This series teaches the basics of mindfulness meditation for beginners. In this episode we practice: finding a comfortable seat, bringing your attention to the breath, and becoming aware of any sensations and thoughts that enter into the mind while meditating. We will explore what to do with these thoughts and emotions in the next video.
Amusement and pleasant surprises – and the laughter they can trigger – add texture to the fabric of daily life.
Those giggles and guffaws can seem like just silly throwaways. But laughter, in response to funny events, actually takes a lot of work, because it activates many areas of the brain: areas that control motor, emotional, cognitive and social processing.
People begin laughing in infancy, when it helps develop muscles and upper body strength. Laughter is not just breathing. It relies on complex combinations of facial muscles, often involving movement of the eyes, head and shoulders.
Laughter – doing it or observing it – activates multiple regions of the brain: the motor cortex, which controls muscles; the frontal lobe, which helps you understand context; and the limbic system, which modulates positive emotions. Turning all these circuits on strengthens neural connections and helps a healthy brain coordinate its activity.
By activating the neural pathways of emotions like joy and mirth, laughter can improve your mood and make your physical and emotional response to stress less intense. For example, laughing may help control brain levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, similar to what antidepressants do. By minimizing your brain’s responses to threats, it limits the release of neurotransmitters and hormones like cortisol that can wear down your cardiovascular, metabolic and immune systems over time. Laughter’s kind of like an antidote to stress, which weakens these systems and increases vulnerability to diseases.
Laughter’s cognitive power
A good sense of humor and the laughter that follows depend on an ample measure of social intelligence and working memory resources.
Laughter, like humor, typically sparks from recognizing the incongruities or absurdities of a situation. You need to mentally resolve the surprising behavior or event – otherwise you won’t laugh; you might just be confused instead. Inferring the intentions of others and taking their perspective can enhance the intensity of the laughter and amusement you feel.
Laughter creates bonds and increases intimacy with others. Linguist Don Nilsen points out that chuckles and belly laughs seldom happen when alone, supporting their strong social role. Beginning early in life, infants’ laughter is an external sign of pleasure that helps strengthen bonds with caregivers.
Later, it’s an external sign of sharing an appreciation of the situation. For example, public speakers and comedians try to get a laugh to make audiences feel psychologically closer to them, to create intimacy.
By practicing a little laughter each day, you can enhance social skills that may not come naturally to you. When you laugh in response to humor, you share your feelings with others and learn from risks that your response will be accepted/shared/enjoyed by others and not be rejected/ignored/disliked.
In studies, psychologists have found that men with Type A personality characteristics, including competitiveness and time urgency, tend to laugh more, while women with those traits laugh less. Both sexes laugh more with others than when alone.
Laughter’s mental power
Positive psychology researchers study how people can live meaningful lives and thrive. Laughter produces positive emotions that lead to this kind of flourishing. These feelings – like amusement, happiness, mirth and joy – build resiliency and increase creative thinking. They increase subjective well-being and life satisfaction. Researchers find that these positive emotions experienced with humor and laughter correlate with appreciating the meaning of life and help older adults hold a benign view of difficulties they’ve faced over a lifetime.
Laughter in response to amusement is a healthy coping mechanism. When you laugh, you take yourself or the situation less seriously and may feel empowered to problem-solve. For example, psychologists measured the frequency and intensity of 41 people’s laughter over two weeks, along with their ratings of physical and mental stress. They found that the more laughter experienced, the lower the reported stress. Whether the instances of laughter were strong, medium or weak in intensity didn’t matter.
Maybe you want to grab some of these benefits for yourself – can you force laughter to work for you?
A growing number of therapists advocate using humor and laughter to help clients build trust and improve work environments; a review of five different studies found that measures of well-being did increase after laughter interventions. Sometimes called homeplay instead of homework, these interventions take the form of daily humor activities – surrounding yourself with funny people, watching a comedy that makes you laugh or writing down three funny things that happened today.
