Saturday, April 30, 2011

What Is the Authority of Science?

Interesting discussion - a look at why science should or should not be the authority on the nature of our lives, from the life sciences to (most recently in the work of Sam Harris and Patricia Churchland) our morality.

Integral theory attempts to keep science limited to its quadrant - the exemplar practice for knowing about and explaining objective, exterior reality. But it tends to own the whole map among the scientific and rationally minded, including the subjective, interior, first-person experience of consciousness (again, see Patricia and Paul Churchland, as well as the majority of neuroscientific writers).

As mentioned above, the newest move has been to attempt a scientific foundation for moral beliefs - a realm generally seen within the collective internal quadrant, the interpersonal and intersubjective.

As you listen to these speakers, please try to keep in mind your own experience of their arguments toward a rational only perspective.
The Authority of Science
From climate change to the classification of illegal drugs the extent to which scientific opinion should prevail over other voices in determining public policy is hotly contested. What is it about the nature of science that confers epistemic authority on scientific opinion, and what are the scope and limits of that authority? At this Sydney Ideas event, Paul Willis (ABC) hosts a discussion between four distinguished academics: Professor Theodore L Brown, University of Illinois, author of Imperfect Oracle: The Epistemic and Moral Authority of Science; Professor David Castle, Chair of Innovation in the Life Sciences, University of Edinburgh; Professor Christian List, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at the London School of Economics; and Professor Rosemary Lyster, inaugural Professor of Climate and Environmental Law at the University of Sydney. Presented by Sydney Ideas, April 2011

The Dalai Lama - The Essential Nature of Mind Is Pure

The Power of Patience
from a Buddhist Perspective

by the Dalai Lama,
translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa


Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

What premises or grounds do we have for accepting that mental afflictions can be ultimately rooted out and eliminated from our mind? In Buddhist thought, we have three principal reasons for believing that this can happen. One is that all deluded states of mind, all afflictive emotions and thoughts, are essentially distorted in their mode of apprehension, whereas all the antidotal factors such as love, compassion, insight, and so on not only are undistorted, but they also have grounding in our varied experience and in reality.

Second, all these antidotal forces also have the quality of being strengthened through practice and training. Through constant familiarity, one can enhance their capacity and increase their potential limitlessly. So the second premise is that as one enhances the capacity of these antidotal forces and increases their strength, one is able to correspondingly reduce the influences and effects of delusory states of mind.

The third premise is that the essential nature of mind is pure; in other words, there is the idea that the essential nature of mind is clear light or Buddha-nature.

So it is on these three premises that Buddhism accepts that delusions, all afflictive emotions and thoughts, can be ultimately eliminated through practice and meditation. (p.38)

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

Healing Anger • Now at 5O% off
(Good until May 6th).

Roland Griffiths - Bringing Science Back to Hallucinogens

Johns Hopkins Magazine posted this story on Roland Griffiths ongoing experimental work with psilocybin - and his new interest in the kappa opioid-based hallucinogen Salvia divinorum (the first hallucinogen of this type discovered).

It's not a long enough article for me - but it's interesting.

Bringing Science Back to Hallucinogens
February 28, 2011 | by Michael Anft

The research subject, a woman in her 60s, reported a blinding light that flooded her consciousness, a luminosity she interpreted as an emanation from God, an invitation to the heavens. “I felt a sense of joyous expansion as it opened fully to me, like entering a splendid palace, yet the feeling was completely natural and gentle,” she wrote. Months later, others who took part in the research study ranked it as one of the five most important experiences of their lives. The visual clarity and well-being they felt, mixed with a sense of the mystical feeling that all things are interconnected, came from a high dose of psilocybin, known on the street as magic mushrooms.

When Roland Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the School of Medicine, unveiled results of that study in 2006, his team was investigating whether the ostensibly spiritual experiences that psilocybin users report could provide clues to how the brain works. But in doing so, the researchers ripped the lid off an area of inquiry that had been in place for more than 30 years, and reintroduced an illicit drug to the rigors of medical research.

