Four ecstasies

horizon_jump.jpgBlog The Huge Entity has a post giving four quotes on the experience of ecstasy and the thin veil of consensual reality.

My favourite is the following from author Fyodor Dostoevsky on epileptically induced ecstasy:

“There are moments, and it is only a matter of five or six seconds, when you feel the presence of the eternal harmony…a terrible thing is the frightful clearness with which it manifests itself and the rapture with which it fills you. If this state were to last more than five seconds, the soul could not endure it and would have to disappear. During these five seconds I live a whole human existence, and for that I would give my whole life and not think that I was paying too dearly….”

Link to ‘On The Nature of Experience’.

SfN 2005

The world’s biggest scientific meeting, the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, happens next week in Washington DC. They’ll be over 30,000 researchers and clinicians there, as well as the Dalai Lama talking about neuroscience and meditation, 17,000 presentations and a variety of side scientific meetings and social events (i’m intrigued by the Hippocampus open mike event, an evening for researchers interested in the hippocampus organised around the format of a poetry slam).

Anyway, from tomorrow I’ll be in Washington – I’m going early for the computational cognitive neuroscience conference. I’ll be there until the 16th, so if anyone has any recommendations for things to do, or if any readers fancy meeting up (maybe we could go to the hippocampus social?), let me know. tom [at] mindhacks [dot] com

Internet treatment for depression found effective

sad_blue.jpgPsychological treatment for depression, delivered over the internet, is reliable and effective, according to the results of research published recently in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Psychological treatment, particularly a form of therapy known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), is already known to be an effective treatment, but qualified therapists are relatively scarce.

Some of the techniques learnt during a course of CBT can, however, be passed on via the internet. This has the advantage of being more widely available to help people who may be having problems with distressing thoughts or moods.

One example of this is MoodGym, an open-access web-based treatment for depression, developed by the Australian National University.

Several research trials have shown MoodGym to be effective at alleviating depression when used either by specifically recruited participants, or by other users who happen to have started using the website.

Researchers hope to gain a knowledge about which aspects of therapy can be best communicated online to develop the most effective web-based treatments and therapies.

Link to MoodGym.
Link to British Journal of Psychiatry study summary (via PsychCentral).

Wider than the sky

emily_dickinson.jpgA poem by Emily Dickinson (1830–86):

The brain is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside.

The brain is deeper than the sea,
For, hold them, blue to blue,
The one the other will absorb,
As sponges, buckets do.

The brain is just the weight of God,
For, lift them, pound for pound,
And they will differ, if they do,
As syllable from sound.

From Complete Poems (1924).

The alternate realities of Richard Dadd

richard_dadd.jpgRichard Dadd was a promising artist who was admitted to the Royal Academy of Art in 1837. A decade later, Dadd was a patient in Bethlem psychiatric hospital after experiencing an intense psychosis, but was still to create the greatest of his works.

Dadd first started experiencing the beginings of psychosis when travelling in Egypt. He believed that the sound of the traditional Egyptian “hubbly bubblies” contained messages to him from the god Osiris.

Back in England, the artist became one of the rare examples of people who become violent when psychotic, killing his father with a razor. After fleeing from the authorities he was detained after attempting to attack a tourist in Paris.

On return to London, he was comitted to Bethlem Hospital for 20 years, before being moved to Broadmoor Hospital where he lived for the rest of his life.

When in hospital he continued to paint, and created some of the most important and fantastical paintings of the Victorian era.

The most famous, The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke (jpg – works best full screen) has been the inspiration novels and plays, and even a song by the seminal rock group Queen.

Link to detailed Dadd biography (with early sketches).
Link to brief biography.

Panexa for life

panexa.jpgMedia provocateurs Stay Free! Daily are behind a new web-based promotion for “life changing” medication Panexa.

Reminiscent of the buzz that appeared over the Zoloft for Everything ad campaign that was first reported in The Onion, the Panexa marketing pushes the drug’s main selling points:

No matter what you do or where you go, you’re always going to be yourself. And Panexa knows this. Your lifestyle is one of the biggest factors in choosing how to live. Why trust it to anything less? Panexa is proven to provide more medication to those who take it than any other comparable solution. Panexa is the right choice, the safe choice. The only choice.

In research trials the drug was shown to significantly increase insight and reduce impulisivity in health care decisions.

Link to Panexa website.

2005-11-04 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:


Electrodes, inserted into the brain, can be used to change blood pressure.

Study reports factors which could predict relationship violence. Further interesting commentary on applying these findings to everyday life.

Study on the historical records of British asylum fails to support stereotype that women were inappropriately detained for mental illness in Victorian times.

Fortean Times has a profile of troubled author Arthur Koestler, who funded Edinburgh University’s Koestler Parapsychology Unit.

Magnetically induced ‘blindsight‘ induced in healthy human volunteers.

Articles one and two on using ‘mirror box’ for pain in non-phantom limbs.

Women with highest levels of estrogen more likely to be attractive, claims new study.

Theodore Millon on mental illness

millon_with_pipe.jpgTheodore Millon, one of the grandees of modern psychology (so old-school he’s smoking a pipe on his homepage) is interviewed on ABC Radio’s All in the Mind.

Misleadingly, the show is pitched as “Theodore Millon ‚Äì Grandfather of Personality Theory”, where in actuality he talks very little about personality research.

He mainly focuses on the wider topic of theories of mental illness, although this is not alien territory to Millon, as he has maintained a clinical focus throughout much of his long and distinguished career.

As well as discussing some of the developments since he started practising over half a century ago, he also talks about his own personal experiences.

I was particularly struck by one, in which he recounts how he spent several days living in a psychiatric hospital he was working at, to better understand the experience of the patients.

He soon became disoriented and started to doubt whether he was a doctor or patient, and had to phone a colleague to test reality.

I like to think the tale caused Erving Goffman a wry smile.

mp3 or realaudio of programme audio.
Link to transcript.

Bad science on autism vaccine link

The Guardian’s Bad Science column, written by doctor Ben Goldacre, is an excellent resource for anyone who wants scientific straight talk on fashionable nonsense, and often references core ideas of the philosophy of science (which is a neat trick to pull off in a few hundred words in a newspaper column). This week Ben fires off both barrels at the Daily Mail columnist Melanie Philips for utterly misunderstanding the implications of a systematic review of studies investigating a link between the MMR vaccine and autism (there most probably isn’t one). Philips takes criticsms of existing research showing no connection between MMR and autism to jump to the opposite conclusion, supported by flimsy evidence for there being a link(Creationist watchers, does this bad science syllogism feel familiar?). Ben’s recommendation is strong, but justified:

Either learn how to interpret data yourself, or trust those who can do it for you

Details in the full article

Diagnosis by fridge magnet

diagnosis_fridge_magnets.jpgA company called Psyches Tears, who otherwise seem to make clothes, have produced a set of fridge magnets with which you can make up your own psychiatric diagnoses.

Whether you think you might have “paranoid kleptolepsy”, or suspect that your friend might suffer from a nasty case of “florid histriophobia”, now’s your chance let the medical world know (by advertising on your fridge).

You never know, your newly coined disorder might make it into the forthcoming DSM-V.

Link to Diagnostic Refrigerator Magnets.

Open-access sleep special at Nature

redhead_sleep.jpgNature has a special supplement, freely available online, on the cognitive neuroscience of sleep.

Homer Simpson, who once said “There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep”, would, I’m sure, approve.

The supplement contains a number of articles summarising recent research in the world of sleep, including the types and causes of sleep disorders and the role of memory in producing dreams to name but a few.

Link to Nature supplement on sleep.