Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mingyur Rinpoche - Take a Ride in a Dream Car

On emptiness vs. nothingness. A cool talk with a nice metaphor to help make it clear.
Clip from "Mahamudra: Natural Mind (DVD)" by Mingyur Rinpoche, Recorded in August, 2007. Mahamudra is the natural state of the mind: luminous, spacious, unhindered and free from dualistic concepts. In these talks, Mingyur Rinpoche provides a brilliant, engaging and accessible introduction to the practice of Mahamudra. With joy, humor and examples that are easily understandable by Western Students, Rinpoche explains the meaning of Mahamudra and reveals how it is that our failure to recognize our nature of mind causes us to suffer. He provides extensive practice instructions on objectless meditation and meditation with a variety of supports including mantra, visual objects, sound, thoughts and emotions. In talk four, Rinpoche presents an especially extensive and beneficial teaching on using pain as a support for meditation. For each practice he guides students through a practice session and answers students' questions about the practice. This teaching includes an extremely accessible explanation of Buddha-nature and emptiness.

Daily Dharma - Struggling Against Change

This is today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle, another good reminder that change is the only constant and resistance is futile.
Our Struggle Against Change

Suzuki Roshi said, "Renunciation is not giving up the things of this world, but accepting that they go away." Everything is impermanent; sooner or later everything goes away. Renunciation is a state of nonattachment, acceptance of this going away. Impermanence is, in fact, just another name for perfection. Leaves fall; debris and garbage accumulate; out of the debris come flowers, greenery, things that we think are lovely. Destruction is necessary. A good forest fire is necessary. The way we interfere with forest fires may not be a good thing. Without destruction, there could be no new life and the wonder of life, the constant change could not be. We must live and die. And this process is perfection itself.

All this change is not, however, what we had in mind. Our drive is not to appreciate the perfection of the universe. Our personal drive is to find a way to endure in our unchanging glory forever....Who hasn't noticed the first gray hair and thought, "Uh-oh."

~ Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen; from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book.

Post-Workout Nutrition

I've been recommending John Berardi's formula for post-workout nutrition for years, ever since he first introduced his research at T-Nation. Now his ideas are reaching into the mainstream of sports physiology with a recent article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Fortunately for us, it's an open source journal.

Here is the abstract:

Recovery from a cycling time trial is enhanced with carbohydrate-protein supplementation vs. isoenergetic carbohydrate supplementation.

John M Berardi email, Eric E Noreen email and Peter WR Lemon email

Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2008, 5:24doi:10.1186/1550-2783-5-24

Published: 24 December 2008


In this study we assessed whether a liquid carbohydrate-protein (C+P) supplement (0.8g/kg C; 0.4g/kg P) ingested early during recovery from a cycling time trial could enhance a subsequent 60 min effort on the same day vs. an isoenergetic liquid carbohydrate (CHO) supplement (1.2g/kg).


Two hours after a standardized breakfast, 15 trained male cyclists completed a time trial in which they cycled as far as they could in 60 min (AMex) using a Computrainer indoor trainer. Following AMex, subjects ingested either C+P, or CHO at 10, 60 and 120 min, followed by a standardized meal at 4h post exercise. At 6 h post AMex subjects repeated the time trial (PMex).


There was a significant reduction in performance for both groups in PMex versus AMex. However, performance and power decreases between PMex and AMex were significantly greater (p<0.05)>


Under these experimental conditions, liquid C+P ingestion immediately after exercise increases fat oxidation, increases recovery, and improves subsequent same day, 60 min efforts relative to isoenergetic CHO ingestion.

See the whole (provisional) article here as a PDF.

So what does any of this mean? Well, Berardi has been recommending a specific formula for the post-workout feed for years - 0.8g/kg C; 0.4g/kg P - which means that for each kilogram of body weight (pounds divided by 2.2), we need .8 grams of carbohydrates and .4 grams of protein.

That's the simple version.

The more complex version is that we want fast acting carbohydrates that can raise insulin levels significantly and quickly. Further, we want easily and quickly digested protein sources so that the insulin increase can force those amino acids into the muscle where they can begin the healing process following the workout.

For carbs, the ideal source is a mixture of dextrose and maltodextrin. While maltodextrin is generally thought to be low-glycemic, it is actually high insulinemic (it boosts insulin levels sharply), making it ideal for post-workout nutrition. For protein, whey is the standard source, but whey-protein hydrolysate with BCCAs is the better option, although it tastes like shoes.

While I am sure there are various products on the market that fit this profile, only one was developed by Dr. John Berardi with the exact nutrient profile and the ideal sources of both carbs and proteins, Biotest's Surge.

I make my own mixture of plain whey, BCAAs, and dextrose - I add unsweetened Kool Aid for flavor. So I while I do endorse Surge, I also realize a lot of people don't want to spend that kind of money on a recovery drink.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Future of Man--How Will Evolution Change Humans?

As part of their special issue on evolution, Scientific American takes a look at how humans might be evolving into the future. I find this interesting, for many reasons.

It seems to me, irrespective of this article, that Western humans might be devolving physically. For the first time we know of, the projected lifespan for those born today may not be as long as their parents or grandparents. Our health habits, or lack thereof, are beginning to have an inter-generational impact on our bodies at the DNA level. This is not good.

At the same time, our interior worlds, both individual and collective, continue to evolve toward more compassion and greater complexity. After a minor setback over the last eight years or so, that growth pattern seems to be re-emerging in the election of our first black president and the struggle to give all human beings equal rights under the law.

The conflict between inner and outer evolution is intriguing.

Anyway, here is the article from Sci Am.

The Future of Man--How Will Evolution Change Humans?

Contrary to popular belief, humans continue to evolve. Our bodies and brains are not the same as our ancestors' were—or as our descendants' will be

By Peter Ward

Nessim Higson (photoillustration); Kevin Summers Getty Images (flower); Paul Taylor Getty Images (hand); Ron Levine Getty Images (girl); Photodisc Getty Images (brain); (skull and egg)

Key Concepts

  • People commonly assume that our species has evolved very little since prehistoric times. Yet new studies using genetic information from populations around the globe suggest that the pace of human evolution increased with the advent of agriculture and cities.
  • If we are still evolving, what might our species look like in a millennium should we survive whatever environ­mental and social surprises are in store for us? Specu­la­tion ranges from the hopeful to the dystopian.

