Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mark Fairfield - It All Depends: A Position in Support of Social Engagement

In response to a post the other day on how we are wired to be social, Mark Fairfield sent me a link to his article at Let's Relate: The Relational Center Blog on the importance of social engagement. It's an elaboration on the idea that we are hard-wired to be social - and that not working with that reality is bad for our physical and mental health. [This is a cool site, but the way - check it out. It was new to me, so I'm grateful to Mark for the reference.]

This is a great article - it's long, but it's totally worth the read. Besides, he quotes Ken Gergen, and that always get's my approval. But seriously, check it out.

It All Depends: A Position in Support of Social Engagement

Isolation is corrosive. This intuition nags at us as we slather on sunscreen and reach for a cold drink; reclining in our lounge chairs and adjusting the ear buds that pipe in our epic playlists, we watch the SUVs parade by, averting our eyes from the strange but eerily familiar neighbors we pray won’t acknowledge or even notice us. We feel a vague longing to be seen, to know more about what goes on out there—where our eyes can see but our feet will never take us. But then the nervous recoil: we are busy, exhausted, brittle. What if we’re not met with warmth? What if there is too much warmth? What if we get trapped? What if we get dropped?

All wise questions, grounded in our lived experience of needing others but encountering indifference or, worse, reproach. In the background we hear the faint echo of a warning that harks back to the Pleistocene age, when being left behind meant sure death for our foraging ancestors. Death from rejection is not as sure today in our corner of the world, at least not for most Americans, not in any immediate way. But we are recognizing more and more the physical and emotional effects of feeling left behind—sometimes quite serious effects, which reveal the powerful relationships between social ties and health that linger from our foraging past. We suffer when we avoid each other, even when we do it as a protection.

Social Engagement Keeps Us Healthy
Evidence from many domains of research suggests that we are evolved to be healthiest and happiest when we are striving together—actually in close contact—and depending on each other to meet our needs. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam’s bestselling analysis of growing isolation in American life, Bowling Alone (2000), offers sobering statistics correlating social capital with a variety of conditions widely associated with health and wellbeing, including increased immune function, longer life expectancy, more economic stability and safer neighborhoods. Putnam’s research confirms that people who are embedded in highly participatory communities—an array of civic associations, voluntary organizations, and informal networks of mutual care—enjoy healthier, happier lives.

Social capital derives its value from the trust we come to place on those in our networks cooperating with us to create sustainable benefit. In her account of the evolution of breeding and childrearing practices, the celebrated anthropologist Sarah Blather Hrdy (2009) underscores the important role that cooperation played historically in ensuring the sustainability of the human species. Hrdy traces the origins of human cooperation to new skills for mutual understanding and emotional resonance that evolved during an age when various recurring dilemmas, such as sporadic food supplies and unpredictable climate changes, demanded explicit practices that would distribute responsibility for ensuring the survival of offspring to weaning and self-feeding. The Pleistocene human child had no hope of surviving if its mother could not rely on her community to collaborate in caring for it. The demand to cooperate called forth the development of mind-reading skills, sophisticated capabilities for reading and evaluating others’ intentions. Even now, this human ability continues to sustain us by facilitating the process in which caregivers and infants engage to form the secure attachments that foster our prosocial sensibilities.

In the field of psychology, John Bowlby’s notion of attachment (1969) gets at the important role this kind of mutual understanding plays in ensuring mother and infant can work adequately well together, creating a context of care that exerts a shaping influence on the infant’s character well into adulthood. Bowlby’s theory, which has become a cornerstone in human development models, was most notably supplemented by Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s (Ainsworth et al., 1979) and by Main and Solomon a decade later (1986). Neuroscience weighed in on the topic in the mid-1990s positing mirror neurons as one physical medium by which attachment dynamics most likely take place (e.g., Gallese et al., 1996; but see also Gallese et al., 2001 and Fogassi et al., 2005 for more recent applications to empathy studies). Psychiatrist Daniel J. Siegel’s work synthesizes all these important contributions into a framework for understanding the influence the caregiving surround exerts on the human brain in early childhood in ways that influence us profoundly throughout our adult lives (Siegel, 1999 and 2009).

Yet much of this research assumes the mother/child dyad to hold sway as the singular point of entry through which this health and growth promoting attunement flows. Taking issue with this assumption, Sarah Hrdy widens the usual mother/child dyad focus of attachment theory and interpersonal neurobiology to take into account the important role that alloparents (literally, others nearby who parent) have played historically in providing a community of care for children. The village community not only complemented but actually enabled adequate mothering.

Read the whole article.

Silke Helfrich - The commons as a common paradigm for social movements and beyond

This article is from January of 2010, but this is the first time I have seen it, mostly because I am only now taking a greater interest in P2P and the commons movement.

For whatever reasons, I am becoming more convinced that pulling some "we space" out of the current financial and cultural chaos may be the only hope we have of moving forward rather than imploding.

Rather than maximizing profit and/or seeking personal wealth, I want to think in terms of maximizing compassion and cooperation, while still taking into account that we are creatures of economics, dependent and interdependent with others for production and consumption. Is there a way to meet people's needs while also considering the larger needs of the culture, the human race, and the planet? I think there is - but it requires we reframe our "needs" for stuff, for purely individual satisfaction - we are individuals, yes, and we are interpersonally embedded beings. We need expand our "circles of care" beyond family, beyond friends, beyond our community or nation, and embrace the planet as a whole.

Easier said than done. Yet there are people working on these ideas.

