Saturday, August 09, 2008

Dr. Helen - Where have all the Vikings Gone?

[Cross-posted from The Masculine Heart.]

The most recent issue of What Is Enlightenment? is focused on masculinity, as I have already blogged. Apparently, Dr. Helen's husband (?) Glenn picked up the new issue while shopping at a "crunchy organic healthfood store," and she read a couple of the articles.
Uh, okay, I thought, this can't be good, it's a magazine from a crunchy organic healthfood store with what I assumed would be a somewhat biased picture of the male gender complete with articles describing how men should be more like women. I was mildly surprised to find out that the articles were actually somewhat enlightened themselves. While I didn't exactly love them, I didn't hate them either. The articles were not too bad.

Due to time constraints, I will tell you about the main article that caught my eye--the one on men acting like women in Scandinavia. The author, Elizabeth Debold, sets out to Scandinavia to find out how "gender equality" is playing itself out in that culture. She starts out the article describing how in Sweden, for a man to pee standing up is increasingly considered to be "the height of vulgarity and possibly suggestive of violence." Debold seems surprised to find out that gender equality is not all it's cracked up to be, especially when she discovers that the new equality is nothing more than "patriarchy in drag." Despite progressive sources that suggest that Scandinavians, particularly Danes, are the happiest people in the world, possibly because they are so egalitarian, Debold finds out that men there are not doing so well.
She goes to describe the article and its findings, which are quite disturbing (I hadn't read this article yet) -- especially that thing about peeing sitting down. What the hell is that about?

Anyway, go read her article -- the comments are interesting, too. For what it's worth, I agree with her opinion and her conclusion:
Let's hope the US never goes the way of Scandinavia--for all the talk about equality, it sounds like the men there are nothing but second class citizens who are lost, lonely and victimized.
I think there are some things we can learn from Scandinavia, but how the men are treated is not one of them. This smells a lot like the Mean Green Meme of integral theory.

One of the downsides of post-modern liberalism is that there has been a rejection of hierarchy and differences -- all people, all ideas, all religions, and so on, are equal in a relativistic world. Those who hold these views -- like the Scandinavian nations, Western Europe in general, and an increasing number of Americans -- want to break down all cultural and social structures that recognize difference or hierarchy.

This is a double-edged sword. Certainly, equal rights, environmentalism, the end of racism, and so on, have all been good things brought about by this worldview. But the efforts to make men and women essentially equal in all ways is so misguided as to be silly, as Dr. Helen's review of the article points out. Biology dictates that men stand when they urinate, and that we are physically stronger, and that we have different intellectual and emotional patterns, and on and on.

Any attempt to eliminate those differences is going to victimize either men or women for no good reason. It seems that women have reversed the victimization pattern in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries -- hopefully that will work out itself out before masculinity there is extinguished.

The Crime of Cultural Preservation

Larger view
Ngawang Choephel

With all the attention being focused on China as they host the Olympics, it seems there just isn't enough attention being focused on how repressive the Chinese government is, especially in the ethnically diverse regions such as Tibet.

This article from Weekend America looks at the struggle of one Tibetan exile to return to his native land in order to save as much of the culture as possible (his focus was folk songs) before the now Chinese dominated region loses its rich ethnic heritage forever.

He was sentenced to 18 years in prison for espionage, but only served 6+ years when China released some political prisoners prior to a visit by George Bush.

The Crime of Cultural Preservation

Lu Olkowski

Ngawang Choephel always dreamed of living in the country where he was born. But in 1968, his mother fled with him to a refugee camp in Southern India from Chinese rule in Tibet. He was only two years old.

The experience left his mother too afraid to ever return to Tibet, and Choephel longing for a home he never knew. He constantly asked himself, "What is it like to have your own country?

"When you grow up as a stateless person, you never experience that. And that was back in my head all the time when I was growing up," Choephel says.

He often had these thoughts late at night, when he was tucked into bed, listening to the adults singing and dancing. "I really heard a lot songs from elder Tibetans. That's what they brought with them. They brought objects and things from Tibet, but there's no life I can see. The music was that kind of life, I can feel it."

As a teenager, Choephel fell in love with Bollywood movies and music; they made Tibetan culture seem kind of old-fashioned. He was torn. He wasn't Indian, but he didn't feel completely Tibetan either.

After high school, he started performing and teaching Tibetan music to teenagers in the refugee camp. He didn't think they would identify with folksongs---after all he didn't when he was a teenager---so he worked with them to write original songs about their lives in exile.

In 1993, Choephel was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study musicology and filmmaking at Vermont's Middlebury College. He got there and discovered an incredible library of music from around the world. There was a huge amount of material about Chinese music, "and, there was a little section of Tibet. It was less than 3 minutes." This inspired Choephel to go to Tibet and record Tibetan folk music. "I have to do this. I really told myself, I have to do this," Choephel says.

There's a reason not much Tibetan music has been preserved. At that time, the Chinese government didn't necessarily see a distinction between Tibetan culture and politics---so even something as innocent as filming folksongs could be considered a punishable act of resistance.

Despite the risks involved, Choephel decided to go. He wanted to immerse himself in the music and to see where he was born; he was hoping to find something that would make him feel more Tibetan.

When Choephel first got to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, the prospect of collecting Tibetan music seemed bleak. "I was really shocked because the first sound I heard was Chinese music--coming from everywhere--from the stores, loudspeakers," he recalls. "The sound is totally Chinese. And then finally, when I went into the countryside, I found what I was looking for. I was really inspired that they still can sing despite all that they went through. When I saw them smile, it was really inspiring."

Choephel says folksongs are the purest form of Tibetan expression because they originated directly from the lives of ordinary Tibetans. "There are songs about every activity you do in daily life: while you work to build the house, songs for weddings, songs to sing while drinking, songs to sing while you are milking, songs to sing while you are churning the butter. There songs for everything."

He spent two months driving through the countryside filming people singing. He says he was lost, in a wonderful way.

That wonderful feeling was short lived. As he headed towards his birthplace, he was stopped and arrested by China's State Security Bureau, which is the equivalent of the CIA in the United States. When they told Choepel's driver to leave, "I saw the truck vanish leaving me with these nine police, I thought I will never be able to go back there."

Choephel was sentenced to eighteen years for espionage, a sentence served in four different prisons he says were more or less the same: a concrete cell with a bed and a bucket for a urinal. In the morning, he got hot water to drink with a small piece of steamed bread or cooked lettuce, a far cry from his life as an academic in Middlebury, Vermont.

Choephel was held with other political prisoners, men who risked their lives as part of the Free Tibet movement. He didn't feel like he belonged; he couldn't shake the fact that unlike them, he grew up in exile. "They're so comfortable with who they are," he explains "Prison is not a place where you want to go, but it is a place where you have time to think. It is not a place where you want to die, but it is a place where you can transform yourself."

Prison put Choephel's Tibetan values to the test. Through prayer, he learned how to remain mentally strong, even as his body grew weaker. Seeing how the other prisoners maintained their dignity and serenity taught him a lot about what it meant to be Tibetan. "I'm very very comfortable now as a Tibetan than I was before," he says.

