Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week - The compassion of a buddha spontaneously arises only in relation to other beings

by Tenzin Gyatso,
the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

Reflect on the basic pattern of our existence. In order to do more than just barely survive, we need shelter, food, companions, friends, the esteem of others, resources, and so on; these things do not come about from ourselves alone but are all dependent on others. Suppose one single person were to live alone in a remote and uninhabited place. No matter how strong, healthy, or educated this person were, there would be no possibility of his or her leading a happy and fulfilling existence.... Can such a person have friends? Acquire renown? Can this person become a hero if he or she wishes to become one? I think the answer to all these questions is a definite no, for all these factors come about only in relation to other fellow humans.

When you are young, healthy, and strong, you sometimes can get the feeling that you are totally independent and do not need anyone else. But this is an illusion. Even at that prime age of your life, simply because you are a human being, you need friends, don't you? This is especially true when we become old and need to rely more and more on the help of others: this is the nature of our lives as human beings.

In at least one sense, we can say that other people are really the principal source of all our experiences of joy, happiness, and prosperity, and not only in terms of our day-to-day dealings with people. We can see that all the desirable experiences that we cherish or aspire to attain are dependent upon cooperation and interaction with others. It is an obvious fact.

Similarly, from the point of view of a Buddhist practitioner, many of the high levels of realization that you gain and the progress that you make on your spiritual journey are dependent upon cooperation and interaction with others. Furthermore, at the stage of complete enlightenment, the compassionate activities of a buddha can come about spontaneously only in relation to other beings, for those beings are the recipients and beneficiaries of those enlightened activities. (p.5)

--from The Compassionate Life by Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

The Compassionate Life • Now at 2O% off
(Good through February 4th).

The Philosopher's Zone - The Philosophical Baby - Alison Gopnik

Very cool - Dr. Gopnik is a rockstar of early childhood development. She is interviewed here by Alan Saunders, the host of The Philosopher's Zone - another excellent podcast from ABC Radio National (Australia).

One area where I disagree with Gopnik - children may be more conscious than adults, by which she means that they have more direct, unfiltered experience of "reality." However, that does NOT mean they are in any kind of intellectual position to do anything with it, aside from possibly being overwhelmed.

The Philosophical Baby - Alison Gopnik

 ( - M Glasgow)

Given that we all begin our lives as children, it is perhaps surprising that philosophy has paid such little attention, relatively speaking, to childhood. This week, we meet the American philosopher and psychologist Alison Gopnik, who argues that in some ways young children are actually smarter, more imaginative, more caring and even more conscious than adults are.

Show Transcript | Hide Transcript

Transcript available Monday 31 January


Alison Gopnik
Professor of Psychology
and affiliate Professor of Philosophy
University of California, Berkeley
United States

Further Information

Alison Gopnik - homepage


Title: The Philosophical Baby - What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life
Author: Alison Gopnik
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2009)


Alan Saunders

The Economist - The rise and rise of the cognitive elite

Excellent article from The Economist - see the bottom for additional articles on their series on global leaders.

The rise and rise of the cognitive elite
Brains bring ever larger rewards
A special report on global leaders

Jan 20th 2011 | from PRINT EDITION

WHEN the financial crisis struck, says a prominent banker, the women he knows stopped wearing jewellery. “It wasn’t just that they were self-conscious about the ostentation. It was because it didn’t look good to them any more.” He goes on: “There were blogs that had my name, my family’s names, my address. There were death threats. You’d think this could be some pimply kid in a basement, but John Lennon met some pimply kid from a basement. And the kid shot him.”

The crash sparked a wave of public ire against financiers, and against rich people in general. It also intensified the debate about inequality, which has risen sharply in nearly all rich countries. In America, for example, in 1987 the top 1% of taxpayers received 12.3% of all pre-tax income. Twenty years later their share, at 23.5%, was nearly twice as large. The bottom half’s share fell from 15.6% to 12.2% over the same period.

They don’t do Dior here

Jan Pen, a Dutch economist who died last year, came up with a striking way to picture inequality. Imagine people’s height being proportional to their income, so that someone with an average income is of average height. Now imagine that the entire adult population of America is walking past you in a single hour, in ascending order of income.

The first passers-by, the owners of loss-making businesses, are invisible: their heads are below ground. Then come the jobless and the working poor, who are midgets. After half an hour the strollers are still only waist-high, since America’s median income is only half the mean. It takes nearly 45 minutes before normal-sized people appear. But then, in the final minutes, giants thunder by. With six minutes to go they are 12 feet tall. When the 400 highest earners walk by, right at the end, each is more than two miles tall.

The most common measure of inequality is the Gini coefficient. A score of zero means perfect equality: everyone earns the same. A score of one means that one person gets everything. America’s Gini coefficient has risen from 0.34 in the 1980s to 0.38 in the mid-2000s. Germany’s has risen from 0.26 to 0.3 and China’s has jumped from 0.28 to 0.4 (see chart 2). In only one large country, Brazil, has the coefficient come down, from 0.59 to 0.55.

