Category Archives: Neuroscience

The brain’s default network: Anatomy, function, and relevance to disease. Plus three other important networks in your brain.

This is a very good and easy to understand article about the Default Mode Network (DMN) in our brain.

It is in the DMN the process of scene construction takes place, a kind of mental simulation of reality rather similar to what William James used to call the “stream of consciousness”.

Also read this article: http://emergentcognition.com/2015/11/17/scott-barry-kaufman-scientific-american-the-real-neuroscience-of-creativity/ . About how creativity is implemented in the brain.

In that article you can read about another default network in your brain: the Default Imagination Network (DIN).

The DIN is involved in constructing dynamic mental simulations based primarily on personal past experiences. It provides us with alternative perspectives and scenarios to the present “view”. The DIN is, in turn, dependent on how we are primed (i.e. what we are taught/conditioned to believe and/or how we interpret what we see, hear, experience and so on).

The DIN cooperates with two other neural networks: 1) the Executive Attention Network (EAN), and 2) the Salience Network (SN).

The EAN is all about attention vs. inattention. It helps us to focus and concentrate – or stop focusing/concentrating.

The SN tags the events (both external and/or internal) that we experience (become aware of), either consciously or unconsciously, and tells us how relevant (= salient) any information is with regard to solving the task at hand.

All three networks can, of course, be influenced by how our brains are primed. That’s why a believer in demons or angels interprets his experience as evidence of existence of spiritual other-worldly religious beings, whereas the UFO believer is convinced he has had an encounter with aliens.

Emergent Cognition Project

A shared human experience is our active internal mental life. Left without an immediate task that demands full attention, our minds wander jumping from one passing thought to next—what William James (1890) called the “stream of consciousness.” We muse about past happenings, envision possible future events, and lapse into ideations about worlds that are far from our immediate surroundings. In lay terms, these are the mental processes that make up fantasy, imagination, daydreams, and thought….

While remembering, envisioning the future, and conceiving the mental states of others are different on several dimensions including temporal focus (e.g., past versus present) and personal perspective (e.g., self versus another person), they all converge on similar core processes (Buckner & Carroll 2007). In each instance, one is required to simulate an alternative perspective to the present. These abilities, which are most often studied as distinct, rely on a common set of processes by which…

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The Bomb in the Brain. About Child Abuse: A Danger to World Stability.

Very important information about possible effects of child abuse (of both the mental – like neglect or bullying – and physical/sexual kind).

Many good links.

Nevertheless, I want to add this link too: https://spiritandanimal.wordpress.com/2015/10/10/the-bomb-in-the-brain-the-effects-of-child-abuse-information-clearing-house-ich-3/

The video is entitled: The Bomb in the Brain – The Effects of Child Abuse.

NeuroNotes

Physical as well as psychological abuse of the child is not only harmful but highly dangerous. Not only for the individual but under certain circumstances for whole nations. ~ A. Miller, Ph.D

Watch (Warning – video contains graphic material)

It is now clear that what a child experiences in the first few years of life largely determines how his brain will develop and how he/she will interact with the world throughout his life.—Ounce of Prevention Fund

Our brains are sculpted by our early experiences. Maltreatment is a chisel that shapes a brain to contend with strife, but at the cost of deep, enduring wounds. —Teicher

According to the World Health Organization,  ‘World Report on Violence and Health’,  children who grow up in a violent environment are more likely to be victims of child abuse. Those who are not direct victims have some of the same behavioral…

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Hormone from Hell? About the neurotransmitter dopamine.

A very good – and easily understandable – summary of in what ways we are influenced by the neurotransmitter dopamine.

I only want to add: This competent blogger has yet another blog, called Victoria Neuronotes. You should follow that blog too.

NeuroNotes

| 1K pharm  |  Dopamine is a small molecule. Nothing too complicated really. Two neighboring hydroxy groups on a benzene ring with an amino group just around the corner. But, oh! What a molecule. It is a neurotransmitter produced in various parts of the brain and has five known target receptors. According to the Wikipedia entry for the compound: “Its main function as a hormone is to inhibit the release of prolactin from the anterior lobe of the pituitary.” But, that belies a whole host of issues for which dopamine is responsible. Dopamine, after all, has a role to play in behavior and cognition, in voluntary movement, in motivation, in our level of concentration, working memory, learning, sleep patterns, our moods, sexual gratification, punishment, and, of course, reward.

