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Metaphysics & Psychology

Are we ‘brainwashed’ during sleep?

A new study illustrates that the brain’s cerebrospinal fluid pulses during sleep, and that these motions are closely tied with brain wave activity and blood flow. It may confirm the hypothesis that CSF flow and slow-wave activity both help flush toxic, memory-impairing proteins from the brain.

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New research from Boston University suggests that tonight while you sleep, something amazing will happen within your brain. Your neurons will go quiet. A few seconds later, blood will flow out of your head. Then, a watery liquid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) will flow in, washing through your brain in rhythmic, pulsing waves.

The study, published on October 31 in Science, is the first to illustrate that the brain’s CSF pulses during sleep, and that these motions are closely tied with brain wave activity and blood flow.

“We’ve known for a while that there are these electrical waves of activity in the neurons,” says study coauthor Laura Lewis, a BU College of Engineering assistant professor of biomedical engineering and a Center for Systems Neuroscience faculty member. “But before now, we didn’t realize that there are actually waves in the CSF, too.”

This research may also be the first-ever study to take images of CSF during sleep. And Lewis hopes that it will one day lead to insights about a variety of neurological and psychological disorders that are frequently associated with disrupted sleep patterns, including autism and Alzheimer’s disease.

The coupling of brain waves with the flow of blood and CSF could provide insights about normal age-related impairments as well. Earlier studies have suggested that CSF flow and slow-wave activity both help flush toxic, memory-impairing proteins from the brain. As people age, their brains often generate fewer slow waves. In turn, this could affect the blood flow in the brain and reduce the pulsing of CSF during sleep, leading to a buildup of toxic proteins and a decline in memory abilities. Although researchers have tended to evaluate these processes separately, it now appears that they are very closely linked.

To further explore how aging might affect sleep’s flow of blood and CSF in the brain, Lewis and her team plan to recruit older adults for their next study, as the 13 subjects in the current study were all between the ages of 23 and 33. Lewis says they also hope to come up with a more sleep-conducive method of imaging CSF. Wearing EEG caps to measure their brain waves, these initial 13 subjects were tasked with dozing off inside an extremely noisy MRI machine, which, as anyone who has had an MRI can imagine, is no easy feat.

“We have so many people who are really excited to participate because they want to get paid to sleep,” Lewis says with a laugh. “But it turns out that their job is actually — secretly — almost the hardest part of our study. We have all this fancy equipment and complicated technologies, and often a big problem is that people can’t fall asleep because they’re in a really loud metal tube, and it’s just a weird environment.”

But for now, she is glad to have the opportunity to take images of CSF at all. One of the most fascinating yields of this research, Lewis says, is that they can tell if a person is sleeping simply by examining a little bit of CSF on a brain scan.

“It’s such a dramatic effect,” she says. “[CSF pulsing during sleep] was something we didn’t know happened at all, and now we can just glance at one brain region and immediately have a readout of the brain state someone’s in.”

As their research continues to move forward, Lewis’ team has another puzzle they want to solve: How exactly are our brain waves, blood flow, and CSF coordinating so perfectly with one another? “We do see that the neural change always seems to happen first, and then it’s followed by a flow of blood out of the head, and then a wave of CSF into the head,” says Lewis.

One explanation may be that when the neurons shut off, they don’t require as much oxygen, so blood leaves the area. As the blood leaves, pressure in the brain drops, and CSF quickly flows in to maintain pressure at a safe level.

“But that’s just one possibility,” Lewis says. “What are the causal links? Is one of these processes causing the others? Or is there some hidden force that is driving all of them?”

Journal Reference:

  1. Nina E. Fultz, Giorgio Bonmassar, Kawin Setsompop, Robert A. Stickgold, Bruce R. Rosen, Jonathan R. Polimeni, Laura D. Lewis. Coupled electrophysiological, hemodynamic, and cerebrospinal fluid oscillations in human sleep. Science, 2019; 366 (6465): 628 DOI: 10.1126/science.aax5440

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Metaphysics & Psychology

Why do people see the same dreams before they die?

Specialists of the American Center for Hospice and Palliative Care in Buffalo have been observing patients for 10 years and made a rather intriguing discovery: it turns out that shortly before death, people begin to have the same dreams.

People who have undergone so-called clinical death, that is, a reversible stage of death, which is a kind of transition period between life and biological death, often talk about strange visions. As a rule, their whole life flashes before their eyes, after which they find themselves in a dark tunnel, which ends with a bright light, and some even meet long-dead relatives.

However, a 10-year study by doctors at the Buffalo Hospice and Palliative Care Center led by Christopher Kerr shows that three weeks before death, people begin to have strange visions – the same dreams. Observing more than 13 thousand dying patients during this time, experts have found that 88% of people have incredibly vivid dreams on the eve of their death.

