Saturday, October 25, 2008

Christopher Hitchens on Hardball with Chris Mathews

Hitchens maintains his stance that Palin is totally unqualified, but he also echoes my feeling that McCain may be, in fact, "borderline senile."

The Integral Fitness Solution

[I posted this years ago, it seems, at my old blog, Integral Fitness Solutions. I'm reposting it so that I don't lose when I shut down the old blog at some point. If you've read it, not need to do so again.]

The Integral Fitness Solution

As a professional fitness trainer, my job usually involves helping people lose weight. I get the occasional person who wants to build some muscle or get stronger, but most often the goal is to lose body fat. People who join a gym and hire a trainer are actually the minority among those who are seeking to lose weight. My clients are willing to work their bodies as part of the process.

Most of the people wishing to lose body fat are looking for a magic pill. The underlying belief is that fat loss is a matter of making our bodies do what we want them to so that we can continue to eat badly and avoid exercise. The magic pill might be literal, or the newest fad diet, or some kind of gadget advertised in an infomercial. It is not surprising that most of the people who begin a fat loss program fail to follow through with the plan for more than two weeks.

However, if we take a step back and look at all the issues involved in becoming overweight, it is apparent that there is more to it than poor diet and lack of exercise. There are actually four major areas of our lives that contribute to our issues with body weight: our bodies, our psyches, our cultural beliefs, and our social structures. Addressing all four areas of our lives is the foundation of the Integral Fitness Solution.

The Body
The obvious place to begin is with our bodies. There are two major areas to look at here, diet and exercise. We all know we eat badly, consuming too much sugar, the wrong kinds of fats, and too much junk food. We also know that most of us don’t get enough exercise. Those are the easy ones. There is also disease to consider, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. All three of these are usually caused by poor habits in diet and exercise, but once they manifest, they can impact the ways in which we work with our bodies to get healthy again.

Another area to look at is genetics. Biology is certainly not destiny, but it provides limitations on what we can expect to accomplish or how we work toward our goals. Some of us are designed to be bigger and some thinner. A woman can be healthy and fit and still not be a size two. A man can be healthy and fit and not have visible abdominal muscles. Beyond the obvious physical considerations, there are also other factors to look at, such as hormones, age, body structure, innate energy levels, and so on.

Yet the solution begins with exercise and healthy nutrition. As little as an hour a day, five days a week is all the exercise it takes to make significant improvements in cardiovascular fitness, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar metabolism. A program of moderate cardio exercise and weight training can improve body composition, depression, self-esteem, sexual desire, bone density, strength, flexibility, and an assortment of other physical and quality-of-life components. Additionally, simply eliminating sugary beverages from the diet can produce weight loss of between five and fifteen pounds in a single year. If fried foods are also reduced and baked goods eaten in moderation, cholesterol levels would improve for many people.

The Psyche
The second area we must look at in understanding how we become overweight is the psyche. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to place several distinct areas of inquiry under the umbrella of the psyche: emotions, intellect, soul, and spirit. Each of these is a unique developmental line in our lives, each with a unique impact on weight issues.

Emotions The emotional self is the most powerful aspect of the psyche factoring in weight issues. For most people who are more than twenty pounds overweight, fat loss is not merely a matter of better diet and exercise -- there are patterns of emotional eating that have contributed to weight gain. Emotional eating may involve something as simple as gravitating toward the snack table at parties as a way to deal with social anxiety or rewarding a positive behavior with a favorite treat, or more often, soothing difficult emotions with “comfort food.” I know many people, women and men, who hit the ice cream or cookies when they are angry, depressed, or sad. Among men, the tendency is to grab a few beers and order a pizza or some fast food.

Emotional eating serves one key purpose for those who engage in it -- it allows us to bury our emotions beneath a flood of soothing neurochemicals. Look at the foods most people favor for binge eating: ice cream, chocolate, cookies, cake, potato chips, soft drinks, and so on. All of these foods are predominately carbohydrate based, and the resulting change in brain chemistry is an increase in serotonin. Serotonin is known to be a calming substance associated with relieving depression, inducing relaxed states, and facilitating sleep. Many of the prescription anti-depressants work by making more serotonin available for uptake by brain cells.

Once we learn that certain foods can produce specific chemical reactions in our brains (a learning that is often unconscious), we can become addicted to the mental state produced by those foods. Over a period of months or years, emotional eating becomes a way to avoid dealing with difficult emotions. All of those emotions that are not worked through go “underground” in the psyche, and occasionally leak out in ways that totally baffle us. Over time, an emotion that is buried will gain in power until it eventually becomes a psychological complex that can act as a distinct personality all on its own.

Many of us feel our emotions in our bodies. Anxiety is felt as butterflies in the stomach. Stress is tension in the back or shoulders. Anger is often a clenched fist or general contraction of the body’s musculature. Sadness or depression is often experienced as a loss of energy in the body that results in slumped shoulders and a rounded back, as though we are carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. Over time, as we engage in emotional eating to bury the emotions, we develop a layer of fat that serves to insulate us from our feelings. We become less able to feel our bodies. Instead of our bodies animating our emotions and feelings, they become dead weight we drag around with us. Many seriously overweight people have a lot of repressed emotions that will surface as they lose the weight.

The situation is made worse by a cultural sanction of “comfort foods.” As often as not, this is a tradition passed down from a mother to her children, although it can also circulate among friends. I cannot count the number of times I have seen women I know or work with share chocolate as a way to deal with a broken heart. Of course, now we know there is a chemical in chocolate that triggers the same part of the brain that is active when we are first feeling the flush of new love. Not only is this behavior shared among friends, it is also culturally sanctioned -- it is something we see on television and in movies.

Intellect For some, intellect or education can also be a factor. In fact, despite the efforts of the media, few people really know how to eat healthy. Maybe because of the media overload and the contradicting studies that come out nearly every day, most people don’t know how to make sense of the information available. Few of us are actually taught how to think discriminatingly and to separate useless information from what is valuable. Should we follow Dr. Atkins or Barry Sears The Zone, Dean Ornish (low fat) or Bill Phillips Body for Life? Few of us know how to choose the correct approach for our own goals.

Part of the solution is to become better educated. For some this will simply mean reading food labels or one of the many books published each year that offer sound advice on healthy eating. For others, there may be a need to learn to think more rationally or discriminatingly. For all of us, the more we know, the better the decisions we can make about how best to feed our bodies.

Soul & Spirit I firmly believe that soul and spirit (simply “soul” for our purposes) play a crucial role in optimal health, as well. How and what we believe about the nature of reality has an impact on our health. If we dismiss soul as woo-woo mumbo-jumbo, we are not likely to believe our efforts amount to anything, so why bother? However, if we believe that we are here for a reason, we are more likely to put forth the effort to be healthy. Failing that, we at least might see that dying young of a heart attack would prevent us from fulfilling our purpose on this planet.

