Reuters blog archive
from The Great Debate UK:
Not that long ago everyone was lamenting the slovenliness of the British public. We didn’t work hard enough, took too many holidays and anxiety was rising about how we would ever keep up with our harder-working, more productive peers in China and the East. However, the tides is changing and, guess what, slovenliness is back.
Slovenliness is not quite accurate, but these days we can’t read a paper without being told that we need to get more sleep, be more mindful, take better care of ourselves and quit our technology addictions. Apparently, our need to tweet, check email and watch the latest Game of Thrones is literally killing us. Experts from Harvard, Cambridge and Surrey Universities have put together a report on humans and our need for sleep, and have come to the conclusion that we are arrogant to ignore our circadian rhythms.
This arrogance can’t all be blamed on the ubiquity of smartphones. For decades we have been told that really successful people don’t need much sleep. From Churchill to Margaret Thatcher, who both survived on between 4-5 hours of sleep a night, to more recently former Burberry CEO, now at Apple, Angela Ahrendts and Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer.
But now some experts claim that this is all rubbish: they must be lying about how little sleep they get as the human body just isn’t designed to work that way. While Churchill did admit to naps in the afternoon, he was also a notoriously late riser who would take early meetings in his dressing gown, you don’t hear of Ahrendts or Meyers dozing off at their desks for half an hour.
Rehabilitation and religion were the two themes Tiger Woods was most open about discussing in his first television interviews Sunday since revelations about his marriage infidelities emerged last November. Woods has long been connected to Buddhism through his Thai mother and he said his detachment from the religion had been behind his fall from grace.
Some book titles are too good to pass up. "How God Changes Your Brain" is neuroscientist Andrew Newberg's fourth book on "neurotheology," the study of the relationship between faith and the brain. All are pitched at a popular audience, with snappy titles like "Born to Believe" or "Why God Won't Go Away." Anyone reading the latest one, though, might wonder if the title shouldn't be "How God Meditation Changes Your Brain." As he explains in an interview with Reuters here, the benefits that Buddhist monks and contemplative Catholic nuns derive from meditation and intense prayer are also available to atheists and agnostics. The key lies in the method these high performing believers use, not in the belief itself. But that would have made for a more awkward title.
That's not to say Newberg doesn't have some interesting points to make in this book. His brain scans of meditating monks and praying nuns show that the frontal lobe -- the area that directs the mind's focus -- is especially active while the amygdala -- the area linked to fear reactions -- is calmed when they go through their spiritual experiences. His studies show these brain regions can be exercised and strengthened, like building up a muscle through training. And his treatment of a mechanic with a faltering memory showed that a traditional Indian meditation method, even when stripped of its spiritual trappings, could bring about these changes in two months.
Neurotheology - the study of the link between belief and the brain - is a topic I've hesitated to write about for several years. There are all kinds of theories out there about how progress in neuroscience is changing our understanding of religion, spirituality and mystical experience. Some say the research proves religion is a natural product of the way the brain works, others that God made the brain that way to help us believe. I knew so little about the science behind these ideas that I felt I had to learn more about the brain first before I could comment.
If that was an excuse for procrastination, I don't have it anymore. For all this week and half the next, I'm attending a "Neuroscience Boot Camp" at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. This innovative program, run by Penn's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience Director Martha Farah (photo below), aims to explain the latest research in neuroscience to 34 non-experts from fields such as law, business, philosophy and religious studies (as well as to a few journalists). The focus is not only on religion, but faith and issues related to it are certainly part of the discussion.
Malaysia's prime minister declared on Wednesday that Muslims can after all practice the Indian exercise regime, so long as they avoid the meditation and chantings that reflect Hindu philosophy. This came after Malaysia's National Fatwa Council told Muslims to roll up their exercise mats and stop contorting their limbs because yoga could destroy the faith of Muslims.
If all you know of Tiger Woods comes from watching him on television whacking out a super-long drive or sinking an impossible putt, you might be surprised to know he is a Buddhist. It's not what journalists usually ask about when they want to know the secrets of his success. Our Miami-based sports correspondent Simon Evans interviewed him this week and went beyond the usual questions about tournaments and courses and clubs to find out more about him. Here's his story and a short video from the interview.