Saturday, April 26, 2008

Watching the Democratic Party Implode

Going in to this election cycle, I had high hopes that we might have a Democrat in the White House who would undo so much of the horror (and Constitutional violations) inflicted on this country by eight years of being Bushwhacked. Ah, the good old days.

Once the Dems got down to two candidates, everything began to come apart at the seams. Obama couldn't win Ohio and Texas outright (he did get more delegates in Texas while Clinton won the popular vote). In light of Clinton's wins in New York and California, and then last week in Pennsylvania, the charge is that Obama can't win the big states. Meanwhile he has tallied wins in heavily Republican states, indicating that he can compete against the GOP in places that once were given up as lost.

How did Obama, who easily won Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska, among many predominantly white states, suddenly become the black candidate who can't win white votes except for those of effete urbanites? Another successful Clinton spin tour-de-force, enabled by mainstream media's inability to conduct the most basic analysis, and its enjoyment at being bullied by the Clinton campaign into reporting the opposite of anything that is logical or true.

Ohio and Pennsylvania did not demonstrate her strength among white voters in general, but it did show that both states are rich in the demographics that make up Clinton's shrinking base. She found a way to exploit the anxieties of older white people in places that have been economically depressed and deeply segregated for decades. Every white person not voting for Obama isn't racist, but in Pennsylvania, for instance, at least three-quarters of Clinton's overall margin was provided by white voters who said that the candidates' race was important to them. Clinton found a chillingly receptive audience for her message of fear of Muslims, Japan (you know a candidate isn't targeting 30 year-olds when Pearl Harbor is central to their advertising), China, San Francisco, and black preachers, but ultimately it has proven a limited market, which should provide some comfort for Obama going into the fall.

Both Ohio and Pennsylvania still count in a general election, although they will matter less in 2012 after the next census once again depletes their electoral votes. However, to base an entire general election strategy on winning these states, as Clinton is obliged to imply, is complete folly, especially if it means discarding the opportunity for success in entire regions, including the West and the South. Clinton would do marginally better in November than Obama in Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to recent polling (he is in a tie with John McCain; she wins by a small margin). However, she would be completely overwhelmed in a whole series of states growing in importance and which Obama would at the very least make competitive. In Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Alaska, Indiana and Nevada, for instance, he either beats McCain or is in a statistical tie.
As things now stand, Clinton cannot possibly get more delegates than Obama, but she could conceivably win the overall popular vote. Yikes. Under these conditions, Clinton could pressure the super-delegates to vote for her as the party's choice, no matter where the delegate count ends up.
Talk about math wars: Sen. Hillary Clinton, flush with her 200,000-vote win in the Pennsylvania primary, is suggesting that the popular vote should settle the presidential nomination.

But that plan, aimed at swaying the superdelegates to the Democratic convention this summer, is built on[Hillary Clinton] some shaky calculations -- or may depend improbably on Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that can't vote for president.

Within hours of the Pennsylvania victory, the Clinton campaign announced that "more people have voted for Hillary than any other candidate," a claim that was widely thought to be aimed at the party honchos who will break the impasse between Sen. Clinton and rival Barack Obama.

Sen. Obama could easily erase any current popular-vote gap on May 6 when the largest prizes outstanding -- Indiana and North Carolina -- hold their primaries. Most polls put him well ahead of Sen. Clinton in North Carolina, which has 2.6 million Democrats and an additional 1.2 million independents. Polls also show Sen. Obama with a small advantage in Indiana, whose 4.3 million registered voters aren't specifically barred from crossing party lines to cast ballots.

How has she gotten back into a race that she seemed destined to lose prior to the PA debate? She listened to Bubba and went negative.
Mr. Clinton has become something of a strategist-in-chief in recent weeks. He has been pushing for harder and sharper attacks on Sen. Obama. While she has jabbed her opponent over his "elitist" tone and controversial statements by his former pastor, Mr. Clinton delivers his own slams on the stump, calling Obama ads misleading.

The former president says he's in uncharted territory. "Being the spouse is more difficult than when I was the candidate," he says in a brief interview. "When you're running, you're out there driving every day. But when you're the spouse, you feel more protective. It's much harder."

Mr. Clinton has placed several of his own aides at headquarters, including his former lawyer and a bevy of strategists. Known as a bad loser, Mr. Clinton privately buttresses his wife's drive to push on, telling her, according to aides: "We're not quitters."

This may work in the short term, but in the longer scheme of things it's going to divide the party.
His role has come at a cost -- to morale among some campaign staff, relations inside the Democratic Party and with African-American leaders, and in the view of some, his own legacy. He has lost considerable credibility with many party leaders, who, as "superdelegates" to the party convention, will be crucial in determining who is the Democratic presidential nominee.
Bill's days as the leader of the Democratic party are over, and with that change the party is falling into ruins. The divide within the Dems between the young, wealthy, and educated (Obama supporters) and the elderly, financially struggling, and less educated (Clinton supporters) is something new. McCain sees this as an opportunity to echo Clinton's charges that Obama is an elitist, which is silly. He is the only self-made candidate in the race -- both Clinton and McCain were born with the proverbial silver spoon.

This was supposed to be the easiest win for the Dems in ages. Not so anymore. Obama once frightened the GOP, but now he seems beatable after the "bitter" issue and the swift-boating of Reverend Wright.

First Rev. Wright's most recent statements on his fate:

In a televised interview last night with Bill Moyers, Wright said the controversy surrounding him came from out-of-context sound bites and the mainstream media's naïveté about the African-American experience.

"I felt it was unfair. I felt it was unjust. I felt it was untrue. I felt for those who were doing that [they] were doing it for some very devious reasons," said Wright, former Trinity United Church of Christ pastor.

The reverend's comments come after Obama's campaign continually has tried to put the issue of race to bed.

"We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. But they're two different worlds," said Wright, who has more interviews and appearances lined up.

I agree that Wright, no matter what he has said, is being unfairly castigated. But then I have been extremely critical of this government.

Now, how the GOP sees Barack as beatable:

Republicans say the new focus on Mr. Obama reflects their view that he remains the more likely Democratic presidential nominee since he continues to lead Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in convention delegates. It also shows that Republicans, who have for months characterized Mrs. Clinton as the contender who would most energize Republican voters, now see vulnerabilities in Mr. Obama that could be liabilities for other Democrats on the ballot.

