Don’t Stop Daydreaming: Why a Wandering Mind Is Good for You

by Elizabeth Picciuto

If you can’t get through this article without checking your Facebook, walking to the fridge, scrolling through your phone, and choosing something on Netflix, don’t worry.

I am one of those people who will be unlikely to finish writing this paragraph without checking my Twitter account, staring out the window blankly, changing my mind about what to have for dinner, and mentally rewriting what I will say three paragraphs from now. Once I ordered a book called Mindfulness to try to conquer my eruptive mind. I eagerly tore open the cardboard package, only to realize that I had bought the book several months before and forgotten about it.

According to many studies, mind-wandering saps our attention and makes us worse at performing a given task. Unsurprisingly, science supports the intuitive notion that it’s a bad idea to fantasize about snuggling with a warm, squirmy dachshund while operating heavy machinery. Much more tenuous data show that mind-wandering makes us unhappy, although that may have something more with what our mind wanders to—and our frustration with our poor performance at the task at hand.

For my fellow daydreamers, however, who only experience “flow” when floating down a river, there is some consolation. Other studies show that when our minds wander, we may be doing our planning and perhaps having creative moments.

In a new study, researchers at the Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University in Israel were actually able, for the first time in a laboratory setting, to cause subjects’ minds to wander. When they applied transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to the frontal lobes of subjects’ brains, the tendency to mind-wander increased (my mind reels, jumps, and shimmies at the thought of increased mind-wandering).

“Just think about it, mind wandering is something very personal and individual. A person himself or herself does not know when and how she starts to mind wander,” Vadim Axelrod, lead researcher of the study, wrote in an email. “Here, by using electrical current, we temporarily changed something in the brain circuitry in such a way that a person decided to mind-wander more. And all this happened unconsciously because subjects did not feel that they were stimulated.”

“We also showed that performance on external task also increased. The result was not significant, but the trend was clear in all experiments,” Axelrod continued, noting how his study differed from most other studies that show that mind-wandering detracts from task performance. The best explanation for the difference in his study, he suggested, was that we use the same cognitive systems for attention to external activities, such as driving or cooking a meal, that we do for mind-wandering…





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Incredible Body Painting Turns Torsos into Mind-Bending Optical Illusions

Posted by Sara Barnes

Amazingly, these mind-bending optical illusions aren’t made with the help of projections or Photoshop. Artist Natalie Fletcher painted them directly on human skin! The Oregon-based body painter created this impressive series completely freehanded with an airbrush. She calls it Just an Illusion, and the “canvases” feature bright base colors of fuchsia, cyan, green, and yellow. Black contour lines help fool our eye into thinking that parts of a torso are popping out at us.

It was serendipitous that Fletcher became a body painter. She started her career a few years ago after moving to Bend, Oregon and coming across an ad for it while looking for a job. Since then, she has masterfully developed her talent and recently became the winner of the GSN TV show Skin Wars. Fletcher also just started a body art project titled 100 Bodies Across America where she’ll paint two paintings in each state.

If you love seeing optical illusions on skin, check out this incredible tattoo by Paul O’Rourke. You’ll do a double take!




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Unmasked, Edward the Nazi King of England: Princess Diana’s biographer reveals the Duke of Windsor’s collusion with Hitler… and a plot to regain his throne

The book claims that the Duke, center, was angered at being forced to abdicate the throne in 1936  and was willing to work with Adolf Hitler, right, to regain it

The book claims that the Duke, center, was angered at being forced to abdicate the throne in 1936 and was willing to work with Adolf Hitler, right, to regain it

  • Unique microfilm revealed the innermost workings of the Nazi regime
  • Found incriminating correspondence relating to former King of England
  • New book by Diana biographer reveals the Duke of Windsor was willing to deal with Hitler to win back his throne
  • Called Hitler a ‘great man’ and openly criticised Churchill the ‘warmonger’
  • Was convinced conflict could’ve been avoided if he stayed on the throne
  • The Nazi leader would put the Duke back on the Throne as a puppet king
  • However, details of the secret deal were ordered destroyed after the war
  • Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and American President Eisenhower among those who attempted to cover up damning dossier

It was the most unlikely place to find a treasure trove: tucked inside a battered metal canister covered in a tatty plastic raincoat and hidden in a remote German estate, where it had been hastily buried in the dying days of the Nazi regime.