Griffiths’ research into the pharmacological value of psilocybin continues. He has also turned his sights to another recreational drug that may have medicinal properties. Intrigued by a darkly understood set of receptors in the brain, Griffiths and Matthew Johnson, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, decided to study Salvia divinorum, a smoked drug that is legally sold for $20 to $40 in head shops. Known on the street as salvia, the drug has garnered headlines because of a YouTube video of one of its addled users, teen star Miley Cyrus, and news accounts reporting that Jared Loughner, the alleged gunman who in January killed six people and wounded 13, including a congresswoman, had regularly used it. Griffiths doesn’t condone its use, or argue whether it should be made illegal or not (it currently isn’t in most places). But he says salvia’s ability to activate kappa opioid receptors in the brain makes it worthy of study.

The results, published in the online journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, found that whereas salvinorin A, salvia’s active ingredient, can be intensely disorienting shortly after it is smoked, it has no other adverse side effects in the short term, meaning that it might prove useful for scientific inquiry. “It gives us another window to look through,” he says. “It doesn’t appear to be addictive, which is a real advantage if you’re trying to find drugs that work in the brain to cure disease, or designing studies that involve human subjects.” The substance targets regions in the brain that are believed to trigger depression when activated. Understanding how this happens can lead to drugs to control the manic phase of manic depression, Griffiths says. Setting the kappa receptors in motion may also eliminate pain, which could lead to development of a new class of analgesics and possibly to advances in treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

Griffiths is interested in mind-altering drugs for what they can teach about the brain. “We want to find out what triggers addiction and which substances are most likely to be abused,” he says. “Those are important con­siderations in drug development.”

But it was more than science that moved Griffiths to test the psychotropic properties of a humble mushroom more than a decade ago. His metamorphosis began when a friend joined a meditation group 15 years ago. “I was intrigued by the idea of turning the mind toward the deeper self,” says Griffiths. “That thought was quite a departure for me. I was a radical behaviorist at the time. I had been trained not to take what people were feeling seriously.” He went along for the ride, in search of “the nature of spiritual, mystical experience,” and began a regimen of mantra-based Indian meditation. Since then, he’s explored several other types of so-called mindfulness, and spent a week in retreat with others as recently as December. Early on in the course of his meditation journey, he says, “I was introduced to literature on psilocybin and psychedelic substances.”

But those studies weren’t exactly current. During the 1960s, when Timothy Leary, a Harvard psychology professor, had exhorted young people to “turn on, tune in, drop out” with the help of hallucinogenic substances, he played a role in turning off studies of those substances. Highly publicized deaths from all types of drugs made lab work that utilized hallucinogens appear chancy or unethical. Among the drug casualties were LSD, DPT, and psilocybin, all banned by the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

“A whole generation of researchers was effectively marginalized,” says Griffiths. “There were many who had been discovering that people who were undergoing some kind of mystical experience on these hallucinogens had the potential to have profound and positive mood and behavior changes.” Now, in part because of Griffiths’ use of hallucination-inducing substances as subjects of inquiry, researchers at New York University, at UCLA, in Great Britain, and elsewhere have reintroduced illicit drugs to their laboratories. He’d like to add more to his roster of ongoing studies, but he and other researchers are hamstrung by a lack of funding. Despite the much-lauded findings on psilocybin, getting government approval for studies is still difficult.

Griffiths argues that there is too much value in those studies for governments and, possibly, drug manufacturers to ignore. “Scientifically, there’s a lot to get at. We’ve known that primary mystical experiences from hallucinogenic substances have been around for thousands of years. But it’s never really been studied. Now, we can unpack those experiences using functional magnetic resonance imaging and genetics to see how some people are predisposed to such experiences and what that may mean for developing new treatments.” What’s more, people who suffer from mental illnesses and others that affect the nervous system shouldn’t have to wait longer than they have to for answers, which may come from investigations of substances that have been pariahs for decades, he believes: “It’s far too important not to do this.”