Going forward, in addition to looking at the ways we are empathic and compassionate individuals (which has been of great interest to me lately and has laid the groundwork for a wider perspective) I will also try to find and post relevant material in the realms of P2P and the commons.

This article from Commons Blog (much of the blog, unfortunately, is not in English), offers a framework for articulating the commons idea as both a perspective and a social movement.

For more information and articles on the commons idea, see Michel Bauwen's P2P Foundation's archive collection of commons articles.

The commons as a common paradigm for social movements and beyond

World Social Forum: 10 years after: Elements of a new agenda

The commons as a common paradigm for social movements and beyond (version 1.0)

We can only promote the commons as a new narrative for the 21st century if they are identified as a common denominator by different social movements and schools of thought. In my point of view, enforcing the commons would be not only possible, but strategically intelligent. Here are 15 reasons why:

  1. The commons are everywhere. They determine our quality of life in great many ways. They are present (even though often invisible) in the social, natural, cultural and digital sphere. Think about the things we use to learn (read and write), the things we use to move (land, air and sea), the things we use to communicate (language, music and code), the things we use to feed and heal (land, water, medicine) or the things our reproduction depends on (genes, social life). The commons is about how we share and use all these things. They are a vivid way of reproduction of our social relations – at any time. Therefore, they are better described with a verb (commoning) instead of a noun (commons). The commons are a special kind of practice of use and production of knowledge and material goods, where use value is privileged over exchange value. Commoning is a practice which allows us to take our lives in our own hands, and to protect and widen what is common to us instead of witnessing its enclosure and privatization. Commoners’ rights are independent from formal convention and positive law. We just have them without having to ask anybody for permission, and we share them with others. The commons offer a different kind of freedom than the market. So the good news is: when we focus on the commons, we focus on how to shift things from the market sphere to the commons sphere, we focus on how to shift authority and responsibility from state bureaucracies to the many possibilities to „govern the commons“ by their users, and we focus on many issues and ressources – as 75% percent of the worlds biomass – which are not yet commodified. This is encouraging.
  2. The commons bridge sectors and communities, it offers a frame for the convergence and consolidation of movements. The issues we have to deal with have gotten overly complex. In order to reduce complexity, we have fragmented what belongs together. In the public political debate, there is a division into different realms of knowledge and authority. There are those who discuss issues related to natural resources („the ecos“) and those who discuss cultural & digital issues („the technos“). The result are (overly) specialized communities for each of the hundreds of problems we are confronted with and many missing links. For the very diversity of the commons, this fragmentation will continue to a certain extent, but it also contributes to a loss of our common ability to keep track of the ongoing economic, political and technological processus and changes. This diminishes our capacity to react to theses changes and to carefully forward coherent alternative proposals. The commons can unify disparate social change movements, even those that have profoundly different dynamics, because they permit us to focus on what all common pool resources and all commoners have in common and not what separates them. Water is finite, knowledge is not. Atmosphere is global, a park is not. Ideas grow, when we share them, land does not. But all are common pool resources! Therefore none of them can be exclusive property of only one person. All are linked to a community. All are governed best if the rules and normes are self-determined or considered highly legitimate by the people who have to rely on those resources.
  3. The commons recasts the ownership debate beyond the (sometimes fruitless) framing of public versus private. The claim for public ownership remains important, but have nation states really served as conscientious trustees of the commons? No. Do they protect traditional knowledge, forests, water and biodiversity? Not everywhere. There is much more than „public“ and „private“. A common pool resource can be possessed for short term use (to reproduce our livelihoods), but we cannot do with it what we want. It is important to remember that the concept of possession for use is very different to the dominating conventional property. Possession doesn’t allow for alienation. Property does. And property allows for abuse and commodification, maximum monetization and the „externalization“ of costs onto the commons – an ongoing process at the end of which all of us are worse off. Even the richer among us who are spurred to flee to gated communities.
  4. The commons perspective is not a digital way of thinking. Its mode is not binary, 0 – 1, either – or. Nor does it focus on bottom lines like a single number of „success“. Our search is for solutions beyond opposite poles and beyond numerical metrics of „success“. It’s not simply private versus public, neither right versus left, cooperation versus competition, „invisible hand“ of the market versus plan of the State, pro technology versus anti technology. From a commons perspective the focus is on the forgotten third element. It deepens our understanding about the commonly owned and the universal principles which work for people and protect their common pool resources. In the commons sector we privilege learning more about cooperation than about competition. The commons enhances self-determined rules and commonly developed & controlled open technologies instead of proprietary technologies which tend to concentrate power within elites and enable them to control us.
  5. Talking about the commons means focussing on diversity. In the words of ex Governor Olívio Dutra (Rio Grande do Sul) during the ‘WSF 10 years later’: „it enables unity within plurality and diversity“. The default but not defensive position is: „one world in which many worlds fit“. Doubtlessly, one of the strengths of this approach lies in the idea that there are no simplistic solutions, no institutional patterns, no „one size fits all” panacea, only universal principles such as reciprocity, cooperation, transparency, respect for diversity and others. Each community has to determine appropriate rules for how to access, use and control a common pool resource system based on such principles. This is complex – as the relationship between nature and society is – especially when we talk about global commons. There, the “community” is the whole mankind, which refers as to the very necessity of a new multilateralism based on a commons approach.