Reward

We all know it when we receive it. It’s that most pleasurable feeling, that emotion that drives us…

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About woo-ism, psychiatric symptoms and immune system disturbances

Autoimmune and inflammatory activities in the brain seem to be linked with psychiatric symptoms. Have a look at this article: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/10/25/451169292/could-depression-be-caused-by-an-infection

I even suspect there may be a positive correlation between woo-ism (believing woo experiences must be true/genuine/real phenomena PLUS also displaying a higher disposition towards experiencing such paranormal – and psychic – phenomena).

It’s undeniable that there exists an overlap between mental and physical illness. They have many symptoms in common.

Furthermore, lately researchers have detected a network of vessels that seem to be able to directly connect the brain with the immune system, so it’s not farfetched to assume that neuroinflammatory and/or neurodegenerative diseases are associated with immune system dysfunction.

For details, see: http://www.nature.com/articles/nature14432.epdf?referrer_access_token=M_gEqyTF4woL1TO0pPtt_dRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0PP9svrp_06Oir1YyDWe7ejvVLL2VbrH_EwNtYJfrQFs76c429WdrHUa3kC6-ROdf0a_sf0Wq3y-_lXvDuWqqE81teEmgu9jJgiCo644XrZpoQFLHRhQL_oQbZPSnuILCbsmK4rEXRW91jKrI6Im8RIguooFs6WobJt6z2yuX7A2pJD0k4VDG0jAeie6V4PmjIrmox96-6NYWQfQMxCVLxb&tracking_referrer=www.npr.org .

There are also many indications that stressors of any kind, especially in childhood, can activate our immune system. A hyperactive immune system alarm goes hand in hand with autoimmune diseases. And woo believers are known to have more autoimmune disorder diagnoses than non-woo believers.

Examples of such stressors are physical abuse, sexual abuse, feelings of neglect and grief, nutritional deficiencies, sleep deprivation, and much more. A childhood full of stressors like these might pave the ground for woo beliefs later on.

This finding is, in turn, completely compatible with the positive correlation between woo believers and mental disorders like depression, GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. And those diagnoses are, in turn, suspected to be caused, partly, by an infection that has activated the immune-inflammatory system of their bodies.

So it’s easy to imagine that both stressors (like those I just mentioned) and Infections during childhood – maybe already in the womb – might work in concert with genetics to make that individual (already as a fetus) sensitive to not only psychosocial factors but also to become prone to believe in, and experience, paranormal phenomena.

BTW, Here’s a book I can recommend to all those interested in the woo-personality traits: http://www.davidritchey-author.com/hoa.htm .

The author David Ritchey summarizes his findings here: http://www.davidritchey-author.com/hoa-findings.htm . The following six points are listed (especially point #5 is of extra interest here):

1. Various factors including Biology (“nature”), Trauma and Abuse (“nurture”) and Temperament Type Preferences (“personality”) can predispose an individual to be an Anomalously Sensitive Person (ASP).

2. If an individual is anomalously sensitive in one realm (the “Physiological,” for example), s/he is very likely to be anomalously sensitive in the other realms (“Cognitive,” “Emotional,” “Altered States of Consciousness” and “Transpersonal Experiences”) as well.

3. The Anomalously Sensitive Person is likely to: be female, be hypopigmented (blond hair/blue eyes), be Non-Right-Handed (left-handed or ambidextrous), be artists, be born as one of a set of twins/triplets/etc. and have an other-than-conventionally heterosexual sexual orientation.

4. The Anomalously Sensitive Person is likely to: have an Introverted (rather than Extraverted) Orientation, have a preference for an Intuitive (rather than Sensate) mode of Perceiving and have a preference for a Feeling (rather than Thinking) mode of Judging.

5. The Anomalously Sensitive Person is likely to: have unusually sensitive immune systems, be highly reactive/responsive to sensory stimuli, exhibit learning/attention styles that differ from the norm, be very attuned to the emotions of both themselves and others, be especially facile at accessing Altered States of Consciousness and to frequently have Transpersonal (“metaphysical,” “paranormal,” “psychic”) Experiences.

6. The HISS data support the position of those negativists who hold that anomalous sensitivity is indicative of temporo-limbic epilepsy. The HISS data also support the position of those positivists who hold that anomalous sensitivity is indicative of kundalini arousal. The HISS data also support those who have no position and hold that anomalous sensitivity is indicative of anomalous sensitivity.

