Tag Archives: Psychology

How Cannabis Affects Our Cognition and Psychology

Summary: Researchers investigate how cannabis can influence a number of cognitive and psychological processes.

Source: The Conversation

Cannabis has been used by humans for thousands of years and is one of the most popular drugs today. With effects such as feelings of joy and relaxation, it is also legal to prescribe or take in several countries.

But how does using the drug affect the mind? In three recent studies, published in The Journal of PsychopharmacologyNeuropsychopharmacology, and the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, we show that it can influence a number of cognitive and psychological processes.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that, in 2018, approximately 192 million people worldwide aged between 15 and 64 used cannabis recreationally. Young adults are particularly keen, with 35% of people between the ages of 18 and 25 using it, while only 10% of people over the age of 26 do.

This indicates that the main users are adolescents and young adults, whose brains are still in development. They may therefore be particularly vulnerable to the effects of cannabis use on the brain in the longer term.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. It acts on the brain’s “endocannabinoid system”, which are receptors which respond to the chemical components of cannabis. The cannabis receptors are densely populated in prefrontal and limbic areas in the brain, which are involved in reward and motivation. They regulate signalling of the brain chemicals dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate.

We know that dopamine is involved in motivation, reward and learning. GABA and glutamate play a part in cognitive processes, including learning and memory.

Cognitive effects

Cannabis use can affect cognition, especially in those with cannabis-use disorder. This is characterised by the persistent desire to use the drug and disruption to daily activities, such as work or education. It has been estimated that approximately 10% of cannabis users meet the diagnostic criteria for this disorder.

In our research, we tested the cognition of 39 people with the disorder (asked to be clean on the day of testing), and compared it with that of 20 people who never or rarely used cannabis.

We showed that participants with the condition had significantly worse performance on memory tests from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) compared to the controls, who had either never or very rarely used cannabis. It also negatively affected their “executive functions”, which are mental processes including flexible thinking.

This effect seemed to be linked to the age at which people started taking the drug – the younger they were, the more impaired their executive functioning was.

Cognitive impairments have been noted in mild cannabis users as well. Such users tend to make riskier decisions than others and have more problems with planning.

Although most studies have been conducted in males, there has been evidence of sex differences in the effects of cannabis use on cognition. We showed that, while male cannabis users had poorer memory for visually recognising things, female users had more problems with attention and executive functions.

These sex effects persisted when controlling for age; IQ; alcohol and nicotine use; mood and anxiety symptoms; emotional stability; and impulsive behaviour.

Reward, motivation and mental health

Cannabis use can also affect how we feel – thereby further influencing our thinking. For example, some previous research has suggested that reward and motivation – along with the brain circuits involved in these processes – can be disrupted when we use cannabis. This may affect our performance at school or work as it can make us feel less motivated to work hard, and less rewarded when we do well.

In our recent study, we used a brain imaging task, in which participants were placed in a scanner and viewed orange or blue squares. The orange squares would lead to a monetary reward, after a delay, if the participant made a response. This set up helped us investigate how the brain responds to rewards.

We focused particularly on the ventral striatum, which is a key region in the brain’s reward system. We found that the effects on the reward system in the brain were subtle, with no direct effects of cannabis in the ventral striatum.

However, the participants in our study were moderate cannabis users. The effects may be more pronounced in cannabis users with more severe and chronic use, as seen in cannabis use disorder.

There is also evidence that cannabis can lead to mental health problems. We have shown that it is related to higher “anhedonia” – an inability to feel pleasure – in adolescents. Interestingly, this effect was particularly pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

Cannabis use during adolescence has also been reported as a risk factor for developing psychotic experiences as well as schizophrenia.

One study showed that cannabis use moderately increases the risk of psychotic symptoms in young people, but that it has a much stronger effect in those with a predisposition for psychosis (scoring highly on a symptom checklist of paranoid ideas and psychoticism).

This shows a drawing of a woman with cannabis leaves in her hair
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. Image is in the public domain

Assessing 2,437 adolescents and young adults (14-24 years), the authors reported a six percentage points increased risk – from 15% to 21% – of psychotic symptoms in cannabis users without a predisposition for psychosis. But there was a 26-point increase in risk – from 25% to 51% – of psychotic symptoms in cannabis users with a predisposition for psychosis.

We don’t really know why cannabis is linked to psychotic episodes, but hypotheses suggests dopamine and glutamate may be important in the neurobiology of these conditions.

Another study of 780 teenagers suggested that the association between cannabis use and psychotic experiences was also linked to a brain region called the “uncus”. This lies within the parahippocampus (involved in memory) and olfactory bulb (involved in processing smells), and has a large amount of cannabinoid receptors. It has also previously been associated with schizophrenia and psychotic experiences.

Cognitive and psychological effects of cannabis use are ultimately likely to depend to some extent on dosage (frequency, duration and strength), sex, genetic vulnerabilities and age of onset. But we need to determine whether these effects are temporary or permanent. One article summarising many studies has suggested that with mild cannabis use, the effects may weaken after periods of abstinence.

But even if that’s the case, it is clearly worth considering the effects that prolonged cannabis use can have on our minds – particularly for young people whose brains are still developing.


Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian receives funding from the Leverhulme Trust and the Lundbeck Foundation. Her research work is conducted within the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) Mental Health and Neurodegeneration Themes and the NIHR MedTech and in vitro diagnostic Co-operative (MIC). She consults for Cambridge Cognition.

Christelle Langley is funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Martine Skumlien receives funding from the Aker Foundation.

Tianye Jia receives funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Essays on Psychological Manipulation Pt.2: Mass Psychosis

Ryan DeLarme,
December 27th, 2021

Authors Note: This work stands on the shoulders of giants like some kind of freaky, informative, patchwork parrot; whose lexicon was pieced together by the works of Jung, Arieti, and a handful of modern psychology commentators YouTubers. Information gleaned during the research phase of this endeavor comes from several books as well as the US National Library of Medicine. 

As of February 2021, it is now a hard medical fact that fear-inducing information repetitively spread through mass media can and does adversely affect the general public’s mental health in the form of nocebo effects and mass hysteria. In this article, we will explore the realities of mass psychosis and consider whether or not our society is currently experiencing a collective mental disorder.

Three scientists, Philipp Bagus, José Antonio Peña-Ramos, and Antonio Sánchez-Bayón, authored a study earlier this year where they argued that mass and digital media, in connection with the state, may have had adverse consequences during the COVID-19 crisis. They claimed that the resulting collective hysteria may have contributed to policy errors by governments not in line with health recommendations, despite the insistence of the corporate press and private institutions such as the WHO and CDC (who many still believe to be actual governing entities, and not privately funded institutions). 

While mass hysteria can occur in societies with a minimal state, the study shows that there exist certain self-corrective mechanisms and limits to the harm inflicted, such as sacrosanct private property rights. However, mass hysteria can be exacerbated and self-reinforcing when the negative information comes from a presumably authoritative source, when the media are politicized, and when social networks make the negative information omnipresent. 

