Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Consciousness and Mathematics

What makes us different from other species (birds, animals, insects, fish, etc.)?

Is it the look and feel or the intelligence or the ability to adapt the environment to suit our needs rather than adapting to the environment?

The answer lies in one single word. The most dreaded subject we learned in our school.

Mathematics is the language of science. Should we say the language of a highly developed consciousness? It is the only Universal language; using mathematics, you can even talk to an Alien civilization.

“An equation means nothing to me unless it expresses a thought of God.”
- Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887 – 1920)

“Equations are more important to me because politics is for the present, but an equation is something for eternity.”
- Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

So, what makes us different from other species is our ability to understand the simple counting to complex equations.
As Ramanujan expressed – “God must be a mathematician then”. Math is ingrained in our everyday life even though we are not aware of it.


The above zero’s and ones look like a nice pattern, isn't it?. However, it could be your email getting transmitted across the globe. The above data is represented using the binary number system (Computers use binary number system). There is a hidden message in the above zeros, and one’s see if you can decode the message.Clues to decode the message
- I used a cipher, which was used in the biblical.l times.
- The total number of words in the message equals to a Fibonacci number

The following table shows two interesting number sequences in mathematics. These Sequences has a lot of impact in our daily life and the surroundings.
Two interesting number sequences

Fibonacci Numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597.......
Prime Numbers: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61…........

Now, let us look at the some of the wonders/puzzles of mathematics. It includes Fibonacci Number & Golden RatioNumber ZeroPiImaginary number and the Infinite number (read more about these 5 Numbers by Simon Singh). Among these, Fibonacci number considered as part of nature.

Fibonacci Series

Leonardo da Pisa (aka Leonardo Fibonacci) an Italian mathematician (1175-1250) introduced the Hindu-Arabic number system to Europe the system we use today with ten digits decimal system with the symbol for zero. He discovered a number series where you add the previous two values to get the new value which later known as the Fibonacci series. He wrote a famous book ‘Liber Abaci’ on how to do arithmetic using the decimal system in 1202.

Here are some of the interesting facts of Fibonacci number related to nature. Let us take a close look at flowers; the interesting fact over here is the number of petals on a flower is often one of the Fibonacci numbers.

1 petal white calla lily flower, 2 petals euphorbia flower are rare, 3 petals trillium flowers are common, Hundred of species of 5 petals columbine flower in wild and cultivated, 8 petals bloodroot flowers are not common but there quite a number of species, 13 petals black-eyed Susan. The outer ring of ray florets in the daisy family illustrates the Fibonacci sequence as well. Daisies with 13, 21, 34, 55 or 89 petals are common. 21 petals Shasta daisy flower. Ordinary field daisies have 34 petals. (
Read more).

Golden Ratio (Phi = 1.618033988749894….)

You take any Fibonacci number and divide it by the previous number you will get a ratio around 1.618… It occurs in nature as a golden angle 137.5 degrees (360-360/phi). Take any leaves on a plant, the growth of the leaves on a stem follows a spiral path to the top at an angle 137.5 degrees. This angle helps the leaves to maximize the exposure to sunlight and minimize the shadow it casts on other leaves. Euclid defined the Golden ratio around 300 BC. Luca Pacioli the 15th-century Italian mathematician to equate the Golden Ratio with the incomprehensibility of the God. The most surprising case for the Golden Ratio is its association with Black Holes a discovery made by Paul Davies of the University of Adelaide in 1989 (read the article ‘
The Golden Rule’).
The nautilus shell’s (cross-section is shown on the left side) growth pattern of its chambers is governed by the golden ratio. The Greeks incorporated the Golden Ratio into their Art and Architecture – many of their building’s including Parthenon, generally considered to be antiquity’s most perfect structure.
Prime Number

Every positive number is either a prime Number or a by-product of Primes. However, its been ages since hunting for the formula to predict the prime numbers is on and the complete formula to predict the prime numbers still eludes us. Following are the effects of finding the formula to predict prime numbers.
- The collapse of current cryptography (Public / Private Key infrastructure) standards (used in SSL / TLS).

