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Issue 04/November-December 2013







03 THE BLISSFUL BRAIN: NEUROSCIENCE AND THE PROOF OF THE POWER OF MEDITATION 07 Exploring mystical experiences elicited by meditation 12 Investigating the effect of meditation on measurable health outcomes

20 THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES 24 Universal Melody 26 The Romantic Dance between the Sun and the Earth 27 What do Jupiter or Neptune Sound Like? 28 Eternal Echoes 30 MONEY REDUCES TRUST IN SMALL GROUPS INTERVIEW WITH GABRIELE CAMERA 34 What does money do today? 35 The cooperation is supportable in small groups





How was Halloween? I hope it was creepy! Here at ISPECTRUM MAGAZINE we made it through the tricks and treats and survived the ghosts, witches and zombies so we can offer a new edition. This issue number #4 is full of featured contents. The neuroscientist Shanida Nataraja, author of The Blissful Brain, has proven that meditation has real benefits for brain functioning. She explains to us what effects’ meditating has on blood pressure and depression, through the latest insights of brain imaging studies. Paco Gonzalez, Editor in Chief of Año/ Cero Magazine and author of hundreds of articles mainly related with history and archeology, shares with us the amazing music of the spheres. He guides us through the cosmos and introduces us to the sounds of the planets, stars and satellites, as NASA has proved that Pythagoras was right in his intuitions. Don’t miss our interview with Dr. Gabriel Camera, from Chapman University, who conducts research in the field of Economy, and has observed that money reduces trust drastically in small groups You will also enjoy reading our expert in psychology, Rob Hutchinson, who in this issue, ponders if there is a psychological explanation for near death experiences (NDE). Thank you very much for reading. Feel free to share your comments and opinions with us!

Mado Martinez
Editorial Director

Ispectrum magazine

Editorial Director Mado Martinez Art Director Rayna Petrova Copy Editing and Proofreading Matt Loveday John Sims Victoria Klein Contributing Writers Rob Hutchinson Dr Shanida Nataraja Paco González Images,,, NASA image library WWW.ISPECTRUMMAGAZINE.COM
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he human brain is a mindboggling feat of neural engineering; a biosupercomputer. Over the last couple of decades, as the experimental tools at our disposal have become more complex and more successful at probing the inner workings of the brain, we have been able to define the brain’s involvement in everyday tasks, such as object recognition, the expression of consciousness through language, and even sexual 4

attraction. However, the less tangible aspects of what it means to be human have largely resisted our scientific scrutiny. Not only are we are still trying to define the neural basis of human characteristics, such as creativity and inspiration, but we are also still far from understanding the exact nature of the relationship between the brain and consciousness. Mystical or religious experiences have historically been seen to

lie within the domain of Religion, or spirituality, and scientists have shied away from trying to explain why and how they occur and, in many cases, have challenged their validity. However, groundbreaking research around the turn of the century revealed the brain’s involvement in mystical experiences, and this has prompted a growing interest in investigating these phenomena in the confines of the laboratory.


Mystical experiences can be defined as short-lived experiences associated with a different mode of thinking and perceiving from that of our everyday existence. Because of this, mystical experiences defy explanation in terms that can be understood by individuals who have not themselves had an experience. However, generally speaking, they are associated with a sense of optimism and unboundedness. The isolated ego, “I”, is perceived to be both restricting 5

and a fabrication of our minds, and this insight brings about an expansion of awareness in which the individual loses the sense of time and space, and the boundary between self and non-self. Although mystical experiences can occur spontaneously, particularly during and after a life crisis, regular meditation, as practised within countless different disciplines, can also increase the frequency with which these experiences occur.

Mystical experiences were first found to correlate with specific patterns of brain activity through the study of patients with temporal lobe epilepsy. The researcher Vilayanur Ramachandran and his colleagues investigated brain activity in these patients, and found that many experienced bursts of activity in their temporal lobe, referred to as microseizures. Patients who frequently reported mystical experiences, or who were known to express religious fanaticism, were more likely to have these microseizures than those that did not [1].

Although some subjects failed to have an experience when wearing the helmet – most notably Richard Dawkins, the self-proclaimed atheist – these observations suggest that the large majority of subjects tested had the innate neural wiring necessary for them to have a mystical experience. This led Persinger to suggest that an individual’s propensity to have mystical experiences depends on the lability of their temporal lobe (i.e. how prone it is to change). Individuals with a high lability were seen to be more likely to have microseizures, and

Taking this research one step further, Michael Persinger designed a device that would become popularly known as the “God machine”. This simple device – a series of small electromagnets attached to a motorcycle helmet – delivers a weak electromagnetic field that can be used to selectively activate distinct regions of the brain. Persinger reported that stimulation of the temporal lobe elicited a mystical experience in about 80% of subjects; stimulation of the right temporal lobe tended to elicit more pleasurable experiences than stimulation of the left temporal lobe. 6

Dr. Persinger

therefore more likely to have mystical experiences. Persinger’s early results have been confirmed in a more recent analysis of more than 400 additional subjects [2].

For some, this research provided the proof that mystical experiences, and even the experience of God, were the result of aberrant neural circuitry, an artefact of brain function. However, this view is flawed. Our brains are designed to receive information about our experiences, whether that be the experience of biting into an apple or a mystical experience. Hypothetically, if we were capable of experimentally stimulating the specific areas of the brain involved in the perception of an apple, the subject would likely report that they had experienced

an apple. The perceived apple would not be real; it would be, quite rightly, an artefact of brain function. Does the replication of the neural impression of an apple in the laboratory call into question whether apples actually exist in our world? Similarly, the observation that mystical experiences can be artificially evoked merely reveals that the neural circuitry of the human brain has evolved to allow it to process the full range of experiences, including mystical experiences. Like a radio receives and transmits music, our brain receives information about all of our experiences, includ7

ing mystical experiences, and, in doing so, gives rise to our conscious awareness of these experiences.

This research therefore merely suggests that most of us possess the innate neural circuitry, or hard-wiring, allowing us to perceive and make sense of mystical experiences when they occur.

