~ Tom Robbins
Saturday, September 06, 2008
[Hat tip to ~C4Chaos for posting this.]
A New Marriage of Brain and Computer - Why 'The Singularity' Is BogusAbstract:
Brain and computer were wed mid-twentieth century by the McCulloch-Pitts model neuron and Hodgkin-Huxley equations for digital firing in biological neurons. Since then, brain neurons, synapses, firings and networks have been considered analogous to electronic switches, states and circuits in classical computers. But despite extraordinary advances and bold predictions, consciousness seems ever more elusive. On this, and other divisive issues like EEG gamma synchrony, deviations from Hodgkin-Huxley, gap junctions, dendritic webs/hyper-neurons, anesthesia, quantum computers and clear demonstration of functional quantum coherence in warm protein assemblies, brain and computer have drifted apart. Increasing evidence suggests that the brain-computer marriage could be spiced up, and consciousness accounted for, by exotic yet testable new approaches such as quantum computation in microtubules (Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR theory) in laterally connected input/integration layers (gap junction dendritic web/hyper-neurons) of neuronal networks.
This was yesterday's Daily Om - haven't posted one of these in a while. This a good reminder that challenges are an important part of life, especially since we seem to be living through the Chinese curse of "May you live in interesting times."
The Kaleidoscope of Life
Living Together Differently
We tend to gravitate toward people who are the most like us, at least in the ways that make us feel comfortable. But life has its way of bringing us into contact with people who challenge us with their differences. It may be an obvious difference reflected in their outward appearance or an invisible but powerful philosophical stance, but even in our closest circle of friends and family, there are those that confront us with their different ways of experiencing and expressing life. We can choose to resist , but we can also choose to learn from them and appreciate that they too have a place in the kaleidoscope of life.
As much as we may say that we want peace and quiet and a life without struggle, the truth is that human beings are, at this time, thriving in a world of dualities and challenges. It is how we choose to approach these hurdles that determine if we sail over them, confirming our agility, or trip and end up face down in the dust. And each of us absolutely will and must stumble, and then get up, brush the dust off and carry on. This is how we learn and grow, developing depth of character and shades of understanding. In a world of dualities, we have trouble defining ourselves without something opposite, and can’t discover who we are. Without challenge, there is nothing to do and nothing to discover. That leaves us either in a state of non-being or the state of pure spirit, but as humans, we are spiritual beings experiencing the physical world in all of its startling contrast and beauty.
No matter how spiritual we are, our lives will have challenges. We will always run into people that are different that we are, but the true challenge may be in finding ways to be at peace with this process. Rather than give in to the fight or flight response that comes from our animal nature, we can find new ways to evolve together into higher more beautiful expressions of ourselves, realizing, embracing and celebrating the beauty of diversity and the strength it offers for the future.
An interesting look at why voters pay more attention to scandals than they do to real policy issues. It's all about evolutionary selection.
Consider these scenarios.
Scandal A: A prominent politician gets caught sleeping with a campaign aide and plunges himself into an ugly paternity dispute -- all while his cancer-stricken wife is fighting for her life.
Scandal B: A prominent politician's signature health-care plan turns out to have been put together badly, and he is forced to confess that the plan will cost taxpayers billions more than expected.
It's a no-brainer which scandal is likely to catch -- and keep -- our attention. The interesting question as the presidential election heads into the homestretch is why we care more about some stories that do not affect us directly, even as we tune out other stories that do.
It isn't just about sex. John F. Kerry was damaged by accusations about his military service in Vietnam; George W. Bush fended off endless accusations that he dodged military service using family connections -- events that allegedly occurred more than three decades earlier. Rumor mills on the Internet today insinuate that John McCain once admitted to being a war criminal (he did not) and that Barack Obama is a Muslim (he is not).
The question is not which scandals are true but why certain story lines hook our interest. Why are we more likely to discuss a gossipy rumor at a party than a policy error that can actually make a material difference to our own lives?
