A Brief Introduction to Positive Psychology

The blog post briefly introduces you to positive psychology. You can instantly start practicing it by following a few methods suggested in the blog and enjoy the benefits.

Positive psychology is an emerging subfield in psychology that has been prevalent since its development in 1998 by Martin Seligman. Results from the meta-analysis show that positive psychology interventions in one’s life would improve subjective and psychological well-being, besides reducing depressive symptoms.

In this article, let’s look at what positive psychology is and the benefits it offers.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is the study of the factors that let people live fulfilling lives. Optimizing thoughts, feelings, and behavior for a better life is its key focus. It differs from following the assumptions of the disease model–which concentrates on mental illness–by giving as much attention to the positive attributes of life.

Positive psychology began when Seligman didn’t like psychology fixating on the negatives, like mental illness, trauma, suffering, and others. Becoming president of the American Psychological Association (APA), he started a new subfield of psychology that also emphasize the positives. Positive psychology thus centers on positive experiences and traits, including, joy, love, happiness, gratitude, and compassion.

According to Seligman, positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments (often known as PERMA) are the five elements essential for happiness and well-being. Positive psychology aims to define and pivot on these five factors to maximize its benefits.

A simple way to adopt positive psychology into one’s life would be by writing a gratitude journal. Elaborately writing what we are grateful for would immediately boost happiness. Being kind and helping others when possible is another way. Overall, having an optimistic view of life and the future will help us maintain positive emotions.

What are the Benefits of Positive Psychology?

We can broadly classify the benefits of positive psychology into two categories: happiness and better engagement.

1. Happiness

Happiness increases as people are in a positive, optimistic state. Rather than dwelling on negatives, they can embark on meaningful things that make them happy, and they will be keen to solve problems than vent. As people become more kind, generous, and confident, their relationships with others and society improve, leading them to have a greater outlook on life.

2. Better Engagement

Positive psychology includes narrowing our attention down to our strengths. We become resourceful and perform better if we work on what we are good at. By doing this, we can enter a mental state of “flow” where we fully immerse in what we do or be in the zone.

It makes us resilient and improves our ability to deal with challenges. We can lead a peaceful, purposeful life by attaining fulfillment from meaningful accomplishments.

A Bit of Optimism and Gratitude

So far, we’ve answered the question: what is positive psychology? And we looked at some relevant benefits. Living in a world that seems to have endless bad news in store, imbibing a bit of optimism and gratitude is not a bad idea. Along with working on things that improve our life, it can positively affect the overall quality of our lives.

5 Key Figures of Eastern Philosophy

Eastern philosophy is a collection of philosophies developed in East and South Asia. It includes Buddhism, Yogic philosophy, Vedanta, Taoism, and others. These philosophies are less concerned with rituals and revolve around understanding our relationship with the universe.

Eastern philosophy is a collection of philosophies developed in East and South Asia. It includes Buddhism, Yogic philosophy, Vedanta, Taoism, and others. These philosophies are less concerned with rituals and revolve around understanding our relationship with the universe.

There are differences between Eastern and Western philosophy. While Western philosophy emphasizes individualism, collectivism is the focus of Eastern philosophy. Virtues are central to both systems.

In this article, let’s look at five of the key figures of Eastern philosophy and their origin. We’ll see when they were around and what their key teachings were about.

1. Patanjali

Patanjali was an ancient Indian sage who compiled and systemized the principles of meditation and yoga. While we know little about his era, but can estimate that he lived around the second century B.C. He wrote the Yoga Sutras, a short Sanskrit book from which the contemporary practice of yoga is founded.

The Yoga Sutras lays out ways to achieve a pure, illusion-free state of being, also known as Samadhi. It describes five social restraints and moral codes of yoga (Yamas). They are Ahimsa (non-violence), Asteya (non-stealing), Satya (truthfulness), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness), and brahmacharya (celibacy or fidelity). Patanjali defined yoga as the “restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.”

Ever since the beginning of the 20th century, yoga has become increasingly prevalent in the Western world. As of now, around 300 million people regularly practice yoga.

Yoga is a restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness

Patanjali

2. The Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama was born to a noble family in 563 BCE in present-day Nepal. He grew up in a palace and had a luxurious life. Later, he left the palace hoping to find spiritual enlightenment through overcoming life’s intrinsic suffering. In his search for answers, he finally attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya.

Buddhism is a philosophical tradition established on Gautama Buddha’s original teachings. The very fabric of Buddhist philosophy is that suffering (dukkha) is an inevitable part of human life.

This suffering is caused by self-centered cravings (tanha) and aversions. People suffer when they cannot attain what they crave or avoid what they dislike. Buddha says that to achieve Nirvana, one must overcome this perpetual cycle of craving and aversion.

Gautama Buddha taught Vipassana meditation, a mindful breathing and body awareness technique that emancipates practitioners from suffering through concentration and discipline. He emphasized Vipassana as a non-sectarian practice that anyone can practice regardless of their religious beliefs.

Being one of the largest “religions” in the world today, roughly 7% of the total population currently practices Buddhism.

3. Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer who lived in the 6th century BCE. He is considered the founder of Taoism. He was an older contemporary of Confucius and a record keeper in the court of the central Chinese Zhou Dynasty.

Lao Tzu is best known for writing the Taoist classic, the Tao Te Ching. It offers a rebellious spiritual philosophy based on an underlying unity of the universe. It says that one returns to the source of being by being simple in their thoughts and deeds.

Taoism is a religious or philosophical tradition that emphasizes living by following Tao. It can be further classified into religious and scholarly Taoism. According to Taoist philosophy, all living species should live in harmony with the universe and its natural vitality.

Chi or “qi” is the life-force energy that pervades and guides everything in the universe. In yoga, this energy is referred to as “prana” which can be modified through breathwork called “pranayama.”

