Saturday, April 16, 2011

Alva Noë - In Defense Of Barry Bonds In The Face Of History
Sammy Sosa at around 240 lbs and in his youth at about 165 lbs

Alva Noë has written a column at NPR's 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog in support of Barry Bonds - or at least in support of the idea that sports statistics are relative. He does, however, make a crucial point about Bonds's
records and achievements as a hitter (not to mention 7-time MVP) - he was by far the best hitter among a whole generation of great hitters (Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, Lenny Dykstra, Chuck Knoblauch, David Justice, Mo Vaughn, Eric Gagne, and Jason Giambi - as well as pitchers Roger Clemons and Andy Pettitte) all of whom were taking steroids and/or growth hormone.

And just to point out something Noe didn't, for most of the 60s and 70s steroids were legal and probably being used at least a little bit by baseball players. We do know that amphetamines (greenies) were rampant in the game - a drug that increases reaction times and focus when used in appropriate doses. In fact, currently, at least 10% of players have exceptions for ADHD, allowing them to test positive for amphetamines.

The idea that baseball didn't get dirty until the "steroid era" is nonsense. Just legalize the damn things again as it was prior to the 1980s and require a doctor's supervision. Otherwise, people will continue to find ways to cheat in order to perform better and make more money.

In Defense Of Barry Bonds In The Face Of History

San Francisco's Barry Bonds follows through on his 756th career home run on Aug. 7, 2007. The home run put Bonds in sole possession of first place for Major League Baseball's all-time home run record.
Enlarge Ben Margot/AP

San Francisco's Barry Bonds follows through on his 756th career home run on Aug. 7, 2007. The home run put Bonds in sole possession of first place for Major League Baseball's all-time home run record.

Babe Ruth hit 29 home runs in 1919. This was a new record and it electrified a baseball world that was also in shock over that year's Black Sox scandal. In response, baseball's owners decided to introduce a change that would radically alter the game.

Prior to 1920, a single ball was used for the length of an entire game, or for as long as possible. Fans were expected to return foul balls to play. As cricket is still played today, the condition of the ball was a significant factor in the course of play. Skilled pitchers, after all, use the scratches, smudges and build-up to influence the ball's action and so to befuddle hitters.

What happened in 1920 is this: baseball introduced a new practice of removing balls from play as soon as they acquired the least imperfection. This practice, which continues to the present day, had the effect of substantially shifting the balance of power from pitchers to batters; the clean-ball rule seems alone to have launched the era of the "live ball." Babe Ruth hit 59 home runs the very next season, and then 60 in 1927, a record that stood until Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961.

Baseball traditionalists insist that Maris' record should come with an asterisk, because he managed his feat in a lengthened baseball season. Question: Did Maris achieve less in hitting 61 home runs, than Ruth did in hitting 60, because it took him longer to do it?

But wait a second. Does not Ruth's achievement also deserve an asterisk? This much is true: If we want to understand what Ruth accomplished, we need to take into consideration the fact that Ruth, but not an earlier generation of athletes, was playing in the era of the shiny ball. He couldn't have achieved what he did if not for changed circumstances.

Traditionalists take Babe Ruth's accomplishment as baseline, and against this baseline they mark, or put an asterisk, next to Maris' record. But the decision to treat Maris's performance as the marked case, and Ruth's as unmarked, is entirely arbitrary.

To appreciate this, consider that we might very well mark all pitching achievements prior to the 1969 season with an asterisk. After all, in that season Major League Baseball lowered the pitching mound. This came in the aftermath of the 1968 season in which Bob Gibson and other pitchers so totally dominated batters that it was felt something needed to be done to raise the level of hitting. The mound was lowered to achieve precisely this outcome.

Surely the biggest change of all to transform baseball was the decision to allow non-white players to compete with whites. Was Babe Ruth the best player of his generation? Maybe, but one thing we know for sure: black athletes were prohibited from competing against him and Ruth was prohibited from testing himself against them. We also know that Ruth's lifetime record of 714 career home runs was eclipsed within a few decades by an African-American, Hank Aaron.

Why do we mark Maris' achievement, but not that of white players before integration, or pitchers before 1969? There are probably many factors influencing our feelings about the game and its history. But crucially what we are left with, in the end, are just feelings, or prejudices.

And this brings me to my real point. As we all know by now, the U.S. Government has successfully inflicted humiliating punishment on Barry Bonds. He is now a convicted felon. They didn't try to prosecute him for illegal drug use. And they were unable to convict him of perjuring himself during his 2003 grand jury testimony in connection with the BALCO case. But they did get him for being evasive in his response to questions about his own training practices and this, in the minds of the jury anyway, rose to the level of obstruction of justice.

A reasonable person might be tempted to think that the Federal Government was after Bonds all along, that the real purpose of his compelled testimony before the grand jury may very well have been to put him in a situation in which he would feel forced, or at least sorely tempted, to lie or evade. A reasonable person might be tempted to think that Bonds had been a target all along.

But whatever you think about this to me frightening display of state power, this much is clear: Barry Bonds towered over baseball during his career. He towered over a generation of players many of whom, like him, were high-paid and maybe even drug enhanced. The idea that his accomplishments can be explained by steroids is about as silly as the idea that Babe Ruth's depended on the clean ball, or that Nolan Ryan's depended on the lowered mound.

Landscapes shift. Situations change. People adapt. And they achieve.

The point is not that we cannot make comparisons across eras in sports. Of course we can, and should. Nor is the point simply that numbers never tell the whole story of a human being's achievement, even in a sport like baseball where statistics are highly refined, although that is certainly true.

The point is that there aren't single-metrics for understanding human achievement, and the idea that you can explain why someone is so good at what they do by appealing to a single factor such as a lowered mound, or a shiny clean ball, or the absence of non-white competition, or the use of performance enhancing drugs, is, well, silly.

Barry Bonds deserves a place in the Hall of Fame, right there beside Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Even if he did use steroids.

Thanks to John Protevi for helpful conversation, and to the baseball writings of Stephen Jay Gould, on which I relied.

Society for Neuroscience - Addiction and Brain Circuits

The April briefing from The Society for Neuroscience is on addiction and brain circuits. The SFN is a great resource for basic information - lots to explore at their site.

