Sunday, November 19, 2017

Comments by Nancy99

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  • Hi Joanna: Regarding your statement, “biological markers of distress are more likely to be secondary, or correlative than causal,” I don’t think it is a matter of ‘more likely’ but a matter of how it is, especially since there is overwhelming evidence suggesting that it is human experience that continuously changes the structure of the brain. In other words, as I see it, and as stated by ‘FeelinDiscouraged,’ and others here, ‘confusion of cause and effect’ is one of the biggest problems in psychiatry.

    Regarding references for experience changing the structure of the brain, I mentioned the mouse study with a reference in this blog. Below are some additional references. There are probably more recent references – I must do a new search sometime.

    Nestler, E. J. (2012). Epigenetics: Stress makes its molecular mark. Nature,171, 171–172.

    Davidson, R. J., and McEwen, B. (2012). Social influences on neuroplasticity: stress and interventions to promote well-being. Nature neuroscience 15.5: 689-695.

    Markham, J.A. & Greenough, W.T. (2004). Experience-driven brain plasticity: beyond the synapse. Neuron Glia Biology, 1, 351–363.

    Bremner JD (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8 (4), 445-61.

    Radley, et al. (2005). Reversibility of apical dendritic retraction in the rat medial prefrontal cortex following repeated stress. Experimental Neurology, 196, 199–203.

    Vyas, A., (2002). Chronic stress induces contrasting patterns of dendritic remodeling in hippocampal and amygdaloid neurons. The Journal of Neuroscience, 22, 6810–6818.

    Hanson, J.L., et al. (2010). Early stress is associated with alterations in the orbitofrontal cortex: a tensor-based morphometry investigation of brain structure and behavioral risk. The Journal of Neuroscience, 30, 7466–7472.

    Yang, S., et al. (2012). Enriched Environment and White Matter in Aging Brain. The Anatomical Record, 295,1406–1414.

    Chang et al. (2015). Social isolation-induced increase in NMDA receptors in the hippocampus exacerbates emotional dysregulation in mice. Hippocampus. 25(4):474-485.

    Fett et al., (2015). Social neuroscience in psychiatry: unravelling the neural mechanisms of social dysfunction. Psychological Medicine. 45(6):1145-1165.

    (I posted this comment once before, but it may have got marked as spam – my apologies in case this gets posted twice.)

  • Regarding the bio-psycho-social model: All ‘mental illnesses’ are purely psychological. Social factors contribute to these psychological issues (because we have social pressures to achieve status, avoid being seen as worthless, etc.).

    Regarding the biological – it is psychological factors that bring about changes in biology (if we disregard things like tumour growth, etc., which are rare and purely biological – these of course have to be treated in a biological manner, such as surgery). In other words, psychological stresses, etc., bring about changes neurons and brain chemistry and these changes are reversible through psychological means. To take one example study: mice subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. being restrained) show dendritic atrophy and loss of dendritic spines in the brain (reference: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3645314/ ). However, these changes are reversible through psychological means (e.g. when stressed, restrained animals are released as described in the same article).

    As I have mentioned before (in my previous comments to this series of blogs), Buddhist teachings from 2600 years ago explain the mind in great detail – such as how our attachments (whether it is towards our physical body, or for gaining pleasant feelings, social pressures, etc.), influence the manifestation of the mind-stream – all psychological stresses (that we refer to as ‘mental illnesses’ or ‘mental suffering’) happens as manifestations within this mind-stream that is changing moment by moment [reference: Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom, published in ‘Current Psychology’ (MindRxiv archive link: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/ ].

  • Perhaps I should have said “…if your mind tends to get easily distracted with thoughts…” – my mind used to do that (getting entangled in depressing thoughts related to the past, anxious thoughts relating to the future, etc.), before I trained in meditation practices.

    Sometimes this approach is referred to as being a ‘master of the mind’ rather than being a ‘slave to situations in life.’

  • Fiachra: I am not exactly sure what you mean, but I would say if your mind tends to ruminate a lot (building stories, etc.,) then it is best to do focused attention meditation (such as the ‘body-scan’ meditation). As you get better at this, during daily living your mind will be able to notice and recover soon as you venture into thoughts (such as anxiety provoking thoughts) that you do not wish to engage in. You can check out the following YouTube video I happened to come across recently – he puts it in a simple way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOHH6pxYi8A (it has two parts).

    Also the following article can be helpful. It might be a bit of a heavy-read (since it is an academic article), but going through it at your own pace can be very helpful I think (as it provides several tips on how mindfulness practices can be incorporated – based on insights into how the mind works).
    Article title: “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom,” published in the journal ‘Current psychology.’ [it is available as a MindRxiv archive at this link: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/ ]
    Hope this information is helpful…

  • Vortex and Frank: I am familiar with the ‘free will debate,’ and this is addressed well in the articles I suggested reading (I have provided links to them in my earlier comments). ‘Free will’ or ‘no free will’ depends on what ‘level of analyses’ you look from. Shall check out your links/videos some other time.

  • Joanna: What do you mean by “not reducible to it”? – I would like to know. As I stated earlier, I think it is extremely important to separate two DISTINCT levels of analyses: one level for analysing things like the brain and the material world (this level of analyses is useful for our daily living and for ‘scientific’ understanding of the material world, etc.), and the other level for making sense of consciousness. This second level takes into account things like the constantly changing mind-stream: considering in terms of the past, present and the future and also that we experience only one thought moment at a time, etc.

  • Thank you Fiachra. Yes, meditation and mindfulness practices can be extremely helpful. I have seen numerous studies that have shown meditation/mindfulness interventions bring about healthy structural and functional changes in the brain (plasticity changes). These are measurable changes – not small changes (reference: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4209813/
    One very recent study has shown that different types of meditation change the brain in different ways (reference: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/10/e1700489 )

  • What is science? It is: systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. It is a good system to understand the material world and has enormously increased the quality of life in all people.

    However, science is struggling with the riddle of consciousness (i.e., still unable to understand or define what the “mind” or “consciousness” is). One reason for this is: the mind is not material although there is a relationship between the mind and the material world. Also, when science studies consciousness (i.e., by studying the brain), it forgets that the inquirer is interlocked within the item under inquiry (i.e., consciousness).

    In other words, studying the material world represents one level of analyses. Studying the mind represents a different level of analyses. Remember it is the mind that knows about the existence of the whole material world and about the existence of the organ brain and as well as the mind. The following article differentiates these two levels of analyses: “The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind,” published in ‘SAGE Open’ – link: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2158244015583860
    I hope you will take a look at it especially because it also addresses your question regarding people’s experiences being automatic.