Psychogenic-Triggering of the Individual

Gustav le Bon once wrote:

“The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduces them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim. An individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will.”

 According to psychologist Carl Jung, “the greatest threat to mankind lies not with the forces of nature nor with any physical disease, but our inability to deal with forces of our own psyche.”

Though the situation played itself out in a much more overtly barbarous way, one cannot help drawing parallels between our current societal schism and the mass psychoses of the American and European witch hunts that took place during the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as the rise of totalitarianism in the 20th century. We often look back on these dark times and wonder how so many people could have gone along with such unjustified and obvious cruelty. During the witch hunts, thousands of individuals (mostly women) were killed; not because of any actual crimes that they’d committed, but because they were the scapegoats of societies gone mad. 

When a mass psychosis occurs the results are typically devastating. Jung, who studied this phenomenon, wrote that the individuals who make up the infected society become “morally and spiritually inferior” and that they “sink unconsciously to a lower intellectual level”. Jung claimed that these individuals become “more unreasonable, irresponsible, emotional, erratic, and unreliable… Crimes the individual alone could never stand are freely committed by a group smitten by madness”.

What makes matters worse is that those suffering from a mass psychosis are unaware of what’s occurring, just as one who’s gone mad cannot step out of their mind to observe the error of their ways. There is no Archimedean point from which those suffering from a mass psychosis can observe their collective madness.

But what causes mass psychosis? To answer this question we must look at what makes an individual descend into madness. 

While there are many potential triggers to madness, such as excessive use of drugs and alcohol, brain injuries, and other illnesses; these causes will not concern us here. What we must look at is the psychological, or what is called “psychogenic” triggers, as these are the mechanisms that typically insight mass psychosis.

The most prevalent psychogenic cause is a flood of negative emotions that affect the mind’s ability to logically process its reality, feelings such as fear and anxiety that drive a person into a state of panic. While it is possible and recommended that one escape this hyper-emotional state through adaptive means such as facing up to and defeating the fear-generating threat, another way to escape is to go through a psychotic break.

A psychotic break is not always a descent into a state of greater mental disorder like many tend to believe; it is a reordering of one’s experiential world that blends fact and fiction in a way that helps to end the feelings of panic. 

Silvano Arieti, one of the 20th century’s foremost authorities on schizophrenia, explains the psychogenic steps that lead one into madness.

The first step, Arieti claims, is the stage of panic. This is the point when the individual begins to perceive things differently, is frightened on account of this change in perception, and lacks the knowledge necessary to understand or explain what is going on. This creates an opening for psychological manipulation, the panicked mind is searching for an easy explanation that will create a way out of the situation which is causing the panic. There is no shortage of manipulative forces who are all too willing to provide this perceived “way out”, and the panicked mind is willing to deny objective reality and even commit atrocities, fully believing they are in the right.

Think of how easily the masses were shepherded into a heightened state of fear at the outset of the pandemic, disproportional to the actual danger of the situation. Despite many younger folks posturing as if they loved science, the reality was that in most cases they didn’t even possess a modicum of scientific knowledge regarding viruses and their transmission outside of what was strategically sensationalized. Many fail to understand the simple reality that a virus is significantly smaller than bacteria and that masks are effectively useless at preventing the spread.

Not only were those who lacked the proper knowledge to make educated personal decisions about the pandemic being inundated with misleading information, but all of the detractors who were actually operating from a place of knowledge were also swiftly silenced, humiliated’ and in many cases lost their practice (in the case of MD’s) or their scientific grants (in the case of scientists).

The next step is what Arieti calls a phase of “psychotic insight”, whereby an individual succeeds in putting things together via a pathological way of interpreting reality, allowing them to explain away what they are experiencing regardless of their explanations validity. The “insight” is psychotic because it is based on delusions and not on adaptive and life-promoting ways relating to whatever threats originally precipitated the panic. 

Essentially, these delusions allow the experiencer to escape from the flood of negative emotions, but they do so at the cost of losing touch with reality. Is this starting to sound familiar to anyone?

Mass Psychosis and How We Got There

If a panic-triggering flood of negative emotions in a weak and vulnerable person can trigger a psychotic break, then a mass psychosis can result when a population of weak and vulnerable individuals is driven into a state of panic from all angles by threats real, imagined, or partly fabricated (consider the dramatic inflation of COVID deaths by Pharma-funded news organizations as just one of many examples).

As delusions can take many forms, and madness can manifest in countless ways,  the specific manner in which a mass psychosis unfolds will differ based on the historical and cultural context of the affected society. In our modern era, it is the mass psychosis of totalitarianism that appears to be the greatest threat.

Professor Arthur Versluis lays out exactly what the totalitarian mass psychosis looks like:

Totalitarianism is the modern phenomenon of total centralized state power coupled with the complete obliteration of basic, individual human rights. In a totalized state. There are those in power, and there are the objectified masses… the masses are transformed into dependent subjects of these pathological rulers, and take on a psychologically regressed and child-like status.

Hannah Arendyt, one of the 20th century’s preeminent scholars, called totalitarianism “an attempted transformation of human nature itself.” The general population hands control of their own lives over to politicians and bureaucrats who themselves suffer from a form of psychosis. Only a deluded ruling class will believe that they alone possess the knowledge, wisdom, and acumen to completely control society in a top-down manner; and only when under the spell of these delusions would anyone actually believe that a society composed of power-hungry rulers and a psychologically regressed population lead to anything besides mass suffering and social ruin.

But what exactly triggers the psychosis of totalitarianism? Almost always it begins within the society’s ruling class.

Oftentimes the Bankers, CEOs, Politicians, and old-money patriarchs who make up this class are very prone to delusions, and no delusion is more attractive to the power-hungry than the idea that they can, and should, control and dominate an entire society. When a ruling elite becomes possessed of a political ideology of this sort, whether it be communism, fascism, or technocracy, the next step is to induce a population into willingly accepting their rule by infecting it with the mass psychosis of totalitarianism.

This type of mass psychosis has been induced many times throughout history, which is why certain leaders are obsessed with muddying and even erasing our understanding of history. As Meerloo explains: 

“It is simply a question of reorganizing and manipulating collective feelings in a particular way.”

 This general method by which this can be accomplished is called “menticide”, the etymology of this word being “a killing of the mind”. Meerloo further explains:

“Menticide is an old crime against the human mind and spirit but systematized anew. It is an organized system of psychological intervention and judicial perversion, through which a ruling class can imprint their opportunistic thoughts upon the minds they plan to use…”

Priming a population for the high crime of menticide begins with the sowing of misplaced fear and rage. A particularly effective technique to accomplish this is by employing “waves of terror”. Through the application of this technique, the sowing of fear is staggered with periods of calm, but each of these calm periods is followed by the manufacturing of an even more intense spell of fear, and on and on the process goes, or as Meerloo writes:

Each wave of terrorizing creates the effects more easily – after a breathing period – more easily than the one that preceded it because people are still disturbed by their previous experience. Morality becomes lower and lower, and the psychological effects of each new propaganda campaign become stronger; it reaches a public already softened up.

