Saturday, May 24, 2008

Daily Om - Acceptance As Giving

I've tried to explain this principle to someone I care about in the past, and I couldn't quite articulate it. I think this Daily Om does a better job than I did.
Acceptance As Giving
Allowing Ourselves To Receive

Giving and receiving are part of the same cycle, and we each give and receive in our own ways. But we can lose our balance when we try to be too controlling on either side of the cycle. On the receiving end, we may feel that we don’t deserve the effort made if what we gave was easy for us to give. But perhaps there is a different lesson there for us. We may be receiving not only gratitude, but a chance to see the world through the eyes of another. We may be learning that just because we gave easily, it doesn’t diminish its value. Or perhaps the universe is giving us an example to hold close to our hearts, to encourage us on some future day when our own generous act of giving is not met with a visible act of receiving. When we can allow ourselves to receive as well as give, we do our part to keep the channels of abundance open for ourselves and others.

Sometimes we may find ourselves struggling to respond to others’ gifts in the same ways—like responding to an expensive present with something equally expensive, or feeling like we have to throw a dinner party for someone who has thrown one for us. But when these are done out of a sense of obligation, their energy changes from something that shares to something that drains. If this sounds familiar, we can decide next time to allow ourselves to receive with arms, minds and hearts open and simply say thank you.

Accepting a person’s gift is a gift in itself. Sincere appreciation for their acknowledgment and their effort joins our energy with theirs in the cycle of giving and receiving, and nurtures all involved. If ever we find we are still having difficulty, we can decide to allow ourselves to be conduits for gratitude and accept on behalf of a loving, giving universe.

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Chris Rock: Bigger and Blacker [NSFW]

This is the full HBO show, and definitely not safe for work, unless you work someplace cool.

It starts a little slow (for me), but when he gets to "bullet control," he's on a roll.


Six 'Uniquely' Human Traits Now Found in Animals

This is from Richard Dawkins blog, and it's kind of cool, so I thought I'd share it here, too.
Six 'uniquely' human traits now found in animals
Kate Douglas

To accompany the article So you think humans are unique? we have selected six articles from the New Scientist archive that tell a similar story. We have also asked the researchers involved to update us on their latest findings. Plus, we have rounded up six videos of animals displaying 'human' abilities.

1. Culture

Art, theatre, literature, music, religion, architecture and cuisine – these are the things we generally associate with culture. Clearly no other animal has anything approaching this level of cultural sophistication. But culture at its core is simply the sum of a particular group's characteristic ways of living, learned from one another and passed down the generations, and other primate species undoubtedly have practices that are unique to groups, such as a certain way of greeting each other or obtaining food.

Even more convincing examples of animal cultures are found in cetaceans. Killer whales, for example, fall into two distinct groups, residents and transients. Although both live in the same waters and interbreed, they have very different social structures and lifestyles, distinct ways of communicating, different tastes in food and characteristic hunting techniques – all of which parents teach to offspring.

Read the original article: Culture shock (24 March 2001)

Hal Whitehead, Dalhousie University writes:

"Since our 2001 review, people have often considered culture as a potential explanation of the behavioural patterns that have turned up in their studies of whales and dolphins.

"Our own work has concentrated on the non-vocal forms of sperm-whale culture. The different cultural clans of sperm whales, although in basically the same areas, use these waters very differently, and are affected very differently by El Niño events. They also have different reproductive rates.

"In sperm whales, and likely other whales and dolphins, culture has the potential to affect population biology, and so issues as diverse as genetic evolution and the impacts of global warming on the species."

2. Mind reading

Perhaps the surest sign that an individual has insight into the mind of another is the ability to deceive. To outwit someone you must understand their desires, intentions and motives – exactly the same ability that underpins the "theory of mind". This ability to attribute mental states to others was once thought unique to humans, emerging suddenly around the fifth year of life. But the discovery that babies are capable of deception led experts to conclude that "mind-reading" skills develop gradually, and fuelled debate about whether they might be present in other primates.

Experiments in the 1990s indicated that great apes and some monkeys do understand deception, but that their understanding of the minds of others is probably implicit rather than explicit as it is in adult humans.

Read the original article: Liar! Liar! (14 February 1998)

Marc Hauser, Harvard University, writes:

"The tamarin work didn't pan out, but there are now several studies that show evidence of theory of mind in primates, including work by Brian Hare, Josep Call, Mike Tomasello, Felix Warneken, Laurie Santos, Justin Wood, and myself on chimps, rhesus monkeys and tamarins. There is nothing quite like a successful Sally-Anne test, but studies point to abilities such as seeing as a form of knowing, reading intentions and goals."

3. Tool use

Some chimps use rocks to crack nuts, others fish for termites with blades of grass and a gorilla has been seen gauging the depth of water with the equivalent of a dipstick, but no animal wields tools with quite the alacrity of the New Caledonian crow. To extract tasty insects from crevices, they craft a selection of hooks and long, barbed tapers called stepped-cut tools, made by intricately cutting a pandanus leaf with their beaks. What's more, experiments in the lab suggest that they understand the function of tools and deploy creativity and planning to construct them.

Nobody is suggesting that toolmaking has common origins in humans and crows, but there is a remarkable similarity in the ways in which their respective brains work. Both are highly lateralised, revealed in the observation that most crows are right-beaked – cutting pandanus leaves using the right side of their beaks. New Caledonian crows may force us to reassess the mental abilities of our first toolmaking ancestors.