Friday, April 29, 2011

What Neuroscience Can, and Can't, Tell Us About Moral Life

Josh Rothman reviews the new book from Patricia Churchland - Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality - for the Boston Globe. Churchland is brilliant, and as much as I enjoy reader her books, I don't buy the neuroscientific flatland viewpoint.

What Neuroscience Can, and Can't, Tell Us About Moral Life

Posted by Josh Rothman March 28, 2011

What is morality? For thousands of years, that question has divided the world's greatest thinkers. Is morality divinely inspired? Is it an instinct, built right into human nature? Or is morality, at its most pure, actually an abstract set of rules -- rules we could figure out if we only approached moral problems rationally? Patricia Churchland, a philosopher at the University of California, San Diego, thinks she has the answer. In her new book, Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality, she argues that a proper understanding of morality begins with an understanding of the brain. That doesn't mean, though, that morality is as simple as an innate instinct. Instead, she writes, morality is "rooted in skills and dispositions." Those skills and dispositions come naturally out of the neurological systems we use to solve the practical problems of social life.

Patricia Churchland

Churchland is a philosopher by training (and a former MacArthur "genius" fellow) who has argued for decades that understanding the thorny problem of morality means developing a "neurophilosophy" -- a combination of evidence-based neuroscience and ultra-clear philosophical reasoning. This seems like a sensible strategy, but it's made complicated by the fact that philosophers and neuroscientists come at the world differently. Neuroscientists are problem-solvers: they want to use what they know to solve big problems now. Philosophers are problem-nurturers, always wary of hubris and over-reach. The result, Churchland explains, has been a tendency for neuroscientists and psychologists to "wave vaguely in the direction of genes and innateness and selection" to explain morality, while philosophers insist that morality is more abstract -- a system of rules that's way more complicated than any single innate instinct.

Churchland, meanwhile, does what she calls the "modest" work of clearing a middle path. She starts by explaining what's most clearly known about how morality works in the brain. We know, she argues, that human moral behavior is rooted in the brain's "circuitry for caring." That circuitry is common to all mammals: it revolves around hormones, like oxytocin and vassopressin, that surge through mammalian bodies whenever we care about ourselves, our children, or our mates. This circuitry for caring is evolutionarily ancient: Human beings and wolves use the same hormones, brain areas, and even nerves when they care about their children. Human morality extends that circuitry. In human beings, the circle of caring is widened beyond oneself and one's children. Evidence shows that our caring circuits are engaged not only when we interact with family, but with friends, and even with strangers.

That doesn't mean that morality boils down to a few hormones and brain circuits, though. Caring about lots of people poses a challenging, practical problem: How do you balance out your many simultaneous directions of care? Churchland argues that we solve that problem the same way we solve other problems: not instinctually, but by drawing on our learning, reasoning, and culture. Morality, Churchland argues, is a problem posed by our broad circle of caring -- but it's a problem we solve using all our resources as human beings. We have moral lives because of our instincts, but that doesn't mean that human morality is instinctual.

In the end, Churchland's picture of morality recalls Hume's or even Aristotle's. Aristotle, she writes, knew that morality has its roots in human nature, but also recognized "moral problems for what they are - difficult, practical problems emerging from living a social life." Churchland, by insisting that morality is neither an innate instinct nor an abstract system, but rather a tough, practical problem posed by our instincts, is bringing together the best in both neuroscientific and philosophical thinking.
The following is from the Princeton University Press site for the book.

Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality
Patricia S. Churchland

What is morality? Where does it come from? And why do most of us heed its call most of the time? In Braintrust, neurophilosophy pioneer Patricia Churchland argues that morality originates in the biology of the brain. She describes the "neurobiological platform of bonding" that, modified by evolutionary pressures and cultural values, has led to human styles of moral behavior. The result is a provocative genealogy of morals that asks us to reevaluate the priority given to religion, absolute rules, and pure reason in accounting for the basis of morality.