You can practice laughing even when alone. Intentionally take a perspective that appreciates the funny side of events. Laughing yoga is a technique of using breathing muscles to achieve the positive physical responses of natural laughing with forced laughter (ha ha hee hee ho ho). Some tips on how to get started with laughing yoga.
Researchers today certainly aren’t laughing off its value, but a good deal of the research on laughter’s influence on mental and physical health is based on self-report measures. More psychological experimentation around laughter or the contexts in which it occurs will likely support the importance of laughing throughout your day, and maybe even suggest more ways to intentionally harness its benefits.
As individuals, we feel that we know what consciousness is because we experience it daily. It’s that intimate sense of personal awareness we carry around with us, and the accompanying feeling of ownership and control over our thoughts, emotions and memories.
Beliefs about consciousness can be roughly divided into two camps. There are those who believe consciousness is like a ghost in the machinery of our brains, meriting special attention and study in its own right. And there are those, like us, who challenge this, pointing out that what we call consciousness is just another output generated backstage by our efficient neural machinery.
Over the past 30 years, neuroscientific research has been gradually moving away from the first camp. Using research from cognitive neuropsychology and hypnosis, our recent paper argues in favour of the latter position, even though this seems to undermine the compelling sense of authorship we have over our consciousness.
And we argue this isn’t simply a topic of mere academic interest. Giving up on the ghost of consciousness to focus scientific endeavour on the machinery of our brains could be an essential step we need to take to better understand the human mind.
Is consciousness special?
Our experience of consciousness places us firmly in the driver’s seat, with a sense that we’re in control of our psychological world. But seen from an objective perspective, it’s not at all clear that this is how consciousness functions, and there’s still much debate about the fundamental nature of consciousness itself.
One reason for this is that many of us, including scientists, have adopted a dualist position on the nature of consciousness. Dualism is a philosophical view that draws a distinction between the mind and the body. Even though consciousness is generated by the brain – a part of the body – dualism claims that the mind is distinct from our physical features, and that consciousness cannot be understood through the study of the physical brain alone. MIT’s Alex Byrne explains the philosophical underpinnings of the dualist position.
It’s easy to see why we believe this to be the case. While every other process in the human body ticks and pulses away without our oversight, there is something uniquely transcendental about our experience of consciousness. It’s no surprise that we’ve treated consciousness as something special, distinct from the automatic systems that keep us breathing and digesting.
Consider, for example, how effortlessly we regain consciousness each morning after losing it the night before, or how, with no deliberate effort, we instantly recognise and understand shapes, colours, patterns and faces we encounter.
Consider that we don’t actually experience how our perceptions are created, how our thoughts and sentences are produced, how we recall our memories or how we control our muscles to walk and our tongues to talk. Simply put, we don’t generate or control our thoughts, feelings or actions – we just seem to become aware of them.
The way we simply become aware of thoughts, feelings and the world around us suggests that our consciousness is generated and controlled backstage, by brain systems that we remain unaware of.
Our recent paper argues that consciousness involves no separate independent psychological process distinct from the brain itself, just as there’s no additional function to digestion that exists separately from the physical workings of the gut.
While it’s clear that both the experience and content of consciousness are real, we argue that, from a science explanation, they are epiphenomenal: secondary phenomena based on the machinations of the physical brain itself. In other words, our subjective experience of consciousness is real, but the functions of control and ownership we attribute to that experience are not.
Future study of the brain
Our position is neither obvious nor intuitive. But we contend that continuing to place consciousness in the driver’s seat, above and beyond the physical workings of the brain, and attributing cognitive functions to it, risks confusion and delaying a better understanding of human psychology and behaviour.
To better align psychology with the rest of the natural sciences, and to be consistent with how we understand and study processes like digestion and respiration, we favour a perspective change. We should redirect our efforts to studying the non-conscious brain, and not the functions previously attributed to consciousness.
This doesn’t of course exclude psychological investigation into the nature, origins and distribution of the belief in consciousness. But it does mean refocusing academic efforts on what happens beneath our awareness – where we argue the real neuro-psychological processes take place.
