Mind, Brain and Relationships as a Single Reality.

In a new field call the Interpersonal Neurobiology, the mind, brain and relationships is viewed as a single reality rather than three separate entities. First let me quickly review the single reality story and then I will look at the value or benefits of this new view.

To understand how  mind, brain and relationships are connected as a single reality we can envision a visual image of  triangle that signifies one reality with three facets. The one unified reality, represented by the triangle, is the system of energy and information flow (at times I will refer to it as ‘the flow’).

The triangle represents the process by which energy and information flow and how the flow changes across time. The relationships are the sharing of that flow. The brain here represents the neurones in the head, as well as the nerves in the whole body; and it represents embodied mechanism of that flow. And the mind is an emergent process the arises from the system of energy and information flow within our bodies and between people; another wards the mind result from the brain and the relationships as the energy flow. The mind is an emergent process that regulates that from which it arises.( i.e. the mind arises from the movement of energy in the brain and the relationships; and then the mind regulates the flow in the brain and in a relationship). What arises is the emergent self – organizing process that regulates the energy and information flow. So the mind, among other attributes, is in part the regulatory process that shapes energy and information flow within and between people

In the Interpersonal Neurobiology field, the brain, mind and the relationships are not separate from each other, they are three elements of energy and information flow that represents the same single reality. These three elements communicate, relate and exchange information with regulation of “the flow”  between them. The better the communication and linkage between them  then better will be the “integration”, which is important as we will see in a moment.

From  an interpersonal neurobiology perspective , integration is the definition of good health. Integration is, as mentioned  before, the linkage of differentiated elements. A healthy mind, a healthy brain, and healthy relationship emerge from good integration. The structural connections of differentiated areas to one another in the body enable flexible and adaptive regulation. A well-regulated brain coordinates and balances its functioning through having a good integration with all its differentiated parts.

What are the advantages of this model ? Well, for one, we can understand better how the energy and information flow trough the brian as revealed in various brain scan findings; for example we can see what happens to energy flow on a scan when someone sees a loved one or an enemy or what happens when we trying to solve a problem etc.  We can also reinterpret the field of mental disorders; instead of listing properties of a particular disorder and giving it a name such a depression or schizophrenia, we can understand depression or schizophrenia as process of energy flow disruption or inadequate integration between differentiated parts of the brain . We can also reframe how we approach understanding relational experiences within families, couples, classrooms, or companies. Integration becomes the framework for looking for dysfunction ; the energy and information flow becomes our focus for correcting the dysfunction.

Integration creates harmony. Impaired integration results in chaos and/or rigidity. Brain or relationship that are not integrated move into dysfunctional state. The brain is unable to balance the flow of energy and information in a flexible way. So it either adopt a very rigid way of handling the energy or it may become very chaotic. The same is true for the relationships, if the information and energy cannot be handled between a couple in flexible and balance manner the relationships become rigid or chaotic.

The natural implication of this interpersonal neurobiology view of integration at the heart of health is that we can empower each other to discover novel and effective approaches to promoting wellness in our relationship, our brains, and our minds.

The nature of the impediment to integration may be some combination of genetic , experiential , or chance factors. This strategy then recognizes each individuals innate potential to heal and become whole by releasing the blocked capacity of that person to integrate the brain and relationships. The role of the clinician , teacher , or parent , then , is to facilitate the discovery of this potential for integration inherent in each of us. This is the way we awaken the mind to create health in the person’s life.

Daniel J. Siegel writes in his book ” Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology” ...

“…the triangle in everyday life enables us to see how our minds emerges not only from neural mechanisms but also from relationship we have with other people and with our planet. This means that we don’t ” own ” our minds , but rather we have an expanded sense of identity that goes beyond the boundary of our skin , beyond a definition of ” self” that is limited to just our bodily encasement. When studies of happiness, health, longevity , and even wisdom are reviewed , the key feature shared by each of these attributes is relationships. We can see how the triangle makes relationships equally as important as the embodied mechanisms of the brain in shaping the mind.When the relationships are integrated, a person’s mind thrives and the individual is healthier, happier, wiser, and live longer.”