“There were times when Republicans reacted with just horror that he would lead the ticket,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political analyst. “Now there is not the sense of him being invulnerable, the magic bullet. I think there has been a major change.”

The growing Republican emphasis on Mr. Obama could also help Mrs. Clinton plead her case that she is more electable, bolstering her argument to superdelegates that Republicans are poised to pounce on her relatively untested opponent. Her advisers have been frustrated that some top Democrats rate Mrs. Clinton a greater liability for the party’s candidates in conservative parts of the country — a view still held by some strategists — even though she has shown a capacity to withstand Republican attacks.

All of this plays to Clinton's favor, and further divides the party. She must be thrilled that Rev. Wright has scheduled a whole series of interviews.

Maybe the Times Online has nailed the real problem (although more than a little biased, I think Baker is right in some ways), by concluding both Democratic candidates are too flawed:

Hillary Clinton's solid victory in the Pennsylvania primary on Tuesday has condemned the party to many more weeks of strife and sinking public esteem. There's a popular view among Democrats and the media establishment that the reason for the party's current disarray is that it just happens to have two most extraordinary candidates: talented, attractive, and in their gender and race, excitingly new. But there's an alternative explanation, which I suspect the voters have grasped rather better than their necromancers in the media. Both are losers.

The longer the Democratic race goes on, the more obvious it appears that each is deeply, perhaps ineradicably flawed.

Until about a month ago Barack Obama had done a brilliant job of presenting himself as a transcendent figure, the mixed-race candidate with bipartisan appeal who promised to heal the historic and modern rifts in American life.

But the mask has slipped. Under pressure in a Democratic primary, Mr Obama has sounded just like any other tax-raising, government-loving Democratic politician. Worse, he has revealed himself to be a member of that special subset of the party's liberal elite - a well-educated man with a serious superiority complex.

His worst moment of the campaign was when he was caught telling liberal sophisticates about his anthropological observations on the campaign trail. In the misery of their daily lives, he said, the hicks out there in the sticks cling to religion and guns and the other irrational necessities of the unenlightened life. His wife had earlier told voters that they should be grateful that someone of his protean talents had deigned to come among them and be their president.

The events of the last month have also revealed another side of Mr Obama that threatens to undermine his whole message. He is a cynic. He tells the mavens of San Francisco one thing and the great unwashed of Pennsylvania another. In defending his long relationship with the Rev Jeremiah Wright, he shopped his own grandmother, comparing the reverend's views (God Damn America! The US deliberately spread Aids among the black population) to his grandmother's occasionally expressed fears about the potential of being the victim of crime at the hands of an African-American.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has been busy shedding the final vestiges of shame and honesty in her desperate attempt to save her candidacy. She has abandoned any pretence of a message, and simply seized on every opening presented to her by her opponent.

Mr Obama's missteps with the working class of Pennsylvania have thus transformed Mrs Clinton from the bluestocking Wellesley graduate into the good old girl, hanging out there with the straw-chewing rednecks, embracing their values, their worldview and even their lifestyle.

Obliterate Iran! Here comes Osama bin Laden! I love duck hunting! I can do shots and beer at the same time! It's hard to know what's worse - expressing condescending views about the working class or pretending to be one of them. The Democratic campaign is simply disappearing in the enveloping vapidity of the candidates' making.

[In all fairness, McCain, despite being the "great hero," is flawed as well.]

In other words, the issues be damned. What we are left with are process stories as opposed to content stories, and yet the process crap, at least to people like Baker -- and other members of the media -- has become the only content that matters.

The Democrats often take a beating for their reliance on identity politics, but that is exactly where the party is right now -- caught up in the fervor over having a woman AND a black candidate in the same year, and lining behind one or the other with vicious zeal.

Yet, the GOP loves to play the identity politics game as well -- they are the common working man's party, while the Dems are elitist and condescending. Two very distinct identities being offered, but in a different way, so it slips under the radar.

Yet how many people in Bush's cabinet served active duty? Or grew up in an inner city? Or didn't go to an Ivy League level school? How many of the most powerful members of the GOP ever worked a real job to pay for school? Or took a low paying job to help inner city residents?

The elitism shit is just that -- shit. Both parties are elitist (and the GOP's trickle-down BS is VERY elisist, as well as just plain wrong), it's just that the GOP figured out that labeling the Dems as elitist would be a great tactic before the Dems figured it out -- they're always a bit slow in the name-calling arena.

So where are we now? The media, despite Obama's insurmountable delegate lead, is beginning to think Clinton can win this thing. But if she does somehow twist some arms and gets the super-delegates to line up behind her, where is the party left?

At least 20% of Democrats won't vote for Clinton even if she gets the nomination.

According to a new poll, 50% of Americans (as well as 50% of Democrats) now believe that the campaign has become too nasty – so nasty, in fact, that 20% of those polled say that they will not vote for Clinton in November if she is nominated.

Obama, meanwhile, finds himself in a tricky situation. After promising a new style of politics, he can hardly engage in mudslinging the way Clinton does. If he turns too negative, voters will accuse him of flip-flopping on his promise, and Clinton will doubtless let people know that Obama’s new way of politics eerily looks like the old; that is, her approach to political campaigning.

But how many more punches and low blows must Obama take before he is willing to speak up for himself? Following Clinton’s win in Pennsylvania, political pundits and observers have begun to urge Obama to take the gloves off and go after Clinton at full blast. Both he and his campaign are resisting these calls for getting tough.

While the two candidates battle it out, the Democratic party is slowly falling apart. Some high-level Democrats have called on Clinton to drop out of the race for the sake of the party, and more recently, one blogger has suggested that Obama should be the one withdrawing from the race, so that he can run and win in 2012.

If Clinton is the nominee, either by fiat or by Obama withdrawing, they will certainly have lost the black vote. They will certainly have lost the youth vote. They will certainly have lost the White House. They will be left with another four to eight years to get their house in order.

They have a party divided by gender, by race, by age, and by economic status. If there is any hope for the Democrats, it might be that they lose -- and lose badly -- this fall. Maybe they will finally adopt the approach Obama began with -- hope and optimism, truth and integrity. And maybe they will learn that to beat the GOP, they will have to control the terms of engagement instead of letting the GOP noise machine dictate the national conversation.

Or maybe the party will simply implode, once and for all.