The investigation of artificially evoked brain events is clearly far from ideal. This fact led the researchers Andrew Newberg and Eugene d’Aquili to attempt to study mystical experiences elicited by meditation in the laboratory. Experienced Buddhist dent or peak moment of meditation – they were asked to pull on a string. Radioactive tracer was then injected into the meditator, through an in-dwelling catheter, and the binding of this tracer in the brain visualised using SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography). Active regions of the brain have a greater blood supply and can therefore be expected to bind more of the radioactive tracer. In this manner, information about the activity in the meditator’s brain at this transcendent moment was captured and visualised. and d’Aquili demonstrated that meditation triggered two important changes in brain activity. Firstly, there is an increase in activity in the frontal cortex, in the area of the brain known to be involved in sustained attention – referred to as the attention association cortex. Increased activity in this association cortex leads to decreased activity in the surrounding regions of the brain that are responsible for complex cognitive processing. This is the consequence of innate circuitry that filters out redundant information in order to maintain sustained attention in the face of continual distractions. The more attention is held on a single focus, the easier it becomes to sustain that attention. The

meditators were asked to meditate and, when they felt they were accessing an altered or mystical state of awareness From these pivotal – sometimes referred to as the transcen- experiments, Newberg 8

Newberg and d’Aquili demonkey feature of this strated that meditation triggered first step is a shift two important changes in brain in brain activity activity from the left to the right hemisphere, as attention is predominately a right-hemisphere results function. The implications of this confirm that are discussed below. Secondly, the sustained attention elicits defined increase in activity in the frontal changes in the activity of the froncortex drives a decrease in activity tal cortex that trigger the unfolding in the parietal cortex. This houses of the meditative experience. Many two important association cortices; meditators also report a dissolvthe orientation association cortex ing of the boundary between self and the verbal-conceptual cortex. and non-self and an expansion of The former gives rise to our sense awareness that brings a sense of of orientation in space and time, unboundedness and transcendence. and contains the neural circuitry This so-called mystical experience that defines the boundary between can also be understood in terms of self and non-self, whereas the latter changes in brain activity, with mediconfers the ability to relay our expetation switching off the circuitry in rience in words. A decrease in activthe parietal lobe involved in genity in the parietal cortex therefore erating our perception of time and leads to a decreased awareness of space, and our position within it, as space and time, as well as an inabilwell as the self/non-self boundary. ity to describe the experience using Furthermore, the indescribability of language [3]. mystical experiences can also be explained by the reduced activity in the parietal lobe, as this part of the The findings of this research therefore brain also houses the neural circuitmirror our current subjective underry that confers the ability to express standing of the mystical experiencour experiences in language. es elicited by meditation. Sustained attention is pivotal to all types of meditation, and these experimental


In the discussion above, we saw that meditation, through sustained attention, elicits a switch between left and righthemisphere activity. This switch is a crucial component of the process leading to the mystical state of awareness often experienced as a result of meditation. In order to understand the implications of this, it is important to first examine the functions of the two hemispheres. Our understanding of the different roles of the two hemispheres largely stems from split-brain surgeries performed in the 1960s in patients suffering from particularly severe epilepsy. By severing the connections between the two hemispheres, the two sides of the brain can be essentially isolated from each other. Following one of these surgeries, a split-brain patient was blindfolded and given a toothbrush to hold in their left hand. As the right hemisphere controls the left-hand side of the body, the toothbrush was sensed by the right hemisphere. The patient was there10

fore able to mime what a toothbrush would be used for (i.e. they understood the toothbrush’s purpose); however, they were unable to name the object. Both the term “toothbrush” and the ability to vocalise this term lie within the left hemisphere. Observations in these split-brain patients prompted the neuroscientists, Jerre Levy and the now Nobel prize winning Roger Sperry, to suggest that the two hemispheres have inbuilt, qualitatively different, and mutually antagonist modes of cognitive processing [4].

The left hemisphere houses the neural circuitry that mediates verbal and written language, as well as being home to many of the cognitive processors that give rise to the intellectual functioning of the human mind (i.e. our ego). Accordingly, the left hemisphere is often considered to be the dominant hemisphere, and many of us spend much of our exis-

perception of ourselves and the world. Experiences that fit our world view and “boost our ego” are captured, whereas those that challenge our world view and “undermine our ego” are ignored. The right hemisphere, on the other hand, captures the whole experience and therefore, during meditation, when the practitioner has access to the right hemisphere, often long-forgotten memories can surface in full Technicolor or solutions to unsolved problems or dilemmas can emerge. Meditation therefore provides the practitioner with a method through which to switch between the two modes of thinking and perceiving conferred by the two hemispheres. We have seen that the expansion of awareness often reported during mystical experiences elicited by meditation can be partially explained by decreased activity in the neural circuitry conferring our sense of orientation in space–time, as well as our self/non-self boundary. This expansion of awareness can also, however, be partially explained by the fact that meditation triggers a shift from left-hemisphere activity to right-hemisphere activity, and thus a shift towards a more holistic, abstract mode of cognitive processing that reveals the interrelatedness

tence cultivating and using the leftbrain mode of cognitive processing. During meditation, the practitioner accesses the functioning of the right hemisphere, and therefore can gain insight from the rightbrained mode of cognitive processing. Experiments suggest that the right hemisphere captures a much more truthful representation of an experience. Our left hemisphere has a tendency to filter our experiences so that they fit into our established 11

of all things, as well as the restrictions of the ego-centred mode of cognitive processing.