To pass the time, he learned folksongs from other prisoners, writing lyrics into a notebook he made out of cigarette wrappers until the guards caught him. After that he memorized their songs. He wrote a song with one prisoner who became a good friend. Their song is named Yarlung Tsangpo, after Tibet's largest river. "Yarlung Tsangpo is singing a sad song," read the lyrics, "And the land of snow is overcast and suffering. Because of my past negative karma, I may have to go through this. Oh, Lord, but there may be an end to this."

Choephel was released in 2002 after six and a half years in prison. His health was in shambles, but when he got out, he thanked the Chinese government in a written statement. Choephel says the Chinese government used him to improve diplomatic relations with the West. The world's eyes were on China then, President Bush was preparing to meet with Chinese President Jiang Zemin and the UN was examining China's human rights record. Choephel was a valuable card played at a crucial moment.

International scrutiny is once again on China. Protests have plagued the build-up to, and excitment surrounding the Beijing Olympics and this time, it's Choephel's turn to play a valuable card at a crucial moment. He has chosen to speak publicly about his experiences after all these years because he thinks there is an opportunity, "not for Tibet, not for China, but for the entire world to solve the issue of Tibet through non-violence. With what's happening in the world right now, the growing anger all over the world, I think that we can give our world an example."

Even after his imprisonment, Choephel refuses to be bitter or confrontational. He repeatedly insists that what happened to him is not a tragedy but a success, because he was ultimately able to find what he was looking for: folksongs and his Tibetan identity. The real tragedy, according to him, is that the issue of Tibet has yet to be solved.

Who Framed George Lakoff?

George Lakoff wrote the recent book, The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics With an 18th-Century Brain (Viking), which irritated some liberals with its assertion that using logic to appeal to voters is foolish when most voters are making emotional decisions fro which they have to create logical defenses after the fact.

He's also been in a very long-term feud with Noam Chomsky (and, more recently, Steven Pinker) in the realm of linguistics, but that's a whole other post.

So this article comes from the The Chronicle Review, and it looks at how Lakoof has been demonized by the very Democrats who once worshiped at the altar of view of embodied consciousness. It's a long and informative article, so this is only a small bit of it.
In May 2003, Lakoff got his chance to directly influence politics. Invited to address a gathering of Democratic senators at their annual retreat on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, he encountered a scene filled with despair. President Bush was enjoying record-high approval ratings, which he had parlayed into historic gains for the Republicans in the 2002 midterm elections. Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist, was speaking plausibly of building a durable Republican majority.

The beleaguered senators were primed for a solution. Lakoff offered one: Learn the art of framing, and you can turn the electoral tide. The idea carried the allure of a quick fix. And Lakoff — who exudes unflagging self-confidence — became a political player.

He had been allotted 20 minutes to make his pitch. "As it turned out, they gave me 35," he recalls. "The senators were blown away." True enough. Tom Daschle, then-leader of the Senate Democrats, asked Lakoff to extend his stay on the East Coast and return with him to Washington. On Capitol Hill a few days later, the scholar joined a meeting of other Democratic senators. "When I entered the room, these senators got up and hugged me," Lakoff says. "It was an awesome situation."

Bush's re-election the following November put more pressure on Democrats. As their stock plummeted, Lakoff's skyrocketed. Shortly before the 2004 midterms, a small environmental press in Vermont, Chelsea Green, published his Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate — The Essential Guide for Progressives, a hastily assembled primer for liberal activists. The slender paperback sold an improbable 250,000 copies and was distributed to every Democrat in the House of Representatives.

Inundated with invitations to brief lawmakers, strategists, and advocacy organizations, Lakoff began a life of perpetual motion, dashing to engagements around the country. Howard Dean, at that time mounting a surprisingly successful insurgent bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, predicted that Lakoff would be "one of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement when the history of this century is written." The conservative National Review joked, "If the American Left believed in sainthood, they would have resolved to beatify George Lakoff by now." There was even a DVD, How Democrats and Progressives Can Win: Solutions From George Lakoff.

Over the next four years, Lakoff brought out three more books: Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006); Whose Freedom?: The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea (Farrar, 2006) — about the right's largely successful attempt to redefine freedom as relief from government intervention — and, most recently, The Political Mind. All the while, Lakoff continued to teach at Berkeley and churn out white papers from his office at the Rockridge Institute, a think tank that he helped start in 2000 to promote the use of framing by progressive candidates and issues. (It closed in April because of lack of funds.)

Just as quickly as lakoff's star rose, a backlash began. For a few years, "he was the man of the hour from top to bottom and bottom to top on the part of floundering Democrats," says Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and author, most recently, of The Bulldozer and the Big Tent: Blind Republicans, Lame Democrats, and the Recovery of American Ideals (John Wiley & Sons, 2007). "He was more than the flavor of the week. He was the messianic flavor, the flavor to end all flavors."

Gitlin recalls running into Lakoff at a progressive-policy conference in Washington in 2005, after not seeing him since their time as colleagues at Berkeley in the early 1990s. "He'd changed," Gitlin recalls. "He was very tense and embattled."

Shortly before the meeting, The Atlantic had run an article by Marc Cooper, a lecturer at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. Titled "Thinking of Jackasses," the essay dismissed Lakoff's work as "psychobabble as electoral strategy." Next the magazine published an essay by Joshua Green, a senior editor, "It Isn't the Message, Stupid." Green derided Lakoff for offering no new ideas and questioned whether the Democratic Party could bring about its own reversal of fortune merely with "snazzier packaging and a new sales pitch."

Lakoff was particularly stung when Rahm Emanuel, an influential Democratic representative from Illinois, devoted an entire chapter of a book to attacking him. In The Plan: Big Ideas for America (PublicAffairs, 2006), Emanuel and his co-author Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, rejected the view that the Democrats' problems stemmed from an inability to get their message out; the problem was the substance of that message. Framing, the authors said, amounted to little more than slapping a new coat of paint on failed old ideas. Most cutting to Lakoff, they called him one of the "highbrows" who harbored the "fallacy that we can game history to our advantage." Although The Plan might not have been read much beyond the insulated world of political strategists and consultants, it made Lakoff a persona non grata on Capitol Hill. "All of a sudden I was controversial," Lakoff says.

Another intellectual blow was delivered by Steven Pinker, an evolutionary and cognitive psychologist at Harvard University. Writing in The New Republic in 2006, Pinker chastised Lakoff for his "cartoonish depiction of progressives as saintly sophisticates and conservatives as evil morons" and declared his political efforts "a train wreck" and "jejune nonsense." Lakoff blasted back with an essay-length reply on The New Republic's Web site. He accused Pinker of misrepresenting his ideas and falling prey to his own ideological blinders, such as the view that thought is universal and disembodied rather than an emotional process that relies on frames, image-schemas, and metaphors. The spat endured for another round, a distilled version of which appeared in the journal Public Policy Research (March-May, 2007).