Surprisingly, over the same period global inequality has fallen, from 0.66 in the mid-1980s to 0.61 in the mid-2000s, according to Xavier Sala-i-Martin, an economist at Columbia University. This is because poorer countries, such as China, have grown faster than richer countries.

How much does inequality matter? A lot, say Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, the authors of “The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone”. Their book caused a stir in Britain by showing, with copious graphs and statistics, that inequality is associated with all manner of social ills. After comparing various unequal countries and American states with more equal ones, the authors concluded that greater inequality leads to more crime, higher infant mortality, fatter citizens, shorter lives, more teenage pregnancies, more discrimination against women and so on. They even found that more equal countries are more innovative, as measured by patents earned per person.

Mr Wilkinson and Ms Pickett suggest that equal societies fare better because humans evolved in small groups of hunter-gatherers who shared food. Modern, unequal societies are hugely stressful because they violate people’s hard-wired sense of fairness. The authors call for stiffer taxes on the rich and more co-operative ownership of companies. Pundits on the left applaud, but others are not so sure.

Peter Saunders of Policy Exchange, a centre-right think-tank in London, thinks the book’s statistical claims are mostly bunk. He points to several flaws. First, Mr Wilkinson and Ms Pickett did not exclude outliers from their sample. So, for example, when they say that unequal countries have higher murder rates than equal ones, all they have really observed is that Americans kill each other much more often than do people in other rich countries, perhaps because they are better armed. For the rest of the sample the link between inequality and homicide does not hold.

Likewise, their findings about life expectancy depend on the Japanese, whose longevity is more likely to be due to a healthy diet than to a flat income distribution. And their findings about teen births, women’s status and innovation depend on Scandinavia, a region with a mild and sensible culture that is equally evident among people of Scandinavian stock who live in America.

Factors other than inequality are often more strongly correlated with the problems described in the book. In American states, for example, race is a far more accurate predictor of murder, imprisonment and infant-mortality rates, says Mr Saunders. He also chides the authors for ignoring countries that do not fit their theory, and for glossing over social problems, such as divorce and suicide, that are worse in more equal countries.

This debate will probably never be resolved. The statistical problems are tricky enough. If you measure inequality of wealth rather than income, the global pecking order changes. By this measure, Sweden is less equal than Britain, since fewer Swedes have private pensions. And if you measure consumption, the world seems a more equal place. The poor in rich countries often consume more than they earn, because they receive welfare benefits and use public services. The very rich often consume only a small portion of their income. Bill Gates is millions of times richer than the average person, but he does not eat millions of meals each day.

The philosophical questions are even trickier. It seems unfair that footballers, bankers and tycoons earn more money than they know what to do with whereas jobless folk and single parents struggle to pay the rent, notes Mr Saunders. Yet it also seems unfair to take money from those who have worked hard and give it to those who have not, or to take away the profits of those who have risked their life savings to bring a new invention to market in order to help those who have risked nothing. Different societies choose to deal with this conflict in different ways.

It is hard to gauge just how strongly people object to inequality. A recent poll by the BBC, a tax-funded broadcaster, found that many people in Britain think cashiers and care assistants should be paid more and chief executives and football stars less. Yet few Britons tip cashiers, boycott firms with fat-cat bosses or watch second-division football teams.

The Pew Global Attitudes Project asks people in various countries whether in their view “most people are better off in a free-market economy, even though some people are rich and some are poor.” In Britain, France, Germany, Poland, America and even Sweden most people agree, but in Japan and Mexico most disagree. People in countries that have recently liberalised and are now booming are the most enthusiastic: 79% of Indians and 84% of Chinese say yes.

Degrees of fairness

Inequality jars less if the rich have earned their fortunes. Steve Jobs is a billionaire because people love Apple’s products; J.K. Rowling’s vault is stuffed with gold galleons because millions have bought her Harry Potter books. But people are more resentful when bankers are rewarded for failure, or when fortunes are made by rent-seeking rather than enterprise.

In the most corrupt countries the rulers simply help themselves to public money. In mature democracies power is abused in more subtle ways. In Japan, for example, retiring bureaucrats often take lucrative jobs at firms they used to regulate, a practice known as amakudari (literally “descent from heaven”). The Kyodo news agency reported last year that all 43 past and present heads of six non-profit organisations funded by government-run lottery revenues secured their jobs this way.

In America, too, ex-politicians often walk into cushy directorships when they retire. This may be because they are talented, driven individuals. But a study by Amy Hillman of Arizona State University finds that American firms in heavily regulated industries such as telecoms, drugs or gambling hire more ex-politicians as directors than firms in lightly regulated ones.

People from humble origins sometimes rise to the top. Barack Obama was raised by a single mother. Lloyd Blankfein, the boss of Goldman Sachs, is the son of a clerk. What such people usually have in common is uncommon intelligence.