In the late 1970s, Maxwell Cade, a prominent psychophysiologist, proposed that there were five different levels of consciousness (dreaming sleep; hypnogogic/hypnopompic [i.e. between waking and dreaming]; everyday waking; meditative; and lucid awareness), and that these different levels of consciousness correlate with specific patterns of electrical brain activity. During meditation – considered by Cade to elicit a higher level of consciousness than the normal, waking consciousness (equated to the aforementioned ‘mystical’ or ‘meditative’ state of awareness) there is a prominence of alpha brain waves, associated with relaxed wakefulness, and theta brain waves, associated with the creative subconscious mind.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, there is also a decrease in the beta brain waves that are associated with active thought. The highest level of consciousness – referred to as lucid 12

awareness or the “awakened mind” state – involves comparable levels of alpha and theta brain waves to the meditative level of consciousness, but also includes beta brain waves, indicating a return of higher cognitive functions. Unlike the beta brain waves seen during the everyday waking level of consciousness, which occur predominantly in the left hemisphere, the beta brain waves seen in the “awakened mind” level of consciousness are balanced across the two hemisphere. Optimal brain functioning, and indeed higher states of consciousness, are thus seen to stem from balanced left and right-hemisphere cognitive functioning [5].

In our left-hemisphere dominated society, in which achieving and succeeding are valued over being, meditation offers us a method of switching into the right-hemisphere mode of thinking, thereby re-addressing this imbalance. Meditation also elicits brain wave changes associated with higher states of consciousness than our everyday, waking state, and therefore provides the key to unlocking the innate potential of our brains. By observing the changes in brain activ-

ity underlying some of the main features of mystical experiences elicited through meditation, we have therefore not only gained a better understanding of the involvement of the brain in conveying mystical experiences and eliciting mystical states of awareness, but we have also gained a more complete picture of the role that meditation plays in eliciting these changes in brain activity, and indeed, the role it plays in optimising the performance of our brains.

The growing body of evidence supporting the role of meditation in triggering mystical experiences or mystical states of awareness, together with the evolving view of meditation as a potential method of optimising brain performance, have prompted researchers to explore the effects of meditation on the 13 health and well-being of the practitioner. This research reveals that meditation may play an important role in modern healthcare.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a technique developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn for use in patients, including those with chronic pain, depression, cancer, heart disease and anxiety. Based on the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, but essentially independent of any esoteric tradition,

MBSR trains the practitioner to become more aware of their momentto-moment thoughts. Rather than modifying these thoughts, practitioners are taught to modify their attitude to these thoughts. MSBR also involves the practice of seated meditation, together with a body-scan relaxation technique and some yoga postures. A number of studies have shown that MBSR has a measurable impact on the well-being of patients suffering from chronic pain. In one of these studies, conducted by Kabat-Zinn, more than 65% of patient who had failed more conventional methods of pain management responded to a 10-week programme of MBSR. Patients not only reported an improvement in their level of pain, but also an improvement in the mood disturbances 14

precipitated by chronic pain [6]. Furthermore, in cancer patients, particularly those with hormone-dependent cancers such as breast and prostate cancer, MBSR can lead to significant improvements in quality of life. In a study conducted by Michael Speca and colleagues, MBSR was shown to elicit a 65% improvement in mood and a 35% improvement in symptoms of stress [7]. In a recent meta-analysis of studies of MBSR, Paul Grossman and colleagues concluded that MBSR was an effective stress-reduction method that was associated with clear benefits in terms of both overall health and the ability of patients to cope with their illness. The size of the effect seen is dependent on both the frequency and duration of practise [8].

Meditation’s impact on stress underlies many of its proven physical health benefits. In some patients, regular meditation is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as decreases in blood pressure, both of which are likely to result from better stress management. Regular meditation also confers psychological benefits, such as reducing anxiety and depression, improving coping mechanisms (both with disease and chronic pain), and addressing addictive behavior , all of which are again, at least in part, manifestations of stress. In a world in which the levels of stress appear to be continually escalating, meditation appears to offer a therapeutic antidote that can, at least to a certain degree, lessen the impact of stress

and stress-related disease on both the individual and our healthcare systems.

meditation with scepticism. This is largely the result of the failure of meditation to demonstrate statistically significant Despite the growing results in large-scale body of evidence sup- meta-analyses. porting the effect of In 2007, the authors of a meditation on measur- technology assessment able health outcomes, based on research conorthodox medicine still ducted by the University largely approaches of Alberta Evidence-


based Practice Center (EPC) under contract to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) stated that “firm conclusions on the effects of meditation practices in healthcare cannot be drawn based on the available evidence”. As acknowledged by the authors, this negative finding results from the low quality of the included studies and the diversity of types of meditation studied, methodology used and

enrolled patient populations [9].

This example highlights a number of important issues. Firstly, there is a clear need to standardise the methodology used when studying meditation and to, wherever possible, conduct randomised controlled trials. Furthermore, researchers studying meditation should strive to adhere to the CONSORT guide16

lines for trial reporting to ensure that their data are viewed in the most favourable light. Secondly, it remains questionable whether studies of meditation should be forced to meet the rigorous standards devised for clinical trials of investigational drugs. Meditation is not a substitute for conventional treatment approaches; it is an alternative therapy that can, in some patients, provide added benefit. Whereas failure of an antihypertensive could lead to considerable patient morbidity and mortality, failure of meditation to improve a patient’s clinical situation has few drawbacks.

The value of meditation as a healthcare intervention is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that, at an increasing number of medical

institutions in the US and Europe, struggling to cope with the evertraining courses in meditaexpanding pool of patients, tion are being offered this trend suggests that to a diverse range meditation can play of patients. More a key role in effecthan 16,000 tive patient manpatients have agement, and training courses in undergone may well offer meditation are being MBSR traina much-needed offered to a diverse ing at the solution to the range of patients Massachusetts growing healthMedical School, care crisis in the Center for West. Mindfulness, since it was founded in 1995, and the feedback from healthcare professionals and patients involved is overwhelmingly positive. Furthermore, DEFINING A ROLE FOR at the MD Anderson Cancer Center MEDITATION IN OUR in Houston, Texas, patients are now routinely offered a variety of supMODERN, EVERYDAY LIVES port programmes, including courses in meditation, to help them to better deal with their illness and In the clinical setting, meditaits consequences. In the UK, the tion can undoubtedly alleviate some Centre for Mindfulness Research of the burden currently placed on and Practice at Bangor University our healthcare systems, as well as offers training courses in mindful- empowering the individual patient ness to both healthcare profession- to play a pivotal role in the manageals and patients, and strives to pro- ment of their condition. Meditation’s mote the use of mindfulness in the adoption into mainstream society, clinical setting within the National however, requires another subHealth Service (NHS). In a climate stantial shift in thinking. Our fastin which our healthcare systems are paced, adrenaline-filled lives draw 17

and their motivation to instigate lifestyle changes that promote good health and well-being.