Meerlo also had a few things to say about the technological aspect:

Modern Technology teaches man to take for granted the world he is looking at. He takes no time to retreat or reflect. No rest, no meditation, no reflection or conversation. The senses are overloaded with stimuli. Man doesn’t learn to question his world any longer, the screen provides all the answers.

There is a further step that these would-be totalitarian rulers take to ensure the success of their programming, and that is to isolate the victims and disrupt normal social interactions. When alone and separated from friends, family, and coworkers, an individual becomes far more susceptible to delusions for several reasons.

Firstly, they lose contact with what would be considered the “corrective force” of the positive example. Since not everyone is tricked by the machinations of the ruling class and the few who see through the charade can help to free others from the menticidal assault. If, however, isolation is enforced then the power of positive examples greatly diminishes. 

As Meerloo explains, in regards to physiologist Ivan Pavlov’s work on behavioral conditioning:

Pavlov made another significant discovery: the conditioned reflex could be developed most easily in a quiet laboratory with minimum disturbing stimuli. Every trainer of animals knows this from his own experience; isolation and the patient repetition of stimuli are required to tame wild animals. The totalitarians have followed this rule. They know that they can condition their political victims more easily if they are kept in isolation. Alone, confused, and battered by waves of terror, a population under an attack of menticide devolves into a hopeless and vulnerable state.

The never-ending stream of propaganda turns minds once capable of rational thought into playhouses of irrational forces, and with chaos swirling within them and around them, the masses crave a return to a more ordered world. “

“The would-be totalitarians can then take the decisive step, they can offer a “way out” and a return to normalcy, at a price. The masses must relinquish their capacity to be self-reliant individuals who are responsible for their own lives, and become submissive obedient subjects.”

Reason and common human decency become scarce, there is only a pervasive atmosphere of terror, and a projection of “the enemy” imagined to be “in or midsts”. Thus society turns on itself, urged on by the ruling authorities.

The order of a totalitarian world is pathological. By enforcing strict conformity, and requiring blind obedience from the citizenry, totalitarianism rids the world of the spontaneity that produces many of life’s joys and the creativity that typically drives societies forward. The total control of this type of rule regardless of whether it be fascist, communist, or any title future generations may dream up; breeds stagnation and death on a mass scale.

Perhaps the most important question isn’t “Which party should I support” or “how will we combat COVID”, but rather “How can we prevent the encroaching certainty of totalitarianism”?  Can the effects be reversed? Are we doomed to be lorded over by a ruling class who act beyond party affiliation and directly benefit from the pandemic never-ending?

While one can never be sure of the prognosis of collective madness. There are steps that can be taken to help effectuate a cure. This task, however, necessitates a multitude of approaches, from many different sources. Just as the menticidal attack was multipronged, so too must be the counter-attack.

According to Carl Jung the first step to restoring sanity to an insane world is to bring order to our own minds, and to live in a way that provides inspiration for others to follow:  

“It is not for nothing that our age crie out for the redeemer personality, for the one who can emancipate himself from the grip of the collective psychosis and to save, at least, his own soul. Who lights a beacon of hope for others, proclaiming 

that here is at least one individual who has succeeded in extricating himself from the fatal identity of the group psyche.”

Assuming one is living in a manner free of the grip of psychosis there are further steps that can be taken. Information that can counter the propaganda should be disseminated far and wide, for truth is more powerful than fiction and falsities peddled by the would-be rulers. Their brand of stagnating comfort and waves of fear only stays appealing for so long. Their success is in part contingent on their ability to censor the free flow of information. 

Another tactic we have at our disposal is to use humiliation and ridicule to delegitimize the ruling class, using their own tactics against them. As Meerloo explains:

“We must learn to treat the demagogue and aspirant dictators in our midst with the weapon of ridicule. The demagogue itself is almost completely incapable of any humor itself outside of conscripting others to it for them. If we treat it with humor, it will most assuredly collapse.”

So, the moral of the story? MEMES WILL SAVE US ALL.

A tactic recommended by Vaclav Havel, a political dissident of the Soviet Communist rule who later became president of Czechoslovakia, is the creation of what he calls “parallel structures”.  A parallel structure is any form of organization, business, institution, technology, or creative pursuit that exists physically inside of a totalitarian society, but is fundamentally opposed to it. Typically they will be the inversion of tools the totalitarian state already controls.

Think of uncensored Rumble as the parallel structure to censorcentric YouTube, Telegram the encrypted messaging platform the parallel to the data harvesting Facebook messenger, Protonmail the Parallel to Gmail, and so on. Even cryptocurrency could be seen as a parallel structure to the deteriorating US dollar.

In Communist Czechoslovakia, Havel noted that these parallel structures were more effective at combating totalitarianism than any sort of political action. Furthermore, when enough of these structures are created, a second culture or parallel society spontaneously forms and functions as an enclave of freedom and sanity in a totalitarian world.

Above all else, what is required to prevent the final great descent into the madness of totalitarianism is action by the people and as many people as possible. Just as the ruling elite don’t sit around passively, but instead take constant steps toward increasing their power, so too must an active and concerted effort exist to move the world in a sane, free, and healthy direction.

This can be an immense challenge in a world falling prey to delusions, but as revolutionary American thinker Thomas Pain once noted:

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

Sleep Cycles: Understanding Your Brain Can Help You Sleep Better

Exploring your Mind
August 27th, 2020

REM cycles, non-REM cycles, delta waves, theta waves, K-complexes… The sleep cycles are as fascinating as they are important to human life. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Sleeping is no mean art: for its sake, one must stay awake all day”. In addition, when you finally manage to fall asleep, your mind gives you what already belongs to you: your dreams.

However, as you probably well know, in the last few decades, we’ve become an almost sleepless society. Nearly 40% of the population has sleep disorders and 90% have trouble getting restorative sleep at least once a year. Our lifestyle, stress, and certain habits, such as the intense use of technology, affect our sleep hygiene.

As a result, it’s very interesting to understand what happens in the brain while we sleep. After all, during those hours, the brain’s only purpose is to facilitate deep sleep. In the end, nighttime is when the body carries out the tasks that are essential for your well-being. To maintain good physical and psychological health, you need to get good sleep to solidify memories, eliminate toxins, and eliminate irrelevant data and information.

Let’s delve a little deeper into the world of sleep cycles.

A woman sleeping at night.

The five stages: sleep cycles for a good night’s sleep

Each sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes. Consequently, you go through about five or six cycles every night. As you might know, waking up in the middle of one of those cycles without reaching REM sleep means you’ll wake up tired, confused, and lethargic.

Ideally, you should stay asleep for the entirety of the five phases. At a minimum, your body needs to stay asleep long enough for the cycle to repeat four times. Sleeping less than five hours doesn’t give the brain enough time to do all of the necessary processes and “restart” itself.

Let’s take a detailed look at each sleep cycle.

