science says: meditation and sex is the same to your brain……

The Neurobiology of Bliss–Sacred and Profane

Sex in the brain, and what it reveals about the neuroscience of deep pleasure

By Nadia Webb  | July 12, 2011 | 21

Image: Abel Mitja Varela

In studies that observe the brain in action, the right hemisphere seems to be the sexy hemisphere. It lights up during orgasm—so much so that, in one study, much of the cortex went dark, leaving the right prefrontal cortex as a bright island. New research suggests the right hemisphere is also hyperactive amongst the “hypersexual,” a symptom of brain injury loosely defined as groping, propositioning or masturbating in public without shame.

What is surprising about this is that pleasure is classically thought of as the province of the left hemisphere, not the right. The left is most active when recalling happy memories, meditating on love for another, and during the expansiveness of grandiosity or mania.

The left hemisphere is even preferentially more active among people free of depression and less active among the unhappy. If the brain were a simpler and more cooperative organ, the left hemisphere would be lit up like the Fourth of July during an orgasm. Instead, it is surprisingly silent. Why might this be so?

Until eight years ago, neuroscience had little scientific basis from which to comment on bliss, sexual or otherwise. Despite our public fascination with things sexual, as researcher, Gemma O’Brien put it, “orgasm is not impersonal and third person enough for the sciences.” Neuroscience was hobbled by the avoidance of such squashy topics, even if it meant setting aside important parts of human experience. However, a clearer portrait of pleasure is now emerging. Bliss, both sacred and profane, shares the diminution of self-awareness, alterations in bodily perception and decreased sense of pain. And while the left frontal lobe may be linked to pleasure, the other three characteristics are bilateral.

Absence of pain is predictably akin to pleasure, but the other two—losing a sense of identity and of bodily limits—are less obvious. Self-awareness, apparently, is no picnic. William James described the self as that kernel of consciousness that persists throughout various experiences and sensations. The self is divided between the stream of consciousness and an internal observer—except in those rare moments when we dissolve into mysticism.

Self-awareness exists as a running critique organizing conscious experience. Telling stories to ourselves (often about ourselves) is the cognitive default.

Escaping continual self-observation seems an underappreciated pleasure. Roy Baumeister wrote an entire book devoted to the premise that self-awareness is frequently a burden. Across cultures, we blunt awareness with alcohol, drugs, auto-hypnotic rituals and when times are dire, suicide. Meditation offers relief from this self-preoccupation and one of the few tools for creating a durable boost in happiness—perhaps by dampening activity in regions implicated in judgment, comparison, planning and self-scrutiny. Left prefrontal cortex activation correlates with happiness and Tibetan Buddhist monks have created the greatest measured spike in activity in this region produced by simple thought when meditating on compassion. The reported depth of meditation also corresponds to activity in the brain’s pleasure centers, such as left forebrain bundle, anterior insula and precentral gyrus. This overt pleasure is accompanied by a shift in emotional self-regulation; meditators are more aware of thoughts and feelings conceptually, but less emotionally disrupted by them, according to one study. Both hemispheres are involved in self-observation.

Pleasure is also linked to a loss of awareness of the boundaries of our body, and this, too, involves both sides of the brain. Orgasm and meditation dissolve the sense of physical boundary, but the activation patterns are distinct. Meditation does so in a somewhat cerebral way, altering bodily self-awareness by enhancing activity in specific brain regions, such as right angular gyrus—regions that become most lively during attempts to imagine ourselves from a stranger’s perspective, during out of body experiences or déjà vu, and in a neurologically obscure disorder in which patients lack awareness of their own paralysis or bodily infirmity.

But during orgasm, the cerebellar deep nuclei and vermis, also in the cerebellum, glow. The cerebellum used to be thought of as the “motor bit” tacked onto the back of the brain. The deep nuclei are mysterious, but they seem involved in planning and initiating movement, motor learning, rhythm, synchronizing and smoothing of movement. The vermis tracks the movement of the body through space outside of conscious awareness. Unlike meditation, orgasm seems a heightened sense of being within one’s body rather than the sense of being outside of it. The disconnected awareness meditation (“I am not my thoughts, I am not this experience”) is antithetical to the self-forgetting of sex in which wallowing in the experience, and the relationship, is precisely the point.

Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

Nadia Webb is a double-boarded neuropsychologist practicing at the Children’s Hospital of New Orleans. She completed her doctoral training and dissertation research in clinical psychology and neuroscience.

source: Scientific American

Path of Least Resistance

Nothing expends more energy than it absolutely has to, the path of least resistance is the reasonable default setting needed to conserve energy and resources against an unknowable but often predictable future.

