The Weight of Thought

Fear is primal. In the wild, it serves as a protective mechanism, allowing animals to avoid predators or other perceived threats. For humans, fear is much more complex. A normal amount keeps us safe from danger. But in extreme cases, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), too much fear can prevent people from living healthy, productive lives. Researchers are actively working to understand how the brain translates fear into action. Today, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) announce the discovery of a new neural circuit in the brain that directly links the site of fear memory with an area of the brainstem that controls behavior.

New guidance for psychologists will acknowledge that adolescence now effectively runs up until the age of 25 for the purposes of treating young people. So is this the new cut-off point for adulthood?

"The idea that suddenly at 18 you’re an adult just doesn’t quite ring true," says child psychologist Laverne Antrobus, who works at London’s Tavistock Clinic.

"My experience of young people is that they still need quite a considerable amount of support and help beyond that age."

Child psychologists are being given a new directive which is that the age range they work with is increasing from 0-18 to 0-25.

"We are becoming much more aware and appreciating development beyond [the age of 18] and I think it’s a really good initiative," says Antrobus, who believes we often rush through childhood, wanting our youngsters to achieve key milestones very quickly.

Non-verbal girl with Autism speaks through her computer 20/20 ABC News

People in creative professions are treated more often for mental illness than the general population, there being a particularly salient connection between writing and schizophrenia. This according to researchers at Karolinska Institutet, whose large-scale Swedish registry study is the most comprehensive ever in its field.

What would happen if a tormenting inner voice were given an avatar?  Would it help a patient with schizophrenia cope with that voice?  New research says yes.

'Avatar Therapy' Can Tame Tormenting Voices in Schizophrenia

In a new pilot study, 16 patients with schizophrenia participated in an experimental treatment, known as “avatar therapy.” The findings showed that nearly all of the participants experienced a reduction in distress and how often they heard voices.

The first stage in the therapy includes creating a computer-based avatar by choosing a face and a voice for the entity that the patients believe is talking to them.  The system then synchronizes the avatar’s lips with its speech, allowing a therapist to talk to a patient through the avatar in real time.

The therapist encourages the patient to oppose the voice and gradually trains them to take control of their hallucinations.

Break the word disease up and you get dis-ease: that is to say something making you feel bad or ‘ill at ease’, or just ‘ill’ if you will. The term applies to everything – not just infections or genetic hiccups. Loneliness is a disease and one of its best cures has been with us for about 20 years. The internet is about connections, placing people together that would normally have lived their lives apart, separated by social norms or peer expectations. Not only does the internet allow us to connect, but it opens up the mind of people who use it right, and exposes us to the ideas and lifestyles of others.

Recently a spate of teenage suicides in America has shown us how lethal and life shattering loneliness can be. When a person feels alone sometimes they would rather end their life than carry the weight of being themselves, which is a terrible shame, not least of all because carrying the weight of who you are is a hell of a lot easier when there is a lot of you. Some of us find the thought of homophobia ridiculous, outdated, and as strange as people who are homophobic find the concept of homosexuality.

The difference? I don’t know. Time, exposure to the idea, lack of preconceptions? At the moment there are fringe communities finding each other. Using the internet to connect and cure the terrible disease that is loneliness. They can seem ridiculous, risible or even scary, but given exposure, time and an openness of mind that is a result of access to the internet, who knows?

I found Luke at a message board for people that identify themselves as Otherkin, one of the many enclaves of community which make the internet the place where the next steps of our evolution are being mapped. Where we as a species explore our possibilities and the mainstream of tomorrow is born.

What are Otherkin?

The world’s biggest mental health research institute is abandoning the new version of psychiatry’s “bible” – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disordersquestioning its validity and stating that “patients with mental disorders deserve better”. This bombshell comes just weeks before the publication of the fifth revision of the manual, called DSM-5.

On 29 April, Thomas Insel, director of the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), advocated a major shift away from categorising diseases such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia according to a person’s symptoms. Instead, Insel wants mental disorders to be diagnosed more objectively using genetics, brain scans that show abnormal patterns of activity and cognitive testing.

This would mean abandoning the manual published by the American Psychiatric Association that has been the mainstay of psychiatric research for 60 years.

The DSM has been embroiled in controversy for a number of years. Critics have said that it has outlasted its usefulness, has turned complaints that are not truly illnesses into medical conditions, and has been unduly influenced by pharmaceutical companies looking for new markets for their drugs.

There have also been complaints that widened definitions of several disorder have led to over-diagnosis of conditions such as bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Now, Insel has said in a blog post published by the NIMH that he wants a complete shift to diagnoses based on science not symptoms.

Feminism and the Disposable Male

Why would one of the world’s most successful and innovative technology corporations research a highly controversial subject and risky future product opportunity such as E.S.P. (extrasensory perception) and then – oh by the way – tell the world they proved it existed?

Huh… unlikely? What company and why isn’t this more widely known? That’s just what I thought. I came across this fun fact while searching for information to help me understand a strange series of events that had occurred six years ago this month. Coincidentally, I happened to be working for this company when I found out.

Described as “anomalous processes of information or energy transfer”, Psi phenomenon is a very controversial subject. On one side, scientists, physicists, and PhDs attesting to its reality, and on the other, their opponents who question the methods of study, the resulting data and testimonies.

BG 232: The Dark Night Project

We’re joined again this week by Brown University neuroscience researcher Willougbhy Britton. Willougbhy begins this episode by going into further depth into some of the typical experiences that have been reported during her research into the difficult stages of the contemplative path. She lists out typical changes in cognition, affect (emotion), perception, and other psychological material. She also explores the typical duration of these experiences and explores some of the philosophical and practical ramifications of these stages.

Toward the end she also speaks about how she and her colleagues–all part of this emerging group of contemplative scientist hybrids–have come together to create a new contemplative development mapping project. This new generation of scientists are studying the mind, and have immersed themselves not only in scientific methodologies but also in contemplative practice.

This is part 2 of a two-part series. Listen to part 1, The Dark Side of Dharma.