Stage 1: light sleep

This first stage is when you’re already feeling relaxed and comfortable in bed. It lasts about fifteen or twenty minutes. Stage 1 is the tenuous threshold between wakefulness and sleep. If you do an electroencephalogram (EEG) on someone in the light sleep stage, their brain will display theta waves (3, 5-7, 5 Hz).

Stage 2: light sleep, heart rate begins to slow

Here, your breathing starts to slow down, your heart rate drops, and your brain waves slow down. The only difference between stage 2 and stage 1 is that, in stage 2, the K-waves or sleep spindles (sudden increases in brain wave frequencies) increase. These frequencies tend to go between 12 and 14 Hz, which is very slow. The purpose of these sleep spindles is to keep you from waking up.

Likewise, it’s very common during this stage to experience something that you’re probably very familiar with. We’re talking about dreaming that you’re falling. Scientists believe that you get this feeling as a result of your low heart rates.

The brain needs to make sure that everything is okay and that everything is under control. Therefore, it sends a sudden stimulus that your mind interprets in the same way it would if you were falling.

Stage 3: transition

You might say that this is the halfway point of your sleep cycle. This is a short stage; it only lasts five minutes. During that time, the theta waves, slow waves, get shorter and become delta waves, which are more intense. People who sleepwalk often do it during this point in the sleep cycle.

An image representing brain waves.

Stage 4: deep Sleep

You’ve come to the deepest stage of sleep, which lasts about 20 to 30 minutes. When your brain is in this stage, it’s very difficult to wake up. The delta waves have taken over completely at this point, and your sleep is truly restorative, in every sense of the word.

If you wake up during this stage, you’ll feel groggy, disoriented, and foggy. People with insomnia experience this very often. In general, they don’t reach the fourth stage.

The REM cycle: the dream and nightmare stage

This is the most important and most interesting sleep cycle. Most people are aware that dreams and nightmares happen during the REM cycle. In addition, during this stage, the theta waves take over again. Consequently, on an EEG, you’ll see the same brain activity that’s present when you’re awake. That’s due to the fact that the brain is extremely active during this sleep stage.

The REM cycle is also known as paradoxical sleep. It makes up about 25% of your sleep cycle. The prior stages, called non-REM cycles, or slow sleep cycles, make up the rest. Thus, the entire structure of nighttime rest (in normal conditions) is carried out in a process that lasts about 90 minutes.

We emphasize “normal conditions” because if you take medication to treat a sleep disorder, it can slightly alter this cycle. Chemical substances can change the flow of stages and brain waves.

Ideally, you should be able to get good sleep without the use of pharmaceuticals. Instead, try some natural strategies first, such as managing stress, being mindful of your schedule, and watching what you eat. Limiting your exposure to the blue light from screens is also important. Even simple things such as the temperature in your room can affect your sleep.

Sleeping well means living well. Understanding the sleep cycles and setting yourself up for a night of deep, restorative sleep will help you feel better every day.

Courage is about Making Things Happen

Exploring your Mind
September 4th, 2020

Courage makes people act like they have no fear, and it’s about making things happen even in the worst circumstances. Thus, courageous people are those who promote changes in order to achieve well-being or freedom. 

What makes a person courageous? Courage is about fearlessness, determination, and making things happen.

Psychology has been analyzing this dimension for years. The consensus, as curious as it might sound, is that courage is as simple as making things happen. It’s about generating positive change even during difficult circumstances. That is, in situations in which others would give up.

Martin Seligman, a promoter of positive psychology, spoke about courage. He said it’s the dimension that acts as one of the most healing components during therapy. In addition, it has genetic, educational, and environmental roots.

Parents often instill a proactive attitude towards life to remind their offspring that they have to put fear aside in order to reach their goals. Unfortunately, people who lack such reinforcement during their childhood and grow up insecure or have suffered a traumatic experience often lack this courage.

For this reason, Seligman conceives it as an essential element during the therapeutic process. It must arise after the patient works with a professional and some effort on their part. Thus, when the person changes, it’ll be clear they’ve learned to treasure their own determination. In other words, they’ll have the motivation to transform their life.

This is when they decide to shape and achieve a new stage in which to feel more in control and safe. This is the best courage of all, the most enriching for a person’s well-being.

A backpacker on top of a mountain.

Courage is about making things happen

Some scientific literature says that courage arises as a result of a primary struggle against emotions such as fear. From a neurobiological standpoint, it involves regulating the influence of the amygdala. This is the brain region related to the most intense emotions. The same one that paralyzes and hijacks your thoughts when it takes over.

Similarly, it also implies enhancing areas such as the prefrontal cortex. In other words, those linked to decision-making, reflection, planning, and attention to environmental stimuli without the influence of fear or anguish. In fact, much of the research available on this type of behavior comes from the military sphere (Neria, Solomon, Ginzburg, and Dekel (2000)) and from stories in which certain soldiers performed heroic acts when they were in great danger.

“I just remained calm and did what I had to do,” say many of these young people trained to react quickly in risky situations. But what about civilians? Can anyone be a hero without military training?

Doctors Uhri Kugel and Catherine Haussman conducted a study at the University of Oxford. The date it reveals is interesting. Let’s analyze this!

Although courage is often romanticized, it’s actually a cognitive skill

Courage is about making things happen because you promote change. Furthermore, courage is about focusing on a goal in the midst of adverse circumstances. No, you don’t have to be the classic hero who battles dragons. Courage is a cognitive skill anyone can learn and apply, according to current science.

It basically consists of igniting your will to act in spite of your fear, in being able to look at uncertainty and doubt to then move forward and take action. You can attain something like this by working on the following:

  • Proper anxiety management, as you’ll reset your mentality in order to take action when you’re able to recognize the thought patterns that imprison you.
  • Be emotionally aware. This consists of knowing how to connect with your emotions in order to transform them and use them to your benefit.
  • Remember what your values, vital purposes, and personal goals are.
  • Courage is about making things happen. This is because you develop a very specific capacity to visualize the desired goals you’ll reach if you dare to.
A woman happy to be alive.

Courage is about making things happen in order to have a more satisfying reality

Franco, Blau, and Zimbardo (2011) defined courage as the ability to act prosocially despite personal risk. Now, there’s current criticism regarding this definition. This is because courage isn’t always geared toward saving others. Instead, courage is mainly necessary to save oneself.

Martin Seligman already pointed out that for therapy to be effective, you must awaken your courage. In other words, you must ignite your determination in order to overcome your fears, limitations, and insecurities. This way, you’ll be more empowered and be able to achieve anything you want. Thus, you’ll be able to promote changes that resonate with you and bring you satisfaction.

Some say that people live in faith and hope. However, taking action is the only thing that can truly transform your reality. This is because courage is a mixture of emotions, thoughts, and feelings oriented towards advancement in order to promote something positive, either for yourself or for others. Just keep this in mind.

Three Meditation Exercises to Practice at Home

Exploring Your Mind
August 24th, 2020

These meditation exercises derive from an ancient technique used for training your mind to reduce stress, anxiety, and, also, to connect deeper with yourself. In fact, just 30 minutes a day can considerably change these states of mind. Furthermore, not only does it lessen any discomfort you might have but it also helps you feel much better.