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A common non sequitur

A blog post containing good examples of illogical conclusions so easily drawn by woos and others using the magical & religious thought processing system in our brains (a.k.a. IPS #1, the Information Processing System #1; for details, see https://bbnewsblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/the-two-information-processing-systems-ipss-in-your-brain-one-is-woo-ish-the-other-is-rational/ ).

Skeptical Exaddict

Recently I found an interesting non sequitur posed to an “atheist and freethinkers” Facebook group I belong to. Interesting because it’s an argument I’ve seen before. I commented that it was a non sequitur, and the OP didn’t know what that is. (Neither did I until recently, but Google is my friend.)

So what is a non sequitur? It’s Latin for “does not follow”. Very simply, it’s a bad logical argument where a conclusion is drawn that is not derived from the arguments presented. There are many different kinds of logical fallacies that result in non sequitur statements, but they do seem to follow a basic pattern, which is that some inference happens between the arguments and the conclusion; there’s a disconnect and some sort of implicit assumption going on, which is unstated.

For example: The sky is blue. My pen is blue. Conclusion: Who wrote the sky?

See…

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Meth-induced voices in your head start with pareidolia

Interesting information – and facts – about, for instance, hearing voices, pareidolia, apophenia and EVP.

Also about the link between changed dopamine levels (mostly higher levels) in some parts of your brain and proneness to experiencing and believing in woo bullshit, spiritual beings and so on.

Skeptical Exaddict

I’ve never written about this topic on this blog, although it was a frequent subject on my old blog. Maybe it’s time…

This subject is fascinating to me now, though it wasn’t always that way. In active addiction it was scary. It was something that I lived with for a few years, but what I find most interesting is how it started.

Firstly, you need to know what pareidoloia is. It’s defined as seeing patterns where none exist, and while that explains it technically, it doesn’t really make it clear what the psychological phenomenon actually is. Visual pareidolia is when we think we see shapes like faces in inanimate objects, like Jesus on a piece of toast, or a face on Mars.

But pareidolia is also when we think we hear voices or recognisable sounds through white noise. An example of the less well known auditory pareidolia is when…

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Words Can Literally Change Your Brain & Perception Of Reality

A little while ago I wrote this post on my own blog: https://bbnewsblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/14/magical-thinking-springs-up-everywhere-and-language-is-its-accomplice-how-language-can-and-does-deceive-us/ .

Now I notice that also my knowledgeable cyberfriend Victoria Neuronotes has written a post about how words literally can change the brain wirings and the way we perceive and interpret what is going on in the world (called reality) we all live in.

Not only are words able to offend or encourage, they also deceive and prime our brains. They influence our salience, that is our (mostly) unconscious need/habit to decide (also unconsciously) what is more valuable – or less valuable – to us.

Words also contribute to make us more biased. Especially religious people are very good at paraphrasing. That’s why they so easily can worship a God like the Abrahamic evil and punishing God and even claim, in a spirit of ecumenical and monotheistic understanding, that the God of the Muslims, Jews and Christians actually is the same God – a claim that is logically false. (Also consider the difference between monotheism and monolatrism/monolatry, where monolatrism is the recognition of the existence of many gods, but with the consistent worship of only one of all these deities, while monotheism is the doctrine or belief that there is only one real and true God.)

Victoria NeuroNotes

In 2011, on New Year’s Eve, I started thinking about all the years I spent in church listening to preachers talk dirt about humanity. I recalled the years I had a negative self-image. I knew why.

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How smells can influence and bias your mind (not only the smell of fear). Why ghost believers and ghost busters often have scary feelings.

Your brain is able to literally smell the sense of fear. It’s not a sixth sense. Nothing paranormal or supernatural at all.

Instead, this unconscious ability can help explain, for example, why ghost believers, if being in the same allegedly haunted house, often trigger each other to share the same spooky experience. 

As a matter of fact, the smell of fear is very contagious (cf. the mass hysteria phenomenon, in which a large group of people exhibit the same state of mental agitation). 

In many animals this ability to smell the chemicals of fear is pretty advanced. Just think of dogs who nowadays are trained for detecting cancer, bomb chemicals, truffle, dope – you name it. 

It’s all about the vomeronasal organ (VNO), an auxillary olfactory organ located in the brain. The VNO contains sensory neurons specialized to detect chemical stimuli. These neurons target the amygdala, the brain’s fear center. 

The vomeronasal system is important for reproduction and social behavior (think of pheromones, chemical substances secreted externally in order to influence the physiology and behavior of others belonging to the same species). 