Moral values, Churchland argues, are rooted in a behavior common to all mammals--the caring for offspring. The evolved structure, processes, and chemistry of the brain incline humans to strive not only for self-preservation but for the well-being of allied selves--first offspring, then mates, kin, and so on, in wider and wider "caring" circles. Separation and exclusion cause pain, and the company of loved ones causes pleasure; responding to feelings of social pain and pleasure, brains adjust their circuitry to local customs. In this way, caring is apportioned, conscience molded, and moral intuitions instilled. A key part of the story is oxytocin, an ancient body-and-brain molecule that, by decreasing the stress response, allows humans to develop the trust in one another necessary for the development of close-knit ties, social institutions, and morality.

A major new account of what really makes us moral, Braintrust challenges us to reconsider the origins of some of our most cherished values.

Patricia S. Churchland is professor emerita of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute. Her books include Brain-Wise and Neurophilosophy. In 1991, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ix
Chapter 1. Introduction 1
Chapter 2. Brain-Based Values 12
Chapter 3. Caring and Caring For 27
Chapter 4. Cooperating and Trusting 63
Chapter 5. Networking: Genes, Brains, and Behavior 95
Chapter 6. Skills for a Social Life 118
Chapter 7. Not as a Rule 163
Chapter 8. Religion and Morality 191
Notes 205
Bibliography 235
Acknowledgments 259
Index 261

Ron Leifer - Self-Awareness Is a Precondition for Healing our Anger

Seven Steps to Understanding
and Transforming Anger,
Aggression, and Violence

by Ron Leifer, M.D.

Dharma Quote of the Week

As we become aware of the working of our mind, we'll find ourselves grappling with an inner trickster. Pay attention! The mind in which anger arises is also the mind that holds it, hides it, fans it, justifies it, or suppresses it. That's why this first step is crucial--before we can understand, befriend, tame, and transform our anger, we have to recognize it clearly and acknowledge it frankly. This is no small task.

Self-awareness is a precondition for understanding and healing our anger. If we become aware of the workings of our mind we can discover the means by which we create our anger and the key to healing it. If we become aware that we are harboring irrational beliefs, ideas with false premises, mistaken assumptions or flawed logic, we can examine them and correct them. If we discover that we cherish ideas which are not in harmony with the realities of life and nature we can learn to relax into existence. If we find that we harbor desires, hopes, and expectations which cannot be achieved we have the option of letting them go.

...To develop awareness is to take a journey within--into the heart of our being. (p.33)

--from Vinegar into Honey: Seven Steps to Understanding and Transforming Anger, Aggression, and Violence by Ron Leifer, M.D., published by Snow Lion Publications

Vinegar into Honey • Now at 5O% off
(Good until May 6th).

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Upaya Dharma Podcasts - Real Happiness Series: All 8 Parts

Cool - great resource from the kind folks at Upaya Zen Center - this series features Roshi Joan Halifax and Sharon Salzberg. I've included the first two so that you can get a taste of the teachings - or just do as I do, subscribe in i-Tunes.
Real Happiness Series - All 8 Parts

Real Happiness explores dimensions of real happiness through the skills of meditation. This kind of happiness is the inner abundance that enables us to be generous in a world that might not proffer thanks, supports us to serve in a world where we might not see the end of the suffering we seek to eliminate. It is the source of resilience, balance, and boundless compassion.
* * * * *

4-8: Joan Halifax, Sharon Salzberg: Real Happiness (Part 1 of a series)

Recorded: Friday Apr 8, 2011

* * * * * *

4-9: Joan Halifax: Real Happiness (Part 2 of a series)

Recorded: Saturday Apr 9, 2011

To access the entire series, please click on the link below:

Real Happiness Series: All 8 Parts

The Discipline of D.E. - Gus Van Sant Adapts William S. Burroughs: An Early 16mm Short

Another gem from Open Culture . . . . The Discipline of Do Easy (1982/film - 1973/story by Burroughs, "Exterminator") - an early 16mm short film from Gus Van Sant.

