Advice from medieval monks about how to reduce digital distractions

Medieval monks had a terrible time concentrating. And concentration was their lifelong work! Their tech was obviously different from ours. But their anxiety about distraction was not. They complained about being overloaded with information, and about how, even once you finally settled on something to read, it was easy to get bored and turn to something else. They were frustrated by their desire to stare out of the window, or to constantly check on the time (in their case, with the Sun as their clock), or to think about food or sex when they were supposed to be thinking about God. They even worried about getting distracted in their dreams.

Sometimes they accused demons of making their minds wander. Sometimes they blamed the body’s base instincts. But the mind was the root problem: it is an inherently jumpy thing. John Cassian, whose thoughts about thinking influenced centuries of monks, knew this problem all too well. He complained that the mind ‘seems driven by random incursions’. It ‘wanders around like it were drunk’. It would think about something else while it prayed and sang. It would meander into its future plans or past regrets in the middle of its reading. It couldn’t even stay focused on its own entertainment – let alone the difficult ideas that called for serious concentration.

That was in the late 420s. If John Cassian had seen a smartphone, he’d have foretasted our cognitive crisis in a heartbeat.

But, instead, his mind lay elsewhere. Cassian was writing at a time when Christian monastic communities were beginning to boom in Europe and the Mediterranean. A century earlier, ascetics had mostly lived in isolation. And the new enthusiasm for communal enterprises resulted in a new enthusiasm for monastic planning. These innovative social spaces were assumed to function most optimally when monks had guidelines about how to do their jobs.

Their job, more than anything else, was to focus on divine communication: to read, to pray and sing, and to work to understand God, in order to improve the health of their souls and the souls of the people who supported them. For these monks, the meditating mind wasn’t supposed to be at ease. It was supposed to be energised. Their favorite words for describing concentration stemmed from the Latin tenere, to hold tight to something. The ideal was a mens intentus, a mind that was always and actively reaching out to its target. And doing that successfully meant taking the weaknesses of their bodies and brains seriously, and to work hard at making them behave.

Some of these strategies were tough. Renunciation, for instance. Monks and nuns were supposed to give up the things that most people loved – families, properties, businesses, day-to-day drama – not only to erode their sense of individual entitlement but also to ensure that they wouldn’t be preoccupied by that stuff in their professional lives of prayer. When the mind wanders, the monastic theorists observed, it usually veers off into recent events. Cut back your commitments to serious stuff, and you’ll have fewer thoughts competing for your attention.

Restraint had to work on a physiological level, too. There were many theories in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages about the connection between the mind and body. Most Christians agreed that the body was a needy creature whose bottomless appetite for food, sex and comfort held back the mind from what mattered most. That didn’t mean that the body must be rejected, only that it needed tough love. For all monks and nuns, since the very start of monasticism in the 4th century, this meant a moderate diet and no sex. Many of them also added regular manual labor to the regimen. They found it easier to concentrate when their bodies were moving, whether they were baking or farming or weaving.

There were also solutions that might strike people today as strange, which depended on imaginary pictures. Part of monastic education involved learning how to form cartoonish cognitive figures, to help sharpen one’s mnemonic and meditative skills. The mind loves stimuli such as color, gore, sex, violence, noise and wild gesticulations. The challenge was to accept its delights and preferences, in order to take advantage of them. Authors and artists might do some of the legwork here, by writing vivid narratives or sculpting grotesque figures that embodied the ideas they wanted to communicate. But if a nun wanted to really learn something she’d read or heard, she would do this work herself, by rendering the material as a series of bizarre animations in her mind. The weirder the mnemonic devices the better – strangeness would make them easier to retrieve, and more captivating to think with when she ‘returned’ to look them over.

Say that you wanted to learn the sequence of the zodiac. Thomas Bradwardine (a 14th-century university master, theologian and advisor to Edward III of England) suggests that you imagine a gleaming white ram with golden horns, kicking a bright red bull in the testicles. While the bull bleeds profusely, imagine that there’s a woman in front of it, giving birth to twins, in a gory labour that seems to split her up to her chest. As her twins burst forth, they’re playing with an awful red crab, which is pinching them and making them cry. And so on.