  6. Focussing the commons brings three big C into a new balance: Cooperation, Command and Competition. There is no cooperation without competition and vice-versa, but in a commons based society the recognition is gained by those who perform best in cooperation and not in competition. The slogan is: Out-cooperate instead of out-compete. The specific rules for cooperation in a commons system vary from setting to setting. Nobody can command them from above. From commons research and practice we learn, that all over the world many commons governance systems are self-regulating, that means: they are creating their own monitoring systems. Or they are self-regulating and coordinate at different institutional levels. As far as „command“ is concerned: Nobel Price laureate Elinor Ostrom advises: „It is better to induce cooperation with institutional arrangements fitted to local ecosystems than to try to command from afar.“ At the same time „the systems from above“ – governments, law, international bodies – can be critically important in empowering and facilitating the commons. But for doing this, they need a commons perspective inscribed into their logics and polity architecture as well.
  7. The commons does not separate the ecological from the social dimension as a Green New Deal focus does. To a certain extent, it may be helpful to make the “economic value” of natural resources visible and it is certainly necessary to internalizes ecological costs of production into the whole production process. But it is not enough. Such a focus does not address the social dimension of the problem, it tends to deepen the market biased structures, linking the solutions with access to money. So who has, can afford the cost-internalization. Who has not, is worse off. Instead: the ecological and the social dimension find a common explanation in the commons. There is no such thing as a solution based on a commons perspective where those who haven’t are worse off.
  8. The commons concept integrates different world views: there are attractors for socialist thinking (e. g. the common possession), for anarchists (the self-organisational driven approach), for conservative thinking (which values the protection of the creation), obviously for communitarian and cosmopolitan ideas (integral, diversity driven approach) and even for liberals (distance to state accountability, respect for individual interests and motivations in joining a community or a project). But it is quite clear that the commons cannot be a single political party programme. That is its strength, and that is why mainstream political players so often misunderstand the commons or even try to co-opt the commons. If we care for a coherent commons discourse (see 9), they won’t succeed.
  9. The benchmark for the integration of different political ideas within a commons paradigm is clear and threefold: (a) sustainable and respectful use of resources (social, natural, and cultural incl. digital), that means: no overuse and no under-use of common pool resources. (b) Equitable sharing of common pool resources as well as participation in all decision making processes about access, use and control of those resources and (c) the free development of creativity and individuality of people without sacrificing the collective interest.
  10. The commons don’t have one, but many centres. Their governance structures are decentralized and varied as well. In other words: it is characteristic to the commons to be polycentric, which stands for a deeply democratizing approach both politically (principles of decentralization, subsidiarity and sovereignty of commoners and commoners rule making) and economically (the „commons mode of production“ point makes us less dependent on money and market).
  11. The commons strengthens an important core belief about human beings and behaviour. We are not only, not even mainly the „homo oeconomicus“ they made us believe we are. We are much more than selfish creatures looking for our own interest. We need and enjoy being embedded into a social web. “The commons are the web of life”, says Vandana Shiva. We enjoy to contribute, care and share. The commons strengthens the confidence in the creative potential of people and in the idea of inter-relationality, which means: „I need the others and the others need me.“ They honour our freedom to contribute and share. This is a different kind of freedom than the market is based on. The more we contribute, the more things we have access to. But note: it is not simply „access to everything for free“.
  12. The commons offers analyzing tools that arise from categories different to those of capitalism, therefore the concept helps to „decolonize our thinking“. (Grzybowski) Commoners redefine „efficiency“. They ask how to „efficiently“ cooperate and how to encourage and enable people to do so? They claim for (short term) usage rights to reproduce their livelihoods instead of limitless property. They honour traditional ways to protect the commons as well as traditional knowledge systems. In short: the commons shed new light on many old political and legal regulatory processes. It makes a big difference whether I see the environment as a commons or as a commodity to trade with. It makes a difference whether water is understood as a commons, that means closely linked to the communities needs, or not. Or take seeds; conceive seed-diversity as a commons, means: harvesting self-determination and food-security. If society would recognize regional diversity of seeds as a commons, the State would put all available resources into independent, organic seed breeding and in protecting small farmers to continue their traditional way of seed-development instead of wasting taxpayers money for genetic manipulation and seed engineering.
  13. In the commons sector, there is a great diversity and quantity of actors. Over the past several years, international interest in the commons paradigm has quickened. Several organizations and commoners now have significant transnational constituencies (Creative Commons, Wikipedia, Free Software and Free Culture Movement, sharing platforms, the anti-mining organizations, the alliances working for a Bem-Viver approach, the worldwide movements for sustainable agriculture, the Water Commons, community gardening, citizen communication and information projects and many others). Actually, it is a spontaneous, explosive growth of diverse commons initiatives. Since Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Price in Economics (October 2009) many Universities have rediscovered the academic interest in the commons.
  14. The commons is an alternative mode of production. The problems we are confronted with are not problems of resource-availability. They are problems that arise from the current mode of production. Fortunately, in some areas, we are witnessing a shift from the capitalist mode of production (based on property, command, value exchange via money, resources and labour exploitation, dependent on growth and striving for profit) into a commons mode of production (based on possession, contribution, sharing, self interest and initiative, where the GDP is a negligible indicator and the aim is a „good life bem viver). Many „Common Based Peer Production“ projects are developing successfully. This is especially true for the production of knowledge (Wikipedia, Free Software, Open Design). But there is a thrilling discussion going on about how principles of commons based peer production can be transferred to the production of what we eat, wear and move with, at least to a certain extent. I believe that this is possible. Firstly because knowledge makes up the lion’s share of each kind of production. All goods are latent knowledge products. There is no car production or eggproduction without a concept and a design behind (which make the lion’s share of its „market value“). Secondly because there are many kinds of commons sectors (care economy, solidarity economy) which have not been commodified yet and where commons values and rules are deeply rooted. Those sectors are evidence that every day many of the things we need to live are produced outside the market.
  15. The commons discourse is a discourse about cultural change. It is not a mere technological or institutional approach. Instead, it offers a new frame for political and personal thinking and acting.