Reconsiderations: Richard Dawkins and His Selfish Meme

From The New York Sun, a look back at Richard Dawkins' selfish gene, and whether or not the theory still holds with what we currently know.

From what I can tell, the reality is a mixture of selfish genes and group dynamics -- and now there seems to be evidence that environment has a huge impact on evolution.

From its attention-grabbing title to its accessible prose, Richard Dawkins's "The Selfish Gene" (1976) has (selfishly) spread its message in an impressive way since publication.

Proclaimed brilliant for its portrayal of the "gene's-eye view" of evolution, Mr. Dawkins's book inverted the focus of natural selection, from Darwin's weight on species to Mr. Dawkins's emphasis on the lowly gene itself: Simply put, Mr. Dawkins's argument is that the crux of natural selection is whether a particular gene — not an individual or a group of individuals — replicates itself in future generations. Those genes that are not replicated into the future have failed at evolution, and those that produce many copies of themselves have succeeded.

In Mr. Dawkins's view, the organisms containing those genes are merely "lumbering robots" or "survival machines" that house and carry genetic information. The implication is that, in these terms, selfishness, even ruthless selfishness, pays off, and altruism does not.

Some predicted that this book would be the death knell of the idea of group selection. No longer would evolutionary biologists suggest that natural selection worked to promote the good of the species (group selection) or even the individual and his close relatives who share many of his genes (kin selection, a type of group selection).

But prediction is difficult in a contingent world such as ours, where life is complex and accidents and coincidences wield so much power. Has "The Selfish Gene" in fact killed off group selection ideas? Why not? And what effect has the book had instead?

Though selfish genes are still fashionable among evolutionary biologists, group selection and kin selection, its subset, are not dead. In 2007, David Sloan Wilson, professor at Binghampton University, and E.O. Wilson (no relation), a professor emeritus at Harvard University and a Pulitzer Prize winner, proclaimed that Mr. Dawkins had celebrated the death of group selection prematurely.

The pair asserted persuasively that altruism and cooperation can be adaptive if they are directed toward relatives who share a suite of one's genes (kin selection) or if relationships can be established within a group in which cooperation is rewarded with future reciprocity.

Further, when competition between groups is more significant than that within a group, natural selection can operate on multiple levels, from gene to kin group to species and perhaps beyond. An individual meerkat who stands watch and warns others of the presence of a predator increases its personal chance of being eaten, but its kin group — with which the watcher shares many genes — attains a higher survival rate compared to other such groups without watchers. In each example, the evolutionary disadvantage to the individual must be weighed against the evolutionary advantage to its larger group (kin, population, or even species). Since altruistic behaviors do occur, evolution must operate at both the higher (between-group) as well as the lower (within-group) level.

This multilevel view of evolution accords well with a concept espoused by the late John Maynard Smith, formerly an emeritus professor of the University of Sussex, and Eörs Szathmáry, professor at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. The pair suggested that evolutionary history is marked by major transitions that correspond to successively more complex levels of organization.

A favorite example of such a transition is the development of eusociality, the most extreme instance of group selection, on which Mr. Wilson is one of the world's experts. Eusocial species (termites, ants, wasps, naked mole rats, and others) live in large colonies in which many individuals forego reproduction to assist a single queen. Mr. Wilson's classic 1975 book "Sociobiology" attributed eusociality to the close genetic relationship along the colony members. But careful observations have since shown that sterile workers cannot recognize each other, much less base their behavior on fine calculations of relatedness — a finding suggesting that the broader mechanism of group selection, rather than the more direct kin selection, was responsible. Mr. Wilson now suggests that eusocial behavior evolves in rare species that have the flexibility to be reproductive or not, and that live in circumstances inhibiting the dispersal of nests. Once forced to live together rather than founding new colonies, species preadapted to cooperation successfully adopt eusociality precisely because it is evolutionarily advantageous.

A quip sometimes called Orgel's Second Rule is "Evolution is cleverer than you are," and evolution is apparently cleverer than Richard Dawkins, because kin and group selection do exist — and pay off. However, an essential aspect of being a scientist is to test your theories against new data, and the sheer provocativeness of Mr. Dawkins's selfish-gene concept spurred a great deal of hard thought and data collection that have been used to test his hypothesis. Mr. Wilson's new turn of mind is but one of several indications that the scientific understanding of evolution has shifted since the first wave of enthusiasm for "The Selfish Gene." (New data suggest that, in some circumstances, selection does operate at the group level.) The meerkat is not eusocial, but group selection works for it in some cases. Thus, Mr. Dawkins's work has been remarkably fruitful, even if his extreme stance — that natural selection works only on the single-gene level — is looking more and more shaky.

An ironic legacy of Mr. Dawkins's work also deserves exploration here. Because his works are so lucid and so stunning, Mr. Dawkins's ideas have assumed a life of their own. His powerful metaphor of the inherent selfishness of the gene was misunderstood by many and often taken deeply to heart. One reader wrote that reading "The Selfish Gene" triggered a 10-year series of depressions because "it presents an appallingly pessimistic view of human nature and makes life seem utterly pointless; yet I cannot present any argument to refute its point of view." The picture of evolution offered by the book, and others by Mr. Dawkins, which many found bleak, also contributed to the growth and stridency of the intelligent design movement to undercut the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Mr. Dawkins foresaw this possibility and attempted to avoid it by writing:

I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave.... I stress this because I know I am in danger of being misunderstood by those people, all too numerous, who cannot distinguish a statement of belief in what is the case from an advocacy of what ought to be the case.

Unfortunately, his warnings against taking moral and ethical lessons from scientific findings were not universally heeded. The benefit to science of "The Selfish Gene" in triggering a new understanding of the magnificent complexity of evolutionary processes must be weighed against the harm the book has done in provoking a backlash against science. I can only hope that, in the end, knowledge will triumph over ignorance.

Three Forms Of Energy Healing: Pranic, Tantric, And Reiki

A cool post from My-Personal-Growth.

Three Forms Of Energy Healing: Pranic, Tantric, And Reiki

You have certainly seen them while scoping out the New Age section of your local bookstore. Prana. Aura. Chakra. Tantra. What do all of these words mean? What’s the story here? Obviously there must be something to it, with all of these books dedicated to the topic.

Are All Energy Healings the Same?