This can be characterized in the 80-20 rule – in any business, 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. Achieving 80% of a task or thing is often good enough, because the effort required to achieve the final 20% exceeds the energy and effort needed to achieve the 80%.

Perfectionists, who seek to achieve 100% of a thing, end up achieving fewer things and expend more energy to do so overall than those of us who minimize effort for maximized outcome/output. Work smarter, not harder. Working smarter, is working less to achieve the same or good enough result.

There is also a cascade of folded 80/20s to consider when accomplishing a task – to deal with all aspects is too much, when dealing with 80% of items and 20% of people is sufficient – take care of the larger aspect and the smaller parts fall into alignment of their own accord. Remember that each of us has a span of control, and when we move beyond, the centre does not hold, leaving you on the stable edge, with a collapsed centre ring.

In concrete terms, if two movies have an opening box office weekend of $10 million dollars and one movie cost $5 million to make and the other cost $1 million – while they achieved the box office, the cheaper movie made more profit: nine dollars per one dollar spent, while the more expensive to produce, made only two dollars per dollar spent. Of course, the formula becomes more complicated when you also factor in how many screens each movie played on, the fewer screens, the lesser distribution costs and the profit margin increases – there’s always a second simple formula to complicate the original simple formula.

In terms of people and our energy and effort, our brains use approximately 20% of the energy used to operate our bodies. That’s a very expensive organ to operate, energy wise 20 for the brain and 80 for everything else. Well, not the full 80, some is held back in reserves, be it in fat cells which are energy storage bins, or in less than total exertion, so that when we need to run a little faster, that there is still something to draw upon, when absolutely needed. It’s this reserve energy that is misunderstood as the 10% when we say give 110%. We can only give 100% and normally, we are giving no more than 80%, so giving more effort is to push the output to 100% of total possible energy and effort, not excess of the total available.

Much of the energy the brain uses works on an autopilot, operating our lungs, digestion, hormones and processing inputs (audio, visual, smells, tastes, tactile touch), all folded into awareness of our environment and everything and everyone one, including ourselves, in said environment, but also our waking and dream states, memories, our variable perceptions (why time feels slower or faster depending on circumstances, our understanding of the environment, drawn from experiences, cultural values and personal preferences).

It’s the understanding of our environment that is of particular interest and concern, because we are at a time in our history where we are having to decide between competing views of understanding the world, and the view we collectively or at least as a majority hold, will determine the future of our species.

It comes down to which view do we hold of ourselves and our place in the universe – a religious view or a naturalist view.

If we cling to any religious views, we are simply doomed to continue on as we are, until we’ve overpopulated and polluted the earth so badly that it won’t sustain any form of life that includes humans – or at least, not humans in our present form.

If we move to a naturalist view, and understand that we are part of the natural world and order of things, then we can begin to set nature back to a balance, with sustainable energy sources, sustainable economies and with growth offset by reduction. We would not continue on the collision course of civil strife, but we would intentionally be changing direction toward a balanced sustainable existence, harmonized within nature.

But this, is going to take commitment and effort of a majority of people to make the switch from a religious worldview that posits that there are deities or a deity who rewards and punishes based on conformity to particular behaviours or not.

The attractive quality of religion, is that embracing (fundamentalists), accepting (moderates) or at least not questioning too hard (apologists) the premises of any given religion, is that your thinking about a worldview and your place in the world, has already been done for you. You don’t have to think, in fact, you explicitly can’t think about it, otherwise, you’ll notice all the flaws, inconsistencies, and sheer ridiculousness of the idea and understand that religion is largely about soothing fears of dying while providing a rationale for taking life (other people’s usually, but martyrs and saints hold a special place among the special group of believers).

Religion takes away all personal responsibility and replaces it with an obligation to follow a set of rules that benefit a ruling elite and keep the impoverish masses poor in life in exchange for an afterlife reward – so overthrowing the ruling wealthy elite is a no-no if you want to get to the rewarding afterlife, and to add insult to injury, we’re supposed to believe it’s harder for a rich man to obtain afterlife reward than a poor man. Yet, every few rich people trade their material wealth for poverty, so one has to wonder, how much can the wealthy religious elite truly believe in heaven and its rewards when they hedge reward and have it now and later?

Proponents of religion often cite that more people believe in a religion than who do not believe in any religion. As if by sheer numbers, or first past the post voting if you will, religion wins the mantle of being correct as opposed to merely being more popular. And, as anyone who went to high school knows, no one really likes the popular kids – which always made me wonder, how is it that they are popular?

