Saturday, November 27, 2010

Beth Azar - Your brain on culture

From my perspective, one of the under-developed areas of Wilberian integral psychology is the cultural quadrant. I suspect that Wilber's background in Buddhism and transpersonal psychology oriented him toward the interior-individual quadrant both in terms of his practice and his model of the mind.

There are decades of research showing that cultural is not only a power shaping force on mind and consciousness, but that mind is embedded in the interpersonal aspect of culture and does not exist in the sense we know it without culture. The difference is structuralism (Wilber's approach, certainly influenced by the work of Piaget) vs. constructionism (Vygoksty, Bowlby, Bruner, Gergen, et al.).

Both are true.

This article from APA Monitor looks at new advances in cultural neuroscience. Rather than the observational intuitions of the past, we are now able to measure changes in the brain as a result of culture, making the field much more evidence based than in the past.
Brain on cullture

When an American thinks about whether he is honest, his brain activity looks very different than when he thinks about whether another person is honest, even a close relative. That’s not true for Chinese people. When a Chinese man evaluates whether he is honest, his brain activity looks almost identical to when he is thinking about whether his mother is honest.

That finding — that American and Chinese brains function differently when considering traits of themselves versus traits of others (Neuroimage, Vol. 34, No. 3) — supports behavioral studies that have found that people from collectivist cultures, such as China, think of themselves as deeply connected to other people in their lives, while Americans adhere to a strong sense of individuality.

The study also shows the power of cultural neuroscience, the growing field that uses brain-imaging technology to deepen the understanding of how environment and beliefs can shape mental function. Barely heard of just five years ago, the field has become a vibrant area of research, and the University of Michigan, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Emory University have created cultural neuroscience centers. In addition, in April a cultural neuroscience meeting at the University of Michigan attracted such psychology luminaries as Hazel Markus, PhD, Michael Posner, PhD, Steve Suomi, PhD, and Claude Steele, PhD, to discuss their work in the context of cultural neuroscience.

The field has made headlines that include, “Chinese, English speakers do math differently,” from MSNBC about a study by Yiyuan Tang of Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China, which found that Chinese natives make use of different parts of the brain than Americans do to process numbers. Another headline article in USA Today, “Eastern ‘collectivist’ culture may buffer against depression” found that people from East Asian cultures are more likely to have a gene that buffers them from depression than people from Western cultures, as discovered by Northwestern University psychologist Joan Chiao, PhD.

Findings like these demonstrate that neuroscience can measure cultural differences. But such results also corroborate the behavioral work of cultural psychology. As the field matures, it may even change the way we think about brain development.

“Cultural neuroscience gives us a window into how much the brain can be changed by the environment,” says University of Texas at Dallas psychologist Denise C. Park, PhD, who has conducted several cultural neuroscience studies. “It will deepen our understanding of how environment and beliefs can shape cognitive function.”

Culture shapes biology

Tufts University psychologist Nalini Ambady, PhD, is one of the field’s pioneers. Her work has found that even as people perceive the same stimulus, their brains may activate differently.

For example, in a study headed by her graduate student Jonathan Freeman and published last year in Neuroimage (Vol. 47, No. 1), the researchers used fMRI to measure brain activity in American and Japanese study participants when they viewed silhouettes of bodies in postures considered “dominant” — standing tall, arms crossed, for example — and “submissive” — head and arms hanging down, for instance.

Ambady’s group based the study on historical data showing that East-Asian cultures value submissiveness, while Western cultures value dominance. In fact, they found, they could see this cultural distinction in the way the brain responds to visual input. When Americans viewed dominant silhouettes, but not submissive ones, reward circuitry fired in the brain’s limbic system. The opposite happened among Japanese participants; their reward circuitry fired in response to submissive, but not dominant, silhouettes.

In addition, the magnitude of the brain’s response to the images correlated precisely with self-reports of how much participants valued dominance and submissiveness, says Ambady. The more a participant supported sentences stating that it’s good to be in control, the stronger the reward circuitry fired when he or she viewed a dominant posture.

“We see that what the brain finds rewarding reflects the values of the dominant culture,” says Ambady. “People can see the same stimulus but have completely different neural responses.”

Park and her colleagues find that cultures may actually see the world differently and that scientists can pick up this difference with brain imaging. In a 2010 study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, they used fMRI to examine brain activity while American and native Chinese participants processed a series of visual scenes. The scenes consisted of a central object superimposed onto either a congruent — giraffe on a savanna — or incongruent — giraffe on a football field — background.

Using an analysis of the imaging data they developed in those earlier studies, the researchers showed that Chinese participants’ perceptual areas of the brain responded more to objects superimposed on incongruent scenes than objects matching their surroundings. This was not the case for Americans, who didn’t appear to be affected by the background at all.

These findings support the idea that native Chinese, as opposed to Americans, are more sensitive to the context in which an object is embedded, and so focus greater attention on that object when it’s in an inconsistent context, says Park. Most recently, a study by Park’s group, in press in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience demonstrated that Westerners process human faces more actively than East Asians, consistent with the Western focus on individuality.

In effect, she adds, East Asians and Americans literally see things differently — and that finding could have major implications for models of cross-cultural communication.

Seeing things differently may also affect how easily different cultures perform cognitive tasks, even when they use the same brain circuitry. Such research may someday shed light on why some cultures appear more skilled at certain real-life cognitive problems than others, but right now researchers are looking at very simple tasks. For example, behavioral work by University of Michigan psychologist Shinobu Kitayama, PhD, and his colleagues showed that people from Japan are far better at judging the length of a line relative to the size of a box in which it’s drawn, while Americans are far better at judging the absolute length of the same line. They attribute this difference to findings from other studies showing that Americans pay more attention to details and Asians pay more attention to context.

Last year, Stanford University postdoc Trey Hedden, PhD, and his colleagues used fMRI to re-examine these findings. Like Kitayama, they used the framed-line task: Participants see a square with a line drawn partway down the middle. They then see a larger box and either have to draw a line the same absolute length as the first line or a line the same relative length compared with the bigger size of the new box.

Again, Americans did better on the absolute test and Japanese did better on the relative test, but this time the researchers could see what was happening in their brains. It turns out that both Americans and Japanese use the same brain areas for both tests, but when they’re doing the test that is more difficult for them, they also engage an area of the brain associated with increased attention.

“This finding shows that the brain compensates for tasks that we’re not typically exposed to through our culture by turning on an attention circuit to help us,” says Kitayama. In contrast, tasks that are commonplace become automatic and don’t require extra concentration.

Biology shapes culture

While cultural neuroscience has mostly shown how culture shapes biology, researchers are also beginning to examine how biology shapes culture.