One explanation is that cultural mores attune us to certain stories -- we live in an era where gossipy scandals rule. To test this, psychologist Hank Davis at the University of Guelph in Ontario examined hundreds of sensational stories on the front pages of newspapers in eight countries over a 300-year period, from 1701 to 2001.
Remarkably, he concluded that the themes of sensational news were identical not only across the centuries but also in diverse geographic locales -- from the United States to Bangladesh, from Canada to Mauritius. The stories that editors put on the front pages of newspapers -- presumably stories that interested readers -- included headlines such as "Crocodiles Tear Apart Thai Suicide Woman."
The stories were sometimes about important things and sometimes not, but they nearly always involved the kind of themes that people who are part of small groups like to know about one another: lying and cheating, altruism and heroism, loyalty and disloyalty.
"There was another story in 1735 in the Boston Evening Post about a man and woman who came to be married, but before the ceremony was over the woman gave birth to a daughter," said Davis. "Things like that rivet our attention, and apparently have done so since the time there were newspapers."
Davis and other evolutionary psychologists argue that the reason John Edwards's adultery has more zing in our heads than a dry policy dispute that could cost taxpayers billions of dollars is that the human brain evolved in a period where there were significant survival advantages to finding out the secrets of others. Since humans lived in small groups, the things you learned about other people's character could tell you whom to trust when you were in a tight spot.
"We are continuing to navigate through the modern world with a Stone Age mind," Davis said.
In the Pleistocene era, he added, there was no survival value in being able to decipher a health-care initiative, but there was significant value in information about "who needs a favor, who is in a position to offer one, who is trustworthy, who is a liar, who is available sexually, who is under the protection of a jealous partner, who is likely to abandon a family, who poses a threat to us."
We may consciously know that we are no longer living in small hunter-gatherer groups and that it no longer makes sense to evaluate someone like Edwards as we might a friend or intimate partner, but our reptilian brain doesn't realize this. Our prefrontal cortex might reason that a man who cheats on his wife while she is fighting cancer could make a perfectly fine president in a complex world, but the visceral distaste people feel about Edwards stems from there being an ancient part of the human brain that says, "Gee, I don't want to get mixed up with this guy, because even in my hour of greatest need I might not be able to count on him," said Frank T. McAndrew, an evolutionary social psychologist at Knox College in Illinois.
Most Americans, of course, will never have any personal interaction with the people they elect president. Nonetheless, if the evolutionary psychologists are correct, people will tend to choose leaders they can relate to personally -- and reject the leaders with whom they cannot see having a personal relationship.
"The human brain does not have any special module for evaluating welfare policy or immigration policy, but it has modules for evaluating people on the basis of character," said Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics. "That is probably why we have this gut reaction to affairs and marriages and lying. All of those things existed in the ancestral environment 100,000 years ago."
Friday, September 05, 2008
An excellent article from Vox, arguing in favor of early childhood focus in eduction, with studies to support their stance.
I am a huge fan of this -- children are most sponge-like up until about six years of age, shortly after we send them to school. We should take more advantage of those early years, either through an organized, state-run program or through more parental involvement in in-home education. Politically, I prefer the parents taking on the role, emphasizing education over entertainment, and recognizing that the two aren't mutually exclusive.
Read the whole article.America has a growing skills problem. One consequence of this skills problem is rising inequality and polarization of society. A greater fraction of young Americans are graduating from college. At the same time, a greater fraction are dropping out of high school. Trends in the production of skills from American high schools coupled with a growing influx of unskilled immigrants have produced an increasing proportion of low-skilled workers in the US workforce. More than 20% of American workers cannot understand the instructions written in a medical prescription. A further consequence of the skills problem is a slowdown in growth of productivity of the workforce.
America has a growing skills problem. This column emphasises the importance of early environments in determining skills. It suggests that to promote skills, public policy should refocus attention to the early years of childhood and away from its current emphasis on the later years.
The origin of this skills problem lies in the decline of the family in American society. Dysfunctional families retard the formation of the abilities needed for successful performance in modern society.