At the heart of well-being is a fully integrated view of energy and information flow: the way it is shared in relationships, passes through  the embodied  mechanism of the brain, and is regulated by the self-organizing emergent embodied and relational process of mind.

Resources

Daniel J. Siegel  ” Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology” 

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Mindfulness is the single most important foundation of Health.

It has become more common to hear people talk about mindfulness. In the future I believe it will become even more common and it would not surprise me if as part of the health promoting measures, health care professionals don’t start advocating mindfulness in addition to exercise, good nutrition etc. But what is mindfulness? The exact definition is still being debated but generally it is a form of awareness where we are fully present for an inner or outer moment of  experience, of being accepting and open. In contrast non-mindfulness is when we view from a prejudicial belief, we may be fully aware but not mindfully aware because we are not open and not accepting. We can for example act hostile towards someone because of our existing mental model of hostility but not because there is any need to be hostile. In mindfulness the stance is one of positive regard for others, a nonjudgemental awareness that is tinted with acceptance at its core, of compassion towards self and others.

Mindful awareness can be intentionally created by practices such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, or centring prayer. Daniel J. Siegel in his book ” Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology ” writes this about mindfulness…

“Studies of those with mindful awareness using a broad application of these features reveal that it is of benefit to the health of the mind in terms of balanced emotional regulation, flexibility, and approaching rather than withdrawing from challenging event. Being mindful makes you more empathetic and improves the health of the body in terms of enhanced immune function and increased telomerase – the enzyme that maintains the telomeres at the ends of chromosomes and thus enhances cellular longevity. Mindfulness also helps you have more resilience in the face of chronic pain. Mindfulness awareness helps minds, relationships, and our embodied lives.”

In the ancient traditions of the East mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years to seek truths at higher state of being or to seek enlightenment. It is only recently scientists, with encouragement of Dalai Lama, are discovering the value of mindfulness for health and relationships. In the future posts I will talk about the neurobiology of mindfulness.

 

Resources

Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology  by Daniel J. Siegel

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Spring Time Cherry Blossom in Washington DC on a Rainy Day.

Three days of intense learning can be exhilarating but can also leave you feeling little depleted of energy. I finally had three-hour window to go and see the famous cherry blossoms in Washington DC before my next learning session. I quickly got my stuff together but when I came out it was cloudy and the rain pouring down. The power of suggestion must have worked on me because I heard people say on numerous occasions how beautiful the flowers were; so even though it was raining, my camera was going to get wet, I had no rain gear, I decided to go. I took the metro and got off at the Smithsonian Station and was faced with sea of people. There was a very loud festival going on.

I quickly got away from the loud noise, the rain continued. After only a short walk I was treated to a feast for the eyes. The rumours were right the flowers were beautiful, even on a rainy, cloudy day. I slowed myself down by telling myself …” I have all the time I need, I have nowhere to go and nothing to do…just enjoy.”  And I did !

In 1912, an incredible gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees was bestowed on Washington, DC by Tokyo, Japan. Rooted strongly and surviving outside elements, the trees have withstood the test of time – and nearly a century later, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is having an unprecedented and once-in-a-lifetime celebration from March 20- April 27, 2012.

The Meaning of Life.

The more I learn about the humankind, both in health and disease state, the more it seems meaning of life resides in love and relationship. In the era of postmodernity of course not all will agree; some will want to insist that meaning of life is primarily individual affair and the search for meaning is personal. But lets assume for a moment that it is a personal affair; is it possible to have any sort of meaning about anything if one finds themselves on a deserted island? Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away finds himself desperately needing a companion and forms a relationship with volleyball called Wilson. At one point in the movie, Wilson gets carried away by the wave far into the sea, Tom Hanks risks his life to rescue the volleyball Wilson. For Tom Hanks in the movie the meaning came from the relationship ( or maybe even some kind of love) he had cultivated with the ball. Nothing else in isolation give him any meaning, he would rather have died than to lose Wilson; even the natural beauty of the Island had no meaning of him.