Brain Briefings logo
Addiction and Brain Circuits
April 2011

Courtesy, with permission: National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The neurotransmitter dopamine acts on specific receptors in the brain to increase pleasure and reward. The image shows that dopamine produced in one nerve cell activates receptors in neighboring brain cells.

Neuroscience Core Concepts logo
See related Neuroscience Core Concept: Genetically determined circuits are the foundation of the nervous system.

Humans have always struggled with addictions to mind-altering substances. Yet, only in the past few decades have neuroscientists begun to understand precisely how these substances affect the brain — and why they can quickly become a destructive and even deadly habit.

For a long time, society viewed addiction as a moral failing. The addict was seen as someone who simply lacked self-control. Today, thanks to new advances in brain imaging and other technologies, we know that addiction is a disease characterized by profound disruptions in particular routes — or circuits — in the brain.

Scientists are learning how genetics and environmental factors, such as stress, contribute to these neural disruptions and increase the risk of addiction. This ongoing research is allowing researchers to:

  • Understand how addictive substances affect the brain’s reward system.
  • Develop more effective therapies for treating drug abuse and addiction.
  • Establish better methods of detecting people at risk of developing addictions.

When a person takes an addictive drug — whether it be nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine — chemicals travel swiftly through the blood stream into certain key brain regions known as the reward system, which regulates our ability to feel pleasure. With drug use, the circuitry of this system becomes flooded with dopamine. This brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, activates specific sites on brain cells called receptors to increase pleasure and reward. Over time, the brain adjusts to the excess dopamine by decreasing the number of dopamine receptors and the overall amount of dopamine in the brain. Users must then consume more and more of the drug to achieve the same “high.”

Disruption to the brain’s reward system is only part of the reason why drug addictions are so difficult to overcome and why relapses can occur even after years of abstinence. Neuroscientists discovered drugs also alter connections in brain circuits that govern learning and memory, causing the formation of strong associations between the drug’s pleasurable sensation and the circumstances under which it was taken.

One study found when cocaine addicts were shown pictures of drugs for just 33 milliseconds — less time than it takes for the images to enter the addicts’ consciousness — their drug cravings returned. Other research showed when cigarette smokers watched movie scenes of actors lighting up, the brain areas that plan hand movements became more active — as if they were about to light a cigarette themselves. Helping the brain “unlearn” these neurally embedded associations and memories is a major aim of treatment research.

Drugs also disrupt brain circuits involved in impulse control in the prefrontal cortex, making it more difficult for addicts to resist taking drugs. Conversely, research suggests existing deficiencies in prefrontal function increase the risk of drug addiction. This finding may help explain why adolescents are more susceptible to addiction — the prefrontal cortex does not become fully developed until people reach their mid-20s.

Genetics also make some individuals more susceptible to the brain circuit disruptions caused by addiction. There is no single “addiction gene,” but research suggests that up to 60 percent of the vulnerability to addiction may be the result of a complex mix of genetic factors. For example, how an individual responds to nicotine may depend in part on the inherited composition of his or her nicotine receptors. One type of gene variation may alter the receptor composition in a way that increases the risk for addiction, while another variation may decrease it.

Environmental factors, including stress, also disrupt brain circuits in ways that increase vulnerability to drug addiction. Research shows that during withdrawal, the activity of a stress-related neurotransmitter called corticotropin-release factor increases in the amygdala, a brain region that plays a key role in processing emotions — including negative ones like anxiety, depression, and fear. This may explain why addicts often feel anxious and depressed when sober, and why they turn back to drugs so quickly.

However, addicts can recover. Although relapse remains an ongoing threat, the brain has a remarkable ability to mend from drug use. Imaging studies show dopamine levels eventually increase to near normal after months of abstinence. Better knowledge of how addiction disrupts brain circuits — and how genetics and environmental factors influence those disruptions — could help medical professionals develop more effective methods of getting addicts off drugs permanently.

Additional Resources

Brain Research Success Stories: Nicotine Addiction

Brain Research Success Stories: Opiate Addiction

Fall 2010 Neuroscience Quarterly: Inside Science - New Insights into Addiction

Research & Discoveries: Nicotine Addiction

January 2011 News Release: Watching Others Smoke Makes Smokers Plan to Light Up

August 2010 News Release: Memory-Boosting Drug May Help Cocaine Addicts Avoid Relapse

Further Reading

Kenny PJ. (2007) Brain reward systems and compulsive drug use. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences 28(3):135-141.

Koob GF, Volkow ND. (2010) Elaboration of reward circuitry in brain that mediates responses to natural rewards (food, sex) under normal conditions and how this circuitry is corrupted by chronic exposure to drugs of abuse. Neuropsychopharmacology 35(1):217-238.

Nestler EJ. (2005) Is there a common molecular pathway for addiction? Nature Neuroscience 8(11):1445-1449.

Volkow ND, Li T-K. (2004) Drug addiction: the neurobiology of behaviour gone awry. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 5:963-970.

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Download issue as a PDF

Phillip McReynolds - American Philosopher

Via Open Culture . . . . This is a cool video for anyone who digs philosophy, but doesn't want to wade through the books. Here is the film maker's comment about the film (which is actually 8 short films).
Who dares think a nation? What is the status of philosophy in a nation founded by philosophers? What are the risks of practicing philosophy in America? Does America have a "native" philosophy? Eight short films about philosophy in America and American philosophy by Phillip McReynolds.
You can also visit his You Tube channel​user/​phillipmcreynolds.

Here is the intro from Open Culture

American Philosophy on Film: Pragmatism, Richard Rorty and More

In his online bio, Penn State lecturer Phillip McReynolds confesses his “unhealthy fascination with movies.” McReynolds channels that obsession to healthy effect in his documentary “American Philosopher.” The film — which is really a series of 8 shorts – features interviews with Richard Rorty, Hilary Putnam, Joseph Margolis, Crispin Sartwell, Richard Bernstein, and many other prominent philosophers. The conversation generally turns around pragmatism, the national character, and the central question: Is there such a thing as a native American Philosophy?