When you ask for opinions about what future humans might look like, you typically get one of two answers. Some people trot out the old science-fiction vision of a big-brained human with a high forehead and higher intellect. Others say humans are no longer evolving physically—that technology has put an end to the brutal logic of natural selection and that evolution is now purely cultural.

The big-brain vision has no real scientific basis. The fossil record of skull sizes over the past several thousand generations shows that our days of rapid increase in brain size are long over. Accordingly, most scientists a few years ago would have taken the view that human physical evolution has ceased. But DNA techniques, which probe genomes both present and past, have unleashed a revolution in studying evolution; they tell a different story. Not only has Homo sapiens been doing some major genetic reshuffling since our species formed, but the rate of human evolution may, if anything, have increased. In common with other organisms, we underwent the most dramatic changes to our body shape when our species first appeared, but we continue to show genetically induced changes to our physiology and perhaps to our behavior as well. Until fairly recently in our history, human races in various parts of the world were becoming more rather than less distinct. Even today the conditions of modern life could be driving changes to genes for certain behavioral traits.

If giant brains are not in store for us, then what is? Will we become larger or smaller, smarter or dumber? How will the emergence of new diseases and the rise in global temperature shape us? Will a new human species arise one day? Or does the future evolution of humanity lie not within our genes but within our technology, as we augment our brains and bodies with silicon and steel? Are we but the builders of the next dominant intelligence on the earth—the machines?

The Far and Recent Past
Tracking human evolution used to be the province solely of paleontologists, those of us who study fossil bones from the ancient past. The human family, called the Hominidae, goes back at least seven million years to the appearance of a small proto-human called Sahelanthropus tchadensis.

Since then, our family has had a still disputed, but rather diverse, number of new species in it—as many as nine that we know of and others surely still hidden in the notoriously poor hominid fossil record. Because early human skeletons rarely made it into sedimentary rocks before they were scavenged, this estimate changes from year to year as new discoveries and new interpretations of past bones make their way into print [see “Once We Were Not Alone,” by Ian Tattersall; Scientific American, January 2000, and “An Ancestor to Call Our Own,” by Kate Wong; Scientific American, January 2003].

Each new species evolved when a small group of hominids somehow became separated from the larger population for many generations and then found itself in novel environmental conditions favoring a different set of adaptations. Cut off from kin, the small population went its own genetic route and eventually its members could no longer successfully reproduce with the parent population.

The fossil record tells us that the oldest member of our own species lived 195,000 years ago in what is now Ethiopia. From there it spread out across the globe. By 10,000 years ago modern humans had successfully colonized each of the continents save Antarctica, and adaptations to these many locales (among other evolutionary forces) led to what we loosely call races. Groups living in different places evidently retained just enough connections with one another to avoid evolving into separate species. With the globe fairly well covered, one might expect that the time for evolving was pretty much finished.

Read the rest of this fascinating article.

Eat These 20 Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Calorie Lab offers us a list of the most healthy foods, 20 of them, around which to build our diet. If we simply take this list, add some lean protein sources, and get some exercise, we will have everything we need to be healthy and live well into old age.

Want to live longer? Eat these 20 foods

A doctor in the UK has come up with a list of 20 foods that people should eat if they want to live a long life. Gary Williamson, a professor of “functional foods” at Leeds University (who knew there was such a professorship?), calls these 20 gems lifespanessential — apparently professors in functional foods don’t need spaces — and says everyone should be eating them regularly.

Antioxidant powerhouses

The key to the usefulness of all these foods is their antioxidants, compounds that help prevent cell damage, thus slowing down the aging process and helping prevent heart disease and at least some cancers.

The foods, along with their most potent antioxidants, include:

  • Apples: polyphenols
  • Blackberries: anthocyanins
  • Black tea: theaflavins
  • Blueberries: anthocyanins
  • Broccoli: polyphenols
  • Cereal bran: fiber and phenolic acids
  • Cherries: anthocyanins
  • Cherry tomoatoes: quercatin
  • Coffee: phenolic acids
  • Cranberries: procyanadin
  • Dark chocolate: epicatechin
  • Green tea: polyphenols
  • Oranges: hesperedin
  • Peaches: epicatechin and phenolic acids
  • Plums: epicatechin and phenolic acids
  • Raspberries: anthocyanins
  • Red grapes: anthocyanins and phenolic acids
  • Red onions: quercatin
  • Spinach: polyphenols
  • Strawberries: anthocyanins and ellagic acid

These compounds perform various functions in the body, and it’s great to get a combination of as many of these superfoods as possible daily for the best disease prevention effects. It’s best to consume these foods in their whole forms rather than trying an antioxidant or whole foods supplement, because there are compounds in the fruits that aren’t fully understood, and no one knows what the ideal quantities of the various compounds might be to produce the most healthful outcomes, the professor says.

And even if you eat these foods religiously, Williamson says you shouldn’t expect to live forever. Those biblical life expectancies just aren’t realistic, because our bodies will break down through use eventually no matter how many antioxidants we pump into them.

(By Sarah E. White for CalorieLab Calorie Counter News)

The Brand Loyalty of Religion is Unsurpassed

In memetic theory, all successful memes have some sort of "virus protection" that keeps other memes from displacing them. In no other realm has there developed such a power memetic virus as in religion (in current usage, religion is actually a memeplex).

In fact, Richard Dawkins has long been arguing for religions as Viruses of the Mind:

Like computer viruses, successful mind viruses will tend to be hard for their victims to detect. If you are the victim of one, the chances are that you won't know it, and may even vigorously deny it. Accepting that a virus might be difficult to detect in your own mind, what tell-tale signs might you look out for? I shall answer by imaging how a medical textbook might describe the typical symptoms of a sufferer (arbitrarily assumed to be male).

1. The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous: a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling and convincing. We doctors refer to such a belief as ``faith.''

2. Patients typically make a positive virtue of faith's being strong and unshakable, in spite of not being based upon evidence. Indeed, they may feel that the less evidence there is, the more virtuous the belief (see below).

3. A related symptom, which a faith-sufferer may also present, is the conviction that ``mystery,'' per se, is a good thing. It is not a virtue to solve mysteries. Rather we should enjoy them, even revel in their insolubility.

4. The sufferer may find himself behaving intolerantly towards vectors of rival faiths, in extreme cases even killing them or advocating their deaths. He may be similarly violent in his disposition towards apostates (people who once held the faith but have renounced it); or towards heretics (people who espouse a different --- often, perhaps significantly, only very slightly different --- version of the faith). He may also feel hostile towards other modes of thought that are potentially inimical to his faith, such as the method of scientific reason which may function rather like a piece of anti-viral software.