- The collapse of Internet Secure Communications (Banking and Credit Card transactions)

Nature & Mathematics

After looking at the above 3 Numbers (Fibonacci, Golden Ratio, Prime), it is interesting to know that the Nature still hides a lot of information from us or rather given subtle clue’s for us discover the ultimate truth and mathematics is one of the key science which helps us to understand the mysteries of the nature.

So, as a species, our ability to understand the nature is far superior to other species in this planet.

What is the next level of our consciousness? Is it nirvana? Or perfection from the scientific point of view? Are there any species who have achieved the next level of consciousness?

Imagine an entire society in a state of nirvana!
A state where science in a frozen state, while the self-blends with the Oneness
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable."
- George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

Prime NumberPrime Number is a positive integer not divisible without a remainder by any positive integer other than itself and one. Example. 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13 are Primes.
Mersenne PrimeNamed after the French Monk and mathematician Marin Mersenne, who was born in 1588. He investigated a particular type of Prime Number 2P-1 where P is an ordinary prime number.
Fibonacci NumberFibonacci number is a series of the number generated by adding the two preceding numbers. Example. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 etc Dividing a Fibonacci number by a previous one For Example., 21/13 or 8/5 results in an answer close to 1.61803 which is known as a Golden Ratio. 
Golden Ratio1.618033988749894848204586834365638117720……. This special number approximately represents the Golden ratio, which is denoted by the Greek letter Phi. The digits of the Golden ratio go on forever without repeating.
PiPi represents the number 3.14159265… which is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. An irrational number that cannot be expressed as the ratio of two whole numbers and has a random decimal string of infinite length.

Further Reading
1. Plus Magazine –
The Life and numbers of Fibonacci
2. Guardian UK – The Golden Rule
3. Wolfram Research – Fibonacci Number
4. Math Forum – Fibonacci Number and the Golden Ratio
5. American Scientist – Did Mozart use the Golden Section?
6. Web – The Mathematical Magic of the Fibonacci Numbers
7. Web – Fibonacci Number & Golden Ratio in Art, Architecture & Music
8. Web – The Golden Mean in Art (Leonardo Da Vinci)
9. Answers.Com – Fibonacci Numbers
10. Answers.com – Golden Ratio
11. Web – The Golden Ratio
12. BBC – 5 Numbers by Simon Singh
13. Wolfram Research – Prime Number
14. Answers.Com –
Prime Numbers
15. University of Tennessee – The Largest Known Prime
16. Wikipedia – GIMPS – Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search
17. Clay Mathematics Institute – Riemann Hypothesis
18. Answers.com – Pi

Software Products
1. Wolfram Research –
Mathematica 5.2
2. Mersenne.org – Free GIMPS software to search for primes

Books1. Mario Livio – 
The Golden Ratio
2. Marcus du Sautoy – The Music of the Primes: Searching to solve the greatest mystery in mathematics
3. Simon Singh –
The Code Book
4. David Wells –
Prime Numbers: The most mysterious figures in Math
5. David Darling –
Equations of Eternity

Monday, May 08, 2017

On God, Creation and Science

On God, Creation & Science
- I do not believe in the current concept of God and Creation.

The theory of Big Bang was a big leap in understanding the origin of the universe. However, like the concept of God Created this universe, Big Bang theory produced another big question, what happened before Big Bang? One of the reasons I liked the cyclic model instead of Big Bang in the standard model is the infinite big bang by the collision of two membranes (a scientific hypothesis now). This does not mean that the standard model is wrong. New hypothetical cyclic model is an extension of the standard model. Extra dimensions and colliding universes are the by-products of String theory which is gaining momentum in unifying the theory of relativity and quantum theory. I like to know internals on how and why rather than believe anything just by ‘faith’.

