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Tue, 26 Mar 2019
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The Truth Perspective: The Stoic Roots of Christianity: Self-Transcendence Through Meaning and Responsibility

Crucifix
© Global Look Press/ Hauke-Christian Dittrich
All institutions stagnate over time. But if the original inspiration contains enough universal truth, it can survive the centuries. This seems to be the case with Christianity. Despite millions of Christians who believe all they have to do is verbally profess their faith in their Lord Jesus Christ, a much deeper understanding of the human condition and each individual's capacity for transformation remains just waiting to be rediscovered. Troels Engberg-Pedersen is just one of the scholars of early Christianity to have mined Christianity's earliest texts - the letters of Paul - for insights into what they actually meant - and still mean - for those with eyes to see.

The shape of Paul's thought has much in common with the philosophy of Stoicism. Not only does it provide a pathway of transformation - it presents a vision of the world imbued with meaning and responsibility. In a time when identity politics is on the rise, perhaps it is time to rediscover the values at the root of our civilization. Paul's Christianity was the anti-identity politics of its time. His message was simple, practical, and effective: bear your suffering, act with responsibility and meaning, and consider others interests, not just your own. In short, crucify your old self so that a better self can be born.

Today on the Truth Perspective we look at the Stoic-like roots of Paul's thought and how it fits into a wider worldview where meaning is not only possible, but real.

Running Time: 01:28:09

Download: MP3


Holly

Raising awareness for 'forest therapy'

Forest therapy
In its simplest form forest therapy, also called forest bathing, is just spending time in the woods as an antidote to the sometimes-jarring sounds, sights, and smells of city life. Of course, you can get that kind of respite on your own, but a more organized version of forest therapy has now been introduced in the U.S. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, founded in 2012, is currently training forest therapy guides. The group hopes to raise awareness of the benefits among health care professionals, and programs are being established nationwide.

As you note, forest therapy originated in Japan, where researchers have been studying its physiological effects for many years. It appears that forest therapy does have measurable health benefits; for example, it can lower levels of salivary cortisol, the hormone that rises when we're under stress. One Japanese study showed that gazing at forest scenery for as little as 20 minutes reduced salivary cortisol levels by 13.4 percent. Forest therapy can also lower blood pressure and heart rate and trigger a dramatic increase in the activity of natural killer (NK) cells (produced by the immune system to ward off infection and fight cancer). Spending three days in the forest has been shown to increase NK activity by 50 percent, a beneficial effect that can last up to one month.

Most recently, researchers from UK's University of East Anglia analyzed 143 studies of forest therapy including data on some 290 million participants from 20 different countries. Not only was forest bathing associated with lower levels of cortisol, lower blood pressure and heart rate, it also lowered blood cholesterol and reduced rates of diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, asthma and death from heart disease. In addition, it was associated with decreased risk of preterm birth and lower all-cause mortality. Some studies suggested that forest therapy helped people sleep better and improved outcomes in those with cancer and neurological conditions. Finally, people exposed to forest therapy were found to be more likely to report that their overall health was good.

Comment: See also:


Butterfly

Seeing and transforming the most negative parts of ourselves into something constructive

insight
A fully integrated human is in touch with their wholeness, whether good or bad, light or dark, ugly or beautiful. Balancing these energies can be counterintuitive. Integrating the whole leads to the holistic experience of self-actualization. But it's not easy to achieve. It does not come naturally. Yet if we can practice such integration, no matter how counterintuitive, it can be the source of tremendous power and self-fulfillment.

1. Practical Grandiosity Over Grandiosity
"To learn to creatively live with the daemonic or be violently devoured by it. We will decide our own destiny. Let us choose wisely." ~Stephen Diamond
What is practical grandiosity? It's being honest about the fact that you are a unique being, but not going too far by imagining that you are better than others. It's taking your natural grandiose energy and channeling it into a real project rather than basing it on an unreal fantasy. It's about being honest with your limits and then having the wherewithal to stretch those limits through self-improvement rather than self-embellishment.

Evil Rays

Study: People posting lots of pictures to social media became 25% more narcissistic in four months

phone millennial


The modern way to develop a personality disorder.


Posting too many pictures to social media can turn you into a narcissist, new research reveals.

People posting pictures heavily to social media became 25% more narcissistic in the four months of the study.

The increase pushed many across the cut-off for having a narcissistic personality disorder.

Comment: The results of this study aren't really surprising. Anyone posting lots of pictures to social media has too much brain real-estate being taken up by these platforms, mistaking the vain, shallow shell for reality. If you're basing your self-worth on how many 'likes' you get on a picture, how could you not become a total narcissist?

See also:


Info

'Human-like' brain waves produced in lab-grown mini-brains

Slice thru brain
© Muotri Lab/UC San Diego
A slice through a brain organoid shows more mature cortical neurons on the outer edge of the structure.
Neuroscientists from the University of California San Diego observed spontaneous electrical activity that resembles human brain waves in a lab-grown "mini-brain" for the first time. They hope this breakthrough will allow researchers to study the early stages of brain disorders like epilepsy in infants, which is usually difficult or impossible due to the difficulty of analyzing a fetus in utero.

As detailed in a preprint research paper presented at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting earlier this month, a research team led by the neuroscientist Alysson Muotri used stem cells to grow hundreds of mini-brains, also known as brain "organoids," over the course of 10 months. Muotri and his colleagues grew these stem cells so that they would form cortical tissue, which is found in the region of the brain responsible for cognition and analyzing sensory data.