Read the original article: Look, no hands (17 August 2002)

Gavin Hunt at the University of Aukland, writes:

"The general aim of our research on New Caledonian crows is to determine how a 'bird brain' can produce such complex tools and tool behaviour. Since the New Scientist article appeared in 2002, our team has focused on continuing to document tool manufacture and use in the wild (New Zealand Journal of Zoology, vol 35 p 115), the development of tool skills in free-living juveniles, the social behaviour and ecology of NC crows on the island of Maré, experimental work investigating NC crows' physical cognition and general intelligence, and neurological work.

"Some of this work is being undertaken collaboratively with laboratories in Germany (neurology) and New Zealand (genotyping). A very similar study is also being carried out independently at the University of Oxford. This parallel research has produced findings that are both confirmatory and conflicting."

Alex Kacelnik, University of Oxford, adds:

"We now know for sure that genetics is involved in the tool-making abilities of new Caledonian crows. We raised nestlings by hand and found that chicks that had never seen anybody handle objects of any kind started to use tools to extract food from crevices at a similar age to those who were exposed to human tutors using tools (Animal Behaviour, vol 72, p 1329). Clearly, observing others is not necessary for the tool use. However chicks exposed to tutoring exhibit a greater intensity of tool-related activity. Not surprisingly, genes and experience show a complex interaction.

"We have also developed a new technique, consisting of loading tiny video cameras on free-ranging birds, so as to see what they see and document the precise use of tools in nature. We have discovered that they use tools in loose soil, that they use a kind of tool not previously described (grass stems), and that they hunt for vertebrates (lizards). All of this, together with laboratory analysis of their cognitive abilities is forming a richer picture of what the species can do."

4. Morality

A classic study in 1964 found that hungry rhesus monkeys would not take food they had been offered if doing so meant that another monkey received an electric shock. The same is true of rats. Does this indicate nascent morality? For decades, we have preferred to find alternative explanations, but recently ethologist Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado at Boulder has championed the view that humans are not the only moral species. He argues that morality is common in social mammals, and that during play they learn the rights and wrongs of social interaction, the "moral norms that can then be extended to other situations such as sharing food, defending resources, grooming and giving care".

Read the original article: Virtuous nature (13 July 2002)

Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, writes:

"Work published this year showed that animals are able to make social evaluations and these assessments are foundational for moral behaviour in animals other than humans. Francys Subiaul of the George Washington University and his colleagues showed that captive chimpanzees are able to make judgments about the reputation of unfamiliar humans by observing their behaviour - whether they were generous or stingy in giving food to other humans. The ability to make character judgments is just what we would expect to find in a species in which fairness and cooperation are important in interactions among group members (Animal Cognition, DOI: 10.1007/s10071-008-0151-6)."

5. Emotions

Emotions allow us to bond with others, regulate our social interactions and make it possible to behave flexibly in different situations. We are not the only animals that need to do these things, so why should we be the only ones with emotions? There are many examples of apparent emotional behaviour in other animals.

Elephants caring for a crippled herd member seem to show empathy. A funeral ritual performed by magpies suggests grief. Was it spite that led a male baboon called Nick to take revenge on a rival by urinating on her? Divers who freed a humpback whale caught in a crab line describe its reaction as one of gratitude. Then there's the excited dance chimps perform when faced with a waterfall – it looks distinctly awe-inspired. These days, few doubt that animals have emotions, but whether they feel these consciously, as we do, is open to debate.

Read the original article: Do animals have emotions? (23 May 2007)

6. Personality

It's no surprise that animals that live under constant threat from predators are extra-cautious, while those that face fewer risks appear to be more reckless. After all, such successful survival strategies would evolve by natural selection. But the discovery that individuals of the same species, living under the same conditions, vary in their degree of boldness or caution is more remarkable. In humans we would refer to such differences as personality traits.

From cowardly spiders and reckless salamanders to aggressive songbirds and fearless fish, we are finding that many animals are not as characterless as we might expect. What's more, work with animals has led to the idea that personality traits evolve to help individuals survive in a wider variety of ecological niches, and this is influencing the way psychologists think about human personality.

Read the original article: Critters with attitude (3 June 2001)

For an update on animal personalities and how research in this area is throwing light on human behaviour read The personality factor.

Bill Moyers Journal: "Buying the War" (Complete)

Another good series from Bill Moyers. Buying the War documents the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, including all the lies and misinformation -- and the media's compliance -- that created an atmosphere that allowed the invasion to occur.

There's nothing that can be done about what the Bush administration did in lying to the nation (short of war crimes charges), but the bigger issue is what can be done to "fix" the media so that this never happens again. Or can it be changed?

The media has become so partisan that viewers choose to watch the channels that mesh with their worldviews. Conservatives love Fox and CNN, while liberals have become fans of some shows on MSNBC and Comedy Central. Is it possible to have unbiased news coverage ever again? I doubt it, personally.

This is from the PBS page linked to above:

How did the mainstream press get it so wrong? How did the evidence disputing the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the link between Saddam Hussein to 9-11 continue to go largely unreported? "What the conservative media did was easy to fathom; they had been cheerleaders for the White House from the beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind the President — no questions asked. How mainstream journalists suspended skepticism and scrutiny remains an issue of significance that the media has not satisfactorily explored," says Moyers. "How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?"

