June 30, 2007
Inhalable oxytocin could become a cure for social fears.
Imagine yourself cuddled up in a warm embrace, protected, at peace with the world. Now imagine you could put that feeling in a bottle and sniff it when, say, you had to give a speech or go to a party full of strangers.
“It could be like social Viagra,” says Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, an investigator at the US National Institute of Mental Health.
He was talking about oxytocin, a hormone long known for its effects in the human body. It helps spur labour contractions, breastfeeding and orgasm. It has also long figured in research on bonding in animals.
Researchers now report they can boost oxytocin in the human brain using a nasal spray. And when they do, trust seems to rise and social fear seems to abate, raising the possibility that oxytocin-based drugs might eventually help people with mental illnesses that involve fear of others, from crippling shyness to autism and schizophrenia.
This month, Meyer-Lindenberg and others reported in The Journal of Neuroscience that when young men snorted oxytocin, brain scans showed that fear centres became less responsive to threatening faces.
The journal Nature recently published research showing that when subjects played a game that hinged on trust, those who had snorted oxytocin were more likely to trust other players.
The two studies fit nicely together and with other recent research, says Thomas Insel, director of the US National Institute of Mental Health and one of the pioneers in research on oxytocin and rodent bonding. For example, he said, brain scans suggest that the fear centres in the brains of autistic people are hypersensitive in social situations, so perhaps oxytocin could help quiet them.
Oxytocin research has been reaching the kind of critical mass that all but guarantees that pharmaceutical companies will be seeking to develop oxytocin-based drugs, said Robert Ring, a neuroscientist and oxytocin researcher at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.
Ring reported at last month’s Society for Neuroscience conference that oxytocin or a similar molecule reduced anxiety in mice subjected to a variety of stressful situations.
“These results suggest that the development of oxytocin-like drugs may offer a novel way to treat anxiety disorders in humans,” he said.
But the new work on oxytocin is spurring other warnings. Some researchers note that it may have potential as a date-rape drug, since oxytocin is involved both in trust and in sexual arousal.
The Boston Globe
June 27, 2007
Scattered throughout Northern Japan are two dozen mummified Japanese monks known as Sokushinbutsu. Followers of Shugendô, an ancient form of Buddhism, the monks died in the ultimate act of self-denial.
For three years the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another three years and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls. This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and most importantly, it killed off any maggots that might cause the body to decay after death. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed.
Not all monks who attempted self-mummification were successful. When the tombs were finally opened, some bodies were found to have rotted. These monks were resealed in their tombs. They were respected for their endurance, but they were not worshiped. Those monks who had succeeded in mummifying themselves were raised to the status of Buddha, put on display, and tended to by their followers. The Japanese government outlawed Sokushunbutsu in the late 19th century, though the practice apparently continued into the 20th.
June 22, 2007
Really fresh looking film, unlike anything I’ve seen in a while. The hippy sentiments are out of step with the excellent source material though, and the expected call to arms at the end is rewritten in a American Indian Earth Mother style that doesn’t make much sense.
Gregory Hines is a revelation in this film with a great performance and the Wolfen, when you see them, are impressive. This deserves a remake with Strieber’s original ending.