The presence of a VNO structure in adult human beings is still debated, expecially how functional such a VNO in adult human beings might be. For details, have a look at this paper: http://chemse.oxfordjournals.org/content/26/4/433.full . 

Here’s a quote from the abstract: [There are] conflicting evidence for and against human VNO function but chemical communication does appear to occur among humans. However, several examples reported in the literature do not meet the proposed definition for communication by pheromones: ‘chemical substances released by one member of a species as communication with another member, to their mutual benefit’.

And here are three more articles about this interesting topic: 1) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/3545435/The-smell-of-fear-is-real-claim-scientists.html  (Title: The smell of fear is real, claim scientists); 2) http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2015/10/20/4333431.htm (Title: Sharing the scent of fear); and 3) http://www.livescience.com/24578-humans-smell-fear.html (Title: Humans smell fear, and it’s contagious). 

Many woos are convinced that they can detect paranormal scents. For instance the scent of a ghost. Here is one of the best articles I’ve found on that matter:  http://www.assap.ac.uk/newsite/articles/Paranormal%20smells.html (Title Paranormal smells). Highly recommendable reading! 

Among the bizarre olfactory phenomena mentioned in that article are phantom smells, for example phantosmia. This is a form of olfactory hallucination, i.e. the perception of a smell in the absence of any physical odors.

If there is a misinterpretation of an existent physical stimulus,the proper medical term is parosmia. Such olfactory dysfunctions (a.k.a. dysomias) are characterized by the inability of the brain to properly identify an odor’s “natural” smell. 

These distortions of smell are not as common as phantom smells, but parosmia is still something that must be taken into consideration whenever a certain odor is associated with a haunting. 

Among ghost hunters a well-known sub-category of parosmia is known as troposmia or cacosmia. 
 
What then happens in the ghosthunter’s brain is that the natural odor is transcribed into what is most often described as an unpleasant aroma, typically a burned, rotting, fecal, or chemical (like sulphurous) smell. (So its not a totally odd idea to believe some ghost “souls” seemingly must have been dwelling in Hell before returning to the surface of Earth in order to pay us a visit.) 
 
Nevertheless, sometimes there might instead be instances of pleasant scents. so-called euosmia (which perhaps may induce thoughts of an afterlife in Heaven).
 
Because foul odors are so easily associated with negative hauntings, falsely smelling a foul odor may cause a bias in perception of a haunting.
 
Smells are known to become trapped in fabrics, wooden structures, even masonry and so on. The scent ions may be released years later, if the right humidity, temperatures, or barometric pressures are at hand. 
 
So, just to summarize: Neither conscious nor unconscious odors are proof of any ghost activity. But smells are able to influence and bias your mind, especially if you are a woo that has primed your brain to process information in a magical and religious way by clinging to the intuitive, illogical and preposterous information processing system a.k.a. IPS #1, the way a child’s mind is processing information. For more details, see:  https://bbnewsblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/the-two-information-processing-systems-ipss-in-your-brain-one-is-woo-ish-the-other-is-rational/ .

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A paper showing a link between belief in gods and intolerance of strangers (outside your own group). LESS belief in gods equals MORE tolerant behavior towards strangers (immigrants).

By directing magnetic force – so-called TMS, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation – towards the posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC) of the brain, scientists from the University of York have found a relatively strong link between religious faith and intolerance. Anyone surprised?

The targeted region of the brain is associated with detecting and solving problems that threaten the individual’s security. The threat in this study was being reminded of death and mortality. Thinking of death and mortality normally lead to stronger beliefs in divine beings and afterlife.

But after the targeted brain region – pMFC – was temporarily shut down, the subjects were instead less inclined to reach for comforting religious ideas. In fact, they reported 32.8 per cent less belief in God, angels, or heaven after having their pMFC turned down! And at the same time they were also 28.5 per cent more positive in their feelings towards an immigrant who before the TMS treatment had criticised and derogated their native country.

The explanation? People often turn to ideology when they are confronted by problems. That is, they embrace – by trial and error learning and/or priming – a system of ideas and ideals, and this system then becomes their primary tool to reduce the fear factor (anxiety)  in their lives. Individuals of the same group (community) often learn from each other how to handle what causes fear and/or anxiety (in this case initiated by worry of death/mortality).

So belief in divine beings – as well as intolerance towards strangers threatening the harmony witihin a group of people – can be seen as a spin-off effect from ordinary problem solving. 