Cast Away

Cast Away (Photo credit: .noir photographer)

What if we created out of love for another a space in which she/he could flourish, and the other, in reciprocity, did the same for you.Then fulfillment of each becomes a reason for the fulfillment of the other. Surely, most would be at their best in this situation; rather than individualist who fail to see life as a common or reciprocal activity.

Terry Eagleton in his book ” The Meaning of Life – A very short introduction ”  give an image of loving relationship with example of a jazz group. He write…

” A jazz group which is improvising obviously differs from a symphony orchestra,since to a large extent each member is free to express herself as she likes. But she does so with a receptive sensitivity to the self- expressive performances of the other musicians. The complex harmony they fashion comes not from playing from a collective score, but from the free musical expression of each member acting as the basis for the free expression of the others. As each player grows more musically eloquent, the other draw inspiration from this and are spurred to greater heights. There is no conflict here between freedom and the ‘good of the whole’, yet the image is the reverse of totalitarian. Though each performer contributes to ‘ the greater good of the whole’, she does not by some grim-lipped self- sacrifice but simply by expressing herself. There is self-realization, but only through a loss of self in the music as a whole. There is achievement, but it is not a question of self- aggrandizing success. Instead, the achievement – the music itself- acts as a medium of relationship among the performers. There is pleasure to be reaped from this artistry, and – since there is a free fulfillment or realization of powers- there is also happiness in the sense of flourishing. Because this flourishing is reciprocal, we can even speak, remotely and analogically, of a kind of love.”

Living and thinking this way of being, would certainly give meaning to my life and I would even go further and say we will realize our natures at their finest. Of course one could also lead a life of achievement and philanthropy; that too will  give meaning to life. But I believe there will be some incommunicable yearning for something more.

Pondering the meaning of life, for sure.

Resources:

The Meaning of Life – A very short introduction  By Terry Eagleton

Searching for “medical truth” on the Internet.

I use the Internet to look up information almost daily because the new information that gets added to the medical field everyday is staggering. What I had learned in the medical school no longer apply today because about 90% of the information has been replaced by new discoveries and new paradigms.  I remember the dean of medical school telling us in his welcome address to us on our first day of medical school that we will have to continue leaning for the rest of our medical career because what you learn in medical school will be mostly replaced within ten years with new information; and it will continue to be replaced about every ten years.

Searching for the medical information on the Internet can be tricky for someone without medical training. When I look up information on the Internet it is usually to add new information to my existing medical knowledge base and understanding. But a person without a medical background just accrues mere facts. The facts are fine but they do not provide any understanding as to how they are to be interpreted or applied in a given context of a medical condition or situation.

Over the years with the availability of internet and the gradual adoption of the postmodern skepticism view, I have seen more and more people believing less and less to an authority and objectivity; which translated, really means that people don’t trust objective truth. In which case they are inclined not to believe individual who are experts or are specially trained in a particular field. People tend to believe those who are ‘authentic’ or ‘candid’ and state their biases. But that is not enough to get a hold on truth, to see the situation “as it is “ one needs more.

Someone who is an authority on a subject is not alone on holding those truths, he/she has a history of communal trek which span over many centuries and over many different terrains during which sphere of knowledge has been accumulated on firm footing. The folk lure and popular opinion have been weeded out by making scrupulous, disinterested observations and by executing careful, transparent experiments. These truths are never final, in future times it is possible that the truth we hold today may be falsified with further new evidence. This is what separates knowledge from opinion or folklore; knowledge can be corrected and new insights can be added to the sphere of knowledge. Experts in their fields know how to evaluate the truth from competing false charismatic claims; she/he is unlikely to make decisions that may be based on false information, thus avoiding decisions that are irrational, prejudiced, or those that are susceptible to propaganda.

Most people (though less than before) afford special privilege to the professionals because they ask and expect them to render complex, disinterested judgments under conditions of uncertainty; and this is how it should be. We should not be so naïve as to believe that most individuals can become their own best doctors by surfing the Internet and getting the facts. Much more is need to make good medical decisions about the diagnosis and the treatment options.