    All this also boils down to a great deal of deep rooted conditioning that happen in schools and in medical schools that make the upcoming generation to unquestioningly believe that materialism is an “absolute reality.” Rupert Sheldrake explains this issue well in his banned TED talk – he talks about the difference between “science as a method of inquiry based on reason, evidence, hypothesis and collective investigation vs. science as a belief system or a world view” he says that “the latter has started to inhibit and constrict free inquiry, which is the life blood of the scientific endeavor.”
    Here’s the link to his talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKHUaNAxsTg

    As I see it, if you remove the “-ism” in Buddhism, then you are left with the ultimate science of consciousness.

  • Brain plasticity, which is the ability of the brain to continuously change with various environmental influences, etc., is often listed as one of the key discoveries of neuroscience. Yet, psychiatrists completely ignore it as if it doesn’t even exist – for them, everything has to be interpreted in terms of genes, neural circuits and other unchanging entities that somehow have to be manipulated using drugs. This ignorant view is due to ‘confirmation bias’ – the tendency to search for and only favour information that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.

  • Understanding consciousness is said to be the hardest problem ever, and yet as I mentioned earlier it was solved 2600 years ago. Yes, there can be other causal conditions that affect the mind-stream (it is not just social influences). In order to understand this further, I suggest reading the article I mentioned earlier – here it is again: “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom,” published in ‘Current psychology’ – free link (legal): https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/
    You need to read it very carefully – then you will see that it is possible to systematically understand the mind. It is not mere philosophical speculation.

  • Causes and conditions lead you. If your friends engage in some activity and encourage you to do those activities as well, then these are causes and conditions that motivate you to engage in those things. In other words, we do things the way we are conditioned. This is not determinism. “Free will” is valid at a conventional level (we say we can do anything), but when considering the moment-by-moment manifestation of the mind-stream, it is causes and conditions that lead to other causes and conditions.

    Remember that there is a widely prevalent assumption that people are consciously processing incoming information in order to construe and interpret their world and to plan and engage in courses of action. However, scientific research has shown that all our experiences are automatic [check out the article: Bargh, JA., and Chartrand, TL (1999). The unbearable automaticity of being. American psychologist 54.7: 462. – I can provide additional references if you want, and also you may have heard of Libet’s experiments as well]. Also check the other articles I suggested in other comments (especially the one published in ‘current psychology’ and the one in ‘SAGE Open’) – both those articles address this issue.

  • I agree with you Vortex. The statement “there is no mind without a brain” is valid only at a very superficial level of analyses. Before improved standards of antenatal care were available, Lorber (1981) had studied hundreds of patients who displayed normal and above normal IQ’s in spite of having severely reduced brain tissue. [Reference: Lorber J. Is your brain really necessary? Nurs Mirror. 1981 Apr 30;152(18):29-30.]. This makes us wonder if the brain is even necessary! I have heard of such cases recently as well (e.g. Noah Wall).

    Also, studying information-processing receptors on nerve cell membranes has led to the discovery that the same “neural” receptors are present on most, if not all, of the body’s cells. That is, the “brain” is not focused in the head but is distributed via signal molecules to the whole body [Reference: Pert, Candace (1997). Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine, New York, Scribner].

  • I have heard of the simile of a candle as well (used in Buddhism). Imagine a candle that is lit in a very dark room. The light is the mind the candle is the body with the brain. It is this light that enables one to see everything including the ability to see and know that there is a candle and a flame. The candle does assist the flame, but it is the presence of the flame that enables us to know and interpret all phenomena.

  • Joanna: In this comment, I think you have a hint of the important need for the separation of two different levels of analyses. As I see it, the ‘picture’ you mention here is nothing but the moment-by-moment manifestation of the mind-stream. The ‘mind’ can think of anything, whether it is about ourselves, about the brain, various theories we come up with, the mind itself, etc. As I see it, people who are only used to conducting analyses from a conventional point of view or third-person analyses (i.e., people who have never watched their mind or meditated) would find it hard to understand how the mind manifests moment by moment. Also, as I see it, unless we separate the two different levels of analyses, people will be constantly arguing in circles!

  • Adding to what I wrote earlier: the TWO distinct levels of analyses was also mentioned by Aristotle – he referred to them as phronesis and sophia.
    The following article describes these two levels well:
    “ The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind,” published in ‘SAGE Open’ – link: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2158244015583860

    Anyone interested can also check out the article: “Waiting for Sophia: 30 years of conceptualizing wisdom in empirical psychology,” published in ‘Research in Human Development’: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15427609.2011.568872

  • Steve McCrea: there is no programmer – just causes and conditions continuously leading to other causes and conditions. These follow natural ‘laws.’ For example, the moment-by-moment manifestation of the mind-stream (that I have mentioned in my other comments here) is described as being influenced by five causal factors – one of them is ‘biological factors.’

  • I agree that there is no mind without a brain. However, remember that there are TWO levels of analyses. What Joanna has focused on is the third person level of analyses. The other level represents understanding the moment-by-moment manifestation of the mind-stream. Everyone experiences the mind-stream all the time. Even when someone is conducting third-person analyses on ANYTHING, their mind-stream is changing moment by moment. If you read my other comment here, you might understand this.

  • Joanna – But there is another way of looking at this whole issue. What you have written is not wrong, but there is ANOTHER WAY of looking at all this. You say things like “the natural world is physical” and “bodies need water, energy and oxygen” these statements are not wrong, but please pause for a moment and think who is saying all this?

    It is the mind (consciousness) that knows about the existence of the natural world and it is the mind (consciousness) that analyzes it. It is the mind that knows about various organs of the body including the organ brain – remember that brains do not talk. Also, it is the mind (consciousness) that knows about the mind itself. As I have stated before, ancient Buddhist teachings have comprehensively analyzed the mind (consciousness) where the mind is described as constantly changing sense impressions and mental phenomena.

    Perhaps I will explain this in a different way. Many investigations in psychology and neuroscience have shown that we only have one thought moment at a time and this happens as a fast flowing stream. We generally refer to our moment-by-moment experience using the terms: past, present and the future. Buddhist teachings explain that the present moment is experienced either through the five senses or as thoughts, whereas the past and the future are experienced only as thoughts in the present moment. This mind-stream is also influenced by other factors such as attachments we develop through various conditioning influences. The mind-stream happens in everyone all the time whether one is reading this article, commenting on it, going for a walk, eating, playing, studying the brain, etc.

    None of the philosophers you have mentioned has described the mind (consciousness) the way the Buddha did some 2600 years ago. People appear to avoid studying what he taught simply because these teachings are considered to be “religion.” However, if one can go beyond this negativity, it is possible to understand how these teachings make total sense. As I see it, his teachings are the ultimate “science of consciousness.”

    Please read the following article and you will understand what I am talking about:
    “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom,” published in the journal Current Psychology. (The article is available as a ‘MindRxiv archive’ at this link: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/ )

  • Well said oldhead! Not only poisons – these researchers also use authentic sounding neuro-jargon to justify how these ‘medicines’ work (saying things like “blocks the reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine,” etc). All these give the impression to innocent patients that scientists have fully figured out how the brain works!