- I do not believe that science and religion are on warpath (I mean does not have conflicts of interest).
Religious faith and scientific quest are trying to reach the same destination. However, the only difference is they both took different routes to reach the destination. There is nothing like right route and wrong route. Both routes are right. You have the choice to choose the route for your Journey. 

“My journey started long before I was born and it will not end with my death, The Journey towards the Eternity - in search of our existence.”

The Final Destination
Finding God is not the destination in my model. To understand the concept of being part of the ‘WHOLE’ is not possible as long as the thought ‘I’ buried in our conscious mind. We need to detach from ‘Self’. That is what Christ, Buddha and others said. ‘Find the truth’

The problem of Creation by the intelligent designer results in a Creator and it’s by-products (Universe, earth, humans, animals etc). Like software engineer creates software product or an Architect builds a house. This raises the fundamental question like:

1. What is primary matter or consciousness?
2. Is there a beginning for time?

- Wholeness, Oneness & Holographic Universe
The concept of ‘Wholeness’ or 'Oneness' will break the concept of God as the Omnipotent, then there is God (the all power, all knowing entity, the humans (emotional species), trees, animals, birds etc. The concept of ‘Self’ which equates to individuality, character, ego etc places us in a localized environment created by our conscious mind. We separate the thinker from the thought, which reflects, in our modern language, which is based on the pattern “subject-verb-object” that clearly separates the subject from the object, Whereas the key is the verb which makes the connection.
In this model, everything is localized while in the quantum physics and eastern mysticism talks about nonlocalized where everything is connected. The dualism in Cartesian model merges into ONE where the Universe is considered one giant hologram.

A hologram is a 3D picture. The remarkable feature is, if a hologram (picture) of an apple is cut into two, each half of the picture will contain the entire 3D image of the apple. If you cut the two halves again, it will still contain the ‘whole’ 3D picture of the apple. Compare to a conventional picture of an apple if you cut into half, each half contains half of the apple picture.

David Bohm proposed the concept of Universe as a hologram after the experiment by Alain Aspect (in 1982). They (Aspect and his team) discovered that under certain circumstances subatomic particles such as photon (bosons) are able to instantaneously communicate with each other regardless of the distance separating them. This is regardless of whether they are 10 feet apart or on the other side of the universe. This odd behavior is called EPR paradox named after Einstein, Podolsky, Rosen thought experiment, proposed in 1935. However, this violates Einstein’s principle of nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Bohm believes that Aspect’s findings imply that objective reality as we know or experience (with our senses) does not exist.

The concept of Oneness goes far beyond our localized thought process where we create a virtual world to place our beliefs and ourselves and as per Hinduism,
 this world (virtual) is known as ‘Maya’ an illusion. 
Understanding this reality helps us to get into the altered state, the Final Destination.

Destination in Religion – Nirvana
Destination in Science – Perfection
Here is an interesting thought. If you don’t need a camera lens to take the picture of 3 Dimensional apple using the holographic method (Read the holography technique) then do we really need our eyes?

On Heaven & Hell

If I have a choice, I will choose Hell. Because for the past 14 years I was playing the role of a software engineer/architect in building new software products and bug fixing existing software’s. So, I assume that, If there is a Hell then it must be a heaven gone haywire with bugs beyond repair and the God decided to dump it and create a new Heaven fresh and made sure that he didn’t repeat the same mistakes. 

Now, why did I choose Hell? Simple. To fix the bug!

