‘Dhat’ and semen loss

An article by psychiatrist Athula Sumathipala that discusses a curious syndrome involving pathological anxiety about semen loss, has just become available online from last year’s British Journal of Psychiatry.

The syndrome, known as dhat, involves feelings of fatigue, weakness, anxiety, loss of appetite, guilt and sexual dysfunction, all attributed to the loss of semen.

Dhat is typically associated with India and China, where it was discussed in ancient texts. Sumathipala’s review makes it clear however, that such concerns have been prevalent in the west as well.

In fact, they were discussed as far back as early medical texts by Galen, and formed the basis of relatively recent (although spurious) theories on madness and masturbation.

The article starts with a discussion on the shaky psychiatric concept of a culture-bound syndrome – a supposedly culturally specific mental illness – and describes the curious syndrome in detail in the Results section of the paper.

Link to full text of article from the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Link to an Introduction to Culture-Bound Syndromes from the Psychiatric Times

The taste of musical notes

A paper published in recent issue of the scientific journal Nature, describes a case of a woman who has the synaesthetic experience of tasting sounds and seeing them as specific colours.

She is a professional musician and uses her unique gift to pick out specific notes and tone intervals. Her abilities were tested by asking her to identity specific tone intervals while tasting sour, bitter, salty or sweet solutions.

When compared to other musicians, she found it more difficult when the taste of the solution differed to the taste usually produced by the tone interval, than when they matched.

Link to study summary from nature.com.
Link to writeup from wired.com

Fortean Times article on Outsider Art

The Fortean Times have just put a fantastic article online about Outsider Art.

Although the term ‘Outsider Art’ is used to describe artists from a number of different backgrounds, the art of people who have been declared insane or mentally ill is especially prominent.


The work can often be intricate, intense, disturbing and delightful, sometimes all at the same time, and is largely produced by people with no formal training or contact with the mainstream art world.

The above image is part of Adolf W√∂lfli’s picture ‘Irren-Anstalt Band-Hain’.

Link to Fortean Times article on Outsider Art.
Link to some Outsider artists on wikipedia.org

Cultivated Perception

Lots of psychology isn’t rocket science – it’s not exactly stuff you couldn’t have figured out yourself if you’d have thought about it for long enough. Often the conclusions from some area of investigation are explained to you and you think ‘Well, hey, that’s obvious’. And of course there’s an argument that true answers often should be obvious, once you’ve been told them.

One of the the things I hoped we could do with Mind Hacks was give people framworks for looking at how our minds work, and how we interact with the environment, so that it becomes easier to spot the obvious in advance. After all, we all have minds, so we all have access to the raw data to draw the conclusions – it’s just that there are many things you don’t notice until you’ve learnt to see them. (Until someone stops me i’m going to call this ‘cultivated perception’).

So, I should be working on designed a questionnaire (a sign that I committed grevious sins in a past life?) and I noticed how I could improve it with a little lesson from Chapter 8 of the book.

Continue reading “Cultivated Perception”