Our favorite section is probably Part 6, “Progress:” It features a lively 2002 debate between Rorty and Putnam which (the film argues) was largely responsible for the revival of pragmatism as a viable school of thought.

(Not surprisingly, Mr. McReynolds did his dissertation on John Dewey.)

American Philosopher The Film from Phillip McReynolds on Vimeo.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Maureen Metcalf & Belinda Gore - Resilience Through The Integral Lens – A Case Study

I'm way behind on this, but there are some excellent articles in the current issue of The Integral Leadership Review. Resilience is one of the hot topics in psychology research - in this article Maureen Metcalf & Belinda Gore use a case study to look at resilience through an integral perspective.

Resilience Through The Integral Lens – A Case Study

Maureen Metcalf and Belinda Gore

Belinda Gore

Maureen Metcalf

This article takes a look at resilience through an integral lens. We will explore how we define it, how we applied it to a client project, our findings, and our analysis.

Our objective in writing this article is to contribute to the literature of applied integral theory about leadership development through sharing our learnings. These theories, and our application of them, are a work in process. We (Maureen Metcalf and Belinda Gore) have been teaching resilience using an evolving approach for several years. The initial work was developed and delivered by Belinda and used at MeadWestvaco, a global packaging company, which was moving the operations of a plant from Ohio to Mexico. We have continually refined the initial materials and they have become an important building block for our resilience training and coaching, as well as an important part of how we talk about leadership and the skills we help our leadership clients develop. We hope that others can learn from our experience as we continue to gain knowledge ourselves through this process.

Resilience Overview

As leaders we must remain flexible in the face of change and the unknown. In the process we evolve to better fit our shifting economic and technological environment while maintaining our focus on vision and long term goals. We believe healthy leadership development means that leaders, in the midst of continual change, actually change themselves as well as their organizations.

Several studies, including a book written by Daniel Todd Gilbert entitled Stumbling on Happiness, support the idea that, after a period of adjustment, we return to our prior level of happiness no matter what happens to us. In order for this to happen, it is helpful to take a broad perspective and remember that what we are going through is part of larger cycles, and that whatever we are feeling (good or bad) will pass.

In engineering terms, resilience is measured as how much disturbance a system can absorb before it breaks down. In leadership terms, we define it as the ability to adapt in the face of multiple changes while continuing to persevere toward strategic goals. In our very dynamic work environments we, as leaders, must build resilience in ourselves as well as in our employees.

Leader resilience focuses on the leader as a person. It is a subtle distinction, but the underlying thought is this: as a leader, I need to be personally healthy and strong to do a good job in my leadership role. If I am unhealthy as a person, I am unable to lead effectively.

Case Study Company Profile

MeadWestvaco, a global packaging company operating in 30 countries, is known for its brands in healthcare, personal and beauty care, food, beverage, media and entertainment, and home and garden industries. The company employs 22,000 people worldwide and serves customers in 100 nations. In 2009, an effort to strategically reduce costs and overhead included plans to close its MWV Calmar facility, a pump and dispensing manufacturing and distribution operation located in Washington Court House, Ohio.

The company consolidated production and equipment with San Luis Potosi and moved from Washington Court House to Monterey, Mexico. As an outside contractor Potosi offered more seamless scalability and featured more advanced production equipment and processes.

Go read the whole article.

Coaches Rising - The Dynamics of Change Speakers Series

This looks interesting - I don't know who most of these people are, but I am a huge fan of Robert Kegan and Terri O'Fallon.

Check it out - it's free.

The Dynamics of Change speaker series with….

Genpo Merzel, Doug Silsbee, Craig Hamilton, James Flaherty, Joanne Hunt & Laura Divine, Henry Kimsey-House, Marita Fridjhon, Robert Kegan, Terry Patten, Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Otto Laske, Pamela McLean, Julio Olalla and Terri O’Fallon!

A free online speaker series exploring the conditions that create lasting change – with change experts who have been working on themselves and others their whole lives.

As coaches, change agents, consultants or seekers we all focus on facilitating embodied change and transformation in our own lives and the people we work with. We decided it was time to get down and jam with the people who we respect the most, people who are out there doing the work, getting results in the fields of personal growth and transformation.

In this unique weekly series all of them will be sharing with you their powerful insights and experiences, so you can take your personal growth and change facilitation skills to the next level!

We invite you to sign up and tune in – it could just be a life changing experience!

Sign me up!

PS If you’re already on our mailing list, you’re good to go and do not need to sign up again. Just enjoy!

Bios for each of the speakers are at the site.

James O'Dea - Entropy, Negentropy and Our Moral Imagination

This is a very thought-provoking article from The Ervin Laszlo Forum on Science and Spirituality. I'm not sure what kinds of thoughts it meant to provoke, but many of mine are skeptical. When someone says, "The moral core of the universe produced the exquisite balance for life on Earth," my anthropocentric sensor loudly buzzes. I am not a fan of intelligent design perspectives of any kind.

I was not Familiar with O'Dea, so I looked him up - here is some bio/background:

James is currently Co- Director of The Social Healing Project funded by the Kalliopeia Foundation. This work has led him to Rwanda, Israel/Palestine, N.Ireland and elsewhere.

He is a member of the extended faculty of The Institute of Noetic Sciences and its immediate past President. He was Executive Director of The Seva Foundation, an international health and development organization and, for ten years, was the Washington Office Director of Amnesty International.

The Social Healing Project, assessing the convergence of societal healing initiatives around the world, is also collaborating with Intersections International in New York to convene frontier multidisciplinary dialogues on this theme.

He is a member of the Evolutionary Leaders group founded by Deepak Chopra and Diane Williams and lectures widely on emerging worldviews, and integral approaches to social transformation. In 2010 he will be the keynote speaker at several conferences exploring the interface of science, consciousness, and societal healing.

He is committed to dialogue as a practice and is engaged in dialogues at SEED Graduate Institute between native elders, physicists, and thought leaders; between Israeli and Palestinian psychologists and social workers, and contributes to dialogue on systems thinking and government policy making with the DC based Global Systems Initiatives.

He has been a part of dialogue initiated with the Obama Administration on systems work and policy making. He and Dr Judith Thompson co-led a series of international dialogues called Compassion and Social Healing.