It is sometimes difficult when reading Lakoff to know where his political advocacy ends and his cognitive-linguistics scholarship begins. When I ask him about that, he acknowledges that his political celebrity has put a strain on his scholarly work, but he insists that he has not abandoned linguistics for politics: "The work I do in politics is linguistics, it is linguistics about political subjects it is advocacy linguistics." That means, he says, "I do a simple linguistic analysis, and then I say based on that analysis you should do this, this, and that. But it all rests on doing the linguistics."

Owen Flanagan, a professor of neurobiology at Duke University, is even more skeptical than Pinker, declaring Lakoff a member of the "neuroenthusiasta," his term for cognitive scientists who overstate the implications of their research, and the journalists who breathlessly hype their findings. According to Flanagan, brain science is only helpful to the extent that it tells us something we don't already know. To illustrate his point, he offers an analogy: When children learn how to ride a bike, something changes in their brains. If a scientist offers parents a detailed description of that neurological transformation, it might be interesting, but it won't help children learn to ride a bike.

Similarly, Flanagan sees Lakoff's insight — that successful politicians know how to use emotionally appealing narratives to rally support — as "one of the main topics in ancient political philosophy." Understanding it has nothing to do with neuroscience, he says. "But as soon as you put 'neuro' in front of an idea, especially an old idea, it sounds interesting to people in a way that it wouldn't if you just said, Hey, I have an idea. It is a way of credentializing yourself."

Lakoff himself says that the politicians and news media who courted him had only a superficial understanding of his work. He knew things had gone wrong when he was invited to a meeting in 2006 with Bill Clinton and a team of political strategists. Lakoff says that he delivered a short presentation emphasizing how the Democrats' strategy for the midterm elections should highlight progressive morals, ideas, and principles but that Clinton kept bringing the conversation back to slogans, phrasing, and marketing. "It became clear to me that I was brought there as a spinmeister," Lakoff says. "Finally I gave up."

I think Lakoff's experience proves, in part, that scientific logic and politics haven't found a way to peacefully coexist. Too bad.

What’s the Point? The Key Question in Therapy

My friend Sarah Luczaj posted this at her fine blog, Counselling Resource, earlier this week and I wanted to repost it here. I love the Keats' quote on negative capability she opens with, which is also a good approach to writing and other art-forms, in my opinion.
What’s the Point? The Key Question in Therapy
avatar image

What are the key ingredients in therapy that work in difficult situations? Fact and reason? Or a therapist willing to be with the client in the darkest places where we humans have to admit that we don’t know what the point is, and that we cannot fix it?

I am a great fan of not knowing, or, as John Keats put it in 1817, “Negative Capability [...] when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”. In 2008, we even could add “or woman”!

I am more and more convinced that this is the key quality needed in good therapists. Of course there needs to be good communicative contact, trust, empathy, realness and all the rest of it for any therapeutic relationship to be possible at all. But when there is contact, trust, empathy, unconditional respect and realness, I am not as convinced as Carl Rogers, founder of Person Centred Therapy, was that this will inevitably produce the desired “therapeutic movement” or real, positive change in the client’s life. I can agree that with all these factors present there has to be some movement, as being accepted and listened to and respected are such powerful things.

But when the situation is complicated, the most accepting counsellor may be unable to really go into how the client works, inside, if they have got that “irritable reaching after fact and reason” bad! While respecting the client and understanding in a broad sense the emotions they are experiencing, they may be unable to get to the root of what the client experiences simply because they have their own overriding need to make it fit into a sensible framework for them. The itching after facts can be quite unbearable, I know from experience. As a therapist by definition you hear only one side of the story. By definition, too, every story has many sides.

Go read the rest of Sarah's post.

I'm not yet a therapist, and I don't even play one on TV, but I agree with her position here.

Being a personal trainer is like being a bartender or a hairdresser -- many of my clients share their lives with me in intimate detail. That's cool, everyone needs a safe place to unburden. I seldom give advice (unless it is to suggest a line of questioning to explore), but just being present to my clients while they share whatever is bothering them is quite useful, at least in what I have seen. I am happy to be with them in that place of not-knowing that Sarah describes.

I don't know if I'll be able to maintain that perspective when I am a therapist, but I hope so. As much as I don't like Thomas Moore much of the time, I think he is right on target when he says the soul needs to exist in negative capability, no matter what our rational minds may want.

Metafest Short Film Festival - Fallen

I'm liking some of the submissions to the Metafest short film contest, which is still open to submissions:

A juried online and offline film festival presenting the best in international creative and contemporary short-form video entertainment

Presented by Metacafe and curated by Microcinema International

Deadline for Submissions:
•Digital submissions must be uploaded by September 10, 2008.
•Physical submissions must be received by September 10, 2008.

Visit for submission instructions.
Here's another cool video:
Fallen is directed by Ryan Jeffery USA, Experimental, 2006, 16mm, Color, Dolby A, 00:07:00. Fallen uses the iconic imagery found in mythology and religion to create a modern myth.

Fallen - A funny movie is a click away

Friday, August 08, 2008

Eight Tips for Living with Ketosis

As of August first, I have been ketogenic with my diet. I'm going to try to go 30 days with less than 20 grams of carbs a day -- it's almost impossible to be zero-carb -- there are incidental carbs in things like nuts, cheese, and other staples of the ketogenic diet.

I'm not really trying to lose weight, just trying to drop some bodyfat without losing muscle or strength. Usually it takes me three months to drop fat on a low-carb diet, so I'm experimenting to see if I can get the same benefit in 30 days.

So, for the last several days, once my glycogen stores were depleted, I have been in ketosis. Here is a brief explanation of the biology of the ketogenic diet from Wikipedia:

The diet mimics aspects of starvation by forcing the body to burn fat rather than carbohydrate. Normally, the carbohydrates in food are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body and is particularly important in fuelling the brain. However, if there is very little carbohydrate in the diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies. The ketone bodies pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source. When the body produces ketone bodies, a state known as ketosis, this has an anticonvulsant effect.[1]

The diet has just enough protein for body growth and repair, and sufficient calories to maintain the correct weight for age and height. The "classic" ketogenic diet contains a 4:1 ratio by weight of fat to combined protein and carbohydrate. This is achieved by eliminating foods high in carbohydrates (starchy fruits and vegetables, bread, pasta, grains and sugar) while increasing the consumption of foods high in fat (cream and butter).[1]

Most dietary fat contains long chain triglycerides (LCT), but a form of coconut oil can be manufactured that contains only medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which are much more ketogenic.[1] A variant of the diet known as the MCT ketogenic diet uses MCT oil to provide between 30 and 60% of the calories. Carbohydrates and protein can be increased a little, which allows for greater freedom in planning meals.[2]

First and foremost, ketosis is not unhealthy. Of the four macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and water), only carbs are non-essential to our lives. Glucose may be the preferred source of energy, but ketones are perfectly capable of fueling the body, but until you adapt to it, it might feel like hell.

Luckily for me, I function best on a low-carb diet anyway, so ketosis doesn't really make me moody or depressed. In fact, I feel better physically than I have in a while (and I usually feel pretty good). One of the cool things about ketosis is that hunger goes away, which makes the diet easier to stick to if you can deal with the first 5-10 days (where most people struggle with adapting to the diet).