Gus Van Sant Adapts William S. Burroughs: An Early 16mm Short

Fans of filmmaker Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho, Milk) will love this 1982 short film – The Discipline of D.E. – based on a story by William S. Burroughs. And fans of Burroughs himself will particularly love its theme: The “D.E.” in the title stands for “Doing Easy,” a quasi-Buddhist notion best explained by the short’s koan-like closing question, “How fast can you take your time, kid?”

But it is to fans of Burroughs’ brief performance in the 1989 Van Sant classic Drugstore Cowboy that we dedicate this post. Playing the kind, ruined dope-fiend Father Murphy — i.e. himself — Burroughs perfectly embodied both the allure of his junky aesthetic and its underlying despair. In the six years between The Discipline of D.E. and Drugstore Cowboy, Van Sant seemed to have traded his youthful infatuation with a cult hero for the mournful appreciation of a wise but broken man. We highly recommend viewing both films together.

Finally, in our collection of Free Movies Online, you will also find Burroughs the Movie (a documentary by Howard Bruckner) and The Junky’s Christmas, a short claymation film written by William S. Burroughs and produced by Francis Ford Coppola.

via Dangerous Minds

Thursday, April 28, 2011

NPR - You Won't Feel A Thing: Your Brain On Anesthesia

Interesting - one of the co-founders of the Toward a Science of Consciousness Conference at the University of Arizona, Stuart Hameroff, is also a professor of anesthesia. The curiosity of what happens to consciousness under sedation drew him into consciousness studies.

Emery Brown is a professor of computational neuroscience and health sciences and technology, with a joint appointment at MIT and Harvard University. He is also a professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School.

Emery Brown is a professor of computational neuroscience and health sciences and technology, with a joint appointment at MIT and Harvard University. He is also a professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School.

If you've gone in for surgery, it's likely that your anesthesiologist has told you to count backward from 100 — and that you'll wake up after a nice deep sleep.

But that's not exactly true.

"Sleep is not the state you're going in, nor would it be the state in which someone could perform an operation on you," explains Dr. Emery Brown. "What we need to do in order to be able to operate on you — to perform a procedure which is, indeed, very invasive — is to put you in a state which is effectively a coma which we can readily reverse."

Brown, a professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and a practicing anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, recently co-authored a study in The New England Journal of Medicine outlining what scientists know and don't know about anesthesia. Unlocking its many mysteries, he says, will help scientists better understand consciousness and sleep — and could lead to new treatments for pain, depression and sleep disorders.

Anesthesia And The Brain

One of medicine's biggest questions is how anesthesia — which knocks patients unconscious, renders them immune to pain and keeps them immobile during procedures — actually works in the brain. Brown's team has been conducting imaging studies on volunteers under anesthesia to see how different parts of the brains change activity levels as the volunteers lose and then regain consciousness.

From 'The New England Journal of Medicine'

"We would like to understand, when the drugs are given, what areas are turned off and turned on in what sequence to get some sense of how the drugs work," Brown tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "We know a lot about the properties of the drugs — in terms of how they're metabolized by the body and certain behavioral effects they might have. We also know a lot about certain receptors they bind to, but these receptors are all over the brain and central nervous system. But the state of anesthesia is this very complex behavioral state. So to decipher it, we are at first order using the imaging where it is happening. Then, from there, we can start asking other questions: Is this the way we want to do it? Are there other ways to achieve the same state which might be better for our patients?"

So far, researchers have learned that different drugs create different patterns in the brain, Brown says. For example, propofol — one of the most widely used anesthetics — is a very potent drug and initially puts the brain into a state of excitation.

Related NPR Stories

"It doesn't really cause a state of sedation or anesthesia [initially]," Brown says. "Then what we actually see next is the brain start to slow. [So first you see] a period where the brain is active, and then [when you give] a higher dose, the brain starts to slow."

In contrast, the drug ketamine — which is used in conjunction with anesthesia to make certain drugs work better — puts the brain into a state of excitation even at higher doses.

"The state of unconsciousness you get with ketamine is created by making the brain active," Brown says. "As you transition through this active state, you very frequently hallucinate. It's this hallucination or sense of euphoria or dissociative state that people who are using it as a drug of abuse are seeking."

