if there has been one constant in the study of political behavior it was the belief that political orientations are reliably transmitted from parents to children. The problem is that the evidence of this belief has almost entirely relied upon the concordance between self-reported parent and child values."


Natural Selection - The Jesus of Evolution

4 horned goat evolution

Two horns weren't good enough for survival, so natural selection made two more. Twice as many horns = twice as many offspring. However, a competing, equally ridiculous theory says these were a gift from Satan, whom these goats worship.
Listening to promoters of evolution, like Richard Dawkins, you get the feeling that natural selection is something utterly amazing, on par with Jesus. It's this magical thing that sorts through random mutations, separates the good ones from the bad ones, lets the bad ones disappear, and 'selects for' the good ones, and we get cool new life forms. Whatever living things exist, and many are amazing, to be sure, we're told that natural selection 'made' them. It gave us giraffes and birds and chameleons. But of course, this only makes sense if you don't actually think about it for a few minutes.

Can natural selection (NS) really make things? How would it do that? What power does it really possess? Let's reduce it to the simplest question - what really is natural selection?

"If something manages to reproduce, it passes on its genes to the next generation. Otherwise, not."

That. That's it. That's all of natural selection. It's not a force of any kind. It doesn't "do" anything. It's a passive process, or rather, a commentary on something that has happened. Basically all it says is that whatever survives, survives. Well, no shit, Sherlock. We kinda knew that.

So while it's often talked about as if it was the Jesus of Evolution, it's really nothing much. It doesn't do anything; it doesn't make anything. It just sits on the sidelines and says things like, "Oh look, this guy with the new mutation just had a baby. Oh, that other guy without the mutation also just had a baby. Weird." There's no 'select for' button. (Though if you read Dawkins's books, you might well think there is.)

So how did NS get its almost godly status? Well, the theory that stupid, dead atoms just randomly assemble into better and better things couldn't fool anyone for long, so something godly had to be introduced. Random mutations are random and thus follow the rules of entropy and make things worse, so the only other candidate was NS. I mean, we see all these amazing things around us, and we've decided that they have evolved from less amazing things, and any intelligent input is strictly forbidden, so it must be NS doing that. That's the general idea.

NS turned out to be a great tool because most people can't really imagine what it is, so evolutionists use it as a personification of a godlike force that can do just about anything, and for most people the concept is too vague to find any particular flaws with it. So it was established that NS gets rid of all these deleterious mutations, of which there are plenty, and that it 'selects for' the occasional, rare, beneficial ones. Make sense? If you said yes, then you haven't really thought about it.


Crying is not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of emotional intelligence

Woman crying
Crying is a normal human reaction to the way how the world is. However, this human feature has been marked as a sign of weakness which made people to hide their true feelings since their childhood. It is unspeakable for a boy to cry, and if a girl does it most of the time than this girl is seen as spoilt.

As we grow older, we learn that we need to hide our tears so that we are not perceived as emotionally weak persons. Moreover, we fear to show our true feelings in order not to get hurt or someone to take advantage of us.

Even though we try very hard to hide our tears we need to let go from time to time in order to feel better. It is very important to face our emotions and be open about them. When a person is aware of its feelings, then this is a sign of emotional intelligence, and not of weakness.

If you think that you cannot express your feelings, you should try it as suppressing them can cause only problems and more stress for you. The negativity will only build up and the ignorance of your feelings will come to a point of no escape.


The 60-second approach to managing emotions

stop sign
Intense emotions can easily overwhelm our senses and have a powerful impact on our behavior. If we're angry with a coworker, we might feel a strong urge to argue with them in front of the entire team. If we're feeling anxious about a social situation, we might be tempted to avoid it altogether. If we're experiencing sadness about a date that did not go well, we might feel compelled to obsess about it for days. In other words, intense emotions can — and do — interfere with our ability to effectively navigate the world.

This is why emotion regulation is so important. As a researcher and therapist, I've spent over a decade studying how people can better regulate their emotions. We know that some strategies are healthier than others. For example, reframing a stressful situation to focus on its potential upside tends to be healthier than obsessing over every detail that could go wrong.