His new book is Creative Stress: A Path For Evolving Souls Living Through Personal and Planetary Upheaval (April 2010) - it has been featured in Kosmos Journal, Spirituality and Health magazine, The Well Being Journal.

Entropy, Negentropy and Our Moral Imagination

by James O'Dea on March 25, 2011

Scientists are not the only ones these days pointing out the fact that our planetary civilization is hugely entropic: we are burning up useable stuff at ever accelerating rates. China’s latest move to reduce exporting rare minerals used for all our tech toys from ipads to cell phones is just our most recent reminder that a lot of the Earth’s resources we are pumping, mining, chopping, consuming, burning, eroding and evaporating will not be available to us in the future. The world economy is built on this irreversible loss of useable energy and the latest global forecasts indicate that a number of developing countries are really cranking up to get in on the profits to be made in the entropy game. Even if we didn’t have residual toxins, pollution and climate impact, we would still be heading towards scarcity of useable resources. Some, the Pentagon among them, predict that the next big conflicts will not be over ideology, religion or land per se but over water, gas, minerals and, potentially, food.

We have told ourselves that the road out of ruinous poverty and towards sustainable nationhood with the capital resources to fund healthcare, education, housing and employment is more trade and more consumption—sell more stuff, use more stuff, burn more stuff and you will be on your way to thriving.

There are theorists who argue that the only way to stop this deficit consumption of Earth’s useable energy is to redesign the entire global economic order so that it moves from entropy to entropic balance. Systems that balance their energy loss with the intake of fresh energy maintain equilibrium. Nature is our teacher here because it does a brilliant job at using life and the product of life to create more life and sustain life to an incredible degree of abundance. Until we came along, and raided the abundance and created huge entropy deficits!

I cannot tell you whether we can employ greening strategies at the kind of speed necessary to make proper use of natural flow like wave, wind and solar radiation at a scale needed for seven to eight billion people. Or that we can rapidly ramp up recycling initiatives that not only re-cycle our trash but re-build our homes, offices, furniture, clothes and vehicles, etc. If it were possible to reach negentropic equilibrium by fast-track greening strategies it would require a fundamental moral choice to re-design the present so that we did not place our unsustainable deficit energy consumption on the backs of future generations and seriously compromise their capacity to survive. But this is where I go out on a limb.

If, in fact, the moral construct was as simple and as cogent as “unto the seventh generation” as conveyed in Native American traditions, then we would have a liberating directive to end the injunction to make myopic choices based on the need for immediate profit. I contend that we live in a moral universe and that moral principles are axial templates within consciousness itself: they are the master templates of wisdom; they are the codes for Nature’s abundance; they are the latent possibilities for endless ingenuity and creativity; and they are design fractals which guide the evolution of higher consciousness in human beings.

At root what is needed is our moral development as a species and not more dazzling displays of cleverness funded by greed or desperate measures to correct the negative impact of on-going behavior which is essentially devoid of conscience. Moral development is not about petty strictures but about our greatest asset, which is harnessing the power of imagination in service to ideals worthy of those who truly care about the future. Life itself emerges from principles of order, beauty and truth and when we attempt to hijack those principles we create disorder and invert truth and beauty.

Consciousness is still our most spectacular resource which will open up more energy for our use than we ever imagined possible. But it is not for sale, its highest resources, which maybe limitless, are only available to those dedicated to serve, not steal from, the evolving story of life.

Consciousness is not a neutral playground where we create our own realities. It could never be coherent if that were the case and it would devolve into a universe of competing realities. Dictatorship is precisely the form of subjective manifestation that divorces itself from moral principles with dire consequences. We do not hand over control of the household to a two year old and acclaim the power of the infant to create a reality! But when one returns to the notion that it is inherently a moral universe then there are consequences to subjectively induced states of mind and forms of action. The moral core of the universe produced the exquisite balance for life on Earth with its harmony and unfathomable beauty. Only a moral imagination can restore what our immoral greed and flagrant excess has wrecked.

Francis Bacon is the one who said that we must “put Nature on the rack” and torture her until she reveal her secrets. Well we have done that and the reality we have created has resemblances to hell. But the reverse is also true: honor and serve the Holy Order of Nature, and vow to serve the cause of Life, and she will let us know that our entropy issues are but a speck of dust in the ocean of her creativity.

Anam Thubten - Spiritual Seeking can Obscure the Wisdom We Already Possess

by Anam Thubten,
edited by Sharon Roe


Dharma Quote of the Week

The spiritual path is truly simple. It is simple because it is not about acquiring, accumulating, or achieving anything. It is all about giving up what we don't need. It's about giving up what isn't useful instead of acquiring things with the idea of going somewhere or achieving something. That was the old game. That game which we have been playing for a long time is like a vicious circle. It has no end.

Sometimes the spiritual search itself prevents us from seeing the truth that is always one with us. We have to know when to stop the search. There are people who die while they are searching for the highest truth with philosophical formulas and esoteric techniques. For them spiritual practice becomes another egoic plot which simply maintains and feeds delusions. Amazing! Buddha, God, truth, the divine, the great mystery, whatever you have been searching for, is here right now. (p.37)

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

No Self, No Problem • Now at 5O% off
(Good until April 22nd).

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Sharon Jayson - Emotions show our true colors

Wow, an interesting and informative article from USA Today - how did that slip in there? At the end they even list some positive changes for me in the realm of emotions - that's always a good thing.

Need to get in touch with your feelings? There's an app for that - an iPhone app called "Awareness" ($3.99).

Emotions show our true colors

By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY

Updated 04/04/2011

If your life is running on autopilot, there is new cause to break away and get in touch with your emotions.

"We're so distracted by technology, there's a growing hunger for a renewed connection with ourselves and what's happening in the moment," says Daniel Goleman, whose 1995 best seller, Emotional Intelligence, popularized the idea that there are other kinds of intelligence not measured by standard IQ tests.

Being attentive to your emotional state doesn't make you self-absorbed — rather, it can translate into benefits for health and well-being, say those who have picked up the torch for this new movement.

