The marvelous thing about a joke with a double meaning is that it can only mean one thing.
— Ronnie Barker
The modern geography of the brain has a deliciously antiquated feel to it — rather like a medieval map with the known world encircled by terra incognita where monsters roam.
— David Bainbridge
The brain has no knowledge until connections are made between neurons. All that we know, all that we are, comes from the way our neurons are connected.
— Tim Berners-Lee
Creativity is a drug I cannot live without.
— Cecil B. DeMille
We started off trying to set up a small, anarchist community, but people wouldn’t obey the rules.
— Alan Bennett
FLOW is a state that is often described as a “state of effortless concentration so deep that [people who experience it] lose their sense of time, of themselves, of their problems.” Such an “optimal experience” is probably not reached too often by most people, but when it is it gives you a sense of acting without conscious awareness, of time slowing down, of your senses perceiving you moving through a dreamlike state.
FLOW is a highly desired mental state because it allows one to do something that is pleasurable and that would otherwise require immense amounts of mental effort. It is what happens to people who drive racecars or motorcycles or even write a book (and we ought to know). When you’re in a state of flow, nothing distracts you from your goal, so all of your resources can be focused on it.
THINKING FAST and THINKING SLOW describes flow as what some artists experience in a creative state and that many others achieve “when enthralled by a film, a book or a crossword puzzle...[when] interruptions are not welcome...” Who hasn’t experienced FLOW? The trick is being able to produce it when you want it.
We knew a highly skilled champion racecar driver (Mickey Thompson, who sadly has died) who told us that using a BLAST family formulation of ours that we’d given him to try, he’d driven his automobile in a very long professional off-road auto race and time had slowed down with everything happening exactly right and without any conscious effort on his part. He said that it felt like the FLOW he experienced in his best races.
Time stands still if you go fast enough.
—Stephen F. Kaufman, martial arts professional, Ch. 19 on the subject of flow, in his book The Way of The Modern Warrior
The formulation that Mickey took was one of those we designed for our own use that contains phenylalanine. An interesting thing about phenylalanine is that, unlike tyrosine, another amino acid the brain can use to make DOPAMINE, a major neurotransmitter involved in all sorts of things having to do with reward and pleasure (such as auto racing!), phenylalanine can be converted by the brain into PHENETHYLAMINE (also called phenylethylamine). Phenethylamine has a remarkable property of providing mental energy (like caffeine), but may also be a stimulus barrier, a molecule that allows the brain to filter out undesired background noise in order to focus on what is important.
PHENYLALANINE is found in our BLAST family of dietary supplements, as well as in our ASCEND N’ SEE™ (no longer available).
Another of our formulations, called SMARTZ (which is, sadly, unavailable right now due to the lack of a distributor—you cannot order it from LIFE ENHANCEMENT, sorry) also contains phenylalanine. We like the flavor and the feeling it gives us and Sandy is sorely tempted to drink a can of our remaining supply, but it is a temptation that she resists because we will need samples if we ever want to locate a distributor.
Historical note: RHYTHM is Greek for FLOW. Or, as Hans von Bulow put it, “In the beginning was rhythm.” Rhythm has been called the heartbeat of music and scientists speculate that it is the sound of a mother’s heartbeat by a fetus in her womb that primes the brain to rhythm and to music. “Rhythm releases our motor reflexes, even if we do not respond with actual physical movement.” “In brief, we organize our perception of time by means of rhythm.” (SOURCE: Ch. 5 in The Enjoyment of Music by Joseph Machlis, W. W. Norton & Co., 3d edition, 1970),
The rhythms that the Ancients observed in Nature, such as the ebbing of the tides, the cycles of the Moon, the rising and setting of the Sun—these things had mystical qualities that caused the birth long ago of legends and myths concerning the rhythms of life. Today, we have greatly expanded our knowledge of these rhythms, identifying myriad changes in the physical and chemical aspects of the brain (and body) that cause these fascinating rhythms. In the end, everything is connected to everything else at the deepest level and you can use RHYTHM as a starting point of every phenomenon.