All kinds of talent are rewarded. But the number of people who get rich by singing or kicking a ball is tiny compared with the number who become wealthy or influential through brainpower. The most lucrative careers, such as law, medicine, technology and finance, all require above-average mental skills. A bond dealer need not appreciate Proust, but he must be able to do sums in his head. A lawyer need not understand “A Brief History of Time”, but she must be able to argue logically.

The clever shall inherit the earth

As technology advances, the rewards to cleverness increase. Computers have hugely increased the availability of information, raising the demand for those sharp enough to make sense of it. In 1991 the average wage for a male American worker with a bachelor’s degree was 2.5 times that of a high-school drop-out; now the ratio is 3. Cognitive skills are at a premium, and they are unevenly distributed.

Parents who graduated from university are far more likely than non-graduates to raise children who also earn degrees. This is true in all countries, but more so in America and France than in Israel, Finland or South Korea, according to the OECD. Nature, nurture and politics all play a part.

Children may inherit a genetic predisposition to be intelligent. Their raw mental talents may then be nurtured better in some homes than others. Bookish parents read more to their children, use a larger vocabulary when they talk to them and prod them to do their homework. Educated parents typically earn more (see chart 3), so they can afford private schools or houses near good public ones. In America, where residential segregation is extreme, the best public schools are stuffed with college-bound strivers, whereas the worst need metal detectors. School reform helps, but cannot level the playing field.

“Assortative mating” further entrenches inequality. Highly educated men are much more likely to marry highly educated women than they were a generation ago. In 1970 only 9% of those with bachelors’ degrees in America were women, so the vast majority of men with such degrees married women who lacked them. Now the numbers are roughly even (in fact women are earning more degrees) and people tend to pair up with mates of a similar educational background.

Women have made immense strides in the workplace, too. For example, in 1970, fewer than 5% of American lawyers were female. Now the figure is 34%, and nearly half of law students are female. So highly educated, double-income power couples have become far more common. The children of such couples have every advantage, but there are not many of them. The lifetime fertility rate for American high-school dropouts is 2.4; for women with advanced degrees, it is only 1.6. The opportunity costs of child-rearing are far higher for a woman who earns $200,000 a year than for one who greets customers at Wal-Mart. And raising elite children is expensive. A lawyer couple can easily afford to put one child through Yale, but perhaps not four.

The cost of higher education has contributed to plummeting birth rates among pushy parents in other rich countries, too. Greens may rejoice at anything that curbs population growth, but the implications of these trends are troubling. Demography makes it harder for people who start at the bottom of the ladder to climb up it. And that has political consequences.

Ellen Hughes - What Science Tells Us About How to Thrive

UCtelevision - For many of us, today's world is out of balance, characterized by breaking news every minute, instant messaging, new technologies to be mastered and more channels of communication than ever before. Scientific advances from integrative medicine can help you bring the balance back and improve the quality of your day. Series: "UCSF Mini Medical School for the Public" [1/2011] [Health and Medicine] [Show ID: 20217]

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sacred Weeds - Salvia Divinorum

This one hour video looks fairly pro-drug and trippy at the beginning, but it's actually a look at some research by Dr. Andrew Sherratt, Reader in European Prehistory at Oxford University, and use and effects of salvia. This about the most information I have seen on the new "it" drug (that has been used for thousands of years), which soon will be illegal in most or all US states.

Susan Haack - Belief in Naturalism: An Epistemologist's Philosophy of Mind

Interesting philosophy article on the nature of epistemology from Social Science Research Network - free PDF download at the link below. Haack looks at the theory of mind and introspection within this wide-ranging article.

Susan Haack
University of Miami - School of Law; University of Miami - Department of Philosophy

Logos Episteme, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 67-83, 2010

University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-36

My title, "Belief in Naturalism," signals, not that I adopt naturalism as an article of faith, but that my purpose in this paper is to shed some light on what belief is, on why the concept of belief is needed in epistemology, and how all this related to debates about epistemological naturalism. After clarifying the many varieties of naturalism, philosophical and other (section 1), and then the various forms of epistemological naturalism specifically (section 2), I offer a theory of belief in which three elements - the behavioral, the neurophysiological, and the socio-historical - interlock (section 3), and apply this theory to resolve some contested questions: about whether animals and pre-linguistic infants have beliefs, about the fallibility of introspection, and about self-deception (section 4).
Full reference:
Haack, S. (2010, Dec. 20). Belief in Naturalism: An Epistemologist's Philosophy of Mind. Logos Episteme, Vol. 1, No. 1: pp. 67-83. University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-36. Available at SSRN:

Kevin Nelson - Living With Our Spiritual Brain: A New Birth of Wisdom

Cool perspective - Dr. Nelson blogs at The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain for Psychology Today - and that also happens to be the name of his book - The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist's Search for the God Experience.

A New Birth of Wisdom

by Kevin Nelson, M.D.