After the brain organoids had been growing in petri dishes for about six months, the researchers noticed that the electrical activity they were measuring was occuring at a higher rate than had ever been documented before in lab-grown organoids. Even more surprising, however, was that this electrical activity didn't resemble the synchronized activity seen in mature human brains. Instead, the electrical patterns were chaotic, a hallmark of a developing brain.

Books

The meaning of monstrosity has morphed dramatically over the course of history

monsters
© Courtesy Amherst College Archives
A Colossal Octopus [Pierre Denys de Montfort] (1828-40) by Orra White Hitchcock, who was one of the first female scientific illustrators in the US.
In 2003, a team of scientists in China managed to create embryos containing a mix of rabbit and human DNA. Most of the biological matter was human, while the rabbit DNA was present only in the mitochondria, the energy-generators of the cells. The aim was to try to find new ways of growing and harvesting the stem cells present in early human development, which were (and are) a promising avenue for medical study and treatment.

It wasn't long, however, before controversy erupted over these so-called 'chimeras', as they were dubbed by some researchers. Were they human? What would happen if they were allowed to develop? Soon activists mobilized to restrict or quash the research. In 2005, the US outlawed patents on human embryos; in 2007, the Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act was proposed in Congress (although ultimately it failed to pass into law). According to the bill, research into hybrids was said to compromise 'human dignity and the integrity of the human species'. Pig heart transplants or the administration of animal-based insulin were acceptable, but the threat of potentially viable, cellular hybrids was too strong, despite the myriad social benefits it could yield.

SOTT Logo Radio

The Truth Perspective: 5 Easy Pieces: How the Big 5 Personality Traits Impact Who We Are, and Who We Can Become

man cliff landscape
Every single individual varies along a range of five personality traits. We don't know why, or how, only that we do. Agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, openness: these five traits, and the variations within them, capture the range of human personality, and they do it quite well. They capture differences between men and women, between liberals and conservatives, between emotionally unstable artists and hard-working manager types, and everyone in between.

Not only do the traits help us know ourselves a bit better - like what careers or environments are best suited to our personality and what aspects of our personality are most likely to bring us into conflict with others - they help us gain a better understand of just how different other people can be from us, and why. And they point out the aspects of our personality that might need some work: like when to be more assertive, harder-working, kinder, cautious, or adventurous.

Today on the Truth Perspective we discuss all this and more, with reference to Jordan Peterson's Big 5 personality test: Understand Myself.

Running Time: 01:17:45

Download: MP3


Headphones

Soundscape: The importance of sound and silence

soundscape
Sound and silence have a direct, powerful influence on emotions. We seldom acknowledge this fact, yet it is self-evident - we become anxious when we hear sirens or people arguing, sleepy when we hear a lullaby, focused by the hypnotic repetition of chanting.

Most people are unaware of the effects of sound and silence on the body and mind, even in the midst of the noise pollution so characteristic of cities. It is vital for your emotional health to take control of the soundscape that surrounds you. If you cannot escape disturbing sounds, the new technology of noise cancellation gives you a way to protect yourself from them. Noise-canceling headphones detect environmental noise with built-in microphones and generate signals that neutralize it; they are readily available and affordable.

Comment: Noisy busyness and the disappearance of silence


Fire

Shamans: 'Astronauts of inner space'

Shamans
© Kevin Frayer/Getty
A Mongolian shaman or böö sits with his child before a fire ritual during the summer solstice in June 2018 outside Ulaanbaatar. Banned under communist rule, shamanism has seen a resurgence in Mongolia since 1992, when the ancient practice became protected by the country's Constitution.
The trances and healing powers of shamans are so widespread that they can be counted a human universal. Why did they evolve?

Shamanism is as varied as those who practice it. Its practitioners range from indigenous lineages who have passed down their craft over thousands of years to the modern 'plastic shamans', who represent no specific culture but have adapted shamanism to meet the demands of metropolitan markets. However, there is a common theme to shamanism wherever it is practised: the use of spiritual (or shamanic) trance to facilitate journeys to a non-ordinary reality. Here, in this non-ordinary reality, the shamans do their work. According to the historian of religion Mircea Eliade writing in 1951, shamanism is the 'technique of ecstasy', involving the purposeful invocation and use of dreams and visions to solve problems.

By this definition, shamanism is the landscape of the spirit-journey, populated by good and evil spirits and the souls of the deceased and yet-to-be-born. It is the place where mountains speak and Grandmother Skeleton points out which plants to eat when the dry season lasts too long. In this form, shamanism is everywhere in the old ways of humans. Every tribal culture - alive or dead - has some broker of spiritual capital. The Indonesian Mentawai have their sikerei. The Inuit have their angakok. The Columbian Desana have their paye. The Mongolian Buryat have their böö. The American Sioux have their heyoka.

Brain

New study on schadenfreude sheds light on darker side of humanity

Schadenfreude cartoon
© Torodo
'Dehumanization appears to be at the core of schadenfreude'

Schadenfreude, the sense of pleasure people derive from the misfortune of others, is a familiar feeling to many -- perhaps especially during these times of pervasive social media.

This common, yet poorly understood, emotion may provide a valuable window into the darker side of humanity, finds a review article by psychologists at Emory University.

New Ideas in Psychology published the review, which drew upon evidence from three decades of social, developmental, personality and clinical research to devise a novel framework to systematically explain schadenfreude. The authors propose that schadenfreude comprises three separable but interrelated subforms -- aggression, rivalry and justice -- which have distinct developmental origins and personality correlates.