I'm doing a slightly different version of the diet than described above, which was designed from treating epilepsy in children (and has been used successfully with other disorders, including autism and ADHD). I'm getting about 300 grams of protein a day, and about 80 grams of fat a day. So I am in calorie deficit as well as forcing my body to burn stored fat for energy anyway.

Some tips for surviving ketosis

1) Psyllium husk and ground flax seed. The hardest part of being ketogenic is the lack of fiber, if you know what I mean. I mix ground psyllium husk and ground flax seed in a large container and use about 4-5 heaping tablespoons a day. We're talking zero carbs with this, and a little healthy fat with the flax seed. I use it mixed in cottage cheese and in whey protein shakes.

2) Don't expect great workouts. The first thing you'll notice when you lift is the lack of a pump. No carbs = no pump. You'll also notice the lack of endurance. The focus during a ketogenic diet should be low reps and heavy weights. I'm as strong as ever, but a ten rep set of squats feels like running a 100 meter sprint. So I'm staying around 4-6 reps per set and doing more sets.

3) Don't do the old-school version of this diet. In the old days, heavy cream, bacon, sausage and lots of red meat were a part of this diet when body-builders used it to drop fat (the high cholesterol boosts hormone levels). You'll still see people advocating that approach. I favor lean meats (chicken, tuna), eggs (free range), cheeses (feta, mozzarella, Monteray Jack), nuts (peanut butter, walnuts, almonds), low-fat cottage cheese, fish oil (about 20 grams a day), and protein drinks (with olive oil or flax oil, but don't combine oils and fiber in the drinks -- the fiber will suck the fat right through your body). I'm still planning to do some red meat, mostly for the extra calories from fat.

4) Use Cinnamon and alpha lipoic acid. In the absence of glucose, these supplements should be useless for energy stabilization, yet they seem to help me quite a bit. Go figure.

5) If you are lacking all energy on this diet, use MCT oil. MCT oil is composed of medium-chain triglycerides (from coconut oil), which are much more easily burned for energy than long-chain fats. I suffer the gastrointestinal "side effects" mentioned below, mostly cramping, so I leave these to others. This is from Wikipedia:
The ketogenic diet's severe carbohydrate restrictions made it difficult for parents to produce palatable meals and few could maintain it for long. However, in the 1960s it was discovered that medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are much more ketogenic than normal dietary fats (which are mostly long-chain triglycerides). This is because MCTs are absorbed rapidly and contain many calories. In 1971, Peter Huttenlocher devised a diet with sufficient MCT oil to induce ketonuria and tested it on a dozen children and adolescents with intractable seizures. The oil was mixed with at least twice its volume of skimmed milk, chilled, and sipped during the meal or incorporated into food. About 60% of the diet's calories came from the MCT oil, and this allowed more protein and up to three times as much carbohydrate as the classic ketogenic diet. Most children improved in both seizure control and alertness: results that were similar to the classic ketogenic diet. Gastrointestinal side effects were a problem, which led one patient to abandon the diet, but meals were easier to prepare and better accepted by the children.[12] The MCT diet replaced the classic ketogenic diet in many hospitals, though some devised diets that were a combination of the two.[5]
So if you can't do the full-on version of the diet, the MCT version still gets the job done and you'll likely feel better in terms of energy and mood.

6) Take your vitamins. Because this diet is limited in what you can eat, you need to be sure to take a good multi-vitamin, beta carotene, vitamins B, C, D, E, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

7) Caffeine. I highly recommend coffee and green tea (or a green tea supplement) while on the ketogenic diet. Hell, I like caffeine in general, but on the diet its necessary and useful. The energy boost is the best part, but caffeine also forces the body to mobilize fatty acids to burn as energy, which helps make the diet more effective (paraxanthine is one of the major metabolites, at about 84%, which increases lipolysis, meaning that fat is released for energy).

8) Buy some breath mints. Any ketones not used by the body for energy are excreted in the the urine and the breath, resulting in what some have termed "sweet breath." While not horribly offensive, it's also not pleasant, so buy some Altoids.

Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet

This list is from a good article at -- you can go there to read the science supporting these claims.
Establishing this metabolic state of ketosis even for a short period of time has many outstanding benefits.

1. The main benefit being that it increases the body's ability to utilize fats for fuel, which gets very lazy on a high carbohydrate diet. When on high carbohydrate diets the body can usually expect an energy source to keep entering the body. But in the state of ketosis the body has to become efficient at mobilizing fats as energy.

2. Another nifty thing about being in a state of ketosis is that if the body has no further use for ketones they can simply be excreted through urine as a waste product. This means that at times your body will be peeing out body fat! This is a novel theme because you body is very efficient at storing energy substrates for later use.

3. Ketosis has a protein sparing effect, assuming that you are consuming adequate quantities of protein and calories in the first place. Once in ketosis the body actually prefers ketones to glucose. Since the body has copious quanities of fat this means that there is no need to oxidize protein to generate glucose through gluconeogenesis.

4. Another benefit has to do with the low levels of insulin in the body, which causes greater lipolysis and free glycerol release compared to a normal diet when insulin is around 80-120. Insulin has a lipolysis blocking effect, which can inhibit the use of fatty acids as energy. Also when insulin is brought to low levels many beneficial hormones are released in the body such as growth hormone and other powerful growth factors.

5. Another small but very important benefit about the ketogenic diet is that when in the state of ketosis, ketones seem to blunt hunger in many people. I mean honestly, what is not better than being on a low calorie diet and not being hungry all the time like you usually are such as on a high carbohydrate diet. Since on the ketogenic diet you have to consume a lot of fat, which hold 9 calories, you are not getting much food volume. This makes not being hungry a very good thing when on the diet. When you add such thermogenics like the ECA stack and prescription appetite suppressants you won't even think about your next meal. It's kind of funny that when the Atkins' diet first came out one of the early criticisms was that the diet blunted hunger too much! What, is it mandatory to be hungry on a reduced calorie diet?

6. The last benefit has to do with the fact that a ketone body is an inefficient fuel source due to the fact that when the fatty acid is converted to a KB it contains 7 calories. This means that the normal pound of fat has less than 3500 calories.
So there you go. After a week, I'm feeling pretty good and thinking that 30 days will be a piece of cake.

From Metafest - Dreamlake

Metafest is MetaCafe's short film festival. A lot of very cool videos, but this is the first one that really caught my eye -- a kind of visual tone poem of images and sounds.
Dreamlake was directed by Paul Fletcher and Graham Mathews Australia, Animation, 2006, digital video, Magnetic Stereo, 00:05:04. Sounds sink slowly in to the ground, Thoughts float away as clouds, Dreams flow like water, Dreamlake a reservoir of dreams and memories.

