Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Fine Art Of Deception

image by thanx,

You Don't Need To Master It - It Comes Naturally

You pass the room where the kid is busy on the computer. The door is ajar. In a heartbeat, you intuit that you must go in. The hunch is too impulsive, too overpowering. There is Something about the kid and their busy-ness... And you walk in, with as much stealth as you can muster. The kid looks so engrossed watching the screen, the back of the monitor facing you. Suddenly the kid looks up and sees you coming in. You notice the involuntary jerk of the hand moving forward, definitely to grab the mouse. And, by the time you make your way to the front of the monitor, you notice one tab on the browser getting closed. Very coolly. And the tab that comes up is the school's site with the homework page. The kid turns towards you, looking you squarely in the eye. There is not a shade of color on that angelic face. God, when did they learn to keep their face so shadeless? "What is it, mom?" or "What is it, dad?" "Nothing, kid. Just passing by." Poor you. You don't have the heart to dip into the browser's history right then and there, which you know will be the first thing that will be deleted no sooner you step out of the room. You don't want to upset the kid. You don't want to upset the applecart! So you happily, with your own hands, pull the wool of deception on your own eyes and pretend to be blind; the child pretends to be the same angel they always were, and hey, it's another day getting over already, time for supper and time to go to bed!

image by plrang,

Deception. Somewhere on the way of growing up, we all learn this fine art, don't we? We quickly learn that this art is essential for our success and happiness, and simply ignore, will ya, that person who stands in the pulpit every Sunday. Because, once the sermon is over and the crowd gets back to the humdrum, we have all these grown-ups who are our role-models and we simply follow in their footsteps and live to learn and learn to live.

image by plrang,

We realize very early on in this Game Called Life that there has to be a gap, a dichotomy if you will, between the thought we hold in our mind and the thought we articulate through speech or through the written word. Certainly not a game that the simpleton can play! Requires a lot of gray cells, which have to be continuously exercised all the time, if you wanna remain on top of the game. How interesting that they don't have any course to teach deception. Comes naturally to you, like breathing.

image by code1name,

The realization that it is the brain that is doing the processing, working on top speed to decide, in a given situation, whether to lie or be truthful, whether to deceive or remain honest, brings us to wonder whether it is possible to scientifically detect whether somebody is deceiving or not. Turns out, yes, it is possible. Researchers from Universities in China and US conducted an ERP study on a bunch of young adults to determine exactly what happens in the brain when people decide they are to be not truthful and not honest (the study has been published in the January 2009 issue of "Brain Research", available online here: The researchers have pinpointed specific areas in the brain which handle the conflict between the thoughts of what is truth and what is false. Electric potentials in the brain change in these specific areas when you take, and implement, the decision to deceive; which change does not take place when you are being honest and truthful. As if these particular areas in the brain are the seat where you perch yourself in those crucial moments and the two angels appear on your either side - one from God and one from Devil, like how they show in those Disney movies. And then, when you decide that you want to go with the Devil, something very subtle happens. Your brain emits waves of a different quality altogether, that the researchers' contraption detected and marked "special".

image by zoofytheji,

The subjects the researchers studied came from both the genders by the way; just thought you would like to know. With this breakthrough, all that you have to do, is to bring the kid, or whosoever you suspect of deceiving you, and strap this heavy contraption around their head and record their EEG and their EOG and what-have-you. And look out for the telltale waves on the ticker-tape the contraption spews out. Sounds rather impractical, eh? You might as well tell them upfront that you don't believe them. So I am waiting for version 2.0 of this contraption, which will be much lighter, will not have to be installed on the suspect's head (ugh! the word "suspect" brings so much bitterness to the mouth!), but will be hidden in my palm. I simply point the tiny antenna of the device towards the person before me, and the device will vibrate if it detects deception-waves coming from the person's head. Cool, eh!

image by alican,

And then, I will wait for version 3.0 of this device. Which will be able to detect and tell me those areas that lie between 100% truth and 100% lie. You know, the gray shades? The world is full of them, this life is full of them, in case you didn't notice.