The importance of cognitive and noncognitive abilities
American public policy currently focuses on cognitive test scores or “smarts.” Yet an emerging literature shows that much more than smarts is required for success in life. Motivation, sociability, the ability to work with others, the ability to focus on tasks, self-regulation, self-esteem, time preference, health, and mental health all matter. In an earlier time, these traits were part of what was called “character.” A substantial body of research shows that earnings, employment, labour force experience, college attendance, teenage pregnancy, participation in risky activities, compliance with health protocols, and participation in crime are all strongly affected by non-cognitive as well as cognitive abilities. Heckman, Stixrud and Urzua (2006) show that in many dimensions of social performance, noncognitive traits are as important, or more important, than cognitive traits in predicting success.
Compelling evidence on the importance of noncognitive skills comes from the GED (General Education Degree) programme (Heckman and Rubinstein, 2001, and Heckman and LaFontaine 2008). GED recipients are high school dropouts who pass a test to certify that they are equivalent to high school graduates. Currently, 14% of US high school certificates are issued to GEDs. Previous research shows that the cognitive test scores of GED recipients and the cognitive test scores of persons who graduate from high school but do not go on to college are comparable. Yet GED recipients have the earnings of high school dropouts. GED recipients are as “smart" as ordinary high school graduates, yet they lack noncognitive skills. GED recipients are the “wise guys” who cannot finish anything. They quit the jobs and marriages they start at much greater rates than ordinary high school graduates. Most branches of the US military recognise this in their recruiting strategies. Until the recent war in Iraq, the armed forces did not generally accept GED recipients because of their poor performance in the military.
Ability gaps open up early in life
Gaps in both cognitive and noncognitive skills between advantaged and disadvantaged children emerge early and can be attributed, in part, to adverse early environments into which an increasing percentage of US children are being born. Figure 1 shows the gap in cognitive test scores by age of children stratified by the mother's education. Similar patterns are found for noncognitive skills (see Heckman, 2008, and Cunha, Heckman, Lochner and Masterov, 2006). Gaps in ability emerge early and persist. Most of the gaps in ability at age 18, which substantially explain gaps in adult outcomes, are present at age five. Schooling plays a minor role in creating or perpetuating gaps, even though American children go to very different schools depending on their family backgrounds. Test scores for children with very different family backgrounds are remarkably parallel with age.
Figure 1. Trend in mean cognitive score by maternal education, IHDP study
[click image to enlarge]
Note: Using all observations and assuming that data are missing at random.
Source: Brooks-Gunn, Cunha, Duncan, Heckman, and Sojourner (2006).
How do these early and persistent differences in abilities arise? Is the difference due to genes as Herrnstein and Murray claimed in The Bell Curve? Evidence from the recent literature in psychology and biology suggests that the genes versus environment distinction that was once much in vogue is obsolete. Extensive recent literature suggests that gene-environment interactions are central to explaining children’s intellectual development. For example, breast-fed children attain higher IQ scores than non-breast fed children. This relationship is moderated by a gene that controls fatty acid pathways. Identical twins are affected by life experiences that substantially differentiate the genetic expression of adult twins. Further, the impact on adult antisocial behaviour of growing up in a harsh or abusive environment depends on the absence of a variant of a particular gene. A substantial literature shows that family environments play an independent role in creating adult abilities. Adverse family environments of children create problem adults.
#170 - From Dreambody to Worldwork
Drs. Arnold and Amy Mindell come out of the Jungian tradition and have been doing pioneering work around the world.
Dr. Amy Mindell is in private therapeutic practice in Portland, Oregon and teaches in many countries in the world. She helped developed process oriented psychology in the areas of coma, creativity, and dance. She holds a M.A. and Ph.D. in psychology and is a diplomate of the Process Oriented Psychology Center of Zurich. She wrote Metaskills: The Spiritual Art of Therapy, Riding the Horse Backwards with Arny, Coma, a Healing Journey, and An Alternative to Therapy as well as many papers in professional journals. Her work with art, music and puppets appears in her newest book “The Dreaming Source of Creativity”. Her studies of the feeling skills in therapy, or “metaskills”, are at the core of much of her work.
