I began meditating a few months back and it feels very positive, even a bit transformative. That feeling is backed up empirically.
There are a number of interesting published studies on the effects of meditation but these two are amazing! Both have high strength of evidence. Here’s the minimum nutshell summary:
- Long term meditation alters brain anatomy in positive ways, such as larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter
- Meditation and yoga can rewrite our DNA and alter the gene expression of enduring trauma and stress correlates
The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter
Although the systematic study of meditation is still in its infancy, research has provided evidence for meditation-induced improvements in psychological and physiological well-being. Moreover, meditation practice has been shown not only to benefit higher-order cognitive functions but also to alter brain activity. Nevertheless, little is known about possible links to brain structure. Using high-resolution MRI data of 44 subjects, we set out to examine the underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation with different regional specificity (i.e., global, regional, and local). For this purpose, we applied voxel-based morphometry in association with a recently validated automated parcellation approach.
We detected significantly larger gray matter volumes in meditators in the right orbito-frontal cortex (as well as in the right thalamus and left inferior temporal gyrus when co-varying for age and/or lowering applied statistical thresholds). In addition, meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the right hippocampus. Both orbito-frontal and hippocampal regions have been implicated in emotional regulation and response control. Thus, larger volumes in these regions might account for meditators’ singular abilities and habits to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior. We further suggest that these regional alterations in brain structures constitute part of the underlying neurological correlate of long-term meditation independent of a specific style and practice. Future longitudinal analyses are necessary to establish the presence and direction of a causal link between meditation practice and brain anatomy.
There is considerable evidence for the effectiveness of mind–body interventions (MBIs) in improving mental and physical health, but the molecular mechanisms of these benefits remain poorly understood. One hypothesis is that MBIs reverse expression of genes involved in inflammatory reactions that are induced by stress. This systematic review was conducted to examine changes in gene expression that occur after MBIs and to explore how these molecular changes are related to health. We searched PubMed throughout September 2016 to look for studies that have used gene expression analysis in MBIs (i.e., mindfulness, yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, relaxation response, and breath regulation). Due to the limited quantity of studies, we included both clinical and non-clinical samples with any type of research design. Eighteen relevant studies were retrieved and analyzed. Overall, the studies indicate that these practices are associated with a downregulation of nuclear factor kappa B pathway; this is the opposite of the effects of chronic stress on gene expression and suggests that MBI practices may lead to a reduced risk of inflammation-related diseases. However, it is unclear how the effects of MBIs compare to other healthy interventions such as exercise or nutrition due to the small number of available studies. More research is required to be able to understand the effects of MBIs at the molecular level.
(This series will be way better read from beginning to end, rather than end to beginning.)
Last time on Naked: Lizard boy began his quest to find love without fixing his broken heart first.
Because I didn’t know I needed to work, I didn’t do the work that needed to be done. And so I passed through the lives of many wonderful women: confusing, annoying and confounding them as I walked confidently in two different directions.
Popular Ways to Not Love
What Problem? If a sunny woman wanted me, I would let her approach and have sexual intimacy, which I have never been afraid of, but not true emotional intimacy. I’m good at having very deep and soulful talks while keeping most of my own personal dumpster fire private. If she was wonderful and came closer, loving me too much and too sweetly, I would fucking panic and begin pushing her away. My reaction to my black radioactive moon problem was to keep things a bit light and distant so we could stay together. This, of course, means creating and accepting a relatively shallow and safe love that doesn’t remind you of the real problem. Or it only does in introspective moments when you wonder if this can really be all there is to it. A lot of decent marriages coast here for years.
This is the Forbidden Forrest problem. A secret broken heart hidden in dark woods breeds monsters and they…wander.
Arms Length. I might become suddenly difficult and spiky in a distancing way. Or maybe I’d cheat and be at a safe and cool distance from two women at once because triangulation guarantees an underlying lack of intimacy. Even if triangulation isn’t cheating but instead a profound commitment to something else in your life, good or bad, it guarantees this emotional distance from the beloved. Doing this doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it just means you are choosing to keep your distance. Perhaps it’s reasonable? Perhaps you should hold it up to the light?
