Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Brain and Sodas, 3

The second study was published in Stroke in April of 2017. Here the researchers, using data only from the older Offspring cohort, looked specifically at whether participants had suffered a stroke or been diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. After measuring volunteers’ beverage intake at three points over seven years, the researchers then monitored the volunteers for 10 years, looking for evidence of stroke in 2,888 people over age 45, and dementia in 1,484 participants over age 60. They found that people who drank at least one diet soda per day were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia. Researcher Matthew Pase reportedly commented that it was somewhat surprising to discover that diet soda consumption led to these outcomes. He added that scientists have put forth various hypotheses about how artificial sweeteners may cause harm, from transforming gut bacteria to altering the brain’s perception of “sweet,” but “we need more work to figure out the underlying mechanisms.”

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Brain and Sodas, 2

The first study was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia in March of 2017. Researchers examined data, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and cognitive testing results, from about 4,000 people enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study’s Offspring and Third-Generation cohorts (children and grandchildren of the original FHS volunteers enrolled in 1948.) They looked at people who consumed more than two sugary drinks a day of any type (soda, fruit juice, and other soft drinks) or more than three per week of soda alone. Among that “high intake” group, they found multiple signs of accelerated brain aging, including smaller overall brain volume, poorer episodic memory, and a shrunken hippocampus, all risk factors for early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. You may recall that the hippocampus, often called the brain’s search engine, plays a part in transferring memories from short to long term storage in the brain and in the retrieval of those memories. More tomorrow.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Brain and Sodas

It seems that the average person has had a difficult time with internalizing study data that have linked consumption of sodas not only with weight gain but also with an increased risk of disease processes such as diabetes. And a subset appears to believe that if they just use diet sodas, they are home free. There’s an old saying that a brain convinced against its will is of the same opinion still, so I have no agenda for convincing a brain that water is the best bet for a beverage of choice for optimum brain function. However, data just released from two studies at Boston University, USA, links soda consumption with brain problems—and that has definitely caught my brain’s attention. Sudha Seshadri, a professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine (MED), a faculty member at Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, and senior author on both papers, has been quoted as saying: “It looks like there is not very much of an upside to having sugary drinks, and substituting the sugar with artificial sweeteners doesn’t seem to help.” More tomorrow.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Abstractive Function

The brain function of abstraction is one of the cognitive functions are believed to work in conjunction with many other neural processes to create your belief systems (among other things). Abstraction acts as a doorway between direct perception and consciousness, for humans depend on concepts, labels, and words to shape their awareness. This is problematic when it comes to spiritual matters, which, by definition, refer to realms that have no physical reality. Newberg points out that young children can form categories for concrete objects, but they have enormous difficulties with abstract concepts such as freedom, fairness, right and wrong, or God. The brain transforms reality into abstract categories and labels, and these labels are intangible beliefs, assumptions about a world that cannot be directly perceived. In this sense, labels, beliefs, and reality are one and the same. If an ability to abstract is lost, the individual likely will end up living in a state of perpetual confusion, unable to navigate in the world, and unable to form beliefs.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Prayer and the Brain

In most forms of prayer/meditation, the practitioner has a purpose (e.g., to calm the mind, to become more mindfully aware, to experience God or a spiritual event). Newberg said the act of prayer is a problem-solving device, designed to consciously explore a spiritual perspective or belief and to integrate that awareness into daily life. This requires increased activity in the attention area of the brain. Brain scans have shown activation of the frontal lobes, especially the prefrontal cortex just above the eyes, during prayer and meditation. In addition, activity in the parietal lobes (that interpret sensory information to create a three-dimensional representation of one’s surroundings) becomes deactivated, allowing one to become more connected with the object of his/her attention. Quantifying the world is so important to brain function that it even impacts religious rituals. For example, recommendations are for Hindus to pray three times a day, Muslims five times a day, Roman Catholics seven times a day, and an orthodox Jew one hundred times a day.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Senses & the Brain