5. The patient may notice that the particular convictions that he holds, while having nothing to do with evidence, do seem to owe a great deal to epidemiology. Why, he may wonder, do I hold this set of convictions rather than that set? Is it because I surveyed all the world's faiths and chose the one whose claims seemed most convincing? Almost certainly not. If you have a faith, it is statistically overwhelmingly likely that it is the same faith as your parents and grandparents had. No doubt soaring cathedrals, stirring music, moving stories and parables, help a bit. But by far the most important variable determining your religion is the accident of birth. The convictions that you so passionately believe would have been a completely different, and largely contradictory, set of convictions, if only you had happened to be born in a different place. Epidemiology, not evidence.

6. If the patient is one of the rare exceptions who follows a different religion from his parents, the explanation may still be epidemiological. To be sure, it is possible that he dispassionately surveyed the world's faiths and chose the most convincing one. But it is statistically more probable that he has been exposed to a particularly potent infective agent --- a John Wesley, a Jim Jones or a St. Paul. Here we are talking about horizontal transmission, as in measles. Before, the epidemiology was that of vertical transmission, as in Huntington's Chorea.

7. The internal sensations of the patient may be startlingly reminiscent of those more ordinarily associated with sexual love. This is an extremely potent force in the brain, and it is not surprising that some viruses have evolved to exploit it. St. Teresa of Avila's famously orgasmic vision is too notorious to need quoting again. More seriously, and on a less crudely sensual plane, the philosopher Anthony Kenny provides moving testimony to the pure delight that awaits those that manage to believe in the mystery of transubstantiation.
That was condensed a bit, since Dawkins is both confrontation and verbose. He doesn't get into the virus's ability to protect itself from other viruses, but that is a major part of their power.

For example, Christianity has hell as a deterrent against other beliefs or even disbelief. if you are at the right developmental level to be susceptible to this virus, the threat of hell is a great protection against other ideas (mind viruses).

Even Buddhism has its own style of virus protection, called karma. It's not as effective as hell, but it promises bad outcomes for bad behaviors. If we accumulate enough bad karma, it could impact future incarnations.

Psychology Today recently posted an article about the brand loyalty of religions, which is one of the elements of memetic theory. The article looks at some of the virus protections (such as death) that create "brand loyalty."

The Brand Loyalty of Religion is Unsurpassed.

Religious symbols

For most brand managers, brand loyalty is a crucial metric of success. One way to measure brand loyalty is by gauging the extent of repeat purchases. Suppose that we were to keep track of the next ten purchases of soft drinks for consumers A and B. If consumer A buys Pepsi on each of the ten occasions whereas consumer B buys Fanta, Pepsi, and Coke three times each, and 7 Up on one occasion then we can conclude that consumer A displays greater brand loyalty within this particular product category. A natural extension is to then ask whether consumer A's unwavering brand loyalty and consumer B's variety seeking are situational-based or whether these preferences are manifestations of dispositional traits. Another issue of interest to marketers is whether brand loyalty for a particular product might be transmitted intergenerationally. If your parents always consumed Pepsi at home, does this increase your likelihood of becoming a diehard Pepsi drinker? This brings me to the key issue of today's post: which product garners the greatest amount of intergenerational brand loyalty? Well, the winner is miles ahead of the next contender. Religion rules the brand loyalty roost.

Most marketers would salivate like Pavlovian dogs at the thought of their products possessing an intergenerational brand loyalty score remotely close to that garnered by religion. In the social sciences, many academics are supremely excited if they have a model that explains 30% of the variance for the phenomenon under investigation. Well, your parents' religion is a near-perfect predictor of the religion that you'll call your own. In other words, intergenerational transmission of religious beliefs explains close to 100% of the variance in question. Hence, which religious narrative one believes (and in some instances is willing to die for) is completely driven by the "accidental" family to which one was born into.

Some religions provide alluring incentives against variety seeking (apostasy). . . DEATH. Remain a loyal customer or die. Of course, other religions are somewhat subtler in their attempts to maintain the brand loyalty of their flocks. Stay in the club and reap the rewards in heaven, or leave the club and prepare to fry in hell for eternity. These are some rather powerful key selling points!

One of the benchmarks for determining whether it is ethical to advertise to children is to ask the following question: What is the minimal age at which children have the cognitive capacity to understand the ulterior motives of advertisers, and accordingly to build cognitive defenses against such attempts? This approach is congruent with the work of the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget who studied the cognitive developmental stages that children traverse. Whereas there are some cross-cultural differences in terms of the minimal legal age for targeting children, a common benchmark is eight years of age. Hence whilst it is unethical to advertise to young children who are otherwise cognitively unprepared to understand the persuasive intent of advertising messages, it is apparently perfectly moral and ethical to "advertise" one's religious beliefs to children shortly after they make their entrance into the world. It seems that divinely ordained products do not need to conform to the same ethical standards as those imposed on tobacco companies by the FTC, or those forced on movie producers (via movie ratings) by a committee mandated to enforce some fuzzy and ephemeral community standards. It is interesting to note that the law stipulates very specific guidelines as to when individuals can have sex, can vote, can get married, can drive, or can drink (as they are otherwise cognitively and emotionally unprepared to partake in the behaviors), yet they are fully "prepared" to be exposed to religious narratives straight out of the womb.

We are, by nature, virus hosts from our first moments on the earth. Imagine what a better place we could create if we all focused on teaching our children about love and compassion instead of a vengeful God and hell.

Imagine instilling positive memes instead of negative memes: love instead of fear, compassion instead of judgment, empathy instead of self-interest. What would such a world be like?

Wouldn't it be great to find out?

A Piece of iMe: An Interview with David Chalmers

The Philosopher's Magazine recently posted this interview with David Chalmers, author of The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. The article deals with Chalmers' idea of the extended mind, the theory that mind is not confined to the brain, and that our technology is a natural extension of the mind.

A Piece of iMe: an interview with David Chalmers

Click for a printer friendly version of this article

Interview by Julian Baggini

David Chalmers is standing in front of a large lecture hall holding a piece of himself. Fortunately, that piece is not a lump of organic matter but his iPhone. One of the star draws at the World Congress is doing what, arguably, other speakers have not done enough of: bringing the global audience up to date with his latest thinking about the problems he is best known for tackling.

That topic is the “extended mind” thesis, and I later caught up with him at Seoul University's western-style café, the wonderfully named A Twosome Place, to talk more about it.