A more advanced method for concentrating was to build elaborate mental structures in the course of reading and thinking. Nuns, monks, preachers and the people they educated were always encouraged to visualize the material they were processing. A branchy tree or a finely feathered angel – or in the case of Hugh of St Victor (who wrote a vivid little guide to this strategy in the 12th century), a multilevel ark in the heart of the cosmos – could become the template for dividing complex material into an ordered system. The images might closely correspond to the substance of an idea. Hugh, for example, imagined a column rising out of his ark that stood for the tree of life in paradise, which as it ascended linked the earth on the ark to the generations past, and on to the vault of the heavens. Or instead, the images might only be organisational placeholders, where a tree representing a text or topic (say, ‘Natural Law’) could have eight branches and eight fruits on each branch, representing 64 different ideas clustered into eight larger concepts.

The point wasn’t to paint these pictures on parchment. It was to give the mind something to draw, to indulge its appetite for aesthetically interesting forms while sorting its ideas into some logical structure. I teach medieval cognitive techniques to college freshmen, and this last one is by far their favourite. Constructing complex mental apparatuses gives them a way to organize – and, in the process, analyse – material they need to learn for other classes. The process also keeps their minds occupied with something that feels palpable and riveting. Concentration and critical thinking, in this mode, feel less like a slog and more like a game.

But caveat cogitator: the problem of concentration is recursive. Any strategy for sidestepping distraction calls for strategies on sidestepping distraction. When Cassian made one of his simplest recommendations – repeat a psalm over and over, to keep your brain reined in – he knew what he was going to hear next. ‘How can we stay fixated on that verse?’ the monks would ask. Distraction is an old problem, and so is the fantasy that it can be dodged once and for all. There were just as many exciting things to think about 1,600 years ago as there are now. Sometimes it boggled the mind.

About the author

Jamie Kreiner is associate professor of history at the University of Georgia. She is the author of The Social Life of Hagiography in the Merovingian Kingdom(2014) and her latest book, Legions of Pigs in the Early Medieval West, is forthcoming in 2020. She lives in Athens, GA.

India slams US report on counterfeit medicine, says it’s an attack on affordable generic drugs

India has outrightly rejected allegations in a US report about the country being a chief source of counterfeit medicines to the world and said it is an attack on low cost generic drugs – crucial to make healthcare affordable.

The ‘Special 301 Report’ by United States Trade Representative (USTR) slammed India and China as leading sources of counterfeit medicines distributed globally with 20% of all pharmaceutical products sold in the Indian market estimated to be counterfeits.

“We strongly disagree with the observations made by USTR. We do not know the genesis and methodology of their findings. Instead, we view this as opposition to low cost generics and the thriving Indian drug manufacturing industry which is the ‘Pharmacy of the world’,” health secretary Preeti Sudan told TOI.

The USTR report, an annual review of the state of IP protection and enforcement in US trading partners around the world, has again put India on the ‘priority watch list’ for violation of intellectual property rights.

“In particular, China and India are reportedly leading sources of counterfeit medicines distributed globally. While it may not be possible to determine an exact figure, studies have suggested that up to 20% of drugs sold in the Indian market are counterfeit and could represent a serious threat to patient health and safety,” the report said. It also claimed that India exports counterfeit drugs to Africa, Canada, the Caribbean, the EU, South America, and the US.

However, emphasising that generic drugs are low cost but quality products, Sudan said only certified pharmaceutical products are exported from here. Locally, over 75% of sales come from generic medicines.

Not surprisingly, India is named in the report for the country’s patentability criteria, compulsory licensing criteria and absence of an additional intellectual property monopoly-data exclusivity.

At a time when medicine prices are soaring… the report undermines the efforts… seeking to make medicines more affordable domestically. USTR’s push for more protection and enforcement of IP policies would keep medicine prices high globally and place lifesaving treatments out of reach for longer in developing countries,” says MSF which advocates access to medicines.