While it’s been over 2500 since its origin, Taoism still has a large following, especially in China. Today, over 74 million people practice Taoism worldwide.

4. Confucius

Confucius was a Chinese philosopher born in 551 B.C in eastern China. He was one of the most influential Chinese sages and his teachings are still relevant in Chinese culture. He started his career as an official, working for aristocratic households in Lu. He later left the service and became a teacher.

Confucianism emphasizes personal, societal, and governmental morality. Its central premise of having a good moral character is essential to impact the collective environment and promote harmony in society. This stems from the belief that human beings are inherently good and capable of improvement.

The Analects” summarize his teachings and for many years served as the backbone of Chinese tradition. According to the Association of Religious Data (ARDA), there are still over 8 million official Confucianists in the world.

5. Bodhidharma

Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th and 6th centuries. He founded Zen Buddhism in China. Being originally from South India, he later became a Buddhist monk after a curious Chinese emperor summoned him to hear his teachings.

As the story goes, Bodhidharma encountered Buddhist monks in a Shaolin temple who were physically very weak. He stayed for nearly a decade, becoming a monk himself and teaching them how to cultivate physical health, ultimately improving their meditation.

Eastern Philosophy for a Modern World

Eastern philosophy broadly refers to the various schools of Asian thought. Among the most well-known are Buddhism, Yogic philosophy, Taoism, Zen, and Confucianism.

Meditation, self-mastery, and harmonious living are recurring themes in Eastern philosophy. Based on the lasting popularity of practices like Yoga and mindfulness in the West, it’s clear that these teachings have much to offer the modern world.

Vipassana Meditation: The Art of Living

Vipassana meditation is a technique of Buddhist meditation that can induce and facilitate transformative experiences for an individual. It carries with it a rich history of enlightening many people and being lost and found several times over. It is most famously known as the method of meditation that Gautama Buddha used when he became enlightened under the tree.

Vipassana meditation is a technique of Buddhist meditation that can induce and facilitate transformative experiences for an individual.

It carries with it a rich history of enlightening many people and being lost and found several times over. It is most famously known as the method of meditation that Gautama Buddha used when he became enlightened under the tree.

The aim of the technique is to liberate oneself from the suffering that Buddhists claim to be intrinsic in life, to be able to remain objective in the face of physical and mental pain and to generate compassion for all living beings through loving-kindness meditation.

Perhaps, you’ve heard about Vipassana before but are not really sure what exactly it entails. Keep reading, we are going to go into detail about the history, the philosophy, and the technique itself.

We are also going to tell the story of S.N. Goenka, the man who made it possible for people everywhere to learn this technique for free at Vipassana meditation retreat centres around the world.

vipassana meditation

The History of Vipassana Meditation

The word ‘vipassana’ literally means ‘bare sight’ or ‘to see things as they really are’. It is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It is said to have existed long before Gautama the Buddha or Siddhartha Gautama himself, who live from the fifth to the fourth century BCE.

Gautama Buddha was revered as an enlightened being (Buddha) that rediscovered the technique and ancient path of training the mind to transcend craving and aversion. This path is also known as ‘Dhamma’ or ‘Dharma’.  

As the story goes, Siddhartha Gautama renounced his life as the son of aristocratic parents and dedicated himself to the path of enlightenment. Being utterly motivated to achieve enlightenment and understand the realm of pain, he sat beneath a tree and made a strong determination that he would not move until he became fully enlightened.

This tree, ‘the Bodhi Tree’ still stands today in Bihar, India, though its age is visible, and it is decaying at a steady pace, dying little by little each day.

So, at the age of 35 he became enlightened, and having experienced the wonderful fruits of Dhamma first-hand, he decided to dedicate his life to teaching the Vipassana technique to anyone who cared to learn. He spent the next 45 years of his life teaching the technique, and when he took his last breath at the age of 80, he was still teaching it to an eager individual at the side of his death bed.

Though Gautama Buddha is famously known as the founder of the Buddhist religion, he did not consider the technique of Vipassana a sectarian technique, which only devotees of Buddhism could learn. He considered it a universal technique of following the breath and observing oneself, that anyone, from any religion, group. or sect, could learn and benefit from.

Among his devotees were members of many religious groups, but suffering is a universal experience, and liberation a universal possibility.

S.N Goenka – The Rediscovery of Vipassana Meditation

S.N Goenka, also known to Vipassana old students as ‘Goenka Ji’ was a Burmese businessman. While religion was (and still is) a big part of Burmese life, he himself was not especially religious. Having grown up in a conservative Hindu household, he associated religion with the practice of rites, rituals, and devotion. After finding the Vipassana meditation technique, he renounced them, deeming them as unpractical and unhelpful.

S.N Goenka met Vipassana meditation in an unlikely way. As previously mentioned, he was a businessman, concerned primarily with material existence and success. At some point in his business career, he began having agonizing migraines.

He visited many doctors, even travelling the globe in search of one who could resolve his problem but found no answers. Many doctors suggested that his problems were of a psychosomatic nature, as none were able to find an alternative root cause for the pain he was enduring.

In desperation, and developing a dependence on morphine, which he used to combat the pain, he turned to a friend who advised him to try this technique of meditation.

At that time, Vipassana meditation had largely died out, but a small group of teachers in Myanmar were still teaching the tradition. This friend probed Goenka to try it, seeing as there were no other options, he decided to give it a go.

Like now, at the time, learning the Vipassana meditation technique involved going to a meditation retreat centre for 10-days to learn the technique from start to finish. Goenka, after two days of meditation, became frustrated and agitated.

He was convinced that this technique was not for him, discouraged by how difficult he found it to sit and meditate, he started to leave. As he was leaving a friend stopped him, appealing to his better nature, begging him to stay and finish what he has started.