  • Thank you for your reply Pia. Yes, I agree it is best to proceed slowly in ‘educating’ these researchers.

    I thought of adding that – observing animal models maybe useful for learning the function of organs like the liver, pancreas, etc., because such investigations can directly lead to treatments. But scientists forget that when it comes to the brain/mind, things are different and that they make one fundamentally false assumption. This is: because brain activity is CORRELATED with thinking, they assume that the organ brain has to be somehow treated when someone has mental issues (this has also led to the assumption that the ‘mind’ is located inside the head!). They forget that it is the mind (consciousness) itself that studies the organ brain and the brain cannot talk for itself.

    Additionally scientists ignore the fact that it is HUMAN EXPERIENCE that brings about changes in brain chemicals (and also result in structural changes in the brain – i.e., neuroplasticity and epigenetics). Mice subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. being restrained) clearly show many changes in the brain [see for example the article https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22127301%5D – these changes are reversible through psychological means (e.g. when stressed, restrained animals are released as described in the same article). Even studies conducted with jugglers, taxi drivers, etc., have shown that it is psychological experience that brings about changes in the brain. Mindfulness practices are known to change the structure and function of the brain in positive ways – one recent study showed that different types of meditation change the brain in different ways (see: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/10/e1700489 )

    So, unless these researchers are encouraged to see things with a broader lens, wasting a lot of money to find medicines for the brain will continue.

  • Many studies have shown that any positive effects that psychiatric drugs show are due to the placebo effect, and the ‘chemical imbalance theory’ is a myth. So, I do not understand why the conclusion of this article says “we need to ensure improved quality of animal psychiatric research.” As I see it: We do not need to research psychiatric drugs at all for mental issues – it is the WRONG approach.

  • I like the term “problems in living” – the current system only exaggerates a person’s stress level by giving them labels and referring to these issues as “long-term conditions that require medications.” I came across an article titled “Why do you take those pills, Mummy?’ Explaining mental illness to my six-year-old” where the chemical model is totally accepted – I thought of commenting but then realized that I do not know how and where to start the conversation.

  • I agree MartinMc, regarding that the Buddha did not strictly adhere to non-self. According to the teachings: from a ‘conventional’ sense (i.e., relative sense), we exist as individual entities. However, at an ‘ultimate level of analyses’ there is no unchanging entity to be found anywhere in the constantly changing body or mind. This is described well in the following article: “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom,” Current Psychology. [free link (legal) from the MindRxiv research repository: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/ ]

    Also, mindfulness exercises can simply be used as a mental exercise to promote mental wellbeing, just like physical exercises can be used to promote physical wellbeing. So, I don’t think there is an issue with anyone using mindfulness to promote general wellbeing in employees. There is also evidence that the practice of mindfulness may positively influence ethical behavior [see for example the following article: “Mindfulness-based business ethics education,” Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 16(3), 99. http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/77842201/mindfulness-based-business-ethics-education ] – so, promoting mindfulness is ultimately a good thing.

    Additionally just like everyone who becomes physically fit is not going to endeavour to climb Mount Everest, not everyone who learns to meditate would have ‘spiritual enlightenment’ as their goal.

  • Hi Joanna,
    Thank you for your reply. Yes, the first-person perspective is ‘experience,’ and any ‘knowledge’ that one may gain from this experience is ‘wisdom.’ By the way, there is a BIG difference between the first and third person levels of analyses. Perhaps I did not explain this properly – so I will try again.

    There’s an article published in Nature titled “The Mental Universe” [ref: Henry, R. C. (2005). Nature, 436, 29.], where it is described that this whole world and the universe is “entirely mental.” (This article is available for free online – but I am not sure if it is a legal link, so I am not posting the link.)

    This “The Mental Universe” can also be understood as follows: it is the mind (consciousness) that knows and studies things outside (such as trees, weather patterns, etc.). Also it is the mind (consciousness) that knows about the existence and studies body structures such as the digestive system, nervous system and even the organ brain. The following open-access article is helpful to understand the ‘two levels of analyses’ further: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2158244015583860

    This whole issue needs thinking outside the box – so, hope you will carefully ponder it!

    .

  • There is a limit to which ‘social causes of distress’ can be addressed (e.g. disadvantaged populations – think of the Whitehall study). Therefore, mindfulness practices are very useful to address individual stress reduction. Learning mindfulness practices can also improve employee’s family life. So, there is nothing wrong in teaching these practices in corporate settings. People are simply going to use the techniques for stress reduction – they are not going to suddenly get enlightened, so talking about things like non-duality and non-self is not relevant here. People generally want to criticize everything (saying they are gaining, losing, etc.), but we need to look at the bigger picture here as well as the many different variables involved.

  • Frank: There are a couple of things we need to remember here. First – there is a widely prevalent assumption that people are consciously and systematically processing incoming information in order to construe and interpret their world and to plan and engage in courses of action. This is a totally INCORRECT assumption because all our human experiences are automatic [for example, check out the following article: Bargh, JA., and Chartrand, TL (1999). ‘The unbearable automaticity of being.’ American psychologist, 54.7: 462.]. So, although we think something like studying anatomy is accurate, what happens here is a visual observation automatically followed by perception. In the article I posted in my earlier comment, it is described how this automatic processes happens in terms of our moment-by-moment experiences relating to the five senses and thoughts. To me, studying this is the ‘ULTIMATE science.’ Do you call that soft (inexact)?

  • I agree that mental states are properties of living people whose meaning is inextricable from its social context. You also mention the ‘scientific method’ is useful for predictability and to determine causes, etc. of the material world but is not suitable for the study of our mental world.

    However, the scientific method can be used to systematically understand (in terms of predictability, causes, etc.) our ‘mental worlds.’ Don’t forget that we only have one thought moment at a time (think in terms of the past, present and the future) and this fast flowing thought stream happens in each and everyone of us all the time.

    As I mentioned earlier, the Buddha’s philosophical teachings that were presented 2600 years ago have extensively analyzed this mind-stream (which can be systematically understood by anyone who takes the time to do so). These analyses explain that we all have an innate disposition to constantly engage in eight worldly preoccupations (i.e., to seek gain, honour, happiness and praise, while escaping loss, dishonour, sadness and blame). The analyses also divide mental states to different categories and provide interrelationships between them. Further explanations are provided on how our past conditioning plays a significant role in the manifestation of the mind-stream, and how various attachments we have also influence the mind-stream, etc. It is also explained that biological factors are ONE of the five causal factors that influence the manifestation of this mind-stream.