Dr. Arny Mindell is also in private practice in Portland, Oregon, and teaches with Amy in many places. He is known for his development of the “dreambody” and “process work” (process oriented psychology). He is the author of 19 books in 21 languages, including Dreambody, The Shaman’s Body, Quantum Mind, and Quantum Mind and Healing. Arny has an M.S. from M.I.T., was a Jungian training analyst, and has a Ph.D. in psychology. He is also known in the area of conflict management for his Sitting in the Fire and for his integration of psychology and physics, work on dreams, bodywork, relationships, and for interventions in near death situations.
Amy and Arny are often keynote speakers at international conferences on therapy, psychology, physics, and conflict work and have been on local and national radio and TV in many other countries. They work together as a team, teaching, doing town meetings, and working on conflict resolution and organizational development projects for small and large businesses, cities, and Aboriginal communities. They have been resident teachers at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Ca. Members of scientific and Aboriginal communities have applauded Arny and Amy’s trans-disciplinary work.
They are avid researchers, and love skiing, running and hiking. They reside part of the year in Portland Oregon, where they give classes at the Processwork Institute with many other colleagues. They live part of the year on the Oregon coast where they do residential seminars and watch whales.
Another psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.Standard Podcast [1:09:32m]: Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
But the Right is just as guilty, though in different ways, as The Root points out in this article. I agree with her in principle, but she seems to favor old fashioned Lefty identity politics, so it's a wash. We need to remove considerations of race and gender completely, and have a merit-based culture - but that isn't going to happen in my lifetime.
The Grand Old Bait and SwitchBy Salamishah Tillet | TheRoot.com
From Clarence Thomas to Sarah Palin, nobody plays cynical identity politics like the GOP.Getty Images
Sept. 3, 2008--John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as the GOP vice presidential nominee has re-inserted the "woman" question into the presidential debate.
By choosing the second white female vice presidential candidate, McCain is trying to fashion himself, Sarah Palin, and, by extension, the entire Republican Party as more committed feminists than the Democrats.
But what is being called a "maverick" decision by McCain, is in fact just another version of the old Republican game of bait and switch with identity politics. Starting with George H. W. Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, the GOP has been trying to convince Americans that any "woman," "African American" or "candidate of color" will do. And while the argument can be made that any diversity is better than no diversity, this Republican version is especially egregious because it often appoints minority candidates who vote against public legislation that insure that other members of their group have the same opportunities, choices and paths to success as they did. In effect, diversity, which dismantles affirmative action programs and women's reproductive rights, is the worse form of political fraud.
In 1991, when Thomas succeeded Thurgood Marshall, the Republicans created a new playbook for identity politics. Instead of re-creating an all-white Supreme Court, President George H. W. Bush maintained symbolic racial diversity while also appointing a judge who would vote against long-term diversity measures such as racial preference and affirmative action programs.
Even more cleverly, he nominated a significantly inexperienced African-American candidate whose presence reiterates the anti-affirmative rhetoric of unqualified minorities unfairly taking the jobs of more competent whites. With Thomas, the Republicans not only overlooked the exceptional and better qualified African-American men and women who did exist (and therefore could reinforce the benefits and necessity of affirmative action), but they appointed him with the intent of destroying that racial equity policies for which Marshall has so valiantly fought.
Unfortunately, because McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as a stand-in for Hillary Clinton may help galvanize those McCain-weary, anti-choice, evangelical members of the Republican Party, it is even more important that we do not misread his decision as "maverick," "fresh" and anti-Bush.
In many ways, Palin is the anti-Hillary Clinton. As a member of the generation of second-wave feminists, Clinton had both symbolic and practical appeal to women and feminist voters. Her presidential bid was historic and groundbreaking because she was a woman candidate who is pro-choice, defends affirmative action policies, demands equal pay for women, had women of all colors in key campaign leadership positions, is an avid supporter of gay and lesbian rights and survived the onslaught of the Republican-dominated Congress as first lady and the "vetting" of the corporate media during this year's presidential primaries. In contrast, Palin represents the paradoxes of the post-feminist generation. Even though she is a member of Feminists for Life and actively opposes a woman's right to choose. While Palin supports equal pay for women, McCain has an even longer record of voting against legislation designed to close the pay gap between men and women. One such piece of legislation is the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which McCain opposed just this spring.