Our proposal feels personally and emotionally unsatisfying, but we believe it provides a future framework for the investigation of the human mind – one that looks at the brain’s physical machinery rather than the ghost that we’ve traditionally called consciousness.
When I see red, it’s the most religious experience. Seeing red just results from photons of a certain frequency hitting the retina of my eye, which cascades electrical and biochemical pulses through my brain, in the same way a PC runs. But nothing happening in my eye or brain actually is the red colour I experience, nor are the photons or pulses. This is seemingly outside this world. Some say my brain is just fooling me, but I don’t accept that as I actually experience the red. But then, how can something out of this world be in our world? Andrew Kaye, 52, London.
What’s going on in your head right now? Presumably you’re having a visual experience of these words in front of you. Maybe you can hear the sound of traffic in the distance or a baby crying in the flat next door. Perhaps you’re feeling a bit tired and distracted, struggling to focus on the words on the page. Or maybe you’re feeling elated at the prospect of an enlightening read. Take a moment to attend to what it’s like to be you right now. This is what’s going on inside your head.
Or is it? There’s another, quite different story. According to neuroscience, the contents of your head are comprised of 86 billion neurons, each one linked to 10,000 others, yielding trillions of connections.
A neuron communicates with its neighbour by converting an electrical signal into a chemical signal (a neurotransmitter), which then passes across the gap in between the neurons (a synapse) to bind to a receptor in the neighbouring neuron, before being converted back into an electrical signal. From these basic building blocks, huge networks of electro-chemical communication are built up.
This article is part of Life’s Big Questions The Conversation’s new series, co-published with BBC Future, seeks to answer our readers’ nagging questions about life, love, death and the universe. We work with professional researchers who have dedicated their lives to uncovering new perspectives on the questions that shape our lives.
These two stories of what’s going on inside your head seem very different. How can they both be true at the same time? How do we reconcile what we know about ourselves from the inside with what science tells us about our body and brain from the outside? This is what philosophers have traditionally called the mind-body problem. And there are solutions to it that don’t require you to accept that there are separate worlds.
Ghost in the machine?
Probably the most popular solution to the mind-body problem historically is dualism: the belief that the human mind is non-physical, outside of the physical workings of the body and the brain. According to this view, your feelings and experiences aren’t strictly speaking in your head at all – rather they exist inside an immaterial soul, distinct from, although closely connected to, your brain.
The relationship between you and your body, according to dualism, is a little bit like the relationship between a drone pilot and his drone. You control your body, and receive information from its sensors, but you and your body are not the same thing.
Dualism allows for the possibility of life after death: we know the body and the brain decay, but perhaps the soul lives on when the body dies, just as a drone pilot lives on if his drone is shot down. It is also perhaps the most natural way for human beings to think about the body-mind relationship. The psychologist Paul Bloom has argued that dualism is hardwired into us, and that from a very early age infants start to distinguish “mental things” from “physical things”. Reflecting this, most cultures and religions throughout history seem to have adopted some kind of dualism.
The trouble is that dualism does not fit well with the findings of modern science. Although dualists think the mind and the brain are distinct, they believe there is an intimate causal relationship between the two. If the soul makes a decision to raise an arm, this somehow manages to influence the brain and thereby set off a causal chain which will result in the arm going up.
Rene Descartes, the most famous dualist in history, hypothesised that the soul communicated with the brain through the pineal gland, a small, pea-shaped gland located near the centre of the brain. But modern neuroscience has cast doubt on the idea that there is a single, special location in the brain where the mind interacts with the brain.
Perhaps a dualist could maintain that the soul operates at several places in the brain. Still, you’d think we’d be able to observe these incoming signals arriving in the brain from the immaterial soul, just as we can observe in a drone where the radio signals sent by the pilot arrive. Unfortunately, this is not what we find. Rather, scientific investigation seems to show that everything that happens in a brain has a physical cause within the brain itself.
Imagine we found what we thought was a drone, but upon subsequent examination we discovered that everything the drone did was caused by processes within it. We would conclude that this was not being controlled by some external “puppeteer” but by the physical processes within it. In other words, we would have discovered not a drone but a robot. Many philosophers and scientists are inclined to draw the same conclusions about the human brain.
