The Three Christs of Ypsilanti

Because, apparently, one Jesus isn’t enough.

In the 1950’s, psychologist Milton Rokeach conducted an experiment where he brought together three psychiatric patients who all claimed to be Jesus.

These three patients were made to live together for two years, in an attempt to determine whether their beliefs would change.

Now, early on, there were heated exchanges. One patient would yell to another, “No, you will worship me!” to which he was replied, “No! I will not worship you!” and such things. You can imagine what kinds of exchanges would have occurred between these delusional Jesus Christs.

Now, Rokeach was no fool. He knew that the psychological traditions of his day did not probe well into individual identities. The stories of Secret Agents who felt that they had lost their identities were intriguing to Rokeach, as they would be to most anyone.

With these interests and experiences in mind, Rokeach set out to determine is a person’s self of self can be challenges in a controlled setting, such as a psychiatric hospital, under his eye. That is, if the Bible says there is only one Jesus, and a person believes themselves to be Jesus, what would happen to their self-identity if they are confronted with another who claims to also be Jesus.

It’s certainly a question to wonder. And Rokeach wrote all about it in his book, The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.

Rokeach was not the first to bring about this sort of Jesus get-together. In the 1660’s, Simon Morin, whom Voltaire wrote about in one of his essays, claimed to be Jesus. However, at one point, Morin had been committed to a psychiatric unit (or madhouse, as they were called), where he met with another man who also claimed to be Jesus. Morin deemed that other man to be ridiculous, and then recognized his own “ridiculousness”, and thus renounced his Jesus identity. However, this recognition did not last long, and Morin was thereafter burned at the stake.

Going back to Rokeach. He was rather humane with the patients, for that era, that is. He figured, smart man that he was, that a cure could not be had for these men. However, he also recognized that we draw our self-identities from rather weak foundations, and can build up beliefs that may not be grounded in a solid reality.

What was not so great, or smart, was how the researchers of the study manipulated the three men, simply out of curiosity. The three men, Clyde, Leon and Joseph, were, to put it mildly, manipulated. Leon, for example, received letters from a character he believed to be his wife. His “wife” professed her love to him, and also suggested small changes to Leon’s routine.

Joseph received false letters from the head of the hospital, suggesting changes to his (Joseph’s) routine that would lead to recovery.

In both these instances, the Jesus identity is progressively challenges, until things begin to get uncomfortable, and contact is cut off.

Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the Jesus identities are not budged. The three Jesuses continue to argue and even fight, but their self-belief does not budge. Clyde claims that the other Jesuses are actually dead, and there are machines inside the bodies that are producing the false Jesus claims. Joseph and Leon claim that the others are crazy. Of course, they never claim the same about themselves, for the same Jesus-identity belief.

Even after two years, the Jesus identities do not shift. Rokeach eventually goes to Freudian lore, and states that perhaps the mistaken identities are due to some sort of sexual identity confusion. Rokeach, in a later edition to his book, apologized for the way he ran his experiment, stating that he had no right to interfere with the patient’s lives the way he did.

Rokeach, however, is still a fascinating man who contributed to psychology. He built the Rokeach Value System, which is used in empirical psychological work to classify people’s values. He also conducted a study where he determined that racial prejudice is due to people trying to make themselves feel better, to put it in simpler terms, and that the ones who are most prejudiced also tend to be lower in terms of their socioeconomic status (SES). That is, prejudice is inversely related to SES.


The Sentry (Bob Reynolds) and the Brain

Optogenetics. It sounds like genes being lit up in neon colors, like a flashy Las Vegas sign.

But what is it really?

Optogenetics is a technique that takes advantage of proteins found in certain algae species that respond to different wavelengths of light. This algal response to the wavelengths includes opening a channel (called a channelrhodopsin) in their cell membrane, allowing ions like NA+ and Cl- to flow in/out of the cell.

Of course ,this is also how neurons operate: they work via the control of certain ions, such as NA+ and Cl-, in/out of the cell.

So, if you take a gene that encodes the light-sensitive channel of the algae, and force neurons to express that gene, what do you have?

Neurons that have been forced to become responsive to light! Therefore, shining a light on those neurons will force them to fire an action potential (nerve impulse). If you turn off the light, they stop firing. Then, if you use a different channel protein, you can silence those neurons, and they will no longer fire action potentials.