Northwestern University’s Joan Chiao, PhD, for example, has found that people who live in collectivist cultures are more likely than those in individualistic cultures to have a form of the serotonin transporter gene — the S-allele — that correlates with higher rates of negative affect, anxiety and depression.

In contrast to what you might expect from the genes alone, she also found that people from collectivist societies are less likely to be depressed. This suggests that collectivism, which tends to produce lower levels of negative affect, may have co-evolved with the S-allele, says Chiao, who published her findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Science (Vol. 277, No. 1,681). In other words, she explains, societies of people with the S-allele developed a collectivist culture that reduced stress and, therefore, risk of depression by emphasizing social harmony and social support.

“Culture may make us rethink the role of this serotonin transporter physiology,” says University of Michigan neuroscientist Israel Liberzon, MD. “If it’s very common in East Asian groups, but the prevalence of depression is not higher, it somehow interacts with their lives differently.”

Developing standards

While such neuroscience findings are great headline fodder, the field must move forward with rigor and caution, says Stanford University’s Markus, who is a pioneer of cultural psychology. It’s not enough, she says, simply to scan the brains of people from different “cultures” — defined by language, nationality or ethnicity — and make assumptions about cognitive or perceptual differences. By themselves, these are meaningless categories, she adds.

“To make progress in our understanding of how cultures shape brains and brains shape culture,” she says, “we need to know what psychological and behavioral tendencies are associated with these social categories and how these tendencies are linked to brain function.”

Chiao learned this lesson while conducting an fMRI study, published last year in Human Brain Mapping (Vol. 30, No. 9). The study looked at activity in the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex — an area associated with a sense of self — while people from Japan and the United States assessed whether self-descriptive phrases applied to them. The researchers sought to find a biological explanation for past research showing that people from collectivist cultures relate more strongly to contextual self-descriptions, such as “When I’m with my mother, I’m honest.” People from already defined individualistic cultures relate more strongly to general self-descriptions such as “I’m honest.”

When Chiao and her colleagues compared participants along ethnic lines, they saw no difference in brain activity. Differences appeared only after they grouped people based on how strongly they valued collectivism or individualism: Regardless of ethnicity, the medial prefrontal cortex was most active when individualists read general self-descriptions and when collectivists read contextual self-descriptions.

This work demonstrates how variable cultural values can be, even within cultural groups, as people filter information from their environment and form their own self-concepts, says Chiao.

That’s why University of California, Los Angeles, graduate student Elizabeth Losin and colleagues include the need to carefully define culture among eight guidelines for cultural neuroscience research they lay out in a paper published this year in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Vol. 5, No. 2–3). They also suggest guidelines on the need to match study participants on how long they’ve been immersed in the culture under study; to ensure that study materials are culturally appropriate; and to consider potential genetic variation within a cultural group that might account for differences in brain development.

In the end, cultural neuroscience could usher in an era of greater understanding between people from different cultures.

“My greatest hope is that it has implications for negotiations between countries; that people on both sides understand that they might not be talking about the same thing even if they’re looking at the same thing,” says Park.

Beth Azar is a writer in Portland, Ore.

The Dalai Lama - Being jealous of others' happiness and joy is totally inappropriate

The Power of Patience
from a Buddhist Perspective
by the Dalai Lama,
translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

Why should one work so hard to please people, doing all sorts of things for others in order to make them feel happy? If one can't bear one's enemy's happiness, then why should one do all sorts of things to make anyone else happy?

Shantideva explains an inconsistency regarding this issue. He notes that when praise is directed toward oneself, when people speak highly of oneself, one not only feels happy but also expects others to be happy when they hear this praise. However, this is totally inconsistent with one's attitude toward others. When people praise others, then not only does one disapprove of others' happiness but one's own peace of mind and happiness are destroyed as well. So there seems to be an inconsistency when it comes to relating to praise directed toward oneself and praise directed toward others.

Then, especially for a Bodhisattva practitioner who has dedicated his or her life to bringing about joy and happiness in others and leading them to the ultimate state of happiness, to be jealous of others' happiness and joy is totally inappropriate. In fact, one should feel that if other sentient beings of their own accord, from their own efforts, gain any little experience of happiness and joy here and there, we should be all the more grateful, because without our helping them, they have been able to achieve these joyful experiences and happiness.

--from Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective by the Dalai Lama, translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa, published by Snow Lion Publications

Healing Anger • 5O% off • for this week only
(Good through December 3rd).

NYT Reviews Antonio Damasio's "Self Comes to Mind"

I am a fan of Antonio Damasio for the simple reason that he is continually revising his model of consciousness based on new evidence, and he is one of the few neuroscientists who understands that mind is brain and body, or more simply, since the brain is a part of the body, mind is body.

The New York Times got philosopher/neuroscientist Ned Block to review Damasio's new book, Self Comes to Mind, which I am quite enjoying so far. It's fair to say Block is not a fan, which is cool, I am not a fan of Block's work either.

What Was I Thinking?

In “Self Comes to Mind,” the eminent neurologist and neuroscientist Antonio Damasio gives an account of consciousness that might come naturally to a highly caffeinated professor in his study. He emphasizes wakefulness, self-awareness, reflection, rationality, “knowledge of one’s own existence and of the existence of surroundings.”

Illustration by Shannon May

SELF COMES TO MIND: Constructing the Conscious Brain

By Antonio Damasio

367 pp. Pantheon. $28.95

That is certainly one kind of consciousness, what one might call self-consciousness. But there is also a different kind, as anyone who knows what it is like to have a headache, taste chocolate or see red can attest. Self-consciousness is a sophisticated and perhaps uniquely human cognitive achievement. Phenomenal consciousness by contrast — what it is like to experience — is something we share with many animals. A person who is drunk or delirious or dreaming can be excruciatingly conscious without being wakeful, self-aware or aware of his surroundings.

The term “conscious” was first introduced into academic discourse by the Cambridge philosopher Ralph Cudworth in 1678, and by 1727, John Maxwell had distinguished five senses of the term. The ambiguity has not abated. Damasio’s distinctive contributions in “Self Comes to Mind” are an account of phenomenal consciousness, a conception of self­consciousness and, most controversially, a claim that phenomenal consciousness is dependent on self-consciousness.

Phenomenally conscious content — what distinguishes the experience of blue from the taste of chocolate — is, according to Damasio, a matter of associations that are processed in different brain areas at the same time. What makes a conscious state feel like something rather than nothing is explained as a fusion of mind and body in which neurons become “extensions of the flesh.” Self-consciousness is the result of a procession of neural maps of inner and outer worlds. What’s more, he argues, phenomenal consciousness depends on self-consciousness. Without a self, he writes, “the mind would lose its orientation. . . . One’s thoughts would be freewheeling, unclaimed by an owner. . . . What would we look like? Well, we would look unconscious.”

