Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tales of the Invisible Companion

Sometimes, when a person is in great peril, he or she senses the presence of a companion. Accounts of a supportive presence ~ sometimes called the "third-man phenomenon" ~ are common in mountaineering literature.

For example, in 1933, Frank Smythe made it to within 1,000 feet of the summit of Mount Everest before turning around. On the way down, he stopped to eat a mint cake, cutting it in half to share with someone who wasn't there but who had seemed to be his partner all day.

According to the Wall Street Journal:
In “The Third Man Factor," John Geiger, a fellow at the University of Toronto, presents many accounts of such experiences, and not only from climbers. Among those who have felt a ghostly companionship, he cites Charles Lindbergh on his solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927 and the last man to walk out of the South Tower of the World Trade Center before it collapsed on 9/11. 
"Over the years," Mr. Geiger writes, "the experience has occurred again and again, not only to 9/11 survivors, mountaineers, and divers, but also to polar explorers, prisoners of war, solo sailors, shipwreck survivors, aviators, and astronauts. All have escaped traumatic events only to tell strikingly similar stories of having experienced the close presence of a companion and helper." 
"The Third Man represents a real and potent force for survival," Mr. Geiger writes, "and the ability to access this power is a factor, perhaps the most important factor, in determining who will succeed against seemingly insurmountable odds, and who will not." Mr. Geiger, however, is at a loss to explain why some can access this power and others can't.

Click here for the complete article.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Leaked Memo Points to Higgs Boson Particle

A leaked internal memo regarding the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva hints at the existence of the Higgs boson, the long-sought theoretical particle that could make or break the standard model of particle physics.

The controversial note was posted April 21 in an anonymous comment on physicist Peter Woit’s blog, Not Even Wrong. Four physicists claim that ATLAS ~ one of the LHC’s all-purpose particle hunting experiments ~ caught a Higgs particle decaying into two high-energy photons, but at a much higher rate than the standard model predicts.

According to
“The present result is the first definitive observation of physics beyond the standard model,” the note says. “Exciting new physics, including new particles, may be expected to be found in the very near future.” 
The word from CERN, which operates the LHC, is that the leaked note is not an official result, and hasn’t been backed up by the cast of thousands that makes up the rest of the ATLAS collaboration. 
“It’s way, way too early to say if there’s anything in it or not,” said CERN spokesman James Gillies. “The vast majority of these notes get knocked down before they ever see the light of day.”
A member of the ATLAS collaboration who wished to remain anonymous said unexpected signals show up frequently and turn out to be due to errors. The signal is much more likely to be a fluke than anything else, he cautioned.

Click here for the complete article.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

More on Fear and the Amygdala

Several recent commentaries map brain structure against political views, all with similar findings based on recent research: Conservatives have larger amygdalas and more fear, while liberals have a larger anterior cingulate cortex and greater tolerance.

It remains unclear, however, whether the structural differences cause the divergence in political views or are the effect of them.

According to new article on a recent study from the University of London, other research has shown greater brain activity in those areas, according to which political views a person holds, but the University of London’s is the first study to show a physical difference in size in the same regions.

"We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala," the study said.

"Previously, some psychological traits were known to be predictive of an individual's political orientation," said Ryota Kanai of the University College London, where the research took place. "Our study now links such personality traits with specific brain structure."

People with a large amygdala are "more sensitive to disgust" and tend to "respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals and are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions," the study said. "Thus, it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept more liberal views."

Click here for the complete article.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

More Proof: Meditation Conquers Pain

While this particular study may be new, its main conclusion is centuries old. Not only in eastern spiritual beliefs, but also in mind/body research a few decades ago, the ability of meditation to greatly reduce chronic pain has been widely confirmed.

“Only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation,” according to Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “We found a big effect ~ about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent.”

For the study, 15 healthy volunteers who had never meditated attended four, 20-minute classes to learn a meditation technique known as focused attention, a form of mindfulness meditation where people attend to the breath and let go of distracting thoughts.

Both before and after meditation training, study participants’ brain activity was examined as a pain-inducing heat device was placed on the participants’ right legs. Scans taken after meditation training showed that every participant’s pain ratings were reduced, with decreases ranging from 11 to 93 percent, Zeidan said.

Click here for the complete article.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

More Catholic Priests Being Trained as Exorcists

The handful of priests in the country trained as exorcists say they are overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil. So now, American bishops are training more priests and bishops to respond to the demand.

The purpose is not necessarily to revive the practice, the organizers say, but to help Catholic clergy learn how to distinguish who really needs an exorcism from who really needs a psychiatrist, or perhaps some pastoral care.

“Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki recently told the New York Times. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person. But it’s rare, it’s extraordinary, so the use of exorcism is also rare and extraordinary.”

According to the New York Times:
Exorcism is as old as Christianity itself. The New Testament has accounts of Jesus casting out demons, and it is cited in the Catholic Church’s catechism. But it is now far more popular in Europe, Africa and Latin America than in the United States. 
Most exorcisms are not as dramatic as the bloody scenes in films. The ritual is based on a prayer in which the priest invokes the name of Jesus. The priest also uses holy water and a cross, and can alter the prayer depending on the reaction he gets from the possessed person, said Matt Baglio, a journalist in Rome who wrote the book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist” (Doubleday, 2009). “The prayer comes from the power of Jesus’ name and the church. It doesn’t come from the power of the exorcist. The priest doesn’t have the magic power.” 
Some of the classic signs of possession by a demon, Bishop Paprocki said, include speaking in a language the person has never learned; extraordinary shows of strength; a sudden aversion to spiritual things like holy water or the name of God; and severe sleeplessness, lack of appetite and cutting, scratching and biting the skin.

Click here for the complete article.