To Be Human in this Lifetime: Top 3 Discoveries in Neuroscience

16 Oct

Oh, to be human in this lifetime.

Our mind is an elegant dance of simultaneous balance with tremendous layers of synchronicity, symmetry and replication. The brain is far more complex than any computer. Scientists have just begun to understand this complexity with the advent of new technologies in brain science. For example, there are more neural synapses than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy – roughly 100 trillion. No computer could possibly match this staggering complexity, and our efforts to understand it or even comprehend the vastness have been elementary at best thus far.

In fact, a single human brain has more “switches” than all of the computers on the Earth (Blow 2007).


Example of array tomography imaging.

Consider this image. Known as a “brainbow,” this is a real image of quasi-randomly colored fluorescent proteins in a composite image of a mouse brain that is made from thousands of millions of actively firing synapses. In the human brain, we have more synapses than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and we know less about our own brains than our very own home galaxy system. If Carl Sagan was right that “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself,” we have a long way to go.

  1. The top three scientific developments in the field of psychology and neuroscience begin with the discovery of the “neuronal plasticity” of the brain by the father of neuroscience, Santiago Ramón y Cajal (Fuchs & Flügge 2014). This was a bombshell revelation that carried two equally critical implications. For one, the brain is capable of being internally damaged such that it may affect its functioning and structure. Two, that the brain is capable of healing, which is now understood to occur structurally, functionally, and electro-chemically. This is easily the most important development in the science of psychology because of the relevance of the following discovery.
  2. The second most important discovery in psychology validates the first as the most important. Paul Broca accidentally discovered cortical localization of function in the brain, scientifically proving the theory of cortical localization correct. Combined with Cajal’s discovery of neuroplasticity, behavior could now begin to be explained through neurological explanations, which is now the fundamental basis of psychology. Contemporary brain science and neuroimaging show the causal relationship between nerve specificity and cortical localization, enabling emerging and exciting therapies to be developed based on new understandings of brain damage and dysfunction.

    The indomitable Alex Gray

  3. Finally, perhaps the most inspiring discovery in all of psychology research is as poetically romantic as it is scientifically invigorating. Building on Harlow’s research on physical loving comfort and cognitive-social development in baby monkeys (Harlow 1958) is the advancing theory of interpersonal limbic synchronicity, a label I’ve developed to describe the following three distinct processes: limbic resonance, limbic regulation, and limbic revision (Lewis & Amini 2000). In limbic resonance, research has shown that our nervous systems and brain chemistry can interact without verbal communication, posing exciting possibilities in the future human communication, conflict resolution, deepening intimacy, and empathy studies (Schore 1994).

Ramon y Cajal’s sketch of neurons. In the planetarium show at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, this is precisely how an artist rendered imagined images of dark matter in the universe. :) 

One example of this interaction would be eye contact between two people, whether between strangers who have just met and are experiencing chemistry, or twin siblings who merely need a look to “read” one another. This interaction can result in activation of both parties’ nervous systems, particularly the limbic system (Schore 1994), resulting in anything from increased heart rate to a shared spike in dopamine. Limbic regulation refers to a more long-term effect of how these interactions can influence our body systems and brain chemistry (Schore 1994), such as when living with a spouse of many years. Finally, limbic revision refers to how these processes can be influenced with deliberate action in therapeutic contexts (Schore 1994).

I argued in my psychology capstone thesis that such processes are part of a larger complex interplay at work in the resolution of trauma pathways for survivors of developmental trauma in the context of loving relationships. Essentially, that love heals trauma in the brain.

I’d be curious to further study these processes in the context of facilitated ego-death transpersonal experience, such as in psychedelic-assisted altered states of consciousness or meditative yoga nidra. One day I’ll put a couple in love, on lysergic acid diethyl amide or MDMA into an fMRI machine, and have them get it on. You know, for science. Of course, MAPS is already supporting research on MDMA and PTSD as well as couples’ therapy.