In the end, he stayed and finished the retreat. Not only did his migraines, which were so terribly painful and persistent finally disappear, but he felt as though he has gained true insight into the nature of life. He felt cured, not only from his physical ills but from the psychological disturbances that caused them.

After that, he used the money he made in his career as a businessman to set up more centres like this one. He made it so that anyone who wanted to learn the technique could come to do so for free, as the centres worked purely on a donation-based system.

Vipassana Meditation Today – The Silent Meditation Retreat

Today, thanks to the initial efforts of S.N Goenka, there are many of these Vipassana meditation centres around the world.

A Vipassana meditation retreat consists of spending ten days in noble silence, foregoing all contact with the outside world, all forms of entertainment, speech, and anything else you can think of.

The meditation schedule begins at four-thirty in the morning, with ten hours of meditation each day, for ten days.

Chicken Bone Broth – History, Benefits & How-to

Chicken bone broth has become one of the most sought after, talked about, and consumed foods in the health food industry. Considering the benefits of chicken bone broth, it seems fair to say that the hype is there for good reason. It is one of humanity’s most quintessential dishes and has withstood the test of time, passing it with flying colours.

When looking into the history of chicken bone broth one quickly finds that every corner of the globe has its own origin story to tell. It’s difficult to say with full certainty when and where it originated, but it doesn’t seem so unreasonable to presume that whoever has chickens might naturally come to the conclusion that they can be used in soups.

In this article we are going to discuss all things bone broth. We are interested in the different histories around bone broth, the health benefits of bone broth and about making the dish.

The History of Chicken Soup

One particular icon of chicken soup is Campbell’s canned chicken soup. Many people credit them for being the first to create the famous combination of chicken soup and noodles in 1934.

While I’m sure they played a part in popularizing it, probably with a very powerful marketing campaign, let be real here, they definitely didn’t create the combination. Let go through some of the most popular histories of chicken soup or chicken bone broth.

The ‘Jewish Penicillin’

Maimonides was a medieval Jewish philosopher who famously coined the term ‘Jewish penicillin’ for chicken soup. In his work, ‘On the Causes of Symptoms’, he credits chicken soup with healing powers for everything from asthma to leprosy. Chicken soup is still an essential dish in Jewish cuisine, along with many others.

Bone Broth in Chinese Medicine

Bone broth has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2500 years. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) bone broth is used to revitalize the kidneys and is said to nourish the vital force or Qi.

Bone Broth in Ancient Greece

Chicken bone broth was also popular in with the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates, the father of medicine often recommended it to people as an effective means of cleansing the digestive organs.

. . . .. and since prehistoric times

Throwing away any part of an animal would have been unconceivable to our hungry, prehistoric ancestors. Researchers have found evidence of humans storing bones to eat later as early as 420,000 years ago.

The Benefits of Bone Broth

As we have seen, bone broths have always been considered somehow medicinal. There many health benefits make them a wonderful dish for sick days.

1. Digestive Health

A good bone broth is one that has been simmering long enough, leeches collagen from the bones. If done successfully, it should turn into gelatine when refrigerated. As gelatine naturally attracts and holds water, it also binds to the water on the digestive tract. This helps with digestion and also combats ‘leaky gut’. Leaky gut

2. Great Nutritional Value of Bone Broth

Animal bones contain high amounts of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. They also contain other trace minerals that are necessary for keeping bones strong and healthy.

They also contain vitamins A & K2, zinc, iron, omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids. Last but not least, they also contain high amounts of collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body.

Collagen makes up 30% of all the protein in the human body. It’s responsible for maintaining healthy skin, bones, and joints. It also contributes to a strong immune system.

3. Easy-to-make

While making a good bone broth can be a long process, it’s quite effortless. If you’re working from home or have a safe way to slow cook while you sleep, you’ll barely even notice the process.

How to Make Bone Broth

While there may be any number of variations for making bone broth, with these basics you will be on your way to creating this historically famous and nutritionally beneficial dish.

  • Source Good Bones

In general, it’s recommended to use organic bones for your homemade bone broth. Not sourcing bones from grass-fed cows or pasture-raised chickens could mean risking toxic levels of lead in your broth.

  • Keep Vegetable Scraps

Don’t throw away your tomato stalks, the ends of celery, onion skins, and other parts of vegetables that are usually hard to use. Instead, keep them in a zip lock bag in the freezer until you’re ready to make your next bone broth.

  • Using Vinegar

Using vinegar in your bone broth helps to break down and leech out the collagen. This is arguably the most beneficial part of the bones, so don’t skip this step. We recommend using apple cider vinegar as it has a less offensive taste and comes with its own health benefits!

  • Cook Long, Cook Slow

When cooking your broth, remember that you are not trying to boil the hell out of the. You should keep it on a low simmer with small air bubbles cropping up from time to time.

The question of how long to cook bone broth for is debatable. Some people say 12 hours, some 24 and some even say 48 hours. In general, after about 7 – 12 hours you can generally be sure that your broth is high in those wonderful nutrients we spoke of.

Chicken bone broth is one of humanities most quintessential dishes. It has a rich history and is equally rich in nutritional value. It’s easy to make, cost-effective and simply wonderful. If you haven’t yet, give it a try!

A Short Excerpt from my ‘Thoughtful Review of Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning”

One of the profound insights that are offered to readers in Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is the experience of an incredible perspective shift as to the nature and quality of one’s life.

Consider that we are preoccupied with the contents of our existence, our work schedule, daily goals, life goals, past achievements, future plans, the clothes we wear, our hairstyle, our diets, our visual shape, too much fat here, too little muscle there. Alongside those mental lyrics are floating notions of the people in our lives, the quality of our relationships, partners, parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances, people who mean literally nothing to us, people we find distasteful and maybe even enemies. We further occupy ourselves with thoughts of status, money, worldly achievements, who we will remain to be when death strikes the final blow. Did we fulfill the fairy tale of glory?