"Buying the War" includes interviews with Dan Rather, formerly of CBS; Tim Russert of MEET THE PRESS; Bob Simon of 60 MINUTES; Walter Isaacson, former president of CNN; and John Walcott, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel of Knight Ridder newspapers, which was acquired by The McClatchy Company in 2006.

In "Buying the War" Bill Moyers and producer Kathleen Hughes document the reporting of Walcott, Landay and Strobel, the Knight Ridder team that burrowed deep into the intelligence agencies to try and determine whether there was any evidence for the Bush Administration's case for war. "Many of the things that were said about Iraq didn't make sense," says Walcott. "And that really prompts you to ask, 'Wait a minute. Is this true? Does everyone agree that this is true? Does anyone think this is not true?'"

In the run-up to war, skepticism was a rarity among journalists inside the Beltway. Journalist Bob Simon of 60 MINUTES, who was based in the Middle East, questioned the reporting he was seeing and reading. "I mean we knew things or suspected things that perhaps the Washington press corps could not suspect. For example, the absurdity of putting up a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda," he tells Moyers. "Saddam...was a total control freak. To introduce a wild card like Al Qaeda in any sense was just something he would not do. So I just didn't believe it for an instant." The program analyzes the stream of unchecked information from administration sources and Iraqi defectors to the mainstream print and broadcast press, which was then seized upon and amplified by an army of pundits. While almost all the claims would eventually prove to be false, the drumbeat of misinformation about WMDs went virtually unchallenged by the media. THE NEW YORK TIMES reported on Iraq's "worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb," but according to Landay, claims by the administration about the possibility of nuclear weapons were highly questionable. Yet, his story citing the "lack of hard evidence of Iraqi weapons" got little play. In fact, throughout the media landscape, stories challenging the official view were often pushed aside while the administration's claims were given prominence. "From August 2002 until the war was launched in March of 2003 there were about 140 front page pieces in THE WASHINGTON POST making the administration's case for war," says Howard Kurtz, the POST's media critic. "But there was only a handful of stories that ran on the front page that made the opposite case. Or, if not making the opposite case, raised questions."

"Buying the War" examines the press coverage in the lead-up to the war as evidence of a paradigm shift in the role of journalists in democracy and asks, four years after the invasion, what's changed? "More and more the media become, I think, common carriers of administration statements and critics of the administration," says THE WASHINGTON POST's Walter Pincus. "We've sort of given up being independent on our own."

Here is the whole series embedded in a single video.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Ellen Degeneres Schools John McCain on Gay Rights

One of the most uncomfortable interviews I have ever seen. You have to give McCain credit for the appearance -- he knew he was going to get that question and he agreed to it.

Watch it here.

On the other hand, McCain said he supports legal partnerships, yet he supported an amendment here in Arizona to ban ANY kind of legal partnerships, including those for straight people. Flip flop much?

From Crooks & Liars:
The problem is that McCain himself not only supported an amendment to the Arizona Constitution in 2006 that would have banned any “legal agreements” including “insurance” for domestic partners, but he cut advertisements for the measure (which failed). He also told prominent campaign supporter the late Jerry Falwell–who blamed 9/11 on gays and lesbians, among others–that if state constitutional measures such as this one were struck down by the courts, he would then support a federal gay-marriage ban.
So, where does he really stand? Was he lying to Ellen's mostly pro-gay rights audience, or has he changed his position? Or does he just say, vaguely, what his audience wants to hear?

Substance vs. Style: A Cognitive Science Approach to Art

From the TED blog:

Substance vs. style: a cognitive science approach

I%27m-too-sad-to-tell-you_lr_.jpgFans of Vik Muniz may be interested to learn the results of a recent study which shows that, when we look at a painting, our brains process its content before registering its style. In the study, paintings were presented in pairs for different time lengths and the participants were asked to judge the similarity within each pair.

After just 10ms exposure, a pair of paintings were rated as more similar to each other if they had identical rather than contrasting content, but style had no bearing. [...] Beyond 50ms, content exerted no more of an influence, suggesting all content information had been extracted by this stage. However, style continued to exert a growing influence beyond 50ms, with paintings matched for style being judged as progressively more similar.
Muniz, who spoke at TED in 2003, creates art that explores the tension between style and content by way of his mind-bending, masterful use of unexpected materials -- such as chocolate syrup or hundreds of colorful toys.

(Study via BPS Research Digest)

Image: Vik Muniz, Self Portrait (I am too sad to tell you, After Bas Van Ader), Rebus, 2003, 40 x 50", c-print. Image from the West Collection.

Here is the video of Muniz's TED Talk from 2003.

Vik Muniz: Art with wire, thread, sugar, chocolate:

Richard Rorty's Integral Philosophy?

Ovi had an article earlier this month that looked at the work of Richard Rorty. Some of the critique felt to me like he was moving toward an integral philosophy that rejected "the intellectually bankrupt representationalism and foundationalism of modern philosophy."

From Wikipedia: "Richard McKay Rorty (October 4, 1931 - June 8, 2007) was an American philosopher. He had a long and diverse career in Philosophy, Humanities, and Literature departments. His complex intellectual background gave him a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the analytical tradition in philosophy he would later famously reject."

His major and most likely his enduring work was Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.