Although you may not know it, there are many advantages to meditating at home. However, you must find a place away from distractions to do so. It’ll help you feel much better and more protected. The best part is you can do it at any time of the day.

It can be a bit difficult to attain an optimal state of concentration and relaxation if you’ve never meditated before. However, just follow a few simple steps and practice it frequently, and you’ll see how soon you get it.

A woman meditating.

Firstly, create an appropriate atmosphere where to practice meditation exercises

Before preparing your meditation environment, you must decide whether you’ll do these exercises on your own accord or if you’ll follow the guidelines of an app or a video.

Apps are very useful. In fact, you can program the time you want to dedicate and the level from which you’d like to start. Also, they make this practice easier for beginners.

Once you’ve decided how to do it, you’ll have to take into account the following to make the most out of it:

  • Find a quiet place. It’s essential to find a corner that’s as silent as possible, where the possibility of interruption is either null or minimal. You won’t get good results in a spot where there are frequent interruptions.
  • Comfortable posture. The lotus position is the classic choice for meditation, but you can start with other postures. You can even meditate while lying down. The most important thing here is to be in a relaxed position in which your body isn’t a distraction.
  • Avoid distractions. As we indicated above, it’s essential to avoid all sources of distractions: turn off your phone, the television, close the door of the room, close the windows, etc. You must be relaxed enough to be able to focus on your bodily sensations.
  • Finally, find the right moment. Yes, meditation is good for reaching a state of relaxation. However, if you do it in a hurry or under pressure, you won’t be able to do it correctly and the practice will be pointless. As you can see, you must choose a time in which you feel well enough and you can put your mind into it.

Basic meditation exercises to practice at home

Although there are many techniques for meditation exercises, some of them are easier for beginners to meditate at home.

1. Breathing exercises

This is the most basic exercise for relaxation and meditation. All you have to do is concentrate on your breathing. Controlling this physiological mechanism is essential for you to be able to relax. Note that it requires practice and concentration in spite of how easy it seems to be.

Forgetting about external stimuli, begin to take deep and slow breaths. Pay attention to them and notice how your body relaxes. Try to ignore any thoughts you might have at the moment and give your body your full attention.

In addition to being very useful in itself, you’ll also use it during the other two. Thus, it’ll be your basis for meditation.

2. Objective observation

In the previous exercise, you were encouraged to avoid thoughts. Contrary to it, the goal of this exercise consists of relaxing your body and allowing your thoughts to flow.

Thus, it’ll be necessary to focus on “watching” your thoughts without trying to change them or intervene in any way. Simply pay attention to them and let them be.

Ultimately, this exercise is about being a witness to your thoughts without getting carried away by them. It’s about thinking about them without judgment and watching them go by without concentrating on any of them in particular.

3. Body scan

Another simple exercise to meditate at home is the body scan technique. For this exercise, you must be in a comfortable position while controlling your breathing. Also, you must focus on the various areas of your body and the sensations you’re experiencing at that particular moment.

To do this, you first have to try to clear your mind and leave it blank while you focus on your various muscle groups.

For example, start by connecting with your feet; feel them, without judging them, and notice the sensations you have in them. Then, move on to your legs and notice the weight, the heat, the shape, and so on until you go through your entire body.

A woman practicing meditation.

Progress after practicing meditation exercises

As with every form of exercise, you must be constant and patient. You probably won’t notice much difference and will be a little disappointed at the beginning. This is normal.

However, it’s hard to get short-term benefits with this practice. To do it, you must give yourself time and continue to try it even though it doesn’t go as you thought it would.

Some people think you have to do something for about 21 days in order for it to become a habit. However, you must go beyond and try to build a new lifestyle. In other words, integrate this new activity into your routine and try to find the right time and environment for it. Especially when it comes to working on your emotions. Progression is slow when it comes to meditation but the benefits are well worth it.

Honesty Training: Three Kinds of Falsehood: Simulation, Lies, and Deceit

Exploring Your Mind Staff Writer,
March 2nd, 2020

Falsehood can come in many shapes and it isn’t specific to humans. This type of conduct can also be seen in animals.

Humans are natural-born liars. We could say that there isn’t a single person on Earth who’s been completely honest in every single moment in their lives. Humans can use different kinds of falsehood. Each has many levels, motives, and different consequences.

Morality condemns any form of falsehood. This could be a mistake because lying is part of human nature and the use of simulation, lies, or deception could be valid depending on the circumstances.

The concept of truth is questionable as well because it’s difficult to establish absolute truths about many things. Likewise, you can be so convinced about something and repeat a lie without knowing or understanding that it isn’t true. Meanwhile, it’s worth pointing out the relativity of morality.

“Truth will rise above falsehood as oil above water.”

-Miguel de Cervantes-

Putting on a mask is a simulation, one of three kinds of falsehood.

Different kinds of falsehood in nature

Humans aren’t the only ones who use different kinds of falsehood. Nature is full of examples of animals who use deception to fool predators or simulate behaviors to get something in exchange. They use falsehood as a way to survive.

When an animal stays still to go unnoticed in front of its predator, they use simulation. The same thing happens when they disguise themselves or go into hiding. The goal is to fool those that could harm them. Something similar happens when an animal wants to steal food and distracts its rival to get it.

Humans start lying from an early age and for similar reasons. It’s part of any animal’s nature to look after themselves. It’s a survival instinct. Thus, honesty is a learned behavior but it doesn’t mean the same thing in every society. In some societies, honesty becomes part of a pact for peaceful living; in others, lying is sinful.

Long nose representing lies, one of three kinds of falsehood.


Simulation is the less notorious of the different kinds of falsehood. In its simplest form, it’s about pretending. This implies bending reality to a certain degree. As with the other forms of falsehood, there are different levels of simulation. It can go from putting on a little makeup for a night out to the concealment of different aspects of yourself or your life, even taking on a new identity.

Why do people use simulation? There are many answers to that. Sometimes, people use simulation to appeal to others. Other times, they use it as a survival tool. For example, they try not to show fear against a rival. People can also simulate ailments for their benefit.

Lies and deceit

Although these kinds of falsehoods may seem similar, they have some important differences. Lying is related to verbal statements. You lie when you say something is true and know it isn’t. Deception is a wider concept. You can fool someone using words, but also with how you act or by creating situations that conceal reality. A deception involves a whole plan, whether it’s basic or very elaborate. In this case, there’s also a process of awareness-raising.

In human beings, simulation, lying, and deceit can be very sophisticated. What makes these behaviors morally wrong? Two things: motivation and purpose.

False friends, using deception.

A few years ago, in Colombia, there was a raid against the guerrilla where the people used deception, lies, and simulation. This raid helped free a group of hostages. Can this procedure be seen as “morally wrong”? In your daily life, you’ve probably asked yourself the same question.

Simulation, lying, and deception aren’t always morally wrong. Their motivation and purpose are what define their morality. Either way, you’ll gain more from examining these conducts, than from flat out rejecting them due to morality concerns.

