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Fri, 19 Jul 2019
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Science of the Spirit


How our bodies remember trauma

Our bodies remember trauma and abuse - quite literally. They respond to new situations with strategies learned during moments that were terrifying or life-threatening. Our bodies remember, but memory is malleable. The therapeutic practice of somatics takes these facts - and their relation to each other - seriously.

Imagine yourself surfing. Whatever your level of skill, a wave is a threat and an opportunity. Your body will respond, partly based on memories of other waves, other moments of danger or opportunity. Like life, your board and the ocean require certain things of your body: straddle, yoga pose, push up, stand, ben knees, arms at the just right angle. Maybe you're alone or maybe vying with other surfers for the same wave. You'll feel a bunch of emotions, and they will be embodied in your stance, in your muscles, your nerves, your breath. Whether or how you ride the wave will be a result of how you embody your history. The same goes for other surfers vying for that wave. After all, we are social organisms. These are premises of somatics, a set of practices designed to help people coordinate their emotional, physical, and intellectual responses to the past into new ways of being.

Comment: Also read: Psychomotor Therapy: A revolutionary approach to treating PTSD?


Political correctness strikes again: Many social workers are in denial about child psychopaths

Alesha MacPhail

Alesha MacPhail, six, was raped and murdered by Aaron Campbell. Could her death have been prevented if the extent of his psychological problems had been realised?
Following the murder of six-year-old Alesha MacPhail by 16-year-old Aaron Campbell, psychologist Dr John J Marshall, who was involved in the case, writes that warm parenting can make a difference to children with psychopathic traits, but only at a young age, so it is vital to find those who display early warning signs. Psychopathic traits are a devastating developmental trajectory. As the rape and murder of Alesha McPhail has shown, the ruthless self-interest and callousness associated with psychopaths lead to staggering human costs. You don't become a psychopath on your 16th birthday.

Psychopathic traits start in very early childhood, have predictable pathways and yet we do not assess children for this neurodevelopmental problem. As one of the psychologists involved in the Aaron Campbell case, having assessed psychopaths for 25 years in Scotland and carried out research on the topic, I feel determined that some good comes from this tragedy for Alesha's family, in the form of raising awareness of the need for early prevention.

It would be tempting to think that the type of sadistic homicide carried out by Campbell is so rare that there is little we need to do about people with psychopathic traits. It is estimated that less than one to three per cent in the population will be diagnosed with these traits over their lifetime and even among offenders only around eight per cent are psychopathic. However, psychopaths are responsible for overwhelming misery, disproportionate amounts of crime, more varied offending and they are far more likely to be responsible for homicide. They may even be responsible for more than half of all persistent, violent crimes.


Sailing into the storm: Acceptance and commitment therapy teaches us how to live a values-driven life even in the face of dark emotions & trauma

Before she even knew what was happening, he was already on her. He punched her in the face, smashed her head against the wall, and dragged her through the corridor by her hair. The pain was searing; the fear, overwhelming. When help finally arrived, after what seemed like an eternity, the damage had already been done. The effects of the beating were both physical and psychological. The onset of trauma, at first muted by shock, would soon unfold in ways unimaginable to her. Her illusion of safety was shattered. This was her job. She was this person's caretaker, an authority figure in a building full of authority of figures. This wasn't supposed to happen. She was supposed to be safe here, but the young man she was caring for was severely disturbed and, for reasons that will forever remain unknown, he turned on her, and her life would never be the same.

Alice was a teacher's aide in a small-town high school working with students who had special needs. She was good at her job and cared deeply about her students, but Alice happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and suffered an astonishing trauma as a result. Moreover, this was but the most recent traumatic event in a long line of abuse going back to her early childhood, when the adults in her life were doing everything but protecting her from the horrors of the world, her neighbourhood, and her own home.

Cloud Precipitation

A time for rain: Teaching our children about sadness

Stop crying Danny!

That tears are a bad thing is so baked into our social fabric that parents might find themselves renouncing crying without any awareness of the deeper implications. It might not even present as admonishment... "Don't cry Sara, you're fine, do you want a popsicle?" is drawn from the same pool of feeling-shaming, hurt-distracting, and pain-minimizing consciousness.

Have you ever stopped yourself from crying? Why? Because you don't want to feel out of control, or make someone you're with uncomfortable? Because you don't have time for the arc that tears - real, deep tears - demand?