To fix the bug I need to understand the internals of Hell, which in turn helps me to understand the internals of Heaven. What happens if I could fix it! Get promoted from Developer to Architect! Then get venture capital funding to build another Heaven. if it ended up being a hell then send Consultants to fix it and charge an hourly rate :-)

Further Reading
David Bohm - Bridging Science, Philosophy and Cognition
2. Discover Magazine - Before the Big Bang (2004 February Cover Story)
3. Discover Magazine - Testing the String theory (2005 August Cover Story)
F David Peat – Implicate Order By David Bohm
Jeffrey Mishlove – Consciousness and the New Physics
6. Rene Descartes - Cartesian Dualism: Mind and Brain interaction 
7. Dr. Karl Pribram (Professor of neuropsychology at Stanford University) – Holographic Brain,
8. Jeff Prideaux - Comparison on Karl Pribram’s Holographic Brain Theory and conventional models of neuronal computation. 

9. Wikipedia – EPR (Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, Nathan Rosen) Paradox
1. David Bohm – Wholeness and the Implicate Order
2. Michael Talbot - Holographic Universe
3. Brian Greene - Elegant Universe
4. Michio Kaku - Parallel Worlds (Author of HyperSpace)
5. Dr. A M Nicholi Jr. - The Question of God - C.S Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God
Bertrand Russel - Why I am not a Christian
7. Dan Brown - Angels & Demons (Fiction)

Sunday, May 08, 2016

How Deep is the Rabbit Hole?

Consider the following experiment

Imagine your brain is hooked for a neural scan. An object is shown to you and the neural behavior is recorded. Then you are asked to remember the same object and the doctors recorded the neural behavior again.

Now the most interesting case over here is, neural behaviors were same when you saw the object (using your eyes) and when you remembered the object (neural behavior will be same even if you remember it in your dreams).
So, what is the role of eyes then? Why is the neural behavior same when the input came from two different sources?
The brain processes and tells us the interpretation of the (same type of) electromagnetic signals it receives. In the above experiment, the brain treats the signals from the eyes or from internal memory region in the same way. We are in the matrix – jacked in!
The brain processes billions of bits of information per second. However, we are aware of only a few thousands of bits of that information, which means we filter (brain blocks it without our knowledge) rest of the information out.
Does this mean that we are not able to see things, which our brain ignores (or blinds us)?
On the other side, we should be able to see things, which we feel impossible (normally) and we are not able to see, because that is what our brain (us) believes in. Remember Nostradamus, who could see into the future or hear about the Hindu Sage's (in the epics Mahabharata & Ramayana) who had vision into the future!
If we are part of the ‘Whole’ then there is no difference between what is out there (which we see through our eyes) and what we think (our thoughts) it’s all should be same (part of the Oneness).
Does that mean there should not be any concept of what we can see and what we can think?
Why does the action always affect the future? Why cannot it affect the past? Is it because we think about a timeline in a cause and effect model and feels it can only move forward?
Does the universe exist if there is no consciousness or there is no observer to observe the universe?
As per quantum physicsan electron can exist in more than one place simultaneously. It collapses into one (a single state) when it is observed. As per Roger Penrose, the collapse (Road to Realityhappens due to gravity.
Here are the three models which explain the observer and the observed in quantum physics. 
  1. According to Copenhagen view of quantum physics, a system does not occupy a definite state or location until it is observed, till then it exists anywhere in the space and what you have is a set of probabilities to find the location.
  2. Parallel Universe interpretation proposes that all the probabilities exist in parallel universes, means one probability per universe, which constrains us to see two states in a single (this) universe.
  3. According to Roger Penrose gravity collapses all these states into a single state which we observe.
This forces us to re-think about reality. What is the reality? Is that what we see through our eyes? Or something which our brain tells us to believe?
One should know that nature is an illusion (‘Maya’) and the Brahman is the illusion maker.
- Svetasvatara Upanishad
The mustard seed is larger than the kingdom of heaven
 Jesus Christ.
We were parted many thousands of kalpas ago, yet we have not been separated even for a moment
- Hinduism

