22 May 2009

Friday Science

Komodo dragons are poisonous after all. The subtle poison organs and snake-like poisons of the large reptile were just discovered. Despite the fact that there are even some komodo dragons in captivity, zoologists had previously thought that mouth bacteria rather than poison enhanced their bite lethality. Their six lower jaw poison glands carry just 0.2 mL of poison each.

Heads up psychologists! I did a quick search to see if there was any research to show if fashion sense had a hereditary component, and found that this issue has apparently not yet been scientifically investigated. PhD students: this project has your name on it.

Conspiracy theorists are psychologically distinctive: “Arguments advanced by conspiracy theorists tell you more about the believer than about the event." Among other things, "conspiracy believers displayed a greater propensity than nonbelievers to jump to conclusions based on limited evidence":

It seems likely that conspiratorial beliefs serve a similar psychological function to superstitious, paranormal and, more controversially, religious beliefs, as they help some people to gain a sense of control over an unpredictable world[.]

Query if one is better having conspiratorially minded or skeptical people in agencies like the CIA, that are charged with connecting the dots from limited information. The analysis recalls to mind studies on the accuracy of media pundits, which tends to show that cognitive style is the best predictor of accuracy, with the best pundits being those who are not obsessed with "the big idea."

National Public Radio, by the way, has an interesting five part series this week on the Science of Spirituality.

Part I: "The neurotransmitter serotonin affects the parts of the brain that relate to emotions and perceptions. Chemically, peyote, LSD and other psychedelics look a lot like serotonin, and they activate the same receptor."

Part II: Spiritual experiences and hallucinations are associated with the "temporal lobes [that] run along the sides of the brain, . . . deep within them is something called the limbic system. This system handles not just sound, smell and some vision but also memory and emotion." The limbic system is sometime knowns as the mammalian brain; the temporal lobes are particularly developed in humans relative to other animals.

Part III: Across faiths, prayer and meditation activate the frontal lobes but suppress activity in Baime's parietal lobes: "This is an area that normally takes our sensory information, tries to create for us a sense of ourselves and orient that self in the world. . . . When people lose their sense of self, feel a sense of oneness, a blurring of the boundary between self and other, we have found decreases in activity in that area." Practice enhances this effect producing "systematic change in . . . the brain as well as the immune system" (immune response is enhanced).

Part IV: Spirtuality is good for you. An AIDS researcher notes that "people who felt abandoned by God and who decreased in spirituality lost their CD4 cells 4.5 times faster than people who increased in spirituality. . . . That was actually our most powerful psychological predictor to date." But, can "my thoughts can affect another person's body? 'The answer is pretty unequivocally no.'"

Part V, this afternoon will ask if "people have souls that survive a brain's death."

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Part V offers ghost stories from those who said they have seen bright lights and had out of body experiences at near death experience points and offers counterpoint debunking possibilities to explain them.