No matter what our belief system, if we cultivate an inner peace through some form of contemplative practice, we can build an inner strength that will serve us well as we struggle to overcome defeating emotional patterns and physical habits. In fact, contemplative practice can offer us a unique tool to assist in our efforts. One of the first things that happens as we meditate or pray, practice mindfulness or walk in nature, is that we begin to develop an observer self. The observer is a part of our psyche that can disentangle itself from our behaviors and watch them as though it is an impartial observer. When we gain the ability to observe our own behavior, we have much more power to identify limiting behaviors and replace them with expanding behaviors.

Cultural Beliefs
A third area to examine when trying to understand weight gain is the cultural influence on our beliefs about food and our bodies. As mentioned above, our culture rewards and promotes specific beliefs and behaviors that run counter to having a healthy body, such as emotional eating and comfort foods. There are other cultural influences, as well. Each year, around the holidays, many offices become a heaven for baked goods lovers. Cakes, cookies, pies, fudge, and many other forms of delicious and unhealthy food appear in the break room each morning. To refuse this generosity of our co-workers is seen as rude and (this is the sinister part) perceived as though we are depriving ourselves of the good things in life. There is an unstated cultural rule that says we must indulge our every whim or else we are depriving ourselves. This is not the reality. I personally enjoy almond butter on celery as much as most people enjoy Krispy Kreme (quite possibly the unhealthiest food on the planet, short of eating lard dipped in sugar), and my almond butter is great source of healthy monounsaturated fats.

If our ideas about social eating are strange, our ideas about healthy bodies are even stranger. For most of the '90s, the “anorexic model” look (also known as heroin chic) was the ideal for women. Not only is this ideal twisted (the women look like adolescent boys), but that level of thinness is a sickness and is in no way healthy. Until the last ten years or so, men had been immune from these unrealistic ideals of how bodies should look. Now there is a rising trend in teen and young adult males of eating disorders. The ideal has become the “ripped abs” of the models in men’s style magazines or on billboard advertisements. Magazine cover models are inspiring young men to starve themselves, spend crazy hours in the gym, or use steroids so that they can have the “shredded” look these genetically gifted models obtain only for the occasional photo shoot.

We must look at how these beliefs shape our behaviors. Do we believe comfort food makes us feel better when we are sad or hurt? Do we think we need to lose 10 more pounds to be attractive? Do we need cosmetic surgery because we feel inferior to the cultural standard for beauty? None of these things is inherently wrong. However, if we hold these beliefs unexamined, they can shape us in ways that are beyond our awareness and, therefore, beyond our control. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. The truth is that the unexamined life is not our own, but is instead a life shaped and controlled by cultural beliefs.

Social Structures
Finally, there are social structures that contribute to our problems with weight control. How many of us have time to cook healthy meals each day? Fast food is prevalent and easy.

Our capitalist society is set up to reward those who work hard and make sacrifices to get ahead. Further, capitalism also rewards corporations who can create products that the public will consume. These two basic tenets of capitalism create a dynamic in which most of us are struggling to have enough time in the day, a situation which forces us to look for quick and easy meals that taste good. Most fast food is among the worst choices a person can make when trying to eat healthy foods. This is changing a little bit with the introduction of items on many menus designed to attract those who eat healthier.

Still, capitalism also rewards the cheapest production with the highest profits. Many of our foods could be made healthier, but it would cost more money and reduce their market share. Take produce, for example. We know that pesticides and fertilizers sometimes leave toxic residues on our produce, but organic production costs more and reduces the beauty of the produce. Until more of us demand healthy alternatives (and only ten percent of us buy organic foods now), production sources will not see a need to offer healthier choices.

“Sin taxes” on junk food will not solve the problem either. The government needs to quit taking money from lobbyists for the food industry and make some tough choices, such as banning trans-fatty acids from our foods (a cause of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer), rewarding organic produce growers with tax incentives, and providing incentives for meat producers to raise free-range poultry or cattle.

All four areas of our lives -- our bodies, our psyches, our culture, and our social structures -- must be examined when we attempt to understand our nation’s struggle with being overweight. We can seldom solve any problem by addressing a single area, or even two areas. Different people will have different needs in working with these concepts, but in general, we must address all four quadrants of our lives. The approach I am advocating is an integral approach to fitness -- The Integral Fitness Solution.

After nearly 30 years of fad diets and fitness crazes, we have seen that simply addressing the physical quadrant of our lives is not working. Addressing the psychological without working through the other areas also will not work. Both of these approaches focus on the individual, but we must also look at how our cultural values and social structures impact our health. All four quadrants of our lives are interconnected in uncountable ways. Only an integral approach will ever solve our obesity epidemic.

[For a deeper look at Integral Theory, please read Ken Wilber’s A Theory of Everything, Shambala Publications.]

The Rationality Project: One Man's Quest to Ignore His Gut Instinct

Esquire really does publish some cool stuff sometimes. This is a great and entertaining look at the current state of neuroscience from a first-person perspective -- this is a great fun even if you are not a science geek interested in consciousness.

The author touches on some well-known premises and/or flaws of consciousness: Source Amnesia, Halo Effect, Confirmation Bias, Mere Exposure Effect, Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy, and the Lake Wobegon Effect, to name just a few. Beauty!

The Rationality Project: One Man's Quest to Ignore His Gut Instinct

Your brain may be put together better than something made by MacGyver, but that doesn't make it any better when it comes to rational thinking. Here, one man wages war against his natural (and not-so-natural) instincts.

By A.J. Jacobs

The Rationality Project

Jason Fulford

Art concept by Dominic Wilcox.

My brain is deeply flawed. And no offense, but so is yours.

Your brain is not rational. It's packed with dozens of misleading biases. It's home to an alarming number of false assumptions and warped memories. It processes data all wrong and makes terrible decisions. Problem is, the brain didn't come to us fully formed from a lab at MIT. The brain is merely an ad hoc collection of half-assed solutions that have built up over millions of years of evolution. It's Scotch tape and bubble gum. If it were a car, it would not be a Porsche; it'd be a 1976 Dodge Dart with faulty brakes and a missing headlight.

As one scientist puts it, we've got Stone Age minds living in silicon-age bodies. Our brains were formed to deal with Paleolithic problems. When my brain gets scared, it causes a spike in adrenaline, which might have been helpful when facing a mastodon, but it's highly counterproductive when facing a snippy salesman at the Verizon outlet.

And yet we remain enamored of our ancient responses. These last few years have been a golden age for our most primal impulses. We've got a president who's spent eight years leading from his gut, and look where that's got us. We've got Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, a best seller with a subtle thesis that has unfortunately been boiled down to the pro-intuition message "Don't think, blink." It's given birth to a million stupid decisions.