Most people will agree that spiritual experience happens the brain. Neuroscience now understands a great deal about how the brain works during a variety of spiritual experiences, ranging from near-death to mystical "oneness". So it seems only natural to turn to neuroscience for guidance about how to live with our spiritual brain. Astonishingly, many of our spiritual moments are tightly linked to "fight-or-flight" survival responses. The brain structures underlying our survival impulses evolved long before other structures made the human brain capable of language and reasoning. Spiritual thoughts, feelings, and sensations may not be so much beyond language as before language.

Natural and Unnatural Spirituality

There is strong evidence that the brain pathways used during "natural" spiritual experiences are the same pathways used by spiritual drugs whose effects are indistinguishable from otherwise genuine religious conversions, and transforming lives long after the drug is flushed clear from the body. Clinical neurology shows these same pathways are distorted by diseases of the brain that produce spiritual experience. In the operating room, at the neurologist's command, a flicker of electrical current to the brain gives the strongest impression that consciousness has been lifted from the body and is floating freely in space. There is no reason to neurologically doubt that cats and dogs can also have out-of-body experiences if their brains are similarly stimulated.

Dismissing Cold Hard Spiritual Facts

Do these cold hard clinical facts suck the divine nectar from our spiritual lives? The answer is an empathic NO! Instead we are poised on the threshold of an era holding promise for a new kind of spiritual exploration.

Regardless of what we now know, we must still ask: What can neurologists, like myself, really tell us about the spiritual? After all, we need to be wary of our left hemisphere, the explainer and confabulator in our brains. It has led us astray throughout history, giving us a plethora of gods, including mathematical ones, to explain the natural world around and within us. The left hemisphere gives some people the reasons to explain away and dismiss our spiritual essence. Dismissing spirituality also dismisses the mistakes the left hemisphere has made from ancient to modern ages. After more than 100,000 years of evolution, the brain's basic nature hasn't changed recently. The speaking half of our brain is compelled to seek explanations and is all too willing to look for natural and supernatural answers even when none exist.

What if...

Living with a spiritual brain brings many challenges. What if there is a particular brain locale or system, a genesis for divine experiences like the mystical? And when we find it, will we try to nurture, destroy, or control it? Undoubtedly the power of knowing how to stimulate the spiritual brain will bring temptations of the darkest sort. It is one thing to know the brain's machinery for language or how it puts sensation together and quite another thing to be capable of opening the brain to searing experiences of touching ultimate Truth. This knowledge brings with it a Faustian deal with the devil, potentially transforming us from god to God. This opens the box for terrors many times greater than Jonestown.

What if we had a drug that acted on a specific part of the brain and caused us to experience the miraculous? Or imagine another drug which precisely stimulated the mystical, bringing us to a state of "oneness," or even closer to the divine than we can now imagine.

As doctors, how should we use that drug? In what crisis should divinity be administered? These questions are being raised right now within the medical profession.

A New Birth of Wisdom

These possibilities and so much more lies ahead, still out of reach but getting closer. And I believe in possibilities that are inconceivable now. Knowing the brain as the spiritual organ strengthens our quest for meaning and complements a mature spirituality. My deepest hope is that this quest will ultimately bring us a new birth of wisdom and grace.

For first time we can clearly see how spiritual experience of many varieties is inextricably bound to our primal brain. Yet even if we knew what each brain molecule does during these treasured moments, the mystery of spirituality will always live on.

~ Dr. Nelson is the author of the recently published book "The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain". More information can be obtained at If you wish to confidentially share your spiritual experience, Dr. Nelson can be contacted by email;

P2P Foundation - Ten Theses About Global Commons Movement

Excellent article posted a while back by Michel Bauwens at the P2P Foundation site - the original author was Stefan Meretz, written for the Berlin Commons Conference.

Ten Theses About Global Commons Movement

photo of Michel Bauwens
Michel Bauwens
5th January 2011

Written by Stefan Meretz of on the occasion of the Berlin Commons Conference, November 1-2, 2010, the following theses are still valuable for further reflection.

Stefan Meretz:

“1. The global commons movement exists as an assemblage of movements spread around the globe beginning to become aware of its global and interrelated character. As a global movement it is still establishing its own self-confidence rather than being a coherent agent.

2. The diversity of commons movements is their constitutive feature. They can be distinguished along numerous dimensions:

* Type of resources and products:
– natural: water, atmosphere, fossil fuels, renewable energy etc.
– produced: music, movies, texts, software, designs, hardware, infrastructures etc.
* Composition of resources and products:
– material: natural goods, material products, digital carriers, infrastructures
– non-material: knowledge, software, cultural goods
* Cultures of dealing with resources and products
– traditional: indigenous experiences and practices
– generated: digitally based communication
* Forms of self-organization (»governance«)
– independent autonomous
– institutional oriented
* Relationship to market and state
– affinity and connection to market and/or state
– distance and independence from market and state

3. The diversity is expressed in different and partly opposing perceptions and approaches:

* preserving vs. generating commons
* natural vs. digital commons
* independent vs. market-oriented vs. state-oriented commons
* modifying market/state vs. replacing market/state
* local money vs. no money
* and much more

4. The different and opposing perceptions are mirroring the rudimentary stage of reflection and developing self-awareness. These are differences within the same.