This then gives pointed and reversible control over the neuronal action potential activity patterns.



The technique’s major asset is the specificity with which you can control gene expression and neuronal firing. This is possible because different types of cells express different sets of genes. Each gene has two major parts: one part encodes for a specific protein, and the other is a regulatory region which instructs the gene on when and where and how much of a certain protein is to be made. These two regions, the encoding one and the regulatory one, are separate from each other. In fact, the regulatory region is on a neighbouring segment of DNA.

Therefore, you can slice the DNA that makes up the regulatory region and splice it to the protein-encoding segment of another gene, like a channelrhodopsin protein, for example. Then, you can take that hybrid and stick it into a vector, that is, another organism. What do you think that organism wil now be able to do?

Express that protein, like the channelrhodopsin. And that organism will only express the new protein in the cell types directed by the regulatory segment of the DNA you chose in lab.

Now, biological research has a history of using light to control or interact with living systems. For example, a light-based technique called CALI is used to inhibit (by destruction) certain proteins. Lasers have also been used to destroy cells. UV light has also been used to activate a protein that regulates neurons.

In neuroscience, optogentics can be used to silence or activate neurons in different parts of the brain. For example, the amygdala is involved in fear. Of course, we can be conditioned to be fearful of certain things. Like a man who has a fear of driving over bridges because he was once on a bridge that was damaged, or the girl who has a fear of dogs because she nearly got bitten by one, our fear responses that be strong, and without intervention, permanent.

Optogenetics can step in and help us understand the workings of fear, and how it occurs.

For example, researchers conducted a study regarding the development of fear associations. Activation of lateral amygdala pyramidal neurons by aversive stimuli can drive the formation of associative fearful memories. This has been proven by taking channelrhodopsin proteins in lateral amygdala pyramidal neurons, and having an auditory cue paired with light stimulation of those neurons, rather than a direct aversive stimuli. After this experiment, it was found that presenting just the tone produced a fear response.

It is clear, then, that optogenetics can provide real-time information of what neurons are doing, and when. Further, it can also us to control the workings of neurons.

It is possible that optogenetics can get us to the point of not only understanding the brain, including dysfunction, but also offer a way for us to be able to solve problems, including epilepsy and depression. Maybe even schizophrenia.

Manic Monday: The Monster Experiment

We have probably all met or known of someone who had a stuttering problem. We now know that it is not necessarily a genetic problem, one that cannot be gotten over.

Dr. Wendell Johnson, a speech pathologist in the 1930s, wanted to show that the prevailing stuttering theories of his time—that stuttering was a genetic issue and not something that could be gotten over—was wrong.

Dr. Johnson he thought that labelling of children as stutterers could make them worse, and in some cases cause children to start stuttering. To prove his point, he thought up an experiment that today is called the ‘Monster Study’.

Sounds scary.

Twenty-two young orphans were recruited as participants, and divided into two groups. The first were labelled ‘normal speakers’ and the second ‘stutterers’. Very importantly, only half of the group labelled stutterers showed signs of stuttering.

Throughout the experiment, the normal speakers were given positive encouragement. Some of the things told to them were, “You’ll outgrow [the stuttering], and you will be able to speak even much better than you are speaking now. . . . Pay no attention to what others say about your speaking ability for undoubtedly they do not realize that this is only a phase.”

However, the issue of the experiment lies in the treatment of the other group. They were told things like, “The staff has come to the conclusion that you have a great deal of trouble with your speech. . . . You have many of the symptoms of a child who is beginning to stutter. You must try to stop yourself immediately. Use your will power. . . . Do anything to keep from stuttering. . . . Don’t ever speak unless you can do it right. You see how [the name of a child in the institution who stuttered severely] stutters, don’t you? Well, he undoubtedly started this very same way.”

The group labelled stutters were made more self-conscious than they already were of their stuttering. They were told about stuttering, told to take care not to repeat unnecessary words. Teachers and other staff at the orphanage were recruited—unknowingly—to reinforce the stuttering label (the researchers told the teachers and staff that the whole group were stutterers).

Of the six normal children of the stuttering group, FIVE began to stutter after the negative therapy. Of the five children who had already been stuttering, THREE became worse. Only ONE child of the normal group had more speech problems after the experiment.