By contrast, there is this reality of concentration camps, monuments of the physical torture and psychological torment that human beings inflict upon each other. Within concrete walls are genuine sadist savouring pain, starvation, infectious rotting bodies stacking up and decomposing within constant sight and reach, glaring neon evil looming over sick, dying, traumatized human creatures in every second of every day.

Such things, we never even consider might enter the landscape of our own lives, except for in the vaguest ways, such as an occasional violent and intrusive thought. Yet, they offer us the rare opportunity to reconsider our lives through the lens of a cold and brutal light. A light that subsequently transforms itself into a glow of infinite warmth and appreciation. It highlights, by means of stark contrast, the things which are so beautiful to us and in the constant reach of our immediate environment.  

In exchange for a degree of mental and emotional sensitivity ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ gives readers the gift of finding eternal bliss within one’s grasp. Reading Frankl’s story and thesis, I found myself pondering whether it is perhaps only by a certain depth of processing that sensitivity is present. The sensitivity to temporarily sacrifice a portion of comfort to try to viscerally realize the horror of such stories.

Contrastingly, Frankl illustrates instances of how an inner function of sensitivity enriched life within the concentration camps.

He states, ‘In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen. Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom’.

Episode 2 – Psychedelics, Science & Spirituality

Marion Gildea is a Master’s research intern in the field of Psychedelic Medicine at Imperial College London. In this podcast conversation, we discuss the current position of psychedelic research, its potential for clinical usage, depth psychology, and spirituality.
We discuss the subconscious mind as a sort of unknown entity that dictates behaviour from unseen corners, and how different approaches, including modern psychology and ancient Buddhist philosophy view this phenomenon.

In this episode I speak with Marion Gildea, a Master’s research intern in the field of Psychedelic Medicine at Imperial College London.

In this conversation, we discuss the current position of psychedelic research, its potential for clinical usage, depth psychology, and spirituality. We discuss the subconscious mind as a sort of unknown entity that dictates behaviour from unseen corners of the psyche, and how different approaches, including modern psychology and ancient Buddhist philosophy approach this phenomenon.

We go into detail about psychedelic research, what the experience is like for psychedelic research volunteers who participate in psychedelic research. We discuss the essence of the spiritual experience that often accompanies being under the influence of psychedelics, and the difficulty in reconciling those feelings with our scientific understanding of the nature of reality.

Still being in the early days of podcasting, please forgive the sound quality. We will be looking toward making a number of improvements as time goes by and hope it doesn’t stop you from enjoying the conversation all the same.

If this is something you are interested in, I encourage to follow or subscribe to the website. Alternatively, you could like our Facebook page, as all published material will be posted there!

The Cerebro Somata Podcast!

Dear Followers & Subscribers,

I just wanted to take this opportunity to express my thanks for everyone who has taken the interest and initiative to follow the blog so far. It has been a tremendous confidence boost to find that there are people who find the content enjoyable and valuable enough to follow.

I’d like to announce that Cerebro Somata have started a podcast! Check out the first one on the podcast section of our site!

A conversation with Emmet Byrne and Iwan Blake. Emmet is finishing his PhD in theoretical physics at the University of Edinburgh, where he studies simulations for the LHC. Iwan is finishing his PhD in particle physics at Oxford University. He is part of a team studying neutrinos. In this podcast, we talk about physics in the broader context, alongside significant developments over the decades. They explain the importance of the recent results from the Fermilab muon experiment, which has been referred to as the discovery of a possible ‘fifth fundamental element of the universe’.

 We have several more incredibly interesting guests lined up, among them are several authors and researchers. See below for more details on the upcoming these guests.

Upcoming Guests!

Wouter Kusters, philosopher and author of ‘A philosophy of Madness, published by MIT Press. Wouter is a former linguist who transitioned over into the field of philosophy. While working on his research about mental disturbance, he induced himself into acute psychosis, for which he was hospitalized. This happened twice in his life and contributed to his 2004, 770 page book  ‘A philosophy of madness’, about which he says ‘“I wanted to show to next generations what the pleasure, problems and pitfalls of philosophy are: its truths, its paradoxes, and the possibility of its concomitant real-life psychotic experiences, metaphorical high mountains and deep abysses. ‘

If you are interested in hearing more about his story, please feel free to check out this articles, written about him by the Irish Times. https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/what-s-it-like-to-go-mad-meet-the-man-who-found-out-1.4521054

Marion Gildea is a research Masters and intern working in the field of psychedelic medicine with a prominent research group in London.  We share a lot of the same interests and ideas and for those interested in topics such as psychedelics, meditation, psychology, neuroscience and community living, this will be a great dynamic conversation to tune into.

Ray Tobin is currently in the editorial phase of publishing his autobiographical book about his very unique life. He spent 18 years of his life under the wing of the MEK, an Islamic cult in Iraq, also responsible to the death of his father, who they interrogated on suspicion of being a spy. He will be joining us for a conversation to share the details of his life then and now. Stay tuned for this one!

Sheunesu Kasiamhuru author of ‘the Art of Decisive Leadership’ which is expected to be published and on the shelves this August. He will take us through his 9 principles of decisive leadership and how they relate to key events in history and how they can be applied today. For more information about Sheunesu and his work, please visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-art-of-decisive-leadership#/

Stefano Andrianopoulos is a full-time artist with a strong background in Taosim and Taoist Kung Fu. He spent a year living and training in a Traditional Taoist Kung Fu Academy, in Wu Dang China (where we met each other). He trained under Master Yuan Xiu Gang, who is said the be the current figure head for Taosim, later deciding to become his disciple. He is now a 16th generation Taoist of the San Feng Sect.

Stay Tuned!