The report also said inadequate protection for trade secrets in a number of countries, notably China and India, puts US trade secrets at risk.

At what age is our sense of optimism at its highest?

Youth, they say, is wasted on the young. But what about optimism?

New research published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science offers an in-depth look at how our sense of optimism evolves as we age.

To study this question, researchers at the University of California Davis analyzed data from a large sample of Mexican-Americans between the ages of 26 and 71. At four time points across a seven-year period, participants were asked to complete the Life Orientation Test, a widely used and validated measure of optimism. The Life Orientation Test consists of six questions, listed below:

  1. In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.
  2. If something can go wrong for me, it will.
  3. I’m always optimistic about my future.
  4. I hardly ever expect things to go my way.
  5. I rarely count on good things happening to me.
  6. Overall, I expect more good things to happen to me than bad.

Participants were also asked 54 questions pertaining to various positive and negative life events they may have recently experienced. For example, some of these questions read, “Over the past three months, you got laid off,” “Over the past three months, you moved to a worse residence or neighborhood,” “In the past year, you were accepted into an educational program that is important to you,” and, “In the past year, you developed new friendships that are important to you.”

With this data, the researchers plotted the trajectory of optimism across the lifespan. Consistent with previous research, they found optimism to be lowest in people’s twenties, then rise steadily into people’s thirties and forties, peaking in people’s fifties, and gradually declining after that. Specifically, it was at age 55 that people experienced the highest level of optimism.

The authors write, “We found that the trajectory of optimism from ages 26 to 71 was characterized by normative age-graded increases, at a rate of about .15 standard deviations per decade, before plateauing around age 55. These findings connect well with prior research by Chopik and colleagues (2015), who examined optimism across ages 50 to 95 and found normative increases until age 70 followed by normative decreases. Together, these findings suggest that the development of optimism across the adult lifespan follows an inverted U shape, with a peak in late midlife, similar to other positive personality traits such as self-esteem (Orth & Robins, 2014) and satisfaction with life (Baird et al., 2010).”

The researchers also looked for possible moderators of the trajectory of optimism and found two. First, people who indicated having experienced more positive life events – such as graduating from college, receiving pay raises, and developing important romantic relationships – had higher trajectories of optimism. What is more interesting (and perhaps surprising), however, was that people who indicated having more negative life experiences were not any more or less optimistic than other people. In other words, it appears that while positive life events help to elevate our sense of optimism, it is not the case that negative events necessarily detract from it.

Second, the researchers explored whether there were any meaningful differences in optimism between immigrants and non-immigrants. Indeed, they found that while Mexican-American immigrants followed the expected inverted U shape optimism trajectory, the non-immigrants exhibited an altogether different path, with optimism declining until about the age of 40 and then rising steadily into one’s seventies. Due to the relatively small number of non-immigrants in the study, the authors note that this result should be interpreted with caution. They state, “These results suggest, broadly, that differences in culture, even among members of the same ethnic group, may lead to differences in optimism development. However, given the relatively small size of the non-immigrant group (only 14% of respondents were non-immigrants), we refrain from further interpreting this finding until more evidence emerges.”

What might this all mean? For one, it suggests that optimism can flourish in the face of adversity. It also suggests that our continual efforts to find the fountain of youth may be misguided.

Mark Travers, Ph.D., is a consumer insights specialist who applies advanced quantitative methods to understand consumer trends and behavior.

References

Schwaba, T., Robins, R. W., Sanghavi, P. H., & Bleidorn, W. (2019). Optimism Development Across Adulthood and Associations With Positive and Negative Life Events. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1948550619832023.

Scheier, M. F., Carver, C. S., & Bridges, M. W. (1994). Distinguishing optimism from neuroticism (and trait anxiety, self-mastery, and self-esteem): a reevaluation of the Life Orientation Test. Journal of personality and social psychology, 67(6), 1063.