The Body Language of Depression

Staff Writer,
February 28th, 2020

Facial micro-expressions are important to the body language of depression. A depressed person shows their mood through their eyelids, eyes, mouth, and the forehead muscles.

The body language of depression includes micro-expressions, postures, and gestures. It’s worth being able to recognize them, as these states of neurotic sadness can go unnoticed at first. What the mouth doesn’t say, the body often shouts.

Depression, like all moods, has an impact on the body. It doesn’t just mold and give it a specific form, as it also affects your health. Body and mind make up one unit, and what occurs in one sphere is reflected in the other.

The body language of depression is unconscious. However, others can read it, albeit intuitively. As language communicates, it also builds a perception among others. In other words, the environment perceives that dejection and that also influences your relationship with others. Let’s delve deeper into this.

The face, a key point in the body language of depression

Facial micro-expressions particularly reveal your mood. The small movements that appear on your face never lie. They’re involuntary responses controlled by the limbic system that manifest without the person even realizing it.

A woman looking sad, sitting on a couch and looking out the window.

In the body language of depression, the most telling micro-expressions are the following:

  • Droopy eyelids. The skin of the eyelids looks flaccid, giving the appearance of droopiness. The vortex, the place where the upper and lower lids meet, is curved.
  • Lack of focus. A depressed person’s eyes don’t seem focused on a point. Rather, there’s a certain vagueness. It’s as if their eyes were lost, even if they try to focus on a point.
  • The mouth is curved downward. The shape of the mouth is like an open semi-circle. The corners of the mouth look slightly fallen. This is probably the most common gesture in the body language of depression.
  • Furrowed brows. Usually, depressed people slightly crease the space between their eyes. However, it’s not as noticeable as if they were worried or. Their face might look surprised by something that disappointed them.

The position of the head

In the body language of depression, the position of the head in relation to the rest of the body is also important. Normally, the head will be inclined down and slightly forward.

It’s also common for the head to incline to one side, almost always to the right. This mostly occurs when the depressed person is listening to someone with power or authority.

The tone of voice and way of speaking

depressed person‘s tone of voice gives away clues to their mood. In addition to simply speaking in a low voice, there’s also a kind of cry in their way of speaking. Their voice cracks slightly or sounds a little hoarse, although this is barely perceptible.

In the same way, a depressed person is frugal with language and isn’t very emotional when they speak. It’s not unusual for them to have trouble vocalizing or articulating their words. It’s almost as if they were too lazy to express themselves.

A therapist listening to a patient showing the body language of depression.

Body posture and other subtleties

Posture is another visible aspect of the body language of depression. Normally, a person with depression will look rather flaccid. Their spine will be curved, as if they were withdrawing into themselves.

Also, it’s very common for them to move slowly and even aggressively. They might drag their feet a bit when they walk, as if it were difficult for them to move forward.

Finally, depressed people tend to breathe faster. This can happen at any time and several times a day. Others can read this as a frustrated desire to feel good about the situation they’re in.

Are You Tired Of Being Angry At The State Of The World?

Joe Martino,
July 21st, 2020

  • The Facts: As many people awaken to truths about what is truly going on behind the scenes in our world, we feel anger. This is OK, but a prolonged state of this is holding us back from truly awakening and creating real change.
  • Reflect On: Does anger help you get clear, or is it draining your energy? Do you feel anger lets us operate at our full potential or does it make us erratic and foggy?

There’s no secret: truths about corruption involving high profile government officials, politicians, high profile people, and agencies is coming to the surface like crazy right now. It’s in humanity’s awareness more so than ever before. This piece is not so much about exploring the validity of everything coming to the surface, but how it often makes people react and feel.

As these truths come forward people often have resentment or anger towards situations or ‘elite’ figures that are taking various actions that affect our society. It could be pedophilia, planned economic collapses, political lies or any number of things. We often believe we are ‘awake’ once we know these truths, and in some ways, yes, our consciousness and awareness has expanded. But the anger, resentment and rage that people often have and hold onto, not only keeps us asleep, plugged into ‘the old world’ but it also acts as a slow poison that is affecting our health and minds every day. Further, in this anger and resentment, we have a difficult time truly connecting to good ideas and solutions to move beyond the state of the world as it is today, because anger clouds who we truly are and the potential we have.

I’ve witnessed it hundreds of times over the past 11 years doing this work, after this anger, resentment and judgement becomes tiring and draining, people want to know how they can TRULY be free – not just in the world, but within themselves. This is when the deep awakening begins to happen. This is when our power comes back.

One note before we continue. When anger initially rises, this is OK. It’s not wrong that this appeared. It’s simply a feedback mechanism as to where we identify and why. I don’t wish to create a perception that feeling anger is wrong or that you should never feel it. My goal is instead to get us to reflect on whether a prolonged feeling of anger is where we want to be. And whether or not we are truly free if we can get pulled into anger so easily.

People have been providing me a great deal of feedback lately during these confusing and intense times. They ask “how do you stay so calm and grounded during all of this? Your content is bringing me peace and not making me afraid. How do you do this?” I enjoy hearing that because it means people can see and feel something different, and in that example, they are inspired. Being in an empowered state is the key to changing our current worldly state, and the more people who tune into their desire to truly be free and empowered, the more we will move towards change. After all, this is our natural state we are waking up to.

The reason why so many have a tough time finding calm, peace and KNOWING what the solutions are to move forward, breaks down into multiple categories:

1. They are angry at the state of the world, and do not work to ask why

2. The media they watch and the influencers they follow are often polarized and telling them who the bad guys are and why they should blame them for everything.

3. They are not simply observing events around us and using that information to make decisions on how to act, they are instead observing and becoming emotionally charged and stuck.

4. They remain identified with the unconscious: their mind, their thoughts, their body and who they think they are as a physical specimen only. There is not enough time spent in the ‘awareness; that they are.

5. They repeat the cycles of being in the above environments, effectively producing the same result over and over.

Now, let’s talk about #2 for a second. Are certain people taking certain actions that affect other people in a ‘bad’ way? Yes, that can be observed, very clearly. The trick is, are you giving away all of your power to those people by being angry, upset and wanting to fight them? Or are you choosing a path of empowerment where you:

1. Create awareness from a space of neutrality, which allows you to be free, and respond instead of reacting.

2. Getting clear on what you want your world to look like

3. Begin shifting your own inner state of being to know things differently and align with the energy and actions of the world you want to create.

4. Live that new state of being and invite others to do so as well

When you create awareness about things happening in our world, if you are doing it from anger, judgement, blame or resentment, your power IS going to those taking these actions, and you will experience suffering in the mind. In THAT single moment of learning of something, your ability to change it is not there, change will occur as you take action over MANY consecutive moments. Thus, acceptance of each individual moment for what it is, as opposed to resisting what is, will allow you to find peace and calm, and tap into the true solutions and ability to effectively respond that are within you when you are in this state. Within our matrix, when we remain fully in our minds, and not in tune with who we truly are, thus remaining polarized, we create a need for the opposite polarity you are operating from.