Even fish and lizards have a kind of minimal self, one that combines sensory integration with control of information processing and action. But Damasio’s self is not minimal. It is inflated with self-awareness, reflection, rationality, deliberation and knowledge of one’s existence and the existence of one’s surroundings, and this is what he ends up arguing a ­being needs in order to have phenomenal consciousness.

You may have sensed that I think there is a problem with Damasio’s emphasis on self-consciousness: indeed, “Self Comes to Mind” is mainly about self-­consciousness rather than experiential phenomenal consciousness. And the book is not about ­geology or underwear or many other things either. So what?

I can explain the problem by a brief detour into a different book, “The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” (1976), by the American psychologist Julian Jaynes. Jaynes held that consciousness was invented by the ancient Greeks between 1400 and 600 B.C. He argued that there was a dramatic appearance of introspection in large parts of the “Odyssey,” as compared with large parts of the “Iliad,” which he claimed were composed at least a hundred years earlier. The philosopher W. V. Quine once told me that he thought Jaynes might be on to something until he asked Jaynes what it was like to perceive before consciousness was invented. According to Quine, Jaynes said it was like nothing at all — exactly what it is like to be a table or a chair. Jaynes was denying that people had experiential phenomenal consciousness based on a claim about inflated self-consciousness.

Damasio also denies phenomenal consciousness because of the demand of a sophisticated self-consciousness. You may have noticed an exciting report a few years ago of a patient in a persistent vegetative state (defined behaviorally) studied by the neuroscientists Adrian Owen and Steven Laureys. On some trials, the two instructed the patient to imagine standing still on a tennis court swinging at a ball, and on others to visualize walking from room to room in her home. The patient, they found, showed the same imagistic brain activations (motor areas for tennis, spatial areas for exploring the house) as normally conscious people who were used as controls.

More such cases have since been discovered, and this year Owen and Laureys described a vegetative-state patient who was able to use the tennis/navigation alternation to give yes-or-no answers to five of six basic questions like “Is your father’s name Alexander?” These results are strong evidence — though not proof — of phenomenal consciousness in some of those who showed no behavioral signs of it. But Damasio scoffs, saying that these results “can be parsimoniously interpreted in the context of the abundant evidence that mind processes operate nonconsciously.” His skepticism appears to be grounded in the fact that these patients show no clear sign of self-consciousness and thus constitute a potential roadblock in front of his theory.

Damasio also stumbles over dreaming. In dreams, phenomenal consciousness can be very vivid even when the rational processes of self-consciousness are much diminished. Damasio describes dreams as “mind processes unassisted by consciousness.” Recognizing that the reader will be puzzled by this claim, he describes dreaming as “paradoxical” since the mental processes in dreaming are “not guided by a regular, properly functioning self of the kind we deploy when we reflect and deliberate.” But dreaming is paradoxical only if one has a model of phenomenal consciousness based on self-consciousness — on knowledge, rationality, reflection and wakefulness.

Contrary to Damasio’s point of view, there is good evidence that vivid conscious experience may be antithetical to self-reflective activity. In one experiment, the Israeli neuroscientist Rafi Malach presented subjects with pictures and asked them to judge their own emotional reactions as positive, negative or neutral — a self-oriented, introspective task. He then presented different subjects with the same pictures and asked them to very quickly categorize the pictures as, for example, animals or not. Of course these subjects were seeing the pictures consciously, but Malach found that the brain circuits involved in scrutinizing self-reactions (as indicated by the emotional reaction task) were inhibited in the fast categorization task. Subjects also rated their self-awareness as high in the emotional reaction task and low in the fast categorization task. As Malach puts it, these results comport with “the strong intuitive sense we have of ‘losing our selves’ in a highly engaging sensory-motor act.”

Damasio argues that a creature without sensory integration and control of thought and action would be unconscious. But even if that is true, it does not show that phenomenal consciousness requires self-awareness, reflection, wakefulness, or awareness of one’s existence or surroundings. This argument conflates the minimal self with the inflated self.

Is this discussion of any practical importance? Yes. Phenomenal consciousness is what makes pain bad in itself and pleasure good. Damasio’s refusal to regard phenomenal consciousness (without the involvement of the inflated self) as real consciousness could be used to justify the brutalization of cows and chickens on the grounds that they are not self-conscious and therefore not conscious. Damasio, in response to those who have raised such criticisms in the past, declares that in fact he thinks it “highly likely” that animals do have consciousness. But this doesn’t square with the demanding theory he advances in his book, on the basis of which he denies consciousness in dreams and in “vegetative state” patients who can answer questions. He owes us an explanation of why he thinks chickens are conscious even though dreamers and the question-answering patients are not.

Ned Block is the Silver professor of philosophy, psychology and neural science at New York University.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Paul Chippendale - Transformative Leadership

If you haven't spent some time with Paul Chippendale's very cool blog, Principles to Live By, you should do yourself a favor and do it. Chippendale seems to be focused on the values we will need as we love deeper into the 21st century. He is the primary developer of the AVI (Copyright 1988-2010 Minessence Group) - "the world's leading values inventory."

This is a cool post from a couple of weeks back.

Transformative Leadership

Transformative leadership is a team effort. It requires constructive dialogue between the Transactional leaders (the implementers) and the Visionary leaders (the dreamers).

It's through the dialogue between these two groups that a new tacit worldview emerges.

So who are the Visionary Leaders, and who are the transactional leaders?

From when we are born our interaction with the world around us stimulates our brain. We quickly begin to develop preferences for some forms of stimulation over others. By late adolescence these preferences are virtually "set in concrete" and we have developed a preference for one of four ways of relating to the world around us: things-abstract, concrete-things, concrete-people, or people-abstract. Below, each of these four ways of dialoguing with reality are briefly described along with preferred leadership modus operandi.

Things-Abstract [Technical Architect]

These are people who have a preference for using their hands to "tinker" with or to create things and to use their intellect to develop models or plans. They rely mostly on discovering things about the world through thinking about it and intellectually analysing it. They prefer to gather information visually. They are the "accidental leaders" because they will often create a technology which everyone else wants. People such as Bill Gates and the inventor of Facebook are examples. People with this brain-preference are not particularly interested in politics, they are the "corporatists" and would be quite comfortable living a totally privatized world.

Those who belong to this brain-preference will be seen as visionary leaders if people like the technology they have created.

Things-Concrete [Quality Producer/Crafts Person]

These are "hands on" people who like certainty and like activities/organisations to be well structured. They prefer things to be down-to-earth rather than abstract and intangible. People with this preference may be athletes, mechanics, surgeons, gardeners, accountants, farmers, etc. They will prefer a political party which gives them certainty and a sense of security. They will also prefer a party which is conservative in its policies rather than one which comes up with innovative new (never-tried-before) policy.