Further reading

  1. Discover Magazine - If an Electron Can Be in Two Places at Once, Why Can’t You? (June 2005 Cover story)
  2. Physics Web - Quantum theory: weird and wonderful
  3. Thomas J McFarlane - The Illusion of materialism
  4. NeuroQuantology – A Journal of Neuro Science and Quantum Physics
  5. Nostradamus – Life and Prophecies of Nostradamus
  6. Bleep – What the Bleep do we know?
  7. Times Online – No Miracle Cure for Junk Science : By Simon Singh
  1. Roger Penrose – Road to Reality
  2. Amit Goswami – Self Aware Universe
  3. Masaru Emoto – The Hidden Messages in Water

Friday, May 08, 2015

The Land of Straight lines

The Land of Straight lines.
There is a strange planet called straight net somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy. So, what is so strange or special about it? The land (planet) is built upon objects with straight lines. Which means the planet is a big rectangular land. They play the soccer with a cube and rugby with rectangular boxes instead of a spherical object, their body, trees, roads, animals everything is build using straight lines.

Now, try to ask straight-lander’s the following questions. 
1. How do you explain to them about something in a spherical shape (soccer ball, volleyball etc)?
2. Can they think about an object which does not have edges?
3. How do you tell them there is a specific shape where you can’t specify the center of the object (on the surface)?

Here is a Conversation with a person from the land of straight lines and a scientist from planet earth.


Straightlineman (the person from the straightnet planet) sits on a beautiful couch made up of flat rosewood. However, he is little nervous as his new visitor is from another galaxy. What helps their communication is the new intergalactic language translator he bought recently from Salmart stores. His guest didn’t find any comfort sitting on the flat wooden sofa either, because he knows he is going to spend some time with the host.

Straightlineman: Hello, you don’t seem to belong to this land.
Earthlian: Yes, you are right. I came from a distant place. A place little different than this place.

Straightlineman: Interesting. So how different is your world? 

Earthlian: Everything looks same except one thing. Hey don’t come near me you are gonna hurt me.

Straightlineman: I don’t get it. We are peace-loving species, of course, there are exceptions. 

Earthlian: You have sharp edges. As a matter of fact, everything in this land is made up of straight lines, which ends up having sharp edges for everything.

Straightlineman: What is so strange about it? Everything in this world is build using straight lines. This whole universe is build using straight lines. Even you are like that.
Earthlian: True. That’s because your brain is tuned with the laws of your world. So it rejects things it finds outside that law, and it’s projecting my image in the form you can understand easily.

Straightlineman: That’s funny. Now you are saying I should not believe my eyes.
Earthlian: What you see is the mental projection of what your brain interprets. Your brain interprets a lot of information and filters out information it feels not necessary. End of the day what you see is what your brains wants you to see. So, even though my image is different it doesn’t look different within the context of your laws.

Straightlineman: OK, OK. No arguments. I can neither prove you are right or wrong. However, I would like to understand this new concept, rather try to understand. (smiles)
Earthlian: Before I explain the new concept, I would like to show you a paragraph (translated to straightnet language by the inter-galactic language translator).

“I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg The phaonmneal pweor of the mnid Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it wouthit a porbelm.

Tihs is bcuseae the mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt.”

Earthlian: So, did you notice anything strange?

Straightlineman: Of course I could read everything properly in the first attempt itself even though the spelling was a total mess. This shows that my mind (brain) interpreted everything properly when my eyes read it wrong. I think now I am getting a feeling where you are going to head. However, I don’t think I am going to get comfortable with it.
Earthlian: OK, Let us take this step by step. Is it possible for you to think about a shape which doesn’t have any edges?

Straightlineman: Is that a valid question? If you take any shape, let us say a triangle, square, hexagon, pentagon or any 3-dimensional shapes cube, pyramid anything. Everything has an edge.

Straightlineman: Let us continue this interesting discussion with a cup of coffee.
Straightlineman2 served two cups of coffee for the stranger and the straightlineman. The cup was made of a cube with the top opened and served in a flat square saucer.