our attention away from our health and well-being, and often promote unhealthy lifestyles. Western medicine is largely responsive rather than preventive; by the time most individuals seek medical help, they have established disease requiring active intervention. There are obvious benefits of diagnosing disease in its early stages, or even preventing it before it can develop. The achievement of this, however, depends on both the individual’s awareness of their state of health and well-being 18

Meditation offers a potential strategy through which an individual can cultivate and maintain a state of good health and well-being. Longterm stress can have damaging effects on the body long before these effects are manifest as poor health or disease. Not only does meditation reduce stress, but it may also prevent or delay the onset of stressrelated diseases, as well as reducing risk prone behaviour triggered by stress, such as smoking and the use of recreational drugs. Furthermore,

there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence suggesting that meditation can be associated with the following subjective benefits: a boost in energy levels and a decreased need for sleep; an increase in productivity and creativity; increased self-acceptance, which often translates into an increased acceptance of other people and thus improved interpersonal relationships; a greater ability to express emotions; fewer bouts of irritability and impatience, or emotional or behavioural outbursts; an improved and expanded sense of identity; and a greater

understanding of which situations, individuals and behaviour are constructive and which are destructive. This evidence provides a strong rationale for the inclusion of meditation in our everyday lives. In addition to conferring health benefits, the insights gained for our investigations into the effects of meditation on the brain reveal that meditation is also an important tool that allows us to access higher levels of consciousness. These higher levels of consciousness are associated with optimised brain functioning, and their attainment is 19

conducive to personal growth. Through meditation, it is possible to harness the innate power of both our left and right hemispheres, and reap the benefits afforded by using the complementary modes of cognitive processing offered by them. Meditation, and the mystical states associated with meditation, appear to be part and parcel of what it means to be human, and regular practice promises to allow us to fulfil more of our potential, both as individuals and a society as a whole. Dr Shanida Nataraja is the author of The Blissful Brain: Proof of the Power of Meditation (Gaia, £7.99). For more information, please see:

Dr Shanida Nataraja has a BSc (First Class Hons) in Human Science and Neuroscience and a PhD in Neurophysiology, both from University College London. Her research thesis focused on learning and memory and she continued researching in this field, holding a post-doctoral research position at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. After five-years in research, Shanida abandoned the isolation of the laboratory for the relative comforts of a career in medical communications. Shanida is currently Scientific Director at a medical

education agency producing materials in the field of neurology, cardiology, oncology, psychiatry and women’s health. Shanida has many years of experience in both Christian mantra meditation and Buddhist mindfulness meditation, and has received basic instruction in a variety of other contemplative practices, including Tai Chi, Chi Gung and Iyengar yoga.

References: [1] Ramachandran VS, Blakeslee S. Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. Harper Perennial, 1999; Chapter 9. [2] St-Pierre LS, Persinger MA. Experimental facilitation of the sensed presence is predicted by the specific patterns of the applied magnetic fields, not by suggestibility: re-analyses of 19 experiments. Int J Neurosci 2006; 116(9): 1079-96. [3] D’Aquili, E, Newberg, AB. The Mystical Mind: probing the biology of religious experience, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1999. [4] Sperry RW. Hemispheric specialization of mental faculties in the brain of Man. Advances in Altered States of Consciousness & Human Potentialities, Volume 1. A Psychological Dimensions, Inc. (PDI) Research Reference Work. Barber TX (Ed). PDI, 1976. [5] Cade, M, Coxhead, N. The Awakened Mind: biofeedback and the development of higher states of awareness, Delacorte Press/Eleanor Friede, 1979.

[6] Kabat-Zinn, J. An outpatient program in behavioural medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: theoretical considerations and preliminary results, General Hospital Psychiatry, 1982: 4(1):33–47. [7] Speca, M, Carlson, LE, Goodey, E, Angen, M. A randomized, wait-list controlled clinical trial: the effect of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer outpatients. Psychosomatic Medicine, 2000: 62(5):613–22. [8] Grossman, P, Niemann, L, Schmidt, S, Walach, H. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: a meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 2004; 57(1):35–43. [9] University of Alberta Evidence-based Practice Center/Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment Number 155: Meditation Practices for Health: State of the Research. AHRQ Publication No. 07-E010, June 2007.





In 2004, a NASA satellite discovered that the interaction between the Sun’s solar winds and the atmosphere of its dependable planets’ produces harmonic vibrations which, in turn, create incredible sounds. Does this mean Pythagoras was right?

Scientist involved with the NASA satellite remarked that our Sun behaves like a musical instrument. NASA’s evidence suggests that the Sun is expelling harmonic vibrations caused by oscillations on its surface, acting in the same manner as an internal membrane of a speaker.



By contrast however, some quite stunning NASA images from 2009 show an impressive nebula, the form of which looks like a Butterfly. The picture was taken by the Hubble Telescope and today has become one of the most beautiful visual examples of our living Universe. The Cosmos is alive. Both sounds and images offer us an insight into a harmonic, moving cosmos image. Our most advanced, 21st Century technology, it would seem, is now beginning to confirm the ancestral legacy that was first mooted and stoically defended and explained by Pythagoras, Kepler, Kircher and many others, hundreds of years ago.

From where did Pythagoras gain this knowledge? Was there another before him that passed the information on? Or did he ordain this information all on his own? Indeed, if he did learn of the phenomena by himself, how was he able to grasp something that we today have only discovered through the means of precise technology in the early 21st Century?