Dreamlake - More amazing video clips are a click away

Brain Science Podcast #43: Part 2 of “On Being Certain”

Good stuff over at The Brain Science Podcast.
Brain Science Podcast #43: Part 2 of “On Being Certain”

Episode 43 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with Robert A Burton, MD, author of On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not, which I discussed in Episode 42. Dr. Burton tells us what inspired him to write this book and we explore some of the implications of the fact that what he calls the “feeling of knowing” comes from our unconscious, including the fact that it is not as reliable as it feels.

Listen to Episode 43 of the Brain Science Podcast

Show Notes and Links

Robert A Burton, MD

Previous Episodes of the Brain Science Podcast:

  • Episode 42: Part 1 of our discussion of On Being Certain

The Seven Miracles of Mindfulness

The Seven Miracles of Mindfulness is a cool article by Thich Nhat Hanh posted at the Gaiam page.

The Seven Miracles of Mindfulness

An excerpt from Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises For Well-Being by Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindfulness is our ability to be aware of what is going on both inside us and around us. It is the continuous awareness of our bodies, emotions, and thoughts. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others, and we can work wonders. If we live mindfully in everyday life, walk mindfully, are full of love and caring, then we create a miracle and transform the world into a wonderful place.

The object of your mindfulness can be anything. You can look at the sky and breathe in and say, “Breathing in, I’m aware of the blue sky.” So you are mindful of the blue sky. The blue sky becomes the object of your mindfulness. “Breathing out, I smile to the blue sky.” Smiling is another kind of practice. First of all, you recognize the blue sky as existing. And if you continue the practice, you will see that the blue sky is wonderful. It may be that you’ve lived thirty or forty years but you have never seen and touched the blue sky that deeply.

In the Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Buddha offers four layers of mindfulness practice: mindfulness of the body, of the emotions, of the mind, and of the objects of mind. Practicing mindfulness at each layer can be the foundation of well-being and happiness. When we don’t practice mindfulness, we suffer in our body, our mind, and in our relationships. In practicing mindfulness, we become a peaceful refuge for ourselves and others. When the seed of mindfulness in us is watered, it can grow into enlightenment, understanding, compassion, and transformation. The more we practice mindfulness, the stronger this seed will grow.

Clarity flows from mindfulness. When we are mindful, we can practice Right Thinking and Right Speech. With the energy of mindfulness, we can always
return to our true home, the present moment.

The Chinese character for mindfulness reveals its meaning. The upper part of the character means “now” and the lower part stands for “mind” or “heart.” The Vietnamese word for mindfulness, chan niem, means to be truly in the present moment. Mindfulness helps us to come back to the here and now, to be aware of what is going on in the present moment, and to be in touch with the wonders of life.

Go read the seven miracles.

Introverts And Extraverts: Can’t We Just Get Along?

Introverts And Extraverts: Can’t We Just Get Along? was posted over at Pick the Brain.

As a serious introvert, I found this article very interesting and supportive. It proposes what I've always suspected to be true -- that being an introvert has distinct advantages I would not trade to become an extrovert, as much as that would make my life easier.

It would be easier to be who I am, however, if our culture didn't look down on introversion and reward extroversion as much as it does. I don't see that changing, though.
Introverts And Extraverts: Can’t We Just Get Along?
August 5th, 2008 by Hunter Nuttall

Being an introvert is a bad thing, right? Well, a lot of people seem to think so, judging by the number of articles I’ve read about how to “cure” introversion. In response to these articles, I wrote The Introverts Strike Back, in which I argued that (1) introverts can’t become extraverts, and (2) they shouldn’t particularly want to.

First, let’s get clear on what we’re talking about. I’m going by the definitions used by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. According to the MBTI, introverts get their energy from the internal world of ideas and images, and they feel drained if they spend too much time with people. On the other hand, extraverts (and yes, that IS the correct spelling as used in the MBTI) get their energy from the external world of people and things, and they go crazy if they spend too much time alone. It really has nothing to do with social skills, as evidenced by introverts like Jerry Seinfeld.

Whether you prefer the internal world or the external world, that preference is fixed. You can force yourself to act outside of your element, but an introvert can’t become an extravert and vice versa. Let’s face it, if hosting The Tonight Show for 30 years didn’t turn Johnny Carson into an extravert, I doubt tips like “say hi to more people” will do the trick.

However, introversion certainly has its advantages. For example, introverts make up a slight majority of the upper levels of government, the military, and the corporate world, despite being only 30% of the population. The social outcast doesn’t represent all introverts, any more than the dumb jock represents all extraverts.

But I’m not here to debate whether it’s better to be an introvert or an extravert. The fact is, we all have to interact with both types every day. Regardless of which type you are, you can greatly improve your relationships by learning to get along better with people of the other type. Here are some tips for getting started.
Go read the rest of the post to see his tips for breaking down the divide.

Satire - The Beijing Olympics: Are They A Trap?

The Onion News Network reveals the truth behind why China wanted to host the Olympics -- they've been preparing for this for thousands of years.

The Beijing Olympics: Are They A Trap?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Are You Sexually Powerful?

You Are Sexually Powerful

Your attitude toward sex is healthy, safe, and sane.

You enjoy sex as much as (or possibly even more than) the average person.

You're open minded, intelligent, and adventurous when exploring your sexuality.

And while you never take things too far, you take them far enough!

Oh yeah!

This Hour Has 22 Minutes - 3 Skits

Three funny skits from This Hour Has 22 Minutes, one of the best comedy shows ever to be on TV, even if it was Canadian TV. This stuff is distinctly politically incorrect, so viewer beware.

This hour has 22 minutes: Survey Halifax is really gay

This Hour Has 22 Minutes: Quebec soccer official on racism

This hour has 22 minutes: Weather in Canada

PsyBlog - 7 Myths of Crowd Psychology

This appeared at PsyBlog last week and I thought it was kind of interesting. Many of us have been exposed to some of these myths at one point or another. This is an old post, but it's interesting.

7 Myths of Crowd Psychology


"The mass, whether it be a crowd or an army, is vile."
~Benito Mussolini

How do you imagine an archetypal crowd of people - say at a concert, a sporting event or a demonstration?

If you picture an irrational, spontaneous, suggestible, emotional and even potentially dangerous group then you are in good company.

Sociologists David Schweingruber and Ronald Wohlstein have found this view of crowds is promoted by many authors of introductory sociology textbooks. Indeed the idea that crowds demonstrate bizarre, almost pathological behaviour was championed by eminent French sociologist Gustave LeBon.

Despite these beliefs both in sociology textbooks and in the general public, the actual evidence does not support it. Crowds are not the many-armed destructive monsters of the popular or even fascist imagination.

Here are the seven myths about crowds that Schweingruber and Wohlstein identify, in order of how frequently they appear in introductory sociology textbooks.

1. Crowds are spontaneous
2. Crowds are suggestible
3. Crowds are irrational
4. Crowds increase anonymity
5. Crowds are emotional
6. Crowds are unanimous
7. Crowds are destructive

You'll have to go to the site to find out why each of these is a myth.

Rewiring Dyslexic Brains

This hit the news a couple of days ago, but I wanted to post it here anyway. The fact that intensive study can rewire the brain is amazing, and suggests that any focused activity may well change brain structure or wiring in beneficial ways. This research expands what we know about brain plasticity, which is very cool.