In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Rorty argues that the central problems of modern epistemology depend upon a picture of the mind as trying to faithfully represent (or "mirror") a mind-independent external reality. If we give up this metaphor, then the entire enterprise of foundationalist epistemology is misguided. A foundationalist believes that in order to avoid the regress inherent in claiming that all beliefs are justified by other beliefs, some beliefs must be self-justifying and form the foundations to all knowledge. There were two senses of "foundationalism" criticized in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. In the philosophical sense, Rorty criticized the attempt to justify knowledge claims by tracing them to a set of foundations; more broadly, he criticized the claim of philosophy to function foundationally within a culture. The former argument draws on Sellars's critique of the idea that there is a "given" in sensory perception, in combination with Quine's critique of the distinction between analytic sentences (sentences which are true solely in virtue of what they mean) and synthetic sentences (sentences made true by the world). Each critique, taken alone, provides a problem for a conception of how philosophy ought to proceed. Combined, Rorty claimed, the two critiques are devastating. With no privileged insight into the structure of belief and no privileged realm of truths of meaning, we have, instead, knowledge as those beliefs that pay their way. The only worthwhile description of the actual process of inquiry, Rorty claimed, was a Kuhnian account of the standard phases of the progress of discipline, oscillating through normal and abnormal science, between routine problem solving and intellectual crises. The only role left for a philosopher is to act as an intellectual gadfly, attempting to induce a revolutionary break with previous practice, a role that Rorty was happy to take on himself. Rorty claims that each generation tries to subject all disciplines to the model that the most successful discipline of the day employs. On Rorty's view, the success of modern science has led academics in philosophy and the humanities to mistakenly imitate scientific methods. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature popularized and extended ideas of Wilfrid Sellars (the critique of the Myth of the given) and W. V. O. Quine (the critique of the analytic-synthetic distinction) and others who advocate the doctrine of "dissolving" rather than solving philosophical problems.

Here is how Emanuel L. Paparella talks about this seminal book:

Rorty holds that with Descartes there begins within modern philosophy a scientification of the same which has in turn produced several centuries’ worth of fierce debates between rationalists (Kant, for example) and empiricists (Hume, for example), idealists (Berkeley, for example) and materialists (Hobbes, for example) which were all based on a false premise. The false premise was the idea that the mind was a “theater of representation,” forever dealing with a reality outside itself which it observes objectively. Also faulty, for Rorty, is the later attempt to replace mind in the equation with language. He is convinced that the arduous philosophical search for foundational values, true nature, a priori truths, though sometimes fascinating and stimulating would forever fail to yield the hoped for results, that is to say, non-controversial results concerning matters of ultimate concern.

While paying lip service to God as the ultimate ground of philosophy (a God who is not the living God with whom Jacob wrestled all night thus receiving the name Israel, but the God of the philosophers demonstrated with rational proofs) the Cartesian project had in effect substituted science for God and had gone nowhere; it had in fact prepared a dehumanized world devoid of the poetic wherein we would think of our brains as so much hardware and the very concept of soul would no longer be grasped. Its only achievement, as Rorty sees it, was to elevate philosophers to an eminence they really did not deserve.

So the question is, what does Rorty substitute for what he considers the intellectually bankrupt representationalism and foundationalism of modern philosophy? He offers us “epistemological behaviorism.” We know what our society lets us know. What we accept has nothing to do with how well a statement mirrors the world; it has everything to do with how well it fits in what we have already come to believe, and the answers as to why we believe what we believe will be found in psychology, sociology and even biology, not philosophy.

The next crucial question is this: what is philosophy good for? A lot less than most philosophers care to admit, according to Rorty. By elevating the mind above and beyond physical reality, and taking that mind as their own intellectual territory, analytic philosophers had, in effect, placed themselves above and beyond other intellectual disciplines. They had made themselves the judges of what was real and meaningful, had placed themselves outside of history. So, what is the role of philosophers? If, as Rorty claims, there are no foundations to be uncovered, no a priori truths (that is to say, truths who do not need empirical evidence or experience) to be discovered, then philosophers were mere “conversationalists” and “re-describers.”

As someone who often feels philosophy is hopelessly out of touch with reality, Rorty's ideas (which were certainly controversial) are refreshing. His view that we are limited in our understanding by our cultural context is a powerful idea that moves philosophy out of the ivory tower and into the real world.

He is also way ahead of the curve in suggesting that we know what we know not due to philosophy (read: introspection), but rather due to psychology, sociology, and biology. There is no mind-body problem because mind is embedded in the body and the culture in which that body lives.

As far as philosophy is concerned, this borders on an integral (read: AQAL) form of philosophy. Hopefully there are others who will pursue this avenue of inquiry in Rorty's absence.

Errol Morris & Marc Hauser in Conversation

From Seed.

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris has made a career of trafficking in moral ambiguity and complexity. Evolutionary psychologist Marc Hauser has pioneered research into the idea of a universal morality grounded in biology. Hauser believes humans possess a moral grammar; Morris isn't so sure. The two met when Morris asked Hauser to be part of his short film for the 2007 Oscars. They kept in touch, exchanged ideas, and Hauser attended an early screening of Standard Operating Procedure, Morris's film about the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib. Recently in Boston they debated game theory, Stanley Milgram, and whether science can make us better people.

Click on the image to watch highlights from the Salon.

Errol Morris: I'm not sure that I have any real grasp on morality at all, much less some universal idea of morality. I've thought a lot about what happened at Abu Ghraib, and maybe this shows just a fundamental deficiency on my part, but I've come away even more confused than when I started and more convinced that social science really hasn't grappled with these issues in a way that I find satisfactory.