“Andy Clark and I wrote 'The Extended Mind', I think in 1995, when we were colleagues at Washington University. I think it was rejected from three journals – probably from Mind, Journal of Philosophy, Philosophical Review – before it eventually made its way into Analysis in ’98.Since then it seems to have taken on a life of its own.”

So what's the big idea?

“The key idea is that when bits of the environment are hooked up to your cognitive system in the right way, they are, in effect, part of the mind, part of the cognitive system. So, say I’m rearranging Scrabble tiles on a rack. This is very close to being analogous to the situation when I’m doing an anagram in my head. In one case the representations are out in the world, in the other case they’re in here. We say doing an anagram on a rack ought be regarded as a cognitive process, a process of the mind, even though it’s out there in the world.”

This is where the iPhone comes in, as a more contemporary example of how the extended mind works.

“A whole lot of my cognitive activities and my brain functions have now been uploaded into my iPhone. It stores a whole lot of my beliefs, phone numbers, addresses, whatever. It acts as my memory for these things. It’s always there when I need it.”

Chalmers even claims it holds some of his desires.

“I have a list of all of my favorite dishes at the restaurant we go to all the time in Canberra. I say, OK, what are we going to order? Well, I’ll pull up the iPhone – these are the dishes we like here. It’s the repository of my desires, my plans. There’s a calendar, there’s an iPhone calculator, and so on. It’s even got a little decision maker that comes up, yes or no.”

It all sounds like a great advert for Apple, but isn't it stretching things to say that the iPhone is actually an extension of the mind?

“The conservative view of this is the iPhone is a tool,” says Chalmers. “It’s not part of my mind, but it’s certainly an instrument of my mind to use, so I don’t have to remember things anymore because my iPhone remembers them for me.

“The radical view, the view we’re kind of pushing, is the iPhone can be seen literally as a part of my mind. I actually remember things: in virtue of this information being in the iPhone, it is part of my memory. So the extended mind thesis basically says that the iPhone isn’t just a tool for my cognition, it’s part of my cognition.”

It sounds wacky, but Chalmers has some examples which he thinks make the idea sound more intuitive.

Read the rest of this article.

To get a deeper understanding, philosophically, of what Chalmers is trying to convey, you can read his paper, The Extended Mind, by Andy Clark & David J. Chalmers [*], of which I offer just the beginning.
*[[Authors are listed in order of degree of belief in the central thesis.]]

1 Introduction

Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin? The question invites two standard replies. Some accept the demarcations of skin and skull, and say that what is outside the body is outside the mind. Others are impressed by arguments suggesting that the meaning of our words "just ain't in the head", and hold that this externalism about meaning carries over into an externalism about mind. We propose to pursue a third position. We advocate a very different sort of externalism: an active externalism, based on the active role of the environment in driving cognitive processes.

2 Extended Cognition

Consider three cases of human problem-solving:

(1) A person sits in front of a computer screen which displays images of various two-dimensional geometric shapes and is asked to answer questions concerning the potential fit of such shapes into depicted "sockets". To assess fit, the person must mentally rotate the shapes to align them with the sockets.

(2) A person sits in front of a similar computer screen, but this time can choose either to physically rotate the image on the screen, by pressing a rotate button, or to mentally rotate the image as before. We can also suppose, not unrealistically, that some speed advantage accrues to the physical rotation operation.

(3) Sometime in the cyberpunk future, a person sits in front of a similar computer screen. This agent, however, has the benefit of a neural implant which can perform the rotation operation as fast as the computer in the previous example. The agent must still choose which internal resource to use (the implant or the good old fashioned mental rotation), as each resource makes different demands on attention and other concurrent brain activity.

How much cognition is present in these cases? We suggest that all three cases are similar. Case (3) with the neural implant seems clearly to be on a par with case (1). And case (2) with the rotation button displays the same sort of computational structure as case (3), although it is distributed across agent and computer instead of internalized within the agent. If the rotation in case (3) is cognitive, by what right do we count case (2) as fundamentally different? We cannot simply point to the skin/skull boundary as justification, since the legitimacy of that boundary is precisely what is at issue. But nothing else seems different.

The kind of case just described is by no means as exotic as it may at first appear. It is not just the presence of advanced external computing resources which raises the issue, but rather the general tendency of human reasoners to lean heavily on environmental supports. Thus consider the use of pen and paper to perform long multiplication (McClelland et al 1986, Clark 1989), the use of physical re-arrangements of letter tiles to prompt word recall in Scrabble (Kirsh 1995), the use of instruments such as the nautical slide rule (Hutchins 1995), and the general paraphernalia of language, books, diagrams, and culture. In all these cases the individual brain performs some operations, while others are delegated to manipulations of external media. Had our brains been different, this distribution of tasks would doubtless have varied.

In fact, even the mental rotation cases described in scenarios (1) and (2) are real. The cases reflect options available to players of the computer game Tetris. In Tetris, falling geometric shapes must be rapidly directed into an appropriate slot in an emerging structure. A rotation button can be used. David Kirsh and Paul Maglio (1994) calculate that the physical rotation of a shape through 90 degrees takes about 100 milliseconds, plus about 200 milliseconds to select the button. To achieve the same result by mental rotation takes about 1000 milliseconds. Kirsh and Maglio go on to present compelling evidence that physical rotation is used not just to position a shape ready to fit a slot, but often to help determine whether the shape and the slot are compatible. The latter use constitutes a case of what Kirsh and Maglio call an `epistemic action'. Epistemic actions alter the world so as to aid and augment cognitive processes such as recognition and search. Merely pragmatic actions, by contrast, alter the world because some physical change is desirable for its own sake (e.g., putting cement into a hole in a dam).

Epistemic action, we suggest, demands spread of epistemic credit. If, as we confront some task, a part of the world functions as a process which, were it done in the head, we would have no hesitation in recognizing as part of the cognitive process, then that part of the world is (so we claim) part of the cognitive process. Cognitive processes ain't (all) in the head!

Read the whole paper.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Eartha Kitt Has Passed Away

Another sad passing, Eartha Kitt died yesterday at the age of 81. I saw her once, many years ago, and she was one of the best singers I have seen. Below the article, some videos in tribute to her great talent.

From the Washington Post:

Eartha Kitt Refused to Be in Anyone's Shadow

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 25, 2008; 8:13 PM

In her fantastical life, Eartha Kitt came to like a great many things. Men, sex, bawdy songs. I personally know about the lemon sorbet, the mango sorbet and the strawberry sorbet.