    By the way, all the analyses you have provided are from a third-person perspective. When talking about the mind, we need to consider the first-person perspective (i.e., the moment by moment manifestation of the mind-stream). Additionally, all the analyses I mentioned take into account that the inquirer is interlocked with the item under inquiry (consciousness). As explained in these teachings, the ultimate release from suffering comes from “seeing things as they are.” (i.e., gradual cultivation of wisdom).
    [Reference to what I have presented above: Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom. Current Psychology. [free link (legal) from the MindRxiv research repository: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/ ]

  • Fiachra: I agree that it is not necessary to bring the organ brain into these types of discussions – but because we hear so much about the brain and neurons these days (and it is emphasized in psychiatry!), sometimes it is useful to talk about them in terms of where they fit into the equation. I think there is even a book titled “The Buddha’s brain” where the changes in the brain that happen with meditation practice are discussed.

  • Hi Fiachra,
    Perhaps you misunderstood what I meant by ‘life experience.’ Our brains are constantly changing all the time, as a result of experience and this happens regardless of age. Life experience could involve reacting to a life stressor by ruminating, regretting, proliferating thoughts, etc., or letting go (though the practice of mindfulness for example). Many studies have shown that the practice of mindfulness (that prevents mental proliferations and rumination and reduce psychological stress) also changes the structure and function of the brain and neurons in positive ways. On the other hand, ruminating, regretting, proliferating thoughts, etc. are linked to so called “mental disorders.” So, even if one starts meditating (e.g. Buddhist practice) at a later age, that can have positive benefits for mental health.
    If you think I have misunderstood your question, please let me know! 🙂

  • littleturtle: Biology is ONE of the factors that can contribute to our experienced “mind-stream” that manifest moment to moment. But it is NOT the only factor. Other factors that contribute include our various life experiences, our conditioned attitudes and views, attachments, etc. The problem with psychiatry is that it makes the assumption that mental issues are purely biological and therefore many of them need to be treated with medicines. If you read the article (“Theoretical Foundations to…) I posted in an earlier comment here – it gives more information on various different FACTORS that can influence the moment-to-moment manifestation of the mind-stream.

    Also note that our brains/neurons are CONSTANTLY CHANGING all the time as a RESULT of our experience (this is generally referred to as ‘neuroplasticity ’). To take some examples: studies have shown that as taxi drivers do their jobs (psychological causes), their brain/neurons change. jugglers gain more grey matter in certain areas of the brain as a RESULT of engaging in this activity. Various psychological habits, choices, etc., also change the brain. For example, research has shown that impulsivity trait results in reductions in gray matter in the brain. On the other hand, mindfulness practices (that result in reductions in impulsivity) change the structure and function of the brain in positive ways (e.g. increases in gray matter and cortical thickness). I also gave an example of a mice study in a different comment here. So, although biology affects our mind stream, it is our mental states that continuously change the brain and neurons (note: although biology can be affected as a result of an injury to the brain or due to a tumour, etc. – these are rare and a completely different story).

    Also remember that how the brain works (as an organ) has NOT been understood AT ALL. So, all the authentic-sounding explanations that is provided in psychiatry regarding how neurotransmitters work, about serotonin levels, GABA, glutamate, PEA, etc., can be very misleading. Pharmaceutical companies come up with various medicines for mental problems using a purely ‘hit or miss’ approach, and these may work for some only because of their ‘placebo effect.’ Additionally, we need to remember that despite decades of research, scientists have not been able to find any structural or other brain differences between patients who show up with “mental illness” and healthy individuals. This is the reason why doctors use subjective criteria (check-lists) to diagnose patients – they do not have any objective tests like blood tests.

  • I agree Dragon. The field of psychiatry ASSUMES that the brain changes for no reason at all and therefore assumes that the brain has to be treated with medicines (note that they also provide all types of detailed neuro-jargon explanations as to how these medicines work – as if the activity of the brain has been fully understood!). They completely forget (and ignore) the fact that it is HUMAN EXPERIENCE that brings about changes in brain chemicals and structural changes in the brain. Even animal studies have shown this. Mice subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. being restrained) show adverse changes in the brain [see for example the following article: Popoli M, et al. (2012). The stressed synapse: the impact of stress and glucocorticoids on glutamate transmission. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2011;13(1):22-37] – these changes are reversible through psychological means (e.g. when stressed, restrained animals are released as described in the same article).

  • I posted the above comment a few minutes ago, but it looks like it had got marked as ‘spam’ because it had too many links (therefore, I had to post it again without links – the comment above). However, I thought of attempting to add the following free link (it is a LEGAL link) to the article “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom,” (2017) from the MindRxiv research repository: https://mindrxiv.org/mfs63/

  • When approaching this issue, it is extremely important to separate TWO distinct levels of analyses. One is the conventional level of analyses – we analyze how trees grow, how the weather happens, how digestion takes place in our body, the chemical/molecular structure of compounds, and even how the brain works along with neural correlates of thoughts, etc.

    The second level of analyses relate to understanding the moment-by-moment manifestation of the mind-stream (i.e., “stream of consciousness”). We need to remember that we only have ONE thought moment at a time (see for example: Slagter, Heleen A., et al. “Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources.” PLoS biology 5.6 (2007): e138). This mind-stream happens in everyone all the time, whether one is cooking, driving a car, gardening or carrying out a research investigation (such as studying the brain). Even when reading this article, our mind-stream is constantly changing.

    Joanna mentioned the importance of the social context. This too can be understood by considering the mind-stream. For example, seeing a person you really like would result in a pleasant feeling. However, if that person became your enemy one-day, then seeing this same person would result in an unpleasant feeling. This change is due to social experience – not DUE to changes in neurons (although neurons would have changed as a RESULT of social experiences – note that the brain is changing all the time as a result of human experience). To take another example, if someone has learnt as a child that interrupting a conversation is rude, then when one observes someone interrupting, this behavior would be labeled as ‘bad behavior’ (due to the social expectations) and if the person has not learnt this, then the person would not care about someone interrupting another person.

    It should be noted that Buddhist teachings have comprehensively (and systematically) analyzed the mind-stream and the these teachings talk of “conditioned causality” – i.e., how mind-states are interrelated in different ways and how various causes and conditions lead to other causes and conditions, etc. To understand this mind-stream better – it is also useful to conceptually understand what is meant by the “present moment,” “the past” and “the future.” One can get an idea about all this from the following academic article: “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom.” Current Psychology (2017).

    As I see it, unless we separate the two levels of analyses described above – people will be continuously arguing in circles. The problem with attempting to understand the brain/neurons with the aim of understanding the mind/consciousness) is that one forgets that the inquirer is interlocked with the item under inquiry. The two levels of analyses can also be thought of as the ‘third person perspective’ and the ‘first-person perspective.’ The following article is also useful to understand the two levels of analyses: Karunamuni, N.D. (2015). The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind. SAGE Open, 5 (2).