It’s like the movie The Matrix states, “Free your mind.” This means to become limitless, boundless and in tune with who you truly are, not stuck in our emotions, distracted, erratic and upset. Notice Neo’s character in the movie is a very calm and peaceful presence when he tunes into his full potential. He is able to make an impact on what they are desiring to change because he has moved beyond that which was limiting him.

If we reflect quickly on the feedback I shared above, where people feel calm, peace and empowered yet still informed and ready to take action after viewing my content, we can ask: what experience do we want? One where we are angry and repeating cycles of fight, slowly harming ourselves and not being clear on solutions? Or one where we are informed, empowered and ready to take action on creating a new world?

Yes, it takes some work and focus to get back to your natural state. One must spend time being the awareness that they truly are. Spending less time identifying with all of the thoughts and compulsive desires that come from the mind, and more time simply in the awareness of who we truly are. This IS how you change yourself and the world and the quantum level which informs the physical level. And while some people do feel that prolonged anger changes the world, has it ever really doe that? Or has it only created a slightly different experience but with many of the same unconscious qualities?

Are we thriving? Is there peace? Are people awake to who they truly are? Are they offended and triggered easily? Yes. This is because we have yet to truly awaken, and awakening only truly occurs when we step back into who we truly are.

How Do We Get There?

Moving past the anger is about creating freedom within ourselves. It’s a different state of mind and being. Instead of having yourself be triggered by things all the time, we are aware and have the freedom to choose how we wish to respond to something as opposed to erratically reacting. I explain this further via my Shift Method.

Spend time being conscious of your breath. Take some deep.breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Simply focus on that breathing. Do this for 10 minutes, 15 minutes. How do you feel? What do you notice?

Disconnect from social media, news and stories for a day or so. Do you feel different? How so? What do you notice?

Reflect on how it feels to be enraged and angry by what people say. Does it make you feel good? Is it draining your energy? Is it helping to change things? Do people respond better to your ideas when you’re angry or when you are calm and open?

I’ve created many materials over the past few years including a conscious breathing course and a personal transformation course designed to simply slow life down and get more in tune with yourself. Neither of these courses are huge commitments and approachable, ‘level 1’ like approaches to seeing a different side of yourself – your true self. Utilize these tools if it resonates with you. Both are available in our inner circle called CETV.

Inside our inner circle, you will have access to powerful information, guided programs, and a community all geared towards being informed about what’s happening in our world, and how you can truly engage in a guided journey of personal transformation so that you can be a change-maker our world truly needs at this time. You’ll be inspired by how many likeminded people inside are ready to share in this journey.

If you choose to sign up, try my 10 Day Conscious Breathing Challenge and the 5 Days of You Challenge.

SOURCE: https://www.collective-evolution.com/2020/07/21/are-you-tired-of-being-angry-at-the-state-of-the-world/

The Rationality Wars and the Credibility Revolution

Alexander Danvers Ph.D.
Psychology Today, June 15th, 2019

The Credibility Revolution in psychology is in part a product of the discipline’s own success, according to a recent philosophy paper. The author Ivan Flis, argues that at the heart of our desire to improve methods for making scientific claims is applying a phenomenon psychologists established observing others to ourselves: Confirmation Bias.

Photo by Na Urchin on Pexels.

Ivan Flis suggest that the Credibility Revolution arose from psychology using its own ideas to understand itself.Source: Photo by Na Urchin on Pexels.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to focus on information in line with your expectations or supporting the position you want to take. For example, if you are asked to judge whether the position of a political party is good or bad you are likely to look for reasons why the party you already like is right. You are unlikely to look for reasons why your party is wrong.

This type of limited information search is good for justifying yourself to others by presenting arguments for what you already believe, but it’s not good for figuring out how things really work, because alternative possibilities—like your preferred idea or explanation being wrong—aren’t considered.

Confirmation bias came out of a revolution in psychological research described as “The Rationality Wars.” Flis argues that, based on the success of algorithms for decision-making in computer science, the “correct” way to think and reason was to use formal, logical systems. When people deviated from the answers given by formal logic, their decisions should be categorized as irrational or biased. This position was exemplified by the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (work that eventually won Kahneman a Nobel Prize).

Flis demonstrates how reformers describe other scientists as irrational or biased—often specifically invoking confirmation bias—when discussing reform. For example, one set of research papers examines how often psychologists publish results that confirm as opposed to contradict their theory, finding that psychology as a field almost exclusively publishes evidence that confirms theories (91.5% of studies). Further, more “developed” or “harder” sciences tend to be more willing to publish evidence that contradicts a theory.

This tendency to only publish findings that support the ideas we already believe is seen as evidence that scientists are just like other people: naturally irrational. Just because a person is a scientist, it doesn’t mean they don’t fall prey to the same biases as everyone else. According to this argument, we need the reforms of the Credibility Revolution precisely because scientists acting individually use biased logic.

The idea that scientists prefer evidence that supports their own theories pairs nicely with Karl Popper’s idea of falsification. Popper argued that science proceeded not by confirming theories, but by putting them in danger of being falsified by looking for evidence that would contradict them. The more times people try and fail to contradict a theory, the better the theory looks.

This is where Flis takes issue. Popper’s original position is seen as almost irrelevant in modern philosophy of science because his argument for how science should progress isn’t totally consistent logically—and in part because historians of science found that scientists almost never really try to contradict their own theories.

Issues with Popper could probably take up a whole book, but the argument that is most intuitive to me is one described by Paul Meehl (and originally made by Quine): all scientific claims rely on auxiliary assumptions, and so any failure to find an effect can be the result of a bad assumption—not a failure of the theory. A simple example: if a microbiologist is trying to understand the structure of a cell, their microscope needs to be working properly. If there is a smudge or distortion in the lens, then the observations that could disconfirm a theory might just be the result of a problem with the instrument. That the microscope gives accurate information about the cell is an auxiliary assumption of the theoretical test.

These kinds of auxiliary assumptions can be about the way we measure things; in fact, Meehl called for psychologists to develop “A Theory of the Instrument” that tests all the assumptions about our measurement tools. For example, if I want to see if personality is related to likelihood of developing depression, I have to assume that the personality questionnaire I gave people really does measure personality accurately.

Photo by Haste LeArt V. from Pexels

But auxiliary assumptions can also be about more abstract or philosophical issues. For example, I need to assume that depression really is a single thing—as opposed to believing that there are lots of different ways to be depressed and what we call depression is actually a mish-mash that combines them. If I test the relationship of personality to depression, I am making the assumption that there is one thing called depression and that there are not lots of different types of depressions. If I find no relationship, I could refuse to accept that depression isn’t related to personality. Instead, I could question the auxiliary assumption that all depression is the same and start to believe that the problem with my experiment is that I didn’t account for the different types of depressions. Ultimately, I could do something like this for any result, meaning that if I am clever enough I can always find an explanation for my results that doesn’t contradict my theory.