I've had enough. I'm going to try to revamp my brain. Bring it into the modern era. I'm going to root out all the irrational biases and Darwinian anachronisms and retrain my brain to be a perfectly rational machine. I will be the most logical man alive, unswayed by unconscious impulses. I'll use any means necessary--vigilance, repression, science. I'll also use duct tape, forty tubes of toothpaste, and a shroud over my cereal bowl. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Lake Wobegon Effect

I came up with Project Rationality a couple months ago. I'd always considered myself pretty logical, more Spock than Homer, more ego than id. But then I read a new book called Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, which details the alarming number of built-in irrational quirks of the brain. Then I read another recent book called Predictably Irrational. Then another. And another. Turns out brain-bashing is an exploding genre, right up there with tomes about inspirational dogs and atheism.

If you read these books all in a row, you will feel like amputating your head. You learn your brain is programmed to be bigoted and confirm stereotypes. It's easily fooled by anecdotal evidence. Or a pretty face. Or a guy in a uniform. It's a master of rationalization. It believes what it hears. It overreacts. It's hopelessly incompetent at distinguishing fact from fiction. There are scores of "cognitive biases" identified by researchers (Wikipedia lists more than a hundred of them).

When I told my brother-in-law Eric, a behavioral economist at Columbia, about my plan to eliminate all cognitive errors from my brain, he chuckled. He said I was suffering from the Lake Wobegon Effect: Our brains are delusively cocky. We all think we're better-looking, smarter, and more virtuous than we are. (It's named for Garrison Keillor's town, where "all the children are above average.")

"You're vastly overestimating your abilities."

The Availability Fallacy

I wake up on the first morning of Project Rationality this summer and find my wife, Julie, reading The New York Times. That's trouble. Journalism is an enemy of rationality.

What makes news? The unusual and the spectacular, which by their nature distort reality and pervert our decisions. You read headlines like 15 KILLED IN PLANE CRASH IN WYOMING. You don't read headlines like ANOTHER 2,000 DIED OF HEART DISEASE YESTERDAY. This leads to the Availability Fallacy. Our lazy mind gloms on to the most vivid, emotional examples. When we think of danger, we think of hideous plane crashes or acts of terrorism. Even though boring old cars kill eighty-four times more people.

Today, there's an article about salmonella. Eight hundred people have gotten sick from salmonella, possibly from tainted tomatoes--which later will turn out not to be the case. I'm a paranoid bastard, so I would normally purge our house of anything tomato-related: the pint of cherry tomatoes, the ketchup bottles, the Esquire cover of Andy Warhol in tomato soup. Salmonella would climb onto my list of Top Ten Worries.

Instead, I take my first countermeasures. I ask my wife for the newspaper, find a Sharpie, and scribble under the headline: "Meanwhile, millions of people ate tomatoes and did NOT get sick. But thousands did die from obesity."

"That's better," I tell my wife, handing it back to her. There's something validating about writing it out. I explain that every newspaper article should come with a reality-check box, like cigarettes and their Surgeon General's warnings. For now, I'll have to provide my own.

I go to the fridge and consider eating a cherry tomato to spite the media. But that'd be falling for the Reactance Bias, the unreasonable desire to do what others forbid you from doing.

Unit Bias

I do want to have breakfast, though. How to eat rationally? This will be tricky.

Well, one way is to eat less.

As humans, I've learned, we have an irrational urge to finish everything on our plates. No doubt this served our Paleolithic forefathers well when food was scarce and unreliable. But now it just makes us a bunch of fat-asses.

I recently read about this brilliant experiment at the University of Illinois a few years ago. They gave a group of test subjects bowls of soup. What they didn't tell them was this: Hidden tubes underneath the table were constantly refilling the bowls. Guess what? The subjects just kept on eating, long past when they were full. If the scientists hadn't dragged them from the table, they might have exploded.

I pour my MultiGrain Cheerios into a bowl, then cover the bowl with a napkin. I'm not going to let my brain see what's inside the bowl. That'd be too tempting. I'll just eat till I feel full. It's a time-consuming process trying to negotiate the spoon around the napkin. Which is probably a good thing, since it's healthier to eat slowly.

And yet I feel I have miles to go before I can say I ate a rational meal. Like yours, my brain is packed with food-related biases. People often choose the medium size at a restaurant even if the small would suffice--we have a fear of the extremes, so we go with the middle option. We find it logical to eat cows but not other mammals like dogs or mice. Studies have shown we find things tastier if we pay more for them. Or if we eat them out of fancier containers. Later in the day, I eat microwaved chili off our wedding plates. It's delicious.

Source Amnesia

Here's one thing I'm learning: My brain is full of shit. I need a mental colonic.

It's the end of Day One, and I'm grappling with the startling number of myths, half-truths, and outright lies that clog my brain. It's not that I believe in ghosts. Or creationism. Or "energy independence." My misconceptions are less obvious but just as false.

Consider brushing my hair. It sounds reasonable, and I suppose, for the first few seconds I get my hair into place, it is.

Problem is, I keep on brushing for another thirty seconds. I brush my hair till my scalp tingles. Why? Because someone--I think my mother--told me when I was about ten years old that you need to stimulate the scalp or you'll go bald. So that's what I've been doing for the last thirty years.

As soon as I uncover the almost-unconscious belief, it smells rotten, and about three minutes of Googling confirms it: It's a myth, about as effective as rubbing chicken manure on my head, another ancient remedy.

I call my mom to ask whether she was, in fact, the one who told me.

"That sounds like something I said," she says.

"Well, it's not true. It's a myth."

There's a pause. "Sorry."

"Well, I spent a lot of time brushing my hair because of that." (More than three total days of hair-brushing, to be precise.)

"I'm not sure what to tell you except sorry."

Damn. Now I'm the bad guy in this scenario.

"Anyway," she says. "Why were you taking advice from me about baldness? You should have talked to your dad."

"I was ten!"

I'm the victim of two brain flaws. First, we place too much trust in authority. We follow the captain even if it's clear he's leading us right over Havasu Falls. It's hardwired into our brains. The second is just as insidious: Source Amnesia. We forget where we learned a fact. Facts are initially stored in a pinkie-shaped region called the hippocampus. But eventually the information shifts over to the cerebral cortex--where, as Welcome to Your Brain authors Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt put it, it is "separated from the context in which it was originally learned. For example, you know the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don't remember how you learned it." A fact learned in The Wall Street Journal gains as much credulity as a "fact" learned from your cousin's barber.

And it gets worse. Even if we are told--clearly warned--that something is false or unsubstantiated, we often remember it later as gospel.

I need to root out these untruths. With a little research, I refute some of my more dubious beliefs: Shaving your hair does not make it grow back thicker, turning lights on and off does not waste more energy, sugar does not make you hyperactive. Despite what Mom said, I don't need to wear socks or slippers around the house for health reasons; you can't get a cold from cold feet.

