Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sightings: Andrew Newberg explains the psychological benefits of spirituality

In "Faith and the Brain" (Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, July 17, 2009), Bob Abernethy interviews Andrew Newberg, author of How God Changes Your Brain on spirituality and emotional health:
DR. NEWBERG: We’ve learned that being religious or spiritual has a very profound effect on who we are, has a very profound effect on our biology and on our brain, and what we’ve found more recently is that not only does it have a profound influence on who we are, but it actually can change our brain and to change ourselves over times.

[ ... ]

SEVERSON: But Newberg has made another discovery, a controversial one, that our belief system, how we view God, can make a huge difference in how it affects our well being. If we believe in a loving God it can have a positive effect, even prolong our lives. But believing in a judgmental, authoritarian God can produce fear, anger, and stress, and that’s not healthy.

[ ... ]

SEVERSON: Newberg believes the number one activity that can exercise your brain and enrich your life is faith.

Dr. NEWBERG: When you have those kind of positive, optimistic beliefs in the world, in God or religion, depending on the person, that that really, over the long haul, seems to be the thing that really provides a benefit for us in terms our mental state and in terms of our physical health and well-being.

SEVERSON: As for his own faith, he describes himself as a searcher who is still searching. For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Lucky Severson in Philadelphia.

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Bacteria: They don't think, but something in them thinks

In "Why microbes are smarter than you thought," Michael Marshall at New Scientist (June 30, 2009) intros and links many stories of the amazing ways microbes manage without brains and can even appear to think ( well, not really, but ... ). Here's my favourite, but go here for more:
Many single-celled organisms can work out how many other bacteria of their own species, are in their vicinity – an ability known as "quorum sensing".

Each individual bacterium releases a small amount of a chemical into the surrounding area – a chemical that it can detect through receptors on its outer wall. If there are lots of other bacteria around, all releasing the same chemical, levels can reach a critical point and trigger a change in behaviour.

Pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria often use quorum sensing to decide when to launch an attack on their host. Once they have amassed in sufficient numbers to overwhelm the immune system, they collectively launch an assault on the body. Jamming their signals might provide us with a way to fight back.
How about a culturally (so to speak) adapted version of "Suicide is Painless"?