A Handy Guide to post #metoo Valentines

Well this is awkward.

Of course Valentine’s Day has always been awkward, it’s synonymous with, tongue-tied inept gestures and confused boundaries but this year, the rights and wrongs of romance are more opaque, confusing and dangerous than ever before. How can we know whether, when a date reaches out, they are mindful or a monster?

As populations grow, gene diversity widens. And, as potential mate selection becomes more complex so, it seems, proportionally, do our underlying courtship rituals and patterns; the taboos and to-dos of romance.

In pre-history, it’s thought, meet, greet, rape and mate was pretty much the order of the day; chocolates and flowers had little play with homo erectus. Even in the early civilizations of Greece and Rome, love poetry suggests there was more interest in ‘favourites’ than trying to beguile a mate to carry your genetic destiny. In Medieval Europe mating and marriage was strictly business and contracts. Romance itself didn’t actually appear until the 12th century and even then it came with a set of complicated and contradictory rules, (De Amore, Capellanus, Andreas, 1180), which has been baffling horny teenagers ever since.

Part of the difficulty of romance has always been that no one is ever sure that they’re doing the right thing. I urge you to read a fascinating history of this in Making Love – A Conspiracy of the Heart. (Brill, Marius, Doubleday 2001,)

So the course of true love never did run smooth, but now the #metoo and #timesup campaigns, while redefining sexual politics, are throwing the whole range of courtship behaviour into a maelstrom of complexity. Not just for lovers trying to learn new inoffensive ways to express sexual interest but for their objects who have to figure out intentions from ever more subtle signals.

Valentines Day’s most famous ritual has always been a little creepy. The line between sending an anonymous note declaring your passion, and stalking, has always been a thin one.

The line itself is reciprocation. You’re fine if the object of your passion wants it. But woe betide you if they don’t. And how are you to know, unless you’re willing to cross it?

Sometimes it’s pretty clear. If you’re convicted stalker Edward Vine, sending missives from your cell to newsreader Emily Maitlis (the clue’s in the name mate), then your attentions are likely to be unwelcome. On the other hand, if you’re 54-year-old Henry Bolton (leader of UKIP at time of press) being wooed by 25-year-old topless model Jo Marney, Christmas is definitely the best time to dump the wife, kids and any political credibility.

Most courtship signalling is less cut and dried. My own wife suffered 15 years of advances from a man she had no interest in before realising that the only way she might disillusion him was to marry him.

Much of the naming and shaming of the last year, which exploded with the Weinstein revelations, has been exposing not just rape, which is already on the criminal statutes, but other forms of sexual aggression which hitherto have inhabited the greyer area between slap’n’tickle and GBH. The vast majority of which seems to have something to do with what men do with their hands.

English does as much as a gender neutral language can to masculinise hands. They are manual, manipulate, manhandle, and so on. The French “main” has been conflated with the Germanic “mann” but something obvious is manifest and something you dare not refuse is mandatory. While you might get a handy man in to fix your boiler, a handy woman sounds more like a masseuse with a line in happy endings.

From the bragging “pussy” grabbing of the President, to the braying gropers of the President’s Club, right the way through to the horrific serial abuse of hundreds of children by the USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, what men do with their hands is no less invasive than what they do with their penises. Men’s hands are a menace. I’m not saying that men are not responsible for their hands, but what men find hard to consider is why they use them as they do. It’s not like there are any sexually stimulating arousal nerves in male fingers. So what possible satisfaction could a man get from grabbing an unwilling “pussy”, or for that matter any sexual anatomy or, indeed inserting their digits into anybody’s vagina?

The easy answer is power, it’s a way for disenfranchised men to show exactly who’s boss. It’s a way to feel strong and in a position of authority. You’re a king… or a President I guess. But maybe there is something else going on at a deeper level.

At one end of the hand-to-gland spectrum we have foreplay which, between consenting lovers, is the beginning of a path to mutual sexual satisfaction. At the other end is out-and-out assault. Between the two we have a host of words: stimulate – caress – touch – fondle – cop-a-feel – grope – molest. The correct verb for what might be exactly the same manual action relies completely on the receiver of this attention. The level of reciprocation defines everything and even if “no means no” is clear enough, “no” to intercourse and “no” to grope seem to occupy two different places in the male psyche.