  • Joanna: Thank you for your reply. Regarding Heidegger – although he had talked about the importance of the ontological basis of questions asked regarding human experiences, etc., he did not present a clear theory. There also appears to be evidence that his thinking was influenced by Eastern philosophical ideas. On the other hand, the article I posted comprehensively explains the mind (and is presented as a theory).
    By the way, in the ‘memorial to Matt,’ he is quoted as saying – although he could understand that his mental issues had no basis, he could not change it emotionally no matter how hard he tried. This is a situation where mindfulness meditation could go a very long way – one can gradually train oneself to not get involved with various emotions when they happen to come. This training, along with clearly understanding the mind (as explained in that article) can go a long way for maintaining good mental health. Anyway, you can read the article/s leisurely and do your own assessments…

  • Joanna: I applaud you for taking up this issue.
    I also really like Thomas Szasz’s writings – he was instrumental in raising these issues and getting people contemplating/discussing these important matters. However, I have something to add to this discussion and I hope you will read the rest of this comment with an open mind.

    I too have done quite a bit of reading on this subject area and as a result, I agree with “Slaying_the_Dragon” regarding that logic/science are limited means to arrive at the truth. In other words, we need to consider other epistemologies. Here, I like to direct your attention to how ancient people understood the mind – especially how Buddhist teachings (from some 2600 years ago) describe the mind. I know that some people simply discard these types of considerations thinking that “it is religion and therefore it must be irrational.” However, if someone can go beyond that negativity, then one can see how comprehensively these teachings have described the mind.

    First, when talking of different epistemologies, it is useful to think in terms of two levels of analyses. One is the conventional level – almost all of the analyses we do on a day-to-day level happen at the conventional level (e.g. analyses on how trees grow, how digestion happen, about evolution, how the brain works, etc.). The other level of analysis is the moment-to-moment manifestation of the “stream of consciousness” (i.e., this takes into consideration the past, present and the future, how the past can condition the future, etc.).

    Buddhist teachings comprehensively describe this “stream of consciousness” in terms of continuously changing sense impressions and mental phenomena, and also describe factors that moderate the flow of consciousness. When you understand these explanations, it is possible to comprehend that there is no such thing as “mental illness,” and that there are only issues in life that can be dealt with through understanding (by the way, this relates to the practice of ‘mindfulness’). Commentaries of Buddhist teachings describe that the “stream of consciousness” is affected by physical laws, biological laws, psychological laws, volitional laws, and universal laws. The following academic article is a good start read about this:

    Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom. Current Psychology. doi:10.1007/s12144-017-9631-7

  • I agree with all this. Also, if someone wants to call them “biological conditions” then one has to understand that it is HUMAN EXPERIENCE (i.e., psychological causes such as severe psychological stresses) that brings about changes in biochemicals and the brain. Many of studies have shown this. Mice subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. being restrained) clearly show dendritic atrophy and loss of dendritic spines [see for example: Popoli M, et al. (2012), The stressed synapse: the impact of stress and glucocorticoids on glutamate transmission, Nature reviews Neuroscience. 2011;13(1):22-37.] – these changes are reversible through psychological means (e.g. when stressed, restrained animals are released as described in the same article). Studies have shown that as taxi drivers do their jobs (psychological causes), the brain changes. Jugglers gain more grey matter in certain areas as a result of engaging in juggling. Various psychological habits, choices, etc., can also change the brain. For example, research has also shown that impulsivity trait results in reductions in gray matter. On the other hand, mindfulness practices (that result in reductions in impulsivity) are known to change the structure and function of the brain in positive ways (e.g. increases in gray matter and cortical thickness). So, it is important to get the direction of causation right when interpreting these types of studies.
    Psychiatrists get this CAUSATION TOTALLY WRONG – they think the causation happens the other way around.

  • I agree with you Lawrence. Also, labels increase stigma.
    What someone facing mental issues needs is a lot of hope, support and interventions that can calm the mind – definitely not fancy labels and drugs.
    Regarding the need for going “beyond biology” and materialistic explanations of behavior (an issue addressed by several commenters here) – do you know that Buddhist teachings have comprehensively analyzed the mind (consciousness)? (and this understanding goes way beyond current mainstream psychological understandings). You may wish to read the following article:
    Karunamuni, N. and Weerasekera, R. (June, 2017), Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom, Current Psychology.
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12144-017-9631-7

  • Thank you Lawrence. Another thing is: although psychiatrists talk about chemical variations (and therefore, the need for medication), we need to remember that despite decades of research, scientists have not been able to find any structural or other brain differences between patients with ‘mental conditions’ and healthy individuals (this is why there are no objective tests to ‘detect’ them). But with time (after a label is given) structural differences seem to happen either because of the intake of medication or due to the added burden of receiving a label (lots of extra psychological stress to get a label and psychological stresses change the brain). Supporting this idea, a recent study found very few differences between the different disorders in terms of the distribution of the group differences across the brain. See: Sprooten, E., et al. (2017). Addressing reverse inference in psychiatric neuroimaging: Meta‐analyses of task‐related brain activation in common mental disorders. Human brain mapping, 38(4), 1846-1864. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hbm.23486/abstract

  • Hi Jill: You say that causation can be inferred from manipulated variable research. However, this is not what happens in natural settings. If you look at the comment I posted earlier, you will see that it is HUMAN EXPERIENCE (psychological causes) that brings about changes in neurons and neuro-chemicals. Brains do not change for no apparent reason at all – that is what the psychiatrists want us to believe.
    If someone loses one’s job, all the rumination/worry/regrets will change their brain chemicals and when the person gets a job again, these chemicals will return to normal again.

  • I agree. Lots of studies have shown that it is HUMAN EXPERIENCE that brings about changes in brain chemicals and also result structural changes in the brain. Mice subjected to various psychological stresses (e.g. being restrained) clearly show dendritic atrophy and loss of dendritic spines [see: Popoli M, et al. (2012), The stressed synapse: the impact of stress and glucocorticoids on glutamate transmission, Nature reviews Neuroscience. 2011;13(1):22-37.] – these changes are reversible through psychological means (e.g. when stressed, restrained animals are released as described in the same article). Other studies have shown that as taxi drivers do their jobs (psychological causes), the brain changes. Jugglers gain more grey matter in certain areas as a result of engaging in juggling. Various psychological habits, choices, etc., can also change the brain. For example, research has also shown that impulsivity trait results in reductions in gray matter. On the other hand, mindfulness practices (that result in reductions in impulsivity) are known to change the structure and function of the brain in positive ways (e.g. increases in gray matter and cortical thickness).
    The psychiatrists get this CAUSATION TOTALLY WRONG – they think the causation happens the other way around.