The men who discovered it in the weeks following the end of the war were dubbed ‘documents men’, Allied soldiers charged with finding the secrets of Hitler’s Third Reich. Inside was unique microfilm that revealed the innermost workings of the Nazi regime. Back in London, the haul was triumphantly called pirates’ gold.

But within days, they realised with horror that the thousands of files detailing every part of the Nazi regime’s inner workings contained incriminating correspondence relating to the former King of England, Edward VIII, his wife – the divorced American Wallis Simpson, whom he married in 1937 – and their links to dictator Adolf Hitler.

The jaw-dropping contents of the file concerned the wartime activities of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, particularly their brief stay in Spain and Portugal after the fall of France in 1940. The secret papers painted an astonishing portrait of a man who was disaffected with his position, disloyal to his family and unpatriotic towards his country.

The file revealed that such was his disaffection that Churchill, his friend and supporter, had threatened him with court martial unless he obeyed military orders.

During this Iberian sojourn, many of Edward’s unguarded utterances were secretly recorded by German diplomats and pro-Fascist Spanish aristocrats who sent the material in minute detail to Berlin, where Hitler and his right-hand man, foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, pored over the Royal runes.

The transcripts reveal that Edward, who felt he had been ostracised and humiliated in the wake of his abdication in 1936, was outspoken in his criticism of Churchill and the war and was convinced that, if he had stayed on the throne, conflict could have been avoided.

Only the continued heavy bombing of British cities, he believed, would bring the United Kingdom to the negotiating table. Taken at face value, the Duke was speaking high treason, giving succour to the enemy when Britain faced its darkest hour of the war. If the German files were to be believed, here was a man who had no faith in his country’s leaders or his own family. He was also a man who fully approved of Hitler and his spurious plans for peace.

Worryingly, they chimed with Washington’s intelligence. American ambassadors to Spain and Portugal who met the couple at this time were so alarmed that they sent messages to Washington reporting that the couple were ‘indiscreet and outspoken against the British government’. Historian John Costello later described the Duke’s sentiments as ‘tantamount to treason’…

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Empty Man Syndrome

Why some men get stuck in depression

The old hospital at UCLA is a sprawling brick complex built in the 1950s. Its rambling hallways stretch out longer than any non-military building in the US. Only the Pentagon has more hallways. Lost somewhere up on the third floor, in a corner by myself, is where I spent most of grad school – sitting at a computer, running statistical models for neuroscience research on depression.

The lab studied biomarkers of antidepressant treatment response. That is, we aimed to see if there was something we could measure about brain activity that would predict who would get better on which medication and when. If antidepressants worked the same on everybody, this wouldn’t be necessary, but they don’t. We know that a given antidepressant will work great on about a third of people, do an ok job on another third, and not do much for the rest. But before actually giving the medication to the person for three months, it’s hard to say who will respond and who won’t.

On one of my first days there I heard my colleagues whispering about a patient. One mumbled something about “empty” that I couldn’t quite hear. I jumped into the conversation and asked what they were talking about. She replied, “I said he has ‘Empty-man syndrome’.” Intrigued, I asked her what that was. It was a term she came up with to describe certain men with depression. It applies to guys in their 40s and up who were single or divorced, and don’t have any friends, are unemployed or stuck in a job they don’t like, and have no real hobbies. I asked why she came up with a term for this, and she sighed, “Because they don’t ever seem to get better.”

This sent a jolt through me, thinking about these lonely men suffering through their joyless lives. Her description of empty-man syndrome led me to realize the simplicity of current treatments for depression. The medications used in our studies might enhance their serotonin signaling, or alter norepinephrine activity, but a simple pill could not address these complex influences that life has on the brain, and which were conspiring against them.

For both sexes, social support is extremely powerful in fighting depression, particularly support from a loving spouse. A study out of Cornell looked at the effect of marriage on recovery from depression (Meyers 2002). When controlling for other factors, being married more than doubled the odds of a speedy recovery (2.4 times to be precise).

Obviously marriage is not the only way to receive social support, but women may have an easier time getting social support from places other than their significant other. In one huge study of depression, conducted across 23 countries, being single or widowed was a much stronger risk factor for depression for men than for women (Van de Velde 2010).