These people can be fabulous transactional leaders. Those who are masters of their craft will be sought out to teach others the best way to perform their chosen occupation.

Concrete-People [People Servants]

As with the Quality Producers, People Servants like structure. However, their preference is for spending time with and talking to people, rather than relating to the world of non-human things. They will choose careers as school teachers, actors, ethicists, priests/nuns, public servants, value consultants, etc. They will also prefer a party which is somewhat conservative in its policies, however, they will put people ahead of balancing the budget. So, if their party spends too much money on welfare (i.e. caring for those who can't care for them selves), their party will probably be voted out of office and a party supported by the Quality Producers will be voted back in on the promise of spending cuts to bring the budget back into surplus.

People Servants are great facilitators, they are key to facilitating the oft difficult dialogue between the Visionary Leaders and the Transactional Leaders. Without this dialogue transformation is not possible. Understanding the worldviews and values of each group is essential to facilitating effective dialogue.

People-Abstract [Social Architects]

The Social Architects, like the People Servants, prefer the world of people to the world of non-human things. Social Architects are comfortable functioning in a world of uncertainty--in fact it's their preference--too much of the "same old, same old" and they get bored. Social Architects like to create models to understand how people behave, they like designing new social systems. They are the "greens", social-ecologists, social-activists, social scientists, social policy planners, etc. in our society.

These people are potential Visionary Leaders in respect of societal and/or organisational change. As with the facilitators, to be effective as a visionary leader they must be able to gain rapport with those the desire to influence. Remember, the key is to change is firstly gaining real rapport with people. And, for genuine rapport to exist, people must really know that you are able to see the world through their eyes and therefore understand what they have the values they have.

Change = Rapport + Information

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Shrink Rap Radio - #252 – A Buddhist Perspective on Psychotherapy with Mark Epstein, MD

Nice interview.

Shrink Rap Radio - #252 – A Buddhist Perspective on Psychotherapy with Mark Epstein, MD

Mark Epstein, M.D., is a psychiatrist and author of Psychotherapy Without The Self: A Buddhist Perspective (Yale University Press, 2007), Going to Pieces: Without Falling Apart (Broadway Books, 1999), and Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective (Basic Books, 1995). Dr. Epstein is a graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard Medical School. He is a psychotherapist with a private practice in New York City and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University. Dr. Epstein has been a contributing editor to Tricycle: The Buddhist Review since it was founded in 1991. He writes for Yoga Journal, O, The Oprah Magazine, Buddhadharma, Body and Soul and other periodicals. Additionally Mark Epstein is the author of well-respected books that deal with the difficult and counter-intuitive Eastern teachings of non-self, a concept which has sometimes proved so alien to the western mind as to be out of reach for many western Buddhists. As a student of Vipassana meditation, he teaches periodically with Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman at Tibet House in New York and lectures to therapists around the country on the relationship of Buddhist and western approaches to psychotherapy.

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

Searle's Critique of the Multiple Drafts Model of Consciousness

A little light reading for the post-Thanksgiving hangover. Personally, I prefer Searle to Dennett, but this is till an interesting paper. The full PDF is downloadable at the link.

Djordje Vidanovic
University of Niš

Searle's Critique of the Multiple Drafts Model of Consciousness, Facta Universitatis, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 173-182, 2009

In this paper I try to show the limitations of John Searle's critique of Daniel Dennett's conception of consciousness based on the idea that the computational architecture of consciousness is patterned on the simple replicating units of information called memes. Searle claims that memes cannot substitute virtual genes as expounded by Dennett, saying that the spread of ideas and information is not driven by "blind forces" but has to be intentional. In this paper I try to refute his argumentation by a detailed account that tries to prove that intentionality need not be invoked in accounts of memes (and consciousness).

Full reference:
Vidanovic, Djordje, Searle's Critique of the Multiple Drafts Model of Consciousness (September 21, 2010). Searle's Critique of the Multiple Drafts Model of Consciousness, Facta Universitatis, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 173-182, 2009. Available at SSRN:

My Review: Bodhipaksa's Living As a River: Finding Fearlessness in the Face of Change

Living As a River: Finding Fearlessness in the Face of Change
By Bodhipaksa
Sounds True, Inc.
$18.95, 340 pages

Regular readers of my blog know that two of my biggest interests are brain science and Buddhism. I am continually fascinated in the various ways each discipline, one objective science and the other subjective phenomenology, seem to so often support each other.

With these interests in mind, one of my favorite blogs and bloggers is Wildmind Buddhist Meditation and its blog-master, Bodhipaksa. He teaches meditation and has been practice as a Buddhist for nearly 30 years. At his site, he regularly posts articles on the brain science of meditation, compassion, and empathy and other elements of Buddhist practice.

He combines these interests in Living as a River as well.

For those of you who are not familiar with him or his work, here is some biographical information from his page and the back cover of the book.

Bodhipaksa was born Graeme Stephen in Scotland and currently lives and teaches in New Hampshire. He is a Buddhist teacher and author who has been practicing within the Triratna Buddhist Community (formerly Friends of the Western Buddhist Order) since 1982 and who has been a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order since 1993. Bodhipaksa runs the online meditation center Wildmind to promote awareness of the positive effects of meditation. He has a particular interest in teaching meditation in prisons. His other works include The Wisdom of the Breath and Still the Mind.
By way of personal disclosure, I have written some book reviews for Bodhipaksa's site and was given a free copy of this book by Sounds True, just in case the FCC happens by and asks.

* * * * *

OK then, so to the book.

Very early in the introduction, Bodhipaksa quotes Sylvia Plath: "I am myself. That is not enough." One sure way to grab my attention is to quote a poet whose work I know well - and then to offer me a different perspective than my own.

Our selves are not enough. We find ourselves incomplete, lacking happiness and - despite all our clinging - security. And so we grasp for those things we think will bring us happiness and security, while trying to keep at bay those things we think threaten our happiness and security. (p. xiii)

This is part of a section in which he introduces one of the main images, "similies," he returns to often in the book.

The self is ... like an eddy in a stream. It has the appearance of being a separate thing and of having permanence, but in what sense can an eddy be separate? There's no borderline we can say for sure marks where the eddy stops and the river begins.

He maintains that we are not separate from the world around us - we "exist as the sum total of our relationships with a vast web of interconnected processes" (p. xiii). This is most certainly a part of the Buddhist teachings (or at least some of them), but it is also a part of the postmodern field of cultural psychology - variously known as the situated self (J.T. Ismael), the embodied self (Quassim Cassam), or the relational self (Kenneth Gergen).