Depression And The Brain

Recent studies conducted by scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health have indicated that administering extremely low doses of ketamine can help treat patients with chronic depression. Brown says he is excited by these findings.

"If this turns out to be reproducible, it could change tremendously how chronic depression is managed," Brown says. "For 70 to 80 percent of patients [in the study who received low doses of ketamine], they felt better almost immediately. This is an exciting finding, because right now there is no way to make a chronically depressed patient feel better immediately. So this is an exciting finding, and if it's shown to hold, I think it may change tremendously the way chronic depression is treated."

Dr. Emery Brown talks about anesthesia as a neuroscience phenomenon.

Source: YouTube

Interview Highlights

Defining general anesthesia

"It has five components. You're supposed to be unconscious. You're not supposed to have pain. You're not supposed to remember. And we want you to not move while someone is operating on you. And we want you to be stable physiologically — stable heart rate, stable blood pressure, temperature, breathing. The anesthesiologist takes over the physiology of the patient and controls it for the duration of the time that the patient is having surgery. Then by titrating very carefully the way the medications are given, when the surgery is over, we can reverse the coma."

On waking up during surgery

"Does it happen, despite our best efforts sometimes? Yes, I think that's the case. What typically happens more predictably is usually in emergency settings — someone who is coming in to have an emergency cesarean section, and there is concern about how to titrate the level of anesthesia so you can take care of mother as well as the baby. Or another case is someone comes in with massive trauma from a car accident, maybe a gunshot wound. And again, you're trying to balance the side effects of the anesthetic on the heart and lungs against trying to give the person appropriate levels of anesthetic so he or she can tolerate the surgery that's necessary. There's one situation historically where there had been a fair amount of recall or awareness under anesthesia, and that was with heart surgery, because up until a few years ago, it was done primarily using large doses of opioids. Even though patients were quite comfortable and there was no evidence of stress overtly, they'd report having recall or having been aware of parts of the surgery."

On having his patients count down from 100 before surgery

"I've been using it to demonstrate to the residents how quickly people lose consciousness under anesthesia and to give them a sense of how profoundly it occurs. So it sounds like something you see in the movies, but I actually do it because it's fairly impressive. People rarely get beyond 90. ... You get a sense of how the drugs are affecting the brain. Some people start counting 100, 99, 98, 97 um, um, 95, 94, 90. So they'll stop remembering. If you think about it, we think of counting as a very simple process, but it's actually fairly complex because you have to remember what you just said and then remember what the next number in sequence is."

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bon Jovi's New Restaurant Is Pay-What-You-Can

Good for Jon - nice that he can offer this format. Maybe others who are not in it for the profit (and/or don't need the profit) will do something similar. Featured at Take Part: Inspiration to Action.

Bon Jovi's New Restaurant Is Pay-What-You-Can

By Megan Bedard

Hungry for Change

For anyone who's living on a prayer—or looking to give love a good name—a new opportunity is springing up in Red Bank, New Jersey: it's Jon Bon Jovi's Soul Kitchen, a restaurant where patrons pay what they can afford and volunteers help run the restaurant.

The Soul Kitchen, which will enjoy a grand opening this Spring, is founded on the principle that a healthy meal can feed the soul. Diners can pick any item on the menu and pay what they're able. Patrons who don't have money can volunteer an hour of their time in the kitchen to cover the cost of their meal, and anyone who can afford to give a little more than the recommended donation of $10 will be helping to feed someone with less means.

Most importantly, stresses the Kitchen's website, the restaurant is a place for conversation and community. Volunteer staff serve diners with respect and friendliness, and patrons are encouraged to meet and greet new friends.

Check out the Soul Kitchen's video.