Medical advances in brain imaging also have expanded our understanding of how brain activity relates to our emotions.

"The scientific literature certainly shows a dramatic rise of research into the emotions since the 1990s," says John Mayer, a personality psychologist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham who was among the first to discuss the existence of an "emotional" intelligence. "It is possible that the increased research on emotions in the scientific community is filtering into the public to some degree."

Good or bad, feelings drive us

Psychiatrist John Sharp, who teaches at the medical schools of both Harvard University and the University of California-Los Angeles, says the growing awareness of emotions is relatively new.

Not too long ago, "there was a kind of perceived virtue in not 'giving in to your feelings,' " he says. "Now I think we are recognizing that our feelings drive our states of either well-being or ill health."

Research has shown that suppressing emotions can have health consequences, both physically and emotionally; it has been linked with conditions including high blood pressure, heart attack and liver disease.

Sharp, also a neuropsychiatrist, notes that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) lets researchers see changes in the brain — such as when someone is feeling love or fear or is concentrating. Scientists couldn't do that with X-rays, CT scans or MRIs until the relatively new step that enables researchers to measure the tiny metabolic changes that take place in an active part of the brain.

In his new book, The Emotional Calendar, Sharp says environmental, psychological and cultural factors affect mood and behavior. He suggests the seasons do bring emotional ups and downs — some people experience "winter doldrums," and others are affected by personal anniversaries at certain times of the year.

"The 'Great Recession' and joblessness and challenges that came with it" also have made people more aware of their emotions, suggests Travis Bradberry, co-author of the 2009 book Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

The "heavily charged political climate" has been a "particularly emotionally arousing period," he adds.

Bradberry says many people still ignore their emotions, but it's a mistake to not recognize that they can be a primary driver of behavior. "It's very easy to get numb to our emotions," he says.

'Macho' man image fading

That's why New York City psychotherapist Ronit Herzfeld says she created an iPhone app called Awareness ($3.99).

"The first thing it does is it stops you. It says, 'What are you feeling right now?' That's an unusual question," Herzfeld says. "It just gongs, and the prompt says to record your feelings."

The application invites users to take a deep breath, choose from eight mood categories and 115 feelings within those moods. It also offers brief videos to help people deal with these feelings. Herzfeld says the aim is to give people a daily diary of their feelings to learn how much time is spent feeling certain ways, such as happy or sad.

In fields such as business and politics, showing emotions in public used to be a taboo, but that seems to be changing — witness House Speaker John Boehner, who is known for the public tears he sheds. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also have expressed their emotions by crying publicly.

Sharp says the "macho" idea to keep feelings hidden is fading, and outward displays of emotion are becoming more accepted.

"I think people see the value of understanding where they're coming from emotionally."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"Notes from Irrelevance" by Anselm Berrigan

from Notes from Irrelevance

I’m for Nero’s spinning
party room and against
unmanned drones
though I like the idea
of a manned drone‚
which sounds like every
allegory for society I’ve
ever paid money to
view‚ yet the rundown
parallel jism tracers are
One in the thick of
authentic greenery no
longer natural. I cancelled
all sense of class for an
afternoon just to impress
your penchant for casual
proto-symbolic gestures
of deep irresponsibility
that secretly (not so)
afflict routine with
love’s wilier feints.
Forgive me. It was time
to make a break for it
and honor a decade’s
worth of complicated
walks. Cosmic intercon-
nection of all beings?
Check. Futility of pain
management as source
of humor in outlook?
Check. Controllable
vices for purposes
of a secondary level
of interior life‚ an echo
of conscience trailing
out? Check. A sense of
time as discontinuous
in its spread while simul-
taneously expanding
on a surface line that
is only a reflection
of a sense of a line?
Check. Total distrust
of command but for the
contradictory moments
of necessity? Half-check.
Digging the ecstasy
of swinging? Yes. Laughing
at the tree? Is the tree
funny? Yes. So what if
the rain is friendlier
than your ever-slithering
definition of work‚ or
the chip in your pocket
is merely a lifeline for
complaint superseding
the hardy constant tributes
life makes to acceleration
of everything but generosity
freed from the promise
of entering history as
readable image? There
are little cards offering
digestible portions of
the path with dressings
vouched for by agencies
of seamless repute. Yet
truth is in the uglier
cracks in one’s own
façade‚ shrink wrapped
into neglecting decision
on a most unflattering
scale. What is most
ordinary every day is
defeating the desire to
harden into respectable
indifference. And what’s
nice about not drinking
is what makes that piano
feel‚ I mean thinking
less about dying‚ less
concretely at any rate
of interior exchange‚
staring out at the grey
childhood haven of
New York in October
and what’s not so nice
about not drinking is the
desire to have a drink and
think a lot about dying
until my inhibitions are
defeated and I can react
quietly from a zone that
is enough of the cosmos
to let the lights be more
than time’s progressive
memory‚ and it’s necessary
to finally renounce violence
everywhere in one’s life
but in one’s self-accusations
isn’t it. I bring anger
to the evenness necessary
to be reborn without
strangling the doc. An
unexpected benefit
from the genetic process.
Attention dissolves:
Brooklyn into two-
dimensional space.
Oakland into pig think
frequency. Demolition
into elevator love triangle.
Symbolism into punk-post
appliance. Foraging into
withdrawal from public
action. Voracious coddling
into confidants’ anonymous.
Story fate into shrubbery
lashings. Backlash into
dispassionate textolatry.
Rummaging into structure.
Bistro into Cheetah
Feeling giddy and
positively apostatic
at the clinic‚ the perfect
little heart-shaped heart
beneath ’82 in this old
used copy of Between
the Acts
gives affect to
my argument for connection
within. Child seats man
in rear. Dana‚ I’m going
to address this end to
you—I’ve just read
your piece on Geoff
and you‚ music and
that blurry opulence
the love of a particular
love’s company induces
from future memories.
I’m in awe of those
elaborate movie watching
games you and Sarah
play‚ envious of yr couch
and its ears. I like to
think I hate the movies‚
but I felt kindly
manipulated by Apollo
late last night after
inhaling a little deep
ash in order to faze
the process of clipping
sentences from my latest
variation on retuning
the old consciousness.
I identify with the
missing sections in
Typing “Wild Speech”.
I thought to go public
with the whole thing
in this period of weird
interior folly compelling
me to print without
sanction the works
forcing me to lock
fate in the bathroom
and rap its sour puss on
the head when it tries
to flee without asking.
I’m nothing if not
polite‚ even in absentia.
Love‚ Anselm.