Prana is a Hindu method of energy healing, and dates back to antiquity. Chakra is a term often seen in regard to Pranic healing, as is the word aura. The aura is a a sort of non-physical companion to the physical body, having seven layers, or chakras. These layers relate to the emotional, spiritual, mental and physical well being of a person as measured in energy. The color and depth of these auras give the healer a clue to the health of the person they are studying. There are six basic color variations in these auras, and are considered to be tied to six personality types. All six colors will be present in all persons, but one or two colors will be prominent in any given individual. These colors are:

Green – ambitious achiever

Blue – spiritual peacemaker

White – unconventional chameleon

Red – activist

Orange – creative communicator

Violet - psychic

Tantra is most commonly associated with the combination of spiritual and sexual techniques, it is also a type of energy healing. From the word tan (to spread, expand), tantra is related to the idea of connectedness. This connectedness is a common theme in writings on tantra. This spiritual/sexual connection is used as a way of energy healing. Tantric practitioners hold that during orgasm, the union of man and woman takes on a spiritual aspect which can cast negative energies and impurities from the bodies of the practitioners. These negative energies if left untouched can cause illnesses.

Reiki has a different origin than that of Prana and Tantra (whose roots of course lie in the Hindu religion). Reiki hails from Japan, and is much newer than the other two forms of energy healing. Reiki means “universal energy”, e.g. and energy emanating form some higher intelligence. Reiki practitioners use this source energy to heal illnesses of the emotions, the mind and the body.

All three systems of energy healing discussed here are similar in their aims, but differ in the source of the energy drawn upon for healing. Prana uses life energy, Tantra sexual energy and Reiki universal energy.

All three also share another similarity: the belief in the interconnectedness of people with their surroundings and with other living (and even non-living) things in the environment, as well as the effect of energy on the well being of individuals.

Why Do People Turn to Energy Healing?

Pranic, Tantric, and Reiki are all considered to be alternative forms of healing. More and more are drawn to energy healing, despite the continual advances made my conventional western medicine. Why is this? Here are some possibilities:

· Energy healing worked where modern medicine failed.

Modern medicine has at times just out and out failed to heal some illnesses. There are reasons for this, some explainable by science, some not. Many will take a chance on alternative treatments as a last resort when conventional medicine has failed. Sometimes, these techniques effect a cure where other methods could not. Whether or not the research bears it out statistically, alternative and traditional healing has saved the lives of some patients.

· People perceive modern medicine to be isolating.

Western medicine is not by nature holistic. Focusing strictly on the disease and it’s cause, rather than the overall health of the patient which provided the disease a place to settle, the patient can be left feeling like they are merely a petri dish where physicians do battle with their disease. While conventional medicine is starting to move in the direction of holistic treatments, the shift is happening gradually. With energy healing, health, spirituality and energy are seen as all part of one thing; this means the patient feels like they are being cared for as a person rather as a symptom.

· Energy healing is non-obtrusive and natural thus it is safer.

Surgery can be traumatic and dangerous for patients, especially if surgical interventions must occur repeatedly. this makes energy healing attractive to many patients. Non-invasive and natural, it is certainly a safe option for treatment, and one rapidly growing in popularity.

· Energy healing is a good way of relieving stress.

An added benefit of energy healing for the stressed individual is its emphasis on meditation. After stress can cause and exacerbate some health conditions. Also, energy healing is an attractive field for students to get into as it doesn’t require practitioners to have tons of sophisticated and expensive equipment.

Traditional medicine and alternative healing methods will continue to fight it out in the arena of public opinion for many years to come. Both have their benefits and their place. What matters in the end however, is the restoration and maintenance of health.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Few Good Links - Culture, Transhumanism, Atheism

In case you missed it, and I did, Jared Diamond had a great article over at The New Yorker, Vengeance Is Ours: What can tribal societies tell us about our need to get even?

Diamond looks at the relatively recent advent of the state system and the fact that tribal methods of dealing with revenge are still widespread (my comment: including Iraq, which is why democracy will never work as the country now exists).
State government is now so nearly universal around the globe that we forget how recent an innovation it is; the first states are thought to have arisen only about fifty-five hundred years ago, in the Fertile Crescent. Before there were states, Daniel’s method of resolving major disputes—either violently or by payment of compensation—was the worldwide norm. Papua New Guinea is not the only place where those traditional methods of dispute resolution still coexist uneasily with the methods of state government. For example, Daniel’s methods might seem quite familiar to members of urban gangs in America, and also to Somalis, Afghans, Kenyans, and peoples of other countries where tribal ties remain strong and state control weak. As I eventually came to realize, Daniel’s thirst for vengeance and his hostility to rival clans are really not so far from our own habits of mind as we might like to think.
And this . . .
Though we might wonder how Daniel’s society came to revel in killing, ethnographic studies of traditional human societies lying largely outside the control of state government have shown that war, murder, and demonization of neighbors have been the norm. Modern state societies rate as exceptional by the standards of human history, because we instead grow up learning a universal code of morality that is constantly hammered into us: promulgated every week in our churches and codified in our laws. But the differences between the norms of states and of Handa clan society are not actually so sharp. In times of war, even modern state societies quickly turn the enemy into a dehumanized figure of hatred, only to enjoin us to stop hating again as soon as a peace treaty is signed. Such contradictions confuse us deeply. Neither pacific ideals nor wartime hatreds, once acquired, are easily jettisoned. It’s no wonder that many soldiers who kill suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. When they come home, far from boasting about killing, as a Nipa tribesman would, they have nightmares and never talk about it at all, unless to other veterans.

Then, too, for Americans old enough to recall our hatred of Japan after Pearl Harbor, Daniel’s intense hatred of the Ombals may not seem so remote. After Pearl Harbor, hundreds of thousands of American men volunteered to kill and did kill hundreds of thousands of Japanese, often in face-to-face combat, by brutal methods that included bayonets and flamethrowers. Soldiers who killed Japanese in particularly large numbers or with notable bravery were publicly decorated with medals, and those who died in combat were posthumously remembered as heroes. Meanwhile, even among Americans who had never seen a live Japanese soldier or the dead body of an American relative killed by the Japanese, intense hatred and fear of Japanese became widespread. Traditional New Guineans, by contrast, have from childhood onward often seen warriors going out and coming back from fighting; they have seen the bodies of relatives killed by the enemy, listened to stories of killing, heard fighting talked about as the highest ideal, and witnessed successful warriors talking proudly about their killings and being praised for them. If New Guineans end up feeling unconflicted about killing the enemy, it’s because they have had no contrary message to unlearn.