Earthlian: Coffee is pretty good. Let us come back to our topic. Before I answer your query, let me pose another question. Take any of the shapes you mentioned. For example, take triangle – How many center points (on the surface) will you find?

Straightlineman: Of course just one central point on the surface, whether it is a triangle, square, hexagon etc. In case of 3-dimensional objects every side you will find one center point.
Earthlian: So far so good. How about a 3-dimensional object, where you can have an infinite number of center points.

Straightlineman: Infinite number of center points. That’s impossible. It is mathematically not possible.
Earthlian: Should I say, possible however difficult to explain with the current set of laws.

Straightlineman: You mean by enhancing our laws or with a new set of laws you can show the mysterious object which may contain an infinite number of center points on the surface.
Earthlian: Yes. Here is a 3-dimensional object made up of triangles.

Straightlineman: Looks interesting. But it still has a lot of surfaces.
Earthlian: Let us add more triangles to this object by reducing the size of the triangles and see what happens?

Straightlineman: It is getting weird. 

Earthlian: Let us add more and more triangles to this object.

Straightlineman struggling to find his breath, he stares at the object and he sees a transformation in the visitor too. The visitor looks completely different. The visitor has acquired an image which is beyond his imagination.

Thanks to the magic of triangles ending up as a sphere, in the end, it took great effort to illustrate the concept of the sphere to a person who lived in the Land of Straight Lines.

In the same thought process, is it possible to think about a concept where there is no beginning for time!

If there is no beginning for the time then what is the relevance for the concept of past and future?

Are we in a matrix (created by our mind) which imposed the constraint of Time moving in a direction where past is behind us while future is in front of us and we live in the present?
“There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination.” - Bertrand Russell

Further Reading

Internet1. Answers.com - 
2. Geometry Thru Art -
3. Edwin A. Abbott (1838-1926)
Flatland – A romance of many Dimensions
4. PBS – Time Travel
5. How Stuff Works – How Time Travel will work?
6. Stanford University – Time Travel and Modern Physics
7. Caltech University – Time Travel in Flatland
8. Wikipedia – Grandfather Paradox
9. Absolute Astronomy – Causality (Physics)

* Image courtesy of Intergraph Computer Systems

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Death an end or a new beginning?

Death is an enlightening start (of course don't try to pinpoint start with a time point), instead of a frightening end. 
Here is the proof.
Death in medical term is brain dead. When your brain dies, your consciousness vanishes along with the "self". Self creates the illusion of "I" your identity which makes you think that you are not part of the universe. At sub-atomic level everything is built upon electrons, up and down quarks (matter = energy). So, when the mind shuts down, and the self is gone.. you are back to your roots, i.e., you are truly part of the universe - back home.. Getting back home is always exciting isn't it? So, how can it be frightening?

Read more : Self, The Origin - Identity

Sunday, March 21, 2010

V.S. Ramachandran -The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human

V.S. Ramachandran is Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and Professor with the Psychology Department and the Neurosciences Program at UC San Diego. A former BBC Reith Lecturer, he wrote Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind (with Sandra Blakeslee), and is the author of A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers. His latest book, The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human explores human uniqueness and illustrates how we can better understand the normal by studying the abnormal. Called "The Marco Polo of neuroscience" by Richard Dawkins and "The modern Paul Broca" by Eric Kandel, Ramachandran has also been celebrated in the epidemic of medical melodramas: in the episode "The Tyrant" of the television show House, MD., Dr. House cures phantom limb pain using Ramachandran's mirror box.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The power of the mind

It's all in your head. No, really: How mental imagery training aids perceptual learning

This is Elisa Tartagalia from EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, with her experiment proving that learning through mental imagery is possible. Credit: Alain Herzog/EPFL
Practice makes perfect. But imaginary practice? Elisa Tartaglia of the Laboratory of Psychophysics at Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) and team show that perceptual learning—learning by repeated exposure to a stimulus—can occur by mental imagery as much as by the real thing. The results, published in Current Biology, suggest that thinking about something over and over again could actually be as good as doing it. Read more.