The practice model offered in Living as a River - the practice that can help us gain an experiential awareness of our interconnection, our inter-being, with the world - to experience ourselves as both less than we think (less of a distinct, isolated self) and more than we think (an integrated part of a vast whole) - is called the Six Element Practice. It can be, as Bodhipaksa warns, both liberating and disorienting, even frightening, as it strips away the protective sense of being a unique, continuous self. We can be left "feeling raw and exposed."

However, when we engage in these practices, we begin to see and feel that self was never a solid, isolated object to begin with - self is a process, "the sum total of the interactions of a living being and its environment" (p. 48). As the Buddha taught long ago, it is our clinging to this sense of separateness that is the root of our suffering.

Here is a brief description of the Six Element Practice from the book's press kit - it summarizes the practice more precisely than I can.

The Six Element Practice
In this practice we reflect on what constitutes the body and the mind. We call to mind the solid matter (Earth), liquid (Water), energy (Fire), and gases (Air) that make up the body - as well as the form they comprise (Space), and notice how none of these is a static thing that we can hold onto, but instead is a process. We also notice that each of these elements is "borrowed" form the outside world.

With the sixth element, Consciousness, we note how our experiences - our sensations, feelings, emotions, and thoughts - continually arise and pass away, once again leaving us nothing that we can identify as the basis of a permanent and separate self.

The Six Element Practice is a reflection specifically designed to undermine our delusions of separateness and of having an unchanging self. It's a practice of letting go.

The author makes it clear that the point of the practice is not "to see a human being as made up of the Six Elements, because those elements too are impermanent phenomena" (p. 78). The point is to deconstruct our notions of and clinging to the idea of a separate and unchanging self.

As an example of how dependent we are on this physical notion of the self, he gives the example of some research showing that people make instant and lasting judgments of other people (in this case political candidates) based simply on a quick image of their faces (p. 90). Other research has shown that we do the same thing in terms of a person's sexual preference.

His point is that we are so bound up in the elements that we feel ourselves defined by our bodies, and so we also assume we know other people by their bodies. When we see another person's physical form, we think we are seeing their self.

I understand what he is getting at here - and in terms of Buddhist psychology, his point is correct, but I have issues with rejecting the idea that we can learn A LOT about people from our sense of their bodies.

I want to preface the next few paragraphs by saying that I really enjoyed Living as a River and I would highly recommend it to anyone, but especially to those who wants to work on their identification with the body as the self.

What follows is more about a difference in philosophy than an issue with the book. It's really a minor quibble with an otherwise great book.

From an integral perspective, I have some disagreements with the perspective that our body is not a fair image for our self. As noted above, Bodhipaksa pointed out that we are "the sum total of the interactions of a living being and its environment" (p. 48) - and he makes similar statements throughout the book. This is true, in my opinion, for both good and ill. And if it is true, then we can indeed make some assumptions about a person from how they live in their body.

Let's break it down a little more and examine how a body can reflect the cumulative experience of a beings relationships and environment.

If we are the sum total of our interactions with our environment, and I believe we are both physically and temporally embedded in our culture and our environment, as well as in our bodies, then our bodies are also a manifestation of those experiences.

For example, let's say I was neglected and malnourished as a child. We know that such a child will be physically smaller, will have a lower IQ, will have definite emotional difficulties (as well as likely personality defects), and will probably have other issues as well, especially if there was abuse. And we know a lot of this also manifested in the brain as I grew up - a smaller hippocampus (center of emotional processing and memory), an enlarged amygdala (the fear center), a pronounced startle reflex as a result of the larger amygdala, and a smaller frontal lobe (where long term planning and consequences are processed) as a result of the neglect and lack of nutrition. I probably have a quick temper and act impulsively.

Physically, I would have been a frail child who got sick easily. As a teen or an adult, I most likely will have some form of an addiction - which is a physical manifestation of an emotional need (the need to be numb and not feel my feelings). I may also have joined a gang to feel safer, which would include tattoos and a specific style of dress. I probably act tough and talk rough to hide the wounded child that lives inside of me. It's entirely possible, if the neglect or abuse was bad enough, that I never formed a good attachment with a caregiver and consequently have no conscience. By all definitions, I grew up to be a sociopath.

Any reasonable person meeting this young man would make some very valid and rational judgments about who he is - and they would be partially correct, too. Which is not to say that he is permanently damaged and should be written off - if I believed that I would not be working toward a degree in psychotherapy.

My point is that no matter who we are, we wear our bodies as manifestations of our biopsychosocial history ("the sum total of the interactions of a living being and its environment") - this is the self that is embedded in the environment, in the culture, in the historical period - it is inseparable from all these things.

I can look at a person from a "normal" background and make some assumptions about their history and be very accurate. I can tell you if they have hormone imbalances and which ones. I can tell you about their self-esteem or lack thereof. I can tell you if they self-medicate with food. I can tell you if they spend a lot of time sitting or if they do a lot of physical work. Everything that we experience is manifested in our bodies as well our minds. In fact, our "mind" is the brain/body complex and all of its experiences. This may also double as a definition of the self.

That's my quibble.

I think it is to the credit of the author and the book that he does not contend, as B Alan Wallace does, that consciousness is the ground of the universe, that without consciousness, nothing else exists. Late in the book, when he explains his perspective on consciousness, which is not all unlike my own, he is careful to point out that the world exists outside of our consciousness.

Bodhipaksa uses a lot of science throughout the book to support his ideas and the model he is presenting. I always appreciate that in work that can tend toward the "woo" side. He successfully avoids that throughout Living as a River.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

We're hard-wired to turn our lives into stories

Nice article from New Scientist on the human need to construct a narrative reality. Their Culture Lab blog has been running a series on Storytelling 2.0, of which this is one of many posts.

John Bickle and Sean Keating, contributors


We're hard-wired to turn our lives into stories - how will we cope with the dizzying digital fictions of the future, ask John Bickle and Sean Keating

"We are our narratives" has become a popular slogan. "We" refers to our selves, in the full-blooded person-constituting sense. "Narratives" refers to the stories we tell about our selves and our exploits in settings as trivial as cocktail parties and as serious as intimate discussions with loved ones. We express some in speech. Others we tell silently to ourselves, in that constant little inner voice. The full collection of one's internal and external narratives generates the self we are intimately acquainted with. Our narrative selves continually unfold.

State-of-the-art neuro-imaging and cognitive neuropsychology both uphold the idea that we create our "selves" through narrative. Based on a half-century's research on "split-brain" patients, neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga argues that the human brain's left hemisphere is specialised for intelligent behaviour and hypothesis formation. It also possesses the unique capacity to interpret - that is, narrate - behaviours and emotional states initiated by either hemisphere. Not surprisingly, the left hemisphere is also the language hemisphere, with specialised cortical regions for producing, interpreting and understanding speech. It is also the hemisphere that produces narratives.