This poem is part of BR’s special package celebrating National Poetry Month.

Stas Mavrides on Andrew Cohen at Integral World

Over the years, I have not hid my dislike for Andrew Cohen as a guru - based on his writings and videos, I believe he is narcissistic and abusive to students. I have characterized him as an abusive guru. Despite all the really nice and sincere people I have met online who are his students, you could not pay me enough to submit to him as a teacher.

So it was with interest that I read Stas Mavrides's new article at Integral World on Cohen and his own guru, H. W. L. Poonja. Just so we are all clear about this article, Stas is also one of the contributing editors (since 2007) of the online blog,, a site devoted to exposing Cohen as the unenlightened person he is, with much of the material coming from former students (of which Stas is one).

With that background, here is the beginning of his article on Cohen:

“I Love Him, I Hate Him, I Love Him Again”

Devotion, Deception and Opportunism in Andrew Cohen’s Re-found Love for His Guru, H.W.L. Poonja

Stas Mavrides

Andrew’s response to his guru’s criticism of him was to turn around and disparage him.

Those of you who tuned-in to the latest online offering from Andrew Cohen/EnlightenNext on March 26, 2011—Awakening to Your Highest Self—a lengthy guru love-fest billed as his “Gift to the Cosmos,” may have been surprised to hear Andrew effusively celebrating his formerly reviled teacher H. W. L. Poonja and their relationship. As a close senior student of Andrew’s for 15 years, I know I was. For over a decade while I was in Andrew Cohen’s inner circle, the only comments I heard from Andrew about his former Lucknow, India Advaita teacher “Poonja-ji” (also known as “Papaji”), were disparaging, disrespectful and vituperative.

In particular, I and others who were privy to Andrew’s thoughts and feelings at the time of Poonja’s death in 1997 remember being shocked by Andrew’s cold indifference to his teacher’s passing. For example, when I conveyed my condolences to Andrew regarding Poonjaji, he replied to me, “It’s no skin off my nose.” Mimi Katz, Andrew’s personal secretary during this period, told me that on learning of Poonja’s death she offered her sympathies to Andrew only to have him snap back, “That man means nothing to me now!” Another former close senior student, Harry Dijkshoorn, speaks about Andrew’s general attitude toward his guru:

“I was closely present at the times of the demise of his relationship with Poonja. There was enormous anger, pain and deep disgust in Andrew towards Poonja for his perceived lies and duplicity. As a close student, I have been witness to Andrew berating Poonja in private countless times, which amounted to Andrew having lost all respect for his Guru. For Andrew to be praising Poonja now without at least mentioning how unbelievably angry he has been with him for soAndrew Cohen many years, seems to be profoundly hypocritical, to say the least. But in light of Andrew's behavior of the last several years, the blatant denial and lies he has told about events that have clearly taken place, I would be surprised if we suddenly would see a sign of integrity and self-honesty from the man who likes to write declarations of integrity about himself.”

Andrew’s expressions of extreme disdain for his former guru were not confined to the time of his guru’s death or private remarks to close students. He repeatedly expressed in community meetings to his students-at-large his negative assessment of what he perceived as his guru’s dishonesty and betrayal of him, and in 1992 published his indictment of Poonja in his book Autobiography of an Awakening (Moksha Foundation), which chronicles in detail his split from his guru.

You can read the whole article at Integral World - but I want to include one more quote from the article that demonstrates, I think, the perversion of the dharma that Cohen has taught:

So concerned was Poonja that it became a personal mission of his to help heal the damage that Andrew was causing students. He sent another of his disciples, Gangaji, to follow Andrew around the world and give satsangs wherever Andrew was teaching to try to counter Andrew’s twisting of the dharma. Gangaji repeatedly expressed that, in her opinion, Andrew had “landed,” i.e. lost his original realization.

But this was more than a philosophical issue. Poonja saw the results of Andrew’s positioning himself as a “living Buddha” as being spiritually harmful to his students by demanding uncritical conformity to his wishes and demands, making them followers, or as he put it, “sheep”.

Yep, sounds about right.

The Body of Knowledge - Understanding Embodied Cognition

A cool article on embodied cognition from the Association for Psychological Science's Observer.
The article is from 2010, but it's still relevant - large factions of philosophers and neuroscientists still do not believe in embodied cognition - to them, it's all in the brain (which admittedly, is a part of the body, but . . . well, you get it).

Strangely - this is yet another article on metaphors and embodied mind that does not make reference to George Lakoff - who has been working this field for a couple of decades. Check out

The Body of Knowledge: Understanding Embodied Cognition

By Barbara Isanski and Catherine West

APS Staff Writers

The cold shoulder. A heavy topic. A heroic white knight. We regularly use concrete, sensory-rich metaphors like these to express abstract ideas and complicated emotions. But a growing body of research is suggesting that these metaphors are more than just colorful literary devices — there may be an underlying neural basis that literally embodies these metaphors. Psychological scientists are giving us more insight into embodied cognition — the notion that the brain circuits responsible for abstract thinking are closely tied to those circuits that analyze and process sensory experiences— and its role in how we think and feel about our world.

APS Fellow and Charter Member Art Glenberg (Arizona State University) says embodiment “provides a counterweight to the prevailing view that cognition is something in the head that is pretty much separate from behavior. We are animals, and so all of our biology and cognition is ultimately directed towards literal action/behavior for survival and reproduction.” And, he adds, “Explicitly recognizing this will help us to develop better theories.”

Cold Hands, Warm Heart
When someone is described as “chilly,” we understand it means “unfriendly” and not that they should put on a sweater. But using low temperature to capture social remoteness is more than just a convention of language. According to a number of studies, there may be a psychological reason for connecting temperature and social relationships.