In addition to social support, feeling like you have a purpose in life is an important aspect of happiness. This is one reason that having a job can be protective against depression, and why losing your job can be devastating. One German study (Warnke 2014) looked at patients hospitalized for depression – so they were in pretty bad shape. The researchers wanted to see what factors predicted whether they would be hospitalized again in the future. It turns out that having a job helps. Patients who had a job at the time of their first hospitalization reduced their risk of being hospitalized again by 32%. Importantly, a huge study from Spain – of over 15,000 people – showed that unemployment has a larger effect on men, causing a greater risk than women of developing depression (Artazcoz 2004).

So certain aspects of social support along with unemployment contribute more to depression in men than women. Unfortunately, these factors can interact and create an even more difficult situation for men. An older study from Massachusetts looked at depression in 100 men who were all blue-collar workers that had just been laid off (Gore 1978). They were also all married, but had varying degrees of social support. The study found that men with low social support were affected much more by unemployment than men with higher social support. So if a man lost his job, but he had good social support, he could turn out fine. But without that social support, the loss of a job significantly increased his risk of getting depressed…




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The Mindfulness Solution


Image: Head of Buddha. Pakistan, Gandhara Area. Kushan period, late 2nd-3rd century CE.

Many point out the pitfalls of mindfulness. But the problem is in the approach, not the practice.

by Andrew Olendzki

(Andrew Olendzki, PhD, is the former senior scholar at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies and the author of Unlimiting Mind.)

A lot of concerns have been voiced lately about the possible harmful effects of meditation practice. The pendulum is swinging back against the story that mindfulness is universally beneficial, and researchers are increasingly cautioning us to look honestly at the cases where people have suffered significant psychological stress and even trauma when engaging in rigorous meditation practice. I would like to push back a little against this pushback, arguing that an important distinction is to be made between means and ends.

It is to be expected that serious psychological transformation involves some level of discomfort and difficulty. Indeed, learning how to tolerate exposure to discomfort and gaining the ability to confront and overcome difficulty has a lot to do with what makes a person grow in new ways. The knack is to know how much of this is healthy, even if painful, and at what point it may become unhealthy. The Buddha offers the analogy of a physician healing a wound—much pain is involved with its cleaning, probing, and bandaging, but all this is necessary to the healing process. No Buddhist would want to see people suffer, however, and in situations of real psychological harm intensive meditation is clearly contraindicated.

It is useful to distinguish between mindfulness as a mental state on one hand and the unskillful pursuit of this state on the other. Consider the case of a person plunging into the jungle, in search of a beautiful and healing flower, he gets torn up by thorns and battered by branches in the process. The problem is not that the flower itself is harmful; what is harmful is only the means of pursuing it. A similar confusion exists when researchers (or media reports of research) say “Mindfulness can be harmful” when what they really mean is something like “Going into prolonged situations of silence and isolation, with unrealistic or uninformed expectations, under the inadequate guidance of an unsuitable teacher, when one has a history of psychological fragility, can be harmful.”

Mindfulness is a sankhara, a mental/emotional/behavioral state that arises and passes away in a moment in conjunction with consciousness and other functions such as feeling and perception. Co-arising with such factors as trust, equanimity, nonattachment, and lovingkindness, it is an inherently healthy state. Mindfulness itself is always healing and never harmful; mindfulness meditation is the practice of cultivating this benevolent quality of mind, moment after moment…




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Human Life and the Quest for Immortality

Romano - Allegory of Immortality

This was originally published on Philosophical Disquisitions.

By John Danaher

(John Danaher is an academic with interests in the philosophy of technology, religion, ethics and law. He blogs at

Human beings have long desired immortality. In his book on the topic, cleverly-titled Immortality, Stephen Cave argues that this desire has taken on four distinct forms over the course of human history. In the first, people seek immortality by simply trying to stay alive, either through the help of magic or science. In the second, people seek resurrection, sometimes in the same physical form and sometimes in an altered plane of existence. In the third, people seek solace through the metaphysical/religious concept of the soul as an entity that houses the essence of our personalities and which will live on beyond the death of our physical bodies. And in the fourth, people seek immortality through their work or artistic creations.