5. What this same is wherein differences are visible is still unclear and will emerge stepwise as far as the practices of commons develop. Before that there is no necessity to move forward reflexively and theoretically. Learning by advancing. The further theses are thus speculative but justified.

6. The commons are objectively in opposition to capitalism, because they represent a different logic. Where they are successful, market can not evolve. Where they manage their own affairs, the state is not required.

7. The opposition against capitalist logic is commonly perceived but interpreted differently. The majority interprets commons as a supplement to market and state. The word »beyond« in the slogan »Commons Beyond Market and State« is read as »beside«. This is a justified reading for the current stage of development.

8. At the same time the commons are the sublation of capitalism. The commons do not only practically occupy fields where a market cannot grow any longer or where the market is pushed to the periphery of free areas, but they bring a new way of societally producing livelihoods into the world, thus a new mode of production. The new mode of production is not a special one concerning the mentioned diverse areas, but a general one.

9. The Commons transcend capitalism in a fourfold way: ending, fulfilling, preserving, elevating. They end the logics of exclusion of capitalism and replace them with inclusion as social principle. They fulfill the promises of individual unfolding of personality. They preserve meaningful achievements and products. They elevate human needs to the norm of societal mediation and its satisfaction to the meaning of societal life.

10. Commons potentially being a new form of societal production do not guarantee that they become prevalent. Nothing happens by itself, it has to be done. The process of becoming aware just has begun. But it has begun.”

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lewis Richmond - We Age From Our First Breath

Lewis Richmond is the author of Work as a Spiritual Practice: A Practical Buddhist Approach to Inner Growth and Satisfaction on the Job and A Whole Life's Work: Living Passionately, Growing Spiritually. His newest book, not yet published, is Aging as a Spiritual Practice.

Richmond also leads a discussion group on aging as a spiritual practice at Tricycle Magazine's online community site.
We Age From Our First Breath
By Lewis Richmond

Author of Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser

The emotional undertow of aging, I think, is a feeling of loss -- Loss of youth, loss of dreams, loss of possibility.This quality is what used to be referred to as mid-life crisis. Other phrases have come into vogue now -- such as the cheery "60 is the new 40" -- but the undertow of such homilies is still loss. Is there some way out of this sense of loss, some fresh point of view that assuages the pain of it? Actually, there is. Aging is not a matter of years -- forty, sixty, eighty -- but of life process. Everything is aging, all the time. We age from our first breath. The problem is not aging per se, but our view of it.

It is natural to want to avoid pain and abide with pleasure. Even a sunflower wants to turn to the sun as much as possible. Why should it be otherwise? And yet this pleasure bias does not really maximize our pleasure. Even pleasure turns to pain as it fades. Though we want to maximize gain and minimize loss, gain and loss are actually interwoven in each moment.

In teaching Zen meditation, I sometimes talk about breathing in terms of gain and loss. We breathe in and gain a new moment of life; we breath out and that moment is gone, never to return. This is how our life is.

Or rather it is how our life actually is. How we want it to be is heavily weighted toward the in and not the out -- we want more new moments, less old moments, more sun and less cloud. This is our bias, and yet there is something powerfully liberating to return to the actuality of just breathing in and breathing out. We imagine that there is joy in minimizing loss, of staying with gain. But strangely enough, when we just rest in the equality of gain and loss, of every cycle of time containing both in equal measure, there is a different kind of joy -- fundamental joy, we might say.

The way Buddhism has often been taught in the West, it appears to many as a rather "down" or even depressing world-view. Friends of my son who know about his being raised a Buddhist say to him, "Oh, I could never get into that life is suffering Buddhist thing." Well, they might be surprised to know that the Buddha never taught that life is suffering, only that it seems that way from a self-centered point of view. What he actually taught is that it is possible to transform and transcend both our moments of suffering and joy.

Loss is not really loss if we don’t hold onto it. Gain is not ephemeral if we do not continually invent strategies to make it permanent. Fundamental joy is somewhere outside of this loss/gain calculus. I think that the natural process of aging is also the natural process of wisdom about all of this. It is those of us who are older -- who have, if you will, experienced many more cycles of breath than the young -- who are the natural experiencers and teachers of joy.

This is our birthright.

© 2011 Lewis Richmond, Author of Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser

Author Bio

Lewis Richmond is the author of Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser and Buddhist teacher. Lewis leads a Zen meditation group, Vimala Sangha, and teaches at workshops and retreats throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He has published three books, including the national bestseller Work as a Spiritual Practice. Lewis also leads a discussion on aging as a spiritual practice at Tricycle magazine's online community site.

For more information please visit and Living And Aging as A Spiritual Practice and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter

'Empathy Gap': Why Some Can't See Bully Victims' Pain

This is an interesting bit of research - the full article is fire-walled by the APA's archaic pay-per-view ideology, but Live Science offers a pretty good synopsis.

