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The financial crisis was brought on by maniacs
Most of the actors involved in the events that culminated with the 2008 global financial crisis – bankers, politicians and economists – displayed signs of maniac behavior, investigators in the United Kingdom say. The indicators were there for anyone who was looking. 

The behavior these people exhibited was comparable to that of psychologically disturbed individuals, says award-winning scholar Dr. Mark Stein, from the University of Leicester School of Management.

According to the expert, there is currently no safeguard in place to ensure that a similar crisis will not happen again. His analysis lists the main causes and indicators of the crisis, as well as a description of the actions taken by those in a position of power.


Stein says that a “shared manic culture” existed in the years leading up to the 2008 economic crisis, which was not addressed by anyone. In fact, it was promoted and allowed to continue, and everyone gladly joined in, PsychCentral reports. 

Those who could have done something about it entered an extremely deep denial mode, which then pushed them to engage in risky and dangerous financial practices, insuring and lending without analyzing the implications of their decisions. Details of the study appear in the journal Organization.

“Unless the manic nature of the response in the run up to 2008 is recognized, the same economic disaster could happen again,” Stein says. He lists the four main characteristics of the manic culture as denial, overactivity, triumphalism and omnipotence. 

“A series of major ruptures in capitalist economies were observed and noted by those in positions of economic and political leadership in Western societies,” the investigator explains. 

“These ruptures caused considerable anxiety among these leaders, but rather than heeding the lessons, they responded by manic, omnipotent and triumphant attempts to prove the superiority of their economies,” he goes on to say.

One of the manic responses to the developing crisis was the removal of regulatory safety checks within the banking system, a massive increase in credit derivative deals, and industrializing credit default swaps.

Stein has been analyzing group dynamics from a psychoanalytic perspective for many years, and he says that similar behaviors can be observed (in hindsight) before most of the world's major financial crash events. 

“Witnessing the collapse of Communism, those in power in the West developed the deluded idea that capitalist economies would do best if they eschew any resemblance to those Communist economies, thereby justifying unfettered financial liberalization and the destruction of the regulatory apparatuses of capitalism,” Stein adds.

“The consequences of this manic response have been catastrophic, with the ongoing Eurozone crisis being – in many ways – a result of this,” he concludes.

 
 
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TDS may be a side-effects-free way of bettering our brains
Startup GoFlow is planning to develop and commercialize do-it-yourself (DIY) Transcranial Direct Stimulation (TDS) kits, which could be made available for as little as $99. These devices would allow people to overclock their brains in the comfort of their own homes. 

The technique relies on delivering a steady direct current to the brain, similarly to how computer CPUs are made to run faster by feeding more electricity through them. Some scientists believe that this approach may work on the human brain as well, simply because it too relies on electricity to operate. 

Basically, a TDS kit would include a few electrodes, which people would attach to whatever area of their brains they want to improve. A constant, low-level current would pass through neurons, forcing them to strengthen their connections, called synapses. 

At this point, the approach is mostly used to treat psychological disorders, including anxiety and depression. Additionally, some doctors employ it to address the motor disturbances that develop in patients following a stroke, Technology Reviewreports.

Many bioethicists are currently debating whether TDS should be used at all. For example, some parents have already showed their interest in using these devices to promote learning and memory formation in their children. The end goal would be to improve their academic performances. 

This raises the question of whether that is fair to the other kids. TDS devices would be more accessible to the rich, which means that the divide between the proverbial 1 percent and the other 99 percent may grow even wider. 

However, other scientists say that direct transcranial stimulation may be a new kind of coffee, or Adderall. The latter is a drug commonly administered to kids and teenagers suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

One advantage that TDS could have over other methods of stimulating the brain is that it has no side-effects, since it acts directly on neurons, but not through chemicals. At this point though, scientists are not recommending that people use TDS kits unsupervised, at home.

But this approach to bettering our minds is not likely to go away anytime soon. Most likely, in a few years' time, scientists will develop TDS kits that people could use at home for a wide range of applications. That world would be very interesting to see. 

 
 
One of the most alarming trends researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found in a new study is that the general public is becoming increasingly skeptical that global warming exists, even as the scientific community is becoming increasingly certain of its reality. 