Diamond seems to be describing the tribal/egocentric stages of human development. Westerners tend to forget that other parts of the world have different ways of dealing with things than we do. What seems crucial in looking at this article is the recognition that cultures can use and manipulate modern technologies without updating their tribal worldview. The is, in part, why we soon see tribesmen in African nations carrying cell phones.

Elsewhere, Adbusters has an article up -- Our Electric Brain -- that looks at the efforts to create conscious in a computer -- with goal of modeling the human mind in all its incredible complexity.

If you’ve been fussing over a birthday gift for the sci-fi nut or armchair transhumanist in your life, consider a ticket to Lausanne, Switzerland. That’s where, in one corner of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, an IBM supercomputer is quietly making some fitful first steps toward consciousness.

Its name is Blue Brain. Its job is to simulate, at the cellular level, the interaction of neurons. Launched as a collaboration with IBM in 2005, its makers have taken it as far as simulating a basic computational unit of a two-week-old rat’s brain. This single neocortical column – around 10,000 neurons locked into 30 million synaptic handshakes – has been doing what they had hoped it would do, which is act much like a real bundle of neurons. What’s especially remarkable is that it accomplishes this feat from the bottom-up, with the complexity emerging from the behaviors of the individually modeled parts alone.

Though the brains behind Blue Brain initially played coy about it, the ultimate goal here is not some disembodied and deranged rat in a digital cage; the ultimate goal is an accurate simulation of a whole human brain, one that, if all goes according to plan, exhibits human-like consciousness. As Henry Markram, the neuroscientist who directs the Blue Brain Project, explained in the February issue of Seed magazine, “Consciousness is just a massive amount of information being exchanged by trillions of brain cells. If you can precisely model that information, then I don’t know why you wouldn’t be able to generate a conscious mind.”

Today, that goal appears very far off. With two million or so neocortical columns in the human brain, scaling up the current simulation architecture would require hundreds of billions of dollars worth of the Blue Gene/L supercomputers it runs on now. Nevertheless, Markram is optimistic that they’ll be able to simulate a human brain on one computer in 10 years or less.

Good luck with that. The author points out that it took Microsoft five years to create the mess that is Vista. Do they really think they can model the human mind in electric circuits in just ten years?

New York Magazine looks at the fastest growing faith in America -- no faith. In If God Is Dead, Who Gets His House?, Sean McManus examines the strange idea that some atheists want a church in which not to worship. Huh?
The fastest-growing faith in the country is no faith at all. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released the results of its “Religious Landscape” survey in February and found that 16 percent of Americans have no religious affiliation. The number is even greater among young people: 25 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds now identify with no religion, up from 11 percent in a similar survey in 1986. For most of its modern history, atheism has existed as a kind of civil-rights movement. Groups like American Atheists have functioned primarily as litigants in the fight for church-state separation, not as atheist social clubs. “Atheists are self-reliant, self-sufficient, independent people who don’t feel like they need an organization,” says Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists for the past thirteen years. “They’re so independent that if they want to get involved, they usually don’t join an organization—they start their own.”

The quartet of best-selling authors who have emerged to write the gospel of New Atheism—Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Dawkins (the Four Horsemen, as they are now known)—has succeeded in mainstreaming atheism in a nation that is still overwhelmingly religious and, in the process, catalyzed a reexamination of atheistic raison d’être. But for some atheist foot soldiers, this current groundswell is just a consciousness-raising stop on the evolutionary train, the atheist equivalent of the Stonewall riots. For these people, the Four Horsemen have only started the journey. Atheism’s great awakening is in need of a doctrine. “People perceive us as only rejecting things,” says Ken Bronstein, the president of a local group called New York City Atheists. “Everybody wants to know, ‘Okay, you’re an atheist, now what?’ ”

So some atheists are taking seriously the idea that atheism needs to stand for things, like evolution and ethics, not just against things, like God. The most successful movements in history, after all—Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.—all have creeds, cathedrals, schools, hierarchies, rituals, money, clerics, and some version of a heavenly afterlife. Churches fill needs, goes the argument—they inculcate ethics, give meaning, build communities. “Science and reason are important,” says Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain of Harvard University. “But science and reason won’t visit you in the hospital.”

Many atheist sects are experimenting with building new, human-centered quasi-religious organizations, much like Ethical Culture. They aim to remove God from the church, while leaving the church, at least large parts of it, standing. But this impulse is fueling a growing schism among atheists. Many of them see churches as part of the problem. They want to throw out the baby and the bathwater—or at least they don’t see the need for the bathwater once the baby is gone.

When a good idea becomes institutionalized -- think the teachings of Jesus or the insights of Buddha and the "religions" they spawned, things have no place to go but down the slippery slope of dogma.

The article also looks a bit at the problems some atheists have with The Four Horsemen and their militant stance against ALL forms of religion and faith (in all fairness, Sam Harris is more open-minded than the others, as is Dan Dennett in a lesser way). And it also looks at the disagreement among the four as what they really stand for (revealing that the four main voices all have different agendas, despite the media -- and bloggers -- wanting to lump them all together as one unit).
The Four Horsemen haven’t completely turned their back on the movement they’ve helped to ignite. In addition to working on a children’s book about evolution to be published in 2009, the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth, Richard Dawkins has launched his Web-based out campaign to encourage atheists to come out of the closet. In lieu of a rainbow flag, he sells T-shirts with the scarlet letter A. Sam Harris, who says playing the victim is the wrong approach, is starting something called the Reason Project, bringing entertainers into the movement to further atheism’s passage into the mainstream. Celebrity atheists like Bill Maher, Ian McKellen, and Julia Sweeney, whose one-woman show Letting Go of God, is a big hit at atheist conferences, have been vital to the renewed energy behind the movement. “Nobody is satisfied with the profusion of groups and meetings,” says Harris. “My starting yet another organization is unhelpful on that front.”