Yet when I try to go shoeless around the house, it causes me such low-grade angst, I give up and put my Merrells back on. They are stuck deep, these myths. And I know there are dozens, hundreds of other undiscovered falsehoods lurking in my neurons and warping my choices. But how do I identify them?
Read the whole article.

William Grassie - Nationalism, Terrorism, and Religion: A Bio-Historical Approach

This is an interesting lecture on nationalism, terrorism, and religion, given under the context of understanding the political situation in Sri Lanka. Grassie takes a bio-historical, evolutionary perspective in his lecture, which allows us to extrapolate his ideas into a broader context.
Nationalism, Terrorism, and Religion: A Bio-Historical Approach
By William Grassie

There were three different versions of this talk and after some consultation I have decided to go back to the basic outline of the original, which is a lecture that I gave in February at the Subodhi Institute and again in April at the University of Peradeniya. The original lecture was under the title “Nationalism, Terrorism, and Religion: A Bio-Historical Approach”. The lecture ends with a discussion of the advertised topic, “Creating a Best Case Scenario for Sri Lanka”, but I will do so by first discussing the phenomena of nationalism, terrorism, and religion. I take a bio-historical, evolutionary perspective, because I think this will help us best understand and transform this conflict in Sri Lanka and others throughout the world.

I am inspired to take this evolutionary approach in part through my encounters with the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit Paleontologist who died in 1955. He writes:

For our age, to have become conscious of evolution means something very different and much more than having discovered one further fact...

Blind indeed are those who do not see the sweep of a movement whose orb infinitely transcends the natural sciences and has successfully invaded and conquered the surrounding territory – chemistry, physics, sociology, and even mathematics and the history of religions. One after the other all the fields of human knowledge have been shaken and carried away by the same under-water current in the direction of some development. Is evolution a theory, a system, or a hypothesis? It is more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforward if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow.

By taking this broad evolutionary approach, we gain the most leverage in both understanding and transforming this country and the world. To paraphrase Dwight Eisenhower, if a problem cannot be solved, then enlarge it. So I begin globally and end locally here in Sri Lanka.

1. Nationalism

Nationalism can be understood as an evolutionary outgrowth of our natural tribal passions and rationalities, which were imprinted in the human psyche and genome over millions of years. Humans are profoundly social animals with a highly evolved capacity to engage in symbolic thought. One of the fundamental challenges in social species is how to ensure cooperation within the group and sacrifice on behalf of the group. The wellbeing and survival of the group depends on this cooperation and sacrifice. In humans, this is accomplished by a mix of evolved primate behaviors, as well as, newer cultural adaptations in the realm of religions, ideologies, and cultures.

It is no simple evolutionary trick to get individuals to cooperate and to sacrifice their own wellbeing, or that of their immediate offspring, for the benefit of the group. And yet, we cannot imagine that a human society would long endure if it could not 1) organize its members to cooperate and 2) in extreme instances, ask individuals to sacrifice their wellbeing for the benefit of the group. The latter is particularly troublesome to evolutionary biologists, because true altruism would contradict Darwin’s theory of natural selection. There are various theories within evolutionary biology that try to explain other-regarding behavior. They go by names like kin selection and reciprocal altruism. At this stage, we need only consider a few of the proximate mechanism, rather than their ultimate explanations, and think about how these scale up from the level of the tribe to the dynamics of a nation state.

Remember that the dark side of this in-group altruism is that it is often employed in the most brutal manner against outsiders. Humans are clearly capable of great evil, as manifested in warfare, massacres, pillaging, raping, and enslavement, which have been the norm for most of human history and presumably much of our pre-history. This evil is partly a function of our evolved nature.

Of course, humans have natural dispositions towards living in groups. It hardly needs to be said, but no human is self-created. There is no such thing as a fully autonomous individual human. We speak languages we did not invent; we use tools that we did not design; we benefit from a vast library of knowledge that we did not discover; and we are nurtured as infants and children into “individuality” by families and societies that we did not choose.

We note in many species of primates, including humans, there is the phenomenon of the dominant male and occasionally a dominant female, which role also helps to hold the tribe together. This Alpha-Factor is replicated in a number of mammalian species, including wolves, horses, and elephants. This institution of social hierarchy within the group helps provide for cohesiveness. The maintenance of social hierarchy is generally achieved through displays of aggression and displays of altruism. Members of the group appease the BigMan out of fear, but also out of hoped for benefits. The BigMan doles out rewards and punishments in order to reinforce this social hierarchy. He passes on his kingdom to one of his children, thus increasing his “reproductive fitness”, but does so in part at the expense of the community from which he extracts surplus production and surplus reproduction as his “sovereign right”. The Alpha-Factor is not the only form of social organization that humans use to maintain solidarity, and it is certainly supplemented by many other social tools as well, but I believe it is the predominant outward structure of societies for most of human history, especially societies that grow in size and complexity.

As humans moved from small, intimate hunter-gatherer tribes into larger social groups and spanning numerous settlements and geographical regions, it was largely the BigMan model of social organization that succeeded and prevailed. In this form of social organization a dominant human, typically a male, would serve as the leader of the group, extracting surplus production from others, while ensuring social harmony and organizing common defense, as well as, waging wars against neighbors in order to expand the territory, wealth, and population of the tribe, city-state, kingdom, or empire. The dictator-king would hand out favors to followers and ruthlessly punish transgressors. Machiavelli recognizes as much in The Prince. “Is it better to be loved than feared, or vice versa” asks Machiavelli. He answers both, but if you cannot have both, then “it is much safer to be feared than loved” (XVII, p. 59). In all of this, we can see many parallels between human social relations and our chimpanzee cousins (though less so with our bonobo relatives, who would rather “make love, not war”). Note that in studies of chimpanzee bands and contemporary hunter-gather societies, some 25 to 30 percent of males die a violent death in competition with outsiders (Dyer, 2004, 71-79).

So nationalism is a synthesis of primordial passions and modernity. As local communities decline from the 1800s on, nationalism fills the gap. This was enabled in large part because of new modes of communication, transportation, and production, as well as a race for military superiority over ones’ neighbors. Today, there are many forms of nationalism, but they all involve concepts of a homeland, sacred centers, shared language, common customs, a hostile surrounding, memories of battles, and historical thinking. These combine to create a common motivating mythology that united “the whole people”. Nationalisms are invented traditions and almost always have an ethnic component. There is a Romantic side to nationalism, typically projecting an essentialist organic or “blood” bond between the people.

In modern history, nationalism became a global phenomenon with growing opposition to multi-ethnic empires – rebelling against the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Ottoman empire, the Russian empire, the British empire, among others. Nationalism spreads the world round in opposition to colonialism and takes on new forms today in opposition to globalization. Nationalism seeks the preservation of the Vaterland and the Muttersprache. It confers political legitimacy on leaders and imposes obligations on citizens to the state.