It's fascinating that whenever we come up against something that is really complex, there is this very deep human need to find a simple explanation that can account for it. If it's something that's really bad, really wrong, people feel uneasy and want to figure out how to distance themselves from it; to tell themselves, "This doesn't concern me. This isn't about me. This is about somebody else, or some other group I don't belong to."

Marc Hauser: Okay, but you left out a huge question: How do you know it's wrong?

EM: Yeah.

MH: How do you even know? How does the human mind know that something is wrong? And once it does, what does it do with that information? Those are deep questions. I mean they've occupied people for centuries.

EM: Right. One of the stories that I tell in S.O.P. is about a suspected insurgent who's brought in by Navy SEALs, interrogated by the CIA, enters Abu Ghraib under his own power, leaves as a corpse on a gurney. So, who is responsible? Who should be blamed? And if they haven't been blamed and are responsible, why haven't they been blamed?

MH: Right.

EM: All of that really interests me.

MH: Well, so, what science is doing is trying to distinguish two aspects of the question of how we think about the world. Because even this kind of violence, depending on whose side you're on, will be evaluated differently, right?

EM: Yes.

MH: So, when the Nazis got together to exterminate the Jews, from their perspective, wanton killing of Jews was not wrong. It was perfectly right because Jews were "the other." You map a distinction by recruiting the most powerful and violent emotions you can—disgust, hate. You call the other parasitic vermin to recruit the most incredible imagery. Once you do that, the emotions wreak havoc and you feel perfectly justified exterminating the other.

So this is where I think some the universality comes in. Say I tell a story about a violent episode but I don't say who's involved. I think you'll get everybody to agree what, or who, is wrong. If you create a moral dilemma and give no identifying information—you strip away any in-group, out-group distinction—you'll get lots of consensus on what's right or wrong. This is what we're finding. But, once you plug in the partiality of my group and your group, the entire dynamic changes. And that shows a powerful aspect of the mind.

Read the rest of this cool conversation.

One-Minute Shift - We're Ready

From The Institute of Noetic Sciences, the winner of their One-Minute Shift Video contest.
This video, produced by 13-year-old Shannon Leonard and his friends, expresses a heartfelt call from youth who are ready to make the change to living more sustainably. They pointedly ask if we’re ready to do the same.

Other One-Minute Shift videos:

OMS Contest Runners-Up:
2nd place: "The Purpose" by artypeguy
3rd place: "Within Me" by EvolutionAvenue

Honorable Mentions:
"Cloudwalking Thoughts" by stewartstjohn
"Tell!" by madinpursuit
"Unbound Love 2" by Windseedone

Previous One Minute Shifts (listed by viewer ranking):
Deepak Chopra - The Wonder of You (share comments at YouTube)
Dean Radin - A Chocolate Version of Mom's Chicken Soup (share comments at YouTube)
Lynne McTaggart - Can Intention Change the World? (share comments at YouTube)
Rowan North - METAPHORmosis (share comments at YouTube)
Marianne Williamson - Are You Part of the 11%? (share comments at YouTube)
Van Jones - It's Not Too Late (share comments at YouTube)
Edgar Mitchell - An Epiphany in Space (share comments at YouTube)
Anodea Judith - A Template for Transformation (share comments at YouTube)
Cyres Café - Everything Can Change in a CYRES Minute (share comments at YouTube)
Barbara Marx Hubbard - Supra-sexual Co-creation (share comments at YouTube)
Swami Beyondananda - The Upwising Begins (share comments at YouTube)
Marilyn Schlitz - The Next Scientific Revolution (share comments at YouTube)

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Lost Temples: Mayan Pyramids of Chichen Itza

A very col National Geographic segment on the Lost Temples: Mayan Pyramids of Chichen Itza.


Brain Changes in Patients with Untreated Mood Disorders

From Channel N:
title Structural and functional brain changes in patients with never treated mood disorders

description At the MHA 2008 Research Colloquium, Dr. MacQueen speaks about cognitive deficits that accompany never treated mood disorders, how they impact on education, and touches on some long-term consequences (i.e. she says low education is a bigger predictor of heart attack than lipids, cholesterol and smoking combined!) of ignoring the problem. She discusses both structural and functional changes in the brain, and hippocampal-dependent learning and memory impairments.

producer BC Mental Health and Addictions Research Network

Glenda MacQueen, MD, FRCP(C), PhD
date 14/02/08
length 00:58:22

link to video presentation
link to pdf
This is an interesting look at what happens to the brain when mood disorders are left untreated. The damage can be significant.

Turmeric Found to Be Beneficial for Lung, Liver and Colon Health

This is a pretty good look at the benefits of tumeric, from Natural News. Curry is one of nature's perfect foods.
Turmeric, containing the active ingredient curcumin, is one of nature's most powerful healers. The medicinal properties of this spice have slowly revealed themselves over the centuries. Turmeric is documented as effective in conditions ranging from cancer to Alzheimer's disease. New research is now revealing its benefits as a preventative and treatment for lung, colon, and liver diseases.

Studies and Results – Lung Disease

In the 2007 Journal of Experimental Medicine and Biology researchers report that existing drugs have not been shown to be effective in the treatment of lung conditions resulting from occupational and environmental exposures to mineral dusts, airborne pollutants, cigarette smoke, chemotherapy, radiotherapy an other causes of acute and chronic inflammatory lung disease.