Read more about this interesting experiment here: http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/09/03/scan.nsv107.abstract (or here: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/0kj9w0km#page-1 ).

Finally the abstract:


People cleave to ideological convictions with greater intensity in the aftermath of threat.
The posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC) plays a key role in both detecting discrepancies between desired and current conditions and adjusting subsequent behavior to resolve such conflicts.Building on prior literature examining the role of the pMFC in shifts in relatively low-level decision processes, we demonstrate that the pMFC mediates adjustments in adherence to political and religious ideologies.

We presented participants with a reminder of death and a critique of their in-group ostensibly written by a member of an out-group, then experimentally decreased both avowed belief in God and out-group derogation by down-regulating pMFC activity via transcranial magnetic stimulation.

The results provide the first evidence that group prejudice and religious belief are susceptible to targeted neuromodulation, and point to a shared cognitive mechanism underlying concrete and abstract decision processes.

We discuss the implications of these findings for further research characterizing the cognitive and affective mechanisms at play.

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Magical thinking springs up everywhere, and language is its accomplice. How language can and does deceive us.  

The human language came into existence with the help of the more primitive intuitive information processing system in our brains, the one that is specialized in, and focused on, magical and religious (bullshit) thinking. For details, see this blog post, https://bbnewsblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/the-two-information-processing-systems-ipss-in-your-brain-one-is-woo-ish-the-other-is-rational/ ; and read this Wikipedia article,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_thinking .

Magical thinking springs up everywhere. The phenomenon is in a way related to pareidoiia, our tendency to see human faces in patterns created by mould fungi or tree stumps, (see: http://www.livescience.com/25448-pareidolia.html ).

Emotional stress and events of personal significance push us strongly toward magical meaning-making.

Another important factor is time – or rather lack of time.

The IPS #1 is much faster than the rational and logical IPS #2 system. So if you are in a lack of time – i.e. when you have to make a quick decision – you tend to prefer teleological conclusions instead of more critical and questioning ones. If you can’t detect any visible cause, your IPS #1 has no problem inventing HCAs, Hidden Causal Agents. Cf. the invention of imaginary playmates in childhood or the creation of more or less omnipotent and omniscient divine beings in adulthood.

Our language is strongly influenced by the supposed – or at least presupposed – existence of HCAs. We use verbs that dupe us to think teleologically.

Let’s think of, for example, the verb “create”. Here are some synonyms: breed, bring about, build, cause, construct, contribute to, design, develop, engender, establish, fabricate, form, foster, generate, give rise to, initiate, launch, lead to, make, produce, promote, result in, set up, shape, sow the seeds of – need I mention any more?

Questions starting with a HOW, a WHAT or, above all, a WHY likewise prime your brain to think teleologically.

And, my third and last example, think of word constructions like “(in order) to”, meaning “used as a means of achieving a specified end/goal”.

If you don’t see my point by now, you must be blind on both eyes. 🙂 .

So no wonder we are ALL primed to think teleologically.

You can test yourself by pondering this simple sentence: “The sun is shining today and I feel warm.”

This sentence implies that the sun has – or at least may have – the intention, the purpose, to make me feel warm.

From there the next step can easily be to begin thinking of somewhat – or someone – that can explain WHY I feel a warming effect of the sunshine. For example a  divine being caring for me.

That’s the story behind Hidden Causal Agents that are created by your mind, with the help of magical and religious IPS #1 in your brain.

After this rather long introduction it’s time to recommend my readers to have a look at this interesting analysis, a blog post written by one of the bloggers I follow regularly, Tom Rees:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/epiphenom/2015/10/a-world-by-design-even-atheists-intuitively-think-the-natural-world-has-a-designer.html .

Here is a quote from his article:

Research over the past few years has shown that many people intuitively think that things in the natural world exist for some ulterior purpose – almost as if they had been designed that way. We have a tendency to agree with statements such as ‘water condenses to moisten the air’, or ‘the sun shines in order to keep us warm’.

And finally, here are the conclusions of the study that Tom Rees is referring to:

[1] These data strongly support the idea that humans have a natural tendency to see the natural world as having a designer.

[2] Even more strikingly, they suggest that atheists are not naturally immune to these intuitions. Rather, they  teach themselves to actively overcome them!

I myself would like to add: And true believers teach themselves – on their own or by the help of a pastor – to actively prime their minds that there must be a Creator and a first cause of everything that happens.

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