The Internet has its usefulness for sure; it is a source of information that has never been available to so many and so easily in the history of humankind. People can communicate and publicize that which is not right with the world. They can criticize the experts or the public leaders. This is all good for democracy. But it can also be used as a propaganda tool. It has never been so critical in the history of humans to be able to evaluate information appropriately so that it’s not misleading. Humankind it seems has solved the problem of disseminating information to everyone who cares to know but we still have long ways to go with understanding and wisdom.

Howard Gardner in his book “ Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed” writes…

But the proliferation of sources on the web may well usher in new situation: in the future we can expect more knowledge, better questions, and refusal to accept authority, let alone stand in awe, just because a credentialing agency has placed a new additional letters before or after the professional’s given name.”

It is hard to be certain what the future will look like with new changes, attitudes and expectations. I am hopeful that future will afford constructive conversations between individuals, families, groups, and the community at large; and should disputes arise they are settled with knowledge with firm basis.

Resources:

“ Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed”  by Howard Gardner

Self-Actualization Through Beauty

These two videos on beauty are worth watching.  It is wonderful examples of how these two artistest’s are self actualizing through beauty. Notice what they say about how the chosen object of beauty connects them and everyone else to nature and also notice how passionate they are about their work.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8Etw0sXdQ4

http://www.ted.com/talks/camille_seaman_haunting_photos_of_ice.html

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all find something to be passionate about which connects us to nature. It would be sooo heeling spiritually, mentally and physically.

This seagull seems to have its own personal understanding of human’s rules.

What is beauty and Why is it important.

Most people can appreciate beauty but cannot explain it. Over time our notion of beauty has changed.  What once an experience that was considered to be beautiful may not be considered beautiful today. Being thin with a flat belly is experienced as beautiful today, but in the middle ages having a little belly was considered to be more beautiful. The rap music, not long ago wasn’t considered beautiful, but young people today seems to think it’s beautiful. I am sure our view of which experiences are beautiful and why they are beautiful will continue to change. This is because beauty is continually being affected by our past, our culture, and our personal growth. Because of this very nature it is difficult to define.

There is no definition of beauty, but when you can see someone’s spirit coming through, something unexplainable, that’s beautiful to me.  Liv Tyler

 What beauty is, I know not, though it adheres to many thingsAlbrecht Durer

 You can’t really say what is beautiful about a place, but the image of the place will remain vividly with you. Tadao Ando

 Indeed, there are strong opinions on whether beauty should even be defined. Howard Gardner in his book “ Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed” writes…

Consider the testimony of fine-art scholar Laurie Fendrich: “ We who live in this speedy, diverse, more or less democratic society are, deep down, fairly suspicious of beauty. Beauty is based on hierarchy that labels some things undeniably ‘beautiful’ and others irretrievably ugly. Most serious, inventive, and ‘alive’ contemporary artists do not want merely to reiterate elements of this established hierarchy.

He further goes on to shared how one philosopher, his teacher Nelson Goodman, has proposed a path toward a solution. He writes…

Just as a certain number or combination of symptoms suggests the presence of a disease, so, too, certain antecedent features prove “ symptomatic ” of artistic beauty. When these features are jointly absent, one cannot speak of artistic beauty.

I like this analogy of diagnosing disease being similar process to ‘diagnosing’ beauty!! I do that all the time!

So, you may ask if the experiences of beauty resist definition and it is difficulty to explain then why bother with it? Well, according to Maslow the pursuit of experiences that are beautiful, are crucial for personal development to a higher state of being. Wayne Weiten in his book Psychology: Themes and Variations writes…

 Maslow argued that humans have an innate drive towards personal growth – that is, evolution towards a higher state of being. Thus, he describes the needs in the uppermost reaches of his hierarchy as growth need. These include the needs for knowledge, understanding, order, and aesthetic beauty. Foremost among them is the need for self – actualization, which is the need to fulfill one’s potential. It is the highest need in Maslow’s motivational hierarchy. Maslow summarized this concept with a simple statement: “ What a man can be, he must be.” According to Maslow, people will be frustrated if they are unable to fully utilize their talents or pursue their true interest. For example, if you have a great musical talent but must work as an accountant, or if you have a scholarly interest but must work as a sales clerk, your need for self actualization will be thwarted.