While much harm has been done in the name of nationalism, I want to emphasize that group identity is a normal, natural, and necessary part of being human. One can be a nationalist without being xenophobic and chauvinistic. Liberal forms of nationalism offer people meaningful lives in integrated societies, a sense of belonging and pride, which need not be exaggerated and jingoistic. Note that World Cup Football and the Olympic Games are organized around national teams and are in themselves quite wholesome. Competition, including competition between nations, can be a good thing. The dialectic between competition and cooperation helps to move humanity and evolution forward.

One of the more destructive forms of nationalism is when it is combined with BigMan governance. In these instances, the BigMan and his cronies use nationalism as a form of political legitimation and control. By controlling the power of the State, they are able to manipulate rewards and punishments to entrench themselves through the Alpha-Factor. And like little chimpanzees that we are, most humans are only too happy to fall in line. Big-Man governance, however, disrupts the dialectic of competition and cooperation, so the society stagnates, becomes inefficient, and at war with itself or the outside world.

The only alternative to BigMan governance that humans have invented is in some form of limited government with checks and balances built into the structure of government to restrict the power of the State and the Alpha leaders who would grab control of state power. Remember that the modern concept of national sovereignty, as opposed to the BigMan concept of the sovereign’s rights, is derived from the concept of individual sovereignty. In other words, each individual is ultimately the king or queen of his or her own personhood. Government in this view is a social contract entered into to enhance individual freedoms – the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as stated for instance in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Implied in this social contract theory of legitimate government is the notion that economic activity is not the primary responsibility of the State, but of individuals. The state is to maintain a level playing field for economic interests to compete and cooperate, enforcing laws equally, protecting private property, enforcing contracts, providing for national defense, and when efficient, promoting public goods like transportation or education. Thus, the concept of limited government liberates economic markets and human ingenuity to create a rich ecology of production and innovation within a society. This non-zero sum dynamic is the magic of economic development. New wealth is created.

Note that I used the term “limited government” and not “democracy” per se. Democracy, as Plato already pointed out in The Republic, is simply the tyranny of the majority. The majority is not likely to be virtuous or just. In Socrates’ words, the majority will be governed by base “appetites” and “passions” and not noble virtues and wisdom. In democracies, Socrates argues, the minorities will rebel against the tyranny of the majority. Civil war will ensue. And before you know it, democracy will end in chaos followed by dictatorship (Plato). Universal suffrage may be an important part of limited government, but in itself is only one piece of the puzzle.

I have already argued that the concept of individual sovereignty as formulated by John Locke and others is a fiction that we have invented. Humans are never independent, autonomous individuals – sovereign nations unto themselves. We are always dependent on a web of social relations that form our identities and enhance our survival. Let us think of individual sovereignty as a useful fiction, one that has productively spawned a discourse about human rights, legitimacy, and justice. This discourse helps make the world a better place. Even if it is not ontologically true, it is pragmatically useful. Let us call this the dialectic between individual rights and social obligations, the dialectic between individualism and communalism, which we can add to the dialectic of competition and cooperation.

In her book, Sri Lanka in the Modern Age: A History of Contested Identities (2006), Nira Wickramasinghe ends up arguing for just such an understanding of citizenship and sovereignty and against the identity politics that has destroyed this country. In her chapter “Citizens, Communities, Rights, Constitutions, 1947-2000”, she concludes:

The curse of multiculturalism is that while providing for more freedom and recognition to the group or community it is a closure in that it denies the contingency and ambiguity of every identity. Multiculturalism cannot help but essentialise the fragment. Turning towards the citizen is a possible way out of the impasse. The citizen is not only a legal subject; s/he is also the part owner of political sovereignty...(Wickramasinghe 2006)

By the way, nation-states are not really independent either, though national sovereignty is regularly invoked against interference in the internal affairs of others. Say what you will to justify what you may, but in the end neither the large and powerful, nor the small and less powerful nations of the world can escape what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the inescapable web of mutuality”(King 1963) in which all of us our entangled today through global markets and global communications.

Go read the whole, long, but interesting article.

Enter the "I of the Vortex"

Enter the "I of the Vortex" with neuroscientist Rodolfo Lliná, a 2007 video from The Science Network.

Rodolfo Llinás, a founding father of modern brain science, is the Thomas and Suzanne Murphy Professor of Neuroscience and Chairman of the Department of Physiology & Neuroscience at the New York University School of Medicine. He is co-editor with Patricia Smith Churchland of The Mind-Brain Continuum. His most recent book is i of the vortex: From Neurons to Self. He has published over 400 scientific articles.

Books by Rodolfo Llinás: I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self, 2002

April 17, 2007
Run Time: 1 hours 12 minutes

Friday, October 24, 2008

Daily Show Quiz - Are You a Real American?


Paul Theroux Says the US is a 'Nation of Paranoid People'

Indeed . . . that's exactly what the GOP (or at least Bush/Cheney) wanted to accomplish -- and they have.
Paul Theroux likens the U.S. culture of paranoia to a 1950s science fiction novel.

Theroux says "our heads are being bombarded with fear. . .and we [Americans] are being turned into a nation of paranoid people."

A Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy

Cool podcast on an interesting topic. Be sure to check out Shrink Rap Radio for other cool podcasts and links.

David Van Nuys talks with Dr. Tatkin, who "taught Mindfulness to patients and staff. He was trained in Vipassana meditation by Shinzen Young, Ph.D., and was an experienced facilitator in Vipassana. He was also trained by David Reynolds, Ph.D., in two Japanese forms of psychotherapy, Morita and Naikan."
Shrink Rap Radio #179 - A Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy

photo of Dr. Stan Tatkin

Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, founder/developer of A Psychobiological Approach To Couples Therapy™ integrates neuroscience, infant attachment, arousal regulation, and therapeutic enactment applied to adult primary attachment relationships. He maintains a practice in Calabasas, California, and runs a bi-weekly clinical study group for medical and mental health professionals ( and training programs in Seattle and San Francisco.

Dr. Tatkin received his early training in developmental object relations (Masterson Institute), Gestalt, psychodrama, and family systems theory. His private practice specialized for some time in the treatment of adolescents and adults with personality disorders. Over the last decade, his interests branched out toward psycho-neurobiological theories of human relationship, integrating principles of early mother-infant attachment with adult romantic relationships. He speaks to professional audiences on subjects of couples therapy and preventative psychotherapy through early intervention with infants, children and their parents. He has published several articles on the psychobiology of couples’ therapy and is currently training therapists on his unique approach to couples work using attachment theory, neuroscience, and principles of arousal and affect regulation.