Personal breathing room isn’t toxic, and the required amount is individually set. A secret need for more breathing room means a dishonest foundation. It’s breathing room to express something forbidden.
The Two Way One Way Street. In a later phase, I went for women who had acid scars on their psyche just like mine. Brilliant, wounded, complicated women. I picked those who didn’t dare to love so that I could love them without the fear of true reciprocity. This was unconscious by the way, I had no idea that I was choosing badly on purpose. I thought I had a type, but I had a pattern. Here I could love passionately, without restraint. It was joyous to love deeply but ultimately sad and empty standing under Juliet’s balcony all alone. The partner’s corresponding pattern is to receive love in a passionless, flat way. They are judgemental and critical.
This is mutually unrequited love as a couple’s lifestyle. Two people who aren’t allowed love build a love machine.
You Probably Don’t Even Know Your Own Truth
A question: Why can’t those people see what they’re doing, and just fucking do something else?
Because they are terrified to be vulnerable and learn what’s really inside them. What’s inside them is a fucked-up child who wasn’t loved right and now compels them to live a life plan crafted and set in stone by that FUCKED UP CHILD.
A question: What the fuck did I think I was doing during my version of all this nonsense?
If you answered “I honestly can’t imagine”, you are correct. We would also have accepted “Wasting everyone’s time for nothing”. I might as well have been a moth dry humping a light bulb. I was a whirlwind of impassioned actions without a map or a plan. I was that dumb fly that never gives up on banging into the window to get outside. For way too long, I learned nothing and persevered. I looked within…but the monkey in the mirror just looked back like “What?”.
“The Brain tunes itself to criticality, maximizing information processing”
Our brains are clearly amazing at processing the “blooming, buzzing1” world around us. A recent experiment supports the theory that when neurons work together they actively cooperate to achieve their maximum processing capacity. They seek the urgent, intense edge of their ability. Picture them as the human runners in an Amazon “fulfillment center” except happy in their work.
The entire brain appears to seek this set point or default working state at the maximum of its abilities: “Where it is as excitable as it can be, without tipping into disorder, similar to a phase transition.” A phase transition is where matter transitions from one state, liquid, solid, or gaseous, to a different state.
In other words, our brains are balanced about one millimeter from chaos and disorder. That’s all of us, all the time. Returning from sleep or other off duty moments the brain tunes and retunes itself seeking this point.
While the study neither reveals nor claims anything else about our neurology, I think it points a bright red arrow at possible organic causes of ADHD (as well as ASD, schizophrenia, etc). If the default human phenome, the standard, mass-produced person has this edge-of-chaos set-point, then genetic variation (known to be the prime cause of ADHD) could easily generate a different set point. This variation might generate the quirky, out of step processing that makes us so valuable in the modern workforce, wait, strike that…
It also seems logical that anything that alters this point results in behavioral instability.
More and other interesting details in the reports:
1 William James, writing about sensory processing. : “The baby, assailèd by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion; “
Science is a Gas Giant.
I don’t mean anything disparaging by that. It’s a mental model to freshen up our thinking.
The unequivocal territory of science is the sum of theories plus experiments that have unambiguous, replicable results. This body of knowledge is the diamond-hard core at the heart of science. There are a lot of physics and chemistry experiments here. They seem to know their parts by heart.
Just beyond the border of that core, the gas atmosphere begins but it is nearly as hard as the core itself. It’s a long, dense gradient from here to the wispy edge of the atmosphere that is literally made of thin clouds under scattered atoms and space. Close to the core, the experiments are as replicable as the day is long when you average them out. There are enough squishy, stochastic details here that any random experiment might say something new, but not useful. The ambiguous results are overwhelmed by un-ambiguous ones like a single black grain in a bag of white rice.*
Heading outward, the variables faced by theorists get more complicated and slippery. If the questions science aims to answer were pickle jars, we’d crack them open without a beat at the core, struggle with rubber gloves and screwdrivers around the middle, and create thought experiments about jars and pickles at the foggy upper edge. Your thought experiment may perfectly predict opening the jar, and what’s inside but it’ll be a long time before anyone gets a pickle.