Several experimental animal models tested curcumin on lung fibrosis. Results demonstrated that curcumin attenuates lung injury and fibrosis caused by radiation, chemotherapeutic drugs, and toxicants. The researchers also note that studies support the conclusion that curcumin plays a protective role in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, acute lung injury, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and allergic asthma. Its therapeutic action is on the prevention or modulation of inflammation and oxidative stress.

Molecular Nutritional and Food Research, March 2008, reports that corticosteroids have been one of the major modes of therapy against various chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, these corticosteroids have failed to be effective against these disease conditions because they don't reduce the effects of oxidation.

Researchers reported that naturally occurring polyphenols in curcumin offer a safer alternative treatment. Curcumin can directly scavenge free radicals such as superoxide anion and nitric oxide, and modulate important signaling pathways. These polyphenols also down-regulate expression of pro-inflammatory mediators, and up-regulate desirable gene expression in the lungs. Researchers concluded that curcumin is a potential therapeutic agent against chronic lung diseases.

Colon disease

In the March edition of Molecular Nutritional Research, mice given an inflammatory agent that normally induces colitis were protected when curcumin was added to their diet five days beforehand. The mice receiving curcumin lost less weight than the control animals. When researchers checked their intestinal cell function, all the typical signs of colitis were greatly reduced. While the researchers are not yet sure exactly how curcumin achieves its protective effects, they think its benefits result from its antioxidant activity as well as its power to inhibit a major cellular inflammatory agent, NF kappa-B.

Another interesting feature of these results is that although curcumin has been found to be safe at very large doses, it was effective in this study at a concentration as low as 0.25 percent, an amount easily supplied by simply enjoying turmeric in your favorite dishes.

Liver disease

In the May 2008 edition of Langenbeck's Archives of Surgery, researchers studied the effects of erythropoietin (a hormone that promotes formation of red blood cells) and granulocyte colony stimulating factor alone or in combination with curcumin, a liver protective antioxidant, in a model of delayed liver regeneration. Rats underwent a 70% liver resection and were grouped according to treatment following surgery.

Twenty four hours after surgery, blood and tissue samples were collected. Markers of liver regeneration, function, and hepatocellular damage were determined. Researchers concluded that erythropoietin alone did not improve liver regeneration. However, the combination of erythropoietin and curcumin resulted in highly significant stimulation of liver regeneration, which was accompanied by reduced oxidative stress.

What is turmeric?

Turmeric (curcuma longa) is the bright yellow of the spice rainbow, and is what gives curry its color. It was traditionally known as Indian saffron. Turmeric is also a powerful medicine that is one of the staples in Chinese and Indian healing. Oil of turmeric has demonstrated significant anti-inflammatory activity in a variety of experimental models. The yellow or orange pigment of turmeric, called curcumin, is more potent than the oil, and is believed to be the primary pharmacological agent in turmeric.

Numerous studies have shown curcumin to be as potent against inflammation as hydrocortisone, phenylbutazone, and over the counter NSAID drugs like Motrin. Unlike these drugs, which are all associated with significant toxic effects, curcumin produces no toxicity.

Additional benefits of turmeric

Curcumin's powerful antioxidant effects make it a popular, natural, therapeutic agent for diseases such as arthritis, where free radicals cause joint inflammation and eventual damage to the joints.

Epidemiological studies have linked frequent use of turmeric to lower rates of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer. Curcumin can prevent tumors from forming, and a recent study suggests that even when breast cancer is already present, curcumin can help slow the spread of breast cancer cells to the lungs.

Curcumin is able to do this by acting as a transcription factor, or a master switch. Transcription factors regulate all the genes needed for tumor formation. When they are switched off, the growth and invasion of cancer cells is halted.

Turmeric may prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the body. It is oxidized cholesterol that damages blood vessels and builds up in the plaque that can lead to heart attack or stroke. Turmeric also contains vitamin B6 which is needed to keep homocysteine levels from getting too high. High homocysteine levels damage blood vessel walls and are considered a significant risk factor for blood vessel damage, atherosclerotic plaque build-up, and heart disease.

Evidence is mounting that turmeric may afford protection against neurodegenerative diseases through its ability to cross the blood brain barrier. Alzheimer's disease is thought to occur when a fragmented protein accumulates in brain cells producing oxidative stress and inflammation, and forming plaque between nerve cells in the brain that disrupt function. Curcumin may prevent this oxidation and inflammation.

Using turmeric

Dried turmeric is widely available, but the best sources may be local spice stores or ethnic markets. Try to select organically grown turmeric since you will then know that it has not been irradiated. Color is not a criterion of quality. Turmeric has a much higher content of curcumin than does curry powder and can often successfully replace curry powder in recipes. Turmeric should be stored in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark, dry place.

Wonderful recipes using turmeric can be found online. If you're not into cooking, you can easily mix turmeric into rice. It is also a tasty addition to egg salad and brightens its color. If you are doing a cancer preventative version of the Budwig diet, see ( , you can mix a spoonful into your morning cottage cheese/flax oil combo, and maybe add in some cayenne too.

If you want to take the really easy way, you can buy Turmeric in capsule form, although this is the expensive way to do it. Nature's Way makes the only readily available turmeric extract capsule that is free of magnesium stearate. Although the directions say 1 capsule up to 3 times per day, many natural healers recommend 3 capsules, 3 times a day when you begin, and then reducing the amount as your inflammation decreases.

A Bit of Fry and Laurie - Privatization of the Police Force

Wow, Hugh Laurie looks so young in this clip.
Here's a clip from the "A bit of Fry and Laurie" pilot episode; Privatization of the police force complete with critics discussing it afterwards.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Brain and Mind News - Meditation, Suffering, Dissociation, Books, and More

Another link dump of mind and brain articles from all over the web. As always, follow the links to see the whole article.