Dr. Tatkin was a primary inpatient group therapist at the John Bradshaw Center where, among other things, he taught Mindfulness to patients and staff. He was trained in Vipassana meditation by Shinzen Young, Ph.D., and was an experienced facilitator in Vipassana. He was also trained by David Reynolds, Ph.D., in two Japanese forms of psychotherapy, Morita and Naikan.

Dr. Tatkin was clinical director of Charter Hospital’s intensive outpatient drug and alcohol program, and is a former president of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, Ventura County chapter.

In addition to his private practice, he teaches and supervises first through third-year family medicine residents at Kaiser Permanente, Woodland Hills, through which he is an assistant clinical professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Department of Family Medicine. He is also adjunct faculty for Antioch University, Santa Barbara Graduate Institute, and California Lutheran University.

Dr. Tatkin is a veteran member of Allan N. Schore’s study group. He has trained in the Adult Attachment Interview through Mary Main and Erik Hesse’s program out of University of California, Berkeley. He is a contributing editor on a book with Allan Schore entitled, Reader’s Guide to Intersubjective Neurobiology, for W.W. Norton & Company due out in Summer 2008 and is currently co-writing Love and War in Intimate Relationships with Marion Solomon for W.W. Norton due out in Summer 2009.

I have these discount codes for you!: GoDaddy, PetMeds, car rentals and Brookstone.

A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

icon for podpress Standard Podcast [1:08:04m]: Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download

The Lab Rat Does Gym Jones

From the new issue of Outside Magazine, the Lab Rat did the whole Gym Jones experience in an excellent article that isn't - unfortunately -- available online. Too bad -- good promotion for both the magazine and Gym Jones (not to mention a bit of plug for Crossfit).

For those who do not know, Twight (founder of Gym Jones) trained the actors for 300.

A Gym Jones Inspired Workout
A revolutionary—and brutish—new fitness regimen.

The Lab Rat video
The Lab Rat gets punished. (Abe Streep)

Gym Jones disciple Carolyn Parker puts the Lab Rat through the most hellacious new workout on earth.

Part 1: The Warm Up
Watch a Video

Part 2: The Timed Circuit
Watch a Video

Click on the video links to see a little of what the Gym Jones experience is like.

Religion: Bound to believe?

An unusually free essay from Nature on the human propensity to believe. With this propensity hard-wired into our brains, atheism will always be a tough sell. Mind Hacks offered a detailed look at this article, so I won't reproduce those efforts.

Being human: Religion: Bound to believe?

Pascal Boyer1

  1. Pascal Boyer is in the Departments of Psychology and Anthropology, Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, USA, and is the author of Religion Explained.

Atheism will always be a harder sell than religion, Pascal Boyer explains, because a slew of cognitive traits predispose us to faith.

Is religion a product of our evolution? The very question makes many people, religious or otherwise, cringe, although for different reasons. Some people of faith fear that an understanding of the processes underlying belief could undermine it. Others worry that what is shown to be part of our evolutionary heritage will be interpreted as good, true, necessary or inevitable. Still others, many scientists included, simply dismiss the whole issue, seeing religion as childish, dangerous nonsense.

Such responses make it difficult to establish why and how religious thought is so pervasive in human societies — an understanding that is especially relevant in the current climate of religious fundamentalism. In asking whether religion is one of the many consequences of having the type of brains we come equipped with, we can shed light on what kinds of religion 'come naturally' to human minds. We can probe the shared assumptions that religions are built on, however disparate, and examine the connection between religion and ethnic conflict. Lastly, we can hazard a guess at what the realistic prospects are for atheism.

Being humanReligion: Bound to believe?


In the past ten years, the evolutionary and cognitive study of religion has begun to mature. It does not try to identify the gene or genes for religious thinking. Nor does it simply dream up evolutionary scenarios that might have led to religion as we know it. It does much better than that. It puts forward new hypotheses and testable predictions. It asks what in the human make-up renders religion possible and successful. Religious thought and behaviour can be considered part of the natural human capacities, such as music, political systems, family relations or ethnic coalitions. Findings from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, cultural anthropology and archaeology promise to change our view of religion.

Based on assumption

One important finding is that people are only aware of some of their religious ideas. True, they can describe their beliefs, such as that there is an omnipotent God who created the world, or that spirits are hiding in the forest. But cognitive psychology shows that explicitly accessible beliefs of this sort are always accompanied by a host of tacit assumptions that are generally not available to conscious inspection.

For instance, experiments reveal that most people entertain highly anthropomorphic expectations about gods, whatever their explicit beliefs. When they are told a story in which a god attends to several problems at once, they find the concept quite plausible, as gods are generally described as having unlimited cognitive powers. Recalling the story a moment later, most people say that the god attended to one situation before turning his attention to the next. People also implicitly expect their gods' minds to work much like human minds, displaying the same processes of perception, memory, reasoning and motivation. Such expectations are not conscious, and are often at odds with their explicit beliefs.

Research has shown that unlike conscious beliefs, which differ widely from one tradition to another, tacit assumptions are extremely similar in different cultures and religions. These similarities may stem from the peculiarities of human memory. Experiments suggest that people best remember stories that include a combination of counterintuitive physical feats (in which characters go through walls or move instantaneously) and plausibly human psychological features (perceptions, thoughts, intentions). Perhaps the cultural success of gods and spirits stems from this memory bias.

Humans also tend to entertain social relations with these and other non-physical agents, even from a very young age. Unlike other social animals, humans are very good at establishing and maintaining relations with agents beyond their physical presence; social hierarchies and coalitions, for instance, include temporarily absent members. This goes even further. From childhood, humans form enduring, stable and important social relationships with fictional characters, imaginary friends, deceased relatives, unseen heroes and fantasized mates. Indeed, the extraordinary social skills of humans, compared with other primates, may be honed by constant practice with imagined or absent partners.

It is a small step from having this capacity to bond with non-physical agents to conceptualizing spirits, dead ancestors and gods, who are neither visible nor tangible, yet are socially involved. This may explain why, in most cultures, at least some of the superhuman agents that people believe in have moral concerns. Those agents are often described as having complete access only to morally relevant actions. Experiments show that it is much more natural to think "the gods know that I stole this money" than "the gods know that I had porridge for breakfast".

In addition, the neurophysiology of compulsive behaviour in humans and other animals is beginning to shed light on religious rituals. These behaviours include stereotyped, highly repetitive actions that participants feel they must do, even though most have no clear, observable results, such as striking the chest three times while repeating a set formula. Ritualized behaviour is also seen in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorders and in the routines of young children. In these contexts, rituals are generally associated with thoughts about pollution and purification, danger and protection, the required use of particular colours or numbers or the need to construct a safe and ordered environment.

We now know that human brains have a set of security and precaution networks dedicated to preventing potential hazards such as predation or contamination. These networks trigger specific behaviours such as washing and checking one's environment. When the systems go into overdrive they produce obsessive-compulsive pathology. Religious statements about purity, pollution, the hidden danger of lurking devils, may also activate these networks and make ritual precautions (cleansing, checking, delimiting a sacred space) intuitively appealing.