One of the most mysterious voices in world history, Pythagoras is understood to be the first name that records knowledge of the music of the spheres. We do not have any original manuscripts by him though, and very little is known about his life. 22

Pythagoras Perhaps the answer lies with the contemporary writers of the time; their disciples and the neo-Platonists. Maybe their area of knowledge and expertise was closer to

Pythagoras’s own than we ever have been – not only in the chronological sense but in a literal sense. Our new findings mean things we have always thought to be invented fantasies and myths could be revisited through new eyes. Why? Because Pythagoras was often regarded as a God by

his peers. Some of them wrote that even Apollo could have been his Father, a view derived from a consensus that Pythagoras literally ‘gleamed’ with a supernatural glow. A brightness. Some scholars even purport that he had a golden thigh. An extraterrestrial prosthesis perhaps?

It was said also, that Arabis once visited him aboard ‘a golden arrow’. An extraterrestrial visit? Almost certainly the strangest occurrence(s) supporting the theory is that Pythagoras was continually reported to be seen in numerous different places at the same time. This is known in paranormal


It would not be the first case in history of a being seemingly beyond that of mere mortals. Jesus Christ, of course, was born of a Human but possessed inner abilities far beyond that of man. But again, it is believed that he – like Pythagoras – studied under different ‘Masters’, if we refer to the Apocryphal Gospels. It is believed that many of the potential learning’s received by these anomalies descend from ancient Egypt. A place that could hold an indecipherable link between the two beings, and is it any coincidence then, that Egypt is the cradle of one of the most signifi24 cant and ancient civilisations of world history? The secrets that lie in the origin and construction of the colossal Pyramids are even now a suggestive trace of an unveiled mystery. How did the ancient Egyptians manage to build such perfect monuments with presumably no technology whatsoever? The question has been discussed at length, but there is no definitive answer. However one of the most popular beliefs is that the Pyramids were built with the aid of extraterrestrials. How else could they achieve something that is so far beyond the reaches of modern man? That is, of course, if they really did build them.

terms as bilocation or multilocation. Was Pythagoras an alien? And if he was – presumably a being endowed with precious wisdom and knowledge – why did he travel to so many different locations in order to study under different ‘Masters’?

Pythagoras was perceptive enough to study the musical sounds and their relationship with Mathematics. He maintained that the orbit of the ‘heavenly bodies’ – a term given to all matter of Space: Planets; Stars; Asteroids etc - and their accompanying sounds were in harmony with each other. The result was a beautiful, perpetual universal melody. Iamblichus wrote of Pythagoras in his book entitled ‘Protepticus’: ‘He used a divine, ineffable and undecipherable power. That is how he could concentrate and listen to the sublime symphony of the spheres. He was able to understand the universal harmony and the concert of the spheres and the Heavenly bodies’. So it seems that Iamblichus attributed to Pythagoras a special power – a divine power – one that was indicipherable. He is held as someone with skills far beyond our own. 25

Plato described in ‘Timeus’ how the Demiurgus forged the world dividing the main ‘substance’ in harmonic intervals. His conclusion, through Epinomis’s voice, was that ‘the heavenly bodies play the best of the songs’, and if we read a little further… ‘This harmony produces a music much more beautiful and intense than the worldly music’. Whether Pythagoras was the first to be aware of this Interstellar Orchestra or not, it would seem that the comparison between the Cosmos and a huge musical instrument has been assumed from the Middle Ages right through to the present day.


human body; Angels and the music itself. He thought that the Universe was a ‘monochord’ universe where the ten melodic ranges evoked by Pythagoras’s theorem translated the harmony of the creation. The ‘gene in hermetic philosophy’, Athansius Kircher, is well known for his famous maxim: ‘Heaven above, Heaven below; Stars above, Stars below; all that is above thus below’. He wrote an illustrated book titled ‘Musurgia Universalis’ where he explained music as a reflection of mathematics and the essential proportions of creation. If we look back we find many more traces, many famous names, and many sages who recalled the ancient legacy of Pythagoras, such as Plinius; Boecius; Ptolomeus; Newton; Pico Della Mirandola; Jean Phillipe Rameau etc… It seems that today – centuries after these philosophers, our contemporary Science is finally converging with these fascinating theories.

Kepler was a famous Mathematician and Astronomer. He attributed a musical note to each planet and affirmed that the angular speeds of each heavenly body produced sounds. According to Kepler, the sounds would be of a higher pitch if the movements were faster. In his own words: ‘The Heavenly movement is a continuous song for several voices. These voices can only be perceived by intellect, not the hearing. This music leaves its trace in the flow of the time’. The British Alchemist Robert Fludd was very interested in the correspondence between the planets; the different parts of the 26

A satellite called ‘ Transition Region and Coronal Explorer’ (NASA) discovered that the Sun sounds and behaves like a musical instrument. This sophisticated and ultraviolet observatory studies the solar corona. The solar explosions generate Plasma rings or electrified gas that causes sound waves. These are propagated from arc to bombs, the solar exploarc: sions send the acoustic sounds through these ‘The sound is very simi- ‘arcs’ at dozens of kilolar to the one you obtain metres per second: while plucking the guitar’, said Robert von Jay- ‘We can now say that Siebenburgen – Head these are acoustic of the Solar Physics waves and these waves and Research Centre, are excited by exploin a statement for BBC sions at the foot points Television. Releasing of these loops’, said the the equivalent energy Mathematician Youra of millions of Hydrogen Taroyan of the University 27

of Sheffield in the UK, odies, since these ultrain an edition of New sounds are played out Scientist Magazine. in a 100 milihertz frequency every ten secOne of the most intrigu- onds. ing aspects of these solar sounds is that despite At NASA, a multidisciHuman Beings not being plinary team from the able to hear them (they ‘Ulysses’ mission has are of a frequency 300 discovered that these times lower than those pulses from our Solar we can hear); they pro- Star can be detected duce peculiar effects on in Submarine cables, our planet, causing it seismographs etc. More to vibrate in sympathy fascinating still are the with the frequencies. discoveries of the investigators David Thomson In this context, we can and Louis Lanzerotti propose that the Solar from the Hiscale proSystem is a cosmic cho- gram in the Ulysses rus with equilibrated and mission. They concludharmonic ed that different sounds melgenerated by the Sun not only reach our planet; but the earth also generates rigid movethe Sun sounds and ments in behaves like a musical response instrument to the ultrasounds, bringing on a kind of romantic cosmic 28