'Mind's eye' influences visual perception

A graphic depiction of the sequence of events in the experiment from top left to bottom right. First, a person looks at a blank screen and imagines a green pattern. Next, she puts on the red-green glasses and looks at a screen with two superimposed patterns: one green and one red. The green pattern is visible to one eye and the red image is visible to the other eye. The longer she has spent imagining the green pattern, the more likely it is that she will see the green pattern, demonstrating that what people imagine can influence what they see later in time. Credit: Joel Pearson

Letting your imagination run away with you may actually influence how you see the world. New research from Vanderbilt University has found that mental imagery—what we see with the "mind's eye"—directly impacts our visual perception. Read more

Placebo Effect - A cure in the Mind

Belief is powerful medicine, even if the treatment itself is a sham. New research shows placebos can also benefit patients who do not have faith in them. By Maj-Britt Niem, February 2009 Scientific American - MIND

In recent decades reports have confirmed the efficacy of various sham treatments in nearly all areas of medicine. Placebos have helped alleviate pain, depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory disorders and even cancer.

Placebo effects can arise not only from a conscious belief in a drug but also from subconscious associations between recovery and the experience of being treated—from the pinch of a shot to a doctor’s white coat. Such subliminal conditioning can control bodily processes of which we are unaware, such as immune responses and the release of hormones.

Researchers have decoded some of the biologies of placebo responses, demonstrating that they stem from active processes in the brain. Read more

Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why. 
By Steve Silberman - August 24, 2009

Merck was in trouble.
 In 2002, the pharmaceutical giant was falling behind its rivals in sales. Even worse, patents on five blockbuster drugs were about to expire, which would allow cheaper generics to flood the market. The company hadn't introduced a truly new product in three years, and its stock price was plummeting.

In interviews with the press, Edward Scolnick, Merck's research director, laid out his battle plan to restore the firm to preeminence. Key to his strategy was expanding the company's reach into the antidepressant market, where Merck had lagged while competitors like Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline created some of the best-selling drugs in the world. "To remain dominant in the future," he told Forbes, "we need to dominate the central nervous system."
His plan hinged on the success of an experimental antidepressant codenamed MK-869. Still, in clinical trials, it looked like every pharma executive's dream: a new kind of medication that exploited brain chemistry in innovative ways to promote feelings of well-being. The drug tested brilliantly early on, with minimal side effects, and Merck touted its game-changing potential at a meeting of 300 securities analysts.
Behind the scenes, however, MK-869 was starting to unravel. True, many test subjects treated with the medication felt their hopelessness and anxiety lift. But so did nearly the same number who took a placebo, a look-alike pill made of milk sugar or another inert substance given to groups of volunteers in clinical trials to gauge how much more effective the real drug is by comparison. The fact that taking a faux drug can powerfully improve some people's health—the so-called placebo effect—has long been considered an embarrassment to the serious practice of pharmacology.
Ultimately, Merck's foray into the antidepressant market failed. In subsequent tests, MK-869 turned out to be no more effective than a placebo. In the jargon of the industry, the trials crossed the futility boundary.
MK-869 wasn't the only highly anticipated medical breakthrough to be undone in recent years by the placebo effect. From 2001 to 2006, the percentage of new products cut from development after Phase II clinical trials, when drugs are first tested against placebo, rose by 20 percent. The failure rate in more extensive Phase III trials increased by 11 percent, mainly due to surprisingly poor showings against placebo. Despite historic levels of industry investment in R&D, the US Food and Drug Administration approved only 19 first-of-their-kind remedies in 2007—the fewest since 1983—and just 24 in 2008. Half of all drugs that fail in late-stage trials drop out of the pipeline due to their inability to beat sugar pills.
History of the Placebo Effect
The roots of the placebo problem can be traced to a lie told by an Army nurse during World War II as Allied forces stormed the beaches of southern Italy. The nurse was assisting an anesthetist named Henry Beecher, who was tending to US troops under heavy German bombardment. When the morphine supply ran low, the nurse assured a wounded soldier that he was getting a shot of potent painkiller, though her syringe contained only salt water. Amazingly, the bogus injection relieved the soldier's agony and prevented the onset of shock.
Returning to his post at Harvard after the war, Beecher became one of the nation's leading medical reformers. Inspired by the nurse's healing act of deception, he launched a crusade to promote a method of testing new medicines to find out whether they were truly effective. At the time, the process for vetting drugs was sloppy at best: Pharmaceutical companies would simply dose volunteers with an experimental agent until the side effects swamped the presumed benefits. Beecher proposed that if test subjects could be compared to a group that received a placebo, health officials would finally have an impartial way to determine whether a medicine was actually responsible for making a patient better.
In a 1955 paper titled "The Powerful Placebo," published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Beecher described how the placebo effect had undermined the results of more than a dozen trials by causing improvement that was mistakenly attributed to the drugs being tested. He demonstrated that trial volunteers who got real medication were also subject to placebo effects; the act of taking a pill was itself somehow therapeutic, boosting the curative power of the medicine. Only by subtracting the improvement in a placebo control group could the actual value of the drug be calculated. The article caused a sensation. By 1962, reeling from news of birth defects caused by a drug called thalidomide, Congress amended the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, requiring trials to include enhanced safety testing and placebo control groups