Why now? Because the moment is ripe for the commons.

  1. Given the historical moment of change, the commons are currently being rediscovered in many contexts. Market and state (alone) have failed both in the protection of common pool resources and in satisfying peoples needs. Actually, free market fundamentalism that now prevails is under siege. Its system of economic analysis, public policies and worldview is losing its explanatory value, not to mention public support. More and more people realize that it is not for the market that we enjoy biodiversity, cultural diversity and social networks!
  2. New technologies enable new forms of cooperation and the decentralized production of what up to now have been monopolized core technologies of the industrial age. Today, we can relocate even energy or electricity production into the social commons (citizen solar power stations, home-power stations). We can decide which are useful news and information for the community and reproduce them ourselves with „the biggest copy machine“ that ever existed: the internet. The ongoing major revolution in production allows for a change of rules. This is a major threat for monopolies.
  3. The ongoing processes put the individual in a position to engage in a wider context. A modern commons perspective is not headed „back to the past“. The perspective is not one of mere re-localization, but the horizon is: local, decentralized and horizontal cooperation in distributed networks, so that people can self-enable to create things together, available for them and others – if they want. The aim is to widen the commons sector and commons based production as far as possible and lesser depend on the market. This is only possible, if the new mode of production is able to solve even complex problems, if it is able to „peer-produce“ artifacts even large companies would have difficulties to prepare for logistically, financially and conceptually. And it is! Just think about Wikipedia or an open source car. Maybe we would have developed VIPs (vehicles for individual transportation) based 100 % on recyclable materials, which consume only a litre/100km if corporations would not have enclosed technologies and controlled the market. In a world where a commons-mode-of-production is general, there is no more centre and periphery.
  4. There are new legal forms to protect collective use rights and free and/or equitable access to the commons: the General Public License (GPL), ShareAlike licenses, ownership models for natural resources with a built-in mechanism to protect for speculation and avoid over-exploitation, stakeholder trusts on single common pool resources, the acequia water management systems in Mexico or the Johads water management systems in India or the Allemansrätten (rights of each person) in countries of Northern Europe. Those are powerful tools we have to learn more about and develop further. It is an area where we need a great deal of creative legal thinking and innovation, and we need respect for the great variety of formal and informal rules to protect the commons worldwide.
  5. Last but not least: once you put your nose into the commons, you discover astonishing new things. You connect with hundreds of dynamic communities. You have unexpected insights, you learn about encouraging projects and ideas and you multiply your networks. It’s energizing. Did you know, that there is an OpenCola project? Or that the biggest lake in New Zealand, Lake Taupo, is full of trout? In the very touristic Taupo region, there is much „pressure on the resource“, but the trout population continues enjoying the lake because the New Zealanders follow a simple rule: Fish what you need to eat (for doing so, you get a fishing permit from local authorities), but don’t sell. So, you won’t find any trout on the menues of the hundreds of restaurants in the region. Remember: The commons are not for sale. Or did you know something about open source biology and participatory medicine? Have you heard about the countless local seed banks – especially in the south – and the sheer incredible treasures they care for us? Do you know where the growing international open-access scholarly publishing movement is at in its effort to make sure that we will have free access to what has been publicly funded – knowledge production. Are you aware of the intercultural and the community gardens movement or of the commons regimes used by lobstermen in Maine/USA to prevent over-fishing of lobster? And what to think about the crisis commons, where hundreds of volunteers contribute their expertise and collect information using modern information technologies in support of disaster relief for post-earthquake Haiti?

The commons are something that brings enthusiasm back into political debates. Young people are all ears when they learn about peer-to-peer-production, because that’s what they do. The „ecos“ are all ears when they learn about the copyleft principle which enables the viral reproduction of software and content. They learn that „this complicated license stuff“ is to defend our freedom for access to knowledge and cultural techniques. That is precisely what they claim for in their field. The „technos“ get motivated to use their amazing abilities for helping to manage complex natural ressource systems. In other words: The commons widen the horizon, they bring a fresh breeze of undogmatic and dynamic collective thinking and practicing along.

The commons are a powerful, self-enabling and self-empowering concept to constantly recreate a dignified life. It is what we need to build a diverse and irresistible movement based on a coherent political and conceptual thinking.

Porto Alegre (RS), January 2010

update, 10/03: Version 2.0 (edited by natives :-) ) will be published soon. Many thanks in advance for all your comments, which will enrich the next document.

Dalai Lama - A consciousness conceiving inherent existence

by the Dalai Lama
translated and edited by
Jeffrey Hopkins
with Anne Klein


Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

It is common worldly knowledge that by believing untrue information to be true we fall into confusion and are harmed. Similarly, by believing phenomena to be inherently existent when in fact they are not inherently existent, we are also harmed. For example, with respect to the different ways in which there can be a consciousness of 'I', there is a definite difference between the way the 'I' is apprehended when desire, hatred, pride and so forth are generated based on this 'I', and the way the 'I' is apprehended when we are relaxed without any of those attitudes being manifest.

