Our need to stimulate the brain stem by pushing through difficulties or challenging our senses

…Here’s the crucial part: This expectation is likely to extend the effects of stress-induced pain relief beyond immediate cold exposure. If such an expectation – “I confronted the cold and feel invigorated” – is fulfilled, it will lead to the release of additional opioids or cannabinoids from the periaqueductal gray. This release can affect the levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, further enhancing a feeling of overall well-being. This positive feedback loop is implicated in the well-known “placebo effect.”

More generally, techniques such as those Hof uses appear to exert positive effects on the body’s innate immune response as well. We expect them to also have positive effects on mood and anxiety because of the release of opioids and cannabinoids. Though these effects have not yet been well studied, by evoking a stress-induced analgesia reaction, we think that practitioners may assert “control” over key components of brain systems related to mood and anxiety.

At present, millions of people use drugs to help with feelings of depression and anxiety. Many of these drugs carry unwelcome side effects. Behavioral modification techniques that train users in ways to influence their brain’s homeostatic system could someday provide some patients with drug-free alternatives. Efforts to understand links between the brain’s physiology and its psychology may indeed hold the promise for a happier life. (Cold comfort: exposure to chilly temperatures may help fight anxiety)

This article describes a very interesting finding that seems to explain why some people like intense sports such as rock climbing, motorcycling, free diving, skiing, and so on.

It also seems to explain why toughing it out is often the best medicine for what ails us or the best method for moving forward with our lives.

Intense religious practices, chanting, long meditations, silence retreats also seem to be drawing on stimulating the periaqueductal gray area of the brain stem.

To some extent, FIML practice does something like this by stopping conditioned and instinctual responses as soon after they have arisen as possible. Doing this requires a mental toughness and perceptual acuity that frequently carries over to other activities.

AI diagnoses PTSD through voice analysis

A specially designed computer program can help diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans by analyzing their voices, a new study finds.

Published online April 22 in the journal Depression and Anxiety, the study found that an artificial intelligence tool can distinguish – with 89 percent accuracy – between the voices of those with or without PTSD. (Source)

This tech provides a usably objective standard for measuring PTSD. This is important for diagnosing PTSD and also may lead to further voice analysis techniques for diagnosing other psychological states.

More on this topic: New Analytic Model to Better Identify Patients Likely to Develop PTSD

I look forward to the day when we have a lot of inexpensive technology that people can afford to buy and use at home to diagnose or simply describe a wide variety of mental states.

For now, FIML practice provides an excellent objective standard for measuring psychological states as they occur during interpersonal communication.

Working memory improved with electrical stimulation, study shows

Scientists have used a noninvasive form of electrostimulation to boost working memory in older people, effectively giving 70-year-olds the thinking abilities of their 20-year-old selves, at least temporarily. (Scientists Fixed People’s Working Memory With Simple Electrical ‘Zaps’ to The Brain)

The study (paywall) is here: Working memory revived in older adults by synchronizing rhythmic brain circuits.

From the abstract:

…After 25 min of stimulation, frequency-tuned to individual brain network dynamics, we observed a preferential increase in neural synchronization patterns and the return of sender–receiver relationships of information flow within and between frontotemporal regions. The end result was rapid improvement in working-memory performance that outlasted a 50 min post-stimulation period.

This study further demonstrates the importance of electrical waves in brain functioning. It targets working memory decline in older adults but similar improvements were found in young adults already experiencing memory deficits.

“We showed that the poor performers who were much younger, in their 20s, could also benefit from the same exact kind of stimulation,” Reinhart says in a statement.

“We could boost their working memory even though they weren’t in their 60s or 70s.” (Scientists Fixed People’s Working Memory With Simple Electrical ‘Zaps’ to The Brain)

News stories on working memory tend to trivialize it as merely a brain function that helps us remember phone numbers or where we put stuff. When in fact…

…working memory is the part of you that organizes and executes action in real-time. All real-time actions—save stupor or deep sleep—require working memory.

Working memory is where your life meets the world, where your existential rubber meets the real-time road.

Working memory is the spear point of the mind as it does life. For this reason, it is the single best key to understanding human psychology. And through this understanding to change it for the better. (Working memory is key to deep psychological transformation)

Other news articles:

As Memories Fade, Can We Supercharge Them Back to Life?

Scientists reverse memory decline using electrical pulses

Weak Electrical Currents Can Restore Working Memory In Older Adults

Incidentally, Buddhist mindfulness practice can greatly enhance working memory while also adding a metacognitive component to it in circumstances that would not otherwise normally call on metacognition.

FIML practice does something similar in that it adds a layer of psychological and linguistic mindfulness to working memory during acts of interpersonal communication.

Abstract reasoning and mental illness

Listening to the ranting of a friend who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I am struck by two things:

  • he gives reasons for his anger
  • his reasoning or abstract understanding of his predicament is ridiculous

(His rant was recorded and sent to me by a third party who is trying to help.)

With that as a starting point, consider the various ways abstract reasoning or solid abstract paradigms can compensate for or mask mental illness. Not all of it is pretty.

For example, serial killers often mask their illnesses for decades by holding fast to the appearance of normalcy while secretly indulging their madness.

Less bad are career criminals who act with savagery in less direct ways, through hit men, poisons, theft, fraud, and so on.

There is a wide spectrum between serial killers and normally inoffensive people.

It is reasonable to see all cultures as fundamentally abstract paradigms that mask and allow for madness among large groups of people.

A culture, after all, is nothing more than a Lowest-Common-Denominator system of communication; an LCD semiology. Consider how many cultures are grotesquely narcissistic.

Personality is much the same whether it conforms well or not to whichever cultural semiology it inhabits.

From this point of view, enshrining diversity only ensures a wider array of mad people. Identity politics is the same; just more ways for mad people to function, more room for them to run free; more abstract paradigms to mask their underlying chaos.

That is a decent modern restatement of the First and Second Noble Truths: life is suffering because we are crazy.

The Third and Fourth Noble Truths tell us that the way out of being crazy is to use our reason better; to understand why we are crazy; that clinging to LCD semiologies can’t ever work.

A philosophical psychologist might rightly say that a mad mind open to reason will gradually become well.

My friend with BPD can reason, but his reasoning is really bad. It’s selfish, marinated in anger, and not open to contrary views. But even he can do it if he clings to reason and evidence.

Abstract reasoning and paradigms such as Buddhism, science, other religions, atheism, psychology, or philosophy can lead us out of madness if we use them diligently.

Diligence or perseverance is one of the most important virtues in Buddhist practice. Wisdom is the most important. Compassion is probably the most famous Buddhist virtue but compassion without wisdom or diligence is not good and can even be dangerous.

Indeed, my BPD friend frequently and loudly demands unreasonable compassion from others. And that is one of the most obvious flaws in the way he thinks about himself, the way he reasons.

Speech and emotion

Good speech can and sometimes should be emotional.

Adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones can and should stimulate our bodies and brains when we discuss subjects that matter.

I love it when my SO stands up to emphasize her words with gestures. Her voice rises with the conviction that her point is relevant and important.

Usually it is. If it isn’t, she almost always easily moves on. Even if she doesn’t, I still love it.

I know she talks with feeling because the subject matters, not because her ego or “identity” is emotionally invested (though even that can be good).

When people care about what they are saying, their bodies resonate with feeling.

IMO, it’s a mistake to try too hard to control that or hide that. Emotions like that stimulate the mind/brain and make us smarter.