At this point, the movement can’t even agree on a name. Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, prefers the term anti-theist because he’s entertained the possibility that God exists and finds the prospect frightening, the spiritual equivalent of living in North Korea. Daniel Dennett continues to promote the term bright, which, he has said, is “modeled very deliberately and very consciously on the homosexual adoption of the word gay.” (In the first chapter of God Is Not Great, Hitchens dismisses the term as conceited.) And Sam Harris, brash young scientist that he is, triggered a minor revolt last fall at the Atheist Alliance International Conference in Crystal City, Virginia, when he lashed out against the term atheist, disparaging those who identify with a negation. “It reverberated in atheist circles as a sacrilege,” Harris told me. “But what’s worse is adopting language that was placed on us by religious people. We don’t feel the need to brand ourselves non-astrologers or non-racists.”

Dennett sees value in atheism’s great awakening, in the energy and money that come from organizing, but he counsels caution. “The last thing atheists want to see is their rational set of ideas yoked up with the trappings of a religion,” he says. “We think we can do without that.” Even Richard Dawkins is not one to reject certain memes based on their churchly pedigree. He calls himself a “cultural Christian,” admitting that he likes to sing Christmas carols as much as the next guy. But there’s a limit to his tolerance of religion. He can see the tactical virtues of making temporary alliances with religion—to “hold hands with religious people” when it comes to making the case for important causes like teaching evolution in the classroom. But there are definite limits. “In the larger war against supernaturalism, frankly, it doesn’t help to fraternize with the enemy,” he says.

I tend to agree that taking on the framework of religion is a bad idea. On the other hand, some form of community -- an atheist sangha -- might help atheists fell less like victims in a hyper-religious culture.

Finally, a couple of quick links:

~ Anthropology and Neuroscience Podcasts -- Very cool collection of links provided by Neuroanthropology.
~ recent books on consciousness -- A cool collections of book reviews in the area of mind, consciousness, and cognitive science from my mind on books.

David Chalmers -- The Big Conundrum: Consciousness

Speaking of David Chalmers, here is an interview with him from All in the Mind. The show's host, Natasha Mitchell, posted links to various shows she has done on the topic of consciousness (in response to a listener's question), so it seemed like a good opportunity to get the links and share them with you.

Past All in the Mind shows I've done exploring consciousness include:

This interview was done in 2003, so I don't feel bad posting a big chunk of the transcript. Here is David Chalmers on the Big Conundrum: Consciousness. Oh yeah, he's no longer at the U of A -- he's down in Australia someplace.
What is consciousness? How do physical processes in the brain give rise to the subjective life the conscious mind? These compelling questions have well and truly taken over the expansive mind of Dave Chalmers. Still in his thirties, Chalmers is recognised as one of the world's big names in philosophy. He's Professor at the University of Arizona, where he directs the Center for Consciousness Studies. But he started out as a kid in Adelaide with a passion for big questions with complicated answers. Dave Chalmers joins Natasha Mitchell this week on All In the Mind for a meander through the crevices of the final frontier: the mind.

* * * * *

Natasha Mitchell: And welcome to All in the Mind, Natasha Mitchell with you, great to have your company today. My guest on the show this week is Australian born philosopher Dave Chalmers who's become one of the world's great notables for his dalliances with the Big C, the question of 'human consciousness.

He became a professor at the tender age of 32, and today, still a young'n, he heads up the Centre for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona.

In 1996 his book "The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory" (there's no doubt he's ambitious) hit the bookshelves with gusto and sparked a debate that hasn't dimmed in intensity in the slightest since. About questions like: What is human consciousness? how do physical processes in the brain give rise to the subjective life of the conscious mind? Could machines experience consciousness in the way that we do? And are we living a dream anyway?

David Chalmers is on the Board of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness and he regularly brings big thinkers from around the world together on his desert campus on Tuscon, Arizona to discuss and debate his great passion for big ideas with difficult, or even impossible, answers.

On a lighter side he's recently contributed to the philosophy section of the official Matrix movie website with his essay The Matrix as Metaphysics and he's a recent inductee into the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists - yes, I'm serious, it does exist. So it seems like all good philosophers he's clearly preoccupied with keeping his cranium warm.

I caught up with David Chalmers at the recent International Congress on Cognitive Science held here in Australia...

Well you've become really one of the big names in Consciousness Studies around the world, one of the big names in philosophy. We don't climb out of the womb knowing that we want to take the big mama on in philosophy, so where did it begin for you?

Dave Chalmers: My interests started about in science and in mathematics, I always thought I was going to be a mathematician. But gradually as I studied mathematics I got the sense that I was no longer studying things that were as fundamental as it once had.

I had the idea that it would be wonderful to be a physicist or a mathematician maybe 500 years ago around the time of Newton when there were really fundamental things just lying around to be discovered. So at this point you start asking yourself OK where are the really fundamental questions, the things that right now we don't understand? The things where the landscape is as wide open as it was for Newton 500 years ago? And the answer's obvious - it was the science of the mind and consciousness. The fact that we are conscious beings - how does these states of consciousness relate to states of the brain? This is the question absolutely fundamental to our existence and absolutely mysterious. And thinking about that question just inexorably drove me in that direction.

Natasha Mitchell: Who were some of the key early thinkers in this area of consciousness studies that got you intrigued?

Dave Chalmers: Well I read a lot of stuff as a kid but one book which really influenced me strongly was a Douglas Hofstadter's book Gödel, Escher, Bach. In the late 1970s this was a very important and fairly widely read book tying together things from a philosophy, mathematics, science, physics, art, the nature of thought, the nature of mind, the nature of experience that drew me in. I ended up actually, it's a long story, but I ended up working with Douglas Hofstadter for my PhD in philosophy and cognitive science much later so in that way I came full circle.

Natasha Mitchell: That's extraordinary, what a coincidence, or not perhaps as the case may be. Few people in Adelaide in the 70s would have read a book and then somewhere down the track become the author's student.

Dave Chalmers: I went through in mathematics at Adelaide and I got part way through a graduate degree at Oxford working on mathematics but around this time I was getting obsessed by consciousness and the mind, I was developing my own new theory every week, how could I think about this stuff. And I started to think OK, I need to work on this properly full time and then I thought, where do I start, do I need to go back to square one? And the one person I knew about was Hofstadter whose books I'd read and loved so I wrote to him and he wrote back saying "hey, why don't you come across and work with me and in Indiana"? And I said "where on earth is Indiana!?" I looked at a map of the US and there it was somewhere in the middle... but I ended up going there and it was a great experience.

Natasha Mitchell: Was it?