According to patients, in 72% of cases in a dream they communicated with deceased relatives and friends, while experiencing warm feelings. 59% of patients in their last dreams were packing their suitcases or buying tickets – in general, they were going on their last journey. Some were already on the train or on the plane, and sometimes they also found long-dead relatives next to them, with whom they joyfully communicated.

29% of patients also saw their relatives and friends in a dream, but exclusively alive. Finally, 28% observed in their dying dreams various memories from their passing life – certain events that left a pleasant impression. The exception was dying children: most often they dreamed about the deceased pets they recognized. Adults also dreamed, but their little patients could not remember.

Mysterious dreams begin about 10-11 weeks before death, and in 3 weeks their frequency increased rapidly, and the dreams became brighter. Unfortunately, Christopher Kerr and his team cannot explain this phenomenon. Perhaps, on the eve of death, some changes begin to occur in the brain that lead to the appearance of such dreams. One thing is clear: it calms people down and reduces the fear of imminent death.

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Metaphysics & Psychology

Wigner’s paradox: what you need to know about the duality of reality?

Quantum mechanics is weird and contrary to common sense. A 2019 study showed that the outcomes of various processes in the quantum world depend on the observer. Back in the 1960s. Eugene Wigner, an American physicist of Hungarian origin, complicated the famous thought experiment of Schrödinger’s cat, in which the cat is trapped in a box with poison that is released when a radioactive atom decays. 

Radioactivity is a quantum process, so the story goes that the atom in the box both disintegrated and did not disintegrate at the same time, leaving the unfortunate animal suspended between life and death – the so-called quantum superposition. But how does it feel to be alive and dead at the same time?

Quirks of Quantum Mechanics – Observer Observer

Wigner’s paradox is a complicated experiment of Schrödinger’s cat. Wigner introduced the category of “friends” whereby the cat in the box remains alive.

Quantum paradox

Imagine a person trapped in a laboratory and measuring a quantum system. Wigner argued that it is absurd to say that he exists in superposition (since he simultaneously sees and does not see the decay of an atom) while the laboratory door is closed. Thought experiment shows that things can get very strange if an observer is watching observers.

Quantum physicist at Griffith University in Brisbane (Australia) Nora Tishler and her colleagues conducted a version of Wigner’s experiment, combining a classical thought experiment with another quantum theory – quantum entanglement – a phenomenon that binds particles over huge distances. The researchers also came up with a new theorem that places the strongest constraints on the fundamental nature of reality. The work was published in the journal Nature Physics.

Scientific American quotes theoretical physicist Ephraim Steinberg of the University of Toronto, who was not involved in the study, that the new work is “an important step forward in experimental metaphysics.”

As long as a quantum system is not observed, it does not necessarily have certain properties.

Quantum probability

Until the 1920s, physicists predicted experimental results with confidence. But quantum theory seems to be inherently probabilistic: as long as the properties of a system are not measured, they can span a myriad of values. This superposition only collapses into one state when observing the system, and physicists cannot accurately predict what this state will be. Wigner held the then popular view that consciousness somehow causes the collapse of the superposition. Thus, his hypothetical friend will determine the outcome when he or she takes measurements – and Wigner will never see him or her in superposition.

Since then, this view has gone out of style. “People who study the basics of quantum mechanics are quick to dismiss Wigner’s view as ghostly and vague because it makes observers special,” says David Chalmers, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at New York University. Most physicists today agree that inanimate objects can bring quantum systems out of superposition through a process known as decoherence.

Of course, researchers trying to manipulate complex quantum superpositions in the laboratory may find their hard work being destroyed by fast air particles colliding with their systems. Therefore, they test at ultra-short temperatures and try to isolate the apparatus from vibrations.

Note that several competing interpretations have emerged over the past decades, the most exotic of which is the “many worlds” view that whenever you make a quantum measurement, reality collapses, creating parallel universes. Thus, Wigner’s friend would split into two copies and could actually measure being in superposition outside the laboratory.

An alternative “Bohm” theory (named after physicist David Bohm) states that, at a fundamental level, quantum systems do have certain properties; we simply do not know enough about these systems to accurately predict their behavior. Another intriguing interpretation is called retrocausality. According to her, events in the future affect the past.

The problem is that each interpretation is equally good or bad at predicting the results of quantum tests, so the choice between them is a matter of taste. Nobody knows what this solution is. We don’t even know if the list of possible solutions we have is exhaustive.


Quantum physics is like magic

Other models, called collapse theories, do provide testable predictions. These models rely on a mechanism that causes a quantum system to collapse when it gets too large, while also explaining why cats, humans, and other macroscopic objects cannot be in superposition. Experiments are underway to find signatures of such collapses, but so far researchers have not found anything. Quantum physicists are also putting ever larger objects in a superposition: in 2019, a team in Vienna reported that it was doing this with a molecule of 2,000 atoms.