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First up, a pdf article (in-press) from Trends in Cognitive Sciences: Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation:
Meditation can be conceptualized as a family of complex emotional and attentional regulatory training regimes developed for various ends, including the cultivation of well-being and emotional balance. Among these various practices, there are two styles that are commonly studied. One style, focused attention meditation, entails the voluntary focusing of attention on a chosen object. The other style, open monitoring meditation, involves nonreactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment. The potential regulatory functions of these practices on attention and emotion processes could have a long-term impact on the brain and
For those who don't speak abstractese, they are saying that meditation practice changes the brain over time. And this is a good thing. This is a science-based article, so the terminology might be a little dense.

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From Live Science: Human Suffering: Why We Care (or Don't):

We are hard-wired to help others, to drop everything in crisis situations, scientists say.

"People do really respond in these crisis situations where it's really a short-term matter of life or death," said Daniel Kruger at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. The motivation to give dates back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, he said. Some non-human primates also have been shown to step in during a crisis to help their kin or even humans.

This article focuses on recent disasters in Burma and China, so it is relevant to worldly affairs. But they use good science, and also look at why we don't help others in need (hint: looking out for number one, as in the Burmese hunta).

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Deric Bownds took a recent look at The MRI of morality?
Greg Miller reviews research on the nature of human morality which continues to probe the debate between the views of of David Hume - that emotions drive moral judgments - and Immanuel Kant - who argued that reason should be the driving force. He includes reference to a recent study by Hsu, Anen, and Quartz on equity and efficiency.
Mostly, Bownds is quoting these two articles, which is interesting.

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Scientific American looks at The Science of Irrationality: Why We Humans Behave So Strangely, in an interview with Dan Ariely.
Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist at the Massachusetts Intitute of Technology and author of the best-selling book, Predictably Irrational (HarperCollins, 2008). In recent years, he has demonstrated that random digits can influence bids in an auction, that sexual arousal leads to reckless decisions (at least in college males) and that brand-name aspirin is more effective at treating headaches than generic aspirin, even when the pills are identical. Mind Matters editor Jonah Lehrer chats with Ariely about his research.

LEHRER: You are a cognitive psychologist by training. What led you to become interested in behavioral economics?

ARIELY: What motivates me the most is trying to take what we’ve learned from cognitive psychology and apply it to real world problems in an attempt to improve the way we live. The interesting thing about economics is that it has become the main guiding principle for policymakers, lawmakers and businesses. My hope for the kind of work I do, and for behavioral economics in general, is that by augmenting standard economics it could help design better policies that actually work with what people can compute and the ways they reason. In particular, I think that this approach in behavioral economics can have a substantial impact on savings, health care and a tendency to engage in risky behaviors.

LEHRER: Many of your experiments have direct connections to everyday decision-making. Do you get the ideas for these experiments from your own life?

ARIELY: Yes. Most of my experiments begin as a way for me to investigate and gain a better understanding of my own behavior or the behavior that I observe around me. I also get many ideas from talking to people and from current events. For example my fascination with cheating began with Enron and my current research on mortgages started with the sub-prime mortgage crisis.
Read the rest of this interview, it's quite fascinating. We humans are a lot less rational than we like to tell ourselves.

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Nest up is a paper on Dissociative Disorders by John F. Kihlstrom at the University of California, Berkeley. This is more geek material, but highly interesting. Here is the abstract:
The dissociative disorders, including "psychogenic" or "functional" amnesia, fugue, dissociative identity disorder (DID, also known as multiple personality disorder), and depersonalization disorder, were once classified, along with conversion disorder, as forms of hysteria. The 1970s witnessed an "epidemic" of dissociative disorder, particularly DID, which may have reflected enthusiasm for the diagnosis more than its actual prevalence. Traditionally, the dissociative disorders have been attributed to trauma and other psychological stress, but the existing evidence favoring this hypothesis is plagued by poor methodology. Prospective studies of traumatized individuals reveals no convincing cases of amnesia not attributable to brain insult, injury, or disease. Treatment generally involves recovering and working through ostensibly repressed or dissociated memories of trauma; at present there are few quantitative or controlled outcome studies. Experimental studies have focused largely on state-dependent and implicit memory, are few in number. Depersonalization disorder may be in line for the next "epidemic".
It's worth noting that dissociation covers a whole spectrum from day-dreaming to full-fledged amnesia. Most of us dissociate a few times every day (or more), though it appears that meditation, as shown above, can fix that.

Mind Hacks provided the link to this article, and they focused on the epidemic of DID in the 60s and 70s (remember Eve and Sybil?).

Here is some of that article:
Below is an excerpt from psychologist John Kihlstrom's ­2005 review article on dissociative disorders where he talks about the sudden 'epidemic' of multiple personality disorder, now know as DID, in the 1960s and 70s.

Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID is a diagnosis that describes where someone manifests various personalities, often of a diverse range of people - from children to adults of either sex.

It is controversial partly because diagnoses seemed to massively increase when two famous films on the disorder were popular.

Kihlstrom makes the interesting point that the increase in the number of people diagnosed with the disorder was also matched by an increase in the number of personalities each person seemed to have.