These discoveries illuminate the shadows of previous mysteries that have been integral to the human experience, allowing us to better understand our past as a species.

Finally, they provide compelling avenues for further research that will usher in the most exciting chapter in human history. What delight in contemplating our immense potential for healing and shared experience in these perilous and critical times to be human in this lifetime. 


Blow, N. (2007). Following the wires. Nature Methods. 4, 975 – 981

Fuchs, E., & Flügge, G. (2014). Adult Neuroplasticity: More Than 40 Years of Research. Neural Plasticity, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2014/541870

Harlow, H. F. (1958). The nature of love. American Psychologist, 13(12), 673-685. doi:10.1037/ h0047884

Lewis, T., & Amini, F. (2000). A general theory of love. New York: Random House.

Schore, A. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self: the neurobiology of emotional development. Hillsdale, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.

Saving Ourselves With Science

16 Sep

How is it that everything (100%) of what we do, see, experience, adore, avoid, touch, seek, remember, dream about and think about is SCIENCE – and yet perhaps 1% of the human population understands not just this conceptually – but this in detail. How are we supposed to advance as a civilization if science is seen as elitist and inaccessible? With so many people in the world having access to resources on the internet that provide free education, such as Coursera, iTunes university, podcasts, and Youtube videos – absolutely no one has an excuse in this complacency. The problem lies even deeper still. Culturally, we don’t value lifelong learning and innovative thought. Historically, we have shunned the most radical and creative minds because the deviate from the norm. Aren’t those deviations what makes us beautiful? Why is being the same so valued? And why can’t learning, especially and MOST importantly – learning about science – be cool? Why are there more youtube views of “music” videos – by hundreds of millions – than there are of how the brain works, why the sky is blue, how many stars are in the sky, why we laugh, how two single human cells conspire to form a human being, how the human genome has been mapped, and whatever the heck we maybe kinda think dark matter is? I didn’t grow up on top 40 music, 24 hour cable reality TV, advertisements in my face constantly on cell phones, or the addiction to technological entertainment that we all have today. So how are kids today going to grow up to appreciate these things, if they don’t have those experiences of playing outside until the crickets chirp and the street lights cut on? What will happen to us if we aren’t all trying to improve this world together by learning about it?

Construction of a Feminist Sexual Consciousness

15 Aug

Presenting a new theory of feminist sexual consciousness. Drawing on gender studies theory, ancient goddess archetypal literature, artifacts of the divine feminine, theories on the origins of patriarchy, neuroimaging and studies of physiology of women’s orgasm, and an attempt to formulate a radical and cohesive perspective on women’s contemporary sexual agency. Hopefully this presentation can awaken a feminist sexual consciousness in the viewer, regardless of gender.

0:00 – Introductions
0:47 – Oppression of women throughout history & sexual agency
1:35 – Feminist consciousness-raising and sex
2:30 – The origins of patriarchy as a response to the divine feminine
4:25 – Creatrix myths & women’s sexual power
5:00 – Patriarchy & the rise of the state; origin of property following Neolithic revolution
6:40 – Ancient art representing mother-creator/ creatrix cosmic origin myths
6:52 – Minoan snake goddess
8:18 – Mother atop the mountain goddess image from Minoan gold signet ring
10:15 – Sumerian god/ goddess and the Tree of Life; transliteration of divine feminine myths into Biblical stories to justify patriarchy
12:13 – Egyptian goddess Nut, Grandmother Spider (Hopi pottery), gold statue of Hindu goddess Durga, Creatrix of the universe
13:15 – Enheduanna poet & priestess; Sumerian sacred sex rites & fertility; sensual hierophants
14:31 – Female-authored Tantric texts, autonomous definitions of the sexual self
15:01 – Transpersonal sexual experience, core energies & tantric philosophies on liquid substrates of life
16:00 – Sexual & spiritual disconnection in contemporary life, the sexual revolution, casual sexuality vs. meaningful sexual connection & transpersonal sexual experience healing power
17:05 – controversy of sex & spirituality, vulnerability, the ego, human connections & contemporary values vs. ancient traditions
18:04 – depression rates, the death of human intimacy, and digital life; the distraction from the status quo; healing the Judeo-Christian-Islamic patriarchal sexual narrative
19:09 – extrapolating ancient values to awaken a feminist sexual consciousness; the vulnerability in intimacy, radical definition of women’s sexual experience
20:05 – new models of women’s orgasm, neural pathways to orgasmic consciousness, 16,000 ways to stimulate orgasm, ESR orgasms, transcendental orgasmic experiences, status orgasmus, synesthesia, blended orgasms, oxytocin pathway through intercostal nerve, similarities to psychedelic & spiritual experiences; similarities to ancient descriptions of invoking the divine through sacred sex rites
23:37 – therapeutic applications of feminist sexual consciousness theory
25:56 – incongruous social construction of women’s sexuality requires a thorough examination of historical perspectives to inform contemporary sexual agency
26:06 – healing sexuality from a humanistic perspective as a mode of feminist liberation and human sexual awakening; the cheapening of sexuality in the media and pop culture; the subversive power of women’s sexuality
27:25 – recommendations for new paradigms of feminist sexual consciousness as a new theory in sexuality & gender studies; application to clinical practice

