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Thu, 09 Dec 2021
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Science of the Spirit


The Temptations of Tyranny

Smash statues
© Getty Images
Destruction of statues during the Cultural Revolution in 1967.
When Shigalyov, one of the revolutionaries in Dostoevsky's Demons, lays out his "system of world organization," he admits that he got "entangled in my own data." Confronted with the brutal logic of his idealism, he is forced to concede that his conclusion "directly contradicts the original idea from which I start." His starting point, familiar to generations of revolutionaries, is the idea of "unlimited freedom." Rather than taking Shigalyov to the Utopia he imagines, it leads him down a path that ends in "unlimited despotism." Far from being disturbed by this unpalatable discovery, Shigalyov resolves his cognitive dissonance with a deepened sense of the correctness of his vision: "apart from my solution of the social formula, there can be no other." The revolutionary agitator sees his ideals collapse into their opposite, but even this does not damage the certainty with which he clings to them.

Comment: See also:

Study: Left-wing authoritarians share key psychological traits with far right


Consciousness: Is it in the Cerebral Cortex — or the Brain Stem?

3d brain illustration

3d illustration human body brain
In a recent discussion/debate with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, neuropsychologist Mark Solms offers an unconventional but evidence-based view, favoring the brain stem.

In September, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor debated atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty at Theology Unleashed, on the existence of God. This time out (October 22, 2021), he is teamed with distinguished South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms, author of The Hidden Spring (2021) — who begins by declaring, in his opening statement, "the source of consciousness in the brain is in fact in the brain stem," not the cerebral cortex, as almost universally assumed. He explains his reasoning with evidence.

Egnor doesn't dispute that statement; in fact, in his own opening statement later, he reinforces it with observations from his own practice. To learn more, read on.

Comment: See also:


Bilingualism comes naturally to our brains

Brain & Bilingualism
© Elen11/Getty Images
The brain uses a shared mechanism for combining words from a single language and for combining words from two different languages, indicating that language switching is natural for those who are bilingual.

The brain uses a shared mechanism for combining words from a single language and for combining words from two different languages, a team of neuroscientists has discovered. Its findings indicate that language switching is natural for those who are bilingual because the brain has a mechanism that does not detect that the language has switched, allowing for a seamless transition in comprehending more than one language at once.

"Our brains are capable of engaging in multiple languages," explains Sarah Phillips, a New York University doctoral candidate and the lead author of the paper, which appears in the journal eNeuro. "Languages may differ in what sounds they use and how they organize words to form sentences. However, all languages involve the process of combining words to express complex thoughts."

"Bilinguals show a fascinating version of this process--their brains readily combine words from different languages together, much like when combining words from the same language," adds Liina Pylkkänen, a professor in NYU's Department of Linguistics and Department of Psychology and the senior author of the paper.

An estimated 60 million in the U.S. use two or more languages, according to the U.S. Census. However, despite the widespread nature of bi- and multilingualism, domestically and globally, the neurological mechanisms used to understand and produce more than one language are not well understood.

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MindMatters: The Molecule of More: The Strange Psychology of Dopamine

molecule more
When is a stop sign just a stop sign, and not a hidden message from your mother? Why are we excited about new things, only to become bored with them when the novelty wears off? This week on MindMatters we discuss the book The Molecule of More by Dr. Daniel Lieberman and Michael E. Long. During the discussion we cover the fine line between creativity and madness, how it is that most of what we tell ourselves about our behavior is post-hoc narrative creation, and more. Join us as we take a closer look at dopamine, a chemical that has a strong influence over our behavior and is responsible for much of our modern world.

Running Time: 01:10:48

Download: MP3 — 64.8 MB


Empathy is the most important leadership skill according to research

Empathy has always been a critical skill for leaders, but it is taking on a new level of meaning and priority. Far from a soft approach it can drive significant business results.

You always knew demonstrating empathy is positive for people, but new research demonstrates its importance for everything from innovation to retention. Great leadership requires a fine mix of all kinds of skills to create the conditions for engagement, happiness and performance, and empathy tops the list of what leaders must get right.

The Effects of Stress

The reason empathy is so necessary is that people are experiencing multiple kinds of stress, and data suggests it is affected by the pandemic — and the ways our lives and our work have been turned upside down.

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MindMatters: Gurdjieff, Fourth Way, and Solioonensius in the New Normal - with Alan Francis

alan francis
Gurdjieff escaped the Russian Empire during the outbreak of mass madness otherwise known as the Great Russian Revolution. He lived and taught in France during the Nazi occupation. But the connection between Gurdjieff, the Fourth Way, and totalitarianism isn't much discussed, so on this episode of MindMatters we welcome back Alan Francis of the International School of the Fourth Way to discuss the place and function of the Work in the current rumblings of mass madness.

Alan stresses the importance of maintaining a personal inner presence, working with others and for a larger aim. Large social projects inevitably devolve - often to mass murder and injustice. But meaningful change can only come from the individual. Alan also discusses fear - its purpose and and how to manage it - the opportunities offered by the present times for self-development, and updates us on his progress opening a Fourth Way school in Spain (click here to support his work), as well as his upcoming book.