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From Wired, Brain Scans as Mind Readers? Don't Believe the Hype.
A typical brain contains 100 billion neurons, each of which makes electrical connections, or synapses, with up to 10,000 other neurons. That means a quadrillion synapses to keep track of at any given time — about the number of people on 150,000 Earths. Somehow, in the midst of this frenetic electrical activity, something called "mind" emerges.

If you had your brain scanned after, say, suffering a concussion in a football game, you would have either a CT scan or an MRI. These are both examples of structural imaging, meaning that they can take pictures of your brain's anatomy but not its activity.

Functional neuroimaging is different. It takes pictures of the brain in action. Using the analogy of a house, structural imaging can show you the basic layout of your rooms, but functional imaging can show you where people are congregating during a party. Spect scans and PET scans accomplish this through radioactive tracers injected into the patient that concentrate where the brain is active. Functional MRIs (known as fMRIs) look at blood flow by sending out magnetic pulses to measure the location of hydrogen atoms.

In recent years, functional neuroimaging research has yielded a wealth of intriguing fodder for journalists but few scientific breakthroughs. We've learned, for example, which brain regions light up when we fall in love (the nucleus accumbens), why we may be impressed by expensive wines (our reward centers light up more as the price increases, even if the wine stays the same), and what happens in the brains of meditating monks (not very much, since they have so much control over their frontal lobes). Nevertheless, when it comes to psychiatry, most insurance companies will cover a PET scan only if it's used to distinguish Alzheimer's disease from a rare form of dementia. And while psychiatrists have used neuroimaging to work out the neurocircuitry of other conditions, like obsessive-compulsive disorder, few believe the technique is ready for use in daily clinical care.

We all know that fMRI is a great tool, but it really can't tell us too much about individual brains, only give us general ideas of the brain functions. Businesses that pretend to take these images and proscribe a brain health regimen, like the one mentioned in this article, are full of shit.

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One last article, a philosophy article from Eric Schwitzgebel, who blogs at The Splintered Mind, The Unreliability of Naive Introspection.
Current conscious experience is generally the last refuge of the skeptic against uncertainty. Though we might doubt the existence of other minds, that the sun will rise tomorrow, that the earth existed five minutes ago, that there’s any “external world” at all, even whether two and three make five, still we can know, it’s said, the basic features of our ongoing stream of experience. Descartes espouses this view in his first two Meditations. So does Hume, in the first book of the Treatise, and—as I read him—Sextus Empiricus.1 Other radical skeptics like Zhuangzi and Montaigne, though they appear to aim at very general skeptical goals, don’t grapple specifically and directly with the possibility of radical mistakes about current conscious experience. Is this an unmentioned exception to their skepticism? Unintentional oversight? Do they dodge the issue for fear that it is too poor a field on which to fight their battles? Where is the skeptic who says: We have no reliable means of learning about our own ongoing conscious experience, our current imagery, our inward sensations—we are as in the dark about that as about anything else, perhaps even more in the dark?

Is introspection (if that's what's going on here) just that good? If so, that would be great news for the blossoming -- or should I say recently resurrected? -- field of consciousness studies. Or does contemporary discord about consciousness -- not just about the physical bases of consciousness but seemingly about the basic features of experience itself -- point to some deeper, maybe fundamental, elusiveness that somehow escaped the notice of the skeptics, that perhaps partly explains the first, ignoble death of consciousness studies a century ago?
This is a prestigious publication for Eric, so that's cool.

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A couple of book reviews from Metapsychology.

Review - Mind in Life
Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind
by Evan Thompson
Belknap, 2007
Review by Taede A. Smedes, Ph.D.
May 20th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 21)
The central message of the book is that there is a deep continuity between life and mind via embodied existence and it is the goal of this book to show the fruitfulness of such a view for the sciences of life and mind. Thompson first explains in the four chapters of part one the historical relationship between the cognitive sciences and phenomenology. The descriptions are fairly elementary, leaving many of the complexities of phenomenological thinking aside, but to someone unfamiliar to phenomenological philosophy they are nonetheless challenging. Even more challenging is the second part of the book, where Thompson tries to come to a new "philosophy of the organism" not unlike that of Hans Jonas. He argues that the concept of autopoiesis (a kind of self-organization) is the characteristic aspect of living systems: living systems and their environment comprise an irreducible interactive process where the one is constantly being defined by and itself defining the other. The concept of autopoiesis, or self-production and self-maintenance, is notoriously difficult, and by discussing the complexities involved in defining the concept, Thompson does not exactly reduce the conceptual vagueness of the concept.
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Review - Consciousness and Mental Life
by Daniel N. Robinson
Columbia University Press, 2007
Review by Lars Marstaller
May 20th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 21)
In Consciousness and Mental Life, Daniel Robinson argues for the foundational primacy of folk psychology over cognitive neuroscience. Robinson answers the question whether consciousness can fully be explained by the sciences of the brain with a clear no, for it lacks the very conception that urges humans to ask such questions -- mental life. In a very readable and highly witty way, Robinson manages to discuss most of the major positions and key players in the current debates surrounding consciousness. From identity theory to Davidson's anomalous monism, from Putnam's externalism to Dennettian functionalism, from higher order theories to personal identity, Robinson weaves his argument around the relevant questions all the while reflecting on their historic predecessors like Hobbes, Hume, Locke, Aristotle etc. The presentation of his position is thus a good example of how the history of philosophy can inform contemporary works on the subject. Although this book counts little more than 200 pages Robinson's is a point well made - timely, engaging and thoughtful.