Friday, May 25, 2012

Transpersonal psychology & quantum weirdness

Re-reading Ken Wilber’s Spectrum of Consciousness again, now when a little older, a little wiser (one hopes) has helped me better appreciate the significance of Wilber’s 1977 book. This is specially the case as I’ve been brushing up on the strange world of the quantum in the last couple of years.

Wilber attempts to integrate transpersonal psychology into a comprehensive new world view drawing on vast variety of areas and disciplines, ranging from psychology, anthropology, sociology, mythology, and comparative religion, through linguistics, philosophy, and history, to cosmology, quantum-relativistic physics, biology, evolutionary theory, and systems theory.

Transpersonal psychology is concerned with the study of humanity's highest potential, and with the recognition, understanding, and realization of unitive, spiritual, and transcendent states of consciousness.

Quantum theory has been said may help us understand consciousness and, more so, perception of the objective world, and the meaning of reality. A small example is the original work undertaken by Scully and Drühl that shook the physics community when it was first published in 1982. Essentially they demonstrated the possibility of simultaneously observing both particle-like and wave-like behavior of a quantum via quantum entanglement. The which-path or both-path information of a quantum can be erased or marked by its entangled twin even after the registration of the quantum.

This is weird because, in simple terms, an electron [somehow knows] that in the future the information about which slit it went through will be erased, and decides to act differently in the present moment.

From the double-slit experiment we know that when a particle is observed it behaves like a ball of matter since two bands are formed on the back screen. However, if we remove this information by making it uncertain again an interference pattern reappears (this is because an observer does not know through which slit the particle went when information about the path it took is removed). Amazingly an interference patterns appears even when the which-slit information is removed in the far future! It is as if the electron knows that in the future the information about which slit it went through will be erased, and decides to act differently in the present moment.

The great Richard Feynman was fond of saying that all of quantum mechanics can be gleaned from carefully thinking through the implications of the double-slit experiment.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The illusion of consciousness

The illusion of consciousness

We normally believe that we become conscious of events as they occur. And we believe that when we wish for something to happen we bring it into our conscious. So if I want a coffee, I might look at my watch, check my diary, decide I have the time to nip up the road and buy my coffee.

We know that the brain requires neuronal adequacy before it’s able to function, i.e. respond to a stimuli or a sensation that is being received. Neuronal adequacy is usually achieved over a brief period of time (estimated to be just over a quarter of a second) before dealing with the stimuli.

The interesting thing is though that if I were to touch my very hot cup of coffee, it wouldn’t take me nearly as long as a quarter of a second before I move my hand away. I would move my hand away almost instantly. So we have a situation that I do what I do (pull my hand away from the hot cup of coffee) before my brain even knows about it. That is I become aware but my brain isn’t aware. What’s causing me not to be aware or to be aware when I'm not aware?

Consider this. Let’s say we anesthetize the relevant part of my brain dealing with this response so that I don’t even know I've touched the hot cup of coffee. So we have a condition where I can respond to the hot cup of coffee before my brain has had the required time to integrate all the information (interestingly) and I can not respond if later after my brain has been anesthetized in some way so that I don’t respond.

The seemingly paradoxical situation arises where my brain responds instantly and then a quarter of a second later something happens to my brain so I don’t respond instantly a quarter of a second earlier. So in a way, how my brain responds depends on what is happening in the future.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Using erectile dysfunction without a prescription

A recent study by VA Boston Healthcare System and published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine show that almost 6% of the sexually active college men involved in the study (1,200 college-age men from across the U.S.) reported taking drugs for erectile dysfunction without a prescription. Yet an analysis of these students' sex lives unveiled a paradox: The more erectile dysfunction drugs men took, the worse they felt.

According to the researchers using erectile dysfunction drugs recreationally has the potential to negatively influence one's confidence. This group, the study shows were less confident about their abilities to get and maintain an erection. The recreational users also were less satisfied with their sex lives overall, even if they were satisfied during intercourse.

A Cleveland Clinic urologist Dr. Drogo Montague said these findings confirm what many sexual health experts suspect about misuse of these drugs and can sometimes create these psychological problems.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Psychological sizing

While the majority of American women are 5’7” and below, the fashion industry prefers to use 5’8” models.  And according to California State University at San Bernardino Professor of Business Marketing Victoria Seitz there is actually no standardized sizing in the fashion industry.  

Over the years, sizes have been getting larger,“ she said. What used to be a size 10 is now a 6. The more expensive the item, the larger the size is as well. Many people believe that they fit in smaller size in better garment. This is called psychological sizing

And in Australia, fashion houses have expanded the waistline of an average size 12 so much it can fit a woman considered obese under Australian guidelines. Where a size 12 used to be quite svelte and not overweight, these days someone who is a size 12 is highly likely to be overweight according Michael Moore from the Public Health Association of Australia.

People expect a size 12 to be normal, but pushing up the sizes may be filling women with a false sense of security. While there is an Australian standard for children's clothes sizes, none exists for adults. So it seems designers and clothing manufacturers use sizing as a marketing tool. Recently, a shopper who ranged from a size 14 at one fashion outlet to a size 10 at another and back to a 14 at a well-known designer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Gluten sensitivity and psychiatric disorders

According to scientists at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, children born to mothers who have a gluten sensitivity may be at greater risk for developing certain psychiatric disorders later in life.

The researchers explain how their study  “is an illustrative example suggesting that a dietary sensitivity before birth could be a catalyst in the development of schizophrenia or a similar condition 25 years later.”

This may be the first study that shows how a mother’s food sensitivity may potentially lead to the development of the disorder.

The study involved the examination of 764 birth records and neonatal blood samples of Swedes born between 1975 and 1985. About 211 of them eventually developed non-affective psychoses, such as schizophrenia and delusional disorders.