Dave Chalmers: Doug had interests in everything from the study of language to the study of creativity, to humour, to mathematics, we'd have a workshop one weekend on jokes and how you analyse the structure of a joke. A workshop on another weekend on consciousness and we'd talk about how to computationally model the mind... So any question you could think of when it comes to thinking about the human mind was fair game. That was just incredibly stimulating.

Natasha Mitchell: Yes, because traditionally we've boxed the disciplines somewhat so philosophers haven't always talked certainly in modern times anyway, haven't talked to the neuroscientists and vice a versa. And you've said somewhere that you're truly committed to developing an inter-disciplinary study of consciousness. It seems to be that inter-disciplinarity that really turns you on.

Dave Chalmers: Yeah, well I am a philosopher but I didn't come into this saying what I want to study is philosophy. To ask the questions that I wanted to ask and to be able to get a job and so on you had to do that in a philosophy department. But still I think the science of consciousness is very much a group enterprise where the psychologists, the neuroscientist, the philosophers, the physicists even all have something to contribute. One great thing about being a philosopher is you get to kind of stand back from it all and do your best to integrate and synthesise.

Natasha Mitchell: And you're now on the Board of Directors of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Now, traditionally, science and consciousness would have been somewhat of an anathema...

Dave Chalmers: Well a lot of people think this, they think that science has got to be objective. Now consciousness by its very nature is subjective, when we study consciousness we're studying subjective experience. So some people think OK therefore science can't study consciousness, consciousness has to be left to one side. And I think this is just an overly constrained view of what science is. You know, subjective experience is just one other natural phenomena that each of us has as biological beings. We can study this, we can listen to other people's reports of their experience and we can study the connections between our states of subjective experience and the underlying say, states of the brain.

So this is in many ways where psychology got started doing this about 150 years ago and then got diverted by turning into the study of behaviour and the study of everything objective. Only recently has science been returning to it but there's one very exciting thing in just the 10 or 15 years has been the setting up of groups like this association, and a whole bunch of researchers from many different fields are turning their attention very strongly to consciousness.

Read the rest of this fascinating interview.

Mind Papers -- Mind and Consciousness Papers

OK, yes, I have been on a consciousness kick of late. It's a fascinating and infuriating field of research. One of the great resources on the web is Mind Papers -- Mind and Consciousness Papers, complied by David Chalmers (Editor) & David Bourget (Assistant Editor).

The site seems to be updated regularly, with the last time being today (April 25th).

Here is the table of contents, which will give you an idea of what a magnificent resource this site is.

Table of Contents

The downside of this site, like so many good academic sites, is that the papers available online are mostly NOT open access. That sucks. Why should research be kept hidden behind the walls of academia? The per-paper price is usually around $30 or more, which is absurd. I'd pay $5 dollars, maybe even $10 for a good, long paper, but not $30.

Cognitive Neuroscience of Mindfulness Meditation

Google Tech Talks.

More on meditation and cognitive science.


Mindfulness meditation, one type of meditation technique, has been shown to enhance emotional awareness and psychological flexibility as well as induce well-being and emotional balance. Scientists have also begun to examine how meditation may influence brain functions. This talk will examine the effect of mindfulness meditation practice on the brain systems in which psychological functions such as attention, emotional reactivity, emotion regulation, and self-view are instantiated. We will also discuss how different forms of meditation practices are being studied using neuroscientific technologies and are being integrated into clinical practice to address symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.

Speaker: Philippe Goldin
Philippe is a research scientist and heads the Clinically Applied Affective Neuroscience group in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University.

He spent 6 years in India and Nepal studying various languages, Buddhist philosophy and debate at Namgyal Monastery and the Dialectic Monastic Institute, and serving as an interpreter for various Tibetan Buddhist lamas. He then returned to the U.S. to complete a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Rutgers University. His NIH-funded clinical research focuses on (a) functional neuroimaging investigations of cognitive-affective mechanisms in adults with anxiety disorders, (b) comparing the effects of mindfulness meditation and cognitive-behavioral therapy on brain-behavior correlates of emotional reactivity and regulation, and (c) training children in family and elementary school settings in mindfulness skills to reduce anxiety and enhance compassion, self-esteem and quality of family interactions.

Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness

For Buddhists and neuroscience junkies, a very good article on Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness. This is an online pdf, and it hasn't yet been published, at least according to the header.

Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness
Antoine Lutz, John D. Dunne, Richard J. Davidson

In press in Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness edited by Zelazo P., Moscovitch M. and Thompson E.

Keys words: meditation, mental training, introspection, consciousness, neural synchrony, neuroimaging, brain oscillatory rhythm, electroencephalography, attention training, emotion regulation, brain plasticity, mind-brain-body interaction, physiological baseline, reflexive awareness, Buddhism, compassion, open presence, Śamatha, neurophenomenology.

The overall goal of this essay is to explore the initial findings of neuroscientific research on meditation; in doing so, the essay also suggests potential avenues of further inquiry. The essay consists of three sections that, while integral to the essay as a whole, may also be read independently. The first section, “Defining Meditation,” notes the need for a more precise understanding of meditation as a scientific explanandum. Arguing for the importance of distinguishing the particularities of various traditions, the section presents the theory of meditation from the paradigmatic perspective of Buddhism, and it discusses the difficulties encountered when working with such theories. The section includes an overview of three practices that have been the subject of research, and it ends with a strategy for developing a questionnaire to more precisely define a practice under examination. The second section, “the Intersection of Neuroscience and Meditation,” explores some scientific motivations for the neuroscientific examination of meditation in terms of its potential impact on the brain and body of long-term practitioners. After an overview of the mechanisms of mind-body interaction, this section addresses the use of first-person expertise, especially in relation to the potential for research on the neural counterpart of subjective experience. In general terms, the section thus points to the possible contributions of research on meditation to the neuroscience of consciousness. The final section, “Neuroelectric and Neuroimaging Correlates of Meditation,” reviews the most relevant neuroelectric and neuroimaging findings of research conducted to date, including some preliminary correlates of the previously discussed Buddhist practices.

The article
is 120 pages long, but it's good.

Modern Versions of Shamanism

N. Lois Turtledove posted an interesting three part series on Modern Versions of Shamanism. She's a student at the University of Colorado, Denver. I'm posting just the beginning of each entry so that you can get a sense of what she's about.

I've been studying shamanism on and off for many years, so this was a nice treat -- and a reminder that some humans have always found ways to transcend individual awareness and concerns. One of the books she references -- Jeannette Gagan, PhD., Journeying: Where Shamanism and Psychology Meet -- is on my reading list.