In the following section, quotes come from Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (winner of the NOBEL PRIZE in ECONOMICS for his work in psychology and decision-making), Farrah, Straus and Giroux, 2011.
The blurb by Steven Pinker, Prof. of Psychology at Harvard University and a well-known author of books on how the mind works notes that Dr. Kahneman’s work “has reshaped social psychology, cognitive science, the study of reason and of happiness, and behavioral economics ...” This is a book that we highly recommend and have been reading and rereading.
Another chapter (CH. 35) in the book discussed above (Thinking, Fast And Slow)discusses pain and pleasure in the terms of an economist. UTILITY is a term of art in economics that means roughly a measure of worth or value. In biology, it would be used to assess pain or pleasure. The author of the book (Daniel Kahneman) chose to call it “experienced utility.” Somebody else in the book called it “wantability.” (One of the confusing but also amusing aspects of a newly developing field is the creation of a slew of names for it.)
Another word that is used in the context of utility (or pleasure and, occasionally, for pain) is the word HEDONIC. “The British economist Francis Edgeworth speculated about this topic in the nineteenth century and proposed the idea of a ‘hedonimeter,’ an imaginary instrument analogous to the devices used in weather-recording stations, which would measure the level of pleasure or pain that an individual experiences at any moment.” (Pg. 378 of the book.)
As most know, “electrical stimulation of specific areas in the rat brain (and of corresponding areas in the human brain) produce a sensation of INTENSE PLEASURE, so intense in some cases that rats who can stimulate their brain by pressing a lever will die of starvation without taking a break to feed themselves.” (Pg. 384.) The memory of this pleasure is what causes the animals to repeat the stimulation over and over. But it is usually only the very last moments of an experience of pleasure that are remembered and only at the very end the emotional evaluation emerges. This is very important because “tastes and decisions are shaped by memories and the memories can be wrong.” (Pg. 385.) How we remember pleasure and pain can be as important as the actual experience.
Quotes from the book say it best:
“A divorce is like a symphony with a screeching sound at the end—the fact that it ended badly does not mean it was all bad.”
“You are giving the good and the bad part of your experience equal weight, although the good part lasted ten times as long as the other.”
In economics, the difference between the preference for a small but certain reward (risk-averse) and preference for a larger but uncertain reward (risk-seeking) is an area of intensive study. (See, for example, MacKillop, 2013) Now, economists have extended the reach of their investigations to look at genetic and neurological correlates for these preferences, a new economic/scientific field called Behavioral Economics. As the author of a recent paper (MacKillop, 2013) says, “[t]here is growing interest in genetic influences on discounting and, in particular, the prospect of discounting as an endophenotype for addictive disorders...” Discounting is the way one adjusts his present valuation of a future reward based on the risk inherent in a delayed reward. It is the reason that you charge INTEREST when you loan money—the money is more valuable in your hands TODAY than the hypothetical possession of it sometime in the future. Delayed reward discounting is defined in one paper (MacKillop, 2013) as “how much a reward loses value based on its distance in the future.” This is also the Austrian School of Economics’ concept of time preference.
The term “endophenotype” simply means the expression of a particular genetic trait, in this case the preference for risk-aversion or risk-seeking. The DRD2 gene has been strongly supported as being involved in this preference (Zalocusky, 2016), with low levels of DRD2 activity associated in humans with risk-seeking behavior. The low levels of DRD2 can lead to addictive behaviors as individuals seek to increase dopamine release in the brain’s reward circuitry by engaging in these behaviors.
The researcher (MacKillop, 2013) thinks of the risk-seeking phenotype as “impulsive discounting.” He states his hypothesis: “...although not definitive, there is accumulating support for the hypothesis of impulsive discounting as an endophenotype for addictive behavior and a need for further systematic investigation.”