  • Negative effects of meditation happen due to a poor understanding of what constitutes mindfulness/meditation practices. Buddhist teachings comprehensively explain the mind (consciousness) – it is worthwhile reading the following new publication:

    Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom, Current Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12144-017-9631-7

  • I do not have time to carefully examine the details of this study, but I think it is worth considering the fact that the structure of the brain changes with one’s experiences (a phenomenon known as ‘brain plasticity’). Several studies including animal studies (where for example restrained animals have been tested) indicate that the structure of the brain changes as a result of psychological stresses. Now, when one is given a DSM label using a check-list (for ADHD or any other “disorder”), then thereafter, the person is considered to be a “person with that disorder” – this label itself can cause a great deal of stress to the person who has been assigned the label (i.e., the person can get depressed and stressed thinking that one is somehow different from others). As a result of the label, others may treat this person differently as well (e.g. not including the person in their social circles because he/she has that “disorder”). All this psychological stress would then result in changes in the brain and this difference could be what the scientists have observed. As I said, I do not have the time to carefully go through the study details, but if a few years have passed between people being assigned a ADHD label and the testing of brain differences, then we would expect to find structural differences. But as I explained, these differences are a direct result of the psychological stresses caused by a diagnostic label itself – not a result of having some kind of “disorder.”

  • Robert: Perhaps you should write a short commentary (reply) to that journal. It might save time however, if you write to the editor first and ask if he/she would consider a reply commentary. Also, it might be worthwhile to get a clinician to be a co-author.
    By the way, the following two research studies that have shown the same changes in brain scans in patients who respond to placebos and patients who take an actual drug might also come handy if you do decide to write a commentary (to mention that drugs can work sometimes for individuals because of their placebo effects, etc.).
    http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2443355 http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2443354

  • I recently came across the following mindfulness study – they have specifically tailored this mindfulness intervention to suit Parkinson’s disease (instructions given at a slower pace, simplifying the instructions, etc.) so that they could grasp it: http://downloads.hindawi.com/journals/pd/2016/7109052.pdf
    Mindfulness is known to bring about healthy changes in the brain – so if any chemical agent that destroyed the brain is no longer consumed, then the brain would begin to heal.

  • Regarding your question (why are we not using the mind map from 2600 years ago): I think the major reason is that these ancient understandings are cast aside as “religion” and are often ignored and assumed to be not the territory of psychology and psychiatry. It is only now (because mindfulness practice has become popular, and as a result of better access to many resources via the internet) that this information is coming out. If you take a look at the article (link I provided), you will understand how the model explains the “stream of consciousness” – the moment-by-moment manifestation of the mind-stream. By the way, I managed to download the pdf of your book – I congratulate you for all the time you would have put into it (and I also think that it may interest some people). As for me, I realized that the analysis presented is done at a conventional (relative) level. When studying the psyche, there are two levels of analyses (relative and absolute) – the article link I posted earlier explains this.

  • A recent study (published in June 2016) that tested “the MEND protocol” (that included dietary guidelines, meditation practice, yoga, etc.) found that Alzheimer’s patients who had had to discontinue work (due to the disease) were able to return to work, and those struggling at work were able to improve their performance, etc. The study was evaluated using MRI scans and neuropsychological testing. The link to the study (titled “The MEND Program Shows Promise for Reversing Cognitive Decline”) is here:
    http://www.drperlmutter.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Rev-Cog-Dec-2-on-6.13.16.pdf
    It is also interesting to note that in this study, most of the subjects had at least one copy of the APOE4 allele (a strong genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s), demonstrating that the effects of genes can be combatted.

  • shljock: Mental states (such as anxiety, depression, etc., which are caused by day-to-day stresses and lived experiences) will bring about changes in neurochemicals. But these changes can be reversed when these day-to-day problems are solved, when circumstances change, etc. (changes happen through neuroplastic and epigenetic mechanisms in the brain). In vary rare occasions (for example, if an infection happens, or when taking certain medications, etc.), the normal equilibrium of neurochemicals can be lost and that can bring about psychological issues. But this is very rare. In various organs of the body (spleen, liver, etc.,), only a very small number of people suddenly develop health problems due to biological abnormalities that just happen to occur in those organs. Therefore, it is unwise to simply assume that psychological issues are caused by biological abnormalities that just happen to materialize in the organ brain all of a sudden for no apparent reason at all. This is why I think psychological approaches are best.

  • Hi Ragnarok: 2600 years ago, the Buddha mapped the mind perfectly. See for example the following article: http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/5/2/2158244015583860 (in the link, you can download the pdf for free). Since your link is not an academic article and it goes to some unknown site, I do not want to download the whole thing (for the fear of viruses). But if you like, you can explain a summary of what you say in it.

  • Oldhead: in terms of ‘will and motivation,’ this can be understood by reading the article link I posted earlier (here’s the pdf link to it: http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/spsgo/5/2/2158244015583860.full.pdf ). It talks about the importance of separating the ‘conventional level of analyses’ from the ‘ultimate level of analyses’ (by the way, the separation of these two levels of analyses is described in all religious traditions).
    Most neuroscientists do not believe in ‘will and motivation’ – they simply say that everything happens via the brain. They say this because mental activity is associated with neural activity and it can also be observed that intentions originate as neural activity – however, there is a huge philosophical/ontological issue being ignored when analyzing this way.
    I have heard of several neuroscientists who use the terms ‘brain’ and ‘mind’ to refer to the same thing – they simply say: “the brain is the mind.” To me, brain is just another organ in the body that the mind knows about. Our minds experience/analyze the outside world (i.e., all external phenomena), and also experience/analyze the inside world (our body anatomy, physiology, including circulatory system, the nervous system and the brain). The “mind” constitutes sense impressions and mental phenomena that are constantly changing, as described in the article link I posted above.

  • I think volunteers can easily provide mental health services, especially since all what most people in distress want is someone to talk to. Many years ago, I volunteered for an organization that provided emotional support for people facing all types of issues. It was a free service and we effectively built rapport with the clients and also directed them to specialized services if/when needed. We did undergo training sessions where we were taught listening skills, how to ask open-ended questions, etc. Each volunteer worked there for a few hours every week.
    As I see it, learning various complex theories/methodologies in psychology (when obtaining a university degree) are not directly relevant or useful for talking to people in a friendly, helpful way. So, we probably do not need specialized professionals for mental health.

  • I think I too was challenging what you wrote, rather than criticizing. I would specifically challenge the part where you say “Oddly, this seems just psychological, but it is actually biological. Actually everything is biological.”
    This would mean that you wrote this article because your limbic system got active, and I am responding and commenting because my amygdala happened to respond?! As I mentioned earlier, although biological investigations can be carried out to find out which parts of the brain are associated with various mental phenomena, these are only associations. If a human mind were not there to interpret and hypothesize, we would not be talking about biological systems. In other words, biological understandings happen within individuals’ mind-stream that manifest from moment to moment (as I explained in my earlier post).