First the reference and abstract.

Nordgren, LF, Banas, K, & MacDonald, G. (2011, Jan.). Empathy gaps for social pain: Why people underestimate the pain of social suffering. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 100(1): 120-128. doi: 10.1037/a0020938

In 5 studies, the authors examined the hypothesis that people have systematically distorted beliefs about the pain of social suffering. By integrating research on empathy gaps for physical pain (Loewenstein, 1996) with social pain theory (MacDonald & Leary, 2005), the authors generated the hypothesis that people generally underestimate the severity of social pain (ostracism, shame, etc.)—a biased judgment that is only corrected when people actively experience social pain for themselves. Using a social exclusion manipulation, Studies 1–4 found that nonexcluded participants consistently underestimated the severity of social pain compared with excluded participants, who had a heightened appreciation for social pain. This empathy gap for social pain occurred when participants evaluated both the pain of others (interpersonal empathy gap) as well as the pain participants themselves experienced in the past (intrapersonal empathy gap). The authors argue that beliefs about social pain are important because they govern how people react to socially distressing events. In Study 5, middle school teachers were asked to evaluate policies regarding emotional bullying at school. This revealed that actively experiencing social pain heightened the estimated pain of emotional bullying, which in turn led teachers to recommend both more comprehensive treatment for bullied students and greater punishment for students who bully. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)
Here is the article from Live Science.

'Empathy Gap': Why Some Can't See Bully Victims' Pain

By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Managing Editor

posted: 03 January 2011

Unless they've experienced it firsthand, people underestimate the social pain endured by victims of bullying, a new study finds.

This so-called "empathy gap" can be devastating, the researchers say, because it means victims often don't get the support they need. For instance, a teacher who doesn't truly "get" the suffering involved in being teased or excluded would be less likely to punish the perpetrator or give support to the victim.

"Everyone knows that social trauma is unpleasant, but people are often blind to the full severity of these experiences and therefore don't do enough to protect or intervene when victims suffer," said lead researcher Loran Nordgren, assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois.

Bully victims suffer

Nordgren points out recent news stories of victims of bullies who took their own lives due to harassment at school or online through social networks. For instance, last January 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hanged herself after enduring months of teasing from schoolmates in a Massachusetts high school. Parents, teachers and friends are often caught off guard by the extreme reactions, such as suicide, he noted. If these outsiders really understood the pain of being bullied, "I think they would've done more to both comfort the victim and [have] tried to intervene," Nordgren told LiveScience.

In fact, some 25 percent of public schools have reported bullying among students on a daily or weekly basis, with 43 percent of students saying they've experienced some form of cyberbullying, according to Nordgren.

"As a parent your kid comes home and says 'Kids were picking on me at school.' You know that is a difficult experience for your child, but you're not understanding the true severity of the pain your child is going through," Nordgren said.

And bullies aren't unique to schools, as the same thing happens at work, and so the results also apply to how workplaces deal with the victims. In addition, social pain occurs after the death of a loved one, and so having empathy in this realm could change workplace policies for time off and other means of support for bereavement.

"While educators and policy makers have developed programs and laws to prevent incidents of bullying, our research suggests this may not be enough," Nordgren said, adding that teachers and administrators should complete training that simulates socially painful events like bullying to close this empathy gap.

Understanding the pain

In the study, Nordgren and his colleagues had participants play an online ball-tossing game, in which they were supposedly throwing the ball with two other players, who were actually just part of a computer program. Some participants received the ball a fair one-third of the time (called the inclusion condition), while others got tossed the ball 10 percent of the time (exclusion condition). Another group of students, the control group, didn't play the game at all.

Then students estimated how they would feel if they experienced each of five events, two of which involved social exclusion:

  • Learning your close friends did not invite you to their party
  • Asking someone out on a date and getting turned down
  • Getting a bad grade on a test
  • Finding a spider in your bed
  • Discovering someone stole your wallet

Ratings were based on an 11-point scale, each point represented by a facial expression showing an increasing magnitude of pain. Those excluded students indicated a significantly higher pain experience linked to the two social-exclusion scenarios compared with the inclusion group (4.6 versus 3.7). For the other scenarios, the pain ratings didn't differ between the groups.

Three other experiments using the cyberball game, with various tweaks, showed similar results. In one, the players had to indicate how a victim of bullying (named Anna) felt after "Roger" teased her, shouting "earthquake" when she passed by due to her being overweight. The exclusion students rated her pain an average of 5.5 versus 4.3 rating from the inclusion group.

Empathetic teachers needed

In a fifth experiment, the researchers had middle-school teachers play the cyberball game and then read the "Anna" scenario. In addition to rating how Anna felt, teachers had to indicate the level of punishment Roger should receive for bullying Anna, with levels ranging from one (no punishment) to seven (the school's maximum punishment).

Not only did the "excluded teachers" rate Anna's pain as higher, they also indicated a higher level of punishment, an average of 4.8 compared with the 3.8 given by included teachers.