Whether it’s down to too much testosterone, or the combination of X and Y chromosomes, or a genetic urgency, or because we wear our vaginas on the outside, or just the social expectation of gender dominance, men are never far from their own sexual needs. Gropers, fondlers, frotteurs, predominantly men, have all sorts of sociopathy but deep down, I have no doubt, there is also a misguided desperate expectation of reciprocation.

So here’s a simple secret that even men find hard to admit. When a man touches a woman or a lover it can mean all sorts of things as well, but it’s also a plea: “touch me”. It is a primeval do-as-I-do yearning for reciprocation, a desire to be touched right back. A longing to begin foreplay. Somewhere right at the back of Trump’s tiny mind there is the delusion that if he grabs a pussy, its owner might just sigh with delight, grab his tiny Donald Jr back and orgasms will follow. This almost psychotic delusion, ridiculous as it may be, may just lie at the very heart of every touch-feely, gropey, fingery man you ever met.

And as more and more #metoo stories emerge, it seems the male inability to gauge reciprocation, or their willingness to ignore the lack of it, is a delusion that creates monsters. Happy Valentines.


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Bad memories could be ERASED from your mind for good

The University of Toronto has succeeded in both activating and erasing fear-based memories in mice. There are, however, ‘huge’ ethical implications for using the same technique in humans (stock image).

Source: Bad memories could be ERASED from your mind for good

“Unethical amnesia”: subconscious deliberately suppresses memories of dishonesty

“Unethical amnesia”: subconscious deliberately suppresses memories of dishonesty Memories of past dishonesty is distressing, so the brain shuts them down

CREDIT: TELEGRAPH Henry Bodkin 16 MAY 2016 • 8:20PM

People are prone to repeat dishonest acts because the human subconscious deliberately suppresses memories of unethical behavior, scientists have found.

Fiddling expenses, cheating the taxman and even extramarital affairs are all less likely to be remembered than virtuous acts because of the phenomenon of “unethical amnesia”, according to researchers at Harvard and Northwestern Universities.

Maryam Kouchaki and Francesca GinoPublished in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the new study explains how the brain actively adopts strategies to avoid remembering instances of bad behavior in order to avoid psychological distress.

These include “re-coding” previous actions by subconsciously dehumanising the victims of dishonesty.

Additionally, many of the participants in the study were found to be operating a “double-distancing” mechanism, whereby they judged other people’s transgressions more harshly than their own, allowing them to view themselves in a more virtuous light.

Subjects were randomly tasked with writing about either an unethical or an ethical past experience.Their answers were then assessed against characteristics of memory such as clarity of detail and how well the subject remembered their feelings at the time of the act.

The results showed that individuals’ recall of their own past unethical acts were less vivid than memories of their ethical acts.

Participants were also asked to take part in a coin-tossing game where they were able to lie in order to win more money.

Their subsequent recall of the game was far less accurate than that of the dinner they enjoyed together later that day.

This unethical amnesia means people are more likely to act dishonestly repeatedly over time, wrote lead authors Maryam Kouchaki and Francesca Gino.

Source: “Unethical amnesia”: subconscious deliberately suppresses memories of dishonesty

How to banish bad memories: Brains can be trained to let go of unwanted thoughts by thinking of them in a new context

For some, a certain song or smell makes them feel postively nostalgic while for someone else it reminds them of a love lost.But a new study has shown people can intentionally forget past experiences by changing how they think about the context of those memories.

The findings could help in the development of new educational tools, or even help to diminish harmful memories, especially in people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Theorists have known since the Ancient Greek era the importance of context in retrieving our memories, such as being reminded by a particular person, sight or smell.

But the team from Dartmouth and Princeton wanted to find out about whether memories could be intentionally forgotten.

To do this, they scanned the brains of participants using MRI technology to track the thoughts related to memories’ contexts, while putting a new twist on the traditional psychological research technique of having subjects memorise and recall a list of unrelated words.

In the new study, researchers showed participants images of outdoor scenes, such as forests, mountains and beaches, as they studied two lists of random words.