Running Time: 01:29:36

Download: MP3 — 82 MB


Our brains have a 'fingerprint' too

An EPFL scientist has pinpointed the signs of brain activity that make up our brain fingerprint, which - like our regular fingerprint - is unique.
Dimitri Van De Ville and Enrico Amico

"I think about it every day and dream about it at night. It's been my whole life for five years now," says Enrico Amico, a scientist and SNSF Ambizione Fellow at EPFL's Medical Image Processing Laboratory and the EPFL Center for Neuroprosthetics. He's talking about his research on the human brain in general, and on brain fingerprints in particular. He learned that every one of us has a brain "fingerprint" and that this fingerprint constantly changes in time. His findings have just been published in Science Advances.
"My research examines networks and connections within the brain, and especially the links between the different areas, in order to gain greater insight into how things work," says Amico. "We do this largely using MRI scans, which measure brain activity over a given time period." His research group processes the scans to generate graphs, represented as colorful matrices, that summarize a subject's brain activity. This type of modeling technique is known in scientific circles as network neuroscience or brain connectomics. "All the information we need is in these graphs, that are commonly known as "functional brain connectomes". The connectome is a map of the neural network. They inform us about what subjects were doing during their MRI scan - if they were resting or performing some other tasks, for example. Our connectomes change based on what activity was being carried out and what parts of the brain were being used," says Amico.


Adults who stutter stop if they think no one is listening - study

stage perform
© Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/DigitalVision/Getty Images
More than 70 million people worldwide are thought to have some kind of stuttering speech impediment - including the current President of the United States - and experts are still continuing to learn more about the condition and what causes it.

Comment: Biden's case is quite different, and the evidence shows that he's probably suffering from dementia.

Now a new study has revealed something that may give us a big clue into why stuttering happens and how we can treat it: When adults who stutter are on their own and think no one is listening, their stutter suddenly goes away.

And it seems to be that perception of having a listener that's key. What's important about this particular piece of research is that the study participants were convinced that no one was around to hear what they were saying, providing solid scientific evidence for how different scenarios affect the condition.

Comment: See also: Social contagion: A mysterious spike in Tourette's leads back to YouTube star

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Highly processed foods harm memory in the aging brain

Processed Food
© Shutterstock
The study diet mimicked ready-to-eat human foods that are often packaged for long shelf lives, such as salty snacks, frozen entrees and deli meats containing preservatives.
Four weeks on a diet of highly processed food led to a strong inflammatory response in the brains of aging rats that was accompanied by behavioral signs of memory loss, a new study has found.

Researchers also found that supplementing the processed diet with the omega-3 fatty acid DHA prevented memory problems and reduced the inflammatory effects almost entirely in older rats.

Neuroinflammation and cognitive problems were not detected in young adult rats that ate the processed diet.

The study diet mimicked ready-to-eat human foods that are often packaged for long shelf lives, such as potato chips and other snacks, frozen entrees like pasta dishes and pizzas, and deli meats containing preservatives.

Highly processed diets are also associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes, suggesting older consumers might want to scale back on convenience foods and add foods rich in DHA, such as salmon, to their diets, researchers say - especially considering harm to the aged brain in this study was evident in only four weeks.

"The fact we're seeing these effects so quickly is a little bit alarming," said senior study author Ruth Barrientos, an investigator in The Ohio State University Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral health.

"These findings indicate that consumption of a processed diet can produce significant and abrupt memory deficits - and in the aging population, rapid memory decline has a greater likelihood of progressing into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. By being aware of this, maybe we can limit processed foods in our diets and increase consumption of foods that are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA to either prevent or slow that progression."

The research is published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.


Hair analysis shows meditation training reduces long-term stress

A study provides the first objective evidence that mental training reduces physical signs of long periods of stress.
© Shutterstock
After six months of meditation training, the amount of cortisol in the subjects’ hair had decreased significantly, on average by 25 percent.
Mental training that promotes skills such as mindfulness, gratitude or compassion reduces the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol in hair. This is what scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and the Social Neuroscience Research Group of the Max Planck Society in Berlin have found out. The amount of cortisol in hair provides information about how much a person is burdened by persistent stress. Earlier positive training effects had been shown in acutely stressful situations or on individual days - or were based on study participants' self-reports.

According to a study by the Techniker Krankenkasse, 23 percent of people in Germany frequently suffer from stress. This condition not only puts a strain on the well-being of those affected, but it is also linked to a number of physiological diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and psychological disorders such as depression, one of the world's leading causes of disease burden (Global Burden of Disease Study, 2017).

Therefore, effective methods are being sought to reduce everyday stress in the long term. One promising option is mindfulness training, in which participants train their cognitive and social skills, including attention, gratitude and compassion, through various meditation and behavioural exercises. Various studies have already shown that even healthy people feel less stressed after a typical eight-week training programme. Until now, however, it has been unclear how much the training actually contributes to reducing the constant burden of everyday stress. The problem with many previous studies on chronic stress is that the study participants were usually asked to self-assess their stress levels after the training. However, this self-reporting by means of questionnaires could have distorted the effects and made the results appear more positive than they actually were.


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