With the exception of the last of these forms, most versions of the quest for immortality share the belief that the immortal existence of the self — i.e. the human person — is something worth pursuing. But some philosophers reject this notion. They do so not because they wish to die or think that death is a good thing, but because they think that without death there is no possibility of a recognisably human life. That is to say: they believe that the quest for an immortal human life is incoherent.

One such philosopher is Samuel Scheffler. In his recent(ish) book Death and Afterlife, Scheffler tries to defend the claim that an immortal life would be no life at all. More precisely, he tries to argue that temporal scarcity is a condition of value in human life, and that without the “threat” of death, it would be difficult to make sense of our existence. In this post, I will try to outline Scheffler’s argument and consider its implications for those who seek to promote radical life extension.

1. What is an immortal life anyway?

One thing I have noticed in the debate about life extension and immortality is a tendency for the participants to talk past one another. This is chiefly because the participants often conceive of an “immortal life” or the quest for “immortality” in very different ways. It’s important that we try to avoid this mistake here.

Let’s suppose that there are four types of human life that we could be arguing about (I am aware that this fourfold distinction doesn’t exhaust the possibilities, but I think it suffices for now):

Ordinary Contingent Human Life:

This is the kind of life we all currently lead. We are organic beings, whose bodies are susceptible to injury, disease and decay. We can stave off some of these existential threats, but eventually our bodies will give up and we will die. At present, we can expect to live (roughly) between 80-100 years. With medical advancements we might expect to increase that life expectancy (maybe even up to 150 years), but still we will eventually die.

Necessarily Immortal Human Life:

This the kind of life in which we continue to exist in something roughly equivalent to our current form, but we do so forever, without the risk or possibility of death. In other words, it is the kind of life in which we must continue to exist, irrespective of our wishes.

Contingently Immortal Human Life (Type 1):

This is the kind of life in which we continue to exist in something roughly equivalent to our current form, and we do so with the continuing risk of death by injury or, maybe, some diseases. In other words, our bodies no longer decay or degrade over time, but they are still vulnerable to some external existential threats (perhaps the main one being the risk of fatal attack from other human beings).

Contingently Immortal Human Life (Type 2):

This is the kind of life in which we continue to exist in something roughly equivalent to our current form, without the risk of death by injury or disease, but with the periodic option of ending our lives. In other words, it is the kind of life in which we are free from all existential threats, apart from “threats” realised by our own volition.

Let’s agree, for the sake of argument, that we want to escape the limitations of the first option and live forever. Which of the remaining three options do we hope for? In my experience, most life extensionists and scientifically-inclined immortalists argue for something like the third and fourth options, i.e. lives of indefinite duration with the lingering possibility of death. Most of them don’t really consider the second option. On the other hand, many religious believers seem more committed to the second possibility. The most obvious examples of this are those that believe in the traditional conceptions of heaven and hell, which often seem to require involuntary immortality…


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‘The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one’

thierry ehrmann (CC BY 2.0)

By Marcie Gainer

Robert Frisk writes at The Independent:

Uri Avnery is without doubt the most intellectual, philosophical, prescient leftist Israeli seer I have ever met. Like TS Eliot, he has a habit of using the fewest words to tell the greatest truth. Every essay he writes, this reader always says the same thing: Exactly! Yet, for the first time in 40 years, I disagree with the great man.

He has just suggested that Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreement to address the US Congress at the invitation of Republicans tomorrow– two weeks before an Israeli general election – and Barack Obama’s decision not to see the old rogue, has destroyed Israel’s bipartisan support in America. For the first time, says Uri, Democratic politicians are allowed to criticise Israel.

Absolute Tosh.

Congressmen of both parties have grovelled and fainted and shrieked their support for Bibi and his predecessors with more enthusiasm than the Roman hordes in the Colosseum. Last time Bibi turned up on the Hill, he received literally dozens of standing ovations from the sheep-like representatives of the American people, whose uncritical adoration of the Israeli state – and their abject fear of uttering the most faint-hearted criticism lest they be called anti-Semites – suggest that Bibi would be a far more popular US president than Barack. And Bibi’s impeccable American accent doesn’t hurt.