Finally, studies of social and evolutionary psychology demonstrate a specifically human coalitional capacity, which has an impact on religion. Humans are unique among animals in maintaining large, stable coalitions of unrelated individuals, strongly bonded by mutual trust. Humans evolved the cognitive tools to achieve this. They know how to gauge others' reliability. They can recall episodes of interaction and infer what people's characters are like. They can emit and detect costly, hard-to-fake signals of commitment.

This coalitional psychology is involved in the dynamics of public religious commitment. When people proclaim their adherence to a particular faith, they subscribe to claims for which there is no evidence, and that would be taken as obviously wrong or ridiculous in other religious groups. This signals a willingness to embrace the group's particular norm for no other reason than that it is, precisely, the group's norm.

Go read the whole article.

SNL - Bush's McCain/Palin Endorsement

Funny stuff.

Satire - Retail Sector Soars on News that Palin Seeks New Outfit

Personally, I don't give a rat's little white arse what the RNC spends to make Palin look respectable -- it can't override the gibberish that comes out of her mouth. But it has become the target of much humor, like this piece from Andy Borowitz.
Offering a sharp contrast to the general gloom on Wall Street today, retail stocks soared on the news that Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) plans to buy a new outfit for Election Night.

Major retailers had been plummeting all day but staged a stunning comeback when Gov. Palin told a reporter in Ohio, "Election Night is just eleven days away and I have nothing to wear."

Gov. Palin said that a new dress for Election Night could cost as much as $20,000, "and that's before you accessorize."

Major department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue rebounded dramatically on the news of Gov. Palin's plans, with some industry analysts predicting that Gov. Palin's shopping could bail out the entire retail sector in the fourth quarter.

"Right now, the only part of the economy that's strong is Sarah Palin's shopping," said Tracy Klugian of Morgan Stanley. "She is a one-woman stimulus package."

Elsewhere, former Fed Chief Alan Greenspan gave this testimony to Congress today: "To those millions of Americans who have lost their jobs, their homes, and their life savings, let me offer a heartfelt 'oopsy.'"

Andy Borowitz is a comedian and writer whose work appears in The New Yorker and The New York Times, and at his award-winning humor site,

Paul Bloom - First Person Plural

I have long held to the notion that we do not have a Self, but rather many selves organized around a deeper, generally hidden "true self" that isn't really a self at all. Confusing? Try this: all the little selves - in combination - are what we experience as the "ego." How functional that ego is the world depends on the degree of dysfunction in all the little selves (parts or subpersonalities).

Behind that ego is what Ken Wilber calls the anterior self - "The anterior self is a person’s sense of the Witness, the pure Self, or “I-I,” shining through the proximate self at whatever stage of self-development." Few people ever get in touch with that deeper sense of self, but the Big Mind/Big Heart process can help with that - as long as you realize you are not experiencing "enlightenment."

Paul Bloom, writing for The Atlantic, takes a stab at explaining this view of psychology in First Person Plural, a good article for those who are new to the idea.
An evolving approach to the science of pleasure suggests that each of us contains multiple selves—all with different desires, and all fighting for control. If this is right, the pursuit of happiness becomes even trickier. Can one self bind” another self if the two want different things? Are you always better off when a Good Self wins? And should outsiders, such as employers and policy makers, get into the fray?

by Paul Bloom

First Person Plural

Imagine a long, terrible dental procedure. You are rigid in the chair, hands clenched, soaked with sweat—and then the dentist leans over and says, “We’re done now. You can go home. But if you want, I’d be happy to top you off with a few minutes of mild pain.”

There is a good argument for saying “Yes. Please do.”

The psychologist and recent Nobel laureate Daniel Kahne­man conducted a series of studies on the memory of painful events, such as colonoscopies. He discovered that when we think back on these events, we are influenced by the intensity of the endings, and so we have a more positive memory of an experience that ends with mild pain than of one that ends with extreme pain, even if the mild pain is added to the same amount of extreme pain. At the moment the dentist makes his offer, you would, of course, want to say no—but later on, you would be better off if you had said yes, because your overall memory of the event wouldn’t be as unpleasant.

Such contradictions arise all the time. If you ask people which makes them happier, work or vacation, they will remind you that they work for money and spend the money on vacations. But if you give them a beeper that goes off at random times, and ask them to record their activity and mood each time they hear a beep, you’ll likely find that they are happier at work. Work is often engaging and social; vacations are often boring and stressful. Similarly, if you ask people about their greatest happiness in life, more than a third mention their children or grandchildren, but when they use a diary to record their happiness, it turns out that taking care of the kids is a downer—parenting ranks just a bit higher than housework, and falls below sex, socializing with friends, watching TV, praying, eating, and cooking.

The question “What makes people happy?” has been around forever, but there is a new approach to the science of pleasure, one that draws on recent work in psychology, philosophy, economics, neuroscience, and emerging fields such as neuroeconomics. This work has led to new ways—everything from beepers and diaries to brain scans—to explore the emotional value of different experiences, and has given us some surprising insights about the conditions that result in satisfaction.

But what’s more exciting, I think, is the emergence of a different perspective on happiness itself. We used to think that the hard part of the question “How can I be happy?” had to do with nailing down the definition of happy. But it may have more to do with the definition of I. Many researchers now believe, to varying degrees, that each of us is a community of competing selves, with the happiness of one often causing the misery of another. This theory might explain certain puzzles of everyday life, such as why addictions and compulsions are so hard to shake off, and why we insist on spending so much of our lives in worlds­—like TV shows and novels and virtual-reality experiences—that don’t actually exist. And it provides a useful framework for thinking about the increasingly popular position that people would be better off if governments and businesses helped them inhibit certain gut feelings and emotional reactions.

Like any organ, the brain consists of large parts (such as the hippocampus and the cortex) that are made up of small parts (such as “maps” in the visual cortex), which themselves are made up of smaller parts, until you get to neurons, billions of them, whose orchestrated firing is the stuff of thought. The neurons are made up of parts like axons and dendrites, which are made up of smaller parts like terminal buttons and receptor sites, which are made up of molecules, and so on.

This hierarchical structure makes possible the research programs of psychology and neuroscience. The idea is that interesting properties of the whole (intelligence, decision-making, emotions, moral sensibility) can be understood in terms of the interaction of components that themselves lack these properties. This is how computers work; there is every reason to believe that this is how we work, too.

But there is no consensus about the broader implications of this scientific approach. Some scholars argue that although the brain might contain neural subsystems, or modules, specialized for tasks like recognizing faces and understanding language, it also contains a part that constitutes a person, a self: the chief executive of all the subsystems. As the philosopher Jerry Fodor once put it, “If, in short, there is a community of computers living in my head, there had also better be somebody who is in charge; and, by God, it had better be me.”