Open Culture - Sartre, Heidegger, Nietzsche: Three Philosophers in Three Hours

Via Open Culture - cool stuff for free on the internet. Note: I'm using the Google video versions, not the YouTube versions.
Sartre, Heidegger, Nietzsche: Three Philosophers in Three Hours

Human, All Too Human” is a three-hour BBC series from 1999, about the lives and work of Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The filmmakers focus heavily on politics and historical context — the Heidegger hour, for example, focuses almost exclusively on his troubling relationship with Nazism.

The most engaging chapter is “Jean-Paul Sartre: The Road to Freedom,” in part because the filmmakers had so much archival footage and interview material (Check out a still lovely Simone de Bouvoir at minute 9:00, giggling that Sartre was the ugliest, dirtiest, most unshaven student at the Sorbonne).

A note on Part 2: Thinking the Unthinkable. We linked to the YouTube version, which has a slight whistle in the background. Catch a cleaner version here on Google Video while you still can.

Friedrich Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil

Martin Heidegger: Thinking the Unthinkable

Jean-Paul Sartre: The Road to Freedom

Daniel Gustav Anderson - Towards A Post- Wilberian, Critical Integral Theory

Daniel Gustav Anderson, both on his own blog (For the Turnstiles) and at Integral World, has long been a vocal critic Ken Wilber's version of integral theory, commonly known as AQAL. In this most recent installment, he deconstructs Wilber's essential premises and finds them lacking.

The article is short - more of a call-to-arms - so I'm posting all of his critique here. I encourage both fans and critics of Wilber's work to have a look at this post - I think there is some merit to Anderson's arguments.

Daniel Gustav Anderson is presently a graduate student in Cultural Studies at George Mason University. His interests include critical theory, ecology, and European and South Asian traditions of dialectical thinking. He is the author of "Of Syntheses and Surprises: Toward a Critical Integral Theory", "Such a Body We Must Create: New Theses on Integral Micropolitics" and "Sweet Science:” A Proposal for Integral Macropolitics", which have been published in Integral Review.

Towards A Post-Wilberian, Critical Integral Theory

Why It is Not Necessary to Read Past Page Five in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality

Daniel Gustav Anderson

This is the real reason why Sex, Ecology, Spirituality is taken seriously by true believers, but has not been warmly accepted by the academy.

In a recent essay, "Understanding Evolution", Toby Rogers describes the cognitive dissonance of adhering earnestly to the doctrines presented in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality while engaging with conflicting evidence from the natural sciences.[1] If SES is the greatest spiritual masterpiece in the history of world civilization, as Rogers professes and as the book's final chapter seems to proclaim, then how is it possible for simple materialism to kick the tortoises out from under the Wilberian Kosmos?

This is possible because of the way Wilber structured his argument. It is structured badly. This is the real reason why SES is taken seriously by true believers, but has not been warmly accepted by the academy, not because of some “mean green meme” living in fear of True Depth. No: it is because Wilber's argument is based on faulty premises. Here is the first and most foundational example.

In SES Wilber posits that certain claims can be taken for granted across many academic disciplines, and then proposes:

if we take these types of largely-agreed-upon orienting generalizations from the various branches of knowledge (from physics to biology to psychology to theology), and if we string these orienting generalizations together, we will arrive at some astonishing and often profound conclusions, conclusions that, as extraordinary as they might be, nonetheless embody nothing more than our already-agreed-upon knowledge (5).

The reader may be comforted by this promise of nothing new or challenging to one's prejudices (“already-agreed-upon”) and by the appeal to a presumed consensus as a measure of any claim's validity. Methodologically, this practice of stringing together a set of truisms may appear to contradict Wilber's polemic against the “flatland” habit of organizing all forms of knowledge into a coherent and systematic key-to-all-mythologies (428).

As it happens, the distinction Wilber makes between his own integral project and the (for him) problematic methods of Enlightenment thinkers is not methodological so much as topical—if the content of one's conceptual map is complete by Wilber's criterion of including “depth” and “height,” that is if it explicitly addresses matters spiritual, this selected object of analysis verifies (for Wilber) the validity of the method of analysis (425): it found the desired and valued thing we “knew” was out there anyway, therefore it is a good method of inquiry.

