My 4 year old daughter took this picture of me and I like it better than all the combined efforts of various professional photographers who I’ve recently worked with.

Whatever you believe, this is a really interesting article. It showed me that most of the arguments for atheism that I have heard (from Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins etc.) are essentially rooted in Judeo-Christian thought. Take this gem for example:

"If the existence of karma is assumed, the proposition of God as a moral governor of the universe is unnecessary. For, if God enforces the consequences of actions then he can do so without karma. If however, he is assumed to be within the law of karma, then karma itself would be the giver of consequences and there would be no need of a God."  

This is one of the most interesting arguments against god that I have heard. Since karma exists, god is unnecessary. There is a similar strain of thought that underlies all Vedantic (super interesting Northern Indian) philosophy which asserts that the Vedas (great books of knowledge) can have no author and that the illumination gathered from them must come directly from shruti (the illumination from experience of pure consciousness). In a sense this argument undermines the very concept of a discreet deity while at the same time laying the foundation for a deeper concept of divinity. 

It hints at an answer to a question I’ve posed for myself since I was a kid: “What does god think of as heaven?”

If it’s not obvious, I’m working on writing up a bigger article on god and gods but I couldn’t resist putting out a few preliminary thoughts that probably won’t make it into the final piece of writing.

I am so blessed. (at Santa Monica Pier)

Still from the voodoo dance video that I’ll post when I have real Internet. #WatchAndLearnMiley (at Milot, Haiti)

It’s so great to be back in Bali. 😉

neurosciencestuff:

Despite decades of research, little is known about the function of REM sleep, or the dreams that often accompany it. Rapid eye movements occur in most mammals, with a few exceptions like echidnas and dolphins. In humans, they be become common by the seventh month of pregnancy, and persist…

A great piece on the importance of having many different phases of awareness to be able to move in and out of as appropriate. One needn’t always be “fully mindful and present.” In some situations that may be the worst state to be in. Rather, one should develop the capacity to effortlessly shift on and out of different styles of attention as needed.

————————

"LINDA STONE: Continuous partial attention is neither good nor bad. We need different attention strategies in different contexts. The way you use your attention when you’re writing a story may vary from the way you use your attention when you’re driving a car, serving a meal to dinner guests, making love, or riding a bicycle. The important thing for us as humans is to have the capacity to tap the attention strategy that will best serve us in any given moment…….. In some cases, through sports or crafts or performing arts, children are taught attention strategies. Some of the training might involve managing the breath and emotions—-bringing one’s body and mind to the same place at the same time."

Beach babe. (at Topanga State Beach)

neurosciencestuff:

Changing gut bacteria through diet affects brain function
UCLA researchers now have the first evidence that bacteria ingested in food can affect brain function in humans. In an early proof-of-concept study of healthy women, they found that women who regularly consumed beneficial bacteria known as probiotics through yogurt showed altered brain function, both while in a resting state and in response to an emotion-recognition task.
The study, conducted by scientists with UCLA’s Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress and the Ahmanson–Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at UCLA, appears in the current online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Gastroenterology.
The discovery that changing the bacterial environment, or microbiota, in the gut can affect the brain carries significant implications for future research that could point the way toward dietary or drug interventions to improve brain function, the researchers said.
“Many of us have a container of yogurt in our refrigerator that we may eat for enjoyment, for calcium or because we think it might help our health in other ways,” said Dr. Kirsten Tillisch, an associate professor of medicine at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “Our findings indicate that some of the contents of yogurt may actually change the way our brain responds to the environment. When we consider the implications of this work, the old sayings ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘gut feelings’ take on new meaning.”
Researchers have known that the brain sends signals to the gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. This study shows what has been suspected but until now had been proved only in animal studies: that signals travel the opposite way as well.
“Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut,” Tillisch said. “Our study shows that the gut–brain connection is a two-way street.”
The small study involved 36 women between the ages of 18 and 55. Researchers divided the women into three groups: one group ate a specific yogurt containing a mix of several probiotics — bacteria thought to have a positive effect on the intestines — twice a day for four weeks; another group consumed a dairy product that looked and tasted like the yogurt but contained no probiotics; and a third group ate no product at all.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans conducted both before and after the four-week study period looked at the women’s brains in a state of rest and in response to an emotion-recognition task in which they viewed a series of pictures of people with angry or frightened faces and matched them to other faces showing the same emotions. This task, designed to measure the engagement of affective and cognitive brain regions in response to a visual stimulus, was chosen because previous research in animals had linked changes in gut flora to changes in affective behaviors.
The researchers found that, compared with the women who didn’t consume the probiotic yogurt, those who did showed a decrease in activity in both the insula — which processes and integrates internal body sensations, like those form the gut — and the somatosensory cortex during the emotional reactivity task.
Further, in response to the task, these women had a decrease in the engagement of a widespread network in the brain that includes emotion-, cognition- and sensory-related areas. The women in the other two groups showed a stable or increased activity in this network.
During the resting brain scan, the women consuming probiotics showed greater connectivity between a key brainstem region known as the periaqueductal grey and cognition-associated areas of the prefrontal cortex. The women who ate no product at all, on the other hand, showed greater connectivity of the periaqueductal grey to emotion- and sensation-related regions, while the group consuming the non-probiotic dairy product showed results in between.
The researchers were surprised to find that the brain effects could be seen in many areas, including those involved in sensory processing and not merely those associated with emotion, Tillisch said.
The knowledge that signals are sent from the intestine to the brain and that they can be modulated by a dietary change is likely to lead to an expansion of research aimed at finding new strategies to prevent or treat digestive, mental and neurological disorders, said Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine, physiology and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the study’s senior author.
“There are studies showing that what we eat can alter the composition and products of the gut flora — in particular, that people with high-vegetable, fiber-based diets have a different composition of their microbiota, or gut environment, than people who eat the more typical Western diet that is high in fat and carbohydrates,” Mayer said. “Now we know that this has an effect not only on the metabolism but also affects brain function.”
The UCLA researchers are seeking to pinpoint particular chemicals produced by gut bacteria that may be triggering the signals to the brain. They also plan to study whether people with gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain and altered bowel movements have improvements in their digestive symptoms which correlate with changes in brain response.
Meanwhile, Mayer notes that other researchers are studying the potential benefits of certain probiotics in yogurts on mood symptoms such as anxiety. He said that other nutritional strategies may also be found to be beneficial.
By demonstrating the brain effects of probiotics, the study also raises the question of whether repeated courses of antibiotics can affect the brain, as some have speculated. Antibiotics are used extensively in neonatal intensive care units and in childhood respiratory tract infections, and such suppression of the normal microbiota may have long-term consequences on brain development.
Finally, as the complexity of the gut flora and its effect on the brain is better understood, researchers may find ways to manipulate the intestinal contents to treat chronic pain conditions or other brain related diseases, including, potentially, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and autism.
Answers will be easier to come by in the near future as the declining cost of profiling a person’s microbiota renders such tests more routine, Mayer said.

Who wants to learn how to make yogurt with me? I’ve been doing it for months and I feel the difference profoundly when I eat fresh yogurt. Ayurveda says you should only eat yogurt that’s been prepared the night before you consume it. The only way to do this is to make it yourself. It’s so easy to do. Once you learn how, you’ll never want to waste money on store bought yogurt again.

neurosciencestuff:

Changing gut bacteria through diet affects brain function

UCLA researchers now have the first evidence that bacteria ingested in food can affect brain function in humans. In an early proof-of-concept study of healthy women, they found that women who regularly consumed beneficial bacteria known as probiotics through yogurt showed altered brain function, both while in a resting state and in response to an emotion-recognition task.

The study, conducted by scientists with UCLA’s Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress and the Ahmanson–Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at UCLA, appears in the current online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Gastroenterology.

The discovery that changing the bacterial environment, or microbiota, in the gut can affect the brain carries significant implications for future research that could point the way toward dietary or drug interventions to improve brain function, the researchers said.