  • I hope my comments do not sound critical to you Robert. When I discuss these types of issues, my intention is to get at the truth rather than saying things merely to flatter the other person, so please forgive me if I sound rude.
    I agree that thoughts happen through biological processes and I agree with all what you say regarding how the brain links information, how different regions of the brain such as the amygdala and limbic system have their roles, etc. But these are all analyses done at a conventional level and as oldhead stated, what we are talking about here are correlations and not causations.
    An issue we tend to forget when we do all these analyses is that each and every one of us experience only one thought moment at a time (this is supported by research and I can give references if needed). For example, as I write this, thoughts are coming and going in a fast-flowing stream, changing moment to moment. As you read this too, thoughts are happening and changing from moment to moment. Anyone analyzing/being involved/engaged in anything (including analyzing the brain), or even if someone is not doing anything, they are experiencing thoughts changing from moment to moment. Attending to this thought stream, calming it and understanding it is what is known as sophia (the term used by Aristotle). This is a very different level of analyses (different from the conventional level of analyses) – this is explained in the article link I gave earlier.

  • I agree with ‘oldhead.’ As I see it, when talking about brain/mind issues, we need to separate two levels of analyses. Aristotle referred to these two levels using the philosophical terms: ‘phronesis’ and ‘sophia.’ The mind constitutes sense impressions and mental phenomena that are constantly changing. The brain is merely another organ in the body (like any other organ) that the mind knows about and analyses. In other words, it is the constantly changing mind-stream of an individual that analyses the brain.
    You can understand these two levels of analyses, if you read the following article:
    Karunamuni, N.D. (2015). The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind. SAGE Open, 5 (2).
    (article link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/2158244015583860 )

  • Good point BPDT. For any drug, it is important to clearly understand whether they are nullifying “symptoms” to an external observer, or it is better at producing the results that people actually want (the patient’s inner experience). As I see it, any trial-and-error “treatment” would simply nullify the symptoms to satisfy an external observer.

  • Ron- Regarding your comment that someone with training could understand the complexities of drugs: Even if they knew something, it would be a list of perplexing names of drugs, along with a complicated list of brain regions as well as a separate list of fancy names that describe DSM categories. What else would they know? I do not think anyone can understand all the complexities of the brain, with billions of neurons and trillions of synapses, let alone how this information connects and interacts with various compounds that are introduced as well as how all this information connects to a person’s actual experience and wellbeing. Also something we forget is that all these understandings about the brain and neurons, etc., happen in an individual’s mind – so, it is much better to try to understand the mind. The mind was extensively analyzed 2600 year ago – see the following article to get an idea: http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/spsgo/5/2/2158244015583860.full.pdf

  • Regarding “it goes two ways” (the brain/mind), as I stated, it is very difficult to think that all of a sudden the brain would change (as a result of some biological/physiological abnormality happening for no apparent reason at all) in relatively young healthy individuals (or even in older individuals) – especially when considering that such sudden changes are extremely rare in other organs of our body.

  • In various organs of our body (such as the heart, liver, spleen, etc.), it is extremely rare that various problems spring up due to biological/physiological abnormalities that happen to suddenly arise from nowhere. But as soon as people display “mental illness,” a biological/physiological problem in the organ brain is presumed to cause it. Psychiatrists completely ignore neuroplasticity/epigenetics – according to which the changes seen (biological/physiological problems) are a result of mind-states (mind-states resulting from various psychological/social causes). In other words, their “causation” interpretation goes completely the other way around!
    One sentence in this article illustrates this point. The sentence: “It appears for example that adverse childhood events frequently lead to mental and emotional reactions that then lead not just to “mental health” problems later in life, but also to physiological reactions that then lead to much higher rates of physical illness.” If someone keeps proliferating/ruminating/regretting about their childhood experiences, this itself can lead to physiological/physical health changes over time. But if one learns to be open to experience (for example, through meditation/mindfulness training – which is the best way to prevent rumination, etc.- see: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735813001207 ), then I think one could potentially prevent these resulting physiological/physical complications from arising.

  • I agree Alex – scientists need to think “way outside the box.”
    In order to understand mental illness, we have to first try to understand what “normal” is. Scientists just assume (for no valid reason whatsoever), that being happy all the time is what is normal for people. But this is not necessarily correct.
    Also, if you talk to a typical neuroscientist, they will argue that the brain is the same as the mind! When I try to explain that it is the mind that thinks about the brain, and that the brain is just another organ in the body that is unable to talk for itself, they don’t understand. Meditation is about the mind – the mind-stream that is aware of the outside world, the inside world (including all the organs and the brain as well as the mind itself), and is capable of making itself calm. Calm mind-states also bring about healthy changes in brain structure, as studies in neuroplasticity have shown.

  • Ron: I am not too sure if those drugs can beat placebos, especially when there are no known “mechanisms of action” at all – these are all drugs that drug companies come up with on a trial-and-error basis. I have also heard that drug companies need to present only two trials that show that a drug is effective (to get approval) – therefore, what the drug companies do is to conduct many many trials and present two trials that happened to show results in a favorable direction for that drug.

  • Hi Ron, Here are a few other things that I feel should be considered regarding this issue:

    – Psychiatric drugs are only as good as placebos (so many studies point to this). It is not like psychiatrists understand the workings of the brain so precisely (the way diabetes is understood in terms of insulin deficits in the pancreas). Drug companies come up with these psychiatric drugs on a trial and error basis – so, snake oil or jellyfish juice may work equally well. The problem with all these drugs is their nasty side effects.

    – Don’t forget neuroplasticity – mind states bringing about structural changes in the brain. So, doctors may simply look at the structure of the brain and come up with medicines to treat (target) these abnormal structures. In reality these “abnormal” structures are reversible, as meditation interventions have shown – I can give references for this if needed.

    – I have observed that several psychiatrists have now gone into the field of mindfulness. Recently, I also came across a study published in the journal “neuroscience” where they investigated potential physiological markers of mindfulness meditation competence (as an objective assessment of mindfulness meditation quality – see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26850995). So perhaps, psychiatrists could also carry out these types of assessments to guide individual’s to mental health.

    – It is best not to conclude that dementia and Alzheimer’s are simply biological. Studies have shown that elevated default-mode activity of the brain is associated with amyloid plaque deposition (this is what defines Alzheimer’s). Elevated default-mode activity is also linked to rumination, worry and mental proliferation, etc. Studies have shown that mindfulness and all meditation practices significantly reduce rumination, worry, etc., thereby diminishing the activity of the default-mode network (I have listed some references that back these statements at the bottom of this post).

    Also, there are other studies that point to psychological causes of Alzheimer’s – for example, there is strong evidence that stress is linked to Alzheimer’s (see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26655068 ).

    The following references support what I wrote above (regarding the activity of the default mode network and Alzheimer’s):

    Brewer, J. A., Worhunsky, P. D., Gray, J. R., Tang, Y. Y., Weber, J., & Kober, H. (2011). Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(50), 20254-20259.