If you are still not convinced by Maslow’s theoretical concept of hierarchy, here’s what these authors’ Janice E. Hitchcock, Phyllis E. Schubert, Sue A. Thomas write in their book Community health nursing: caring in action, Volume 1…

 In addition to benefiting from incredible beauty found in nature, persons need to create things of beauty. Artistic creation and the enjoyment of others’ work can serve as media for inner healing from deep emotional and spiritual wounds. Artistic self- expression through movement and other art forms demonstrate healing in the interpenetrating processes and pattern reorganization of the person – environment interrelationship. Many cultures use the beauty of dance to restore balance and harmony and to promote health and wholeness.

 …Appreciation of beauty depends on one’s ability to perceive it and on one’s level of awareness, but these are difficult to assess. Maslow (1962) referred to appreciation of beauty as a self – actualizing process. It is unlikely, however, that only those persons whose basic needs have been met can respond therapeutically to beauty, as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs might suggest.

 Because beauty is so important in our personal development it has been suggested by Howard Gardner that we should keep our own portfolio of beautiful objects and experiences. It would be our own record of idiosyncratic but deeply felt experiences and tastes.  It could be something we think that’s awesome, or something that gives us a tingle in the spine, or something we repeatedly wants to visit which invites further exploration, or something sufficiently powerful or evocative that it will be remembered.

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. Confucius

 We are learning, too, that the love of beauty is one of Nature’s greatest healers. Ellsworth Huntington

 The love of beauty in its multiple forms is the noblest gift of the human cerebrum. Alexis Carrel

May you come to your own concept of what is beautiful; that’s perhaps richer and penetrates more deeply for spiritual and physical healing.

Resources:

Going Dutch- http://malouprestado.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/spring-blooms/

“ Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed”  by Howard Gardner

Community health nursing: caring in action, Volume  by Janice E. Hitchcock, Phyllis E. Schubert, Sue A. Thomas

Psychology: Themes and Variations”  by Wayne Weiten


Time To Give Up And Time To Care

“ Don’t worry about things you have no control over.” This is a common advise given by the popular self-help literature, the psychologist and the parents. It is a good advise; why worry about something you have no control over. It’s no point in worrying if sun is going to come up tomorrow for example. Save that energy for something useful.

In real life though, it is more common to find situations where we only have partial control over the outcome. What should one do here? Should we worry only half as much or should we not worry at all or do we worry wholeheartedly? What will give us better outcome and at the same time preserve our inner peace and contentment?

I can have some control, for example, over getting 100% in an examination, but there are factors that I have no control over that may not allow me to get 100%; I may not be feeling well from catching the flu the day before, or the examination questions maybe on something we did not study in school. I may also want to win a marathon, but again I have no control over all the variables that will prevent me from achieving this goal. I may want a pay raise but my boss may not give it to me. I want my partner to love me but it’s possible that someone else may make her happier and she cannot love me back as I love her. Should I not care? So I can preserve my own tranquility and avoid becoming upset if I don’t get the desired outcomes?

It seems foolish not to care, just because we only have partial control.  Not to care or to give up means I don’t ask my boss for the pay raise, that I continue to let someone else make my partner happier, and to accepted I will not win the marathon and I will not get 100% in the examination even before I tried or made any effort; this may save me from getting upset from not realizing the results I was hoping for. But it will also leave me feeling of a defeat, a low self-esteem and eventual withdrawal from life itself.

It seem the only control we have is over ourselves. So what if we reset our goal internally toward the same outcome? Instead of setting the goal to win the marathon or get 100% in the examination the goal could change; that I am going to try my very to win the marathon and get 100%. This way you will be less anxious about not achieving the goal and this freed up energy can contribute toward being your best. It is possible to do the same for the other two situations. I can reset my goal to be the best employee and then I am more likely to get a pay raise. I can also reset my goal with regards to my partner. I can try to be mindful of my partner’s happiness by being loving and caring person. This is more likely to be helpful than anything else; because that’s the only thing we have control over.