Chopik, W. J., Kim, E. S., & Smith, J. (2015). Changes in optimism are associated with changes in health over time among older adults. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6, 814-822. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1948550615590199

Orth, U., & Robins, R. W. (2014). The development of self-esteem. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 381-387.

Baird, B. M., Lucas, R. E., & Donnellan, M. B. (2010). Life satisfaction across the lifespan: Findings from two nationally representative panel studies. Social indicators research, 99(2), 183-203.

Eating at the right time may reduce adverse effects of shift work and jet lag

Knowing the right time of day to eat can help improve the health of people working on a shift or those suffering from jet lag.

In a study featured in the journal Cell, researchers from the Medical Research Council and The University of Manchester have identified how insulin signals the proper timing of meals in line with the body’s circadian rhythm.

By understanding how the hormone works, scientists may be able to develop new ways to mitigate the effects of body clock disruptions on people’s health. Some of these include eating at the right time or taking medicines designed to trigger insulin production.

“We already know that modern society poses many challenges to our health and wellbeing – things that are viewed as commonplace, such as shift-work, sleep deprivation, and jet lag, disrupt our body clock,” said Dr. David Bechtold, senior lecturer at Manchester and one of the authors of the study.

“It is now becoming clear that circadian disruption is increasing the incidence and severity of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.”

The Body’s Cellular Clocks

The circadian rhythm, commonly known as the body clock, refers to the cellular processes of the body that occur throughout a 24-hour cycle. It helps the body know when to sleep, what levels of hormones to set, and how it should respond to different medications.

The body is able to synchronize the circadian rhythm with its surroundings by exposing itself to daylight and eating at the right time. This is important to help keep the body healthy in the long run.

However, people who work on shifting schedules or those who travel across different time zones often experience a disruption of their circadian rhythm. They are also prone to eating at unusual times, which can severely affect their body clocks and damage their health.

Not much is known about how the body clock responds to meal timing. If health professionals were to unlock this secret, they would be able to provide their patients with steps on how to alleviate the effects of circadian rhythm disruptions.

Insulin’s Role In Setting The Circadian Rhythm

To understand how the body clock works, Bechtold and his colleagues conducted experiments on culture cells and then replicated them on mice.

They found that insulin helps adjust the different circadian rhythms in individual cells and tissues through the production of a certain type of protein known as PERIOD. Results showed that PERIOD plays a key role in setting in the circadian clocks of every cell in the body.

The researchers provided the mice with insulin when they were supposed to be resting to simulate a “wrong” biological time. This affected the mice’s normal circadian rhythms, messing up the ability of the animals’ bodies to differentiate between day and night.

The study shows how eating at the wrong times could disrupt people’s body clocks. To maintain normal body functions, Bechtold and his team believe it is important to follow the correct meal timing and expose the body to enough light. These can help fight off the negative health effects of being on shift work.

Meaning in our lives matters

Everyone seems to be talking about meaning at the moment. Many appreciate that our lives need some kind of existential structure-cultural worldviews, social roles, and goals that give us purpose. Some speculate that we are suffering a crisis of meaning in the modern Western world for a variety of reasons including increased social alienation, automation, and the decline of religion. Others believe that meaning comes from within the individual, that we can abandon traditional beliefs, duties, and attachments and fashion our own existential framework. Some argue that meaning isn’t really that important at all and that we should instead focus solely on practical concerns such as physical health, economics, education, and the environment. As a behavioral scientist who has spent nearly two decades conducting research in existential psychology, I have some thoughts on why we should care about meaning and how modern life challenges our search for it.

First, meaning is important. Perceptions of meaning in life influence a wide range of life outcomes. People who have a strong sense of meaning in life, compared to those who lack meaning, are less vulnerable to mental health problems, more responsive to treatment when they do face mental health problems, better able to cope with trauma and loss, less inclined to abuse drugs and alcohol, less likely to desire, attempt, or die by suicide, less hostile and aggressive towards others, physically healthier, and live longer.