More-radical scholars insist that an inherent clash exists between science and our long-held conceptions about consciousness and moral agency: if you accept that our brains are a myriad of smaller components, you must reject such notions as character, praise, blame, and free will. Perhaps the very notion that there are such things as selves—individuals who persist over time—needs to be rejected as well.

The view I’m interested in falls between these extremes. It is conservative in that it accepts that brains give rise to selves that last over time, plan for the future, and so on. But it is radical in that it gives up the idea that there is just one self per head. The idea is that instead, within each brain, different selves are continually popping in and out of existence. They have different desires, and they fight for control—bargaining with, deceiving, and plotting against one another.

The notion of different selves within a single person is not new. It can be found in Plato, and it was nicely articulated by the 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume, who wrote, “I cannot compare the soul more properly to any thing than to a republic or commonwealth, in which the several members are united by the reciprocal ties of government and subordination.” Walt Whitman gave us a pithier version: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

The economist Thomas Schelling, another Nobel laureate, illustrates the concept with a simple story:

As a boy I saw a movie about Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic expedition and was impressed that as a boy he had gone outdoors in shirtsleeves to toughen himself against the cold. I resolved to go to bed at night with one blanket too few. That decision to go to bed minus one blanket was made by a warm boy; another boy awoke cold in the night, too cold to retrieve the blanket … and resolving to restore it tomorrow. The next bedtime it was the warm boy again, dreaming of Antarctica, who got to make the decision, and he always did it again.

Examples abound in our own lives. Late at night, when deciding not to bother setting up the coffee machine for the next morning, I sometimes think of the man who will wake up as a different person, and wonder, What did he ever do for me? When I get up and there’s no coffee ready, I curse the lazy bastard who shirked his duties the night before.

But anyone tempted by this theory has to admit just how wrong it feels, how poorly it fits with most of our experience. In the main, we do think of ourselves as singular individuals who persist over time. If I were to learn that I was going to be tortured tomorrow morning, my reaction would be terror, not sympathy for the poor guy who will be living in my body then. If I do something terrible now, I will later feel guilt and shame, not anger at some other person.

It could hardly be otherwise. Our brains have evolved to protect our bodies and guide them to reproduce, hence our minds must be sensitive to maintaining the needs of the continuing body—my children today will be my children tomorrow; if you wronged me yesterday, I should be wary of you today. Society and human relationships would be impossible without this form of continuity. Anyone who could convince himself that the person who will wake up in his bed tomorrow is really someone different would lack the capacity for sustained self-interest; he would feel no long-term guilt, love, shame, or pride.

The multiplicity of selves becomes more intuitive as the time span increases. Social psychologists have found certain differences in how we think of ourselves versus how we think of other people—for instance, we tend to attribute our own bad behavior to unfortunate circumstances, and the bad behavior of others to their nature. But these biases diminish when we think of distant past selves or distant future selves; we see such selves the way we see other people. Although it might be hard to think about the person who will occupy your body tomorrow morning as someone other than you, it is not hard at all to think that way about the person who will occupy your body 20 years from now. This may be one reason why many young people are indifferent about saving for retirement; they feel as if they would be giving up their money to an elderly stranger.

Go read the rest of the article.

Here's the deal - multiplicity is on the dissociative spectrum, with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) on one end and the "normal" adult on the other. In DID, the various parts are completely independent of each other and often do not know each other. On the normal end, we seldom realize we have distinct parts hidden beneath the surface of our seemingly singular self.

The article does a fair job of explaining this, but a little clarification seemed useful.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Press Secretary's 'Zumtrel Flooby' Answer May Be Attempt To Evade Question

Sounds like a cross between a Palin unscripted speech and an actual Bush press secretary. From The Onion News Network.

Press Secretary's 'Zumtrel Flooby' Answer May Be Attempt To Evade Question

12 Ways You Can Safeguard the Vote

Important information from YES! Magazine. Make sure your vote counts.

12 Ways You Can Safeguard the Vote

YES! Graphic: Checklist for a Fair Election :: Voter Hands

Are you worried that we will wake up November 5th to find that, once again, election results in key races are in question? Here's what you can do.

These recommendations from the staff at YES! Magazine are simple ways you can protect your own vote—and the fairness of the system, based on the recommendations of leading voting integrity advocates.

Please forward this checklist to others to help make our election system work.

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1. Check your registration. Even if you think you're registered, you may not be. Check online at

2. Vote now. Check if early voting is possible in your state. If you’re voting by mail, check carefully where you need to sign, how to seal the envelope, and how to mark the ballot. And note: Some ballots require extra postage.

3. Practice your vote. Electronic voting machines can be difficult to use. is preparing links to video demos of how to vote on the machine you will find at your polling station. If you'll be using a paper ballot, check out the sample included in your voter pamphlet.

4. Find out who’s in charge. Make a phone list of your county and state election officials—it may save valuable time on Election Day if you need to get registration verification or other information.

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5. Vote early. Avoid the frustration of long lines. Also, if you encounter problems, you'll have time to sort them out and may be able to help others.

6. Take your government-issued ID and your cell phone, if you have one. If you have problems, or see problems, call a hotline immediately (see point #9). You may not need ID to vote, but it's best to have it. If you have trouble with your registration, ask for a provisional ballot.

7. Avoid Straight Party Voting, if it's an option in your state. Vote for each race individually, even if it takes a little longer.

8. Verify your vote. If you’re voting on an electronic voting machine, check the review screen to make sure it reflects your vote. If the machine produces a paper record, check as you go along that everything is working correctly. If not, speak to a polling attendant—don’t leave until you’re sure your vote has been properly recorded.

9. Document and report. If you encounter difficulties, or see others experiencing difficulties (excessive lines, voter harassment, malfunctioning machines, etc.), make a detailed record. Get all the facts you can—location, names, specific problem.

The best way to report problems is to call 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683), which has volunteer lawyers in 15 locations standing by to provide rapid-response assistance. You can also contact your party of choice. We have more suggestions here.

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10. Call your candidate. If there are questions about an election result, urge your candidate to ask for an audit. Ask how you can help.

11. Call your election officials. If you have concerns, let your county and state election officials know, and monitor their response. Ask them not to certify the election before all challenges and recounts are finished. And send a copy of your message to your local newspaper editor. If you're confident about the election result, thank the officials for a difficult job well done.

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12. Work for fair, transparent elections. 66% of Americans don't trust the electronic voting machines many of us will be voting on this November. Join the movement for election reform in between elections. Use our YES! Tools to find out how.

Yours for democracy,
Fran Korten signature
Fran Korten
Publisher, YES! Magazine

Read more about the key issues we'll be voting on in the Purple America issue of YES! Magazine.