That more people believe than don’t isn’t relevant to the quality or correctness of religious belief, but rather to that path of least resistance. Not that long ago, to declare yourself a non-believer was a death sentence, socially if not literally. In some countries – theocratic ones – it still is in some parts of the world.

So that most people believe is partly owing to personal safety and social pressure, a preference for conformity – the social application of the path of least resistance, and because religion is a social mechanism of being a stabilizing influence in a society. There is a beneficial role that religion plays in society, otherwise, religion would have died out and been replaced by something else – but religion is merely a social construction of organizing and sorting people into groups and hierarchical structures – that it provides a social framework validates religion as social organizing mechanism, it does not validate the beliefs or ideas of religion, nor does it confer a measure of goodness, only functionality.

Goodness is a measure determined by sustainability and outcome – the staying power.

What I look to as hope for humanity is, shockingly enough, China. Not as the current corruption of communism regime in charge, but as China the civilization. China is the oldest continuous civilization in human history – many civilizations have risen and fallen, through conquest, dispersal or disaster. China, because of their long standing xenophobia, has resisted the influx of migration and limited the emigration of it’s peoples and retained a core identity and characteristic.

China, long ago, abandoned the shamanistic, spirit and deities centered religions, in favour of mystic rationalism. They have community rather than individual focused moral and ethical system, with old time mysticism used to understand the  forces  of nature. They are neither good nor bad, but rather, all things in balance.

China is out of balance and in disharmony, allowing the mystical to override the rational in some regards, and these leads to ideas of saving face (honour) as more important than continued existence – but, I can see the case to be made that existence without honour, is not an existence worth having.

So what the world need is more rational thinkers, mysticism sifted out – and to shift to a rational – naturalist framework, there does need to be a critical mass to where clinging to the religious ideas cost more energy than switching to the alternative – science, the study and understanding of nature.

In a way, when believers cite that there are more people who believe in one religion or another than non-believers, they are resisting the critical mass and basically admitting that they change their thinking when the majority changes. People will change when following the majority means following something else.

The effort to make naturalism attractive is huge, it means universal education. This is why fundamentalists seek to control education, to prevent their own ousting and to reinforce their narrow values and ideas.

But, before we can implement education, people need to have their basic survival needs met – clean water, food, security of their person and shelter. Again, this is where religionists – missionaries and their alleged charitable endeavors have the edge, by doing outreach and provided access to or these things, they create an obligation of gratitude, they obtain converts, who then  would be resistant to education in opposition or in exclusion of religion.

Before rational naturalist thinking can forge a new direction for a sustainable communally global future, we have to undo all the unsustainable outcomes of the past millennia of religionist thinking and doing. A daunting task indeed.

But the call to the greater good of long term sustainable existence, complete with individual human rights, and avoiding the pitfall of scapegoating groups of people and avoiding genocidal reduction in global population, improving the quality and quantity of life through education and sustainability, means having to overcome the path of least resistance.

It means confronting said resistance head on, unflinching, to stare into the abyss and declare yourself to not be a monster and then turn your back on the abyss, roll up your sleeves or tug on the bootstraps and get to work.

Survival Instinct Has Died

I think that with over 6 billion people on the planet and no natural predator, that our individual survival instincts have become dulled, if not eliminated.

I used to think that it was pure self involvement that allowed people move about texting, listening to music or even watching movies while driving or cycling or walking around the city.

A kind of everyone is responsible for my safety but me mentality.

But then I thought, what does make people pay attention to potential dangers? How do they not realize that texting and driving are a dangerous mix?

It occurred to me that we as humans do not have any natural predators and we do not regularly encounter danger.

Yes, some humans are dangerous, but how often does a serial killer try to catch you in any given month? We have created a great stranger danger panic when it comes to children, but the reality remains that the majority of child abductions are done by the non-custodial parent, not a stranger.

Killers, rapists and pedophiles are not average people they are a throw back or aberration. They would always have been some small portion of the population and with 6 billion plus people on the planet, their numbers are increased, but not likely their percentage of the total population.

That’s when I had the lightening strike. There weren’t always this many people.

In pre-historic times, we lived in small groups – so cooperating was critical for survival. No stealing, no raping and no killing each other. Anti-social behaviour threatened the entire group and wouldn’t have been tolerated.

In pre-historic times, there were a lot of predators of humans – lynx, hyenas, wolverines, wolves, cave lions and, the animals that we preyed on Mammoths, Whoolly Rhinos, bison and any large heard animal posed a risk for death to the human hunter and required the co-operation of many hunters to be able to successfully hunt the large prey animals.