An early study of “impulsive discounting” was the famous marshmallow tests, where children had to decide whether to consume a second marshmallow (after eating one) or wait to receive yet another marshmallow. The children who waited were in later life seen to have higher educational and other life achievements; this trait continued for decades. Those who did not wait were more likely to misuse drugs at older ages.
That the DRD2 dopamine receptor gene is a causative factor in risky decisionmaking is, we believe, becoming well supported, based on experimental evidence both in humans and that of animals. (Zalocusky, 2016). There is also mounting evidence of its involvement in addictions. Addiction appears to result when the brain’s cost-benefit analysis incorrectly causes individuals to choose risky behaviors such as those associated with addictive behaviors (e.g., excessive eating, compulsive sexual behavior, drug abuse, or gambling). The downgrading of the risks of an action while continuing to value its benefits can lead to highly maladaptive choices.
A recent study (Nasrallah, 2011) described the effects of alcohol use in adolescent rats, showing that subsequently the rats made more risky decisions. The researchers exposed adolescent rats to alcohol to assess its effects on risk-based decisions in the mesolimbic dopamine system, “the site of action for virtually all abused substances.” What they found was that “a history of adolescent alcohol use alters dopamine signaling to risk but not to reward.” “... the maladaptive bias toward large but risky outcomes displayed by these rats suggests that they overvalue larger rewards and/or fail to appropriately discount that value based on its diminished probability of occurrence.” “A corruption of reward valuation could promote maladaptive and suboptimal behavior by placing excessive priority on seeking rewards such as food, drugs, or sex.”
As reported in a later study, “...risk preferring rats could be instantaneously converted to risk-averse rats with precisely timed phasic stimulation of NAc [nucleus accumbens] D2R [DRD2] cells.” (Zalocusky, 2016) The implication is that stimulation of the DRD2 dopamine receptors would increase dopamine activity via these receptors and counteract the negative effect of (in this case) alcohol and possibly other forms of addiction (which are known to be associated with decreased DRD2 activity).
As noted in Reuter, 2006, “[g]eneral cognitive ability (intelligence, often indexed by IQ scores) is one of the most highly heritable behavioral phenotypes.” It has slowly come to be the general view among scientists that IQ does provide a rough measure of intelligence.” Creativity is not the same as intelligence, however, and heredity may, on the basis of twin studies, contribute perhaps 20% of the genetic contribution. This is controversial due to difficulties in measuring creativity. In the case of numerical creativity, there was a modest correlation with intelligence.
… no great genius was without a mixture of insanity.
The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.
Creativity is not the same as intelligence. You can have one without having much of the other. That suggests that the basic mechanisms that result in creativity as compared to intelligence are different, at least in some respects. One of the differences is that creative people tend to generate more ideas, but at the same time many of those ideas may not be of high quality. It is intelligence that permits you to distinguish which ideas are the good ones. As Linus Pauling suggested, if you want to have good ideas, you need to have a lot of ideas and throw out the bad ones.
The basis for creativity is the recognition of patterns. A creative individual is able to see novel associations between things. Associational thinking has been identified in relation to music, writing, and other forms of obsessional mental effort. Hypergraphia (an urge to write incessantly, a trait probably shared by most writers) is an example of associational thinking, of creativity. Interestingly, hypergraphia was first characterized in temporal lobe epileptics, suggesting that damage to the temporal lobe is a contributing factor to hypergraphia, at least in those with epilepsy. White matter in the brain is the material that comprises the connecting tracts that allows different areas of the brain to communicate with each other. There is immense damage to white matter in Alzheimer’s disease, as well as in other neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, epilepsy) and as part of aging in the brain.