Meaning likely contributes to many of these outcomes because of its motivational power. When people feel meaningful, they are inspired, energized, and optimistic. In addition, life is full of temptations and distractions. It is easy to privilege immediate preference and pleasure over the longer term pursuits that promote physical, mental, and social health, particularly if these pursuits are difficult or unpleasant. In such situations, meaning is a vital psychological resource. It helps people regulate their behavior in constructive ways. For instance, a recent study.1 of physically inactive adults who had the intention to increase physical activity found that they were more likely to visit fitness centers and exercise for longer periods of time if they had meaning on their minds.

As another way to examine the potential motivational power of meaning, my colleagues and I have been conducting studies on how mentally revisiting meaningful past experiences (nostalgic reflection) influences motivation and goal pursuit using diverse empirical methods involving self-report, behavioral, observational, and neuroscientific measures. We find that when people mentally revisit cherished life experiences -meaningful memories- they subsequently feel more motivated to actively pursue life goals, especially if those goals are focused on friendship, family, and community.2 They also generally feel more inspired3 and display patterns of neuro-electrical activity4 consistent with a motivational model of meaning.

This brings us to the idea that we are facing or approaching a crisis of meaning in the modern Western world. Some have argued that the secularization of society has created a great existential vulnerability for Westerners. Religion offers a particularly powerful existential framework; a large body of research makes clear that the devoutly religious are less vulnerable to feelings of meaninglessness and related anxieties. However, religion’s influence in the West is diminishing. The United States is often thought of as an especially religious Western nation but in surveys asking Americans what gives their lives meaning, few mention religion, faith, or spirituality. Regardless of what one thinks about religion, understanding what meaning is really about and why the devoutly religious experience the highest levels of it can help us better understand the existential challenges of our time.

Meaning is deeply social. The more people feel strongly connected to others, the more they perceive life as meaningful. Social exclusion, ostracism, and loneliness all lead to feelings of meaninglessness. And people’s most cherished and meaning-affirming nostalgic memories typically involve close relationships. Religion is a powerful source of meaning, in part, because it shepherds people toward each other.

Critically, it is insufficient to describe meaning as simply the result of being socially accepted or even loved. Research indicates that meaning is ultimately about mattering, feeling socially significant.5 It hinges on the belief that one’s actions make a difference. In other words, humans don’t simply need social connections. We long to feel truly valued and needed by others. People can feel meaningless even if they know others care deeply about them. Having social relationships is necessary but not sufficient. People need to matter. In fact, the opposite of feeling like one matters is feeling like a burden, which is a major risk factor for suicide, in part, because it leads to meaninglessness.6

Religion isn’t just like any organization or group that affords people the opportunity to socialize. Religion promotes a deeper feeling of mattering by teaching adherents that they have social duties to family, friends, and even strangers. Religious faith is an invisible thread that weaves individuals together into moral communities.

The spiritual and supernatural dimensions of religion are also very much focused on mattering. Many believers view their lives as having teleological meaning, a purpose devised by God. Afterlife beliefs are also ultimately social beliefs regarding meaningful relationships that transcend the limits of material existence. Even among the religious who don’t believe or have doubts about an afterlife or the validity of specific religious stories, the family and community life that religion helps foster and the knowledge that they are part of a social and cultural institution that existed before and will continue to exist after their brief mortal lives help provide a sense of mattering.

I’m not suggesting religion doesn’t also contribute to social problems. It is a complex concept that is shaped by both bottom-up cognitive processes within individual brains and top-down socio-cultural and economic forces. However, even critics of religion should be able to acknowledge the existential roles it plays for our species and see that many who have rejected the old faiths are seeking secular substitutes.

Understanding the psychology of religion and the changing religious social landscape is important but the decline of religion is just one part of a larger story about the decline of the traditional social and cultural structures that have long sustained meaning by giving people that vital feeling that they matter. I propose that the rise of liberalism, and more specifically, individualism, is at the heart of this story.