I found myself dining with Kitt -- who died of cancer at the age of 81 yesterday -- at the swanky Cafe Carlyle in Manhattan several years ago. I was working on a book about Sammy Davis Jr., once a romantic interest of Kitt's. Kitt's office suggested the Carlyle. Being on book leave, without a steady income and counting pennies, I gulped: the Carlyle wasn't the place for a penny-pincher. But I needed the interview, so I dared not back out of the chance to talk with her. Kitt had known Davis when both were very young and both were hanging out at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.

Arriving early on the day of our meeting, I was led to a table. There was fine sunlight, lovely wood and an attentive waiter. I looked at the prices on the menu and wanted to scram. Kitt was late -- first 10 minutes, then 20. She may have been born poor, but she traveled through life with the blood of a true diva. So, of course she'd be late. But I fretted she might have forgotten, or changed her mind. Then I noticed heads swiveling toward the entrance: and there stood Eartha Kitt, wearing a short, bone-white fur coat, white slacks, and a canary yellow turban atop her head. She had a white poodle cupped in each arm. I gave a wave and she strode over, the poodles twisting in her arms.

"Let's order!" she demanded. She said she didn't care to remove her sunglasses because it was still early in the day. It was around 1:30 in the afternoon.

A waiter came over and took the poodles away, delivering them to Kitt's suite upstairs. She had a gig going at the Carlyle and most of the shows were sold out.

The next 90 minutes were unforgettable. There were stories of men she had conquered (Sammy Davis Jr. among them), foreign lands she had traveled to, songs she had sung. I remember what she ordered because I held onto the receipt for years to show to people: salmon, asparagus, white wine, two glasses, which turned into three glasses. I wanted to cry every time I saw her motioning for the waiter: "Water, please, and bottled." But every other minute brought forth some delicious revelation, a tale of a child born in South Carolina to sharecropper parents and who forced the entertainment world to take notice of her.

Consider the era she thrived in -- and the competition she faced. Kitt came of age when a bevy of sepia beauties were just starting to strut their stuff from Broadway to Hollywood. It was the 1950s and Madison Avenue may have ignored these women, but they were seen now and then in the pages of Life and Holiday magazines.

Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Hazel Scott, Joe Lewis's wife, Marva, Sugar Ray Robinson's wife, Edna Mae, and Kitt were different from the darkly hued and heavy-set black women of 1940s Hollywood, women like Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen and Louise Beavers. Those women were known mostly for playing maid roles in cinema.

This new group of beauties changed the way that America looked at the black woman. They went to parties hosted by Joe Louis in Chicago or Manhattan; they hung out at Sugar Ray's nightclub in Harlem, their images reflected in the long mirror behind the bar. They all came to admire themselves in some of those old Negro periodicals -- Sepia, Ebony, and Brown. Their pictures hung in hair salons in black communities throughout America. They competed against one another for movie roles: Kitt got "Anna Lucasta" alongside Davis, among other roles. And she had to sweat her way through the "Anna" auditions.

"The camera couldn't conceal the fact that Eartha was not a beautiful woman," Philip Yordan, the writer of "Anna" told me.

But no one, absolutely no one, could have told Eartha Kitt she was not beautiful. She refused to be in the shadow of Horne or Dandridge. Kitt had a repertoire that ranged from night clubs to Broadway to dramatic roles in movies and TV.

Maybe it was because she was born poor, and maybe that birthright either scars you or propels you into other dimensions, but Kitt fought harder than Horne, Dandridge and Scott for recognition. She took risks, kept an edge about her, singing sexually suggestive songs and parading her body on stage in a way that some thought was too provocative. Her rendition of "Santa Baby," for instance, could be described as For Adults Only. She wore her political beliefs out in the open, too, and was on Richard Nixon's enemies list. She was ashamed of Davis when he supported Nixon and told him so to his face.

I wrote furiously during our interview. I laughed -- loud -- when Kitt told me she had flipped Davis over her shoulder one day when he came to see her after one of her stage shows. Davis grimaced. "I was just fooling around!" she said.

Lunch finished, I tensed as I got ready to ask for the bill. But Kitt wanted dessert. She tried a scoop of the mango sorbet. She loved it, so much so that she now wanted a scoop of the lemon sorbet. I wanted to cry. Sorbet at the Carlyle is not cheap.

She did not detect from my body movements that I was quite ready to go. "Let me try that strawberry sorbet, please," she said in that famously Kitt-enish voice. I smiled as my shoulders sagged.

But there were more stories! About her and Orson Welles, her and Sidney Poitier, her and Sammy when he tried to take back the engagement ring he had given her. There was more laughter.

Then the bill came: $138.06.

It remains, to this day, the most expensive lunch I have ever paid for. But it was Eartha Kitt, in white fur, with poodles. It was worth every penny.


Eartha Kitt - I Want To Be Evil (Live Kaskad 1962)

Eartha Kitt with Friends Santa Baby

Karmapa Ogyen Trinely Dorje - Universal Aspiration for Happiness

Because we all want to be happy. And many of us want for all beings to be happy.
17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinely Dorje discusses the universal aspiration for happiness and how to achieve it, irregardless of religious association.

Harold Pinter, Nobel-Winning Playwright, Dies at 78

Sad news, in the New York Times.
Harold Pinter, Nobel-Winning Playwright, Dies at 78

Published: December 25, 2008

Harold Pinter, the British playwright whose gifts for finding the ominous in the everyday and the noise within silence made him the most influential and imitated dramatist of his generation, died on Wednesday. He was 78 and lived in London.

Associated Press; Harold Pinter in 1973.

Steve Forrest/Insight-Visual for The New York Times;Harold Pinter in his writing studio in London in 2007.

The cause was cancer, his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, said Thursday.

Mr. Pinter learned he had cancer of the esophagus in 2002. In 2005, when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature, he was unable to attend the awards ceremony at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm but delivered an acceptance speech from a wheelchair in a recorded video.

In more than 30 plays — written between 1957 and 2000 and including masterworks like “The Birthday Party,” “The Caretaker,” “The Homecoming” and “Betrayal” — Mr. Pinter captured the anxiety and ambiguity of life in the second half of the 20th century with terse, hypnotic dialogue filled with gaping pauses and the prospect of imminent violence.

Along with another Nobel winner, Samuel Beckett, his friend and mentor, Mr. Pinter became one of the few modern playwrights whose names instantly evoke a sensibility. The adjective Pinteresque has become part of the cultural vocabulary as a byword for strong and unspecified menace.