dance. These events however do not confine themselves to just our Star…

Professor Donald W Kurtz from the Astrophysics Centre at the University of Lancashire (UK) states: ‘All the Stars in our Galaxy produce harmonic vibrations producing a kind of celestial melody’. NASA has promoted some laboratory experiments in order to synthesize the sonic oscillations and they obtained surprising results. By accelerating the sounds three or eight times, you would be able to say

that you are hearing the waves of the ocean; such is the similarity, or the song of whales and dolphins. It depends of course on the intensity of each electromagnetic field as well as the grade of manipulation. And, of course, the imagination. We highly recommend our readers make a search on the internet so they can hear these amazing sounds. Donald A. Gurnett is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of IOWA (USA) and he is one of the pioneers in the classification of the sounds of the Universe. This scientist’s investigations have actually inspired musicians to introduce these peculiar signature sounds into their compositions.


Pythagoras may have been the first to become aware of the phenomenon. But who was the first to have the privilege of actually ‘listening’ to the music of the spheres? We have to travel back to the 1930’s, when the young physicist Karl Jansky, from Bell’s Laboratories, discovered that some radio waves generated static interferences that came from the centre of the Milky Way. With merely an old radio-receptor and an antenna assembled on his Ford T chassis, he was the first man able to audibly distinguish the music of the stars. 29


Ultimately, whatever the origin, we can see that this musical structure in the Cosmos is not limited to the ‘Pythagorean School’ of knowledge, nor does the knowledge of it end with Kepler. Whether through ancient wisdom or contemporary science, our models for explaining the nature of the Universe continue to overlap; very wide of a rigid or exclusive solution for the world. Karl Jansky

The Milky Way,NASA 30





abriele Camera, Fullbright Scholar, holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Iowa (USA) and is currently Research Profesor of Economics and Finance, in the Economic Science Institute at Chapman University in California. He

has held previous positions at Purdue University (USA), the University of Iowa (USA), and the University of Basel (Switzerland).


M.M. Are we more selfish when money is involved?

G.C. I want to get the words straight and correct you a little bit in terms of language. In economics, selfishness and altruism are very precise concepts, so I prefer not to use those types of words, though in com-

mon language you can use them. Basically individuals tend to be cooperative with others, that is, they tend to sustain personal costs to help others when money is not involved, and as soon as money gets

involved, this tendency to try to cooperate with others, over time, is greatly diminished. So if you want to call it selfishness you can think of it in that way it’s more self-interested.

M.M. It’s very interesting what you’re saying because in Spain (where I come from), people are suffering a very big economic recession at the moment, but at the same time there is much growth of solidarity. Do you think that can be related to your theory?

G.C. Definitely. The point here, and the precedence here, is that we did a laboratory experiment, so all you can get out of the data is some intuition for how behavior might be rep-

licated outside the lab so it gives us a point, a way to think about behaviors in society, but you’re right. So what we found in the experiment is that people were able successfully, to a certain 32

extent, but not fully to a certain extent they were successful, at dispelling social norms of mutual support, cooperation, as you say, or reciprocity, in a certain sense, when there was no way

to obtain high pay-offs otherwise, when there was nothing they could exchange for a favor, or for help. Whereas when we introduced this object that had no cash value, it had no reference to outside currencies, basically it was just a symbolic object, people started to be in a sense, and I use quotes around these

words ‘greedy’ in the sense and they would not help others unless they received compensation. That is they switched behavior from norms of mutual support to norms of exchange, in which I want to be compensated immediately for some benefit that I provide to you. So it is reasonable to believe that in situa-

tions in which jobs are lost, as is the current situation in Spain and in many other countries, unfortunately, when people do not have access to liquidity, to money to pay for the things they need, it is natural for groups of people to come together and rely on norms of mutual support.


M.M. I guess you have tried to compare this information with colleagues in other fields like psychology, sociology, etc. Why is money able to change the way we behave?

G.C. Well, so far we have some hypotheses that have to be tested, of course, in order to give at least an initial intuition, an initial answer, but it’s not proof from an experiment, it provides an intuition, and it has to be replicated many times to have some sort of more scientific validity, but the idea is this: consider the many differences among the individuals in a large group of people, individuals that do not know exactly each other’s behavior, they may not help each other, as it is in modern societies, large societies. In these types of societies, if you want to create norms of mutual support, you really have to rely quite a bit on the others, but if you help someone today, or if you’re given help, then someone else will help you in the future, so there is this give and take. that if there is someone who does not help, as everyone else does, the entire group has to punish these individuals. These types of punishment norms are very

Creating these norms requires that the groups of people that engage in such norms of mutual support are able to punish, or enforce, deviations from cooperation. The theory is 34

hard to enforce, and in particular there must be some sort of coordination at the group level. The larger the group, the harder it is to coordinate on this type of punishment scheme. So

the problem is not that people do not understand the benefits of cooperation, the problem is that people do not understand how to generate behaviors that eliminate opportunism, that’s the complicated part. How do I punish individuals? How do I make them responsible for what they have done? In a society of strangers this is complicated. It requires a lot of coordination at the civic level, in the group or society. What does money do today? Money bypasses all this because the punishment for not cooperating, so to speak, in a monetary exchange is that I don’t give you anything. You do not give me what I need; I do not give you money. So it simplifies tremendously the large degree of coordination that as social groups we have to undertake in order

to support these norms of mutual support. So that’s really the benefit of money, it bypasses all these problems of coordinating, of thinking about what you’ve done in the past, how to punish. It’s very simple: you give me nothing, I give you nothing. That’s why money works, and that’s why it can support these types of interactions. The negative effect, the one that you notice, is that once we decide to coordinate on this type of exchange – I’ll give you something only if you give me something

else – then it becomes problematic because as it happens these days in Spain, in Italy and in certain parts of the US for sure, when I have nothing to give you in exchange for what I need, then what do I do? Well, under the norms of monetary exchange I can give you nothing so I’m stuck. That’s really the bad component of this arrangement. It is simple and it is intuitive, quid pro quo as the Latins would put it, but it has this negative component that it displaces norms of mutual support.