Similarly, there is the mere consciousness that apprehends an article in a store before we buy it, and there is the consciousness apprehending that article after it has been bought, when it is adhered to as 'mine' and grasped with attachment. Both these consciousnesses have the same object, and in both cases the mode of appearance of the article is the appearance of it as inherently existent. However, there is the difference of the presence or absence of our adhering to it as inherently or independently existent.

...a consciousness conceiving inherent existence precedes any bad consciousness, leading it on by the nose, and also accompanies, or aids, many other bad consciousnesses as well. Thus, if there were no ignorance conceiving inherent existence, then there would be no chance for desire, hatred and so forth to be generated.

--from The Buddhism of Tibet by the Dalai Lama, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, with Anne Klein, published by Snow Lion Publications

The Buddhism of Tibet • 5O% off • for this week only
(Good through November 5th).

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NPR - Brain Molecule May Offer Key to Erasing Fearful Memories

Nice segment, scary idea. I can see the value in erasing traumatic memories for those suffering from PTSD, but then I see the technology being used in all the wrongs ways, as in the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Scientists have discovered a molecule in the brain that may help erase the fearful memories that afflict people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

A drawing of a human brain showing the amygdala in red.

Red marks the amygdala.

The substance, described in an online edition of the journal Science, was found in mice. But it's part of a memory system that seems to work the same way in people.

Roger Clem and Richard Huganir of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine made the discovery while studying mice conditioned to associate a particular sound with an electric shock.

"If they hear the tone the next day, or even weeks later, the mouse will freeze" because it will bring up the fearful memory of the shock, Huganir tells Shots.

Clem and Huganir wanted to understand how that fearful memory is created.

So they studied the brains of mice that had just gone through fear conditioning. And they noticed that an unusual protein appeared in the amygdala, a part of the brain involved in emotions.

That molecule remained for only a few days and appeared to strengthen the brain circuit responsible for maintaining the fearful memory.

But when the researchers eliminated the protein during this period, mice lost their fearful memory. Forever.

The trick was to eliminate the protein soon after a fearful incident, Huganir says.

"Maybe this is a window of time when behavioral therapy would work much better," Huganir says, adding that it may also be possible to eliminate the protein with drugs.

And he says research on people suggests that it may be possible to create a new window for treatment by having people deliberately recall a fearful memory.

Researchers from New York University found that when people did that, there was a 6-hour window in which the original memory could be altered permanently through behavioral techniques.

Experiments in rodents suggest that's because the molecule involved in fear memories appears once again in the amygdala, Huganir says.

If so, he says, it may be possible to eliminate a person's unwanted memory during the critical period by giving a drug that interferes with the fear molecule. - Science Saturday: A History of the Science of Altruism

Cool discussion between Oren Harman (Bar-Ilan University) and Mark Borrello (University of Minnesota) on the biological science of altruism, including history of the issue and current understandings. Via

Oren’s book, “The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness”
Mark’s book, “Evolutionary Restraints: The Contentious History of Group Selection”

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Dalai Lama at Stanford - CCARE Research and Experiments on Compassion

Cool series of talks - much of the first video offers presentations from researchers whose work focuses on compassion in some way or another. The second video focuses specifically on practices that cultivate compassion in us, including their effectiveness. Third video goes further and suggests future avenues for research.

Part One:
This session presents important findings from CCARE's research on the "neural, genetic and behavioral mechanisms associated with compassion, altruism and other pro-social emotions." The panel explores the evolutionary origins of mammalian nurturing as well as neuropsychological and neuroeconomic models of compassion.

Stanford University:

The Dalai Lama at Stanford:

Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford (CCARE):

Dalai Lama Home:

Charter for Compassion:

Part Two:
In the first of two afternoon sessions, His Holiness the Dalai Lama participates in a panel regarding compassion and the development of compassion. The panel includes many Stanford faculty members as well as discussions of programs like CCARE, which focuses on how people might be trained to be more compassionate.

These sessions and the morning ones that preceded it were part of the 2010 visit to Stanford by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His visit included this session as well as several other sessions where the Dalai Lama talked about compassion and religion in the modern world.

Stanford University:

The Dalai Lama at Stanford

Stanford University Channel on YouTube:

Part Three:
In the second of two afternoon sessions, His Holiness the Dalai Lama participates in panels regarding compassion, emotions, and action in the modern world. The panels includes Stanford faculty members as well as discussions about humanity in culture. In addition, the panel discusses how character and optimism play a role in the world's future.

This session and the morning one that preceded it was part of the 2010 visit to Stanford by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His visit included this session as well as several other sessions where the Dalai Lama talked about compassion and religion in the modern world.

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Glial Dance - Wired to be Social

Glial Dance is a cool neuroscience blog - in this research review the author looks at evidence that we are hard-wired for social interaction - we need people. I posted information on this study yesterday, with some brief comments - this post looks at the study with a little more depth.

Wired to be Social

Humans are a social species, we interact with other people – aided by language- and exchange information on daily basis. The effects of social isolation have been demonstrated and predicted to be very severe and “de-humanising” in many cases with a long list of adverse effects on cognitive abilities and emotional stability. The question often posed when considering this feature of mankind is whether it is an adaptation to the presence of others in our environment, a simple product of proximity; or it is a function developmentally wired into our genes and is ,thus, needed for proper growth and development. The latter also would imply the evolutionary advantage of cooperation and living in a group.