An actor, essayist, screenwriter, poet and director as well as a dramatist, Mr. Pinter was also publicly outspoken in his views on repression and censorship, at home and abroad. He used his Nobel acceptance speech to denounce American foreign policy, saying that the United States had not only lied to justify waging war against Iraq, but that it had also “supported and in many cases engendered every right-wing military dictatorship” in the last 50 years.

His political views were implicit in much of his work. Though his plays deal with the slipperiness of memory and human character, they are also almost always about the struggle for power.

The dynamic in his work is rooted in battles for control, turf wars waged in locations that range from working-class boarding houses (in his first produced play, “The Room,” from 1957) to upscale restaurants (the setting for “Celebration,” staged in 2000). His plays often take place in a single, increasingly claustrophobic room, where conversation is a minefield and even innocuous-seeming words can wound.

In Mr. Pinter’s work “words are weapons that the characters use to discomfort or destroy each other,” said Peter Hall, who has staged more of Mr. Pinter’s plays than any other director.

But while Mr. Pinter’s linguistic agility turned simple, sometimes obscene, words into dark, glittering and often mordantly funny poetry, it is what comes between the words that he is most famous for. And the stage direction “pause” would haunt him throughout his career.

Intended as an instructive note to actors, the Pinter pause was a space for emphasis and breathing room. But it could also be as threatening as a raised fist. Mr. Pinter said that writing the word “pause” into his first play was “a fatal error.” It is certainly the aspect of his writing that has been most parodied. But no other playwright has consistently used pauses with such rhythmic assurance and to such fine-tuned manipulative effect.

Early in his career Mr. Pinter said his work was about “the weasel under the cocktail cabinet.” Though he later regretted the image, it holds up as a metaphor for the undertow of danger that pervades his work. As Martin Esslin wrote in his book “Pinter: The Playwright,” “Man’s existential fear, not as an abstraction, but as something real, ordinary and acceptable as an everyday occurrence — here we have the core of Pinter’s work as a dramatist.”

Though often grouped with Beckett and others as a practitioner of Theater of the Absurd, Mr. Pinter considered himself a realist. In 1962 he said the context of his plays was always “concrete and particular.” He never found a need to alter that assessment.

Beginning in the late 1950s, John Osborne and Mr. Pinter helped to turn British theater away from the gentility of the drawing room. With “Look Back in Anger,” Osborne opened the door for several succeeding generations of angry young men, who railed against the class system and an ineffectual government. Mr. Pinter was to have the more lasting effect as an innovator and a stylist. And his influence on other playwrights, including David Mamet in the United States and Patrick Marber and Jez Butterworth in England, is undeniable.

The playwright Tom Stoppard said that before Mr. Pinter: “One thing plays had in common: you were supposed to believe what people said up there. If somebody comes in and says, ‘Tea or coffee?’ and the answer is ‘Tea,’ you are entitled to assume that somebody is offered a choice of two drinks, and the second person has stated a preference.” With Mr. Pinter there are alternatives, “such as the man preferred coffee but the other person wished him to have tea,” Mr. Stoppard said, “or that he preferred the stuff you make from coffee beans under the impression that it was called tea.”

As another British playwright, David Hare, said of Mr. Pinter, “The essence of his singular appeal is that you sit down to every play or film he writes in certain expectation of the unexpected.”

Though initially regarded as an intuitive rather than an intellectual playwright, Mr. Pinter was in fact both. His plays are dense with references to writers like James Joyce and T. S. Eliot. The annual Pinter Review, in which scholars probe and parse his works for meaning and metaphor, is one of many indications of his secure berth in academia.
Read the whole article.

Christmas Poems

Merry Christmas! In honor of the day, and of all winter holidays, here are some poems from the Academy of American Poets.

When clustered sparks
Of many-colored fire
Appear at night
In ordinary windows

We hear and sing
The customary carols

They bring us ragged miracles
And hay and candles
And flowering weeds of poetry
That are loved all the more
Because they are so common
—from "Noël"
by Anne Porter

Favorite Classic Poems

Christmas Trees
by Robert Frost
The city had withdrawn into itself...

A Visit from Saint Nicholas
by Clement Clark Moore (or Henry Livingston)
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house...

The Savior must have been a docile Gentleman
by Emily Dickinson
The Savior must have been...

The Mystic's Christmas
by John Greenleaf Whittier
"All hail!" the bells of Christmas rang...

The Thread of Life
by Christina Rossetti
The irresponsive silence of the land...

The Oxen
by Thomas Hardy
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock...

On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity
by John Milton
This is the month, and this the happy morn...

The Mahogany Tree
by William Thackeray
Christmas is here...

A Christmas Carol
by George Wither
So now is come our joyful feast...

Popular Contemporary Poems

by Anne Porter
When snow is shaken...

A Winter Without Snow
by J. D. McClatchy
Even the sky here in Connecticut has it...

Skating in Harlem, Christmas Day
by Cynthia Zarin
Beyond the ice-bound stones and bucking trees

Mama, Come Back
by Nellie Wong
Mama, come back...

Toward the Winter Solstice
by Timothy Steele
Although the roof is just a story high...

Why is the Color of Snow?
by Brenda Shaughnessy
Let's ask a poet with no way of knowing...

Thrown as if Fierce & Wild
by Dean Young
You don’t have a clue, says the power drill...

Poems about Christmas Poems about Christmas
It may be difficult these days to separate the Christmas season from the rosy-cheeked, white-bearded man with a taste for cookies and milk, but it was actually a poem that offered us the jolly, plump version of Santa Claus known today. Read more >

Poems for Winter
"Thy breath be rude," William Shakespeare famously told winter in As You Like It, invoking a common complaint about the season: winter is cold, windy, bleak, awful. Five centuries later, poets have much the same complaints... Read more >

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Michael Carroll - The Mindful Leader

Hat tip to Elephant Journal for pointing out this excellent Google talk from Michael Carroll, on his new book, The Mindful Leader: Ten Principles for Bringing Out the Best in Ourselves and Others. I am subscribed to AtGoogleTalks at YouTube, but I would not have seen this until next week.
Michael Carroll visits Google's Mountain View, CA headquarters to discuss his book "The Mindful Leader: Ten Principles for Bringing Out the Best in Ourselves and Others." This event took place on October 17, 2008, as part of the Authors@Google series.