To the researchers’ credit, once they realized the power of their experiment, they tried to undo the damage. However, it was to no avail. The effects of labeling the children as stutterers were permanent.

There were some ethical issues to this experiment:

  1. The children were never told they had been part of the experiment, and only found out 6 decades later when a newspaper revealed things
  2. The teachers and staff at the orphanage were misled about the study, and were never debriefed
  3. The study was never published. This is an issue because without publication, findings cannot prove beneficial

The University of Iowa, where Dr. Johnson was working at the time of the experiment, issued a formal apology 36 years after Dr. Johnson’s death. They called the experiment regrettable and indefensible.

Findings Friday: Super brain

Everyone’s been talking about the effects of meditation on the brain. Since it is such a healthy part of daily living and can work wonders on cognitive skills, including learning, memory, and creativity, I do think it is important to give a brief overview of the benefits meditation has on cognition.

The meditation to be analyzed is simple breath meditation, with or with a mantra. No om’s necessary.

A study done by Newberg, et al., 2010, tested whether those with memory loss would demonstrate changes in their memory and cerebral blood flow (CBF) after an 8-week meditative program. “Fourteen subjects with memory problems had an IV inserted and were injected with 250 MBq of Tc-99m ECD while listening to a neutral stimulus CD. They then underwent a pre-program baseline SPECT scan. ”

Basically, what this means is that 14 subjects with memory loss were injected with a dye used in brain imaging studies (the dye is radioactive; sounds more frightening than it actually is. It helps in imaging blood flow). The subjects then had their brains imaged as a baseline.

“Then subjects were guided through their first meditation session with a CD, during which they received an injection of 925 MBq ECD, and underwent a pre-program meditation scan. Subjects completed an 8-week meditation program and underwent the same scanning protocol resulting in a post-program baseline and meditation scan. ”

In other words, the subjects underwent guided meditation, where someone guides through breathing, posture, etc.. The subjects were injected with the imaging dye and had baseline imaging done. They then underwent an 8-week meditation program, then had their brains imaged once more.

The results: CBF was increased to the brain areas responsible for cognition, including the prefrontal cortex. Memory was also found to increase after meditative training.

Another study by Zeidan, et al., 2010, found that even brief meditation can be effective:

After four sessions of either meditation training or listening to a recorded book, participants with no prior meditation experience were assessed with measures of mood, verbal fluency, visual coding, and working memory. Both interventions were effective at improving mood but only brief meditation training reduced fatigue, anxiety, and increased mindfulness. Moreover, brief mindfulness training significantly improved visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning. Our findings suggest that 4days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators.”

In other words, even short sessions and for a shorted duration can affect cognition positively, enhance mood and overall allow for a better functioning brain.

There a number of other studies that indicate similar things. Whether a novice meditator or a seasoned one, meditation can affect cognition positively, and enhance even mood, making the meditator a better, happier thinker.

Don’t believe me, here are several more studies:

Moore and Malinowski, 2009

Kaszniak, chapter excerpt

Friese, et al., 2012

And Jon Kabat-Zinn, who propelled the west into meditation, speaks here:

Technique Thursday: Computational Modeling

With neuroscience and computer science bleeding into one another, there are a number of ways that computer programming can help in understanding the brain. This can be achieved via computational modeling.

Computational modeling is the intersection of math, physics, and computer science that is used to study the behavior of complex systems via computer models. When applied to the brain, it becomes computational neuroscience, a growing field.

During computational modeling, simulations are done by adjusting the variables of a given system.

Modeling is a great way to enhance research:

  • conduct multiple studies, simultaneously, utilizing different variables
  • do away with the need for research animals
  • help to identify the physical experiments that need to be done
  • saves funding

Computational modeling can relate structural connectivity to functional connectivity in the brain. Or it can provide models for how the brain works during various activities. Or it can provide information on how the fetal brain develops, or how traumatic brain injury affects cognition. Models can even be created of psychiatric disorders, such as dissociative identity disorder (DID) or schizophrenia.

A great short book on computational modeling in relation to the brain can be found here.

A GREAT video to watch can be found here:

Manic Monday: BoBo dolls and little kids

Bandura’s famous experiment using children and bobo dolls isn’t exactly twisted, but it’s still very interesting.