More at

It’s not your normal book


This is a book about a magician and a con-artist as written by a brain-scientist. The magician gets tangled into a con-artist scam and so ends up on the run from the authorities in a particularly thrilling chase. The brain scientist is trying to help the magician forget about his old life and start a new one, one with no recollections of his past, and this novel is his way of recording the magician’s past.

So it’s not your normal book what with the outline above, the many twists and turns within the plot and it’s story being organised around various academic articles on memory and how the brain works.

Indeed I have to say these articles did somewhat get in the way of the main narrative and could have been edited out but it sort of added to the authenticity of the author being an expert in the field of thoughts so I can understand why they are there. That aside the book was a cracking read with a really good story which always left me guessing as to where it would go next. It was a very clever plot full of humorous metaphors and excellent repartee.


More reviews at GoodReads

Love Nuts?

O the hateful, grateful, fateful, dateful day has arrived once more. The shops are full of heart shaped balloons and pink fluffy handcuffs, the restaurants are hiking their prices and it’s all coming up roses for florists. The ides of February are upon us. The saint responsible for our October birthday bonanza is having his day. Love is in the air; try not to choke.

‘Love’ is one of the two ultimate life memes (‘religion’ being the other); an idea passed down through the generations, slowly mutating, and stubbornly surviving as effectively as genetic material. An idea so ingrained that it seems completely natural.

But if love’s so natural, why does it need a special day? I mean flatulence, haemorrhoids, and the making of fatuous comparisons to undermine the importance of a subject also come quite naturally, but none are honoured with a patron saint or a day of appreciation. The bells of St Piles don’t ring and despite the invention of the vindaloo we don’t go out dining once a year to purposefully inspire the methane missives.MAD-LOVE-black-and-white

Falling in love, we learn from an early age, is the most natural thing in the world, we all do it, even educated fleas do it. Except, of course, they don’t (I’d say they simply hop about until they die, but maybe that’s jumping to conclusions). Birds don’t do it, bees don’t do it, not even the beans in Boston do it. It is a distinctly human trait and there is a growing trend in academic studies to treat the symptoms and causes of being ‘in’ love as ‘unnatural’ to the human condition. They have, after all, no discernible biological cause or zoological analogue. It’s not like we have to fall in love to procreate, just check Tinder. No don’t. Really. DON’T. Our species could get on just fine without being confused by courtship rituals or weathering the visceral silences as we disappoint each other’s parents at that first awkward meeting.

Although there are ways we love which are undeniably innate, instincts that guide us to care for, and about, our mates and progenies, being ‘in’ love is a different matter. The emotions of being ‘in’ love simply seem a delusional loss of sanity caused by trying to resolve two completely incompatible impulses: our ‘natural’ sexual instinct, our urge to procreate and continue our genetic line; and our ‘cultural’ sense of social responsibility, to live un-raped, in a civilised manner by a set of codes which protect all of us from each other.

And trying to balance the two, we all go a little crazy.  Psychologists have even coined a distinct term for this delusional state: ‘Limerence’.

Then there are sociologists who have amassed evidence that the symptoms of ‘limerence’ are predominately ‘learnt’ from social influences and that ‘romance’ is the way we try to establish rules in our attempt to rationalise the madness.

And finally there are the historians and cultural academics, including CS Lewis, who have pointed to a distinct period in European history when ‘love’ was invented.  A ‘cult of love’ sprang from the medieval courts of 12th Century France, in the era of the crusades when, for the first time in European history, women were left nominal heads of the states as the kings and menfolk went to kick off 900 years of resentment in the Middle East. Somehow, as the power of the queens ascended (this was also the time when the Queen was introduced to the chess board) the European feudal system changed from Lord-Fearing into Love-Fearing.  To be in love is to always be aware of the possibility of rejection, a much more economical fear than all the beatings and beheadings medieval kings were always having to organise.

So, could ‘romance’, our interpretation of the confusion between the urge to mate and the need to date, been codified as a form of statecraft? A way to control the filthy masses through their own dirty urges?

Today, a cultural production line of romances, ads, dramas, pop-songs, poetry, bombards us every second, all telling us that love is the most fantastic experience possible, that it is something we must have.  Is it really a reflection of human nature or is it propaganda?