If falsification isn’t so simple in practice, what should we do? One solution is discussed in another recent philosophy paper referenced by Fils. In “Putting Poper to Work,” Maarten Derksen discusses some of Popper’s later work, published in 2002, that argues scientific objectivity is the product not of individuals but of a community of scientists working on problems together. What we need to get good science is what Popper calls “friendly-hostile co-operation.” My tendency to want to believe in my own theory can be worked around if other scientists who don’t believe my theory are also engaging constructively in the scientific process. It is the back and forth between scientists that keeps us honest.

For example, if I don’t find a link between depression and personality and interpret that as a problem with the way we have been thinking about depression, other researchers studying depression can weigh in. They might have done research looking at something like the “many depressions” idea, and be able to tell me if I’m on the right track. Or they might say that my idea seems implausible for other reasons. Our argument helps make the call about whether my interpretation is legit or just a cop out to save my pet theory.

This kind of discussion doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere, though. Popper believed that scientists needed to set up the right kinds of norms and institutions to have these debates. We need a set of ground rules—and enforcement mechanisms when people step out of line—that can link the lofty goal of falsification to the gritty details of making sense of science.

From Gratisography on Pexels.

“Friendly-hostile co-operation” bridges the gap between individual bias and community level accuracy.Source: From Gratisography on Pexels.

Derksen argues that the current Credibility Revolution is creating these vital norms and institutions. For example, “friendly-hostile” discussion is much more common in psychology now that so many researchers talk about their work on social media. It’s also becoming a common policy for psychology journals to ask authors of research papers to post their data and full analysis results openly, so that they can be replicated. Opening your research up to debate from other scientists online, and your data to reanalysis are ways of making sure that other people have a chance to check your work—and to potentially check your biased interpretations.

Ultimately, this interpretation means that the task of the Credibility Revolution is not to change ingrained biases in reasoning. The task instead is to create habits and incentives that naturally catch us and redirect us when we fall into patterns of biased thinking. The answer to my confirmation bias is having to respond to other people’s ideas.

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations

Glenn Greenwald
February 24th, 2014

One of the many pressing stories that remains to be told from the Snowden archive is how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction. It’s time to tell a chunk of that story, complete with the relevant documents.

Over the last several weeks, I worked with NBC News to publish a series of articles about “dirty trick” tactics used by GCHQ’s previously secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group). These were based on four classified GCHQ documents presented to the NSA and the other three partners in the English-speaking “Five Eyes” alliance. Today, we at the Intercept are publishing another new JTRIG document, in full, entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.”

By publishing these stories one by one, our NBC reporting highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses. But, here, I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents: namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums. Here is one illustrative list of tactics from the latest GCHQ document we’re publishing today:

Other tactics aimed at individuals are listed here, under the revealing title “discredit a target”:

Then there are the tactics used to destroy companies the agency targets:

GCHQ describes the purpose of JTRIG in starkly clear terms: “using online techniques to make something happen in the real or cyber world,” including “information ops (influence or disruption).”

Critically, the “targets” for this deceit and reputation-destruction extend far beyond the customary roster of normal spycraft: hostile nations and their leaders, military agencies, and intelligence services. In fact, the discussion of many of these techniques occurs in the context of using them in lieu of “traditional law enforcement” against people suspected (but not charged or convicted) of ordinary crimes or, more broadly still, “hacktivism”, meaning those who use online protest activity for political ends.

The title page of one of these documents reflects the agency’s own awareness that it is “pushing the boundaries” by using “cyber offensive” techniques against people who have nothing to do with terrorism or national security threats, and indeed, centrally involves law enforcement agents who investigate ordinary crimes:

No matter your views on Anonymous, “hacktivists” or garden-variety criminals, it is not difficult to see how dangerous it is to have secret government agencies being able to target any individuals they want – who have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crimes – with these sorts of online, deception-based tactics of reputation destruction and disruption. There is a strong argument to make, as Jay Leiderman demonstrated in the Guardian in the context of the Paypal 14 hacktivist persecution, that the “denial of service” tactics used by hacktivists result in (at most) trivial damage (far less than the cyber-warfare tactics favored by the US and UK) and are far more akin to the type of political protest protected by the First Amendment.

The broader point is that, far beyond hacktivists, these surveillance agencies have vested themselves with the power to deliberately ruin people’s reputations and disrupt their online political activity even though they’ve been charged with no crimes, and even though their actions have no conceivable connection to terrorism or even national security threats. As Anonymous expert Gabriella Coleman of McGill University told me, “targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs, resulting in the stifling of legitimate dissent.” Pointing to this study she published, Professor Coleman vehemently contested the assertion that “there is anything terrorist/violent in their actions.”

Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, have long been the source of speculation. Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, a close Obama adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.

Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government. Ironically, the very same Sunstein was recently named by Obama to serve as a member of the NSA review panel created by the White House, one that – while disputing key NSA claims – proceeded to propose many cosmetic reforms to the agency’s powers (most of which were ignored by the President who appointed them).

But these GCHQ documents are the first to prove that a major western government is using some of the most controversial techniques to disseminate deception online and harm the reputations of targets. Under the tactics they use, the state is deliberately spreading lies on the internet about whichever individuals it targets, including the use of what GCHQ itself calls “false flag operations” and emails to people’s families and friends. Who would possibly trust a government to exercise these powers at all, let alone do so in secret, with virtually no oversight, and outside of any cognizable legal framework?

Then there is the use of psychology and other social sciences to not only understand, but shape and control, how online activism and discourse unfolds. Today’s newly published document touts the work of GCHQ’s “Human Science Operations Cell,” devoted to “online human intelligence” and “strategic influence and disruption”:

Under the title “Online Covert Action”, the document details a variety of means to engage in “influence and info ops” as well as “disruption and computer net attack,” while dissecting how human beings can be manipulated using “leaders,” “trust,” “obedience” and “compliance”:

The documents lay out theories of how humans interact with one another, particularly online, and then attempt to identify ways to influence the outcomes – or “game” it:

We submitted numerous questions to GCHQ, including: (1) Does GCHQ in fact engage in “false flag operations” where material is posted to the Internet and falsely attributed to someone else?; (2) Does GCHQ engage in efforts to influence or manipulate political discourse online?; and (3) Does GCHQ’s mandate include targeting common criminals (such as boiler room operators), or only foreign threats?

As usual, they ignored those questions and opted instead to send their vague and nonresponsive boilerplate: “It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position.”

These agencies’ refusal to “comment on intelligence matters” – meaning: talk at all about anything and everything they do – is precisely why whistleblowing is so urgent, the journalism that supports it so clearly in the public interest, and the increasingly unhinged attacks by these agencies so easy to understand. Claims that government agencies are infiltrating online communities and engaging in “false flag operations” to discredit targets are often dismissed as conspiracy theories, but these documents leave no doubt they are doing precisely that.

Whatever else is true, no government should be able to engage in these tactics: what justification is there for having government agencies target people – who have been charged with no crime – for reputation-destruction, infiltrate online political communities, and develop techniques for manipulating online discourse? But to allow those actions with no public knowledge or accountability is particularly unjustifiable.