Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Science of Hollywood

Following the Academy Awards this week (2/22/2015), came an article in the UK Daily Mail. Do you read reports like this with a critical eye? 

As I was reading this one, I found myself wondering, "In what way is this 'science'? Where can I find the citations to the original studies? How credible is information that has been simplified (dumbed down?) for popular consumption, i.e., referring to the activation of neuro-physiological responses as 'tricks'?"

In this particular case, I'm asking, "Who makes the rules? Are the rules that are attributed to neuroscientist, Jeffrey Zacks, similar to scientific laws, e.g., gravity, thermodynamics; or, are they merely theories, or perhaps just speculation worded in popular idiom? At one end of the scientific credibility spectrum, laws of science are so well replicated and so highly probable of predictable outcomes that they are indisputable. Theories fall toward the center of the spectrum as suspicions of predictable outcomes that are not necessarily highly verified. Speculations are way at the other end of the spectrum, with little or no particularly reliable predictability.

I am also asking, "How does Zacks' mirror rule square with the theory of mirror neurons, which holds that the contagion of emotions has a particular neurological basis making it more complex than simply imitative behavior? According to the Wikipedia entry on mirror neurons, "Neuroscientists such as Marco Iacoboni (UCLA) have argued that mirror neuron systems in the human brain help us understand the actions and intentions of other people. In a study published in March 2005 Iacoboni and his colleagues reported that mirror neurons could discern if another person who was picking up a cup of tea planned to drink from it or clear it from the table. In addition, Iacoboni has argued that mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy."

Unlike the piece in the Daily Mail, that Wikipedia entry includes some cautionary notes: "It has also been proposed that problems with the mirror neuron system may underlie cognitive disorders, particularly autism. However the connection between mirror neuron dysfunction and autism is tentative and it remains to be seen how mirror neurons may be related to many of the important characteristics of autism. Despite the excitement generated by these findings, to date, no widely accepted neural or computational models have been put forward to describe how mirror neuron activity supports cognitive functions such as imitation. There are neuroscientists who caution that the claims being made for the role of mirror neurons are not supported by adequate research." In your opinion, how important is it to include such cautions?

When we say that laughter is contagious, or when I salivate while I imagine biting into a lemon, did I not have a real and complex physiological experience? Is the fight-or-flight response of the central nervous system merely a habit?

Can the exercise of careful questioning go too far? 
It reminds me of a bit that I heard a comedian do years ago (Mort Sahl? Tom Lehrer? Lenny Bruce?) describing how philosophers tediously question the nature of reality. "The philosopher picks up a glass of water and states: This is a glass of water. Then, he ponders an elaborate set of semantic questions: But is it really a glass of water? And, if it is really a glass of water, why is it a glass of water? And, having spent so much time on these questions, the philosopher dies of thirst (rim shot, please!)." 

Sometimes, when we are thirsty, we should just drink some water. There is also a time to just shut up and enjoy the movie!

Monday, January 19, 2015

SERVICE is a Laughter Therapy Value

Did you know that the curriculum for "How to Create Therapeutic Laughter" is comprised of three major building blocks: Knowledge & Theory, Skills, and Values? Starting in 1973 (yes, indeed), I used this model to launch and maintain a highly successful college-level training program for mental health professionals, that is still in effect today. In fact, the collegiate program has incorporated "Therapeutic Laughter", which has become one of the most popular electives.

Among the World Laughter Tour's values education for laughter therapy is the concept of 'serving with love'. That is, keeping service in our hearts and minds while teaching & leading laughter programs. We underscore this concept in every workshop by studying these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"Everyone can be great because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your noun and verb agree to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love... When evil men plot, good men plan. When evil men bomb and burn, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glory of love."

The excellent reputation of WLT programs and associates has made a groundbreaking difference in the acceptance of these strategies. Because of careful curriculum design and faculty training, WLT has led the way in overcoming the skepticism and resistance we encountered initially. At first therapeutic laughter was considered ‘new’ to the field of healthcare therapies, but we have progressed from being considered as ‘alternative’ to being called ‘complimentary’, and finally to being an accepted part of ‘integrative medicine’. The ideas and methods are now acknowledged as playing a significant positive role in personal happiness as well as health & humans services, education, business, and community development.

Our concerted efforts over many years have certainly helped to make many lives richer and more rewarding, and has made the world a better place. We look forward to continuing this contribution for generations to come.

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