Do you remember the old question: If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound if no one is present? I was reading a book by Newberg and Waldman entitled Why We Believe What We Believe, and came across a couple interesting comments. Music is a neural interpretation of sound. Color is a neural interpretation of light—and to the brain color is primarily a subjective experience. There is no neural receptor that distinguishes any gradation of gray. It, like many other colors the human brain imagines, is a belief construction within the brain—a form of understanding. A thought. This leads to the supposition that no two brains ever hear or see anything in identically the same way. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


A dream can be described as a succession of internal mental pictures or images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that typically occur involuntarily in the mind during specific stages of sleep, notably during rapid-eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. During REM, brain activity is high and resembles that of being awake. According to Wikipedia, the content and purpose of dreams are not fully understood, though they have been a topic of scientific speculation, as well as a subject of philosophical and religious interest, throughout recorded history. Dream interpretation is the attempt at drawing meaning from dreams and searching for an underlying message. The scientific study of dreams is called Oneirology.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Brain and Dreaming

As pointed out by Psychology Today, why we dream is still one of the behavioral sciences' greatest unanswered questions. Researchers have offered many theories—memory consolidation, emotional regulation, threat simulation—but consensus does not exist. Researchers say that the brain paralyzes the body during dreaming so it cannot physically respond. Dreams seem unreal only when we awake and a different system of belief—and reality—take over. Ilana Simons PhD has pointed out several theories for dreaming:

  • To practice responses to threatening situations
  • To create wisdom
  • To ‘defragment’ your brain’s hard drive
  • To engage in some psychotherapy

Friday, May 19, 2017

Aphorisms, 6

  • You need to take a bull by the horns—as long as you’re a knowledgeable bull fighter
  • You're never too old to learn—that you’d be better off if you’d been learning all along
  • You can’t fix stupid in anyone but yourself
  • Straddling two boats definitely increases your risk of getting wet—unless the boats are in dry dock
  • Why is it that when a dog bites a person it’s not news, but when a person bites a dog, it is?
  • Old habits die hard
  • Once bitten, twice shy
  • Opportunity never knocks twice—typically others grasp the ones you missed or walk through the door that you ignored
  • Opposites attract
  • Out of sight, out of mind, but not necessarily out of danger

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Animals and Feelings

Dolphins have a paralimbic lobe that the human brain does not possess, an area associated with the capacity for elaborate social communication and emotions relating to maternal feelings and separation anxiety. Emotional responses become more limited in simpler animals. Most researchers, for example limit nonhuman mammalian emotions to anger, fear, loneliness, and joy. Among reptilian species, emotions seem limited to primitive fight-or flight reactions. According to the author of If Dogs Could Talk, many animals that humans eat on Memorial or Remembrance Day, Xmas, and other national holidays, are capable of feeling anger, sadness, depression, and affection. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Children and Beliefs

Children use storytelling to help them organize thoughts and feelings about the world. The most important stories are those that incorporate cultural and religious myths. By identifying with the characters in the stories, young children vicariously experience moral conflicts and solutions that will have great relevance later in life. Adult belief systems, especially those concerning religion and spirituality, contain significant remnants of the stories these adults heard and read while growing up. Extensive research by Altemeyer and Hunsberger showed that children who grow up in fundamentalist families tend to obey authorities and follow rules. However, they also tend to be self-righteous, prejudicial, and condemnatory toward people outside their group. They tend to develop an ‘us versus them’ mentality that many maintain throughout life. The studies also pointed out that fundamentalist congregations tend to experience a 50 percent dropout rate among members over time.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Frontal Lobes and Feelings

Powerful feelings (that tend to be created in the frontal lobes) tend to suppress activity in those same frontal lobes, which contain executive functions such as planning, paying attention, making decisions, choosing, morality, creating one’s feelings, and so on. This reaction form allows more primitive fight-or flight reactions of the limbic system to dominate. On the other hand, acts of forgiveness stimulate frontal-lobe circuits that are associated with compassionate beliefs, which in turn reduce activity of amygdalae in the limbic system associated with anger and fear. Note: Humans are much more likely to mete out a harsh punishment when angry compared with actions taken when feelings of compassion or sadness predominate. Unfortunately, angry decision makers react instinctually and aggressively, with unrealistic optimism and overconfidence in the rightness of their own actions.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Emotions and Belief, 2