image by plrang,

Uh, and shall I also tell you about version 4.0? This is the coolest. This device tells you when it is you who is deceiving yourself! The art of self-deception is the most devious, and the most complicated to practice. But very interestingly, this art comes to most of us most naturally! As this article here tells you, it is one dark, dark world - this world of self-deception that we hold deep within us, and that we dwell in, most of the time (and sometimes, all the time): Stop Deceiving Yourself - And Start Living Reality.

image by fishmonk,

Enjoy the journey into the dark! And wait for version 4.0.

image by leocub,

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why Hugging The Child Everyday Is Important

image by duchesssa,

So That, As Adults, They Stay Mentally Healthy

You see Johnny there, in the third cubicle - no not the one who's just joined, but the one to his right? You can't help sympathizing with him as you pass him by - he with his nails perpetually being bitten off between the teeth, the fingers always drumming the table when he is not biting them nails. The muscles of the face look screwed up with worry and anxiety all the time, you think he was born with that look on the face. The man seems to be breaking his back to meet his deadlines and assignments, but fumbles when the boss asks him for an update. Or talk to young Jane here. The woman who cannot hide irritation from her voice when she speaks - or is it frustration with herself, one wonders. The woman who is always pessimistic, and is unable to hide her disappointment when things actually turn out to be positive and happy and cheerful --- different from what she had forecast and predicted.

image by rissmu,

None of your or my business, but if you probe a little deeper, you will also stumble into a family life that is none-too-happy. Perhaps a separation / divorce has already happened, or is on the way?

image by predayshus,

These are people who have so gotten used to the emotion called worry that they have fallen in love with it. And they feel a huge void when there is no worry to worry about, no anxiety to be anxious about. So they go in search of the right worry and the perfect anxiety with which to fill the void. And can you guess why they have come to such a state? Because the parent or guardian or caregiver did not hug them every night, that's why. Because the senior did not pat them on the back and told them how much they were loved and cared for, that's why. Because the caregiver did not convey with words and actions that they would be there whenever the child needed them, that's why.

image by benipop,

Uh, the link between anxiety disorder and being-hugged-every-night-as-a-child looks incredulous? Well, this is not some mushy sentimentalist grandma mumbo-jumbo; this is the outcome of investigation conducted on the quality of relationship-with-primary-caregivers-during-early-childhood, and traits-and-worry-and-anxiety in adulthood. The study involved 138 participants - with 69 control subjects -, and was conducted by researchers from the University of Maryland (published in the journal "Behavior Therapy", article still in press, available online here: The correct technical term for this condition is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD for short.

image by planetka,

As a child, when you know that there are a pair of arms you can rush into whenever you are afraid or scared or traumatized; when you know that there is a secure base that you can turn to in times of need - a safe haven that will protect you from all evil in the world --- then you will grow into a self-confident individual who will always feel the warmth of the hug and the strength of the love you received in those crucial days. The reassurance that there will always be somebody you can turn to, lingers and carries on, even when the senior is no longer part of your life. But whenever you feel stressed and need comfort, instead of a reassuring pat on the back - you get rejection, disparagement and derogation and mocking and indifference --- you begin to view the world as a most dangerous place to live in, with no safe haven to take recourse to.

image by tombre,

But live you have to, cope you have to. So you begin by building your own cognitive support structure with your own internal resources; by first denying to your conscious self the welling up of all the anxiety and the worry and the perception of falling into some huge hole in the earth that has no bottom, a consciousness that is always on the lookout of the hole. You have no one to turn to, you see, and so you better be on your guard all the time, or else. That is where the constant worry and the GAD come in.

image by rissmu,

The support structure is therefore skewed, and built upon the scaffolding of the most easily available material - which is a negative emotion called worry. No wonder then, that you live a life which is bridled with a sense of physical and / or psychological danger at all times. Who knows what doom waits in the next step or at the next corner?

image by mikekorn,

A self-assessment. Are you a constant worrier yourself? A quick dip into the past could help you guess how you have come to acquire this trait. The article in wiki puts it quite well - "common sense action may be taken to reduce the level of anxiety." The internet is full of self-help material that you can read up on, and which you can use to rebuild the cognitive support structure that you have been living by.