And his aim – to earn votes for himself and to destroy the one foreign policy achievement within Obama’s grasp – will have absolutely no effect at all on Israeli-US relations. When Bibi made himself the laughing stock of the UN Security Council – by producing an infantile cartoon of an Iranian bomb with a red line in the middle, indicating that Iran could build nuclear weapons by the end of 2013 – his charade was treated with indulgence by the American media. These mythical deadlines have been expiring regularly for more than a decade, yet still we are supposed to take them seriously. Obama is struggling to reach an agreement with Iran which would protect the world from any nuclear weapon production by the Islamic Republic…

Continue reading.

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The Collapse of The American Dream Explained in Animation



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Every Person Who Feels “Awake” Needs to Watch this Video

by Waking Times

Video - This video is not meant to ‘wake’ anyone up, but rather to let those who are awake know that they are not crazy.




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Alleviating Suffering

Image: Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig), Central Tibet, 1900-1959. Ground mineral pigment on cotton. Courtesy the Rubin Museum of Art, NYC.

Can working to treat pain help us tackle the fundamental causes of human distress?

by Pamela Gayle White

It’s three a.m. when the on-call pager goes off, rousing me out of a fitful sleep. By the time I arrive on the geriatric wing to answer the “obstreperous patient” page, the floor is quiet. “We’re fine,” a nurse tells me. “She’s calmed down. We just have to watch for the flying tray.”

One busy week later, I still haven’t visited this patient. Often, when I pass her room, I hear her calling out, “Help, help!” Her charts speak of dementia and pain; she’s triggered other “obstreperous patient” calls, and she’s been giving some of the nurses a really hard time. Now one of the palliative-geriatric physicians has asked me to check on her, so I cautiously step into her room, wary of the tray.

No tray in sight. I introduce myself as Chaplain Pamela; she tells me that she is Grace O’Mara, but she prefers her maiden name, Longsilver. Her cornflower-blue eyes are lovely and alert. Clearly grateful for company, she invites me to take a seat and says I remind her of—who was it? Kitty. Or Louisa, the chaplain’s daughter. And could I please move her arm out from under the covers.

Our lengthy conversation involves a good deal of time travel. I know from her doctor that Grace is alone: her sisters and daughter have died. She has few visitors. The palliative care team is working hard to help manage her pain; as a result, her disinhibited aggression has mostly subsided and she is a pleasure to be with. My heart is soft and grateful as I leave her room, yet I wonder about the lasting benefit of such a visit. These are my leitmotifs nowadays: Can we measure the value of salving suffering? What can chaplains do that a cheerful, red-vested volunteer couldn’t? Is simple presence enough?

Moreover, in certain Buddhist circles—including my own—debate about the ultimate usefulness of assuaging temporal suffering is making the rounds. The topic is timely, given the commercialization of spirituality and the spread of the mindfulness movement. Most of us agree that the Buddha meant his paths to be curative rather than palliative. Shouldn’t we be shooting for the big E rather than, say, “stress reduction”?

Ultimately, the rejection of unease, the search for comfort, and the clinging to it when we have it are counterproductive. We all know it. But does that mean we shouldn’t try to relieve suffering—our own and that of others—when and where we can? Palliative care, one of my units as an interfaith chaplain-in-training, is a fertile ground for such reflections.

I’m wowed by the team of doctors, nurses, and social workers whose job it is to alleviate pain, to make incurable illness bearable. You’d think they’d be a glum bunch compared to the labor and delivery folk, say, or the staff of any of the units where people actually improve and leave the hospital walking. But they’re not a glum bunch at all—they’re passionate and human and driven. Some are very funny. Some are deeply devout.

Jon, one of the nurses, says, “In Palliative we fix symptoms, not the disease. When pain fills your brain you can’t laugh, enjoy life, or be engaged. I knew a woman whose head was always under the covers, she was in such pain. We recommended a change of treatment, and when I went back in she was playing her banjo! It was amazing!”

Some years ago my teacher Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche gave a series of teachings on the history and practice of Chenrezig, Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit. Chenrezig is the tireless and delightfully inventive bodhisattva of compassion. Some of his most recognizable manifestations are white with four arms or a thousand; his mantra, Om mani padme hung, resounds from Tibet to Mongolia to the Himalayas and beyond. Further east, he’s a she: Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy and love. I tend to think of him as a quality or principle—Great Compassion—rather than as a deity or being…





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