We’re very excited about these upcoming conversations and hope that you will tune in for them! We are happy to take constructive criticism at this time, so please feel free to send us a message letting us know what you think. We are also open to guest ideas, so if you or someone you know thinks they are a right fit for our podcast, please reach out and let us know!

Artificial Intelligence: The Echo of Consciousness

Since the development of the first artificial intelligence program in 1955, artificial intelligence has made its way into many areas of human life. In recent years there have been massive developments with artificial intelligence in healthcare, artistic creativity, even the judicial system. Many people have been of the assumption that we would only live to see it potentially overtake the labour of the blue-collar workforce.

Developments in computer programming show that artificial intelligence can carry out and provide support in certain fields of work that are otherwise known for requiring years of training and expertise.

Many ethical questions arise when we start to consider how we should embrace AI. If we want to allow it to become a substitute for human labourers, we should perhaps equally consider where those people will go. Do we as a global society have the economic infrastructure to support masses of replaced workers in the population? Do we have the framework set it place so that they can create a life for themselves where they can live well, rather than just be sunken in unemployment and destitution?

Furthermore, if artificial intelligence reaches human-level intelligence, and becomes entirely capable of responding to the environment, at least in the same way we do, is it conscious? Should it be treated as otherwise equal to a human from an ethical standpoint? What is consciousness anyway and how do we measure it?

Rather than being able to comprehensively answer these questions, this article is intended as a source of background information on the subject, to give you the opportunity to think it over for yourself.

What is artificial intelligence?

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is generally defined as ‘any computer program that is capable of carrying tasks that otherwise require human intelligence’. More specifically, tasks that include complex cognition, such as visual perception, language comprehension, and decision making.

It was first developed in 1955 by Herbert Simon and Allen Newell, two researchers who combined their collective knowledge in the fields of computer science, cognitive psychology, and economics to create the Logic Theorist.

This program was designed to echo human problem-solving skills, to solve advanced mathematical theorems. Today, over half a century later of trials, failures, successes, and periods of staggering exponential growth, we live in a world of self-driving cars and AI customer service. A world where we wake up every day and direct all our questions to AI-powered search engines.

It’s always an interesting thing to hear other people’s views and expectations of AI in the future. I find that people have such a vast range of things to say on the subject. Some people are terrified that AI will take over the world, their skills will become obsolete, and that we will gear towards a world bereft of human values.

Others look forward eagerly, hoping for a world where they can download their human consciousness onto a drive and outlive their bodies, bypassing a natural death. Many fantasize of a future where we will have AI’s living in our houses, so that they can aid us by taking over the responsibility of doing mundane tasks, effectively, being our mechanical slaves.

Few people imagined that they might be the doctors that meet us at the clinic, to prescribe us medicine or surgery when we’re ill. Fewer people saw the possibility that artificial intelligence could be the psychologist listening to us speak about our deepest feelings and experiences, offering us counsel or administering a diagnosis.

Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare

Artificial Intelligence in Health Care

One very noteworthy example of artificial intelligence shining its light of utility is with predicting malignant breast cancer. When a doctor sees an unusual spot on a mammography (breast scan), they need to make the decision whether to operate or not. Of course, the safest thing to do would be to operate, in case the tumour turns malignant and cancerous. However, surgery can be extremely taxing on an individual and it seems a great shame to have to undergo an operation when it’s not strictly necessary.

When a human is trying to plan in response to a complex problem, we try to take as much data into account as possible. A doctor in this situation might try to remember everything they learned about tumour shape and size, comparing this case to all past cases they’ve encountered in their career. They might try to consider the genetic variables related to the case, whether breast cancer runs in the family, and so on. They might also consider the patient’s age, lifestyle, and diet as factors for whether this particular tumour is likely to turn malignant or not.

The general fear factor of misdiagnosing, telling a patient that they don’t need surgery when it later turns out that they do, could also play a role. So, it can turn out that many people who don’t really need the surgery end up getting it anyway, as a result of human bias, misdirected caution, and error.

The key difference between the human prediction power and the prediction power of artificial intelligence is working memory. Working memory refers to the conscious part of memory when information is accessible for controlling the execution of tasks. Human beings have a very limited working memory. The rule of thumb for how many things a person can keep in their conscious mind at one time is +/- 7 items. This means it can vary between 5 and 9 items depending on the individual and the context.

We can only actively process a certain amount of data at a given moment. With artificial intelligence, the amount of data they can process is effectively limitless, and they can process it in an instant. Communication between neurons (brain cells) is extremely fast, which is why we don’t really sense delays when picking something up after deciding to or responding to a comment. However, compared to our artificial counterparts, who can process information at the speed of light (yes, the speed of light!) we are considerably slower.

When considering how important large data samples are for achieving accurate predictions, we can see a great disparity between how well people can do, and how much better it could possibly get.

Artificial Intelligence in Clinical Psychology

Here we need to define two terms: clinical prediction and mechanical prediction.

Clinical prediction is when a clinician, in the following case, a clinical psychologist makes a prediction about a person’s disorder. What disorder it is and how it will develop over time. They do this by employing their expertise and years of experience.

Mechanical predictions are basically predictions that are made using statistics and algorithms. While humans can do mathematical equations by hand, they can’t process the same amount of data that computer programs can. Considering this, the following meta-analysis review is kind of a computer versus human situation.

A meta-analysis that examined a bunch of studies that had measured the difference in accuracy between clinical and mechanical prediction found that ‘’ mechanical prediction often outshines clinical prediction; that is, when it is not superior, it performs as well as clinical prediction’’.

They found that the variable that influenced the observation that mechanical prediction outperformed human prediction, was when there had been a clinical interview. The clinical interview, the cause of error.

According to these results, a computer program would be more accurate in analysing the nature and development of a patient’s condition. They propose that the human contact between psychologist and client was the main source of error, which affected the diagnosis and prognosis. This would theoretically be a good argument for substituting (at least to some degree) a therapist with an AI program. If they are more accurate, why not? Well . . .