There is an entire UNIVERSE of questions in need of answers outside this atmosphere. These are unscientific questions such as, are there orders of existence above this one, is there a god, is there any foundation to astrology, extrasensory perception, or life after death?
These pickle jars are literally unrecognizable as jars of pickles when dragged down into the atmosphere of the Scientific Gas Giant. The implications of unscientific questions are so far from detection or measure within the atmosphere that they are literally nonsense down there. They are all noise, no signal. Science reacts to these questions scornfully and answers unambiguously.
This is a bit like having a masseur go over your taxes or a policeman rate the quality of your dental work. You can do it, but why on earth would you? What scientists and new-age and religious believers should recognize above all is this:
The only possible response to an Un-Scientific Question is an Un-Scientific Answer.**
If you as a layman, doubt and question the diamond core of science, you’re opting for stupidity, because that shit is proven. Then there’s a long climb through that atmosphere where if you bet against the science you are going to lose. However, outside the atmosphere, no answer is scientific and every answer is unscientific. Most everything in life, especially stuff that truly matters, is outside the atmosphere. And that’s FINE! Inside the atmosphere good, outside good too!
Out here it comes down to style and passion. Cautious people, people afraid to be wrong, or thought silly, choose the Sciency Style©. It disparages and looks down on answers that come from outside the atmosphere even though the atmosphere can’t generate a relevant word about them. It isn’t science or even scientific, but it smells just like it. It’s a “grown-up” thing you wear like a headscarf or a tie, to fit in.
Thesis: Reality is allowed to have any, (and as many), details and causes as it wishes. We are allowed to speculate wildly about these.
Welcome to Crazy-Zoo!
How about we start speaking openly about the experiences of our hearts, minds, and souls. Forcing your life and words into sciency mode is no better than forcing them into fundamentalist religious mode. If you’re a “cards close to the chest” cautious person who hates ambiguity I’m not judging you. That’s the genuine version of you and that is what we need you to be.
If you censor yourself from a pro-social fear that some critical mass of idiots will hit their flashpoint and overrun the rest of us pushing their dumb ass beliefs, let me reassure you that happened LONG ago. This isn’t about that. This is about opening your horizons from their current cramped position. It’s about canalizing restricted freedom of thought. Remember, the flatness we’d be arguing in favor of isn’t supported by the scientific method, it’s just a posture.
Especially if you’ve censored yourself out of fear of judgement I want you to uncork the ocean of reality poetry inside you and let it flow. Crazy-Zoo is my “Might as well own it” name for the wide-open territory ahead where we say what we really think, (and even learn what we really think), in bold, colorful language without checking to see who approves.
We’ll soon revisit and explore Crazy-Zoo. Hope to see you there.
|* These black grains, by the way, are the life rafts clung to by those fighting against truth for pay or trollish perversity. Global warming and a spherical Earth, for two examples.
|** There is a scientifically correct answer: “I have no way of knowing”.
/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy [science]. – Willy the Shake
I grumble about scientific reductionism (SR) regularly but I thought of an angle that shows starkly, what is wrong with it. It is a Jekyll and Hyde thing. The problem comes when it escapes from the lab.
SR identifies the core reality of things as their simplest parts and origins. It is a filter against complexity, seeking the Least Story. SR understands the essence of something as “What it all boils down to”. As if a whole chicken, boiled for days down to greasy, particulate liquid better-represents chickens than the prepared carcass, let alone a living chicken. In an experiment, SR is like reducing fractions or maximum simplifying of non-essential variables. It makes results less ambiguous and that is good.
But it spread.
“All religions, nearly all philosophies, and even a part of science testify to the unwearying, heroic effort of mankind desperately denying its contingency.”
― Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity
Monod is the man chiefly responsible for the successful neo-Darwinian movement1. I’m not specifically picking on him but using him as a fair example of scientific reductionism when it climbs over the wall. There are tons of these quotes from him and I chose the nearest one. He is using the word Contingency to mean unpredictable randomness. He means all of us are hiding from the truth that we are an accident of the universe. Excuse me, we are MERELY an accident of the universe. Excuse me, I mean a meaningless universe.
Careful philosophy shoppers should ask questions.
- What are the tools he used to run his meaning experiments?
- How were the experiments constructed?
- How would he recognize meaning if it existed? How would he observe its absence?
- Provided he had a meaning detector, and observed its absence, why would he take that to mean that the result is universal?
Hurricane Dorian headed for Florida
The eye of Hurricane Dorian reaches category 5
I’m discussing the idea of control. For example, controlling ourselves, our social scene, romantic life, work issues and money.
There are several common variations of what we call Control. They differ sharply in meaning though each is intended for the same use. When we use the word Control about our lives it resembles one of these descriptions:
Dynamic or Responsive Control: The healthiest and happiest, also the least like the conventional meaning of control. This is a person who responds to life’s problems like a good tennis player responds to the match: Her moves are alert, timely, and proportional. She handles each problem as well as she can and doesn’t get distracted by grief over missing one or waste energy chasing a ball she could never catch. This person has confidence in themselves and knows that spontaneously handling everything as it comes to you is the only way to win. This style accepts incoming serves without protest as the core of the game, in other words as a basic truth about life.
The negative alternative is Anxious Control: There are several substyles to the spectrum of Anxious Control:
- Tense-Jumpy-Irritable Anxious Control – This style is stressed out just under the surface at all times. Problems scare them into hypervigilance and this generates “false positive” problems. Sadly this means they experience way more problems than people who aren’t on such high alert. Their moves are nervously alert, premature, and disproportionate on the “too big” side. They lack confidence in themselves and each problem costs them deeper emotional stress than necessary. Their response to incoming serves is bitter/resentful. “I knew it!” Oddly, they don’t put much focus on improving life in ways would generate fewer problems.
- Big Picture Prudence Anxious Control – The main difference between this one and the previous is time and space. BPP takes the long and global view of potential trouble. It embraces systems of avoiding and minimizing problems. None of that is pathological in itself, it shows good sense if it is in balance. The negative imbalance appears when fear and dread are the motivators and try to control EVERYTHING. Their moves are suspiciously alert, their timing is preemptive, and they are disproportionately risk-averse. There is a fundamentally negative world view with a dislike/distrust of anything that they cannot control. At the extreme end, this style avoids love, growth, and change. Their response to incoming serves is to manage them remotely or avoid them entirely.
- Helpless, Fatalistic Anxious Control – Utterly lacking confidence in themselves this style expects failure and allows it to happen through passivity and by telling themselves it doesn’t matter anyway. They grieve over their weakness but can’t find any way to address it. They avoid many problems by not trying or risking. They don’t bet on themselves. This approach can be global or limited/specialized to areas like love or work. Some, for example, might be highly accomplished in their career and helpless/fatalistic toward ever being loved. Their approach to incoming serves is wistful and sad as they passively let them go by. More rarely they take a feeble swing fully expecting failure.
There is a behavior within a distinct subset of Seattle drivers that causes a range of negative results from small nuisances to life-threatening. I’m referring to politeness. Actually, that isn’t right. Politeness is simple, lovely, correct. Politeness is the Tao of social interaction.
The problem behavior is Meta-Politeness, a self-conscious attempt to be witnessed personifying politeness. I believe it may be normal politeness tainted by the social media status update. We now include little unnecessary flourishes with our politeness in hopes of getting a “like”.
The tiny nuisance level is usually something like a driver expressing their profound open-mindedness that perhaps, evidence to the contrary, it isn’t their turn at the 4-way stop.
“Are you sure? It’s ok? Really?”
If this was as bad as it got, I would scarcely even notice, let alone ruminate over it…let even more alone write about it!
Here’s the real problem situation:
I’ve directly experienced this many times. Continue reading