Powerful emotions create strong memories; and memories, when coupled with language, are the basis for forming conscious beliefs. This level of belief is what we often call ‘knowledge’, but if it doesn’t have an emotional appeal, the belief will not register deeply in a person’s mind. The hippocampus, often dubbed the brain’s search engine, utilizes emotions to help establish long-term memory. Very emotional events tend to be written into memory more strongly than nonemotional events. Memories are affected by stress. Studies at Yale concluded that the neuropeptides and neurotransmitters released during stress can alter the functioning of areas of the brain directly involved with memory formation and recall. This may interfere with the laying down of memory traces for incidents of childhood abuse, and may possibly lead to long-term distortions for the facts, or even amnesia.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Emotions and Belief

Some say, "If I didn't have to deal with emotions my life would be so much smoother." Perhaps but you would likely not have energy to accomplish much in life. Emotions function as energy sources. Without an energy source an analog or digital clock would not show the time. Turns out that emotions are also essential for making moral and ethical decisions. Emotions bind your perceptions to your conscious beliefs, making whatever you are thinking about seem more real at the time. In addition, strong emotions (particularly anger, fear, and passion) can radically alter your perceptions of reality. Many beliefs, including moral beliefs, can be easily altered by authoritarian and peer-group pressure. The two most significant factors in undermining individual morality are group conformity and the power of authority to override personal objections and doubts. Controversial psychology experiments in 1963 by Stanley Milgram imply that with increased intimacy, physical or verbal, people will treat each other with greater compassion and respect.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Reductionist Thinking

Reductionist thinking is another of the six cognitive functions that are believed to work in conjunction with many other neural processes to create (among other things) a person’s belief systems. As compared with holistic thinking, reductionist thinking attempts to reduce the whole to its parts in an effort to make the world seem more comprehensible and manageable. The left hemisphere appears to carry out primarily reductionist thinking. But the beliefs they generate can give one only a partial view of reality. If taken to the extremes, you can become so absorbed in details that you forget about the larger world and fail to see the forest because of the trees. Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, for example, reflect an overly reductionist brain. Lost in a labyrinth of details, and in order to control the resulting anxiety, patients resort to complex rituals designed to organize and control chaotic feelings and thoughts. They often develop rigid systems of beliefs, which essentially act as a defense mechanism to prevent them from being overwhelmed. The human brain is capable of both holistic and reductionist thinking but not at the same time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Holistic Thinking

Holistic thinking is one of six cognitive functions that are believed to work in conjunction with many other neural processes to create (among other things) a person’s belief systems. The right hemisphere is primarily involved in holistic representations, perceiving how things are connected into a whole. For example, facial recognition relies heavily on holistic processing. Holistic functions are not language based and so are more difficult to define or communicate. Spiritual experiences seem to rely on the brain’s holistic functions. Individuals often define spiritual experiences in broad, sweeping, poorly defined terms (e.g., enlightenment, transcendence) rather than more definite and precise terms—remember that language is believed primarily housed in the left hemisphere regardless of handedness. When holistic processing predominates, one consciously does not feel a very strong need to analyze, compare, quantify, or justify one’s perceptions or beliefs. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Cognitive Functions

Several cognitive functions are believed to work in conjunction with many other neural processes to create your belief systems (among other things). Those six cognitive functions are:

  • Abstractive - dealing with ideas rather than events
  • Quantitative – measuring by the quantity of something rather than its quality
  • Cause-and-effect – a relationship between actions or events in that one or more events result from the action or actions (some say that for every action there is a reaction, some being more obvious than others)
  • Dualistic-oppositional- a perspective that two concepts, ideas, beliefs, perspectives, or things are polar opposites or antonyms of each other
  • Reductionist - reducing the whole to its parts in an attempt to make the world seem more comprehensible
  • Holistic - perceiving how things are connected into a whole