Today, as a result of the bait and switch of Thurgood Marshall with Clarence Thomas, many African Americans are more prone to express racial skepticism rather than automatic racial solidarity with even highly qualified black politicians like Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Michael Steele because their political conservatism is often at odds with African-American group interest. Likewise, supporters of women's rights need to be pre-emptive and see Palin's nomination as a rejection of long-term gender equality.
In the end, McCain's is not as much a bold move as it is an old page from the Republican playbook.
Salamishah Tillet is an assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and co-founder of the non-profit organization, A Long Walk Home, Inc., which uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to document and to end violence against underserved women and children.
From Mayor Palin: A Rough Record, in Time:
Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.If I had any doubts before, and I didn't, this would be the straw that broke the camel's back. Banning books is as un-American as it gets.
Editor & Publisher - Archives of Alaska Papers Reveal Disturbing -- And Goofy -- Details from Palin's Past
You can read the Politico.com article here, with all links.
Archives of Alaska Papers Reveal Disturbing -- And Goofy -- Details from Palin's Past
By Greg Mitchell
Published: September 03, 2008 2:10 PM ET
NEW YORK The McCain team may not have vetted Sarah Palin with boots on the ground in Alaska, but the Democrats sure did -- two years ago when she ran for governor. The oppo-research, compiled in a 62-page document with countless summaries or direct quotes, largely from local newspapers, covers all of the important issues you would expect to see, from her views on abortion and abstinence to tangled oil pipeline questions.
But it also gets into some quirky, if revealing, areas as well, such as Palin founding a company called "Rouge Cru" -- what she called a "classy" way to say redneck -- in case her political career didn't work out a few years ago.
Politico.com obtained a copy and printed merely a handful of the hundreds of findings on Tuesday. These included serious matters such as her use of the mayor's office in political campaigns. But it also posted a PDF of the entire document which few have probably examined. Here some of the more outrageous, or surprising, revelations -- strictly from newspaper clips. They are posted here under their heading in the document. Note: The Frontiersman is the local paper in Wasilla.
Palin Said "Hang 'Em Up" When Asked About the Death Penalty. Asked about the death penalty, in extreme cases such as the murder of a child, Palin said, "My goodness, hang 'em up, yeah." [Anchorage Daily News , 8/18/06]
Palin wrote a Letter to the Editor saying only, "San Francisco judges forbidding our Pledge of Allegiance? They will take the phrase 'under God' away from me when my cold, dead lips can no longer utter those words. God bless America." [Juneau Empire, 6/30/02]
Palin Presided Over a Wedding at a Walmart. He worked in the pets department. She was a cashier. A romance blossomed. And when it came time to say ''I do,'' they chose -- where else? -- an aisle next to menswear. Sandwiched between racks of cotton pants and surrounded by ''Back-to-School Specials'' signs, Jake McCowan and Rosalyn Ryan exchanged vows last week at the place where they met, work and fell in love: the Wasilla Wal-Mart. A crowd of 200, including passengers from a tour bus and several dozen curious shoppers, watched the two employees tie the knot in an afternoon ceremony officiated by Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin. ''It was so sweet,'' said Palin, who fought back tears during the nuptials. "It was so Wasilla." [Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), 8/28/99]
Palin Delivered "Non-Answers" On Expanding Health Care Coverage and Walmart. "Asked about expanding health care coverage and about Wal-Mart's corporate conduct, she delivered non-answers with a disarming smile." [Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), 1/30/06]
USED PUBLIC FUNDS FOR POLITICAL GAIN
In her 2002 Lt. Governor bid, Mayor Palin used city employees, telephones, computers, fax machines for campaign fundraising and literature. On her candidate registration form, she used her City Hall fax number, and her mayoral e-mail address. Records show that Wasilla city property was used to contact supporters, donors, media contacts, and media purchasing. [Anchorage Daily News, 7/21/06]