Albert Bandura was interested in determining whether or not a child exposed to violence would engage in violence. And hey, what better way to figure this out than to use inflatable clowns?

Bandura pushed the social learning theory–observations of others mold social behaviors, especially in children. This makes sense. After all, we learn by observing our parents or guardians, for good or for bad.

66 children were subjects of the bobo doll experiment. Two adult males served as the models, and one adult female served as the experimenter.

The children were brought into a semi-darkened room and made to watch a video on television.

As Bandura’s paper states:


These were the four scenarios:

1. The model laid the doll on its side, punched its nose and said, “Pow, right in the nose, boom, boom.”

2. The model then raised the doll and pommeled it in the head with a mallet. (Talk about showcasing some major violence here…) With each hit of the mallet, the model said, “Suckeroo..stay down”.

3. The model moved on to kick the doll around the room, saying “fly away.”

4. Finally, the model threw rubber balls at the bobo doll, each hit accompanied by “bang”.

The children, by the way, had been segregated into three groups: positive reward, punishment, and no-consequence condition.

For those in the model-rewarded condition:


For those in the punishment condition:


and for those in the no-consequence condition:


After all of this, the children were escorted to the experimental room. Now the fun begins.

The experimental room contained a number of objects, some of which can already be guessed:




And yes, this really happened:


So what do you think were the results?

1. Children exposed to the violent model tended to imitate the exact behavior they had observed, even when the adult was no longer present in the room with them

2. While children of both genders in the non-aggressive group did exhibit less aggression than the control group, boys who had observed an opposite-sex model behave non-aggressively were more likely than those in the control group to engage in violence

3.  Boys who had observed the adult males behaving violently were more influenced than those who had observed the female models behaving aggressively. In the same-sex aggressive groups, the boys were more likely to imitate physical acts of violence while the girls were more likely to imitate acts of verbal aggression. This makes sense, considering girls tend to be more vocally communicative and dole out punishments socially by saying nasty things, while boys tend to be more physically dominant and aggressive and gain social status more by physical power.

And if you want to see a video of the children actually being aggressive:

Seance Sunday: A Mechanical model of human learning and memory Part 1

This week’s Séance Sunday will be on a paper by D. E. Broadbent.

The paper begins with the proposition that people hate model building. The paper’s purpose is to describe a very basic model of the human perceptual system.


The above figure is the simple model for attention. Needed are a Y-shaped tubes and some small balls. Each ball is numbered individually. The Y-shaped tube has a narrow mouth that takes only one ball at a time. At the junction of the stem and the branches is a flap that typically hangs downward, though it can also be pivoted to close off one branch or the other. The pivoting is done by a handle on the outside of the tube. When no human turns the pivot, the ball is free to move into a branch, knocking the flap freely.

This model is supposed to represent human attention, with the balls representing incoming stimuli. The branches represent different sensory modalities. The stem represents a response. Dr. Broadbent says that the behavior of the model represents human in these ways:


In other words, having several senses being paid attention to at once will cause distraction, and nothing will be properly processed by the brain. However, choosing to focus on one sensory modality at a time means that attention can be focused and information, therefore processed.


In other words, the first sensory modality to be incoming will take precedence in being processed over the next sensory modality coming right after it.


In other words, we are more attuned to certain aspects of a sensory modality than other aspects. For example, we may be able to see this or that color better than another, or hear this or that tone better than another. We are evolutionarily wired to be amore attentive to certain stimuli. For example, mothers’ brains are wired to be attentive to a baby’s cries, whether that baby is hers or not. Hearing any baby cry, a mother’s brain will perk up and pay attention, even if all her babies have grown up.


A stimuli that is more forceful will take precedence in our attention. For example, we pay more attention to a bright flashing light than to a nearby low dull tone. Or we may pay more attention to that loud roaring saber tooth tiger than to the pretty butterfly hovering near a flower just to our side.

Capture Capture

In other words, our senses can become acclimated. Think of a perfume–you smell it at first once you spray it on, but shortly thereafter, you no longer smell if on yourself. Your olfactory system has become acclimated.

Capture Capture2

In other words, it is not so much the speed at which a signal is oncoming, but more, how many signals are incoming in a given time interval, that affects processing of stimuli.

This article will continue in a part 2 with the remaining scenarios the Broadbent paper describes.