Am I my brain?
Among contemporary scientists and philosophers, the most popular solution to the mind-body problem is probably materialism. Materialists aspire to explain feelings and experiences in terms of the chemistry of the brain. It is broadly agreed that nobody has the slightest clue as yet how to do it, but many are confident that we one day will.
This confidence probably arises from the sense that materialism is the scientifically kosher option. The success of science in the past 500 years is after all mind-blowing. This gives people confidence that we just need to plug away with our standard methods of investigating the brain, and one day we’ll solve the riddle.
Galileo was the first person to demand that science should be mathematical. But Galileo understood quite well that human experience cannot be captured in these terms. That’s because human experience involves qualities – the redness of a red experience, the euphoria of love – and these kinds of qualities cannot be captured in the purely quantitative language of mathematics.
Galileo got around this problem by adopting a form of dualism, according to which the qualities of consciousness existed only in the incorporeal “animation” of the body, rather than in the basic matter that is the proper focus of physical science. Only once Galileo had located consciousness outside of the realm of science, was mathematical science possible.
In other words, our current scientific approach is premised on Galileo’s separation of the quantitative physical world from the qualitative reality of consciousness. If we now want to bring consciousness into our scientific story, we need to bring these two domains back together.
Is consciousness fundamental?
Materialists try to reduce consciousness to matter. We have explored some problems with that approach. What about doing it the other way around – can matter be reduced to consciousness? This brings us to the third option: idealism. Idealists believe that consciousness is all that exists at the fundamental level of reality. Historically, many forms of idealism held that the physical world is some kind of illusion, or a construction generated from our own minds.
Idealism is not without its problems either. Materialists put matter at the basis of everything, and then have a challenge understanding where consciousness comes from. Idealists put consciousness at the basis of everything, but then have a challenge explaining where matter comes from.
But a new – or rather rediscovered – way of building matter from consciousness has recently been garnering a great deal of attention among scientists and philosophers. The approach starts from the observation that physical science is confined to telling us about the behaviour of matter and what it does. Physics, for example, is basically just a mathematical tool for telling us how particles and fields interact. It tells us what matter does, not what it is.
If physics doesn’t tell us what fields and particles are, then this opens up the possibility that they might be forms of consciousness. This approach, known as panpsychism, allows us to hold that both physical matter and consciousness are fundamental. This is because, according to panpsychism, particles and fields simply are forms of consciousness.
At the level of basic physics, we find very simple forms of consciousness. Perhaps quarks, fundamental particles that help make up the atomic nucleus, have some degree of consciousness. These very simple forms of consciousness could then combine to form very complex forms of consciousness, including the consciousness enjoyed by humans and other animals.
So, according to panpsychism, your experience of red and the corresponding brain process don’t take place in separate worlds. Whereas Galileo separated out the qualitative reality of a red experience from the quantitative brain process, panpsychism offers us a way of bringing them together in a single, unified worldview. There is only one world, and it’s made of consciousness. Matter is what consciousness does.
Panpsychism is quite a radical rethink of our picture of the universe. But it does seem to achieve what other solutions cannot. It offers us a way to combine what we know about ourselves from the inside and what science tells us about our bodies and the brains from the outside, a way of understanding matter and consciousness as two sides of the same coin.
Can panpsychism be tested? In a sense it can, because all of the other options fail to account for important data. Dualism fails to account for the data of neuroscience. And materialism fails to account for the reality of consciousness itself. As Sherlock Holmes famously said: “Once we have ruled out the impossible, what remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” Given the deep problems that plague both dualism and materialism, panpsychism looks to me to be the best solution to the mind-body problem.
Even if we can solve the mind-body problem, this can never dispel the wonder of human consciousness. On such matters, the philosopher is no match for the poet.