We value toughness. We value cooperation. We value rational predictability. And feelings - when they are truly felt - are messy, wild, and sometimes ugly to our constrained sensibilities.


Consciousness: A battle between your beliefs and perceptions?

Harry Houdini
© Photo courtesy Library of Congress
Now you see it... Magician Harry Houdini moments before ‘disappearing’ Jennie the 10,000lb elephant at the Hippodrome, New York, in 1918.
Imagine you're at a magic show, in which the performer suddenly vanishes. Of course, you ultimately know that the person is probably just hiding somewhere. Yet it continues to look as if the person has disappeared. We can't reason away that appearance, no matter what logic dictates. Why are our conscious experiences so stubborn?

The fact that our perception of the world appears to be so intransigent, however much we might reflect on it, tells us something unique about how our brains are wired. Compare the magician scenario with how we usually process information. Say you have five friends who tell you it's raining outside, and one weather website indicating that it isn't. You'd probably just consider the website to be wrong and write it off. But when it comes to conscious perception, there seems to be something strangely persistent about what we see, hear and feel. Even when a perceptual experience is clearly 'wrong', we can't just mute it.

Why is that so? Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) shed new light on this puzzle. In computer science, we know that neural networks for pattern-recognition - so-called deep learning models - can benefit from a process known as predictive coding. Instead of just taking in information passively, from the bottom up, networks can make top-down hypotheses about the world, to be tested against observations. They generally work better this way. When a neural network identifies a cat, for example, it first develops a model that allows it to predict or imagine what a cat looks like. It can then examine any incoming data that arrives to see whether or not it fits that expectation.


Can multiple personality disorder help us understand the fundamental nature of reality?

Mindfulness 2
© Tang Yau Hoong
In 2015, doctors in Germany reported the extraordinary case of a woman who suffered from what has traditionally been called "multiple personality disorder" and today is known as "dissociative identity disorder" (DID). The woman exhibited a variety of dissociated personalities ("alters"), some of which claimed to be blind. Using EEGs, the doctors were able to ascertain that the brain activity normally associated with sight wasn't present while a blind alter was in control of the woman's body, even though her eyes were open. Remarkably, when a sighted alter assumed control, the usual brain activity returned.

This was a compelling demonstration of the literally blinding power of extreme forms of dissociation, a condition in which the psyche gives rise to multiple, operationally separate centers of consciousness, each with its own private inner life.

Modern neuroimaging techniques have demonstrated that DID is real: in a 2014 study, doctors performed functional brain scans on both DID patients and actors simulating DID. The scans of the actual patients displayed clear differences when compared to those of the actors, showing that dissociation has an identifiable neural activity fingerprint. In other words, there is something rather particular that dissociative processes look like in the brain.

There is also compelling clinical data showing that different alters can be concurrently conscious and see themselves as distinct identities. One of us has written an extensive treatment of evidence for this distinctness of identity and the complex forms of interactive memory that accompany it, particularly in those extreme cases of DID that are usually referred to as multiple personality disorder.


Psychedelic brain, or mind? Misreporting and confirmation bias in psychedelic research

© Getty Images
A long-awaited resurgence in psychedelic research is now under way and some of its early results have been startling. Whereas most scientists expected the mind-boggling experiences of psychedelic states to correlate with increased brain activity, a landmark study from 2012 found the opposite to be the case. Writing in this magazine, neuroscientist Christof Koch expressed the community's collective surprise. These unexpected findings have since been repeatedly confirmed with a variety of psychedelic agents and measures of brain activity (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017).

Under the mainstream physicalist view that brain activity is, or somehow generates, the mind, the findings certainly seem counterintuitive: How can the richness of experience go up when brain activity goes down? Understandably, therefore, researchers have subsequently endeavored to find something in patterns of brain activity that reliably increases in psychedelic states. Alternatives include brain activity variability, functional coupling between different brain areas and, most recently, a property of brain activity variously labeled as "complexity," "diversity," "entropy" or "randomness" - terms viewed as approximately synonymous.

The problem is that modern brain imaging techniques do detect clear spikes in raw brain activity when sleeping subjects dream even of dull things such as staring at a statue or clenching a hand. So why are only decreases in brain activity conclusively seen when subjects undergo psychedelic experiences, instead of dreams? Given how difficult it is to find one biological basis for consciousness, how plausible is it that two fundamentally different mechanisms underlie conscious experience in the otherwise analogous psychedelic and dreaming states?