If falling in love is unnatural, delusional, something perhaps designed to keep the masses in the thrall of the state; if it is subject to a mass of negative symptoms, anxiety, stress and insecurity; if it doesn’t help our sense of self-worth or sanity; why do we still feel compelled to use it to choose our mates? Why do we keep falling for it?

Lovers of the world unite. Put down your Special Valentines Menus, save your stamps and your SWALKs and your boxes of Milk Tray. Waste no more time with this ‘pretty little thing’, tell each other exactly what you want. Do the maths then go forth and multiply… that’s when everything really gets tricky.


Discover the secrets of unnatural love in Making Love: A Conspiracy of the Heart by Marius Brill, available on Amazon and through all good bookshops.

First published in


Spies Among Us

You’re quietly eating your sandwich on a park bench when a man in dark glasses sits down next to you. ‘The red squirrel eats with a fork tonight,’ he intones in a thick accent. Do not be surprised. Make no false moves. You’re in the right place. Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster have a rich history of such non sequitur meetings and clandestine assignations. From Baden Powell to, body-in-the-bag spy, Gareth Williams, the area is a renowned for espionage and its practitioners.

‘Neighbourhoods like this,’ Roy Berkeley wrote, about the second world war in A Spy’s London, were perfect for spies; ‘where bourgeois propriety could be counted on to give a certain security: the odd-looking foreigners, if noticed at all, would tend to be discreetly ignored.’ And little has changed in this area, a vanguard of multiculturalism, where the only colour that matters is the colour of your money.

Some of these boroughs’ best kept secrets lie in the inconspicuous buildings we pass every day. There are no blue plaques, no statues or thronging crowds of tourists, but the quiet men and women, who plied their secret trade on these streets, changed the course of the world.

Harold ‘Kim’ Philby is one of Kensington and Chelsea’s most infamous former residents. A member of the notorious Cambridge Spy Ring, he worked as a double agent passing secrets from MI6 straight to the KGB for over twenty years; he was central to perpetuating the Cold War and the fear of imminent threat it held for so many.

When MI6 moved to central London in 1943, Philby took up residence at his mother’s flat in the basement of Grove Court, Holly Mews. He came with his wife, his two children and his two terriers called MI5 and MI6. And it was here he returned, in 1955, to hold a press conference, after being thrown out of Washington by the CIA as a suspected Russian spy. He denied spying, threatened to sue anyone who speculated that he did, and he was comfortably back at work in MI6 within six months. It was another ten years of treachery before he was finally exposed and fled to the USSR.

In 1944, collecting salaries in both roubles and pounds, Philby was able to move his family into the very exclusive 18 Carlyle Square, heart of the wealthy beau monde. He held lavish and decadent parties here yet few thought, or dared, to ask how a mid-ranking civil servant could afford such splendour.

Both properties are just a short stroll from the, then, Russian Consulate at 3 Rosary Gardens. Many believe it was here Philby was ‘turned’; recruited to the KGB. The building still keeps thick black blinds permanently down; the only clue to its present owner is the name on the bell, RIA Novosti, the Russian press agency.

It’s unlikely Philby delivered Britain’s most sensitive intelligence here; too obvious, too surveillable. Spies prefer ‘Dead Drops’ or ‘Dead Letter Boxes’ (DLBs); secret caches to leave film or information for later collection by other agents. When senior KGB boss, and British double agent, Oleg Gordievsky defected, he brought with him the KGB spy’s handbook which described the locations of the Russian DLBs. The statue of St Francis of Assisi opposite Holy Trinity Brompton Church was one. ‘If you stand facing the statue,’ says the handbook, ‘there is a large tree growing just to the left… The site for the DLB is on the ground at the base of the tree, between the tree and the fence.’

Another DLB is actually inside neighbouring Brompton Oratory; behind ‘the column nearest to the wall,’ by the first altar on the right as you enter. Seldom visited, poorly lit and not on ‘State property’, it was described by one KGB agent as ‘the safest in London.’ It seems they took the maxim of ‘hiding in plain sight’ very literally.

The Special Operations Executive, the secret WWII organisation tasked with teaching terror tactics to underground movements in occupied countries, didn’t just hide in plain sight, their ‘safe house’ used to protect foreign agents at 20 Cranley Place, just screams for attention with its extraordinary classical pediment.