    Greicius, M. D., Srivastava, G., Reiss, A. L., & Menon, V. (2004). Default-mode network activity distinguishes Alzheimer’s disease from healthy aging: evidence from functional MRI. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(13), 4637-4642.

    Wells, R. E., Yeh, G. Y., Kerr, C. E., Wolkin, J., Davis, R. B., Tan, Y., … & Press, D. (2013). Meditation’s impact on default mode network and hippocampus in mild cognitive impairment: a pilot study. Neuroscience letters,556, 15-19.

    Garrison, K. A., Zeffiro, T. A., Scheinost, D., Constable, R. T., & Brewer, J. A. (2015). Meditation leads to reduced default mode network activity beyond an active task. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 15(3), 712-720.

    Larouche, E., Hudon, C., & Goulet, S. (2015). Potential benefits of mindfulness-based interventions in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease: an interdisciplinary perspective. Behavioural brain research, 276, 199-212.

  • I think both of you are right. In terms of “becoming aware of the emotions and sitting with them” – it is useful to notice how these emotions (whether they are depression provoking or anxiety provoking) come and go during meditation. We can observe that we are not making them come, they come when they want to come, stay for a while and go away! If we deliberately try to make them come, they may not even come!
    Regarding what Fiachra says, “looking at situations once the emotions have passed” can also be quite useful, to get an ideal about the fleeting nature of these thoughts/situations.

  • I wish this article by William A. Wilson had a reference list. I would have liked to know the reference citation for the part “…, and in 2011 a group of researchers at Bayer decided to test it. Looking at sixty-seven recent drug discovery projects based on preclinical cancer biology research, they found that in more than 75 percent of cases the published data did not match up …..”
    If anyone has it, please post it.

  • Someone else: I think it all boils down to a great deal of deep rooted conditioning that happen in schools and in medical schools that make the upcoming generation to unquestioningly believe that materialism is an “absolute reality.” Rupert Sheldrake explains this well in his banned TED talk – he talks about the difference between “science as a method of inquiry based on reason, evidence, hypothesis and collective investigation vs. science as a belief system or a world view” he says that “the latter has started to inhibit and constrict free inquiry, which is the life blood of the scientific endeavor.” This worldview is the materialist worldview.
    Here’s the link to his talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKHUaNAxsTg

  • Nice article. And to think that so much funding goes to find out which neuron is connected to which neuron! I also think that even Alzheimer’s disease has psychological causes (such as stress, worry, regrets, etc., that activate the default mode of the brain leading to plaque formation – many studies point to this), although billions of dollars are currently spent to investigate its biological causes.

  • Bradford: Yes, they did talk about Toxoplasmosis. The original academic article I traced down is – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25892720 , and in that (and the articles it refers to), they just looked at the association of owning a cat in childhood and the presence of “mental illness” as an adult – for me the evidence (i.e., connecting to ‘simply owning a cat’) is not convincing – there can be many confounding factors involved in that association.

  • LOL! What they did was to make a connection to having had a cat in early childhood to having mental illness later as an adult (they found a slightly higher probability). They were linking the results to a possible influence of a parasite (always go for biological explanations). What they ignored is that owning a cat during childhood can be influenced by many other factors like the type of neighbourhood one grows up in, socioeconomic status, etc.
    But when news media report the study as if it is a direct link, it can incite fear and depression in people who had a cat during their childhood, and this excessive worry may itself gradually lead to ‘mental illness’!

  • Regarding the statement that many psychiatrists are unable to grasp other influences – today I was reading a news article about cat ownership being associated with mental illness (original study published in the journal ‘Schizophrenia Research’). The researchers took cases and controls (a group of people who had mental illness and a group that did not) and compared the percentages of cat ownership. But they completely ignored various confounding factors can operate in these types of situations. For example, things like socioeconomic status, location (urban, rural, etc.) and other factors can AFFECT CAT OWNERSHIP, and this can explain the results that were observed. This possibility is not even mentioned in the paper.

  • I happened to come across this article relating to anxiety and mindfulness:
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/my-ruminating-anxiety-trapped-me-in-my-thoughts-but-im-learning-to-wake-up/article28769774/
    It talks about the transient nature of thoughts, etc. This is the type of thing I meant when I mentioned ‘theory.’ At the beginning, people can get some benefit from meditation by not ruminating on thoughts (this is probably why this study had positive results). As one gets better at meditation, then they can see for themselves that even the most anxiety provoking thought comes and goes, and one becomes more proficient at catching the thought as soon as it arises. If someone goes for an extended retreat, I think it would be very helpful for them to know about these types of things.

  • As I see it, giving the label “autism” (or giving a label to any “mental illness”) should stop. This is because the diagnosis of mental illness is based entirely on doctor’s subjective evaluations (they use check-lists). There are no blood tests, tissue tests, X-rays or any of that – no objective tests at all. Diagnosis made this way also fails to meet the Virchowian standard of disease.
    So, do these “mental illnesses” even exist? It is the label that creates all the difficulties of stigma, etc. I think doctors should simply focus on treating symptoms of the patients (such as stress, worry, socializing issues, etc.) without assigning fancy names (labels) to various mental illnesses.

  • Someone Else,
    I am not denying electric activity in the brain! What I am saying is that we cannot point to electric activity and say “that’s the mind!” – this is because it is the mind itself that studies electrical activity in the brain – brains don’t talk. As I have stated earlier, it is the mind that thinks about the trees outside, about our body structures such as the digestive system, nervous system and even brain activity. So, the mind is a much more vast entity than mere electrical activity inside the head. If you read the article about the mind I posted sometime back, you might get an idea about the mind (link: http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/5/2/2158244015583860 ).
    Regarding NDEs, scientific studies have shown that patients recall descriptions of their resuscitation accurately – they recall what happened during the time their brain was clinically non-functional (when there was no electrical activity in the brain). It has been estimated that 25 million individuals worldwide have had a near death experience in the past fifty years, and these experiences have been reported throughout time in essentially all cultures, by not just religious individuals, but by atheists, agnostics as well as children who are commonly considered to be too young to have any real concept of death.
    Links for NDEs (scientific studies) : https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232463289_Near-Death_Experience_Out-of-Body_and_Out-of-Brain
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21988246

  • Thanks for sharing Someone Else. Dr. Jim Tucker’s books also have many interesting stories like that. I remember reading about a child who found things he had hidden in his previous life (when he was taken to the previous house), which no one else in his previous family knew about! Also, it seems some children report having existed in different realms (non-human) and he says that it is difficult ignore these statements in the context of other statements that the same child has made (on previous human births) that have been verified.
    I think near death experiences (NDEs) also strongly indicate that the mind is not mere electrical activity in the brain (as many scientists consider it to be).