But learning to utilize these techniques effectively can take a long time (and often the help of a therapist). So today, I want to share a relatively simple tip that can help you gain better control of your emotions: Wait 60 seconds before doing anything.

That's it; simple as that: Just wait. Hit the pause button. Don't do anything.

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Kids who grow up with dogs and cats are more emotionally intelligent and compassionate

Girl with dogs
© S. Curtis/Shutterstock
It's fun, but it's not all fun and games. A child's cognitive development can improve from playing with and talking to pets.
If you're a parent, the idea of adding the care and feeding of an animal to your responsibilities might feel like too much work. But having a dog, cat, bunny, hamster or other animal as a part of the family benefits kids in real ways. Studies have shown that kids who have pets do better — especially in the area of Emotional Intelligence (EQ), which has been linked to early academic success, even more so than the traditional measure of intelligence, IQ.

Even better news is that unlike IQ, which is thought by most experts to be unchangeable (you can't really change your IQ by studying), EQ can improve over time with practice. Animal friends can help kids do that by cultivating the very skills that lead to better Emotional Intelligence. (And pooches and kitties aren't even trying; it just comes naturally.)

The following EQ skills are developed by children with pets:

1. Compassion: Researchers Nienke Endenburg and Ben Baarda did an overview of the scientific literature in The Waltham Book of Human-Animal Interaction. "If there are pets in the house, parents and children frequently share in taking care of the pet, which suggests that youngsters learn at an early age how to care for and nurture a dependent animal," they wrote. Even very young children can contribute to the care and feeding of a pet — a 3-year-old can take a bowl of food and set it on the floor for a cat, and at the same age, a child can be taught to stroke an animal nicely, maybe using the back of the hand so they don't grab the animal. Supervising kids during the first few interactions is a teaching moment. Later, once they have learned the ropes, their memory and understanding of a life outside themselves will be stimulated each time they interact with the animals. Older kids can be responsible for walking a dog or playing with it in the yard, cleaning out a cat's litter box, or taking veggie scraps from dinner to a rabbit or hamster. A study of 3- to 6-year-olds found that kids with pets had more empathy towards other animals and human beings, while another study found that even having an animal in a classroom made fourth-graders more compassionate.


The Difference Between Worry, Stress and Anxiety

Worry, Stress and Anxiety
© Peter Gamlen
You probably experience worry, stress or anxiety at least once on any given day. Nearly 40 million people in the U.S. suffer from an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Three out of four Americans reported feeling stressed in the last month, a 2017 study found. But in one of these moments, if asked which you were experiencing — worry, stress or anxiety — would you know the difference?

I reached out to two experts to help us identify — and cope with — all three.

What is worry?

Worry is what happens when your mind dwells on negative thoughts, uncertain outcomes or things that could go wrong. "Worry tends to be repetitive, obsessive thoughts," said Melanie Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Mill Valley, Calif., and the author of The Stress-Proof Brain (2017). "It's the cognitive component of anxiety." Simply put, worry happens only in your mind, not in your body.

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Researchers explore the ethics of who we think should be saved in an automated vehicle accident

Autonomous Vehicles
Autonomous vehicles can face moral dilemmas, requiring them to make split-second decisions.
In 2018 the results of a massive and audacious online experiment into human morality, published in the journal Nature, provided a window into our moral preferences and occasionally reflected badly on us, highlighting strange predilections regarding age and gender.

Now, researchers have challenged how accurately the research portrayed our choices and suggests we might be more morally egalitarian than previously thought.

Called the Moral Machine Experiment (MME), the original study, led by Edmond Awad from MIT, US, was designed to "explore the moral dilemmas faced by autonomous vehicles" by presenting people with a series of accident scenarios in which the vehicle finds itself unable to save everyone involved.

Participants visited the website and were asked to choose what the car should do, who should live and who should die.

These are, essentially, complex and subtle versions of the 'Trolley Problem' first put forward in its contemporary form by the British philosopher Phillippa Foot in 1967.

The idea of the experiment was to guide the moral choices made by machines by tying them to the real moral choices made by people in the same situations. Over the life of the experiment, the website collected 40 million decisions in ten languages from people in more than 200 nations.

The story those decisions told was a complex and sometimes unnerving one.