Comment: Kastrup has a response to critics of the above article here. In response to their claim that their results are "entirely irrelevant" to the metaphysics of the mind-body problem, Kastrup writes:
Although scientific observations don't necessarily imply a metaphysical position, they surely inform metaphysical hypotheses. Metaphysics is not done in a vacuum. While science tries to model the behavior of nature, metaphysics attempts to interpret this behavior so to make educated guesses about what nature essentially is. So scientific observations are very relevant for metaphysics. That there are correlations between brain states and experience reflects a behavior of nature demanding a metaphysical interpretation. That the internal consistency of these correlations sometimes breaks is perhaps even more relevant, insofar as it creates a significant problem for the particular metaphysics of materialism.
Here's an image from one of the studies showing the patterns of decreased brain activity (blue) upon administering intravenous LSD:
lsd experiment

Arrow Down

Paracetamol surprising psychoactive effects

© AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file
Every day, millions of people turn to acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol - the active ingredient in Tylenol - to dull the occasional ache or pain. That's because few side effects accompany this highly effective over-the-counter drug when taken at recommended doses. A new side effect is starting to come to light, however. Research is now revealing that acetaminophen may subtly influence your emotions.

To relieve pain, acetaminophen works its magic in the brain, but researchers still aren't entirely sure how this trick works - a remarkable fact considering the drug has been available without prescription for sixty years! It may impact an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, or it might modulate humans' endocannabinoid system. Some experts say one or both of these ideas tells the whole story, while others insist we've barely scratched the surface. Regardless, whatever acetaminophen does in the brain also seems to alter how we perceive the world.

One of the earliest and most elucidating studies on the topic was published back in 2010. A team of scientists from a variety of academic institutions in the U.S. found that subjects who took acetaminophen were not as sensitive to emotional pain compared to people given a placebo.

"In two experiments, participants took acetaminophen or placebo daily for 3 weeks," they described. "Doses of acetaminophen reduced reports of social pain on a daily basis."

The team also found a "smoking gun" of sorts when conducting brain scans on the participants.

Red Flag

A dark consensus about screens and kids

© Tracy Ma/The New York Times
"I am convinced the devil lives in our phones."

The people who are closest to a thing are often the most wary of it. Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don't want their own children anywhere near them.

A wariness that has been slowly brewing is turning into a region wide consensus: The benefits of screens as a learning tool are overblown, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high. The debate in Silicon Valley now is about how much exposure to phones is O.K.

"Doing no screen time is almost easier than doing a little," said Kristin Stecher, a former social computing researcher married to a Facebook engineer. "If my kids do get it at all, they just want it more."

Ms. Stecher, 37, and her husband, Rushabh Doshi, researched screen time and came to a simple conclusion: they wanted almost none of it in their house. Their daughters, ages 5 and 3, have no screen time "budget," no regular hours they are allowed to be on screens. The only time a screen can be used is during the travel portion of a long car ride (the four-hour drive to Tahoe counts) or during a plane trip.

Comment: Glow Kids: The growing issue of childhood screen addiction
For these kids, "the seductive and addictive pull of the screen has a stronger gravitational pull than real-life experiences. Many prefer the Matrix to the real world"
The Health & Wellness Show: Digital 'pharmakeia': Glow kids, screen addiction, gaming and the hijacking of children's brains

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MindMatters: New Show! Why Mind Really Matters, and Your Life Reflects Your Values

mind brain consciousness
On this first episode of MindMatters, we dive into the biggest mystery of our times: consciousness. What is it, why is it so mysterious, and why is it important? Materialists either explain it away or deny it really exists, but the mind is much more than that. It can't be so easily denied. Everything in our experience, from our sensations and feelings to our theories and choices in life - all of these depend on our minds.

Summing up many of the topics we have looked at on our previous show, the Truth Perspective, today we put together ideas from Andrew Lobaczewski, James C. Carpenter, Whitehead and Griffin, and Jordan B. Peterson. We also examine a clip from Peterson's latest Q&A on how our aims structure everything in our experience from our perception to the choices we make in life.

If you like what you see, make sure to subscribe to our new YouTube channel, MindMatters.

Running Time: 01:34:39

Download: MP3 - 86.7 MB