Babies whose mothers had abnormally high levels of antibodies to the wheat protein gluten had almost double the risk of developing schizophrenia later in life, compared to children with normal levels of gluten antibodies.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

On mother's day

During the first half of the 20th century, many psychologists believed that showing affection towards children was merely a sentimental gesture that served no real purpose.

A behaviorist, John Watson, once even went so far as to warn parents, "When you are tempted to pet your child, remember that mother love is a dangerous instrument." The behaviorist movement dominated psychology and urged researchers to study only observable and measurable behaviors.

An American psychologist, Harry Harlow, however, became interested in studying a topic that was not so easy to quantify and measure: love.

In a series of controversial experiments conducted in 1960s, Harlow demonstrated the powerful effects of love. By showing the devastating effects of deprivation on young Rhesus monkeys, Harlow revealed the importance of a mother's love for healthy childhood development.

Clinical research has emphasized the importance of the early mother-child relationship in many aspects of development. Various forms of psychopathology including certain psychosomatic syndromes have been attributed to disturbances in this primary mother-child unit.

How about the animal kingdom – the following pictures are heartwarming. Imprinting is the connection that is made right after birth or hatching, whereby the newborn identifies its mother. They learn everything from their mother. Birds migrate according to the path that was shown by the mother, so it is necessary for survival. Bonding is the way animals and humans define their mother, when they are first born.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pathologizing Grief

I’ve been known to pluck the DSM IV off my bookshelf every now and then, and for many, it’s a staple item for all things psychiatric and diagnostic. And soon I’ll be looking forward to the DSM-5.

But, as many are aware, a proposal to medicalize or pathologize grief is attracting significant opposition and criticism.

The DSM 5 would encourage the diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder almost immediately after the loss of a loved one — having just 2 weeks of sadness and loss of interest along with reduced appetite, sleep, and energy would earn the Major Depressive Disorder label.

Many will say normal grief is not 'Major', is not 'Depressive,' and is not 'Disorder.' Grief is the normal and necessary human reaction to love and loss. One critique asks Why not make "thinking clearly" a mental illness?

One bothersome thought is that anyone who has experienced both severe depression and intense grief knows they are not the same thing. A grieving person might become depressed, but that means they were not depressed to begin with. It is questionable if antidepressants would do much for grief.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

13 most important numbers and our perception of reality

Ever science I can remember I was fascinated by the idea that if an ant was to crawl around the inside of a clock – if it or its ancestors would ever understand the passage of time as we interrupt the it. Time tightly coupled with space and affected by relativistic factors. I guess I have overtime refined my thinking to consider whether man can ever really comprehend the complexity of the universe - everything.

1st Movement

We don't after all expect dogs or cats, to be able to figure out everything about the universe. And in the sweep of evolution, I doubt that we are the last word in intelligence. There might well be higher levels of intelligence later, which again, are unable to understand everything. Complexity may be logarithmic and approach infinity rendering it just un-understandable.

A proof for the 1637 theorem (Fermat’s last theorem) was finally published in 1995 despite the efforts of countless mathematicians during the 358 intervening years. The unsolved problem stimulated the development of algebraic number theory in the 19th century and the proof of the modularity theorem in the 20th. And yet, Fermat's Last Theorem would fade in comparison to the infinitely complex and wondrous universe.

2nd Movement

Having said that it is amazing just how much we have gleaned about the universe from a tiny distant and largely insignificant vantage point. Which brings me to my next and related fascination.

That is - does the universe even exist if mankind isn’t there to perceive it? I know this type of a question has been asked in many forms over the centuries, including for example; If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound – a philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and knowledge of reality.

So without a conscious observer  [us] does the universe exist?
 Quantum physics has taught us that reality is not what it seems. Sub atomic particles for example are believed not to hold a position in space until they are observed.  Their location otherwise is governed by a probability wave. The more we discover about the location of an electron (say) the less we can know about its mass and speed. QED goes much much further.

Now this has some interesting implications that inspire all sorts of theories. One such theory is that everything that is possible does happen in one dimension or another simultaneously (parallel universe) which places "responsibility" on the observer to interpret which "reality" or "universe" is manifesting. A consistent theory of everything that ignores consciousness is probably (philosophically) impossible. You need an observer who looks at the universe. This includes of course universal constants or important numbers.

3rd Movement

Physics, in particular cosmology is full of physical constants or physical quantities that is generally believed to be both universal in nature and constant in time. Some of the most widely recognized being the speed of light in vacuum c, the gravitational constant G, Planck's constant h, the electric constant ε0, and the elementary charge.

So, once again, are these empirical truths that have been discovered or if it is simply invented by us to co-construct reality. The Classical Greek philosopher Plato was of the view that math was discoverable, and that it is what underlies the very structure of our universe. He believed that by following the intransient inbuilt logic of math, a person would discover the truths independent of human observation and free of the transient nature of physical reality.

So the question remains; if a mathematical theory goes undiscovered, does it truly exist? Maybe this will be the next “does a tree falling in the forest make any sound if no one is there to hear it?”

4th Movement

What follows is the 13 most important numbers in the Universe based on James D. Stein's Cosmic Numbers - Popular Mechanics. But the numbers on this list are of cosmic importance— they are the fundamental concepts that define our universe, that make the existence of life possible and that will decide the ultimate fate of the universe

1.    The Universal Gravitational Constant
2.    The Speed of Light
3.    The Ideal Gas Constant
4.    Absolute Zero
5.    Avogadro's Number
6.    The Relative Strength of Electricity and Gravity
7.    Boltzmann's Constant
8.    Planck's Constant
9.    The Schwarzschild Radius
10. The Efficiency of Hydrogen Fusion
11. The Chandrasekhar Limit
12. The Hubble Constant
13. Omega