Humans, lacking claws or teeth that could be used in combat, developed technology to level the playing field. Now, there’s no animals that intentionally seek out humans to eat. Animal attacks occur and are still fatal, but usually it’s because the human has blundered into the animal territory or been mistaken for other prey.

Our species survival no longer turns on individual survival either. So we can collectively relax, since there’s so many others propagating the species that it doesn’t matter if a large number of us don’t survive to breed or chose not to.

The dangers that could wipe out our species in pre-historic times are very different than the mass extinction ones that we face today.

In pre-historic times, it was drought, disease, crop failure, inter-group conflicts and natural disasters that threatened us as a species.

75,000 years ago, the eruption of supervolcano reduced the global human population down to approximately 10,000 individuals. This vastly reduced the gene pool and made cooperation far more critical for long term survival.

Now, we still face the same dangers as our pre-historic counterparts, but drought, disease and warfare is not likely to end all human life on earth. Though, if any war or conflict does go nuclear – and there’s apparently enough nuke weapons to kill every person on earth 5 times – then, it’s probably better that humans cease to be part of the Earth biosphere.

The species ending dangers that we face are too big, not predictable and there’s nothing we can do with the current technologies. These would include asteroid strikes and global climate change.

Since there’s nothing we can do, there’s nothing to consider or do or dwell on, unless you’re into general anxiety attacks.

Since we do not face danger every day, or struggle to obtain enough food, water and creature comforts, we are greatly distanced from our pre-historic ancestors who, if they didn’t go out to hunt and store food, had to go without.

Today, urban dwellers are so removed from the food supply that we often don’t think of steak or bacon or chicken wings to be related to an animal at all. For me, I prefer the shape of the food to not be from an obvious part of the animal because I don’t want to think about it. Animals that are close to me are pets and food animals are some misty, distant, theoretically concept that has little to do with me.

I probably should be a vegetarian but BBQ meat tastes too good to pass up.

Without having to be dealing with danger, without having to struggle to survive, we just don’t need as much brain capacity as we used to.

It turns out that our brains are smaller than our prehistoric ancestors. By about a tennis ball.

It’s not just down to less danger, but that we have by domesticating animals and plants, also domesticated ourselves.

The wild ancestor of any domesticate animal has a larger brain, larger head and body, is often stronger and with more canny behaviours.

Domesticate animals tend to be smaller brains and bodies, shorter and rounder heads, more colour variations, floppier ears and often curly tails.

Dmitry Belyaev experiemented with foxes, breeding only the most docile and 40 years and 45,000 foxes later, the foxes not only show the physical differences, but have different behaviours than wild foxes and their brain chemistry is different. They respond to sounds sooner and develop fear much later. They are interactive with humans and as eager to please as any dog.

Humans, by living in larger and larger groups that required co-operation, basically bread out a lot of our aggression that we needed in prehistoric times living in smaller groups that competed with other groups for resources.

Trade of goods and culture between groups, groups merging, the creation of villages, towns and eventually cities makes aggression an undesirable trait for sexual selection.

As it turns out, we are only distinct from other animals, not because of opposing thumbs, since this is a primate trait – but rather the ability to self-domesticate and the capacity we have to live in our own waste.