Imagine a person you know is suicidal, they have been suffering from psychological disturbances for quite some time, perhaps crippling anxiety or depression, and are literally at their wit’s end. Imagine that they might be in the process of coaxing themselves to the conclusion that no life at all is better than the life of suffering that they have been enduring.

They call an emergency suicide hotline and are met by a calm, clear, and robotic voice. The last sliver of hope is spent on an artificial system that feigns human concern. While I do not want to be so outright cynical about that quite real possibility, I simply can’t imagine that in particular cases like this, that an AI system could be at all comforting. It could very well have the opposite effect, who knows. These are all things to be considered as we edge our way toward an AI-prevalent world.

Artificial Intelligence & Creativity

Well, if you have made it this far in the article and are enjoying it, then I’m excited to engage you in this next part. Separately, creativity and artificial intelligence are considerably interesting topics. Combined, they are equally, if not, even more interesting.

What is Creativity?

There are many different definitions of creativity out there, sometimes they differ depending on the context. For example, when you describe a person as being creative it isn’t the same as when you describe it as a psychological construct or as a cognitive ability. Many artists conceptualize it in their own subjective ways too.

But it’s generally defined like this: the ability to create something that is both novel and useful. Interesting questions that I will attempt to provide some insight to here are How does creativity work in people? How does creativity work in AI? How are they similar or different?

Creativity and Brain Networks

A network in the brain refers to when several spatially distant areas (bits that aren’t close together) in the brain are activated at the same time in a particular kind of state or when doing a particular kind of task.

The default mode network refers to a set of brain areas that are activated when we are endorsed in ‘self-generated’ thoughts, among other things. It is the neural mechanism involved in daydreaming and mind wandering. When people are thinking about their life in an autobiographical way this network gets activated.

As fun and lovely as this network sounds at face value, it is actually correlated with a lot of psychological pathologies, such as anxiety, depression, anti-social behaviour, even schizophrenia. It is also seen to be abnormal in Alzheimer’s sufferers, they seem to somehow lose the ability to manipulate the activation and deactivation of this network like most people can using their conscious attention.

The creative process has long been presumed by creativity researchers to have two stages. The idea generation stage (where the creative thought puffs into the mind) and the idea evaluation stage (analysing the idea deeper).

The default mode network is active during idea generation and during idea evaluation, something very interesting happens. A second network, a network that has a famously antagonistic relationship with the default mode network, starts to work together with it.

This central executive network is usually active when you are doing things like planning, analysing, and organising. Usually, these two networks cannot both be active at the same time, it’s usually either one or the other. However, in this particular instance, they stop ‘fighting’ each other and work in synchrony. Highly creative people have much stronger functional connectivity between these two brain networks.

There are many different manifestations of creativity in artificial intelligence, depending a lot on how they were programmed to begin with. If they were programmed with a particular goal in mind, or with rules in place, their creativity would go in that direction, or work within the permitted framework.

Researchers have implicated this same neural arrangement of creativity in artificial intelligence. There are programs designed that exhibit this same network conflict and harmonization, similar to how the default mode and central executive network operate in human creativity.

In the same way, artificial intelligence can only be creative according to its programming and because of being exposed to a particular data set, human beings can generally only be creative according to their genetic code and the things that they have experienced in life. It is always some combination of something that already exists in the mind, and our genetic makeup is analogous to a computer program, and the data set is analogous to our past experiences.

Creative artificial intelligence programs can create abstract art, write songs and write scripts for movies. Many music corporations already employ AI to generate new pop songs, is it any wonder they all sound the same?

Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness

The question of ‘Can artificial intelligence ever be conscious?’ is difficult to answer, the scientific community is having a hell of a hard time trying to understand consciousness as it is. It’s a complicated topic, full of dead ends and spirals of uncertainty when just considering humans.

What is consciousness anyway? You know that you are conscious, and you know that it is what gives birth to your experience of existing. It is the source of every little thing that you do, say, and decide. It’s somehow silent, yet loud, omnipotent, yet nowhere, familiar, yet intangible.

It’s usually described as ‘the state or experience of being aware and responsive to one’s environment’. The word state is important here as it implies there is an experience underlying the responsiveness to the environment.  Artificial intelligence is perfectly capable of responding to the surrounding environment, it is effectively able to see, hear, analyse and respond, in much the same way that we do. However, there’s nothing to suggest an underlying state or experience. But even if there was an underlying consciousness, we have no real idea how we would go about testing that.

The topic has proved to be quite the conundrum for science. The investigation of it has been passed around a lot between philosophers, doctors, psychologists, and neuroscientists. With the science of consciousness, we cannot use any of the usual methods that we have at our disposal, it is extremely difficult to test and measure. How do we measure conscious experience? It’s not even possible to know whether when another person sees a strawberry, they are seeing the same colour ‘red’ that you see. There’s no way for me to know that when you see ‘red’ that you are not in fact seeing me ‘green’. We could have been going our whole lives without even realizing the incongruency. I can know that I am conscious, but I can’t really know that you are conscious, just because you might say ‘trust me, I’m conscious’.

If an AI system one day says ‘I’m conscious and I can experience pain and sadness, I deserve the same rights as humans’, without the proper means of measuring the proclaimed consciousness, we are in something of an ethical predicament.

Researchers have been looking ardently to find a ‘neural correlate of consciousness’, we call this the NCC for short. The neural correlate of consciousness would basically be the part of the brain that implicates consciousness. It’s quite a large topic, so, we will talk more about this in later articles.

When investigating consciousness, science notes two types of problems.

The ‘simple problem’ is the problem of trying to find the physical basis of consciousness (the NCC just mentioned). Where is it? In our brain? What part of the brain is it in? Is it different per individual?