Stambaugh Sued for Gender Discrimination After Palin Said She Was Intimidated by His Size. After Palin fired Irl Stambaugh, the police chief, he sued the city in part based on gender discrimination. The [Wasilla] Frontiersman wrote, "The gender discrimination issues stem from statements Palin allegedly made to others that she was intimidated by Stambaugh's size. He stands over 6-feet tall and weighs more than 200 pounds, which, the lawsuit said, is attributed to his gender." [Frontiersman, 2/26/97]
Palin Went to See Ivana Trump at Costco, Saying Alaska was So Desperate for "Any Semblance of Glamour and Culture". "Sarah Palin, a commercial fisherman from Wasilla, told her husband on Tuesday she was driving to Anchorage to shop at Costco. Instead, she headed straight for Ivana. And there, at J.C. Penney's cosmetic department, was Ivana, the former Mrs. Donald Trump, sitting at a table next to a photograph of herself. She wore a light-colored pantsuit and pink fingernail polish. Her blonde hair was coiffed in a bouffant French twist. 'We want to see Ivana,' said Palin, who admittedly smells like salmon for a large part of the summer, 'because we are so desperate in Alaska for any semblance of glamour and culture.'" [Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), 4/3/96]
Palin Explained that She Couldn't Run for Senate Because Then She Couldn't Be the "Team Mom." "A hockey mom and a former standout athlete herself, Palin said she understood her son's concerns. 'How could I be the team mom if I was a U.S. senator?' she said." [Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), 4/24/04]
Palin Exaggerated Work Experience for Mayoral Campaign. In 1997, Frontiersman columnist Paul Stuart wrote that after Palin had criticized her opponent for using City Hall resources for political gain, "when Palin was asked back then (by me) why the lodge where she claimed, in her campaign, to have gained her management experience, had no record of a borough business license or of paying any bed tax, she paused and said it might have been because the place had no clients for a year or so." In an article describing the possibility of recalling Palin, the Frontiersman wrote the "reasons include Palin's alleged falsification of her credentials during the campaign last fall." [Frontiersman, 1/22/97, 2/5/97]
Frontiersman Editorial Said Palin Made Statements That Were "Patently Untrue," Said She Had Shown "Unrepentant Backpedaling and Incessant Whining." A Frontiersman editorial wrote, "Wasilla residents have been subjected to attempts to unlawfully appoint council members, statements that have been shown to be patently untrue, unrepentant backpedaling, and incessant whining that her only enemies are the press and a few disgruntled supporters of former Mayor John Stein." [Frontiersman editorial, 2/7/97]
Frontiersman Editorial: Palin Doesn't Grasp the Truth. A Frontiersman editorial wrote, "Mayor Palin fails to have a firm grasp of something very simple: the truth." [Frontiersman editorial, 2/7/97]
Palin's Brother-In-Law Appeared on Reality Dating Show. Lt. Gov. candidate Sarah Palin thought it might help her campaign when brother-in-law Jack McCann showed up as a desirable catch on the new "reality" TV show, "Looking for Love: Bachelorettes in Alaska." That hope lasted until she actually saw an episode of the series, which turns out to be your basic meat market twitch & grin. "Oh Lord," she said. "My sisters and I watched it in horror." Jack, who is scheduled to appear again even though he crashed a mountain bike in the first episode, is pretty cute and has a sense of humor, Sarah reports. "He described his occupation . . . as an office environment consultant," she said.
"He sells furniture." [Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), 6/9/02]
Palin told The Associated Press that she and her husband, Todd, made a bet on whether Murkowski would run. If the governor says he'll enter the race, Palin has to get the Big Dipper tattooed on her ankle. If Murkowski says no, Todd gets a wedding ring inked on his finger.
[Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), 5/26/06]
[For more on Palin and media: Visit E&P's first-ever blog, launched today, at: The E&P Pub.]