M.M. Anthropologists tend to find that cooperation is supportable in small groups but in large groups it’s very hard to do. How can we teach people to learn to support each other?

G.C. As a matter of fact the experiment is not about teaching how people can mutually support so it is a sort of speculative comment that I can make at this point from other experiments that we’ve done, the important thing is to make sure that individuals are made in their head responsible, at an individual level, for the actions they’ve taken. So what we’ve found out is that communication among individuals, and in particular, information about the actions that the individual has taken in the past, can help those who have inclinations to behave opportunistically but is doing something that is not very nice, for personal gain, this type of behavior gets tremen-

dously reduced, but you need to have the bit to first communicate, to know and to talk to each other, directly if possible, and second to have information about what individuals have done. Third, you have to have the possibility of sustaining punishment if someone does not behave in a way that is socially supportive, society has to pro36

vide disincentives, has to remove incentives, from doing that type of behavior. So anyone seeing the experiments we’ve tried with prisoner’s dilemmas, anyone who’s been subject to this type of environment in which they can communicate with others, in which they can track each other’s factions

and the opportunity of punishing individuals who misbehaved directly, generally it’s a very, very high cooperation level. Which is why anthropologists, as

you said, tend to find that cooperation is supportable in small groups but in large groups it’s very hard to do because information about behavior becomes hard.

Punishing, not just verbally, others, become complicated, so this mechanism becomes very difficult.


M.M. I see that your findings can be applied in many fields. For example, how we behave in a company that uses monetary incentives for their employees?

G.C. This is interesting, what you say, Mado, because there is some research that looks into the possibility that monetary incentives may actually reduce the effort that workers put into whatever the firm’s objective is, so the experiment was not designed to test this sort of hypothesis but there is some work which shows that sometimes monetary incentives in company work environments actually go in the opposite direction because they displace intrinsic incentives. For instance, if I’m a baker, I’m allowed to do it because I like to make bread. Or if I am a doctor, I like to help 38 people with my medical skills. Sometimes providing additional incentives to the monetary need removes these intrinsic incentives, so our training does not address that there are other interpretations and other consequences for organizations or work within a firm. For example if in teamwork is very difficult to organize around cooperative norms, perhaps it is because the team is far apart in the world or team members cannot exactly understand what each other are doing so there’s a contradiction to output. There may be monetary incentives

that can be introduced, but I’d be very hesitant at this point to interpret our results in the light of small complete type of groups.

M.M. I guess the place you did this research was the United States with Americans?

G.C. That’s right. We did it at Purdue University, which is a university in Indiana, a couple of hours south of Chicago, with undergraduate students from that institution. The students ranged in age from eighteen to around twenty-four. I think the median age was twenty. About fiftyfifty men and women. It’s a relatively large international population but of course the standard subject pool was used. It would be interesting to look at different, non-standard subject pools. 39

M.M. What’s the next step now in your research? Do you intend to go further?

G.C. Definitely more research because this was an initial step. At this point we were interested in understanding what really is the role of money in society from a behavioral perspective and it revealed to us that the behavioral role is very strong. It is even if you can organize society in such a way that everybody has the maximum pay-off. Society cannot do it but money can help you improve, it certainly manages it in the societies at large. Now we are looking at other issues, in particular leading to the endogenous emergence of the systems, how they emerge, and liquidity problems. In the experiment, the main reason why the monetary system that emerged was not a hundred percent 40 successful in creating supporting cooperation is because sometimes those that needed help could not buy it. That’s what we call these days a liquidity shortage. So we’re looking into issues of this type, whether liquidity shortages can or cannot create problems for society in terms of performance.




n the last issue of Ispectrum magazine we had a fascinating interview with Dr Eben Alexander, a distinguished neurosurgeon and sceptic of the near death experience (NDE). He never foresaw that, despite writing a paper discrediting people’s experience of NDEs, he would one day become a believer. After bacteria attacked his brain and put him in a coma for seven days he had his own NDE in a heavenly realm, and he awoke from that coma a changed man, a believer. 41


I have always had an interest in NDEs and despite never experiencing one myself I am a strong believer in them. However, as a psychologist I couldn’t help but delve into the past research and see if there was anything verging on a purely psychological explanation for the NDE. Many scientists point to neurobiological evidence, such as a lack of oxygen in the brain as the reason for NDEs, and other corroborating evidence also points to neurobiological factors. In fact, oxygen starvation causing

hallucinations is the most popular explanation for the NDE and does have various merits. Although neuroscience and psychology overlap I am more interested in focusing purely on the psychological aspect as so far this has been largely ignored in favour of neuroscience. It is possible that the NDE fulfils a psychological need, or could even be a psychological defence mechanism. In terms of the reports of the NDE itself it is likely that the recol42

lections are subject to psychological interpretation, so an exploration of psychological mechanisms could shed light on the NDE reports and lead to a better understanding of the NDE itself. Could a psychological model explain the NDE? And if there is no psychological evidence, where would a psychological theory for the NDE start and what would it need to prove?

One of the earliest psychological theories for the NDE was put forward by Grof and Halifax in 1977. They were looking for a psychological explanation as to why NDE reports are so universal. Their birth - memory - activation model postulated that a close shave with death triggered repressed memories of the process of birth. After all, everyone is born in generally the same way, so that would explain why there is such consistency in NDE reports. The peace and transcendent feelings alongside the advancing through a tunnel is in fact a subjective recountance of being born and travelling through the birth canal, with the peace and light at the end representing the feeling of being born into the world. However, there are obviously major issues with this, not least that being born is a painful experience for the baby. Also, the infant does not have the capacity to remember this experience so it 43

is highly unlikely that it can remain buried and be activated by the moment of death. No empirical evidence supports this theory, and scientific evidence strongly indicates that infants simply do not have the mental pro-

cesses necessary to remember their experiences of birth.