Pathologizing Women’s Sexuality: Then and Now

15 Jul

Pathologizing and medicalizing women’s sexuality is nothing new. Here is a brief timeline of just some of the appalling highlights throughout human history of how women have been treated regarding sex:

Here is a great article from the New York Times on the pathologizing of women’s sex drives in modern times. To briefly cover how women’s sexuality has been pathologized throughout the ages, see below:

1. Actually, low female desire is ‘normal.’ Women have been made to feel that having a low libido means something is wrong with them. Currently women with chronic low libido are pathologized as having a type of female sexual dysfunction called hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). The trouble is, many of the researchers who have come up its nebulous definition have financial ties to pharmaceutical companies.”

2. Freud himself pathologized women’s sexuality to the point of literal “hysteria.” He popularized the idea that a sexually interested woman was not only unhealthy, she was mentally ill and wishing she was really a man with a penis. Though he certainly wasn’t the first person to present these ideas. “In his early theories, Freud simply extended his views of male sexuality to women, viewing women as simply men without penises (Cohler & Galatzer-Levy, 2008). His male perspective of sexuality is understandable, but nonetheless problematic, as it marginalizes female sexuality. Female sexuality, according to early Freudian theory, is exactly the same as male sexuality up until the phallic stage of psychosexual development; since women don’t have a penis, however, they experience penis envy. He also fell prey to the general sexism of the time, writing that in men alone is “the sexual life…accessible to investigation, whereas in the woman it is veiled in impenetrable darkness, partly in consequence of cultural stunting and partly on account of the conventional reticence and dishonesty of women” (Freud, 1905). Dismissing women and their sexuality in such a way seems troublesome not only because he treated many female patients, but because his theories are still so prevalent today, continuing to influence psychologists and sexologists alike (Jayne, 1984).”

3. Victorian ideas about women and sex were particularly appalling. The vibrator was invented by doctors in Victorian England for a stunningly awful reason. During these times, doctors believed that women became unhinged and unhappy due to either having a uterus that was unattached to anything in their body and “roving around” inducing so-called “hysteria,” or they needed either a REMOVAL OF the clitoris (clitorectomy) or stimulation of it. Yes, doctors had well-to-do women in Victorian England visit their offices for the doctor to “perform a treatment” of manual stimulation of their clitoris to induce orgasm. This treatment became popular and therefore the vibrator was invented to save doctors from incessant hand cramps. As hilarious and ridiculous as it sounds, it is but one example of devastating erasure of women’s sexual agency and identity. This is one of the most egregious examples of pathologizing women’s sexuality to the point of extreme violation of their bodies. 