In a recent study, researchers tackled the question of whether we are genetically wired to be social, and they did so by finding one of the most controlled environments in human developmental studies, and chose the ideal subjects for most genetic questions. Twins in utero!

using ultrasound, Castiello et. al. , developed a kinematic profile of movement in twin fetuses. They’ve recorded 4-dimensional ultrasound videos of fetuses in weeks 14 and 18 of gestation, movements of the fetuses were observed and categorized. With this approach they can study the frequency of movements which are directed , intentionally, towards the other sibling; if said movements were observed to be statistically significant then it would suggest that there is a genetic component wired into our DNA which gears us to interact socially with others in our environment.

The reliance of human observation to categorize the types of motion is a limiting factor to the accuracy of this study, this effect was reduced by having more than one observer creating the kinematic profile of fetus motion, and subsequently test their data for consistency.

Results, interestingly the researchers have found not only that a significant portion of fetus motion in their twin-pairs were directed towards their sibling, a significant increase in said motion was observed from the first observation at 14-weeks and the second one at the 18-weeks, 29% increase! This observed increase is significant because normally spontaneous limb movement is observed to decrease with time due to neurological maturation and decrease of uterine space as a result of fetal growth; which suggest that motion directed towards the other twin was intentional and positively reinforced.

The intentional nature of movements directed towards the other twin is an important observation from this study; it suggests that we are , in fact, genetically wired to be social. To me this opens up many questions; genetically-speaking what is the difference between living in a herd as opposed to small family units? This question might seem silly at first, at least it does to me on second-reading, but anthropological studies suggest that man has spread through earth as a nomad, migrations occurred frequently, but it is often suggested that a small portion of the population carried out said migrations. i.e. not an entire ‘herd’ of our early ancestors migrated, rather a smaller group. I can’t help but wonder if this is an advantageous adaptation or a mere coincidence; sadly I’m not well read in anthropology, perhaps I must hit the books again. sigh.

If you found this interesting, or you have any input feel free to contribute, I’d love to hear more on this.

Umberto Castiello, Cristina Becchio, Stefania Zoia, Cristian Nelini, Luisa Sartori, Laura Blason, Giuseppina D’Ottavio, Maria Bulgheroni, & Vittorio Gallese (2010). Wired to be Social: the ontogeny of human interaction. PLoS ONE

TEDxKC - Brené Brown - The Price of Invulnerability

I posted a cool video of Dr. Brene Brown at The Masculine Heart the other day: TEDx Houston - Dr. Brene Brown: Feeling Worthy of Love and Belonging. She explores in that lecture the ways that shame destroys our sense of self-worth.

In this lecture, from TEDx Kansas City, she talks about the ways we shut ourselves off from others. I really like her approach to things - brilliant and heart-centered.

TEDxKC - Brené Brown - The Price of Invulnerability

TEDxKC talk synopsis: In our anxious world, we often protect ourselves by closing off parts of our lives that leave us feeling most vulnerable. Yet invulnerability has a price. When we knowingly or unknowingly numb ourselves to what we sense threatens us, we sacrifice an essential tool for navigating uncertain times -- joy. This talk will explore how and why fear and collective scarcity has profoundly dangerous consequences on how we live, love, parent, work and engage in relationships -- and how simple acts can restore our sense of purpose and meaning.

Speaker: Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work where she has spent the past 10 years studying courage, shame and authenticity. She is the Behavioral Health Scholar-in-Residence at the Council on Alcohol and Drugs and has written several books on her research.
Dr. Brown is the author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (paper, Oct. 2010), and I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power (paper, Dec. 2007), among others.

Dharma Quote: Anam Thubten on Anatman

by Anam Thubten,
edited by Sharon Roe


Dharma Quote of the Week

As human beings we are deeply insecure and we do not know who we truly are. Of course this problem does not show on the surface of our lives. We are always telling ourselves who we are, based on this notion that we are separate from everything else. This sense that "I am separate" is the ground of our sense of self. It is reinforced by various false identities that we cling to, notions that "I am this" or "I am that." Whatever beliefs we have about ourselves are just another extension. Most of the time when we look around, we immediately see that our surroundings are validating these false identities. For this very reason, it is a challenging endeavor to deconstruct this illusion of self.

Every time we look into our mirror we might have some thought about ourselves. Each of these thoughts adds up. They become the conceptual bricks we use to keep building this illusory castle of self. Yet, there is a suspicion that this notion of self might be very fragile and transient, and this thought is silently lurking somewhere in our consciousness. Most of the time this suspicion is not brought into the light of awareness, but if it is, some deep, inner wisdom will arise without choice.

Our suspicion of the fragility of this false notion of self can go in one of two directions. In general it becomes a source of fear, anxiety, and insecurity. We often see people who are fearful and overly defensive when it comes to their own identity. We ourselves tend to become fearful if our identity is threatened. But at other times the suspicion can go another way. When that happens, it can be a life-changing revelation that can lead us to the realization of the highest level of truth. This idea is not some new, lofty theory. It is timeless wisdom that has been realized by many people in human history. Buddha taught this wisdom, and in his tradition it is called anatman or "no self." Anatman, or "no self," is the term used to mean that one has seen through this false sense of self. One has seen that this false sense of self is merely an identification with one's roles in life. It is just a mask, not the truth.

--from No Self, No Problem by Anam Thubten, edited by Sharon Roe, published by Snow Lion Publications

No Self, No Problem • Now at 5O% off
(Good through November 5th).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

William Irwin Thompson - Thinking Otherwise: The Elections of 2010

William Irwin Thompson is one of the integral thinkers few people have heard of - and he should be better known - he is a regular columnist for Wild River Review.