We continue to emotionally and intellectually evolve as we grow older. For some this means embracing the child within and for others it may bring them to a point where they learn how to let go of the pain from their past. The problem with being a self-aware beings is we have a lot of luggage to carry with us through our life if we don’t learn to let go and to forgive. That luggage or baggage only wears you down it hurts only the one who is carrying it. To accept your life and all the things you have experienced during your lifetime is the first step in moving on. Yes you have been done wrong been hurt and more than likely you have wronged or hurt others along the path of life as well. Take it as it is accept both what you have done and that which has been done to you learn to let it go for what is the past is no longer a concern.
Being bitter mistrusting and full of anger fear and pain is no way for anyone to live. Being in such a negative way only blocks your ability to be love be happy and to live your life with integrity. Forgive those whom have done you wrong and yourself for the wrongs you’ve done as well. Remember only the lessons not the hate pain or remorse they bring. Today is a new day each day is yet another chance to live life to the fullest. Choose to live in the here and now not in the shadow of yesterday.
“It is just as important to forgive yourself as it is to forgive others.”
The journey of life has many ups and downs the longer you are on the path the harder the downs seem to be. Seems as we grow older we focus more of the negatives in life than the blessings and positives. Maybe this is due to the misperception that the good or better times are less often than the bad ones. This may be due to the way our brains tend to store the traumatic events vs its method of storing the rest of the experiences we have. It also could be due to a negative mindset some of us carry with us in later years. Regardless of the reasons behind the misbelief that there is less enjoyable times in our life as we age they are just as present and available as they were when we were younger.
Some science supports the idea that as we age the part of our brain that is stimulated by things such as physical pleasure and rewarding activities is less active or responsive than it is during earlier stages of life. What i wonder is if it is the same when it comes to the unpleasant and unfavorable experiences we have and the brain. More or less what once made our hearts sing and made us feel more alive when we were young may just be a slight and short lived bursts of the same or maybe no kind of reaction at all. But then one must question is it really the brain that is cutting of the high or is it the fact we don’t participate or engage in the things as much as we grow older so the body adapts to the changed lifestyle. I guess i will leave those questions to the people whom are more qualified to answer them.
All I know is that i shall do my best to enjoy my life as long as i can life is a blessing and is short so carpe diem.
when you surrender your right to chose, you give up your right to complain about the results. By not making any kind of choice or decision you in fact have made a choice. Regardless if you believe that you are playing it safe by letting fate decide or allowing others to choose for you, you are still making choices and you are responsible for the results of your inaction. So if you are going to have to be responsible for the outcome, then you should make the choices and perform the actions of your own design.
So, This is the life you have chosen. Where you are and what your doing along with how your feeling is the result of all your choices in life both good and bad. You made your bed, guess now you have to lay in it. Wait, what? um… Not right… You can always make choices now to change the course of your life and the bed you made can always be remade again. Some consequences you may have to face but then you can always move on afterwards and make a better life for yourself by making your choices more wisely. You are the master of your own life and destiny, you can always make a choice to change your life. Though sometimes it’s a hard and painstaking task to take on, but it isn’t an impossible one.
First choice anyone has to make when trying to change their life is to not be a victim or defeatist., instead be an optimist who will not allow themselves to be a victim of chance or circumstance. Unfortunately there is no magic bullet or instant fix when it comes to improving ones self and life, it’s all hard work. I look at it like this, anything worth having or anything worth seeking is well worth any effort that it takes in order to obtain them. Choose to be and to transform into the person you want to be and make sure that what you choose to become is something you can both respect and live with.
Just some random thoughts that came to mind on this Tuesday the 23rd of April 2013
I ask myself each morning, Who am I and what am I here for? Each morning the answer either eludes me or the answer I come up with is so vague and transient that it really isn’t a true answer. The best I can figure out is that I am here to live, to learn, to love and share that which I have been blessed to have. So now I do not ask myself those questions anymore, I ask instead how am I going to contribute to this world today? am I going to make a positive effort or will I be a non productive part of this world today? The choice is mine, how I react and how I contribute to the world around me is my choice and can not be made by anyone but me.
How are you going to contribute to our world we live in and are you going to be a positive, neutral or negative force within the day of life?