A new generation of business leaders is turning to mindfulness as a cutting-edge leadership tool. Research suggests that the practice of mindfulness--a technique for learning to live in the present moment--can help individuals gain clarity, reduce stress, optimize performance, and develop a greater sense of well-being.

Michael Carroll, corporate executive, Buddhist teacher and author of The Mindful Leader will give mindfulness meditation instruction and discuss how such mind training can cultivate natural leadership talents like courage, confidence and poise. We will explore how mindfulness, beyond mere pleasantry, is how we can learn to adopt a realistic and inspiring approach toward workplace leadership.

Ego Development - 24 Truths to Remember

A little bit of wisdom to start the day, courtesy of Ego Development, a personal development blog. The post offers 24 nuggets of wisdom, but I am only posting a few of them here.

14) There are moments in life when you miss someone so much that you just want to pickhope them from your dreams and hug them for real! Hope you dream of that special someone.

15) Dream what you want to dream; go where you want to go; be what you want to be, because you have only one life and one chance to do all the things you want to do.

16) May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to make you happy and enough money to buy me gifts!!

17) Always put yourself in others’ shoes. If you feel that it
hurts you, it probably hurts the person too.

18) A careless word may kndle strife; a cruel word may wreck a life; a timely word may level stress; a loving word may heal and bless.

19) The beginning of love is to let those we love be just
themselves and not twist them with our own image -otherwise; we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

20) The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of
everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way.

21) Happiness lies for those who cry, those who hurt, those who have searched, and those who have tried, for only they can appreciate the importance of people who have touched their lives.

22) Love begins with a smile, grows with a kiss and ends with a tear.

23) The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past, you can’t go on well in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.

24) When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so that when you die, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying…

Go read the rest them.

Protein Does a Brain Good

Humans were meant to be omnivores - our teeth are all the proof you need of this. But the body and brain need the protein part of the diet more than most people realize. So as you sit down to Christmas dinner tomorrow night, know that the turkey (or ham, or whatever) that you are eating is essential for your brain. [See below for an article on locally-grown beef.]
Brain Power: Why Proteins Are Smart

The brain's protein connection: How proteins keep the mind working smoothly, and properly.

Next to water, protein makes up most of the weight of our bodies. Muscles, organs, hair, nails and ligaments are all composed of protein, so it's obvious why protein is an important part of the diet.

But it gets more complex with the brain. The brain and its long spidery neurons are essentially made of fat, but they communicate with each other via proteins that we eat. The hormones and enzymes that cause chemical changes and control all body processes are made of proteins.

Have you ever noticed that a high carbohydrate lunch can make you feel sluggish? Or that eating protein in the middle of the day keeps you more alert through the afternoon? Brain cells communicate with one another via chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, which are usually made of amino acids, the building blocks of protein.

What you eat affects which nerve chemicals will be dominant in your brain, which affects how you feel. Carbohydrates can make you feel tired because they increase the brain's level of the amino acid tryptophan, which in turn spurs the brain to make the calming neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is important for normal sleep patterns, learning, blood pressure and appetite, among many other functions.

Eating protein raises the levels of another amino acid called tyrosine, which prompts the brain to manufacture norepinephrine and dopamine, other kinds of chemical messengers in the brain. Not as well known as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine can keep you energized because they promote alertness and activity.

This isn't to say that to stay alert, you ought to eat mostly protein. A healthy brain produces hundreds of neurotransmitters needed for regular maintenance of the brain and needs proteins to do so. But the brain also needs carbohydrates for fuel and other nutrients for repair and maintenance of brain cells.

You don't need to load up on protein. Most Americans eat far more protein than they need and as a consequence end up consuming too much fat and cholesterol as well. The USDA recommends only two to three small servings of protein a day, or about 12 percent of total calories—and that's more than what most of the world consumes. Poultry, seafood and lean meat are the richest sources, as are dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds. Grains and vegetables have protein too, albeit in lesser amounts but without the fat.

However, watching your diet isn't always enough. Some neurotransmitters, like dopamine, essential to feelings of pleasure and reward, are also depleted by stress and a lack of sleep. Alcohol, caffeine and sugar all appear to lessen the effects of some neurotransmitters in the brain. In addition to a healthy, varied diet, the brain also needs healthy everyday living habits.

[Psyched for Success, 3 January 2003]
OK, good information, except that the USDA recommendation for protein is the minimum needed for health, not what is needed for optimal health.

Ideally, we should be eating a gram of complete proteins (meat, fish, dairy products) per pound of body weight. The protein makes us feel more full, produces chemicals that help us burn fat for energy, and repairs the muscles after weight training (which we all should be doing). And if your protein is from lean sources (low-fat cottage cheese, chicken, turkey, fish) then you don't get the health risks the USDA warns about.

Finally, some of us are trying to eat meat that is environmentally friendly and treated humanely before it comes to our plate. So here is an article that talks about how to get healthy beef. Even if you don't care that the animals get to live as they were meant to live (grazing for grass), the health benefits of the higher levels of omega-3 fats can actually make beef a healthy choice for one's protein intake.
Nature's Bounty: Back-to-Basic Beef

Ask not what there is to eat for dinner—but what your dinner ate for dinner.

By: Daniel A. Marano

Beef, it's what's for dinner, has long been the motto of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. But if you eat meat, what matters more is, what did your beef have for dinner?

At local farmers' markets all over the country and on their own Web sites, a growing number of small-scale, independent ranchers are offering pasture-raised beef directly to increasingly nutrition- and taste-conscious consumers. Propagating a literal grass-roots movement around healthier meat and more sustainable environmental practices, some beef ranchers even refer to themselves as "grass farmers," since the quality and upkeep of pasture plays a critical role in the health of the herd and the flavor and nutrition of the meat they sell.

Grass-fed beef, particularly from cattle that forage for their own living food, has high levels of the fat-soluble vitamins A and E and of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. Pasture beef is leaner overall with up to three times more omega-3s than conventional beef briskly bulked-up on soy and corn in huge feedlots. Pasture-fed beef also has a much better ratio of omega-3s to omegas-6s, a balance critical to human health, providing anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.

The health-aware practices of grass farmers are anything but new: They recall the food and farms that prevailed until a generation or two ago, before agriculture was consumed with chemical enhancement and corn- and soy-feed production. However, their talk is new; whether behind a market stand or on a Web site, these ranchers often speak in terms more associated with nutritionists or neuroscientists, citing good fats, bad fats, and the value of antioxidants.