image by urbaneye,

And if you have kids under your care, you know what to do. Hug them before putting them to bed. Assure them you are there whenever they need you.

image by planetka,

Who said bringing up children was easy? Here's another article for you to ponder, while on this same issue: Children Are Like Sponge. And how do you think kids with little affection to fall back on, fare in their online relationships as adults? This article here should give you a clue: "Don't Cry, Shopgirl".

image by sassy8877,
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Friday, January 16, 2009

Health Benefits Of The Humble Turmeric

Turmeric root, wiki

Reduce Your Medical Bills - Include This Herb In Your Diet

The name
"Sangli" is not known to many people outside India. A herb that this district headquarters - tucked away in the south of Maharashtra state in India - trades in, is however now becoming the center of attention for researchers the world over. Sangli happens to the world's largest trading hub for Turmeric, also spelt "tumeric".

Turmeric Plant, wiki

This yellow-colored spice with a warm and peppery-mellow and somewhat-bitter flavor, goes by the name of "Curcuma Longa L" in botany books, and is categorized under rhizome. Besides its culinary usage as spice, the rhizome has traditionally been used as an anti-inflammatory agent, and quite a few Asian countries grow it. Attention of science turned towards its health benefits due to an ingredient known as "Curcumin" that the rustic, cheerful-looking rhizome holds within it. This attention is borne out by a recent spate in medical literature of research papers that present the outcomes of their experiments with this chemical. And if the essence of all these outcomes were to be summarized in one line, it is this: "Include Turmeric In Your Daily Diet". In the background of the dilemma of increasing antibiotic resistance, adverse side-effects, and high cost of medicines, these latest findings hold great promise and therefore worth putting on record.

Turmeric Powder, wiki

Take for instance, the impact of curcumin on cancer cells, discussed in this paper (published in the Feb 2009 issue of the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry). Curcumin has been found to inhibit the invasion of cancer cells (HT1080 human fibro-sarcoma) and renders them impotent. A modified version of curcumin molecules has been identified that appears to be especially promising. Look forward to pills made from the modified version being prescribed by doctors in the near future. Till that time comes, you could consider including the herb in your diet if cancer is a condition that bothers you.

turmeric herb, courtesy

Another interesting research has been reported in the January 2009 issue of the Journal of Ethno-pharmacology. The experiment discussed here concluded that curcumin cures atrophic gastritis and duodenal ulcer or gastric ulcer, both of which can potentially lead to gastric cancer (the team found that another herb, botanically known as Mallotus philippinensis (Lam) Muell and "kampillaka" in local lingo, has been found to be even more effective). The subjects chosen by the research team who underwent the experiment must have gone home very happy!

turmeric powder and herb, courtesy

And here is some good news for those with hypothyroidism. Are you resigned to a daily intake of thyroxine for the rest of your life? You can ameliorate your condition by a combination of vitamin E and circumin, is what scientists from an Indian university have concluded (yet-to-be-published in the Journal of Life Sciences, available online here). The same paper also highlights the therapeutic effects of the two ingredients on liver-based conditions.

Turmeric plant, courtesy

One more paper worth mentioning here on the impact of the humble turmeric on health is published in the Jan-Feb 2009 issue of the Journal of Diabetes. The researchers report that a combination of bitter gourd and spent turmeric dramatically improves glycoconjugate metabolism (technicalese for diabetes-control). This time, the turmeric version used is the one from which curcumin has been removed (that is why they call it "spent" turmeric), so only the dietary fibers remain.

turmeric plant, courtesy

I could go on and on; there are over 2,300 papers on this subject right now in ScienceDirect. The key message to take back is: to include turmeric in your diet. Doesn't have any side-effects, but will help you reduce your medical bills! And full disclosure, for the jadedly cynical: this blogger does not have any vested interest in any company promoting turmeric-based products!
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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Do You Get Distracted Easily? Does Your Mind Wander Too Often?

