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MindNexus

Archive for February, 2012

In their book Quicksilver (2010), Michael O’Brien and Larry Shook reference a 2004 National Academy of Sciences paper entitled “Fear fosters flight: A mechanism for fear contagion when perceiving emotion expressed by a whole body“.  This paper is about kinesthetic awareness or body movements that precede emotional states, specifically how we recognize happiness and fear as others telegraph their emotional states.  Until this study, researchers focused mainly on processes associated with facial expressions; this study suggest that bodily movements are just as important for understanding emotional behavior.  One can only think of the archetypal poker player eyeing his opponent for signs of excitement or stress.  Just what is the player noticing that gives him an edge?

As with many research studies, the actual details are technical and sometimes overly complicated however I would suggest the time necessary to work your way through the work is well worth it.  O’Brien & Shook also make an interesting point concerning the permeations possible within our own neural networks:

This is where our emerging knowledge of the brain approaches the mystical.  When we consider that each of the neocortex’s hundred billion neurons has as many as twenty thousand connections to other brain cells, and that those cells connect with millions of other body cells, and that, as neuroscientists  helpfully point out, the potential permutations of these connections exceed the number of molecules in the known universe, we are only beginning to grasp the reality of our circumstances. (p. 83)

Exceed the number of molecules in the known universe?  That sounds like a lot if you ask me.  That is why when I read articles like “Mice Make Their Own Morphine” I am not surprised.

Rather, it makes it silly to assume that we know what is possible in any endeavor.


I was sitting quietly last night enjoying a moment of relative silence and started thinking about how rare silence has become for all of us.  Even as someone who truly appreciates silence,  I find it increasingly difficult to isolate myself, to turn off the constant bombardment of auditory and visual stimuli that pervades my world.

Why is it so difficult to do this, to turn off the onslaught of stimuli that has come to define our “Information Age”- you know the computers, cell phones, television, iPods, white noise, etc.?  Even text messages which I thought would be a great way to keep in touch with my kids, have over-run my ability to respond; and laughing, it has given my cell phone company another way to charge me.

Apparently I am not alone. The first Commercial text message was sent in December of 1992.  Today, the number of text messages sent and received every day, exceeds the total population of the planet.  That a lot of J and no ICBW.  YGTBKM but sadly I am not.  (You have to guess or check out the this link. http://www.webopedia.com/quick_ref/textmessageabbreviations.asp 

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The phrase, information overload, was first used by sociologist and futurologist Alvin Toffler in 1970. His book “Future Shock” has sold over six million copies and can easily be considered the modern grandfather of prophetic insight into this theme.

I mean think of it, in 1970 a mouse was still a mammal, Texas instruments was just introducing its first barely portable “pocket calculator” (2.5 pounds) and Bill Gates was still mowing lawns ( I made the lawn mowing thing up but you get the point).

By the way, Toffler’s definition of “Future Shock” is a personal perception of “too much information in too short a period of time”, and that was back in the informational dark ages when a gigabyte was still a gigabyte.

Of course the game has changed.  For instance in my last post I used the term Exabyte, a new word for me and others from the responses I got.  So I did a little research and came up with a great article, a must read for the obsessed:  http://www2.sims.berkeley.edu/research/projects/how-much-info-2003/execsum.htm

They did a great job of putting the Exabyte into perspective.

    • How big is five Exabyte’s? If digitized with full formatting, the seventeen million books in the Library of Congress contain about 136 terabytes of information; five Exabyte’s of information is equivalent in size to the information contained in 37,000 new libraries the size of the Library of Congress book collections.

Now I have visited Library of Congress and it’s a term paper nightmare of unprecedented proportions.  37,000 of them?  I don’t think so. (Probably why I don’t work for Google)

Ok so there is a whole bunch of information, so what?

That is the thread we are going to explore starting with our next post, starting with physiology. What do the smart guys have to say about how we are holding up, you know, little things like blood pressure, cognitive disruption and moon walking….Until then.


Happiness is interesting.

Also interesting: Human suffering.

Ask one hundred random people what would have to happen for them to be consistently happy, and I suspect you would get one hundred different answers.

Some might define happiness in terms of diminished suffering; others might offer a positively framed description, perhaps in terms of relationship or success.

So what is happiness? Can it be measured objectively? And if so, can happiness be learned?

Those questions sound crazy, but are they, really?

Perhaps not….

Over six years ago, Dr. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin. used functional M.R.I. and advanced EEG analysis to index the brain’s set point for moods.

His findings: Happiness is a skill. Happiness can be learned.

Functional M.R.I. images reveal that when people are emotionally distressed — anxious, angry, depressed — the most active sites in the brain are circuitry converging on the amygdala, part of the brain’s emotional centers, and the right prefrontal cortex, a brain region important for the hypervigilance typical of people under stress.

By contrast, when people are in positive moods — upbeat, enthusiastic and energized — those sites are quiet, with the heightened activity in the left prefrontal cortex.

By taking readings on hundreds of people, Dr. Davidson has established a bell curve distribution, with most people in the middle, having a mix of good and bad moods. Those relatively few people who are farthest to the right are most likely to have a clinical depression or anxiety disorder over the course of their lives. For those lucky few farthest to the left, troubling moods are rare and recovery from them is rapid.

Dr. Davidson found that we have a biologically determined set point that determines our emotional range, our relative happiness; however, his research also shows we can influence and change our happiness set point, changing where we fall on the happiness scale!

As we’ve said before, the brain is an incredibly plastic organ.

Training the mind using the kinds of skills we teach our coaching clients, skills such as centering and mindful awareness, literally remodels our brains!

In short, the results suggest that the emotion set point can shift, given the proper training. In mindfulness, people learn to monitor their moods and thoughts and drop those that might spin them toward distress. Dr. Davidson hypothesizes that it may strengthen an array of neurons in the left prefrontal cortex that inhibits the messages from the amygdala that drive disturbing emotions.

So, happiness can be learned, and if that’s not great news, I don’t know what is!


In their book Quicksilver (2010), Michael O’Brien and Larry Shook reference a 2004 National Academy of Sciences paper entitled “Fear fosters flight: A mechanism for fear contagion when perceiving emotion expressed by a whole body“.  This paper is about kinesthetic awareness or body movements that precede emotional states, specifically how we recognize happiness and fear as others telegraph their emotional states.  Until this study, researchers focused mainly on processes associated with facial expressions; this study suggest that bodily movements are just as important for understanding emotional behavior.  One can only think of the archetypal poker player eyeing his opponent for signs of excitement or stress.  Just what is the player noticing that gives him an edge?

As with many research studies, the actual details are technical and sometimes overly complicated however I would suggest the time necessary to work your way through the work is well worth it.  O’Brien & Shook also make an interesting point concerning the permeations possible within our own neural networks:

This is where our emerging knowledge of the brain approaches the mystical.  When we consider that each of the neocortex’s hundred billion neurons has as many as twenty thousand connections to other brain cells, and that those cells connect with millions of other body cells, and that, as neuroscientists  helpfully point out, the potential permutations of these connections exceed the number of molecules in the known universe, we are only beginning to grasp the reality of our circumstances. (p. 83)

Exceed the number of molecules in the known universe?  That sounds like a lot if you ask me.  That is why when I read articles like “Mice Make Their Own Morphine” I am not surprised.

Rather, it makes it silly to assume that we know what is possible in any endeavor.