Old, Grizzled Third-Party Candidate May Steal Support From McCain
Being A Detective Who Talks To Ghosts Not As Exciting As It Looks On TV
Still much to do with unpacking, mostly books and no place to put them -- Hello Ikea! But that will have to wait until my girlfriend can go with me -- she has all the decoration sense, I just go for functional.
I'm sitting at a cheap card table (fold up variety) and I miss my desk (which was put to a merciful death due to old age and generally lack of functionality) -- strange how we can get so dependent on a certain atmosphere for work. It feels all wrong to be sitting here, the keyboard too high, the monitor too low. But change is good. I now will be blogging while sitting in front of a window that looks out (beyond the parking lot) on some nice desert.
I hope to slowly get back to a more regular schedule with blogging, but we'll see how that works out. In the meantime, please check in with my FriendFeed links, where I collect items of interest that I have no time to blog about.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
A cool post from the Psychology Today blogs. Proof that the capacity for empathy is hard-wired into the brain, but how we respond to it is learned. The author looks at this research in terms of therapy, which is something I totally agree with him on, but the implications for the rest of us are just as important.
Empathy and the Sacred Space in Healing
You know when you watch a movie and you get to the part where a character is about to get hurt—where something bad is going to happen—and you can't help but wince and turn your head away? Although we know it's a movie, and we know that it's fake, somehow it still gets to us. There's something visceral that acts on a deeper level than conscious thought.
A team of psychoneurological researchers wanted to get to the bottom of this. They invited volunteers to step into a functional MRI machine and look at some pictures. Half the volunteers were shown photos of arms and legs. Nothing out of the ordinary. And, as expected, their brain images, which were recorded by the fMRI, didn't reveal anything unusual. The other half of the group, though, saw pictures that were similar in nature but which indicated pain. In other words, these volunteers were exposed to images of arms and legs situated in such a position that would indicate discomfort and physical pain.
When the researchers looked at the fMRI brain scans of the volunteers who saw the "painful" pictures, the part of the brain that is associated with the experience of pain lighted up. Although the volunteers themselves did not experience physical pain, the mere act of witnessing an image of someone else's painful experience elicits a neurophysiological pain reaction. When we see others in situation of pain--even when we know that pain is just an image and real--we still physiologically experience a reaction.
Empathy is wired into us. And it also plays a very important part in the process of psychotherapy. Psychologist Carl Rogers (who played a pivotal part in starting the humanistic school of psychotherapy) was a pioneer in emphasizing the importance of empathy on the therapist's part. In other words, Rogers claimed that a good therapist is one who's able to share--at least on a certain emotional level--the emotional experience with a client.
It's what psychologist James Bugental referred to as "presence." It's the ability to relate to a client not only on an intellectual level but also to really be there experientially. To allow yourself to empathize and relate on a deeper level.
There's a subtle but very powerful difference between remaining scientifically theoretical and allowing yourself to relate on a more genuine level. I know that when a client comes in and shares something that comes from their core, the entire energy of the room shifts. It's the difference between an academic understanding of what goes on in therapy and seeing it take place in front of you. Academically and theoretically, you can point out, "Oh this person is experiencing this and that because of these different factors in their lives." But when you're there in person with the client and you hear the story, there's something very sacred about it. The client is sharing with you some of the most precious aspect of who they are as a person. And as a therapist if I can stay on that level, if I can hold the space and be there, that's where the real healing takes place.
I call it a sacred space not because of any religious reason. It's sacred because it's real. And it can very easily dissipate if I don't honor that space. This is how it relates back to empathy, the ability to partake in the experience that your client is having, to really be there. It doesn't mean that I experience the full range of emotions that my client is feeling, but I'm aware of them and they become precious.
I'll be back online this weekend, I hope, and I might try to blog a bit between now and then, but being so busy at the gym will make that a challenge.
I'm sure I missed lots of cool stuff in the last few days, but I'll try to catch up when things mellow out a bit -- if you sent me an email or a comment and I haven't replied, apologies.