Lobes of the brain, wiki

Here's One Technique That Can Help You Concentrate Better

Does your mind wander so much that you are unable to concentrate on the task at the hand? Does it take you more time than is necessary to complete a given assignment? Does your mind wander to events and happenings and who-said-what-to-whom, while it should be focusing on the words on the screen or in the textbook? Does the noise of the mason or the carpenter working in the background distract you so much that either you get up and go away, or you decide to postpone your own particular work till silence returns?

image by jando,

Increasing the mind's focus, like a lens, is a desirable trait, and one that yields rich dividends in just about any human activity. When the rays converge to a sharp point, they develop the power to burn whatever it is they are converging on. However, we all know that we fall short in "converging the rays" to a point, and that something happens to the "lens" and it grows defocused with time and age. And no one amongst us is growing any younger, are we?

image by cierpki,

There are very good techniques to keep the lens sharpened, and also increase its focusing power. There are some links in the right panels on this page, where this article is being posted, which offer products that help you in the sharpening. The impact of one particular technique on the lens-sharpening process that I would like to highlight was measured by a team of researchers from the Medical School of the University of California and the Scripps Research Institute, California, as part of an experiment on a group of 16 people of ages ranging from 24 to 56. The criterion for being selected to be part of this study was that the individual had to have imbibed this technique in their daily regimen for a certain period of time. (The research paper has been published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, the volume is still in press as of writing this article, and here is the link to the online piece:

image by lusi,

What the researchers found out was that the EEG graph of these people consistently showed a greater resistance of the brain to not be distracted by any ambient noise around them. So trained the brains of these people have become that, no matter what, the lens stays focused, the rays continue to converge on one sharp point, and whatever-it-is-that-they-are-converging-on continues to burn with the same intensity.

image by craigpj,

So what was the particular technique followed by these men and women? These people are meditators; they have been meditating for an average of 20 years, and the criterion for selecting them for the experiment was that they have been doing so for at least one-half hour or more each day.

image by erwinbacik,

Meditation involves maintaining a state of mental awareness about all that is happening in the body and the mind, but without reacting to any of the sensations taking place and thoughts passing through.

image by pmartike,

Meditators with years of practice can fob off feelings of drowsiness in conditions when there are no external sensory stimulations; so if it is a job involving keeping watch over prisoners, or peering closely at monotonous signals coming from some distant spaceship - you wouldn't find yourself dozing off, or wishing you had a better job or were doing something else. The brain develops such strength that when there are distracting noises in the background, a person who has meditation practice can actually shut them out to a great extent, if not absolutely completely.

image by taluda,

Just like bench press and the dumb bells are exercise for the body, meditation is an exercise for the brain. Getting it to focus on the task on hand is not the only benefit that accrues from this technique. Continuous meditation practice arrests the aging of the brain, and there are encouraging reports of meditation halting the spread of HIV virus in the body. With daily practice, you can bring into control disorders of psychosomatic nature. Meditation has also been found to be effective in keeping in check the irritating tinnitus. (In fact, if you are interested, you can surf to the blog here:, for a host of articles and useful information on the subject.) Strange, isn't it, that here we are, spending money on costly medicines and expensive treatments that are not only painful but also have negative side-effects, and here is such a simple, cost-free technique of simply sitting idle for about half-an-hour every day (at least half-an-hour every day) that achieves the same if not better results.

image by tung072,

So if you are a student and very keen to score well in exams, you know now what to incorporate in your daily regimen. Once you get the brain to shield itself against any noises, your concentration on your studies will see you cover more chapters than what other non-meditator students can manage to cover; your grip over your brain will see you tackle problems - be they academic, managerial, or any other problem in life for that matter - more sharply than was possible otherwise.

image by code1name,
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Thursday, January 01, 2009

How You Connect With Others - Defines Your Success

image by cobrasoft,

Networking With Fellow Human Beings Has Its Benefits

Great friendships have been forged at the water cooler; enduring romances have blossomed at the coffee machine. Whatever the attitude of bosses towards people who hang out at these two great social intersection points in the workplace, they have a great impact on one's sense of wellbeing. Which in turn has a direct impact on work-performance. Bosses do need to think twice before the muscles of their face begin to perk up for the frown at the sight of Joe here or Alice there chit-chatting.