Nearby, The Right Club – the clue to their political leaning was in the name – held their clandestine meetings in the flat above the Russian Tea Rooms, at 50 Harrington Road. As fascist anti-Semitism rose in 1930’s Germany, this extremist ‘Club’ gathered the cream of British society to agitate for Nazi rule in the UK. It included a dozen MPs, four peers, four sons of peers and a host of well-connected socialites.

MI5 agent Joan Miller infiltrated the group and befriended Anna Wolkoff, daughter of the Tea Room’s Tsarist owner. Marooned in London after the Russian Revolution, believing that their enemy’s enemy must be their friend, the Wolkoffs were rabid Nazi sympathisers.

When Miller began, she reported to MI5, just a few blocks away at 124-126 Cromwell Road. By the time she bust the Right Club, scoring the first major intelligence success of the war, MI5 had moved to Thames House in Victoria.

Anna Wolkoff’s lover, Tyler Kent, was a code clerk, at the American embassy. A vicious anti-Semite, he was a frequent guest at her house, 18 Roland Gardens. In 1940, as Chamberlain faltered in the first months of WWII, Churchill secretly began a dialogue with Roosevelt, hoping to persuade the US to enter the war. Kent, fearing an agreement would doom the Nazi effort, stole the documentation. He passed the papers – that could have undermined trust in Churchill, forcing him to resign – through Wolkoff, to the head of the Right Club, Archibald Ramsey, MP.

Just 13 days after Churchill was selected – rather than elected – as Prime Minister, Miller got wind of the plot. Tyler and Wolkoff were quickly apprehended and before Ramsey could release the papers, he too was arrested at his house at 24 Onslow Gardens. On finding the Right Club’s register of members, a total of 1,373 influential British Nazis were arrested. Churchill remained and in 1941 America entered the war; the rest is, of course, history.

But the area isn’t just testament to historic spying. ‘Tradecraft’ remains, very much, among us. Mystery still surrounds the discovery of Gareth Williams, the 31 year old code expert on secondment from GCHQ to MI6, whose dead body was found naked and padlocked in a sports holdall, submerged in “a fluid” in the bath of his 3rd floor flat at 36, Alderney Street, in 2010. Some say the flat is an MI6 safe house. But the Land Registry reveals the offshore owner is one New Rodina. Rodina, or родина, is the Russian word for ‘home’ or ‘Motherland’. In fact The Rodina Society was used as a cover operation for KGB activity in the West during the Cold War.
So tread carefully, keep an eye over your shoulder, there are spies among us.

Marius Brill’s comic spy thriller, Making Love: A Conspiracy of the Heart is available on Amazon and from all good bookshops.


First published in


Review – Derren Brown – Miracle (needed)

They say, “Never meet your heroes”. Nothing to do with halitosis apparently. It’s something about your expectations exceeding the reality and tempting disappointment.

Since he first started reading minds on TV over a decade ago, Derren Brown has been an absolute hero to me, almost a god. He inspired my second novel and motivated me to practice prestidigitation and mentalism right up and into the Magic Circle (available for weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs, etc.).

I even met him once and though, sadly, nothing magical passed between us, we also didn’t have the opportunity to disappoint each other. And we both were far too polite to mention the halitosis.

What they don’t say is, “Never see your heroes live and working at what they’re supposed to be best at”. Which is why I allowed myself some expectations when I sat down to witness his latest West End show Miracle. A title filled with irony and yet unable to hide the fact the show really needs one.

It’s not that Brown’s effects were transparent, though a couple were surprisingly so. And it’s not that he has lost any of his charisma, though in the second half he does try to ape charismatic faith healers in a theatrical expose that falls short. It’s just that, unlike the preachers he attempts to shame, his heart just doesn’t seem to be in it. Presumably the greed that drives American faith healers, spurs them into passionate reveries, a misapprehended dedication which inspires their followers. Brown attempts to copy these evangelical tirades but then, almost immediately, is betrayed by his own disgust for the characters he’s impersonating as well as a lack of, dare I say it, faith… in his own cause.