The ‘hard problem’ (named so because of the difficulty in solving it) refers to the problem of understanding WHY we are conscious. Why not just automatic?  Consciousness itself does not seem to be necessary for survival, at least, it certainly isn’t obvious why it would be. So why has evolution endowed us with such a sharp sense of existence? Why the almost painful awareness? Considering that even science is bamboozled by this question, it is really anyone’s guess. Why do you think we are conscious?

According to the theory of ‘panpsychism’, consciousness pervades the universe and is a fundamental feature of it. In a sense, it is a single common feature that connects all things in the universe. Simpler forms of life are thought to have simpler forms of consciousness. Human beings, as complex as we are, are (according to some theories) thought to be the higher end of this spectrum of consciousness.

Last thoughts

Artificial intelligence has the potential to move into many areas of human life. There are both very obvious benefits and areas of the potential hazard. Something that seems key for us to consider is the impact of this on human life and human values. It would be a great shame to simply allow the science to run away with itself without any type of philosophical input. It is less of a distant dream and more of an imminent future, those who are paying attention to the past and ongoing development should have no qualms agreeing with that.

I would like to make a comparison between artificial intelligence and an echo. An echo can resonate with the sound of a human voice. The sound of the echo sounds very much like the human voice that it resonates, but really it is a repetition, as the sound waves bounce off smooth, hard surfaces. For all intents and purposes, whatever is said by the sound of the echo is the same as what the person’s voice has said, but it lacks the conscious starting point. Artificial intelligence is somehow a mirror of human values, at least, a mirror of the values of those who programmed it. It reflects the way we think, the goals we are oriented towards.

Before we get totally carried away with the marvel of this echo of human consciousness and human values, it might be useful to first understand what our values really are, so we can embrace artificial intelligence in the right way and minimize any potentially negative consequences.

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References

A Very Short History Of Artificial Intelligence

The Seven Deadly Sins of AI Predictions

International evaluation of an AI system for breast cancer screening

Predicting judicial decisions of the European Court of Human Rights: a Natural Language Processing perspective

Artificial intelligence and counseling: Four levels of implementation

Clinical versus mechanical prediction: A meta-analysis.

Computer Models of Creativity

Engineering Creativity in an Age of Artificial Intelligence

Generating original ideas: The neural underpinning of originality

The Easy and Hard Problems of Consciousness: A Cartesian Perspective

On the Search for the Neural Correlate of Consciousness

Panpsychism

Mindfulness & Trauma

A short overview on trauma and how it effects our lives. Mindfulness in relation to the healing of trauma accompanied by quotes on mindfulness by well-renowned teachers.

Trauma is an individual’s response to a deeply distressing event. It can overwhelm us with crippling anxiety, dictating our thoughts and behaviours. Trauma is relative. One single event could mean absolutely nothing to one individual, while it could totally scar the life of another.

Many of us are dealing with trauma, from our childhoods, past events we have encountered, people we’ve met. It steals our peace and objectivity, replacing the contents of our mind with terrible thoughts and anticipation about our immediate external environment. This is the psychological construct known as ‘catastrophic rumination’.

In a lot of cases, people are not aware that they are still subject to the negative thoughts and habit patterns that they have accumulated through life. How can we fix a problem that we are not even aware of? The simple answer is that we can’t.

How Can Mindfulness Help?

Mindfulness, the maintenance of objective awareness of the present moment, helps us to stop resisting reality. It can be quite accurately conceptualized as the opposite of ‘catastrophic rumination’, which always assumes and prepares for the worst.

Even from this very basic theoretical standpoint, it’s easy to see why mindfulness is a great companion to psychotherapy in healing trauma. It’s easy to see why Oxford University has dedicated an entire masters programme for Mindfulness Behavioural Therapy.

Mindfulness has been proven as an effective treatment for decreasing anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive behaviours. It has been shown to be a powerful tool in decreasing death anxiety, something that many of us are subconsciously or consciously traumatized by.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the most severe manifestation of trauma. There is sufficient evidence to say that mindfulness combats it, by mitigating the negative thought patterns, or catastrophic thoughts which usually perpetuate the terrible cycle of trauma.

Mindfulness Quotes

Sometimes the best way to understand what something is, in this case what mindfulness is, is to understand the characteristics of it, rather than simply being told a definition.

In Zen and Tao philosophy, the teachings are never directly explained, instead the students are given the characteristics of it and they begin to understand it in an experiential way rather than by intellectually conquering it.

With mindfulness, you can say what it is all you want, but until you experience the actual balance and equilibrium that is induced by being in a fully mindful state, you don’t really know what it is.

I would like to include some quotes about mindfulness here, by various well renowned mindfulness teachers.

Mindful Quotes by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.

Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.

Wherever you go, there you are.

To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in your attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking.

 When we speak of meditation, it is important for you to know that this is not some weird cryptic activity, as our popular culture might have it. It does not involve becoming some kind of zombie, vegetable, self-absorbed narcissist, navel gazer, “space cadet,” cultist, devotee, mystic, or Eastern philosopher. Meditation is simply about being yourself and knowing something about who that is

Mindfulness Quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh

Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves — slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.

Smile, breathe and go slowly.

Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet

Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.

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References

Catastrophizing, rumination, and reappraisal prospectively predict adolescent PTSD symptom onset following a terrorist attack

Mindfulness and PTSD

The Emerging Role of Mindfulness Meditation as Effective Self-Management Strategy, Part 1: Clinical Implications for Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Anxiety

Effects of a Brief Mindfulness Induction on Death-Related Anxiety

Dementia Throughout History

Author takes us briefly through the the harrowing history of the treatment of dementia patients,. Walking through from ancient times to the modern day, take a look at how the development of medical and neuroscientific knowledge occurred.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is the modern term that we use to describe a collection of diseases of the brain, like Alzheimer’s Disease, Lewy Body Dementia, or Vascular Dementia. These diseases vary in their symptoms, but all share these common features.