Monday, May 8, 2017

Brain and Cognition

Cognition can be described as the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses ( It encompasses processes such as knowledge, attention, short- and long-term memory, working memory, judgment, evaluation, reasoning, computation, problem solving, decision making, comprehension, the production of language, etc.. Human cognition is conscious and unconscious, concrete or abstract, as well as intuitive (as in the knowledge of a language) and conceptual (as in a descriptive model of a language). Cognitive processes use existing knowledge and generate new knowledge. Thus they are key to ‘high-level critical’ thinking, learning, and turning information into knowledge. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Aphorisms, 5

  • All play and no work makes Jack a dumb boy.
  • As the twig is bent, so the tree inclines
  • Be brave enough to disengage from those who do not respect and affirm you
  • Beware of women who advertise their age--a woman who reveals her age is capable of anything.
  • Children should be seen and not heard—in a restaurant.
  • Fire only when you see the whites of their eyes.
  • Never foul your own nest
  • Do the quality of work during the day that allows you to sleep at night
  • Know thyself—so you won’t mistake yourself for someone else
  • Know on which side your bread is buttered

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Power of Beliefs

According to Newberg and Waldman, beliefs shape personal behaviors and spiritual ethics throughout life, governing nearly every aspect of life. They are our most important human commodity and help people flourish and survive. They can also be used to suppress others and justify immoral or sadistic acts. They can also connect one with transcendent dimensions of experience, and give inspiration and hope, essential tools for confronting moments of confusion and doubt. They help people build civilizations, make revolutions, create music and art, determine our relationship to the cosmos, makes us fall in love and drive us into hate. Once beliefs are established, their validity is rarely challenged even when the person is faced with contradictory evidence. The brain is instinctually prone to reject information that does not conform to one’s prior experience and knowledge. It has a propensity to reject any belief that is not in accord with one’s own view. The human brain can alter its system of beliefs far more rapidly than that of any other organism on the planet.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Belief, 5

A child’s perceptual and cognitive evaluations of people’s moods and feelings are often different from those of an adult. Childhood memories and beliefs turn out to be particularly inaccurate and can be easily influenced—even falsified—by other people. Because they’ve been repeated and reinforced over many years, however, those memories are often the least likely to be modified or rejected as a result of later experiences and beliefs. The power of emotion can turn fantasy into a supposed fact. False memories are more difficult to dismiss, perhaps because the dissonance between fact and fiction causes a stronger emotional reaction within the limbic areas, which in turn interfere with one’s ability to use logic and reason in evaluation beliefs about the world. The more traumatic an event, the more likely the victim is to construct beliefs that border on the bizarre.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Belief, 4

The memory of the sense of one’s body becomes so ingrained in the neural circuits governing self-experience that the brain has difficulty reorganizing itself after a crippling accident or stroke. If painful enough, the person may not be able to accept the truth. A false belief can be constructed, triggering an emotional memory that feels utterly present and real (e.g., man with phantom erections after penis removal; person ‘sees’ fat on their body where there is none in anorexia nervosa). fMRI scans showed that the sensory motor areas of the body do not distinguish between imaginary and actual images and activities. Human beings have a great capacity for sticking to false beliefs with great passion and tenacity. According to Dr Bruce Lipton, even-rational scientists are not immune.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Belief, 3

Any intense experience, if maintained for more than half an hour, can leave permanent changes in the neural circuits involving emotion and memory. If the experience is frightening, the memory can continue to traumatize the individual for year. Brain-scan studies find that it takes less than one second for a word or a phase to trigger an emotional reaction in your brain. Negative states stimulate intensive limbic activity, and this causes the hippocampus to embed it into long-term emotional memory. Pleasant experiences do not trigger as strong a reactions and therefore are harder to recall than unpleasant ones. The more you obsess on a specific feeling, the more real I will appear to be. Newberg and Waldman suggest it is important to be careful what you pray for, meditate on, or obsess about, because it may eventually become your personal truth.