Dopaminergic activity in the temporal lobes is an important player in creative drive. Mesolimbic dopamine influences novelty seeking and creative drive. Novelty seeking is a particular character trait exhibited by some people more than by others; it has recently been found to be linked to the DRD2 dopamine receptor. (Blum, 2011)
The DRD2 gene as well as the TPH gene—which induces the expression of tryptophan hydroxylase, the enzyme that converts tryptophan to 5-hydroxytryptophan on the pathway to serotonin— are both associated with creativity. (Reuter, 2006) The DRD2 gene is associated with verbal creativity, whereas the TPH gene is associated with numerical and figural creativity. (It is interesting to note that women have on average greater verbal abilities than men, while men typically have much greater numerical (mathematical) abilities than women. SAT scores reflect this, with most of those scoring high on the math SAT (over 700) being men. Average SAT scores don’t tell you about the distribution, where some scores fall far lower than average and others score much higher. Men have a much wider distribution, with a greater share of both the highest scores and the lowest.
As noted in Reuter, 2006, “[g]eneral cognitive ability (intelligence, often indexed by IQ scores) is one of the most highly heritable behavioral phenotypes. It has slowly come to be the general view among scientists that IQ does provide a rough measure of intelligence.” Creativity is not the same as intelligence, however, and heredity may, on the basis of twin studies, contribute perhaps 20% of the genetic contribution. This is controversial due to difficulties in measuring creativity. In the case of numerical creativity, there was a modest correlation with intelligence.
All indications are that creativity tends to decline with age, though certain subjects (such as mathematics or physics) seem to appear in the creative works of some even into old age. It would certainly be nice to be able to continue the creative productivity that you see mostly in young persons. Think of music composers, for instance. The songwriters who produced the great rock music of the ‘60s seem to have lost the ability to compose music with the power of their early work. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to recover those abilities, those youthful creative passions?
Creative idea generation has been linked to EEG alpha power. “Increases in EEG alpha power during creative ideation are among the most consistent findings in the neuroscientific study of creativity...” (Schwab, 2014)
It was recently discovered that supplementation with 300 mg of EGCG (epigallocatechnin gallate, highly enriched in green and white teas) was associated with “a significant increase in alpha, beta, and theta activity, also reflected in overall EEG activity...” (Scholey, 2012) Since EGCG increases EEG alpha power, it may be that EGCG could contribute to creative thinking.
NEUROGENESIS AND CREATIVITY
EGCG, as explained above, is associated with an increase in alpha waves in the brain, which, in turn, is associated with creativity, but EGCG also increases neurogenesis. (Yoo, 2010) Another nutrient that increases adult neurogenesis is taurine (Gebara, 2015), though we do not have data at this time on whether taurine enhances creativity. Both taurine and EGCG are found in our GREATER REWARDS.
Polyphenols, such as are found in tea, cocoa, and red wine) have been identified as a class of compounds that “can increase AHN” [adult hippocampal neurogenesis].” (Dias, 2012) Curcumin has been shown in published studies (So, 2008; Xu, 2007) to enhance adult hippocampal neurogenesis; in one of the studies (Xu, 2007), curcumin actually reversed impaired neurogenesis. We take curcumin in the form of turmeric root powder.
NEUROGENESIS AND SEX
Sex can initiate behavior that leads to pair-bonding in many, if not most, mammals. Scientists have begun to unravel this complex process. A recent paper (Leuner, 2010) reports that sexual experience (in rats) promotes adult neurogenesis. If one were to speculate, it seems plausible that neurogenesis resulting from sex may serve the purpose of creating new neurons dedicated to the establishment and maintenance of a pair bond.
Even ORGASM gets into the act. Another paper (Wang, 2013) describes a study in adult mice in which it was shown that the pulse of prolactin that immediately follows orgasm (Exton, 2001, this was a human study) stimulates adult neurogenesis in the subventricular zone and olfactory bulb.
Cleanse Your Body
Wash Your Sins Away
The evidence of priming studies suggests that reminding people of their mortality increases the appeal of authoritarian ideas, which may become reassuring in the context of the TERROR OF DEATH.