Oh darn it. Now I’ve revealed something that was in the show. And he had asked us all so nicely at the beginning, not to tell anyone what we were going to witness.

And honestly, if Brown had produced something truly unique or original or just looked like it took some effort or care, I would be respecting his wishes and be offering you so much exultant, content free, wind. But I got the feeling that his desire for secrecy may have had more to do with a lack of confidence in the production than a desire to surprise and delight further audiences; that if potential ticket buyers knew more, they just might stop coming.

So what’s gone wrong?

Simply, it seems that Brown and fellow genius/mentalist/actor/other hero director Andy Nyman have failed to dress the effects with the care that they used to. What made Brown such a class-leading, unique performer was his ability to build stories around his effects with beautiful logic that created almost entirely credible explanations. Brown’s fans mould themselves in his image, they see themselves as intelligent, thoughtful, and sceptical if not downright cynical – but then they swear by his declared techniques. So if, for example, you put enough subliminal suggestions around an ad writer’s journey to work you will be able to influence him to come up with a precise idea you’ve already predicted. Obvs! If you find a truly compliant person, whittled from a large group through a bunch of psychological games, you can safely play Russian Roulette with them. For sure! If you crowd-source your lottery numbers, the group will come up with the winning combination. Well. The first two anyway. But Miracle just feels cobbled together; like they could no longer be bothered to put the work in.

Even the audience seemed less enrapt by the great man.

“Was there a reason you thought of that particular number?” Brown quizzed a gentleman who had earlier been selected to dream one up.

“Because that’s the one you told me before the show,” the man replied. Brown cringed and repeated several times that that was not the case, sounding rather like the lady who protesteth too much and not the old Brown who might have confidently joined in the fun with a, “how am I going to get away with the ‘no stooge’ thing now?…” or whatever.

In Absolute Magic, Brown’s bible for magicians on the art of magical performance, he insists that, “You must entertain and enthral, and not drift into risible pretension or alienate with an insensitively handled agenda.” Unfortunately, with Miracle, Brown does just that.

In the first half, he clumsily tries to inject an agenda, about the deadening aspects of the mid-life crisis and the reviving qualities of risk, into a number of unoriginal effects. Effects which have either been seen so often the risk appears minimal – such as the game of Russian Roulette involving a spike hidden in one of a number of identical paper bags (an effect so well-trodden Brown preceded it with a montage of YouTube videos of worse magicians getting the trick wrong) – or simply lacking the dramatic build up to mean much or give credibility. When he got an audience member to dine on a broken lightbulb with him, he offered a half-hearted suggestion that taking a risk like this would help her be braver about finding her own way in life. A large part of this was whilst she was off-stage and most of it was said only after the effect was over. I’m sure the Derren Brown who was my hero would have used his miracle making, mesmerising authority to build up the spectator until she really believed she could do this impossible thing, and only then would she cautiously be allowed to put the glass in her mouth. But he barely tried, and she simply, trustingly, put the glass in her mouth, chewed and swallowed it.

Afterwards, as she was ushered to her seat, Brown instructed the audience “Obviously don’t try this at home, you need someone like me to talk you through it.” But that’s it. No theatre, no attempt to create an impossible story around it and would my hero, the old Brown, even suggest that there was anyone like him?

It was in the second half that Brown tried to take on the persona of a faith healer. One girl started crying on stage because she thought she’d been cured from crippling anxiety only to get up on stage and be faced with the full force of it. Brown seemed lost for words. He was at once affecting change for those who would believe and yet trying to peddle an anti-belief message; you are the agent of your own change etc. It’s a familiar tightrope for him and yet, in Miracle, it proved an impossible one.

And there we have it. The conviction that Brown put into his TV work seems to have, hopefully briefly, departed him in Miracle. With that unshakable self-belief gone, he fails to inspire, the experience seems a little empty and one wonders whether this is Brown’s own mid-life crisis enacted on stage.

It’s not easy to watch gods become mortal. Yet, in showing his feet of clay, Brown unconsciously points to the footprints he has left behind. Miracle will remind you that we shouldn’t take for granted the wonders he has created, what astonishments he has wrought and how, over the years, he has taught us all to be a little more sceptical and question what we see. In Miracle we see more vulnerable Derren Brown, we see that he is a human after all, but that, as he reminds us at the beginning of the show, is quite a miracle in itself.