You can read the whole study here. What follows is the press release:

Remedial instruction rewires dyslexic brains, provides lasting results, study shows

Carnegie Mellon researchers say findings could usher in new era of neuro-education

The regions of brain underactivation in poor readers (shown in red) are largely eliminated after remedial reading instruction.
Click here for more information.

A new Carnegie Mellon University brain imaging study of dyslexic students and other poor readers shows that the brain can permanently rewire itself and overcome reading deficits, if students are given 100 hours of intensive remedial instruction.

The study, published in the August issue of the journal Neuropsychologia, shows that the remedial instruction resulted in an increase in brain activity in several cortical regions associated with reading, and that neural gains became further solidified during the year following instruction.

"This study demonstrates how remedial instruction can use the plasticity of the human brain to gain an educational improvement," said neuroscientist Marcel Just, director of Carnegie Mellon's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging (CCBI) and senior author of the study. "Focused instruction can help underperforming brain areas to increase their proficiency."

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists investigated the changes in a number of cortical regions located in the parietotemporal area, which is responsible for decoding the sounds of written language and assembling them into words and phrases that make up a sentence.

CCBI research fellows Ann Meyler and Tim Keller measured brain activity patterns by examining blood flow to all of the different parts of the brain while children were reading. Those measurements showed that prior to the remediation, the parietotemporal areas were significantly less activated among the poor readers than in the control group.

The new findings showed that many of the poor readers' brain areas activated at near-normal levels immediately after remediation, with only a few areas still underactive. However, at the one year follow-up scan, the activation differences between good and poor readers had nearly vanished, suggesting that the neural gains were strengthened over time, probably just due to engagement in reading activities.

These findings that point to the parietotemporal region's role in reading contradict a common perception that dyslexia is primarily caused by difficulties in the visual perception of letters, leading to confusions between letters like "p" and "d."

Visual difficulties are only at fault in about 10 percent of dyslexia cases. The most common cause, accounting for more than 70 percent of dyslexia, is a difficulty in relating the visual form of a letter to its sound, which is not a straightforward process in the English language. The same parietotemporal areas of the brain that showed increased activity following instruction are centrally involved in this sound-based processing.

The poor readers, 25 fifth-graders from Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities, worked in groups of three for an hour a day with a teacher specialized in administering a remedial reading program. The training included both word decoding exercises in which students were asked to recognize the word in its written form and tasks in using reading comprehension strategies.

This brain imaging study was also the first in which children were tested on their understanding of sentences, not just on their recognition of single words. The sentences were relatively straightforward ones, which the children judged as being sensible or nonsense, such as "The girl closed the gate" and "The man fed the dress." The children's accurate sensibility judgments ensured that they were actually processing the meaning of the sentences, and not just recognizing the individual words.

The research's implications may reach far beyond improving literacy skills. Just noted that the brain's capacity to adapt as the result of targeted instruction has the potential to influence the remedial learning process in other subject areas, as well.

"Any kind of education is a matter of training the brain. When poor readers are learning to read, a particular brain area is not performing as well as it might, and remedial instruction helps to shape that area up," he said. "This finding shows that poor readers can be helped to develop buff brains. A similar approach should apply to other skills."

Additionally, the concrete evidence of improvement demonstrated in this study may be valuable in evaluating the effectiveness of a teaching approach or curriculum, or could even be used to shape education policy. "We are at the beginning of a new era of neuro-education," Just said.


The brain imaging research was supported by a grant from the R.K. Mellon Foundation, as well as the National Institute of Mental Health and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. In addition to Meyler and Keller, other study co-authors included Vladimir Cherkassky of the CCBI and John D.E. Gabriel of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Sky Marsen - The Role of Meaning in Human Thinking

"The Role of Meaning in Human Thinking" is a cool article from The Journal of Evolution and Technology. This article could be called: A Semiotic Model of Why AI Has Failed So Far. Interesting stuff, if you can wade through the philosophical language.

The Role of Meaning in Human Thinking

Sky Marsen, Victoria University, New Zealand

Journal of Evolution and Technology - Vol. 17 Issue 1 – March 2008 - pgs 45-58


The creation of meaning to interpret and communicate perceived phenomena is a fundamental trait of human intelligence. This article explains some major ways in which this is achieved, focusing on language and the perception of embodiment. It examines the representational aspects of natural language, which account for the ambiguity of linguistic signs, and describes how these manifest in metaphor, connotation and emotive expression. The article argues that the human propensity to create meaning lies largely in this representational ambiguity, which underlies all forms of symbolism. However, the ambiguity of natural language has a paradoxical side, since it is also at fault in many shortcomings of human communication, such as misunderstanding and prejudicial stereotyping. This article argues that any attempt to emulate human ways of thinking, for example in Artificial Intelligence research, should take this paradoxical factor into account.

* * *
He, who through vast immensity can pierce,
See worlds on worlds compose one universe,
Observe how system into system runs,
What other planets circle other suns
What varied being peoples every star
May tell why Heaven has made us as we are.

(Alexander Pope: Essay on Man.)
Humans create meaning. In fact, it is a fundamental trait of humans to attach meaning to the objects they perceive in the world, to their relationships with others, to their own physical form, and to the various manifestations of agency encompassed by the category “self” – a trait that is as universal as that of language. The complex operations that characterize human cognition carry this meaning-generating function on many levels. Classifying an object according to selected criteria, attaching value to it, and judging its aesthetic appeal, are all mental operations that, in one way or another, give meaning to the phenomenal world.

This article explores some ways in which meaning is produced, especially with the use of language. Using a semio-linguistic approach, it explains some of the basic principles of human language that affect thinking and underpin communication. Its aim is to discuss some aspects of Human Intelligence that distinguish it from Artificial Intelligence (AI) in its current state, and to suggest some areas that would require improvement if humans are to reach a post- or trans-human stage. I begin with an overview of theoretical approaches to meaning, continue with a description of pertinent linguistic features of communication, and end with an overview of areas where communication is problematic, if not defective.
Go read the whole article.

Here is a key passage from later in the article:
Many professions, for example, favor skill and innovation as opposed to experience, while the linear, climactic, continuity of modernism is rapidly being replaced with the serial, random access of the digital era. Also, many post-modern individuals share a value system with peer groups, often scattered throughout the world, rather than with families or immediate communities, as they did in the past.

Based on modernist ideology, existing conceptual structures and metaphors may restrict recognition of these changes, and may prevent contemporary, pre-posthumans from engaging with them creatively. In fact, a shortage of symbolic forms that would help to legitimize these developments may well account for what is sometimes described as the hypocrisy of contemporary life. It seems that, although human conceptual and representational systems, such as language, are dynamic and adaptive, they do not adapt quickly enough to cater for the socio-emotional upheavals of transitional periods of human evolution, such as the one we are arguably undergoing now.