"We Irish think otherwise." Bishop Berkley

Dying Star - Hubble Image

In this election we have a choice between Democratic timidity and lobbyist venality and Republican delusional psychosis. So, as a senior citizen, of course I will vote Democratic and have already sent in my contribution to the party to protect Social Security. What choice do I have?

But what this meiosis of the body politic means is that the two parties have exchanged genes and are now splitting apart as two new parties emerge. The Rockefeller Republicans are now Democrats led by the Clintons, and the Tea Party-Libertarians, led by Sarah Palin and supported by Rupert Murdoch, have taken over the Republican Party, and have drowned out any rational theory of governance with their loud simple-minded ideology.

Soon these snakes will slough off their skins and there will be two new parties in the US: a progressive Green party and a Libertarian Tea Party. They in turn will polarize between anti-technological and electronic high tech wings in the progressive Greens, and anti-intellectuals and high tech militarist wings in the Libertarian party.

But at this moment in history, both the Democratic and Republican parties have lost touch with history and are fossils of the times of conservative Old Money and labor unions. One can hardly call Goldman Sachs old money conservative, when their hypercapitalist strategies include conspiracy to defraud their clients by creating worthless derivatives of bundled bad mortgages, and collusion with Moody and Standard and Poors to bless these bonds with a higher rating than they deserve. As for labor unions, they are no longer your Woody Guthrie folk idealists, but defenders of mediocrity who protect bad teachers much in the way the Catholic hierarchy protected bad priests.

Unlike President Bush, who protected his base and always appealed to the crazies and theocratic New Kingdom evangelicals who wished to overcome the division of Church and State to introduce a Christian version of mullah-led Iran, Obama actually attacks his liberal progressive base, and in his September 17, 2010 “You know who your are!” speech, he accused us of seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full, when we lamented his abandoning a public option for health care by catering to the for-profit insurance companies, his choosing Summers and Geithner to rescue the banks, and his reinforcing the war paradigm with the same old foreign policy by expanding the war in Afghanistan. The children of the poor still go off to die to protect the interests of the rich, as they have always done since the Mexican and Spanish-American wars.

Can you imagine Bush attacking his base by saying “You know who your are! When I bombed Iraq, you said, but what about Iran? When I ignored the World Court, you said what about eliminating the UN? When I turned over the Energy Department to the oil companies, you said what about eliminating the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency? When I offered to privatize Social Security, you said what about eliminating the “Nanny State” with its Department of Health, Education, and Welfare?

Guantanamo is still there. 50 billion dollars go to Afghanistan for reconstruction, infrastructure, and military and police training, while our infrastructure rots and our train system rattles on with sixty-year-old equipment. Medieval Afghanistan cannot absorb the fifty billion, so most of the funds are diverted into baksheesh and bribes, and the weapons for the Afghan military and police end up being sold to the Taliban, who buy them from the profits of the poppy trade. So all the President’s horses and all the President’s men cannot put Afghanistan and Iraq together again. North Korea threatens, Pakistan subverts, and China builds a new navy to make the Pacific their Mare Nostrum.

Obama with his book about hope and his inspirited “Yes We Can,” raised all our hopes and the country gave him a strong mandate. But he squandered it to replace leadership with compromise. With a 60/40 Senate, he could have introduced a new paradigm for the war mentality and a new philosophy of the role of the state in the transformation of culture. Instead, Obama became fixated on extending his hand to those who hated him and irrationally claimed he was a Kenyan and a Muslim and an exponent of all things unAmerican. He should have ignored these reincarnations of the nativist Know Nothing Party, the John Birch Society, and the KKK, and moved ahead with a more liberal progressive agenda. He should have listened to Paul Krugman and Joseph Stieglitz instead of Larry Summers and Tim Geithner. He chose instead to hug the double yellow stripe in the middle of the road so closely to his chest that his heart became neither black nor white, but yellow.

The sad truth is that the American electorate and the politicians are simply not smart enough to deal with the global problems we face. When the Greenland ice sheet melts into the sea and Wall Street is flooded and the subways become unusable in New York and London, the Republicans and Tories will still deny global warming, adjust the rear view mirror for a better vision of the past, and continue to drive us further on the road of the collapse of industrial civilization.

I am not exactly one of those who has his fingers on the pulse of Sarah Palin’s Real America, but my Irish Druid Radar makes me feel that the Tea Party rage has crested too soon, and that when the rest of us go to the polls, we are going to vote to save the Nanny State with its unemployment insurance and Social Security. Let the Torries in England do the experimenting with balancing the budget and cutting back spending in the middle of a global recession, I’ll stick with Paul Krugman’s version of Keynesian economics.

As the English mother advised her daughter with the comforting words about sex the night before her nuptials, “Close your eyes and think of England,” we liberal progressives must, in this election, close our eyes, think of America, and probably get screwed by the Democrats once again.

The Mad Hatter - Alice in Wonderland

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William Irwin Thompson, Columnist, Thinking Otherwise

William Irwin Thompson

William Irwin Thompson (born July, 1938) is known primarily as a social philosopher and cultural critic, but he has also been writing and publishing poetry throughout his career and received the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award in 1986. He has made significant contributions to cultural history, social criticism, the philosophy of science, and the study of myth. He describes his writing and speaking style as "mind-jazz on ancient texts". He is an astute reader of science, social science, history, and literature. He is the founder of the Lindisfarne Association.

