SOTT FOCUS: MindMatters: First Sight, Polyvagal Theory, and Contemplative Practices

What does meditation or contemplation have to do with our physiology? And what is the possible connection between our autonomic nervous system and a coherent theory of psi? Today on MindMatters we bring together three topics: contemplative practice (see our interviews with Fr. Joseph Azize), first sight theory (see our interview with Dr. Jim Carpenter), and Stephen Porges's polyvagal theory, as discussed in a recent book by Stanley Rosenberg, Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve. Porges's work on the two branches of the vagus nerve, and the states of consciousness they are involved in, has important implications for physical and mental health. But the connections may go even further than that, into areas considered spiritual or even paranormal. The states facilitated by ventral vagus nerve activation have a lot in common with the conditions most conducive to eliciting...

Read More

On escaping viral entrancement

There is an ancient principle of the common law, whereby it is held that the people may do everything except that which they have expressly forbidden, and the state may do nothing except that which the people have expressly permitted. How did this principle come to be unstitched and reversed in the past three months? How did the people come to agree to its reversal? In search of answers, I have been reflecting a lot on a phrase I transcribed into a notebook years ago from Martin Amis's Koba the Dread: " . . . a contagion of selective incuriosity, a mindgame begun in self-hypnosis and maintained by mass hysteria." While not discounting the impact of short-term welfare payments (buying the people's freedom with their own money) I have gotten to thinking that the answer maybe includes, as a primary...

Read More

A mutilation of young lives: How the radical transgender bandwagon is wrecking girls’ bodies and destroying their mental health

A new book, Irreversible Damage, reveals how teenage girls are being duped into believing they want to be male, and are pushed into taking puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and undergoing double mastectomies. Whether it is a statement or a question, the title of this book conveys the necessary urgency of this desperately sad story. Amid the trans debate, seemingly a battle between grown adults, vulnerable children are prey to a malevolent ideology that survivors call a cult. In a superb piece of investigative journalism, Abigail Shrier focusses on teenage girls - most with no history of gender dysphoria - who become captivated by the belief that they are transgender. Behind the glittery exterior portrayed in the media, she encounters damaged children - many alienated from their families - in poor mental health and facing the prospect of infertility and medication...

Read More

New theory of why we dream

Why do we dream? Psychologists and neuroscientists have been debating the function of dreams for centuries, but there is still no accepted answer. Now, David M. Eagleman​​ and Don A. Vaughn​ have proposed a new theory. Their preprint article, which has not yet been peer reviewed, is called The Defensive Activation theory: Dreaming as a mechanism to prevent takeover of the visual cortex. To my mind, it's a highly original and creative theory, but I'm not convinced by it. Here's Eagleman​​ and Vaughn​'s theory in nutshell: The role of dreams is to ensure that the brain's visual cortex is stimulated during sleep. Otherwise, if the visual system were deprived of input all night long, the visual cortex's function might degrade. We know that the visual cortex, in the brain's occipital lobe, can start to respond to non-visual signals if it...

Read More

Reading printed books to children more beneficial to child’s development than e-books – study

Picking what book to read isn't the only choice families now make at story time - they must also decide between the print or electronic version. But traditional print books may have an edge over e-books when it comes to quality time shared between parents and their children, a new study suggests. The research, led by University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and involving 37 parent-toddler pairs, found that parents and children verbalized and interacted less with e-books than with print books. The findings appear in journal Pediatrics, which is published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Shared reading promotes children's language development, literacy and bonding with parents. We wanted to learn how electronics might change this experience," says lead author Tiffany Munzer, M.D., a fellow in developmental behavioral pediatrics at Mott. "We found that when parents and children...

Read More

Young children with pet dogs seen having fewer social interaction problems than other kids

There's no doubt that dogs can bring a whole lot of joy to a household. Our canine companions are loyal, caring, and offer unconditional love to every member of the family. Now, an interesting new study finds that a pet dog may also offer improved social and emotional well-being for children. In a nutshell, the study concludes that young children living with at least one dog at home display far stronger emotional and social development than kids with no pups at home. The research, conducted at the University of Western Australia in collaboration with the Telethon Kids Institute, includes 1,646 households (42%, or 686, of which own a dog) with at least one child between the ages of two and five. Each family was given a questionnaire to fill out. Best friends with benefits To start, a number of additional...

Read More

Blindsight: A strange neurological condition that could help explain consciousness

Imagine being completely blind but still being able to see. Does that sound impossible? Well, it happens. A few years ago, a man (let's call him Barry) suffered two strokes in quick succession. As a result, Barry was completely blind, and he walked with a stick. One day, some psychologists placed Barry in a corridor full of obstacles like boxes and chairs. They took away his walking stick and told him to walk down the corridor. The result of this simple experiment would prove dramatic for our understanding of consciousness. Barry was able to navigate around the obstacles without tripping over a single one. Barry has blindsight, an extremely rare condition that is as paradoxical as it sounds. People with blindsight consistently deny awareness of items in front of them, but they are capable of amazing feats, which demonstrate that,...

Read More

SOTT FOCUS: MindMatters: The Ideal And Value of Beauty

From time to time we are struck with something we may deem "beautiful". We see a work of art, a landscape, or a face that speaks to an almost ephemeral ideal which demands our attention, acknowledgement and contemplation. But why does this occur? What is it that we, as individuals, are perceiving as beautiful? And what exactly is beauty anyway? In exploring this largely taken for granted dimension to human experience we ask: What place should it hold in our lives, and what value do we hold for it - and it for us? This week on MindMatters we explore and expand on some common conceptions of things beautiful - from the mundane to the sublime. And we see how noticing and arranging things to be beautiful can be an invocation of our greatest ideals and values. In a time...

Read More

‘Sweet tooth’ cells identified in brain

New research has identified the specific brain cells that control how much sugar you eat and how much you crave sweet tasting food. Most people enjoy a sweet treat every now and then. But an unchecked "sweet tooth" can lead to overconsumption of sugary foods and chronic health issues like obesity and type 2 diabetes. Understanding the biological mechanisms that control sugar intake and preference for sweet taste could have important implications for managing and preventing these health problems. The new study, led by Matthew Potthoff, PhD, associate professor of neuroscience and pharmacology in the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, and Matthew Gillum, PhD, at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, focuses on actions of a hormone called fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21). This hormone is known to play a role in energy balance, body weight control, and...

Read More

SOTT FOCUS: Stoicism, Materialism and the Search for Divinity

Confined indoors due to the coronavirus and the lockdowns, I had a lot of time to think, to read and to watch videos on YouTube. I'd like to take you on a little journey, to show you what I found and what I learned, and how I think that all this connects to what is happening in the world today. Covid-19 has sent people into a frenzy. Despite the low mortality, a lot of people fear for their lives. There is a big disconnect between the actual numbers of deaths and the fear of death that this crisis has elicited in people. There seem to be a number of reasons for that. First and most obvious is the relentless pounding of the populace with images of apocalyptic scenarios. Switch on the television, and you will be flooded 24 hours per...

Read More