“Many of us have a container of yogurt in our refrigerator that we may eat for enjoyment, for calcium or because we think it might help our health in other ways,” said Dr. Kirsten Tillisch, an associate professor of medicine at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “Our findings indicate that some of the contents of yogurt may actually change the way our brain responds to the environment. When we consider the implications of this work, the old sayings ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘gut feelings’ take on new meaning.”

Researchers have known that the brain sends signals to the gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. This study shows what has been suspected but until now had been proved only in animal studies: that signals travel the opposite way as well.

“Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut,” Tillisch said. “Our study shows that the gut–brain connection is a two-way street.”

The small study involved 36 women between the ages of 18 and 55. Researchers divided the women into three groups: one group ate a specific yogurt containing a mix of several probiotics — bacteria thought to have a positive effect on the intestines — twice a day for four weeks; another group consumed a dairy product that looked and tasted like the yogurt but contained no probiotics; and a third group ate no product at all.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans conducted both before and after the four-week study period looked at the women’s brains in a state of rest and in response to an emotion-recognition task in which they viewed a series of pictures of people with angry or frightened faces and matched them to other faces showing the same emotions. This task, designed to measure the engagement of affective and cognitive brain regions in response to a visual stimulus, was chosen because previous research in animals had linked changes in gut flora to changes in affective behaviors.

The researchers found that, compared with the women who didn’t consume the probiotic yogurt, those who did showed a decrease in activity in both the insula — which processes and integrates internal body sensations, like those form the gut — and the somatosensory cortex during the emotional reactivity task.

Further, in response to the task, these women had a decrease in the engagement of a widespread network in the brain that includes emotion-, cognition- and sensory-related areas. The women in the other two groups showed a stable or increased activity in this network.

During the resting brain scan, the women consuming probiotics showed greater connectivity between a key brainstem region known as the periaqueductal grey and cognition-associated areas of the prefrontal cortex. The women who ate no product at all, on the other hand, showed greater connectivity of the periaqueductal grey to emotion- and sensation-related regions, while the group consuming the non-probiotic dairy product showed results in between.

The researchers were surprised to find that the brain effects could be seen in many areas, including those involved in sensory processing and not merely those associated with emotion, Tillisch said.

The knowledge that signals are sent from the intestine to the brain and that they can be modulated by a dietary change is likely to lead to an expansion of research aimed at finding new strategies to prevent or treat digestive, mental and neurological disorders, said Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine, physiology and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the study’s senior author.

“There are studies showing that what we eat can alter the composition and products of the gut flora — in particular, that people with high-vegetable, fiber-based diets have a different composition of their microbiota, or gut environment, than people who eat the more typical Western diet that is high in fat and carbohydrates,” Mayer said. “Now we know that this has an effect not only on the metabolism but also affects brain function.”

The UCLA researchers are seeking to pinpoint particular chemicals produced by gut bacteria that may be triggering the signals to the brain. They also plan to study whether people with gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain and altered bowel movements have improvements in their digestive symptoms which correlate with changes in brain response.

Meanwhile, Mayer notes that other researchers are studying the potential benefits of certain probiotics in yogurts on mood symptoms such as anxiety. He said that other nutritional strategies may also be found to be beneficial.

By demonstrating the brain effects of probiotics, the study also raises the question of whether repeated courses of antibiotics can affect the brain, as some have speculated. Antibiotics are used extensively in neonatal intensive care units and in childhood respiratory tract infections, and such suppression of the normal microbiota may have long-term consequences on brain development.

Finally, as the complexity of the gut flora and its effect on the brain is better understood, researchers may find ways to manipulate the intestinal contents to treat chronic pain conditions or other brain related diseases, including, potentially, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and autism.

Answers will be easier to come by in the near future as the declining cost of profiling a person’s microbiota renders such tests more routine, Mayer said.

Who wants to learn how to make yogurt with me? I’ve been doing it for months and I feel the difference profoundly when I eat fresh yogurt. Ayurveda says you should only eat yogurt that’s been prepared the night before you consume it. The only way to do this is to make it yourself. It’s so easy to do. Once you learn how, you’ll never want to waste money on store bought yogurt again.