Gazzaniga also thinks that this left-hemisphere "interpreter" creates the unified feeling of an autobiographical, personal, unique self. "The interpreter sustains a running narrative of our actions, emotions, thoughts, and dreams. The interpreter is the glue that keeps our story unified, and creates our sense of being a coherent, rational agent. To our bag of individual instincts it brings theories about our lives. These narratives of our past behaviour seep into our awareness and give us an autobiography," he writes. The language areas of the left hemisphere are well placed to carry out these tasks. They draw on information in memory (amygdalo-hippocampal circuits, dorsolateral prefrontal cortices) and planning regions (orbitofrontal cortices). As neurologist Jeffrey Saver has shown, damage to these regions disrupts narration in a variety of ways, ranging from unbounded narration, in which a person generates narratives unconstrained by reality, to denarration, the inability to generate any narratives, external or internal.

How does Gazzaniga's interpreter produce a narrative self? In 2003, one of us (Bickle) suggested that our "little inner voice" is the key. The inner voice may be produced by ongoing activity in language regions of the left hemisphere, both when the products of that activity are broadcast via external speech and when they are silently expressed through inner speech.

One compelling study used PET imaging to watch what is going on in the brain during inner speech. As expected, this showed activity in the classic speech production area known as Broca's area. But also active was Wernicke's area, the brain region for language comprehension, suggesting that not only do the brain's speech areas produce silent inner speech, but that our inner voice is understood and interpreted by the comprehension areas. The result of all this activity, I suggested, is the narrative self.

Since then, much more neuro-imaging data has supported this idea. Sukhwinder Shergill, a psychiatrist at King's College London, has contributed mightily, investigating the neural bases of schizophrenia symptoms, including auditory hallucinations. By generating and monitoring inner speech in ingenious ways, his functional MRI studies consistently show activity in neural areas involved in speech production, comprehension and internal monitoring during silent inner speech. This fits nicely with Gazzaniga's idea about the left hemisphere interpreter's role in creating the autobiographical self.

If we create our selves through narratives, whether external or internal, they are traditional ones, with protagonists and antagonists and a prescribed relationship between narrators, characters and listeners. They have linear plots with a fixed past, a present built coherently on it, and a horizon of possibilities projected coherently into the future. Digital technologies, on the other hand, are producing narratives that stray from this classic structure. New communicative interfaces allow for novel narrative interactions and constructions. Multi-user domains (MUDs), massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), hypertext and cybertext all loosen traditional narrative structure. Digital narratives, in their extremes, are co-creations of the authors, users and media. Multiple entry points into continuously developing narratives are available, often for multiple co-constructors.

These recent developments seem to make possible limitless narratives lacking the defining features of the traditional structures. What kinds of selves will digital narratives generate? Multi-linear? Non-fixed? Collaborative? Would such products still be the selves we've come to know and love?

As heady as these implications seem, we should not get carried away. From a literary perspective, digital narrative's break with tradition will either be so radical that the products no longer count as narrative - and so no longer will be capable of generating narrative selves - or they will still incorporate basic narrative structure, perhaps attenuated, and continue to produce recognisable narrative selves.

Psychological considerations support this point. Narratives, and the selves we construct through them, convey our individual perspectives of "self-in-world". These perspectives include individuals' understanding of how cause and effect works, and so require a temporal ordering of salient events that can be communicated to others. We often convey causal networks that make up our lives in ways that conform to one of the almost universally understood narrative prototypes, be it romantic love, heroic adventure or a sad tale of misfortune. Unbounded digital narratives, unconstrained by familiar temporal, causal ordering, seem psychologically implausible as sources for enduring, communicating selves.

Finally, there's the neuro-evolutionary perspective. Gazzaniga suggests that the rise of the brain's left hemisphere interpreter provides the evolutionary advantage of continued reinforcement of a new capacity for relentlessly hypothesising about possible causal patterns, combined with an older, right hemisphere capacity to make probability-based decisions. As Gazzaniga puts it, "Once mutational events in the history of our species brought the interpreter into existence, there was no getting rid of it."

The ongoing narrative activities in left-hemisphere language production, comprehension and monitoring regions during external and internal speech are with us permanently. New digital narratives might provide novel inputs to the narrative construction of our brains' language regions; but they alone probably can't alter our narrative selves. It is likely, then, that digital narratives - while on the surface changing the face of literature - will in the end be built on the narratives we've always known.

Daily Om - Being Truly Thankful: Beyond Counting Blessings

Being Truly Thankful: Beyond Counting Blessings

When we are in the state of thankfulness, we are in a higher state of awareness, gratitude at our doorstep.

Often when we practice being thankful, we go through the process of counting our blessings, acknowledging the wonderful people, things and places that make up our reality. While it is fine to be grateful for the good fortune we have accumulated, true thankfulness stems from a powerful comprehension of the gift of simply being alive, and when we feel it, we feel it regardless of our circumstances. In this deep state of gratitude, we recognize the purity of the experience of being, in and of itself, and our thankfulness is part and parcel of our awareness that we are one with this great mystery that is life.

It is difficult for most of us to access this level of consciousness as we are very caught up in the ups and downs of our individual experiences in the world. The thing to remember about the world, though, is that it ebbs and flows, expands and contracts, gives and takes, and is by its very nature somewhat unreliable. If we only feel gratitude when it serves our desires, this is not true thankfulness. No one is exempt from the twists and turns of fate, which may, at any time, take the possessions, situations, and people we love away from us. Ironically, it is sometimes this kind of loss that awakens us to a thankfulness that goes deeper than just being grateful when things go our way. Illness and near-miss accidents can also serve as wake-up calls to the deeper realization that we are truly lucky to be alive.

We do not have to wait to be shaken to experience this state of being truly thankful for our lives. Tuning in to our breath and making an effort to be fully present for a set period of time each day can do wonders for our ability to connect with true gratitude. We can also awaken ourselves with the intention to be more aware of the unconditional generosity of the life force that flows through us regardless of our circumstances.

Edward Berge - Constructive and deconstructive postmodernism

This article from Ed Berge, posted at Integral Postmetaphysical Nonduality, has been sitting in my open tabs for a while now - go read it.

Constructive and deconstructive postmodernism

Continuing the theme from the postformal enaction post, Hampson in his Integral Review article “Integral re-view postmodernism” (link in previous post) discussed how Wilber distinguishes construction and deconstructive postmodernism. The latter is a lower level of postformal development (green) while the former is a higher postformal development (teal and above). Aside from Hampson questioning the validity of deconstruction as relativistic he also questions this placement and suggests that perhaps they are both sides of the same postformal coin (level).