Among scientists, issues raised by skeptics have been addressed with solid arguments, and experts who at first were not convinced that climate change was occurring bowed to the data they were presented with. However, the general public is not willing to accept sound arguments. 

The issue of whether or not to accept global warming as a reality has more to do with the changes each individual has to make in themselves. Finally coming to terms that climate change is real implies dealing with the fact that you are part of the problem, and therefore need to change your habits. 
 
 
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Happiness found to be unrelated to macroeconomic factors.
For decades, politicians and economists believed that happiness is linked with macroeconomic factors in modern societies. As this view began to change over the past few years, researchers started wondering about what actually makes people happy. A new study finally comes up with some answers.

Scientists carried out what could best be described as a statistical analysis of attitudes among US citizens. The main goal was to determine the exact factors that people perceive as increasing their own happiness. Experts were motivated by some interesting researches. 

For starters, global data show that people living in countries such as Brazil, Panama and Cost Rica tended to declare themselves to be happier than their US counterparts. This puzzled experts, since these countries do not have a very strong economy.

The highest volume of data researchers had access to was collected from the General Social Survey, a study that began in 1972, and which covers about 32,000 people living in the United States. They are asked to answer a series of questionnaires covering different topics every year. 

One thing that investigators learned right away is that collecting data on this topic – and later interpreting them – is a very complex task, and one that can easily lead investigators astray. As such, the team used the utmost caution in interpreting the data, Technology Review reports. 

What researchers could not find for the life of them was a link between happiness and GDP, or between happiness and changes in GDP. If such a connection exists, it is even too weak to show up in statistical correlations, the team says. 

Researchers Teng Guo and Lingyi Hu found that health was the most important thing determining people's happiness level. They learned that age, marital status and personal income were also very important in establishing individual happiness levels. 

Overall, the study found that people who were healthy tended to be about 20 percent happier than the average. Conversely, sick people were 8.25 percent less happy than the average established in the study.

Interestingly, researchers learned that personal income played a very small role in establishing people's happiness levels. Those in the highest income bracket tended to be only about 3.5 percent happier than the study average. 

The new study should provide policymakers and politicians with a new angle to look for methods of increasing happiness in society. The macroeconomic angle is obviously not working out, so maybe it's time for a new approach altogether.

 
 
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Your memories and dreams could soon be converted to a digital format
In a study that is bound to entice numerous moral and ethical controversies, scientists at the University of California in Berkeley (UCB) announce the development of a new technique that allows them to tap into the human brain's video feed, hijacking the signal for display on computer monitors.

According to the team, this could be used to communicate with comatose patients, enabling doctors to experience whatever the person in front of them is experiencing. In the future, it may even be possible to post videos of one's dreams on YouTube.

But this cutting-edge blend of brain imaging and computer simulation will undoubtedly be used against the people as well, for torture or peering into someone's brain without their consent. This is why the work will cause so much stir. 

The UCB group was able to obtain this new capability by combining computer models with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). Together, these two instruments can decode and reconstruct a person's visual signal, albeit with some errors and a lot of fuzziness. 

Interestingly, the method also works for moving images, in the sense that scientists can look at a live feed recorded from the brain of a test subject watching a video. The images of researchers' screens also change as the participant views different actions.

At this point, the technology is limited by the fact that it can only see videos we've already seen ourselves. However, the team plans to improve this approach by becoming capable of taping into our dreams and memories as well.

“This is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery. We are opening a window into the movies in our minds,” UCB neuroscience professor Jack Gallant explains. He is also the coauthor of a new study detailing the findings, in the September 22 online issue of the journal Current Biology.

“Our natural visual experience is like watching a movie. In order for this technology to have wide applicability, we must understand how the brain processes these dynamic visual experiences,” UCB post-doctoral researcher and lead study author Shinji Nishimoto adds.

“We addressed this problem by developing a two-stage model that separately describes the underlying neural population and blood flow signals. We need to know how the brain works in naturalistic conditions. For that, we need to first understand how the brain works while we are watching movies,” he concludes.