Liberalism is an existential paradox. By unshackling humans from traditional cultural and social structures, it has freed us to pursue aspirations and experiences based on our own personal interests. This liberation has allowed many to explore a wider range of paths to meaning but it has also unrooted many from the most reliable sources of meaning. It has ushered in an era of individualism. The more people privilege an individual self (a self defined by personal attributes and interests) over an interdependent self (a self defined by cultural roles and duties), the more vulnerable they are to feeling like they don’t matter, that they lack social significance.

This may help explain not just why religious people perceive life as more meaningful than those who are less religious but also why conservatives across Europe, Canada, and the United States perceive life as more meaningful than liberals in these countries.7 Importantly, this relationship between conservatism and meaning remains even when accounting for differences in religiosity, is tied more to social conservatism than economic conservatism, and becomes particularly strong at higher levels conservatism. In general, the more people are rooted in traditional social and cultural structures, the more they view life as meaningful.

As automation expands, marriage declines, and people have fewer or no children, the opportunities to feel like one matters narrow. In their recent article, The Twilight of Liberalism, psychologists Bo and Ben Winegard articulate how the elite class are best equipped to navigate the modern world that was fashioned by liberalism. Perhaps the elite are also better able to find meaning in the modern world to the extent they can maintain the belief that their work still matters or can use their economic advantages to attract mates and form families. (Despite the fact that past generations had families in much harsher and uncertain conditions, in our liberal individualistic society, many young adults are convinced that they shouldn’t form families at all or unless the timing and conditions feel ideal for them.)

Still, even the most educationally and economically privileged among us cannot fully evade the existential cost of individualism and may be especially vulnerable to certain existential threats. In fact, though people in rich countries report higher life satisfaction than those in poor countries, those in poor countries report greater meaning in life, and have lower rates of suicide.8

The Western liberal elite champion cultural diversity and travel the world to sample other cultures, all while imagining they don’t need one, as if they are gods, not mere mortal cultural animals. But we are all cultural animals. And it is those who have done everything they can to reject and dismantle traditional cultural structures who are often the most existentially anxious and desperately searching for meaning, which makes them especially susceptible to extreme ideologies. Regardless of the underlying causes of our modern existential struggles, the success of efforts to solve them will depend on the extent to which these efforts offer people a way to play a significant role in a meaningful cultural drama. Without meaning, people won’t be motivated to solve the other challenges our species faces.

Clay Routledge is a Quillette columnist and professor of psychology at North Dakota State University. You can follow him on Twitter @clayroutledge

References:

1 Hooker, S. A., & Masters, K. S. (2018). Daily meaning salience and physical activity in previously inactive exercise initiates. Health Psychology, 37, 344-354.

2 Abeyta, A. A., Routledge, C., & Juhl, J. (2015). Looking back to move forward: Nostalgia as a psychological resource for promoting relationship aspirations and overcoming relationship challenges. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109, 1029-1044.

3Stephan, E., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Cheung, W., Routledge, C. & Arndt, J. (2015). Nostalgia-evoked inspiration: Mediating mechanisms and motivational implications. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41, 1395-1410.

4 Bocincova, A., Nelson. T. A., Johnson, J., & Routledge, C. (in press). Experimentally induced nostalgia reduces the amplitude of the event-related negativity. Social Neuroscience.

5 Costin, V. & Vignoles, V. L. (2019). Meaning is about mattering: Evaluating coherence, purpose, and existential mattering as precursors of meaning in life judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. DOI: 10.1037/pspp0000225

6 Kleiman, E. M. & Beaver, J. K. (2013). A meaningful life is a life worth living: Meaning in life as a suicide resiliency factor. Psychiatry Research, 210, 934-39.

7 Newman, D. B., Schwarz, N., Graham, J., & Stone, A. A. (2019). Conservatives Report Greater Meaning in Life Than Liberals. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 10, 494-503.

8 Oishi, Shigehiro & Diener, Ed. (2013). Residents of poor nations have a greater sense of meaning in life than residents of wealthy nations. Psychological Science, 25, 422-430.

Measles outbreak: Quarantines issued at UCLA, Cal State LA; hundreds of students, faculty under orders

Health officials issued quarantines at UCLA and Cal State, Los Angeles to prevent the spread of measles, with more than 100 students and faculty members at each university under quarantine orders.