They are also conversant with Michael Pollan's 2006 book The Omnivore's Dilemma, which spotlights Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, who sees his cattle grazing as if living at a giant salad bar. Most of the new breed of ranchers raise heritage breeds in small herds—but they get the big picture about the relationship between healthy animals, plants, and soil. Allowed to roam in open pasture, their animals do not require constant worming and antibiotics to resist disease.

Due to the vastly healthier fat distribution and fatty acid composition of grass-fed beef, it both cooks and tastes different from commercial beef. It even has a different odor. "Studies indicate that 15 to 20 percent of consumers prefer the flavor of grass-fed beef in blind tests," reports John Comerford, associate professor of animal science at Penn State, who works with ranchers to develop best practices. As for the other 80 percent who prefer the flavor of commercial beef, he isn't sure whether it's "an acquired taste, or something else. It's hard to tell."

Here in Michigan, I sought out John McLaughlin of McLaughlin Farm by way of He raises Scottish Highland cattle on a former dairy farm his grandparents bought in 1932, and practices rotational grazing on a variety of grasses and living greens. He dry-ages his beef, as butchers used to do, to bring out the flavor. Many of his customers tell him the same thing: "This meat reminds me of the meat I had as a child."

Like many cattlemen with a presence on LocalHarvest, McLaughlin cultivates a direct relationship with his customers. He produces a newsletter and heaps beef-buyers with recipes and advice on how to cook his lean beef—"low and slow," since it can't stand up to the high temperatures that wet-packaged supermarket beef can. McLaughlin admits that he has to do a lot of education before that first sale, but these days, there is a wait list for his meat several months out.

[Psychology Today Magazine, Nov/Dec 2008]
Eat Wild has a directory of more than 800 local grass-fed farms where you can get your own healthy beef.

What's New In the Oxford English Dictionary

Each quarter (March, June, September, and December) the OED online, the reference standard dictionary for educated folks, adds a few new words. The newest list is out, as reported by Good Magazine. Some interesting and not so interesting words have been added. Good, clean, geeky fun!

From ‘Ew’ to ‘Transhumanism’

  • Posted by: Mark Peters
  • on December 23, 2008 at 9:00 am

The latest updates to the Oxford English Dictionary

The changing of the seasons means different things to different people: estimated tax payments for independent contractors, new beer for Sam Adams-swillers, and new blood for Keith Richards.

For the lexically minded, there’s a more significant seasonal event: the Oxford English Dictionary’s quarterly updates to its enormous online edition. Since 2000, a slew of new words, meanings, and quotations have been added every March, June, September, and December. The last batch arrived just in time for Chrismukkah and the OED’s eightieth birthday, making this ever-expanding record of the English language one of the liveliest octogenarians you’ll ever meet.

So gather round, trivia-lovers and word-lickers. In the spirit of my favorite sportswriter, Bill Simmons, I’m going to ramble about attention-grabbing items from the latest update. Don’t be shy about taking notes. Studies show that these nuggets of nerdy knowledge will help you impress a teacher, write a poem, curse the gods, or lure a beautiful English major into your tent.

Ew—that reliable expression of disgust—feels ancient, but may only be as old as 1978. Spelling Nazis will shudder to learn it’s been spelled euuw, euuww, euuwww, euw, euww, euwww, eww, and ewww. Where do I apply for a job collecting ew variations for the OED? Sadly, they left out my favorite: ewwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

• Speaking of ew-itude, a manufacturing technology term—rancidification—was added, meaning “The process of becoming rancid; the oxidation of oils and fats which this involves.” This word, which has been filling the technical journals since 1964, is down on its hands and oozy parts, begging to be used colloquially. I can hear it. Or is that sound the rancidification of my bathtub, where new worlds and civilizations are on the march?

• There’s a reason why Ammon Shea was able to read the whole OED without going profoundly cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs: even a brief visitor to OED-land comes across awesome words like rantankerous, a now-rare, primarily southern alteration of cantankerous, with a whiff of rancorous and a slice of rant.

• I’ve never heard man, woman, child, or animated penguin use the word ranchy, but it’s had two meanings: ranch-like (duh) and “Bawdy, sexually indecent; earthy, dirty” (ooh-la-la). This second sense is probably a variant of raunchy, and its first known use in 1959 is worth quoting: “There was an embarrassed pause at this; and then one of the bridesmaids remarked, ‘A bit ranchy, that.’” Since the OED is a historical dictionary, it includes example sentences as well as definitions, so it’s not only the biggest dictionary in the world (with 263,917 entries and 741,153 meanings), but it’s the hugest book of quotes too (with 2,931,547 quotations).

• In my line of work, you have to be familiar with fembots and killbots, but this robo-word was new to me: cobot. It’s “A computer-controlled robotic device designed to assist a person in performing a manual task.” Sounds handy, and it got me looking at other co words. I kinda like co-angelical, meaning “associated with the angels”, which sounds divine though a little unhealthy. Is associating with the angels like sleeping with the fishes?

• Of all the euphemistic ways of referring to death, take a dirt nap isn’t one of them. People have been taking dirt naps since Christ was a cream pie, but they’ve only been saying so since 1981, as far as the OED knows. Bonus linguistic terminology alert: dirt nap is a dysphemism, the euphemism’s honest-to-a-fault sibling.

• Lest you think I only notice the slangy, sleazy, skeezy entries—like skeeze and skeezer, also recently added—here’s a more elevated term: transhumanism. It means, “A belief that the human race can evolve beyond its current limitations, esp. by the use of science and technology.” I’ll return to this topic in a future column, when I’ve evolved enough to appreciate it.

• An addition to dude acknowledges that, like guy, this popular word is being used to refer to women as well as men. Here’s that gender-inclusive meaning demonstrated in 1981: “We’re not talking about a lame chick and a gnarly guy. We’re talking about a couple of far-out dudes.” I don’t know how an entry on dude can omit the word Lebowski, but when I’m in charge of the OED, such atrocities shall be avenged.

• The attention-consuming culprits known as time sucks have probably existed since cave-people first got absorbed by provocative cave paintings and thrilling dinosaur-egg hunts. Looks like we’ve only been writing about time sucks since 1991 though.

For a real time suck, see if your library or wealthy benefactor can get you access to the OED online. Other recently added entries include brewski, fake-out, frenemy, IED, metaverse, MILF, neurotypical, pimped-out, podcast, and schwag, plus many others.

Your productivity will shrink, but that’s a small price to pay for the visions of rantankerous rancidification and co-angelical co-bots dancing in your head.

Image from, where they’re celebrating the dictionary’s 80th birthday.