"All told, our perception of social pain matters as much as our understanding of physical pain. Not only do estimates of social pain govern how we empathize with socially traumatic events, but they guide our approach to how well we advocate on a victim's behalf," he said.

The findings are detailed in the current issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

You can follow LiveScience Managing Editor Jeanna Bryner on Twitter @jeannabryner.

Brain Science Podcast - Magic and the Brain (BSP 72)

It's nice to have Dr. Ginger Campbell and the Brain Science Podcast back online, even if these are now only occasional podcasts. In this new episode she talks with neuroscientists Dr. Stephen Macknik and Dr. Susana Martinez-Conde about their new book, Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions. This appears to be the the first book to explore the neuroscience of magic - they will also be in Tucson speaking about the book tonight at 5 pm in UA Science Building. (Damn, wish I could be there.)

Magic and the Brain (BSP 72)

Dr. Susana Martinez-Conde

Neuroscientists Dr. Stephen Macknik and Dr. Susana Martinez-Conde have an unusual hobby: Magic! Actually, it is more than a hobby since for the last several years they have been working with leading magicians from around the world to create a new field: the neuroscience of magic. In Episode 72 of the Brain Science Podcast I talked with them about their new book Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions, which is the first book to explore the neuroscience of magic.

With the help of their co-author Sandra Blakeslee, Macknik and Martinez-Conde provide an excellent overview of this new and exciting field. Their book also provides an excellent review of many of the principles that I have introduced in the last 4 years.

listen-to-audio Listen to Episode 72 (Right Click to download)

Episode Transcript (Download PDF)

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Dr. Stephen Macknik

Links and References

Scientists mentioned during the podcast

Magicians mentioned during the interview

Google Tech Talks: The Maker Movement, Young Makers, and Why They Matter

Excellent video - featuring the folks behind Make: Technology on Your Time, a cool magazine on DIY culture and innovation.

Google Tech Talk: Makers Movement Young Makers
November 15, 2010

Presented by Dale Dougherty, Tony DeRose, Karen Wilkinson, Michelle Hlubinka, and Mike Petrich.


Make magazine and Maker Faire are part of a larger "Do It Yourself" movement that has been gaining momentum over the last decade. In this talk we will discuss some of the factors behind the movement, where the movement is now, and where it might be going. We'll also highlight ideas for supporting youth who are passionate about hands-on activities. One such idea is the Young Makers Program that we are launching as part of a collaboration between Make Magazine, The Exploratorium, and Pixar.

Speaker Info:

Dale Dougherty is the founder of Make magazine and the creator of Maker Faire, which leads a growing maker movement. He is GM of Maker Media at O'Reilly Media in Sebastopol, California. Dougherty is a co-founder of O'Reilly Media, a technical publisher and conference organizer known for its advocacy of Open Source and the Web. An early Web pioneer, Dale was the developer of Global Network Navigator (GNN), the first commercial Web site launched in 1993 and sold to America Online in 1995. Dale was developer and publisher of Web Review, the online magazine for Web designers from 1995-1999, which was sold to CMP in 1999. He coined the term Web 2.0 as part of developing the Web 2.0 Conference. Make Magazine started in 2005 followed by the first Maker Faire in the Bay Area in 2006. This year, Maker Faire was held in the Bay Area, Detroit and New York City.

Tony DeRose is currently a Senior Scientist and lead of the Research Group at Pixar Animation Studios. He received a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1985. Before joining Pixar in 1996 he was a professor of Computer Science at the University of Washington. In 1999 he received the ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Achievement Award, and in 2006 he received a Scientific and Technical Academy Award (c) for his work on the mathematics of surfaces. He loves working in the garage with his two sons on various whacky engineering projects, many of which are a combination of hardware, software and art. He has attended every Bay Area Maker Faire and has exhibited at the Faire the last three years.

Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich direct the Learning Studio at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The Learning Studio is an interdisciplinary lab for the design and development of new ways to engage people with hands-on, technology-rich, arts-infused making opportunities. These activities are based on the notion that making is an important way for people to learn, especially in a materials-rich, studio environment, surrounded by others investigating questions of their own. This is the way our group designs and develops new activities, and this is the way we engage visitors on the exhibit floor. The work is messy, sometimes chaotic, a lot of fun, and always innovative. It offers visitors the opportunity to think with their hands. Karen and Mike both have undergraduate degrees in fine art from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and both are graduates of the Harvard Graduate School of education in Cambridge Mass. Most of their real learning, however, has occurred in close proximity to museum visitors, graduate students, prisoners, kindergartners, and monks, in a variety of learning environments, each trying to figure things out for themselves, despite the best efforts of their formal education.