...merely thinking about stabbing a co-worker in the back leaves people more inclined to buy soap, disinfectant or detergent than batteries, juice, or candy bars. Feeling that one’s soul is stained appears to trigger a desire to CLEANSE one’s body, an impulse that has been dubbed the LADY MACBETH EFFECT. (emphasis added)
—from Daniel Kahneman,
Thinking Fast And Slow,
Farrah, Straus, and Giroux, 2011
DETERGERE, Latin for: to CLEANSE by rubbing. (So, you see, the Roman Empire didn’t fall, not entirely. Its language, LATIN, goes on and on. You did notice the similarity between DETERGERE and “detergent” of course.)
“Washing” and “cleansing” and “purification” and the like are almost ubiquitous in their occurrence in social contexts. “Wash your sins away,” “wash your mouth out with soap,” ethnic or political “purification,” “ethnic cleansing,” “cleanliness is next to godliness,” “washing your hands” of some problem, and the list goes on. Cleanliness, it seems, has a deeper meaning than just removing dirt.
For instance, a recent paper (Lee, 2010) describes how “[h]and washing removes more than dirt—it also removes the guilt of past misdeeds, weakens the urge to engage in compensatory [e.g. retaliatory] behavior and attenuates the impact of disgust on moral judgment.” The authors of the paper suggest that the “cleansing” that accompanies hand washing “may also reflect that washing more generally removes traces of the past by metaphorically wiping the slate clean.” The researchers here tested the hypothesis that hand washing might reduce a post-decisional dissonance effect (the uncomfortable feeling that you might have made the wrong decision).
In fact, that is just what they found. A group of 49 undergraduate students (quintessential research subjects!) examined 30 CD covers in a music store and ranked them by preference, then being offered by the researchers a choice of their fifth and sixth ranked CDs.
Then the students were asked to participate in a supposed consumer test of a soap, with some of them simply examining it and some of them actually washing their hands. They were again asked to rank order the CDs. It would have been expected that in the reassessment of the rank order, having received a particular CD would result in its moving up to a higher rank (as an example of “cognitive dissonance”). However, what was ACTUALLY found was that the students who had washed their hands did not increase the rank order for the CD they received (unlike the students who only examined the soap). Thus, the hand washing did in fact “cleanse” the mind of the need to rationalize that the CD they received was really better than they had first thought.
Voting for the lesser of two evils is a classic example of how a decision sure to create dissonance may be “remedied” by imagining that the lesser of the evils was better than you might have thought at first. We wonder whether making it possible for individuals to wash their hands at the polling station might leave people in a less agitated mood. But then, again, perhaps they should be if they have truly voted for somebody evil.
Lee and Schwartz. Washing away postdecisional dissonance,. Science. 328:709 (2010);
The book (Thinking Fast And Slow) from which the quote at the start of this article was taken discussed how washing could be connected to moral “cleansing.” The author described an experiment in which people were induced to “lie” to a fictitious person on the telephone or by email. In doing so, it was likely expected to cause these “liars” (though they hadn’t actually LIED, they only simulated a lie) to nevertheless feel tainted and to attempt to “cleanse” themselves of their “moral lapse.” In fact, as the results showed, “people who had lied on the phone preferred MOUTHWASH over soap, and those who had lied in e-mail preferred SOAP to mouthwash.” (This preference referred to whether or not these individuals would buy mouthwash or soap, as assessed by a subsequent test.)
The idea that the participants would be highly motivated to “clean out their mouths” was substantiated. Parents used to admonish their children to “wash out their mouths” (we don’t know if they still do) after they had said or done something the parents considered wrong.
CLEAN YOUR CONSCIENCE AGAIN
In another paper (Schnall, 2010), researchers discuss how cleanliness can reduce the severity of moral judgments by toning down the desire to punish “wrongdoers.”