4. The clitorectomy was also popular around this time. From an excellent article on the history of clitorectomies and vibrators: “In a series of papers, Baker-Brown argued that the professional manipulation of the clitoris to induce paroxysms was no cure for hysteria. In his view, it only made the problem worse by feeding the patient’s lust for gratification. The only effective solution, he insisted, was a permanent one: the surgical removal of the clitoral glans. As Martha Coventry wrote in a famous article for Ms., Baker-Brown promised that after a clitoridectomy, “intractable women became happy wives; rebellious teenage girls settled back into the bosom of their families; and married women formerly averse to sexual duties became pregnant.”

Happily, Baker-Brown was soon discredited by his fellow gynecologists, many of whom objected to his habit of performing clitoridectomies on women without their consent. Unfortunately, the surgical procedure he popularized survived his fall from grace. Baker-Brown may have fallen out of favor with his British colleagues, but his ideas found a more enduring footing on the other side of the Atlantic. As early as 1866, American doctors began performing clitoridectomies to stop hysteria, nymphomania, and above all, masturbation. As Coventry discovered, medical textbooks continued to recommend clitoral excisions as late as 1937, and some doctors continued to perform the procedure for at least a decade after that. (Coventry interviewed a Michigan woman who underwent a clitoridectomy in 1944, at age 12: “…as she sat on the exam table, an attendant clamped an ether-soaked rag over her mouth from behind. When she woke up, her clitoris was gone. ‘They tried to keep me from masturbating,’ she said. Then, after a pause, added, ‘Didn’t work.'”)

5. None of this is anything new. During colonial times in Europe: “Although ordinary women could never aspire to [political or religious positions in the public sphere] they had other powers unique to their sex: Women were disorderly, sexual, and lustyÉ With woman’s intellect at the mercy of her lower nature, she would be prone to the evil powers of witchcraft. Her very sensual and deceptive power, in fact, dictated the necessity of her subordination within marriage” (Evans, 22-23).

The medical perspective was limited in that males dominated this profession. “Even diagrams of female anatomy in medical books are limited to male eyes only. Plans to instruct midwives in anatomy were thwarted. Physicians were reluctant to give their patients too much knowledge”(Porter, 86). Women during this period really had nowhere to turn to obtain helpful knowledge about their bodies and/or sexuality in a world dominated by men.

6. Going back further, in ancient Greece and Rome, “women’s sexuality was something to be controlled. To Aristotle, women’s bodies were passive receptacles for men to deposit their seed, what Sophocles called a “field to plow.” Since the key function of women was to produce children, Athenians thought it was pointless to educate them or allow them to participate in public life.” Further, “Rome’s highest priestesses were known as the Vestal Virgins. They were “vestal” because they served the goddess Vesta, and “virgins” in that their untouched bodies were seen as essential to the safety of Roman society. No one else in Rome was expected to stay a virgin, but a single sexual detour by a Vestal was thought to bring pestilence, losses in war and divine displeasure. On several occasions, when no one could figure out why some calamity had befallen Rome, Vestals were accused of no longer being virgins. For that crime, they were buried alive in a tiny room and covered up without a trace.”

7. Back to Victorian times:  “nearly all official measures against venereal disease were directed exclusively against women. In the 19th century, many European governments legalized prostitution, but only to the extent of subjecting real or suspected prostitutes to punishing medical inspections, often called “instrument rapes,” which probably resulted in the transmission of a variety of harmful infections. One French woman described the process in detail:

It is awful work; the attitude they push us into first is so disgusting and so painful, and then those monstrous instruments—often they use several. They seem to tear the passage open first with their hands, and examine us, and then they thrust in instruments, and they pull them out and push them in, and they turn and twist them about; and if you cry out they stifle you….”

8. In modern times, women’s sexual agency is not only pathologized, but women’s lives are at risk throughout the world for exploring their sexuality or deviating from cultural norms. In some countries, honor killings are practiced if a woman’s mere sexual reputation is under threat. Similarly, “crimes of passion” are rampant throughout the world as jealous men attack and murder women for the act or idea of being sexual with another man.