Placebo and Pharma Industry's Response

Ten years and billions of R&D dollars after William Potter first sounded the alarm about the placebo effect, his message has finally gotten through. In the spring, Potter, who is now a VP at Merck, helped rev up a massive data-gathering effort called the Placebo Response Drug Trials Survey.
Under the auspices of the FNIH1, Potter and his colleagues are acquiring decades of trial data—including blood and DNA samples—to determine which variables are responsible for the apparent rise in the placebo effect. Merck, Lilly, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Johnson & Johnson, and other major firms are funding the study, and the process of scrubbing volunteers' names and other personal information from the database is about to begin.
In typically secretive industry fashion, the existence of the project itself is being kept under wraps. FNIH staffers2 are willing to talk about it only anonymously, concerned about offending the companies paying for it.
For Potter, who used to ride along with his father on house calls in Indiana, the significance of the survey goes beyond Big Pharma's finally admitting it has a placebo problem. Read more...  

Placebo and Alternative medicines (Natural Cures) By Associated Press November 10, 2009

People looking for natural cures will be happy to know there is one. Two words explain how it works: "I believe." It's the placebo effect — the ability of a dummy pill or a faked treatment to make people feel better, just because they expect that it will. It's the mind's ability to alter physical symptoms, such as pain, anxiety, and fatigue.
The placebo effect looms large in alternative medicine, which has many therapies and herbal remedies based on beliefs versus science. Often the problems they seek to relieve, such as pain, are subjective.
"It has a pejorative implication — that it's not real, that it has no medicinal value," said Dr. Robert Ader, a psychologist at the University of Rochester in New York who has researched the phenomenon.
But placebos can have real and beneficial effects, he said.
"Much of the results of certain alternative procedures are largely placebo effects unless you believe there are people who exert magical powers so they can hold their hands over your body and cure you of disease," Ader said. "Make you feel better? That's entirely possible, especially if you believe it."
The placebo effect accounts for about a third of the benefits of any treatment — even carefully tested medicines, scientists say. This dates to a landmark report in 1955 called The Powerful Placebo. Viewed as groundbreaking, the analysis of dozens of studies by H.K. Beecher found that 32 percent of patients responded to a placebo. Read more
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  5. Wired Magazine - Placebos are getting more effective. Drug makers are desperate to know why.
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  7. New Scientist - Placebo effect caught in the act in Spinal Nerves
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