First published in


One Day, Scientists May Be Able To Erase Negative Memories In Your Brain While You Sleep

What if scientists could sneak into your brain while you’re sleeping and erase painful memories — or turn them into happy ones? What sounds like something out of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” could be a reality sooner than you might expect.

Of course, nobody’s saying the technique will be used to help people get over a bad breakup. But it just might change the lives of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In pioneering new research, neuroscientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and ESPCI ParisTech manipulated memories in sleeping mice, using paired electrodes inserted into the brain to turn neutral memories into positive ones.

The new discovery has members of the scientific community buzzing.

“This research demonstrates a remarkable level of mastery over the cognitive machinery that gives rise to memories,” Steve Ramirez, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has conducted landmark research on memory manipulation, told The Huffington Post in an email.

In the experiment, the researchers placed one electrode in the hippocampus, a brain region associated with spatial memory. The other was placed in the brain’s so-called “reward center.”

First, they monitored the brain activity of each mouse as it roamed around an “exploration area.” As the mouse stored memories of different locations in the exploration area, different neurons in the hippocampus lit up, indicating that spatial information was being recorded.

Then, the researchers monitored activity of the hippocampus at night as it consolidated memories of different locations the mouse had visited that day.

They placed an electrode on a neuron that had lit up in one particular corner of the cage earlier that day. When that memory was being processed, the researchers used another electrode to stimulate the brain’s reward center, making the mouse associate that location with some sort of reward, such as food.

How do they know it worked? When the mice woke up, they ran straight to that area of the cage, expecting a reward.

“The learning we induced during sleep was just to change the emotional value of the different locations of the environments,” Dr. Karim Benchenane, a neuroscientist at CNRS and one of the study’s authors, told The Huffington Post in an email. “Indeed, during waking hours, all the locations were neutral. What we made them learn during sleep is that a particular location is now associated to a reward.”

These results tell us something fascinating about about how the brain works: Our memories seem to be stored in a piecemeal fashion. While one area of the brain holds the factual information of the memories, the emotions associated with the memory are held in a different area.

So what about a human brain? In the future, scientists might be able to go into a person’s brain while they’re sleeping and turn off the emotional element of a negative memory, essentially extracting the trauma from a traumatic experience.

“For humans, you would need a way to detect during sleep the periods during which the traumatic experiences are reactivated,” Benchenane explained. “It is likely that it will be soon possible to do so with fMRI.”

But it’s going to be a while before this technique is used on humans, because of the risks associated with sticking electrodes in the human brain.

Still, the potential for future treatment is promising.

“We’re just scratching the tip of the technical iceberg and definitely have our work cut out for us,” Ramirez said. “Nonetheless, the study gives us a fantastic and novel framework under which to work to achieve these kinds of treatment-related goals.”

The findings were published on March 9 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

via One Day, Scientists May Be Able To Erase Negative Memories In Your Brain While You Sleep.

Coco con couple masterminded £280,000 VAT con on fashion stores | Mail Online

Crime pays – they only have to pay back £53,000


PUBLISHED: 18:48, 17 February 2014 | UPDATED: 09:16, 18 February 2014

A couple on benefits ran a £280,000 VAT scam on luxury fashion brand Chanel in order to fund a luxury flat in London’s exclusive Chelsea, private schools for their children and gambling at casinos.

Emmanuel and Behnaz Scotts bought items at one of three Chanel stores and later return the goods to a different shop to obtain a refund or an exchange.

The couple, who claimed £32,000 in benefits, posed as wealthy tourists in order to claim back tax on returned goods  They also misled staff into supplying VAT export claim forms for goods they had not bought.

Fraudsters: Behnaz Scotts, who ran a VAT scam with her husband Emmanuel. The pair would pose as foreign tourists in order to claim back tax on returned goods

Last week Emmanuel Behnaz was told to repay £27,672 and his wife £25,622 – or they would be handed 15 months in jail – at an Old Bailey confiscation hearing, reports the Evening Standard.

via Chanel scam couple masterminded £280,000 VAT con on fashion stores | Mail Online.