In this regard Mark Edwards (2010) says this:
“I regard integral metastudies as a counterpart to the more typical forms of decentering and deconstructing postmodernism which seeks to identify and give voice to the personal story, the local history, the grounded experience, and the marginalized instance. These two postmodern activities are fundamentally different and provide critical counterpoints for each other’s development. Decentering, pluralist postmodern research is not something I believe is to be integrated within an integral metastudies. Decentering postmodernism and integrative postmodernism are complementary forms of knowledge building. Where integral postmodernism develops abstractions, decentering postmoderism develops grounded stories. Where integral postmodernism creates imaginative generalized frameworks, decentering postmodernism creates particular narratives and personalized accounts of human experience.

“This is not a developmental modernism versus postmodernism battle. It is an ongoing complementarity (e.g., Plato and Aristotle). An integral metastudies should not be seen as a rational project of integrating every perspective, concept, paradigm, or cultural tradition within its domain. There must be some things that, by definition, lie outside of its capacities to accommodate and explain. Consequently, an integral metastudies needs a decentering postmodernism that it cannot integrate, that lies outside of its scientific and systematic purview, which continually challenges it and is critical of its generalizations, abstractions, and universalizings. The decentering form of particularizing postmodernism is not something that integral metatheory can locate or neatly categorize somewhere within its general frameworks. Decentering postmodernism will always provide a source of critical insight and substantive opposition to the generalizing goals of an integral metastudies. In the same way that postmodernism often misunderstands integrative approaches as just some form of scientific monism, there is a danger that integral researchers can misrepresent the decentering and localizing concerns of postmodernism as simple relativism” (408 - 09).
Recent work on metatheory suggests that postmodern decentering is itself a form of metatheory, a compliment to the more constructive kind.
Read the whole post.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Education in the News

These are some recent article that are worth knowing about and or reading. As usual, please follow the title link to see the whole article. We have everything from charter schools to the most successful classrooms, and even why the GOP should pay attention to the Dems on education.

Waiting for “Superman”

a film directed by Davis Guggenheim

ravitch_1-111110.jpgAnthony, a fifth-grade student hoping to win a spot at the SEED charter boarding school in Washington, D.C.; from Davis Guggenheim’s documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’

Ordinarily, documentaries about education attract little attention, and seldom, if ever, reach neighborhood movie theaters. Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for “Superman” is different. It arrived in late September with the biggest publicity splash I have ever seen for a documentary. Not only was it the subject of major stories in Time and New York, but it was featured twice on The Oprah Winfrey Show and was the centerpiece of several days of programming by NBC, including an interview with President Obama.

Two other films expounding the same arguments—The Lottery and The Cartel—were released in the late spring, but they received far less attention than Guggenheim’s film. His reputation as the director of the Academy Award–winning An Inconvenient Truth, about global warming, contributed to the anticipation surrounding Waiting for “Superman,” but the media frenzy suggested something more. Guggenheim presents the popularized version of an account of American public education that is promoted by some of the nation’s most powerful figures and institutions.

The message of these films has become alarmingly familiar: American public education is a failed enterprise. The problem is not money. Public schools already spend too much. Test scores are low because there are so many bad teachers, whose jobs are protected by powerful unions. Students drop out because the schools fail them, but they could accomplish practically anything if they were saved from bad teachers. They would get higher test scores if schools could fire more bad teachers and pay more to good ones. The only hope for the future of our society, especially for poor black and Hispanic children, is escape from public schools, especially to charter schools, which are mostly funded by the government but controlled by private organizations, many of them operating to make a profit.

* * * * *

A smiling man holds a firecracker.
Erica Minton/Flickr

Teaching can be a lot like lighting a firecracker, if you know what you're doing.

One of my high school English teachers was macho and abusive. He said he was a poet; and he certainly could read beautifully, in both English and Spanish. But he was cruel. He reduced me to tears twice. And I witnessed him frighten and humiliate others. I haven’t hated many people, but I’m pretty sure I hated him. I think I still do.

But the remarkable thing is that he was, without any doubt, a terrific teacher. Not that I’d wish him on my worst enemies, let alone my children, or that I excuse his sadism. I’d have fired him in a heartbeat. But the fact is, he was remarkable, and what made him such a powerful teacher was not what he said, or even what he did. What made him special was what he was: a passionate, committed, lover of literature and good writing.

He showed us that that was a possible way to be. And so he offered each of us a challenge: to make up our own minds about literature; to take a stand where he had taken a stand.

* * * * *

Why Republicans Should Embrace Obama's Education Agenda

Nikhil Swaminathan: writer/education blogger

    November 2, 2010 • 6:30 pm PDT

As Liz Dwyer mentioned in her post earlier today, tonight's election results are likely to include a Republican surge that, at the very least, carries the GOP back to power in the House. And she rightly asserts that federal education reforms instituted in the first two years of the Obama administration could be threatened by "new political agendas that are focused on local control."

Two right-leaning education experts are warning Republican lawmakers not to rely on their education playbook of the past. In an Op-Ed that demonstrates how nonpartisan education reform has become, Chester E. Finn Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli, the top men at The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, suggest that Republicans "should sieze much of" the Obama administration's blueprint for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (known as No Child Left Behind in its current incarnation).

Finn and Petrilli write that should the predicted GOP landslide materialize, the new crop of legislators shouldn't rush to dump federal oversight for conservative hallmarks, like states’ rights, local control, and parental choice. No Child Left Behind basically obliterated the states' rights argument (with states like Massachusetts holding their students to world class, whereas states like Tennessee expect far less). Local control has also led to uneven results, and parental choice, the pair write, isn't really ready for prime time since there aren't enough good options to choose among.

* * * * *

Brilliance in a Box: What do the best classrooms in the world look like?

Illustration by Rob Donnelly. Click image to expand.

Imagine if we designed the 21st-century American classroom to be a place where our kids could learn to think, calculate, and invent as well as the students in the top-performing countries around the world.

What would those spaces look like? Would students plug into mini-MRI machines to record the real-time development of their brains' executive functions? Would teachers be Nobel Prize winners, broadcasting through screens installed in the foreheads of robots that don't have tenure?

To find out, we don't have to travel through time. We could just travel through space. At the moment, there are thousands of schools around the world that work better than our own. They don't have many things in common. But they do seem to share a surprising aesthetic.

Classrooms in countries with the highest-performing students contain very little tech wizardry, generally speaking. They look, in fact, a lot like American ones—circa 1989 or 1959. Children sit at rows of desks, staring up at a teacher who stands in front of a well-worn chalkboard.