Michelle Hlubinka is the Education Director for Maker Media, overseeing educational outreach and programming. Before joining the Maker Faire crew, she worked at the Exploratorium (in the Center for Museum Partnerships) and MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten group (her research funded by LEGO and the NSF Playful Invention and Exploration grant.) That work built on previous research at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and as a long-time mentor at the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network. At the very first Maker Faire she demonstrated clay animation with Zeum, a children's art and technology museum, and thereafter joined the Maker Faire crew. When she's not supporting future Makers, she does some making of her own, most often as a graphic designer and illustrator.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ivonaldo Leite - Individual and Society: The Dialectical Conception of History

Communism as a political structure was a complete failure. Marxism, however, lives on and is regaining relevance as a social philosophy. As the gap between the Haves and the Have-Nots continues to widen, class conflict assumes a central role in social discourse - especially in terms of economics. One of the better sources of information on this perspective is Political Affairs: Fresh. Marxism. Daily.

Individual and Society: The Dialectical Conception of History


Human beings and the process of production

The premise of all human society is the existence of living human individuals. The first fact to be established, therefore, is the physical constitution of individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of Nature. All historiography must begin from these natural bases and this modification in the course of history by human activity.

According to Marx in his critique of political economy, the conception of history rests on the exposition of the real process of production. It starts from the simple material production of life and the form of intercourse, created by this mode of production, i. e., at civil society in its various stages as the basis of all history. Life involves before anything else – eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things. So, the first historical act is the production of material life itself.

Work is humanity’s basic form of self realization. We cannot live without work. The way in which human's produce their means of subsistence depends in the first place on the nature of existing means which they have to reproduce. It is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite way of expressing their life, a definite mode of life.

According to that perspective, history may be divided roughly into several periods, for example, ancient civilization, feudalism and capitalism. Each of these periods is characterized by a predominant mode of production and based upon it a class structure consisting of a ruling and oppressed class. The struggle between these classes, determines the social action and relation among the human beings. In particular, the ruling class which owes its position to the ownership and control of means of productions, controls also the whole moral and intellectual life of the people.

As the materialist dialectic affirms, people enter into definite relations that are independent of their will. In other words, we can follow the movement of history by analyzing the structure of societies, the forces of production, and the relations of production, and not by basing our interpretation on people’s ways of thinking about themselves. Secondly, in every society there can be distinguished the economic base or infra-structured as it has come to be called, and the superstructure within which figures the legal and political institutions as well as ways of thinking, ideologies and philosophies. Thirdly, the mechanism of the historical movement is the contradiction, at certain movements in evolution, between the forces and relations of production. The forces of production seem to be essentially a given society’s capacity to produce, a capacity which is a function of scientific knowledge, technological equipment and the organization of collective behavior or labor.

Society and social classes

The relations of production which are not too precisely defined seem to be essentially distinguished by relations of property. However, relations of production need not be identified with relations of property; or at any rate relations of production may include in addition to property relations, distribution of national income which is itself more or less strictly determined by property relations.

Now it is easy to introduction the class struggle. A social class in Marx’s terms is any aggregate of persons who perform the same function in the organization of production. For instance, free person and slave, oppressor and oppressed. These classes are distinguished from each other by the difference of their perspective positions in the economy. A social class is constituted by the function, which its members perform in the process of production.

The position which the individual occupies in the social organization of production, indicates the class to which he or she belongs. The fundamental determinant of class is the way in which the individual cooperates with others in the satisfaction of his basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. Other index such as income, consumption, occupation are so many clues of his prestige symbols. Hence, according to Marx, the income or occupation of an individual is not an indication of his class-position i.e., of his or her role in the production process. The separate individual forms a class only in no so far as others have to carry on a common battle against another class; otherwise they are on hostile terms with each other as competitors. On the other hand, the class in its turn achieves an independent existence.

The development process of a social class depends upon the development of common conditions and upon the realization of common interests. Only when the members of a potential class enter into an association for the organized pursuit of their common aims, does a class in Marx’s sense exist. Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The determination of capital has created for this mass a common situation and common interests. This makes it already a class as against capital, but hot yet for itself. In this struggle this mass becomes united and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests.

So, in that vision of history, revolutions are not political accidents, but the expression of historical necessity. Revolutions perform necessary functions and they occur when conditions for them are given. Capitalists relations of productions were first developed in the womb of feudal society. The French Revolution occurred when the new capitalists relations of production had attained a certain degree of maturity.

Dialectic and social change

It is not my consciousness that determines reality. On the contrary, it is the social reality that determines their consciousness. But the dialectical conception of history affirms that the law of reality is the law of change. There is a constant transformation in inorganic nature as well as in the human world. There is no eternal principle. Human and moral conceptions change from one age the next. Natural and social change occurs in accordance with certain abstract law. Beyond a certain point, quantitative changes become qualitative. The transformations do not occur imperceptibly a little a time, but at a given moment there is a violent, revolutionary shift.

As Marx wrote in his preface to Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, at a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the exiting relations of production within which they have been work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of revolution social.

The dialectic conception of history comprehend the changes in the scope and social structure of advanced capitalism and the new forms of the contradictions characteristics of the latest stage of capitalism in its global framework.