UCLA said 117 students and faculty are being held while they await medical records to determine whether they’re immune to the illness. More than 500 students, faculty and staff who may have come into contact with a student who contracted measles were screened. The student with measles attended classes at Franz Hall and Boelter Hall on April 2, 4 and 9 while contagious, according to UCLA.

“We expect that those notified will be quarantined for approximately 24-48 hours until their proof of immunity is established. A few may need to remain in quarantine for up to seven days. We have arranged for those who live on campus to be cared for at UCLA while they are quarantined,” UCLA said in a statement.

Some students at UCLA said they were unaware of the quarantine order.

A person with measles visited CSU Los Angeles’ Library North on April 11 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. As a result, university officials said 127 staff employees and 71 student employees were sent home under quarantine orders and told to stay home to avoid contact with others as much as possible.

Cal State, Los Angeles students are on edge after students at the school and at UCLA were put under quarantine orders due to the potential spread of measles.

“The Department of Public Health has determined that there is no known current risk related to measles at the library at this time,” CSU Los Angeles said in a statement.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said it’s working with both universities “to institute a series of actions to limit the spread of measles based on its assessment of the previously identified measles cased.”

County health officials held a press conference Thursday, urging residents to get vaccinated immediately.

Measles is highly contagious and can stay in the air for up to two hours after an ill person coughs or sneezes, and can stay on surfaces for several hours, health officials say. About 90 percent of people who are exposed and not immune to the illness become sick 7 to 21 days after exposure.

The county public health department says schools are “high-risk setting for exposure due to potentially frequent and prolonged contact.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the United States now has the highest number of measles cases in a year since measles were eliminated in 2000, with 695 measles cases reported in 22 states.

Los Angeles public health officials declared a measles outbreak in the county, making it the latest metro area to be struck by the illness.

Measles symptoms include fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat and red, watery eyes. Three to five days after symptoms begin, the CDC says a rash breaks out which appears as flat red spots on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs and feet. Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots.

New study offers peek inside the brain during psychedelic hallucinations

A new study by University of Oregon researchers offers clues to what happens in the brain when mice are given an LSD-like drug experience.

The research, done in the lab of Cris Niell, a professor in the Department of Biology and researcher in the Institute of Neuroscience, was part of a larger, ongoing effort to explore, at a basic scientific level, the mystery of vision and how people perceive the world around them. Instead of flooding the brain with stimuli, the drug appeared to reduce neuron activity, suggesting that hallucinations stem from too little stimulation rather than too much.

In the National Institutes of Health-funded study, Niell’s team focused on the effects of the hallucinogen because it acts on a specific receptor, serotonin-2A, that is tied to altered perceptions in both psychedelic drug use and in schizophrenia.

“Our results do not yet provide a complete explanation of hallucinations,” Niell said. “This is an early explanation of what is going on with individual neurons in one particular brain region.”

Hallucinations are thought to result from a mismatch between what people actually see and how their brains interpret it.

The idea for the study was to perturb visual processing in mice, which have both visual and serotonin systems similar to humans. Although mice can’t describe what they see, Niell’s team was able to focus on physical changes tied to neuron firing before and after drug exposure.

The mice were given 2.5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine, a chemical variant of mescaline with hallucinogenic effects similar to LSD and psilocybin that is commonly used in animal studies. Such drugs target serotonin-2A receptors and trigger changes in neural responses.

To capture neuronal responses in the live mice, co-author Philip Parker, a postdoctoral researcher, used a high-tech imaging technique to broadly observe changes in brainwide activity, while co-author Angie Michaiel, a doctoral student, used a different kind of imaging to zoom in on the electrical activity of individual neurons in the visual cortex.

Instead of the drug igniting an explosion of activity, researchers saw a 30 percent reduction in neurons lighting up in the visual pathway of the mice in response to a visual pattern presented to them on a computer monitor, compared to before the drug was delivered. Interestingly, the team reported, the mice that had previously learned to recognize the patterns showed an even larger decrease.