Yes, I may not get the desired outcome but I tried. The things outside my control won out, but I can still be proud of myself even if the outcome was not what I had hoped for because I did not give up on the factor I had control over.

Resources:

A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine

Health and Nature.

I talked about me going for a walk everyday to connect with nature and how good I feel afterwards. Being in Costa Rica with the abundance of nature around me I never felt better. I know that’s partly because I am on holidays and have no responsibility. My focus has been on myself,…. hard job but someone has to do it!

There is a lot of evidence how important nature can be in  prevention of health problems. For those that don’t get the time to connect with nature, here is a wonderful video you can enjoy. It may even motivate you to get out into the wilds of Canada.

Here is some of the evidence for the effects of nature on health. Wilson has put forward a very strong argument about the health benefits of nature over two decades (Wilson, 1984Wilson, 2001). His ‘biophilia hypothesis’ i.e. ‘the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms’ spawned research which suggested that our relationships with nature are a fundamental component of building and sustaining good health (Wilson, 1984Heerwagen and Orians, 1993Suzuki, 1997Frumkin, 2001).

My last post from Costa Rica, homeward bound early tomorrow morning. See you soon.

Resources:

http://heapro.oxfordjournals.org/content/18/3/173.full

Being Good

I like to think that basic nature of humankind is goodness. This is a complete opposite to Hobbes view of humankind’s nature. He described man’s natural condition as “war of every man against every man“…he writes:

“In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

I find this view so alien to my experience of other fellow humans that it is inconceivable for me to imagine that this kind of world, even under the harshest conditions could exist. Would humans be humans if there was no love, caring or trust; do we display these qualities contrary to our nature? I choose to believe Hobbes was and is wrong. Hobbes it seems believed that humans are basically nasty but I believe humans are basically good; but under harsh conditions nastiness shows its ugly head. That’s why we have law enforcement and wars.

So how can we “be good” and avoid the ugly head of the nastiness? As Dalai Lama says …..”All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness,the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.”

There are only one way to be good but many ways to be vicious; we have to know and act with the right attitude in all interactions with others. We all know what being overtly vicious and causing pain to others is and how to avoid it. What we often overlook is when we are indifferent to others in pain and mistakenly think that it doesn’t matter. How many times I walked past a beggar or poor person in the third world country or in the city and thought it’s not my problem….far too many time, more than I care to remember. I was too distracted or in too much of a rush….. it is easy to be indifferent.

It is no point in increasing ones own pleasure after a certain point because it doesn’t add any more value to pleasure one already has; it doesn’t bring more or lasting joy. However, if we were to take sometime to be compassionate it would bring joy both to us and to the person in need.

Cynicism can also be an ugly trait and one should try to avoid it. A cynic think world is a bad place. He doubts or despises human sincerity or merit. He thinks most people are basically selfish, their apparent concern for others is only a show, while the few genuinely unselfish souls are exploited, so only the bastards thrive. So far the cynic is being pessimistic, and mere pessimism isn’t a vice. But cynic goes further, instead of being saddened by people’s selfishness, he secretly delights in it, he wants the world to be bad and by wishful thinking persuades himself that it is. A cynic denies human goodness because he hates it and wants it not to exist, and that makes his cynicism a simple vice…..just like Hobbes’s….not conducive to being good.

So where is the problem? It’s not the lack of material goods, there is enough of that around. Its not the lack of knowledge. Maybe we have not yet learned to live well. Maybe we are still in the early stages of learning. Some commentators on human condition have said that we have come a long way with technology but not very far in wisdom. That maybe so, but we are loving and caring beings…..still evolving and learning. Let encourage each other to be good and speed up the natural process!

Resources:

The Best things in Life, by ThomasHurka

http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-c.html

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Interchange Blog

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