This is a dense but interesting article that examines the problems of communication in regard to meaning (which isn't to be confused with truth); and it raises issues that must be addressed if we are ever to develop AI that works.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Psychology Today - On the Self

Who are you? What defines who you are and how you maintain the individual sense of Self? These are the big questions of philosophy and psychology - questions about which no one agrees on the answers. Yet they are questions most of us wrestle with at some point (or many) in our lives.

The past few days, Psychology Today has posted several articles/columns that examine these questions in one way or another. What follows is a little taste of each of the articles.

* * *

Self, Meet Yourself
We don't always know ourselves as well as we think we do. Why we crave feedback to help enhance our self-awareness.
By: Melanie LeTourneau
Psychology Today Magazine, Jul/Aug 2000

Have you ever been surprised by someone's description of you? Don't take it too hard: Research suggests we don't know ourselves as well as we think we do.

Our identities may undergo constant reconstruction, suggests an article in the Psychological Review. Psychologists at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) reexamined research on developing individuality and concluded that our surroundings—social feedback, comparison with others, society's perception of our behavior—continually challenge us to redefine ourselves.

Individual levels of self-awareness vary, according to Robin R. Vallacher, Ph.D., an FAU psychology professor and co-author of the article. Those struggling to define themselves crave others' feedback to help enhance their self-awareness, he says, whereas those with a strong identity rely less on feedback: "They can reinterpret, reject or accept information based on their own coherent sense of self."

OK, so that was the whole article, but it seems to subtly support the Buddhist idea that "Self" is an illusion that is constantly shifting (absolute truth) in an effort to conform to environmental conditions, and also to suggest - to those of us who think about ego states and subpersonalities - that our "parts" are constantly shifting in and out of control (relative truth).

* * *

Metaperceptions: How Do You See Yourself?

To navigate the social universe, you need to know what others think of you—although the clearest view depends on how you see yourself.

Psychology Today Magazine, May/Jun 2005

While many profess not to care what others think, we are, in the end, creatures who want and need to fit into a social universe. Humans are psychologically suited to interdependence. Social anxiety is really just an innate response to the threat of exclusion; feeling that we're not accepted by a group leaves us agitated and depressed.

The ability to intuit how people see us is what enables us to authentically connect to others and to reap the deep satisfaction that comes with those ties. We can never be a fly on the wall to our own personality dissections, watching as people pick us apart after meeting us. Hence we are left to rely on the accuracy of what psychologists call our "metaperceptions"—the ideas we have about others' ideas about us.

The bottom line: It comes down to what you think about yourself

Your ideas about what others think of you hinge on your self-concept—your own beliefs about who you are. "You filter the cues that you get from others through your self-concept," explains Mark Leary, professor of psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Our self-concept is fundamentally shaped by one person in particular: Mama. How our mother (or primary caregiver) responded to our first cries and gestures heavily influences how we expect to be seen by others. "Children behave in ways that perpetuate what they have experienced," says Martha Farrell Erickson, senior fellow with the Children, Youth and Family Consortium at the University of Minnesota. "A child who had an unresponsive mother will act obnoxious or withdrawn so that people will want to keep their distance. Those with consistently responsive mothers are confident and connect well with their peers."

As an infant scans his mother's face he absorbs clues to who he is; as adults we continue to search for our reflections in others' eyes. While the parent-child bond is not necessarily destiny, it does take quite a bit to alter self-concepts forged in childhood, whether good or bad. People rely on others' impressions to nurture their views about themselves, says William Swann, professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin. His research shows that people with negative self-concepts goad others to evaluate them harshly, especially if they suspect the person likes them—they would rather be right than be admired.

The top line: You probably do know what people think of you

But it's likely you don't know any one person's assessment. "We have a fairly stable view of ourselves," says Bella DePaulo, visiting professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "We expect other people to see that same view immediately." And they do. On average there is consensus about how you come off. But you can't apply that knowledge to any one individual, for a variety of reasons.

For starters, each person has an idiosyncratic way of sizing up others that (like metaperceptions themselves) is governed by her own self-concept. A person you meet will assess you through her unique lens, which lends consistency to her views on others. Some people, for example, are "likers" who perceive nearly everyone as good-natured and smart.

Furthermore, if a particular person doesn't care for you, it won't always be apparent. "People are generally not direct in everyday interactions," says DePaulo. Classic work by psychologist Paul Ekman has shown that most people can't tell when others are faking expressions. Who knows how many interactions you've walked away from thinking you were a hit while your new friend was actually faking agreeability?

And there's just a whole lot going on when you meet someone. You're talking, listening and planning what you're going to say next, as well as adjusting your nonverbal behavior and unconsciously responding to the other person's. DePaulo calls it "cognitive busyness."

Because of all we have to contend with, she says, we are unable to effectively interpret someone else's reactions. "We take things at face value and don't really have the means to infer others' judgments." Until afterward, of course, when you mull over the interaction, mining your memory for clues.

This is a much longer and more involved article. It raises some important issues about self-identity and social context, and also suggests that the more self-aware we are (especially about our emotions), the less buffeted we will feel by social situations and the opinions of others.

The article also goes into how various self-states impact how we see ourselves and how others see us, including shyness, being an "open system" in terms to new experiences, and physical awareness (how we present ourselves).

* * *

Dare To Be Yourself

A sense of authenticity is one of our deepest psychological needs, and people are more hungry for it than ever. Even so, being true to oneself is not for the faint of heart.
By: Karen Wright
Psychology Today Magazine, May/Jun 2008

It starts innocently enough, perhaps the first time you recognize your own reflection.

You're not yet 2 years old, brushing your teeth, standing on your steppy stool by the bathroom sink, when suddenly it dawns on you: That foam-flecked face beaming back from the mirror is you.

You. Yourself. Your very own self.

It's a revelation—and an affliction. Human infants have no capacity for self-awareness. Then, between 18 and 24 months of age, they become conscious of their own thoughts, feelings, and sensations—thereby embarking on a quest that will consume much of their lives. For many modern selves, the first shock of self-recognition marks the beginning of a lifelong search for the one "true" self and for a feeling of behaving in accordance with that self that can be called authenticity.

A hunger for authenticity guides us in every age and aspect of life. It drives our explorations of work, relationships, play, and prayer. Teens and twentysomethings try out friends, fashions, hobbies, jobs, lovers, locations, and living arrangements to see what fits and what's "just not me." Midlifers deepen commitments to career, community, faith, and family that match their self-images, or feel trapped in existences that seem not their own. Elders regard life choices with regret or satisfaction based largely on whether they were "true" to themselves.

Questions of authenticity determine our regard for others, as well. They dominated the presidential primaries: Was Hillary authentic when she shed a tear in New Hampshire? Was Obama earnest when his speechwriters cribbed lines from a friend's oration?

"Americans remain deeply invested in the notion of the authentic self," says ethicist John Portmann of the University of Virginia. "It's part of the national consciousness."

It's also a cornerstone of mental health. Authenticity is correlated with many aspects of psychological well-being, including vitality, self-esteem, and coping skills. Acting in accordance with one's core self—a trait called self-determination—is ranked by some experts as one of three basic psychological needs, along with competence and a sense of relatedness.