“We present the same visual stimulus before and after giving the drug, and the activity in the brain is slightly reduced,” Niell said.

It may be, Niell said, that the mixed-up perception during hallucinations is the result of less sensory input coming into the brain, similar to rapid-eye-movement sleep in which dreams occur in the absence of sensory input. Cognition-related areas of the brain, he said, may be trying to make sense of what is missing.

In addition to understanding visual perception and hallucinations, determining brainwide effects of serotonin-2A drugs could help inform recent developments in psychedelic-based treatments for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, the researchers noted in their study, which published online March 26 in the journal Cell Reports.

Identifying the neural actions could help determine the mechanism of potential therapeutic effects and lead to more targeted treatments, the researchers said.

“Our research may help to move along work in several areas,” Niell said. “We are not focused on studying schizophrenia or depression directly, but by understanding the basic science in the context of visual processing, we can contribute a foundation for others to build on.”

Japan leads the way: No vaccine mandates and no MMR vaccine = Healthier children

Best and Worst: Two Different Infant Mortality Results

The CDC views infant mortality as one of the most important indicators of a society’s overall health. The agency should take note of Japan’s rate, which, at 2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, is the second lowest in the world, second only to the Principality of Monaco. In comparison, almost three times as many American infants die (5.8 per 1,000 live births), despite massive per capita spending on health care for children (see Table 2). U.S. infant mortality ranks behind 55 other countries and is worse than the rate in Latvia, Slovakia or Cuba.

To reiterate, the U.S. has the most aggressive vaccine schedule of developed countries (administering the most vaccines the earliest). If vaccines save lives, why are American children “dying at a faster rate, and…dying younger” compared to children in 19 other wealthy countries – translating into a “57 percent greater risk of death before reaching adulthood”? Japanese children, who receive the fewest vaccines – with no government mandates for vaccination – grow up to enjoy “long and vigorous” lives. International infant mortality and health statistics and their correlation to vaccination protocols show results that government and health officials are ignoring at our children’s great peril.

Among the 20 countries with the world’s best infant mortality outcomes, only three countries (Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore) automatically administer the HepB vaccine to all newborns – governed by the rationale that hepatitis B infection is highly endemic in these countries. Most of the other 17 top-ranking countries – including Japan – give the HepB vaccine at birth only if the mother is hepatitis B positive (Table 1). The U.S., with its disgraceful #56 infant mortality ranking, gives the HepB vaccine to all four million babies born annually despite a low incidence of hepatitis B.

Is the U.S. Sacrificing Children’s Health for Profits?

Merck, the MMR vaccine’s manufacturer, is in court over MMR-related fraud. Whistleblowers allege the pharmaceutical giant rigged its efficacy data for the vaccine’s mumps component to ensure its continued market monopoly. The whistleblower evidence has given rise to two separate court cases. In addition, a CDC whistleblower has alleged the MMR vaccine increases autism risks in some children. Others have reported that the potential risk of permanent injury from the MMR vaccine dwarfs the risks of getting measles.

Why do the FDA and CDC continue to endorse the problematic MMR vaccine despite Merck’s implication in fraud over the vaccine’s safety and efficacy? Why do U.S. legislators and government officials not demand a better alternative, as Japan did over two decades ago? Why are U.S. cities and states forcing Merck’s MMR vaccine on American children? Is the U.S. government protecting children, or Merck? Why are U.S. officials ignoring Japan’s exemplary model, which proves that the most measured vaccination program in the industrialized world and “first-class sanitation and levels of nutrition” can produce optimal child health outcomes that are leading the world?

A central tenet of a free and democratic society is the freedom to make informed decisions about medical interventions that carry serious potential risks. This includes the right to be apprised of benefits and risks – and the ability to say no. The Nuremberg Code of ethics established the necessity of informed consent without “any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion.” Forcing the MMR vaccine, or any other vaccine, on those who are uninformed or who do not consent represents nothing less than medical tyranny.