Robert Augustus Masters Speaks with Ken Wilber on Spiritual Bypassing

Robert Augustus Masters new book, Spiritual Bypassing (see my review), is destined to become a touchstone for spiritual practice just as has Chogyam Trungpa's Spiritual Materialism - it's that important. In this talk from Integral Life, Robert and Ken Wilber talk about how we define spiritual bypassing.

This is the first of three talks, the next two require IL membership (free for the first month).

When Spirituality Disconnects Us From What Really Matters

Spiritual Bypassing
Robert Augustus Masters and Ken Wilber

Have you ever:

  • Used spirituality as a sort of escape from reality, or as a way to avoid some painful aspect of your life?
  • Let yourself get taken advantage of or walked all over in the name of blind compassion?
  • Allowed your understanding of ultimate reality to help you avoid or push away your anger, believing such negative emotions to be "lower" or "less spiritual" than your enlightened ideals?
  • Used spiritual (or integral) terminology to relabel your own shadows, using spiritual ideas to pave over the potholes in your own personality?

If you are being completely honest with yourself, odds are you would answer "yes" to one or more of these questions. It might be difficult to admit—in fact, spiritual bypassing is often so subtle and so insidious it can be difficult to even see. But don't worry: you are not alone. In fact, we would be hard pressed to name a single teacher or practitioner who hasn't fallen into similar traps at one time or another. Fortunately, we have people like Robert Augustus Masters and Ken Wilber to help us recognize, confront, and embrace these flickering shadows of spiritual development—offering us a path from from self-deception to self-liberation, from idiot compassion to enlightened action, from effete escapism to the moment-to-moment enactment of infinite and boundless love.


Part 1: What Is Spiritual Bypassing? (Free!)

Right click to download mp3

Right click to download m4b AudioBook

Duration: 20 minutes

Two New Perspectives on Depression

In the last week or tow, there were two new articles on depression that offer a new way into the understanding and treatment of this challenging state experience. I think each of these findings can offer possibilities for new treatments - and with depression becoming more and more common (we're talking clinical depression here, not sadness or situational melancholy), new approaches are welcome.

Gene therapy helps depressed mice

Revving up expression of a single gene in the brain reverses depression symptoms

Depressed personGene therapy might one day be used to treat neuropsychiatric diseases - if it can be translated from mice to humans.Punchstock

Gene therapy delivered to a specific part of the brain reverses symptoms of depression in a mouse model of the disease — potentially laying the groundwork for a new approach to treating severe cases of human depression in which drugs are ineffective. But the invasive nature of the treatment, and the notorious difficulty in translating neuropsychiatric research from animal models to humans, could complicate its path to the clinic.

Many researchers believe that poor signalling of the neurotransmitter serotonin is responsible for causing depression, and common antidepressants act by increasing serotonin's concentration. Research published today in Science Translational Medicine1 uses a virus to deliver an extra dose of the gene p11 to the adult mouse brain. The protein expressed by the gene is thought to bind to serotonin receptor molecules and ferry them to the cell surface, positioning them to receive serotonin's signals from neighbouring cells.

"I think it awakens the possibility of gene therapy for neuropsychiatric diseases," says Husseini Manji, a senior investigator at Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development in Titusville, New Jersey, who was not involved in the study. But, he adds, "thinking about delivering a gene to the brain poses all sorts of challenges".

The p11 gene was only recently linked to depression. In 2006, Paul Greengard, a neuroscientist at the Rockefeller University in New York, and his colleagues created mutant mice lacking the gene, and found that the animals developed depression-like behaviours2.

Read the whole article.

New Theory Links Depression To Chronic Brain Inflammation

Chronic depression is an adaptive, reparative neurobiological process gone wrong, say two University of California, San Diego School of Medicine researchers, positing in a new theory that the debilitating mental state originates from more ancient mechanisms used by the body to deal with physical injury, such as pain, tissue repair and convalescent behavior.

In a paper published in the September online edition of Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Review, Athina Markou, PhD, professor of psychiatry, and Karen Wager-Smith, a post-doctoral researcher, integrate evidence from diverse clinical, biological and behavioral studies to create a novel theory they hope will lead to a shift in thinking about depression.

"In contrast to other biological theories of depression, we started with a slightly different question," said Wager-Smith. "Other theories address the question: 'What is malfunctioning in depression?' We took a step back and asked the question: 'What is the biology of the proper function of the depressive response?' Once we had a theoretical model for the biology of a well-functioning depressive response, it helped make sense of all the myriad differences between depressed and non-depressed subjects that the biomedical approach has painstakingly amassed."

According to the new theory, severe stress and adverse life events, such as losing a job or family member, prompt neurobiological processes that physically alter the brain. Neurons change shape and connections. Some die, but others sprout as the brain rewires itself. This neural remodeling employs basic wound-healing mechanisms, which means it can be painful and occasionally incapacitating, even when it's going well.

"It's necessary and normal so that an individual can adapt, change behavior and deal with altered circumstances," Markou said. Real problems occur only "when these restructuring processes go into overdrive, beyond what is necessary and adaptive, and for longer periods of time than needed. Then depression becomes pathological."

The theory extends findings made by other researchers that the neurobiological substrates of physical and emotional pain overlap. Just as the body's repair mechanisms for physical injury can sometimes result in chronic pain and inflammation, so too can the response to psychological trauma, resulting in chronic depression.
Read the whole article.