Most quantum interpretations state that there is no reason why these oversized superposition efforts should not go on forever, suggesting that researchers can design correct experiments in pristine laboratory environments to avoid decoherence.

Collapse theories, however, claim that the limit will be reached one day, no matter how carefully the experiments are prepared.

Observer observer

Tischler and her colleagues were inspired by a new wave of theoretical and experimental work that explored the role of the observer in quantum theory, introducing confusion into the classic Wigner experiment. Suppose you take two particles of light or photons that are polarized in such a way that they can vibrate horizontally or vertically. Photons can also be placed in a superposition vibrating both horizontally and vertically at the same time, just like Schrödinger’s paradoxical Cat can be both alive and dead – but exactly before it is watched.

In general, the researchers once again confirm that quantum physics is akin to magic.

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Metaphysics & Psychology

Scientists have created a device that can make dreams lucid

According to statistics, more than eighty percent of people at least once realized themselves in a dream, that is, they understood that they were sleeping. There are various practices of lucid dreaming in the world that allow a person to achieve the ability to control the subconscious, which works in a dream, and through it – radically change his life. All this is difficult and, moreover, unsafe. 

But there are people who are naturally endowed with the gift of lucid dreams, and some of them can even travel through dreams through parallel worlds in which their counterparts live – there is such evidence, we don’t know how true they are …

Photos from open sources

As for the official science, it considers dreams only as a rest of a person (any animal), as a result of which the strength lost during the day is restored. However, the world of dreams is too fantastic for such a narrow materialistic understanding. 

In addition, dreams, as people have noticed since ancient times, are associated not only with our past (memories), but also with the future (prophetic dreams).  The sages have always argued that managing dreams is the key to managing your health, destiny and your life in general.

Photos from open sources

Senoi – a tribe that knows how to control dreams

Even more interesting is that there is a tribe in the world – the Senoi, living in Malaysia, in its most impassable mountain jungle, which does not separate a person’s real life from his dreams. Senoi believe that a person has two souls: one lives in this world, and the other in the world of dreams. Both the one and the other world, according to the Senoi, is real, and that these realities are interconnected. 

Kylton Stewart, one of the researchers of this tribe, who lived among the Senoi for a certain time, proves that health, peacefulness and harmony in the social structure of this people is achieved precisely by the fact that they do not share dream and reality – this is one whole for them. 

Learning this understanding of the world order from birth, hay and hay see lucid dreams, do not forget anything about them, they know how to change everything for the better in dreams (from infancy, a special system of working with dreams is developed and maintained in a child).

Photos from open sources

For example, Stewart writes, in contrast to ordinary people, over the years, hay improves their dreams more and more, excluding any negativity, not to mention the nightmares so inherent in Europeans, thanks to which they achieve complete harmony in real life. All their songs, dances, ceremonies and even their clothes are all taken from dreams and brought to life.

Independent dream researchers have long struggled with this mystery. And the point is not even to understand what a dream is, but in the applied meaning of this secret of nature. It is important to find an opportunity to control dreams, that is, to come up with a mechanism that would easily (without tedious and often fruitless practices) allow a person to see lucid dreams and change something in them.

Dream manipulation device

And now scientists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA) seem to have come close to creating a device that allows a person to manipulate their dreams. A team led by neuroscientist Adam Horowitz Haar has developed Dormio, an electronic device that allows you to control the first stage of sleep, when a person’s consciousness is in the so-called hypnagogic state (the borderline state between reality and deep sleep).

Dormio is a dream manipulation device that helps to form individual dream pictures rather than being aware of them and influencing the natural processes of the subconscious. It cannot yet be considered as a tool for lucid dreams, but this method can be successfully used, say, for training, solving some problems, and so on. 

Moreover, as the researchers at MIT assure, complete control over dreams is only a matter of time. And such control will allow solving many problems, primarily those associated with various mental illnesses of a person.

Photos from open sources

However, not all dream researchers were enthusiastic about the achievement of their American colleagues. In their opinion, an invasion of the holy of holies without a full understanding of what dreams are, can have the most sad consequences for a person, it is possible that for society as a whole.

It is no coincidence that in the practice of lucid dreaming, so much attention is paid to safety methods, and the same hay uses a unique system developed by many generations. 

By the way, lucid dreaming gurus argue that dreams cannot be approached from the standpoint of modern science, which constantly wants not to understand God, but to grab him by the beard. It doesn’t hurt to remember how it all ends (atomic bombs, epidemics bursting out of laboratories, widespread natural disasters, and so on).

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