Yet, increasingly, contemporary culture seems to mock the very idea that there is anything solid and true about the self. Cosmetic surgery, psychopharmaceuticals, and perpetual makeovers favor a mutable ideal over the genuine article. MySpace profiles and tell-all blogs carry the whiff of wishful identity. Steroids, stimulants, and doping transform athletic and academic performance. Fabricated memoirs become best-sellers. Speed-dating discounts sincerity. Amid a clutter of counterfeits, the core self is struggling to assert itself.

"It's some kind of epidemic right now," says Stephen Cope, author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self. "People feel profoundly like they're not living from who they really are, their authentic self, their deepest possibility in the world. The result is a sense of near-desperation."

Just What Is Authenticity, Anyway?

Psychologists long assumed authenticity was something too intangible to measure objectively. Certainly Michael Kernis did when, around 2000, graduate student Brian Goldman approached him about making a study of individual differences in authenticity.

"I said, 'Well, you can't do that,'" recalls Kernis, a social psychologist at the University of Georgia in Athens, "because nobody thought you could." But the two plunged ahead, reviewing several centuries' worth of philosophical and psychological literature. They came up with a technical description of authenticity as "the unimpeded operation of one's true or core self in one's daily enterprise."

Kernis and Goldman (now at Clayton State University) identified four separate and somewhat concrete components of authenticity that they could measure in a written test. The first, and most fundamental, is self-awareness: knowledge of and trust in one's own motives, emotions, preferences, and abilities. Self-awareness encompasses an inventory of issues from the sublime to the profane, from knowing what food you like to how likely you are to quit smoking to whether you're feeling anxious or sad.

Self-awareness is an element of the other three components as well. It's necessary for clarity in evaluating your strengths and (more to the point) your weaknesses: acknowledging when you've flubbed a presentation or when your golf game is off, without resorting to denial or blame. Authenticity also turns up in behavior: It requires acting in ways congruent with your own values and needs, even at the risk of criticism or rejection. And it's necessary for close relationships, because intimacy cannot develop without openness and honesty.

Kernis and Goldman have found that a sense of authenticity is accompanied by a multitude of benefits. People who score high on the authenticity profile are also more likely to respond to difficulties with effective coping strategies, rather than resorting to drugs, alcohol, or self-destructive habits. They often report having satisfying relationships. They enjoy a strong sense of self-worth and purpose, confidence in mastering challenges, and the ability to follow through in pursuing goals.

Whether authenticity causes such psychological boons or results from them isn't yet clear. But they suggest why people crave authenticity, as those low in authenticity are likely to be defensive, suspicious, confused, and easily overwhelmed.

Considering the psychological payoffs, Kernis and Goldman ask, "Why, then, is not everybody authentic?"

This is another deeper article, including a look at the "invented self," which deals with the notions of soul and the secularization of the Self in philosophy and culture.

To them, the self was not so much born as made. One's choice of action creates the self—in Sartre's words, "existence precedes essence." For Heidegger and confreres, authenticity was an attitude: the project of embracing life, constructing meaning, and building character without fooling yourself that your so-called essence matters in any absolute, a priori sense.

"The philosophical question is, do we invent this authentic self?" says Portmann. "Or do we discover it?" Socrates believed we discover it; the existentialists say we invent it.

The article goes on to dispel the sense of a solid, singular self, again confirming Buddhist philosophy at the absolute level and "parts" theory at the relative level. We aren't single selves, we contain multitudes (as Whitman asserted in the 19th century).

Today's psychologists no longer regard the self as a singular entity with a solid core. What they see instead is an array of often conflicting impressions, sensations, and behaviors. Our headspace is messier than we pretend, they say, and the search for authenticity is doomed if it's aimed at tidying up the sense of self, restricting our identities to what we want to be or who we think we should be.

Increasingly, psychologists believe that our notion of selfhood needs to expand, to acknowledge that, as Whitman wrote, we "contain multitudes." An expansive vision of selfhood includes not just the parts of ourselves that we like and understand but also those that we don't. There's room to be a loving mother who sometimes yells at her kids, a diffident cleric who laughs too loud, or a punctilious boss with a flask of gin in his desk. The authentic self isn't always pretty. It's just real.

We all have multiple layers of self and ever-shifting perspectives, contends psychiatrist Peter Kramer. Most of us would describe ourselves as either an introvert or an extrovert. Research shows that although we think of ourselves as one or the other (with a few exceptions), we are actually both, in different contexts. Which face we show depends on the situation. As Kramer puts it, "To which facet of experience must we be 'true'?"

This is a good discussion that raise a lot of questions about how and why we seek out authenticity in our lives, and why that it is much harder than we would like to think. Some of the conclusions indirectly support a lot of Buddhist psychology, which is always kind of cool.

* * *

Authentic and Eudaimonic
How to go with your gut and be true to yourself.

By: Karen Wright
Psychology Today Magazine, May/Jun 2008

8 Acts Of Authenticity

Experts offer their (sometimes conflicting) views on how to lead the authentic life.

  • Read novels. "It's the best way to figure out what it feels like to be in someone else's head—and that's what helps us to distinguish our own identity." —John Portmann, professor of religious ethics, University of Virginia
  • Meditate. "Meditative absorption creates moments of happiness not contingent on outcomes or external factors or manipulation of the environment. From that platform you can investigate how to create real fulfillment." —Stephen Cope, scholar-in-residence, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
  • Be deliberate. "Authenticity consists in being aware that you have choices and consciously choosing what you do." —Roy Baumeister, social psychologist, University of Florida
  • But not too deliberate. "People often make better decisions when they don't think about them. Go with your gut. Authentic reactions are much more at a gut level." —Mark Leary, social psychologist, Duke University
  • Cultivate solitude. "Quiet and time for the self are a big plus. If you're worried about inauthenticity, there's nothing like shutting the door." —Peter Kramer, clinical psychiatrist, Brown University
  • But stay connected. "Community is an outlook toward life in which you define yourself in relation to the world around you, rather than only in connection with yourself. I recommend enlarging the sense of self." —Thomas Moore, psychotherapist and author, A Life at Work
  • Play hard. "Whether it's taking an art class, playing basketball, running, or just hanging out with friends, doing something you really enjoy allows you to express who you really are." —Michael Kernis, social psychologist, University of Georgia
  • And be willing to lose. "Feelings of inauthenticity are heightened by a lack of a philosophy that allows failure to be part of life. If you're leading a full life, you're going to fail some every day." —Thomas Moore.
The New, True, Eudaimonic You

Eudaimonia refers to a state of well-being and full functioning that derives from a sense of living in accordance with one's deeply held values—in other words, from a sense of authenticity. Some characteristics of the eudaimonic life include:

  • Being open to experience without censorship or distortion
  • Living fully in the moment, so the self feels fluid rather than static
  • Trusting inner experience to guide behavior
  • Feeling free to respond rather than automatically react to life events
  • Taking a creative approach to living, rather than relying on routine and habit.
This is by the same author as the last article, offering some tips on how to be more authentic in our lives from many people you no doubt recognized.