image by omdur,

The age-old adage - "It is not what you know, it is who you know that matters" is indeed true. People with half-baked or no-knowledge have deployed this adage to take the elevator to the top floor of success; while those who are short of this basic insight find themselves huffing and puffing and panting up the staircase. And this has got nothing to do with knowing the person who operates the elevator or holds the elevator keys! Though, interestingly symbolically, it does.

image by vierdrie,

The importance of connecting with others in an organizational or social setting cannot but be emphasized. Besides the obvious warmth of bonding with like-minded fellow human beings, we all know that connecting with others opens doors and opportunities for us for advancements in all spheres of life. There is indeed a positive correlation between the social networks you create and your job performance, your career success, and your overall outlook on life.

image by erwinbacik,

Does this mean that you have to be an extrovert to build your connections? Surprisingly, statistics says no. A survey conducted by researchers from the Institute of Work Psychology, University of Sheffield (here is the paper: showed that dense and good-quality social networks are created also by people who do not have any dramatic extraversion traits. Although, to the credit of extroverts, possessing an outgoing personality does make a difference. There is a greater energy and enthusiasm in their interactions, they generate excitement about whatever they are doing, and therefore do generally manage to pull networks towards them.

image by barunpatro,

More than extraversion, you require some rugged emotional maturity to build and sustain connections. If you can take in your stride the possibility of your initiative to strike a conversation being rejected by the other party, plus if you are malleable enough to make social adjustments as the circumstances dictate, then at the end of the day you will have some very sound connections with people around you.

image by fotocromo,

Ambition plays a big role, of course. If you are proactive, your inner drives will propel you to develop social networks that increase your influence. Gradually, you maneuver yourself in a position such that authority begins to flow 'through' you, and your words and actions begin to have an impact on the rest of the hoi-polloi. It becomes okay, then, if your performance is occasionally below the average - your networking savvy covers it up for you, if only for some time.

image by lusi,

Are you a maven? Are you considered an expert in your particular area of knowledge? Are you somebody whose advice has value in the eyes of the others? Then blessed you are, for you get to build a social network with very little additional effort - your brain does that for you automatically. Of course, you have to be affable, approachable, and be of warm disposition that radiates outward when people approach you. Without these additional traits, you will be looked upon as grouchy and touchy and people will generally tiptoe past you for fear of the fuse blowing off.

image by d-squared,

It is natural that an organization with large number of personnel placed in a multi-layered hierarchical structure will have several groups and networks that are often closed - so you will have groups of secretaries and of junior managers, teams of programmers and data entry operators within departments, and these groups in turn form loose networks at the same hierarchy spanning the entire organization. Star networkers, known as "connectors" in social science - are those that have connections across all or most of these networks, and are the true movers and shakers. Because of the time they spend networking (read gossiping); it is sometimes a surprise that they are productive at all in the organization, although I have known people who juggle expectations-of-work from them with their social-connectivity without a crease on the forehead.

image by hotblack,

An interesting outcome of the survey was that people in management or team leadership roles do not have a propensity to make "friendships" the way it is commonly defined. Yet, they have a great social network which is built on acquaintances, so they are on "hi, hello" and nodding-the-head-as-you-pass-by-in-the-corridor terms with most of the crowd. They make it a point that, at the least, you know them and they know you - there is the element of familiarity. Which is usually enough for them to get their work done.

image by shrubby,

And managers use social networks to their maximum advantage. If there is any bit of news to be let loose in the organization but without making it formal and official, just whisper it in the ears of certain individuals, and lo and behold! Faster than the speed of light, the entire organization gets to know about it. Depending on its importance, even the canteen contractor and the transporter and all the sundry suppliers and clients will get wind. Are you in line for promotion? Keep your ears to the ground. Somebody, somehow will tell you before the supervisor formally does. That is the importance of having the right connections. Up until now, therefore, if you have always looked down upon the water cooler connections or the coffee machine encounters as waste of time - yes, believe it or not, such people exist! -, it may be time to change your attitudes toward them!

image by asifthebes,

[Talking of our attitude towards relationships, how good are our online relationships? How secure and comfortable do we feel about opening up to unknown strangers? Here is one article that dwells on this thought: "Don't Cry, Shopgirl".]
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