So little wonder that even in modern times, the idea of women having satisfying sex lives according to their own desires is threatening to the fabric of society, since it is built on patriarchal ideals of controlling women’s bodies and sex. Little wonder, then, that politicians are trying to prevent access to reproductive resources such as contraception, emergency birth control, and abortion. Little wonder that young girls don’t receive very much sex education or information about their own sexual pleasure. Little wonder that we can see someone be disemboweled in the movies, but a woman’s face during an orgasm is not allowed to be in even an R-rated movie. Little wonder that the worst thing you can call a woman is a “slut,” especially if she is sexually liberated, yet the worst thing you can call a man is a “woman,” “girl,” or “pussy.” 

This is the legacy upon which our current sexual health conversation is built. I don’t trust pharmaceutical companies to be concerned with women’s health. They are more concerned about making money. Women are going to be pathologized for not wanting sex and for wanting it “too much.” A pill is probably not the answer to this much more complex social issue that reverberates sexism into the interpersonal and sexual-emotional issues in relationships.

Specula from 1847 (U.S. National Library of Medicine)

For more on the systemic violation of women’s sexuality and bodies, review the invention of the speculum by the father of gynecology, who performed “instrument rape” on slave women in early America. That was then, this is now, you say? Yes, and nowadays OB-GYN’s get their license by performing vaginal exams on nonconsenting women who are under anaesthesia for other operations in teaching hospitals. See this article for the testimonies of several doctors who refused to participate and who loudly question the ethics of this practice. The practice is so commonplace for OB-GYN departments of teaching hospitals that in 2003 the residency doctor of Johns Hopkins said, ““I don’t think any of us even think about it. It’s just so standard as to how you train medical students.”

In consequence, there is no precedent set to earn women’s trust regarding their sexual health. It is wise to be suspicious of any product or service that is directed at our sexuality, especially coming from the medical establishment. We like to take a pill for the easy way out. But that may very well cause more trouble than it solves, especially if the root of the issue lay ignored in the context of emotionally unsatisfying relationships that are based on patriarchal norms.

Coffee: Bitter with Imperialistic Bite

10 Jan

Attention Coffee-Drinkers in Your Trendy Mac-Device-Filled Establishment: Do you like coffee? Of course you do. It’s the world’s number one drug. But now for some troubling thoughts on an American Institution…. Urban coffeehouses, especially that cater to a certain young, upwardly mobile crowd of the typically Caucasian demographic. I’m in one of such coffee shops, and I notice a few key definitive elements…


The flyers for different types of exotically-named Yoga classes (is this actual Sanskrit or something made-up?), categories of coffees labeled by country of origin… Peru, Columbia, Kenya. Treats such as baklava and alfajor (Lebanese and Latin American). The music is John Coltrane and Miles Davis. The coffee is sweetened with sugar harvested in equatorial regions. And we are all wearing clothes probably made abroad in unsafe conditions.

Couple all this with the army of teenage, light-haired, very young white women who are employed at cafe after cafe. If this is not deliberate it is still suspicious.

One woman turns to her daughter and shows her healthy dog treats, for the dogs who come in and visit. Meanwhile, homeless people outside freeze and starve.

Taking this in, it is clear how every element of this trendy establishment, by definition, has been appropriated from non-white people in the world… The Africans and Latin Americans grew the coffee beans, chocolate beans, and sugar cane we consume. The treats have all been Americanized and branded for consumption without context, whitewashing the cultural significance of things like baklava. The jazz music was invented by generations of cultural resistance of people of color whose culture was systematically bludgeoned out of them. The people who leave the coffee plantations in Central America are demonized as “illegal aliens,” while those people of color who record our beloved jazz music are seen as disposable humans by a society that regards their lives as less important than white life. Yoga, of course, is now a brand – whereas it is a sacred practice that guides elemental lifestyles in its homeland. Yoga’s poster girl is the white college girl in the ubiquitous “yoga pant,” finding harmony in a practice none in her class are bound to give proper cultural contextual consideration – even her instructor.