Modern Versions of Shamanism, Part I.



“Shamanism” is a term that is shrouded in mystery or dismissed as non-relevant to many who are unfamiliar with the concept. However, the concept is surprisingly modern as it is ancient, and its benefits valuable, although largely hidden from view in our society. Metaphysics has been largely pushed aside by our culture ever since the scientific revolution, and removed from the realm of “reality,” as in that which is empirically, objectively provable. Despite this development, metaphysics is still the basis of traditional religions, and one may even argue that religion with the mythological mind-frame is on a bit of an upswing with the rise of religious fundamentalism in the United States (which has considerable political clout). Although undermined by the scientific method and rejected by religions outside of shamanic cultures, shamanism has not disappeared from society, but has surfaced in a variety of potent ways in the United States.

This ancient phenomenon has appeared in the vast array of cultures across the globe with certain well-documented similarities- most extensively written about by Mircea Eliade (Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, 1951. Princeton University Press: 2004) and it exhibits some of these in the forms it takes here today. The modern forms of shamanism, as do the traditional, vary amongst each other, and they demonstrate contrasts with the traditional versions. However, the core remains the same, which I will explore within the pages of this study. This work explores texts on shamanism, as well as four case studies of shamans located in the Denver, Colorado area. I have found that shamanism has developed as it situates itself in modern times. Among the facets of today’s shamanism are life-coaching, alternative healing arts, and an uncommon type of psychotherapy that does not shy away from involving matters of the soul in its practice. Sometimes it deals with consciousness and its manifestations in the unconscious, and vice versa: manifestations of the unconscious in the conscious mind. It deals directly with energy and appearances coming from the noumenal world, considered by generations of scientists as either nonexistent, or simply beyond the bounds of human knowledge. Its methods, by which the shaman was healed and then teaches others, (Eliade, 31) serve to unlock a latent power for the subject, and provide healing beyond what traditional psychotherapies often been able to achieve (as documented by Jeannette Gagan, PhD. in Journeying: Where Shamanism and Psychology Meet, Rio Chama Publications: 1998.) Its effects are of valid application to sciences of mind, epistemology, and those concerned with the well-being of humankind.

* * * * *

Modern Versions of Shamanism, Part II.


A shaman is a “technician of the sacred” states Mircea Eliade in his classic text, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Eliade, 33.) Shamanism is not one fixed belief system, but instead is a number of disparate beliefs having many facets and continually increasing as new situations arise, although retaining many of the old beliefs and overlapping traditions, says Margaret Stutley in her book, Shamanism, an Introduction (Stutley, 3.) He or she is one who believes in the world of spirits which he controls or cooperates with for the benefit of the community (Stutley, 2.) Stephen Larsen, in his stirring work A Shamans Doorway: Opening Imagination to Power and Myth asserts that shamans have the special ability to dream, trance and imagine, and are experts at reaching into the causal level for the needs and wants of the people in the community (Larsen, 9.) A shaman is a healer, reports psychologist Jeannette Gagan, PhD. in a fascinating book, Journeying: Where Shamanism and Psychology Meet (Gagan, 27.) In light of these varied statements, to fully understand what a shaman is, one must describe shamanism in its many facets and techniques, consider its positioning in epistemological debate, and discover what its modern-day practitioners have to say about it.

Aspects of shamanism are found the world over in one form or another. Eliade traces shamanism back to at least the Paleolithic era (Elaide, 11) in Siberia and Central Asia where it traditionally dominated the magico-religious aspect of society (Eliade,4) and describes phenomena with common characteristics in North and South America, Oceana and Indonesia, where it exists alongside other magico-religious practices (Eliade, 5.) The shaman is a mediator between humankind and the gods, says Eliade (Eliade, 8.) They operate within the mythological structure in which they are ethnographically situated, that is, a shaman would address divine entities by the terms used by that particular culture of people. Larsen calls shamans “mediators between myths and reality,” (Larsen, 9) those whose “vocation is the relationship between the mythic imagination and ordinary consciousness,” (Larsen, 59) and who immerse themselves into myths, which are the “local versions of (Jungian) universal archetypes.” (Larsen, 65) Stutley claims that shamans have protected mankind’s mythical knowledge (Stutley, 6.)

* * * * *

Modern Versions of Shamanism, Part III

…A shaman is able to see the soul, as one is a specialist in the matters which pertain to it. (Eliade, 8 ) According to Eliade, a shaman experiences the numinous and the sacred more intensely than the other members of the community. (Elaide, 32) He says that the quest for the sacred is universal and normal to human behavior, but that shamans differ in this by their ability to have an “ecstatic experience,” and that this is their vocation. (Eliade, 107) Shamanism is analagous to using the technique of ecstasy. (Eliade, 4)


Gagan writes that the altered states of consciousness of ecstasy are achieved by narrowing the focus of attention. (Gagan, 43-44) Ecstasy, asserts Gagan, is the “voluntary use of an altered state combined with the intent to serve the community,” (Gagan, 32.) Ecstasy includes dreams, visions, and dialogue with spirits. (Eliade, 115) It is through ecstasy that a shaman is able to access other realms and do shamanic healing. Toby emphasizes that being able to do these things is a very natural process able to be done by anyone. Toby and Antonio have said that everyone that has come to them wanting to learn their techniques are able to do so. Toby and Renna say that children often have experiences of the spirit world and energy. Toby claims that often parents explain these away as simply imagination. (Personal interviews, fall 2007)

Stutley claims that “genuine ecstasy is a psychogenic reaction according to the dictates of the visionary’s mind, so expressing the conscious and unconscious desires of the ecstatic shaman,” (Stutley, 28.) In my research on the ecstatic experiences of the shamans in my study, I have found that ecstasy does not originate in mental nor emotional conflicts in the shaman’s mind. They are obtained through techniques similar to ones described by Eliade and which fit with some of Carl Jung’s theories. Examples of these include dreaming, meditation, and drumming. The practice of shamanism brings forth “a cure, a control, an equilibrium,” says Eliade. (Eliade, 29) He has found shamans to be intelligent, healthy, normal individuals with exceptional character, not psychotics. (Eliade, xviii)

This is a well-researched introduction to the basic principles of shamanism.

Street Musicians: Cello and Flute

These guys are pretty good.