Many psychological theories have shown that our reactions, experiences and desires are working to

fulfil a psychological need. However unlikely this may seem, it could be possible to explain the NDE in this way. The theory of crisis intervention supposes that pathological states can lead to an opportunity for positive growth. This opportunity for growth in crisis involves the person entering a state of disequilibrium due to great periods of stress. In this period the ego is overwhelmed and the person becomes more susceptible to positive and corrective influences. It is possible that the person has a regression to a very primitive level and this return to basic functioning leads them to view their experiences (real or imagined) in a sense of childlike awe and bliss. In essence, they are 44

regressing to a preverbal stage of development where they had an imbedded trust in the ‘realness’ of their experiences and feelings of bliss associated with a time when, as a child, all their needs were readily met. This could explain why people report feeling so at ease and in awe of their experiences within the NDE. But could this regression indicate that the NDE served a psychological need? Greyson (1981) tried to explain why positive personality transformations sometimes occurred in those who had attempted suicide and experienced an NDE. He concluded that it was possible the NDE reduced the person’s suicidal intentions in the future by using psychological mechanisms. Some of these psychological mechanisms he used for these explanations included

die, so the psychological mechanism would serve no purpose. And, if it occurred just to those who went on to live, how could these mechanisms possibly know if the person was going to live or die? On the positive side, it would explain the consistency of the NDE reports, as well as it’s paranormal aspects and why it can have beneficial effects on the individual. that the NDE represents the death of the ego, providing a substitute for the death of the person, and the life The most promising psychological review helps to resolve old conflicts theories all seem to focus on why and move on with life. people have such a universal experience. There are some academics, such as Grosso, who have pointed to Could facing death cause a regres- the similarities between the universal sion in the mind of the individual to a experience of those who experience developmental stage of life, thereby the NDE with that of patients who allowing psychological mechanisms suffer Delirium Tremens. This disease to kick in , manifesting as the NDE? is caused by withdrawal from alcohol There is no hard evidence for this or sedative - hypnotic drugs, such and this idea relies a lot on factors as barbiturates. The symptoms of that cannot be tested easily. Also, Delirium tremens include, amongst does this happen just to survivors or others, palpitations, convulsions and to everyone at death? If this regres- auditory and visual hallucinations. sion occurred in everyone it would These hallucinations involve distorbe pointless as the huge majority tions of the environment and tactile of people who are dying do in fact sensations such as animals crawling 45

on the skin. The interesting The most promising psychologipart in relation to the NDE is cal theories all seem to focus on that there is a common elewhy people have such a universal ment reported in these halexperience. lucinations, be it walls morphing or visions of rats for example, and that this element is reported across cultures, age groups and personalities. breathing rate and sometimes seiIt seems that the common hallucina- zures. All these physiological changtory experience is universal in the es are rapidly affecting the same way as the NDE. We system, just like the body know Delirium Tremens may go through sharp is caused by withdrawal changes just before, from a drink or drug or during, a person’s that is usually prevaNDE. In the case of lent in the body sysDelirium Tremens tem, and it is characthese changes terized by high blood cause hallucinations pressure and pulse, that are similar in increased most sufferers, so why does it seem so strange to suggest that the similar experiences reported in the NDE could be caused by the physiological changes that they are experiencing? Many people assume that the NDE is such a special experience because of the common elements reported, but Delirium Tremens shows that it is not unique for people who suffer drastic changes in the physiological components of the body to experience common elements in visions or hallucinations. 46

So far the evidence for a psychological explanation for the NDE is looking pretty thin on the ground. The theories or ideas are there but nothing has been shown to be solid enough to be rigorously tested to provide hard evidence. A key factor in all psychological theories is having a workable model that can be tested, so what would a model for the NDE have to account for and how could it be put to the test? If we assume that the NDE does have some sort of psychological function then a working model would be able to explain it.

A psychological model would have to account for three things in relation to the NDE; the consistency of reports and the universality of those who report them,

the psychological reason behind it and the physiological processes in the brain that occur during the process. At the moment it is extremely difficult 47

to construct any kind of model in relation to the NDE as the psychological theories are just not robust enough to form the basis of a model. Looking back

At this moment there seems not be a strong psychological explanation for the NDE

on Grof and Halifax’s birth - memory activation model it is almost impossible to test, and in terms of a model based on the regression theory it has more valid

points but still remains elusive in terms of providing anything that could lead to concrete results.

At this moment there seems not be a strong psychological explanation for the NDE. There are some loose theories that are difficult to prove but could serve as a starting point for further analysis if a more in depth investigative method can be found. However, interesting points are raised in terms of explaining the consistency of NDE reports. As for producing a psychological model, the criteria it would have to explain are clear, but as yet no-one has been able to put forward anything substantial in terms of ticking all the boxes and providing valid results.


Physiological evidence on the other hand remains the most solid scientific explanation for the NDE. However, Dr Kenneth Ring, who has committed substantial time and efforts into researching the NDE, feels that with the consistency of the NDE reports and the fact that these reports are across cultures, age groups and different backgrounds, covering such a large spectrum, that it is hard to explain by just using the processes of the brain. How can it be so consistent across people from all continents? After all, scientists are still struggling to explain the consciousness, itself a key part of the NDE. If scientists cannot unravel the intricacies of this pivotal factor of the NDE, how can they hope to explain the NDE itself? This gives added impor-

tance to a psychological approach, which, if a testable theory could be developed, would at least focus more on the mind than the biology

of the brain and may lead investigations into a different, more productive, direction.


‘‘All the Stars in our Galaxy produce harmonic vibrations producing a kind of celestial melody’’- Professor Donald W Kurtz (Astrophysics Centre ,University of Lancashire ,UK)

Image: SOHO - EIT Consortium, ESA, NASA