In this experiment, subjects were “primed” by hearing words that connote cleanliness whereas controls heard neutral words. After being “primed,” the participants were asked to rate six moral dilemmas, such as switching tracks so a train ran over one workman rather than five, killing (and eating) a terminally ill plane crash survivor to avoid dying of starvation, lying on a resume, etc. They were asked to rate their mood following these judgments. The results showed that the moral judgments of the hypothetical individuals making the decisions in the moral dilemmas was less severe when they had been “primed” with words connnoting cleanliness. The authors suggest that the thoughts of physical cleansing produced a sort of moral cleansing that reduced feelings of disgust associated with the decisions.
Schnall et al. With a clean conscience: cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments. Psychol Sci. 19:1219-22 (2010).
Here, we will talk a bit about the “Water-Cure Movement” of the nineteenth century when there was a craze for CLEANSING yourself of your sins. This was a form of medicine called “hydropathy” that “was one of the most celebrated alternative forms of medical care.” (the latter phrase on the inner front jacket of a surprisingly well-referenced popular book—Wash and Be Healed by Susan E. Cayleff, Temple University Press, 1987). This was highly serious stuff at the time and appeared in the writings and speeches of many leading reformers and activists then.
The book Wash and Be Healed, from which this material was obtained, will only be touched upon here. The book contains 247 pages of mostly JUICY material (with hundreds of references), not all of which is suitable for a family (sort of) newsletter. So, moving right along to a few of its juicier bits...
It all started a long time ago... In Europe, one “took the cure.” In those early days, the water (meaning anything, the book says, from mud baths, mineral waters, stinking waters, putrid waters, to “holy” water) would be involved in highly ritualized “medical” treatments that could be little more than veiled approaches to group sex. And, of course, these “cleansing” rituals became VERY popular. Especially among women, who could endorse cleanliness while enjoying the sexual aspects of its practice (more on that follows).
Another little bit in the book introduces us to R. T. Trall, one of the co-founders of the movement. One of the innumerable doings of this man described in the book was his extensive and influential writing in the Water-Cure Journal, the “fanzine. of the time for the WATER-CURE movement.
In one of Trall’s articles, he suggested avoiding undesirable influences such as eating meat and devouring “pestilent literature” as he called it. He recommended the incredible treatment of “a towel wash or dripping sheet in the morning on rising, followed by thorough frictions with dry towels, or rubbing over the dry sheet [and] a hip or sitz bath twice a day...” (Makes you sweat just reading about this, doesn’t it?) (Wash and Be Healed, pg. 55.) The advice never ends but we have to end it with this: Trall suggests further that the water-cure adherent should “eliminate all seasonings, stimulants, and grease from the diet...”
Next, we learn that Trall has written an article on “The Physiology of Menstruation” containing a section entitled “The Sexual Orgasm.” In it, he admits: “[i]t is true that the sexual orgasm on the part of the female is just as normal as on the part of the male.” And in another article, “The Pleasure of Sexual Intercourse,” he asserts that, “it should be as pleasurable as possible to both parties.” “Surely,” he exclaims, “if sexual intercourse is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well.” (!)
We shall close out these comments with a look at the sexual pleasures that were part and parcel of a move- ment established ostensibly for the purpose of cleaning your sins away. That will have to be all for the WATER-CURE MOVEMENT.
As we had mentioned earlier in this discussion, the water cures included features such as “rubbing” and “friction massages.” T. L. Nichols, in his writings on the subject of “Diseases of Women” “urged the use of wet bandages ‘carefully and tightly applied’ in the pelvic area.” Yep, that ought to do it.
We designed a shampoo for our own use that we call INNER SHAMPOO. We love the stuff. It won’t “wash your sins away” but it does a lot for your hair. It leaves hair delightfully shiny and squeaky clean, but with easy comb-ability. It has a stunning effect of actually REPAIRING split ends, as shown in photomicrographs of actual damaged hairs. Nothing else we have tried can compare to the resulting cleanliness and appearance and easy comb out of our hair after using it. And remarkably, we have not seen this combination of natural ingredients elsewhere—except when used as an emulsifier and dough conditioner in baked goods.