  • Loss in ability to think
  • Loss in memory
  • Decrease in ability to make decisions

Dementia will affect between one in ten and one in twenty of all people over the age of 60 worldwide. Dementia has been affecting people at this rate since the beginning of mankind. Historically, different cultures have treated dementia patients differently throughout time, sometimes barbarically. In this article I will take you through the ages, and try to give you an understanding of how dementia patients were treated or described by the famous doctors of these times.

Ancient Greece

Pythagoras, arguably the most interesting philosopher of all time, considered life to be a progression through stages. The last two stages of life were considered ‘old age’. These two stages included features like the decline of both the body and mind, matching the dementia symptoms of today. Importantly, these later stages were considered by Pythagoras to be essential to life, and therefore dementia was not seen as a problem to be solved.

A couple of centuries later came Hippocrates, a philosopher known for his incredible and longstanding contributions to medicine. At the time, Hippocrates separated mental disorders into several classifications, such as mania, insanity, disobedience, paranoia, and hysteria. He believed that treatment of these so-called ‘diseases of the soul’ required a health-care model that included physical exercise, massages, diets, as well as divine treatment. However, he still believed that these ‘diseases of the soul’ were caused by the brain, and should be treated as physical disorders.

Plato also believed that dementia was a disease of the soul. He thought that to truly heal our soul, we must be the ones to do it. This led to a great deal of Plato’s patients sitting in large, open rooms by yourself for extended periods of time as a form of treatment. Asclepius, another Greek philosopher, claimed that music could be used as a therapy to treat diseases of the soul, a practice that has transformed from imaginary to medical over the years.

As a side note, Pythagoras was also one of the first physicians to push the idea of ‘encephalocentricism’, or the idea that the brain was the center of consciousness. Other philosophers of the same time period believed in ‘cardiocentrism’, or the idea that the heart is the center of intelligence.

Ancient Rome

Cicero, a Roman philosopher, wrote a book titled ‘On Old Age’ in the year before he was executed for royal treason at the age of 82. Cicero, in ‘On Old Age’, did not believe in the ‘fallacy’ of memory loss as you got older. He cleverly remarked in his book that “an old man never forgets where he had hidden his money”. He believed that losing your memory in age was a mere projection of the apathy of old men to the regular plights of young ones. He likely drew a line between dementia and growing old, as this was the beginning of an era of scientific discovery that would mark the beginning of something that resembled medicine as we know it today. 

Galen, the so-called ‘father of neuroscience’, was the first of the Roman physicians to put a name to dementia, calling  it ‘morosis’. Galen described morosis as the loss of memory and the loss of reason. These are two of the key symptoms of dementia that we use today. Whilst Galen did treat dementia as a disease, it was thought to be a side-effect of growing old and therefore; incurable.  

The Dark Ages

It would  be in later years that a stigma would begin to form around dementia. Although Hippocrates established medical science as we know it today, there was a significant backslide away from science and research in the western parts of the world, due in large part to the rise of the Christian church. This, as well as the endorsement of a book by the Pope, led to the horrific tales of witchcraft and stake-burning.

By the Middle Ages, medical literature was almost non-existent. Tales of red-hot iron treatments for hemorrhoids, bloodletting, and metal catheters plagued the streets of the justly-called Dark Ages. Dementia patients were represented to the general public as demon-possessed witches, too dangerous to keep around. 

The 1486 medical tale, “Malleus Maleficarum”, or the Hammer of the Witches, provided the simplest Alzheimer’s cure that exists: burning on the stake. The Hammer of the Witches was endorsed by the pope at the time, Pope Innocent VIII, and contributed to the brutal persecution of mostly women throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. The bodies of hundreds of thousands of innocent, confused, and terrified men and women have been charred since 1486 in a practice that still continues to this day in some parts of the world. 

The Early Modern Era

It wasn’t until the 18th century, with the rise of anatomical dissection of human bodies and brains that scientists were able to point to a physical symptom of dementia, that being the degradation of the brain. At the time there were many different academic groups functioning throughout Europe, and many of these believed that there was only one mental illness: insanity. All other mental diseases were still considered insanity, but just of varying degrees. Dementia was known as the final stage of insanity. 

Even during this time of supposed enlightenment those living with dementia were confined to asylums and ‘treated’ with barbaric frontal lobe lobotomy – the frontal part of your brain would be separated from the rest of it; normally through the eye socket. 

The ‘Modern’ Era

It wasn’t until 1880 that the idea of dementia as a diagnosis would be separated from the umbrella term of insanity. At this point there was a reorganization of patients to put Vascular Dementia and senile dementia in their own class of disease. It took until 1908, when Dr Alois Alzheimer discovered the presence of specific forms of brain degeneration in a young patient, that Alzheimer’s disease would be separated again. Lewy Body Dementia would be separated in a similar way, as Dr Friederich Lewy discovered abnormal brain deposits in a patient during 1912. 

Today

Today, the idea of throwing family members in asylums or burning them at stake sound repulsive, but that doesn’t mean that the stigma of being diagnosed with a cognitive disease doesn’t resonate deeply with people of today. 

Oftentimes patients will shy away from the diagnosis of incurable diseases, not wanting to be considered a burden or a liability. We have a long way to go before we cure dementia, and but we should be looking back to the early Greek Philosophers to see how they treated dementia patients; as they were treated in life, with dignity and respect.

What Can You Do to Prevent Dementia?

  • Avoid inhaling anything that isn’t air
  • Stay at a healthy weight, whatever that might be for you
  • Try and exercise for at least 30 minutes per day
  • Stay mentally and socially involved, especially as you age
    • Read books, join community clubs, have hobbies!
  • Have the correct genetics: this is a big one. 

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