In a 2008 study, when volunteers were asked to think about a time they felt socially rejected, they described the temperature in the room as being significantly colder than did volunteers who recalled an experience in which they felt socially included, even though the room temperature was actually the same for both groups. In a separate experiment, volunteers played an online version of a ball-tossing game with three other opponents (unbeknownst to the volunteers, they were the sole participants — a computer program controlled the throws). The game was rigged in a way that some of the volunteers never had the ball tossed to them while other volunteers were able to actively participate in the game. After the game, the volunteers were asked to rate the desirability of various foods and beverages. The volunteers who never had a turn in the ball-tossing game (that is, they were excluded) tended to desire soups and hot coffee more than did the volunteers who played a lot in the game. University of Toronto psychological scientists Chen-Bo Zhong and Geoffrey Leonardelli, who conducted these experiments, suggest that the excluded volunteers craved warmer food and drinks because they felt cold (Zhong & Leonardelli, 2008).

The link between social isolation and physical sensations of cold may work in the other direction, too. A study by APS Fellow Gün R. Semin and his Utrecht University colleague Hans IJzerman suggests that temperature can affect how we feel towards others. Volunteers were handed a hot or cold beverage at the start of the experiment and then were asked to think about their relationships with friends and family. The volunteers who had held a warm beverage tended to rate themselves as being closer to the important people in their lives, compared to volunteers who had been given a cold beverage (IJzerman & Semin, 2009).

Cleanliness = Godliness
Just as feeling distant from other people makes us feel cold, feeling immoral makes us feel physically unclean. Shakespeare dramatized this link vividly: Feeling guilty about the murders she had precipitated, Lady Macbeth scrubs her hands as though she literally had blood on them: “Out damn spot, out I say!” Zhong and Katie Liljenquist (Northwestern University) coined the term “the Macbeth effect” to describe people’s increased urge to wash themselves when their morals become threatened — in other words, an attempt to cleanse ourselves of our sins (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006).

A recent study by University of Plymouth psychological scientists Simone Schnall, Jennifer Benton, and Sophie Harvey showed that just thinking about concepts related to cleanliness (words like “washed” and “pure,” for example) can influence moral decisions. When volunteers thought about clean concepts, they considered hypothetical moral transgressions to be more acceptable than did those volunteers who thought about neutral concepts. In a follow-up experiment, volunteers who washed their hands rated a moral dilemma as being less severe than did volunteers who didn’t wash their hands (Schnall, Benton, & Harvey, 2008).

Zhong says that the most surprising finding from the temperature and cleanliness studies “is the reciprocal relationship between physical and psychological experiences that are typically considered independent.” He adds, “Not only that our concrete experience of the physical world (e.g., cleanliness and coldness) can directly impact our conception of higher order, abstract constructs such as morality and social relations, but also that these abstract constructs can alter the way we experience the concrete and physical.”

Color My World
Studies have suggested that colors can be linked to morality as well. In a recent study conducted by APS Fellow and Charter Member Gerald L. Clore and Gary D. Sherman (University of Virginia), volunteers responded faster during a Stroop Test when words in black were associated with immorality (e.g., “greed”) than if they were associated with moral words (e.g., “virtuous”). Conversely, there were faster response times when words in white were linked with morality rather than immorality. A subsequent experiment revealed that study participants showing this moral Stroop effect also tended to desire cleaning products (e.g., Lysol disinfectant) over non-cleaning products (e.g., Post-it notes).

These results corroborate those of an earlier study by Clore and his colleagues APS Fellow Michael D. Robinson (North Dakota State University) and Brian P. Meier (Gettysburg College) finding that volunteers were much quicker to categorize positive words (e.g., “gentle”) when they were presented in white lettering than if they were presented in black lettering. The opposite was also true — responses toward negative words (e.g., “sloppy”) displayed in black were much faster than responses to negative words shown in white (Meier, Robinson, & Clore, 2004).

In addition to being connected with immorality, the color black and darkness more generally, are linked with danger and uncertainty (don’t movie villains and mysterious strangers always wear dark clothes?). We have evolved to be wary of what we cannot see, and adults are frequently scared of the dark, even if they consciously know there is nothing to be frightened of. However, a new study by Zhong, Vanessa Bohns (University of Toronto), and Francesca Gino (University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill) suggests that darkness is not just scary — skulking in dark corners may actually make us more prone to dishonest behavior. In their study, volunteers who were in a dimly-lit room were more likely to cheat (and end up with undeserved money) than were volunteers in a brightly-lit room. In addition, volunteers wearing sunglasses behaved more selfishly than did those wearing untinted glasses. These results suggest that when people are in the dark, they feel they are unnoticed by others, and therefore think that they have a better chance of getting away with bad behavior (Zhong, Bohns, & Gino, in press).

That’s Heavy, Dude
Everyday metaphors are not just linked to social relationships and issues of good versus evil — they can be “perceptually grounded” as well — that is, connected somehow to physical space. We “weigh” important objects or consider difficult topics to be “heavy.” In a recent study by Nils B. Jostmann (University of Amsterdam), Daniël Lakens (Utrecht University), and Thomas W. Schubert (Instituto Superior de Ciências do Trabalho e da Empresa, Lisbon), volunteers holding a heavy clipboard assigned more importance to opinions and greater value to foreign currencies than volunteers holding lighter-weight clipboards did. A lot of physical strength is required to move heavy objects around; these results suggest that in a similar way, important issues may require a lot of cognitive effort to be dealt with (Jostmann, Lakens, & Schubert, 2009).

In addition to influencing opinions, heavy things (physically heavy, that is) can also play tricks with our visual perception. When participants in APS Fellow Dennis Proffitt’s lab at the University of Virginia wore heavy backpacks, they judged hills as being steeper than they really are. Heavy backpacks also made volunteers perceive distances as being longer. Keep this in mind next time you set out for a hike.

Do the Locomotion
Forward movement, weighed down or not, is typically associated with progress or achievement. We value “forward thinkers” and call visionaries “ahead of their time.” Our ancestors would have only moved forward if it were safe to do so; one glimpse of a threatening obstacle and they would retreat — that is, they would hasten backward. Over time, our brain has encoded emotions with these impulses to approach or retreat. According to Radboud University psychological scientist Severine Koch, “body locomotion constitutes the purest and most ecologically valid form of approach and avoidance behavior.”