Something particularly questionable is when these kinds of places have expensive portraits of indigenous people from around the world, such as toothless old people smiling in Indonesia, or barefoot children harvesting wheat (or the image of a woman in Kenya harvesting coffee beans). It comes off as terribly insensitive, and downright offensive. With no context, it’s rendering the deep sacrifice (for our luxury) of those in the Global South meaningless, or worse – trivial and quaint. “Why look at the happy brown people with their good, honest living and traditional way of life. How I envy them in that simplicity,” some people will undoubtedly wonder.

Everyone here chats away, spending $17 on coffee and pie per person, and the beat goes on. Mother Jones encapsulates this absurd paradox with their indictment of “hipsters” who drink almond milk, as its production contributes to the worst drought in California in years (

I will recognize the efforts of conscious consumerism. Fair trade and sustainable-sourced products are increasingly popular. But such popularity eventually becomes trendy, and is then rendered mindless once again. How to protect such legitimate efforts to even the playing field for those in developing marketplaces when this pattern is so persistent?

Finally, let me disclose that I type this while patronizing one such place, sucking away at some combination of difficult-to-pronounce fruit and green tea. Reflecting on the above, it’s safe to say I will not be spending my money or time in these places anymore. I will find new places that allow me to work on my online courses without contributing so heavily to problematic paradigms.

Meanwhile, these establishments are often opened in gentrifying areas, where traditional communities are suffering economic and cultural displacement in that very location. How ironic that fair-trade coffee and Shakti yoga are marketed as “conscious consumer choices,” but in this environment, these are anything but conscious. They are mindless choices made by a product-hungry society, the primary element in the maintenance of the status quo in a market-driven, social system that is designed to oppress.

Eureka! Getting Girls Into #STEM

19 Jul Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 6.44.12 PM

Getting girls into #STEM fields is easier than you think. It all starts with two words: “You can.” 

What is the single most undervalued, most powerful resource in the world

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iDepression – Is There an App for That?

2 Jul

Increased social media use (specifically Facebook) is positively correlated with depression, stress, and anxiety. One study examined the Facebook behavior of nursing students and their emotional outlooks. According to this study, increased time spent on Facebook was positively correlated to high depression scores (Labrague, 2014).

Still another study found positive correlations between Facebook use and having negative feelings about one’s self-esteem (Lee, 2014). This study in particular show that people tend to compare oneself to others whose posts appear on their Facebook feeds. According to this study, social comparison theory is used to explain the study results; that comparing oneself to others can influence self-perception (Lee, 2014). On the other hand, the study also poses the theory that people with low self-esteem are predisposed to self-compare to others while using Facebook. I imagine that would make for a very frustrating self-fulfilling prophecy!

I think it probably works both ways. I believe that people with low self-esteem are more likely to self-compare, and that being on Facebook a lot leads to self-comparing, which leads to low self-esteem. The question is how much is too much, and with social media becoming so pervasive in our society, what kinds of implications does this carry for people, especially younger generations who have adopted these technologies as a natural aspect of their childhoods and adolescence?

Another of my own interpretations of these studies is the idea that Facebook time is not necessarily an addition to our social time – it’s becoming a substitute for it.


With decreased face-to-face time, we may naturally become less socially stimulated and socially content. Couple that with seeing lots of people doing fun stuff on your feed (people doing fun things – together – in person), and the self-comparing cycle that may lead to depression becomes as clear as it is troubling.


Works Cited:

Labrague, L. J. (2014). Facebook use and adolescents’ emotional states of depression, anxiety, and stress. Health Science Journal, 8(1), 80-89.

Lee, S. (2014). How do people compare themselves with others on social network sites?: The case of Facebook. Computers In Human Behavior, 32253-260. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.12.009

Park, S., Lee, S., Kwak, J., Cha, M., & Jeong, B. (2013). Activities on Facebook reveal the depressive state of users. Journal Of Medical Internet Research, 15(10), e217. doi:10.2196/jmir.2718


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