Brains, Sense of Self, Coma Patients and Intentions

The human brain can do many things – regulates our body functions, processes enormous amounts of information and is where all our higher functions take place.
What the human brain can’t do is be aware of it’s own functioning, and as a result, people don’t think of themselves as being their brain supported by the body.
For most people, if they think about their brain, it’s just another organ that acts as the body’s coordinator. Part of the reason is that most people think they have a soul or that they are some energy being that is existing in a corporeal form on this plane of existence.
That the self continues to exist in some form after the body dies. But, the self is one of those higher brain functions.
It’s obvious when you consider people who have had strokes, brain injuries or a degenerative brain disease. They don’t have the same personality, cognitive abilities or interaction anymore.
It’s not the case that they are trapped inside a brain that is not allowing them to communicate, the brain’s capacity is reduced by damage and so the person changes with the damage.
Which brings me to coma patients.
Movies and TV shows always show coma patients waking up from a deep sleep. They are their same selves as before, able to walk and talk, often with little confusion and no issues getting back into life. Well, unless it’s a disease of the week TV movie, and then it’s all about the brave recovery that succeeds.
Even factoring for the varying degrees of comas, the length of time in a coma, most people who are in comas do not recover to their former state. Most die, many remain in comas and the ones who do recover, do not have the same physical or mental abilities as before the coma.
There is no awareness without brain function, you are not aware but trapped in a non-responsive body while in a coma. The brain is damaged and/or oxygen impaired and is operating at a lower capacity. It can’t generate the “self” anymore.
I did find this interesting article about using stimulus to encourage the brain to re-map or repair itself.
The above garden path is heading to this blog topic: family of the coma patient having their crisis being taken advantage of by the unscrupulous facilitated communication industry.
Parents of non-communicative autistic children are also at risk of exploitation by these same folks.
Since there is no “self” trapped inside a body unable to communicate, there is no-one directing the facillator. Even if there was a “self” trapped, there’s no ability for one person to touch a non-responsive person and be able to communicate mind to mind. People do not plug into each other and transfer files. Our brains are more powerful than computers, but they are not peer to peer networks.
Holding a person’s fingers and guiding them across a keyboard is pretty much the same as people playing Ouija. The non-responsive person’s hand is along for the ride.
In tests of facilitated communication with autistic children, it was determined that the facilitator was the responder, not the autistic child.
“many scientific studies have demonstrated that the procedure is not valid because the outcome is actually determined by the “facilitator.” [1,2] In one study, for example, autistic patients and facilitators were shown pictures of familiar objects and asked to identify them under three types of conditions: (a) assisted typing with facilitators unaware of the content of the stimulus picture, (b) unassisted typing, and (c) a condition in which the participants and facilitators were each shown pictures at the same time. In this last condition the paired pictures were either the same or different, and the participant’s typing was “facilitated” to label or describe the picture. No patient gave a correct response when the facilitator had not been shown the picture. The researchers concluded that the facilitators were not aware that they were influencing the patients “

“If you could read the mind of a person with severe autism, the argument went, you would discover a person who could read at a high level, express sophisticated emotions, and even write a touching essay about the pain and isolation of living with autism.”
The problem with this thought is that we cannot read anyone’s mind. The human brain is self-contained, it is not a broadcaster nor a receiver.
The performers who appear to read minds aren’t reading minds. They are mentalists who have studied people and know what are common things. They throw out vague questions and allow the audience or person being read to provide the information.
Many people have mantles on the fireplace and the vast majority have photos on them. Many people keep money or valuables in their bedstands, and it tends to be the left side of the bed that the dominant partner sleeps on – so that’s where the money is.
Remember the scene in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy has run away and she meeting the crystal ball reader? He diverts her attention and looks into her basket and finds the photo of Auntie Em. He then says general statements, but it’s Dorothy who says the old woman is Auntie Em. Dorothy is too young to consider her impact on her aunt and uncle, but the man knows that they would be worried and so manipulates Dorothy into returning home.
Here’s how to be a psychic in 10 easy lessons. (pdf)

So, if you can’t read a responsive person’s mind when they are feeding you clues and information.  Why would anyone accept the claim that a non-responsive (severe autistic or coma) person’s mind could be read?

I am sure that there are many people who practice facilitated communication who are sincere in their beliefs. But sincere belief isn’t a comfort to the families being taken advantage of, nor to the coma patient who’s existence is extended on the basis of this communication and the faint hope or recovery, nor the autistic child who’s parents make treatment decisions based on this “break through”.
Wishful thinking is a powerful drug.
But sincerity isn’t always a good thing, many terrible historical events were caused by sincere people.
Critical thinking, which is very hard to do when you are emotionally desperate and willing to try anything to make the crisis end or lessen.
But that doesn’t excuse the people who undertake the training and worse the ones who offer it, nor the general public who encourages or allows such belief and practice to flourish.
These people are not in emotional distress, they can presumably think clearly and chose not to.
They are perpetuating a “complementary” therapy as something that is valid and produces results, when any close and critical thinking examination of the concept and an evaluation of the practice shows that it’s a time waster that may delay or prevent other treatments with potential.
Health care and treatment is not served by a shot gun anything goes it can’t hurt so it must help mentality.
Yes, it can hurt – it can hurt by delaying other treatments. It can hurt by extending the existence of the coma patient, increase the trauma of the family who will inevitably have to decide about ceasing life support or allowing the person to slowly fail and expire.
Yes it hurts everyone by adding costs and delay – as well as diverting resources like staff, equipment, supplies, medicines and a bed – to healthcare.
I understand how desperately difficult it can be to lose a family member. How hard it is to watch them decline and fail.
I empathize with how hard it is to watch your child fail to thrive.
But the false comfort provided by facilitated communication, by therapeutic touch and other so called complementary medicines….
The reason it’s complementary is because it doesn’t work as a primary care.
If it doesn’t work there, then the only purpose that it serves is as a placebo emotional band aid to assure the families and parents that they tried everything.
If the treatment isn’t for the patient’s benefit, then why do it?