We may not be running away from lions and tigers anymore, but is it possible that the very action of retreat triggers the same hypervigilance experienced by our ancestors ages ago? Koch and colleagues tested this possibility in a simple experiment. Hypothesizing that it would require significantly more cognitive control to walk backward than to walk forward, the researchers instructed students to walk backward and then perform the Stroop Test. The backward walkers were far more accurate with the test than those who took a few steps forward. Instead of conjuring up panic or uncertainty, it seems that our brains have prepared us for difficulty, rewarding us when we “take a step back” to think about a situation (Koch et al., 2009). Our bodies have also installed a buffer for extreme emotions. For example, when we are angry, our left prefrontal cortex — an area of the brain implicated in self-regulation — becomes more activated than the right prefrontal cortex. In an interesting experiment by Eddie Harmon-Jones at Texas A&M, volunteers were criticized as they sat in a chair or lay down. The participants who were lying down showed less left precortical activation than did those who were sitting (Harmon-Jones & Peterson, 2009). In other words, if you need to tell somebody bad news, make sure they are lying down when you talk to them.

The body-brain link doesn’t end there. Although we can’t technically travel through time (yet), when we think of the past we engage in a sort of mental time travel. It is a uniquely human ability to reflect on the past and look toward the future to help us act in the present. Researchers have recently looked at how this mental time travel is represented in the sensorimotor systems that regulate human movement. It turns out our perceptions of space and time are hardwired together.

University of Aberdeen psychological scientist Lynden Miles, did a simple study to measure this in the lab. He fitted participants with a motion sensor while they imagined either future or past events. He found that mental time travel actually has an observable behavioral correlate: the direction of people’s movements through space. Those who thought of the past swayed backward and those who thought of the future moved forward. “The embodiment of time and space yields an overt behavioral marker of an otherwise invisible mental operation,” explains Miles (Miles, Nind, & Macrea, in press).

Mind Readers
Humans are a social species. During interactions with others, our brain works ferociously to decode the other person’s intentions, behaviors, and emotions in hopes of shaping our own view of a situation. Our tendency to pool our experiences with others has served an important evolutionary role, making us uniquely adaptive and able to meet complex challenges. When we interact with others, our neural circuitry is engaged in a series of unconscious tasks, including mirroring the other person’s motor movements. Louis Armstrong sang, “When you’re smilin’, the whole world smiles with you.” Romantics everywhere may be surprised to learn that psychological research has proven this sentiment to be true — merely seeing a smile (or a frown, for that matter) will activate the muscles in our face that make that expression, even if we are unaware of it.

APS Fellow Piotr Winkielman ( UC San Diego) and Jamin Halberstadt (University of Otago) and colleagues revealed that the way we initially interpret the emotions of another person biases our subsequent perception and reaction to their facial expressions. Research volunteers looked at photographs of ambiguous facial expressions that had been labeled as either happy or angry. The, volunteers were later asked to identify the photos that they had originally seen while the researchers measured the volunteers’ facial movements. When viewing a facial expression they had once thought about as angry, people expressed more anger themselves than did people viewing the same face if they had initially recognized it as happy (Halberstadt et al., 2009). “The novel finding here,” said Winkielman, “is that our body is the interface: The place where thoughts and perceptions meet. Our corporeal self is intimately intertwined with how – and what – we think and feel.”

Avid readers describe “getting lost in a book,” and a new study suggests there may be some truth to this. As we read, our mind mentally simulates what we are reading about: As a character grabs something, areas of our brain involved in grasping objects become activated, and as a character is running, motor areas in our brain will light up. APS Fellow Jeffrey M. Zacks and his colleagues Nicole K. Speer, Jeremy R. Reynolds, and Khena M. Swallow from Washington University in St. Louis suggest that these mental representations may actually help us make sense of what we are reading. In addition, these representations are being updated in real-time (as we are reading), so that changes in our brain activation correlate to changes we are reading about (Speer, Reynolds, Swallow, & Zacks, 2009).

There is also evidence that these simulations may be tailored to how a specific individual would actually perform the actions — left and right handers show different patterns of activation. When left-handed individuals read manual-action verbs (e.g., throw, grasp), their right premotor cortex becomes activated. Conversely, when right-handed individuals read those verbs, there is activation in the left premotor cortex. According to Roel M. Willems (Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands), Peter Hagoort (Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands), and Daniel Casasanto (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands), these findings lend support to the body-specificity hypothesis: If our mental simulations are based on our own personal experiences, then those simulations should differ for individuals who act differently than we do (Willems, Hagoort, & Casasanto, 2009).

Reading about emotions can affect our behavior and thought too. Semin and VU University Amsterdam psychological scientist Francesco Foroni examined this by testing whether emotion language has an influence on facial muscle activity. A group of students read emotion verbs (e.g., “to smile,” “to cry”) and adjectives (e.g., “funny,” “frustrating”) while the researchers measured the zygomatic major and corrugators supercilii muscles (the smiling and frowning muscles, respectively.) They found that when the students read the action verb “to laugh,” the smiling muscle was activated and there was no measured change in the frowning muscle (Foroni & Semin, 2009).

Can this innate bodily reaction to emotion verbs affect our judgments? In a follow-up experiment, volunteers were shown a series of cartoons with subliminal emotion verbs and adjectives spliced in. They were asked to rate how funny they thought the cartoons were. Here’s the catch: Half of the group held a pen with their lips, preventing them from smiling, while the others were free to move their mouths. The volunteers found cartoons to be funnier when they were preceded by smiling verbs, but this effect was only present in those who did not have their muscle movements blocked. By stifling their innate ability to smile — to connect with the material — researchers altered the viewer’s experience of the cartoon. ♦

Foroni, F., & Semin, G. (2009). Language that puts you in touch with your bodily feelings: The multimodal responsiveness of affective expressions. Psychological Science, 20, 974-980.
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Zhong, C.B., & Liljenquist, K. (2006). Washing away your sins: Threatened morality and physical cleansing. Science,313, 1451-1452.

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