"In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms," says Andreas Schleicher, a veteran education analyst for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development who spends much of his time visiting schools around the world to find out what they are doing right (or wrong). "I have no explanation why that is the case, but it does seem that those systems place their efforts primarily on pedagogical practice rather than digital gadgets."

Bella DePaulo - Dexter the Amiable Serial Killer: PT Bloggers and Other Experts Show their Love

Another article from a Psychology Today blogger on their contributions to the new book, The Psychology of Dexter. This is essentially a promotion for the book, but it's cool to see the topics people have chosen to write about.

The Psychology of Dexter: 18 Points of View

Do you know about Dexter the lovable serial killer? The first time I watched an episode, I could not believe what I just experienced. I was rooting for a killer! How did that happen? Psychologically, the show is just amazing on so many levels. So I could not believe my good fortune when I was invited to write a chapter for a book called The Psychology of Dexter. Lots of other experts were also invited to contribute, including some of your favorite Psychology Today bloggers. Then I was invited to write the introductory chapter and some other bits and pieces, and that's how I got to be called the editor (but really, Leah Wilson did all the rest of the work).

Last night, the show's director won the Emmy for "Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series." Well-deserved! Thanks to the publisher, you can win something, too - a copy of the book. (Read the rest of this post for more about why you might want one.) If you are interested, head over to Dexter Director Wins an Emmy, and You Can Win a Book and post a comment saying something like "I want Dexter." Then on the afternoon of Tuesday September 7, I'll use a random numbers generate to select 3 winners.

Here are some previews of 8 of the 18 chapters, in the order they appear in the book. You can find the list of the other authors and their chapter titles here.

Joshua Gowin writes the blog You, Illuminated. His chapter is "Naughty by Nature, Dexter by Design."

"The more I learn about psychopathy, aggression and violence, the more of a mystery it becomes to me. Why do people murder, and especially, how can someone do it without remorse? One of the things I find fascinating about Dexter is the fact that we get to see both the nature and the nurture that breed a psychopath. We learn about his family background and his upbringing throughout the show, and this gives us a well-documented case study of the development of a cold-blooded killer. Despite the thick file on Dexter, just as in real life, the more dirt I get on him, the more questions I'm left with."

Bella DePaulo writes the Living Single blog. Her chapter is "Deception: It's What Dexter Does Best (Well, Second Best)."

"While studying deception for decades, I thought I had come across just about every variation on the theme of living a lie. Then I met Dexter. Like everyone else who is living a lie, Dexter is hiding something almost every moment of his life. Unlike everyone else, though, Dexter is doing so with both hands tied behind his back. (Couldn't resist that analogy). As a psychopath (or a person with psychopathic tendencies), Dexter can't read people effortlessly. He doesn't have an intuitive sense of the right thing to do or to say. So he is always studying others for clues to how to seem, well, human. To me, this isn't just mindless entertainment; it is totally engaging - a tasty treat for the psychologically-minded."

Wind Goodfriend is an Associate Professor at Buena Vista University, and in 2008 she was named "Faculty of the Year" there. Chase Barrick graduated from BVU last year. Their chapter is "Beyond denial: Freudian defense mechanisms in the minds of Miami Metro."

"Sigmund Freud suggested that when we have anxiety or trauma in our lives, we deal with it using a variety of techniques called "defense mechanisms." All the characters in Dexter use a variety of defense mechanisms, such as denial, identification, and repression. Perhaps the strongest mechanism in Dexter himself is justification as he continuously tells himself that his actions are actually for the greater good. What would Freud say about their lives, and how Dexter's life must inevitably end?"

David Barber-Callaghan and Nigel Barber's chapter is "Rita's Rocky Relationships." Nigel Barber writes The Human Beast blog.

"Dexter Morgan is superficially charming but lacks emotional depth, after the fashion of other sociopaths. He lacks the violence, anger and venom of Paul, Rita's abusive ex-husband for instance. Even so, Dexter meets all of the clinical criteria for an abusive boyfriend and his cold calculating schemes are psychologically abusive. When we delved into the nitty gritty of this issue, we concluded, to the horror of his admirers, that Dexter is really just as abusive as Paul."

Tamara McClintock Greenberg writes the 21st Century Aging blog. Her chapter is "Denial and Rita: Women, Power, and Getting Caught."

"We women are not supposed to be aggressive. At first blush, Rita, Dexter's love interest throughout most of the first four seasons, seems a model for a well-behaved woman. A more thorough look at her however, reveals someone struggling to contain her own aggressive impulses. Perhaps Rita and Dexter are not as different as we want to believe."

Paul Wilson is an Australian forensic psychologist and criminologist who is especially interested in the characteristics of serial killers and those who commit genocide. His chapter is "Why Psychopaths Like Dexter Aren't Really All That Bad."

"What strikes me about Dexter and other serial killers is that they are a lot less frightening than the people who commit the most atrocious human rights crimes such as those committed in Rwanda, Kosovo or Cambodia. Indeed most of the people who mutilate, rape and murder people in the genocides that occurred in these countries were perfectly normal human beings. So who is more dangerous? Ordinary people or psychopaths like Dexter? I know what I think."

Matthew Jacovina, Matthew Bezdek, Jeffrey Foy, and William Wenzel are all graduate students at Stony Brook University where they conduct research under the direction of Richard Gerrig. Gerrig is a Professor of Psychology in the Experimental/Cognitive program. Their chapter is titled, "Faster, Dexter! Kill! Kill!"

"As consumers of narratives, we regularly find ourselves rooting for protagonists, even when the protagonist is acting outside of our everyday moral boundaries. As Dexter viewers, we move well beyond our moral boundaries and find ourselves (sometimes literally) cheering on a serial killer. Dexter's writers have created a world in which Dexter becomes a character that viewers, in the moment, want to succeed. Upon further reflection, Dexter's acts are not so easy to justify. And yet, this very conflict between what we want in the moment, and what we think about after the credits roll, may be part of what makes Dexter such an enjoyable experience for fans."

Christopher Ryan writes the Sex at Dawn blog. His chapter is "Being Dexter Morgan."

"For me, the seductiveness of Dexter revolves around the fact that he represents that tipping point where the two extremes of human behavior connect, completing the circuit that describes human consciousness. Dexter is both cold-blooded killer and warm-hearted family man. Unfeeling assassin and supportive friend. Like all of us, he is confused, yet certain. He's the best and worst we can be-often simultaneously. Just consider his biography: orphaned as a young boy, raised by kind adults who tried to understand the strange child he was, gradual awakening to his unique abilities and needs, a deep desire to defend the innocent against the world's worst predators. Dexter? Yes, but this also describes the childhoods of the holy trinity of American superheroes: Superman, Batman, and Spiderman. Dexter touches us because we are all dangerously dexterous."