Such is Wilber's reasoning: if we accept what we already believe as true, and reject the rest of what contradicts our prejudices, then we can build a theory of Everything that represents back to us what we want to believe is true about the world.

For all that, however, Wilber's first premise is more disturbing of his argument as a whole: that certain claims may be taken for granted as true across academic disciplines, and implicitly, within them. The state of the art in any discipline is always in flux. What appears to be an equilibrium at any one time is at best temporary, as in the faddish adherence to deconstruction in the humanities in the early 1980s.

Where does “consensus” come from, what is its relationship to truth, and what happens when disciplines attempt to communicate with each other? The work of Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault is informative on such questions.

The kinds of disciplinary consensus Wilber takes for granted in SES as true now appear questionable, which is a real problem for his argument because it presumes them to be true. If one of these orienting generalizations is false, then the rest of the argument must be reconsidered.

Even if all its claims are shown to be completely bogus, however, it is still possible for some to regard SES as the best book ever for any purpose, and its author a spiritual genius. This is because it is accepted as a belief system, as a body of ideology, not as critical knowledge. In practice, this is a theology and not a dialectical tradition. And that is a problem, as I have suggested before (sometimes skillfully and sometimes foolishly).

A post-Wilberian, critical integral theory is warranted. I am seeking an integral theory that self-reflexively analyzes its own premises and works dialectically. This is impossible in the conceptual frame Wilber constructs on page five of Sex, Ecology, Spirituality.


[1] Toby Rogers Understanding Evolution: Stephen Jay Gould vs. Ken Wilber,

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Poetry by Rumi - "Only Breath" (video)

nice . . . .

From: dkadagian | Oct 11, 2007

One of 21 video poems in Four Seasons Productions newly released Moving Poetry Series - Three innovative new films - RANT * RAVE * RIFF. Only Breath was written in the 13th century by the Sufi mystic poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi and translated and recited in our film by Coleman Barks. Our politicians and generals would do well to absorb the lessons of this poem.

To learn more about this provocative new series, how to purchase directly from our online store or on and for the full transcripts of our films poems, visit our website at

Brian Cox - Wonders of the Universe

Found at Top Documentary Films.

Wonders of the Universe

Wonders of the UniverseProfessor Brian Cox reveals how the most fundamental scientific principles and laws explain not only the story of the universe, but the story of us all.

Destiny. Having explored the wonders of the solar system, Professor Brian Cox steps boldly on to an even bigger stage – the universe. Who are we? Where do we come from? For thousands of years humanity has turned to religion and myth for answers to these enduring questions. But in this series, Brian presents a different set of answers – answers provided by science.

Stardust. In the second stop in his exploration of the wonders of the universe, Professor Brian Cox goes in search of humanity’s very essence to answer the biggest questions of all: what are we? And where do we come from? This film is the story of matter – the stuff of which we are all made.

Falling. In the third episode, Professor Brian Cox takes on the story of the force that sculpts the entire universe – gravity. Gravity seems so familiar, and yet it is one of the strangest and most surprising forces in the universe. Starting with a zero gravity flight, Brian experiences the feeling of total weightlessness, and considers how much of an effect gravity has had on the world around us.

Messengers. In the last episode of Professor Brian Cox’s epic journey across the universe, he travels from the fossils of the Burgess Shale to the sands of the oldest desert in the world to show how light holds the key to our understanding of the whole universe, including our own deepest origins.

Watch the full documentary now (playlist – 4 hours)

Jonathan Camery-Hoggatt - Dreams of Meaning: Where Religion and Neuroscience Can’t Compete
image by unsettleddust

This comes from the current issue of The Global Spiral, from the Metanexus Institute. The author, Jonathan Camery-Hoggatt, has a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies at Gordon College in 2007, and will complete a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2011. His research focuses on the intersection of religion, society, and the cognitive sciences.

He certainly has a theological bias, but this piece does not feel like an apologia for irrational beliefs - he is seeking a space where religious experience - the mysterium tremendum et fascinans - is expanded by science, not diminished.

Here is the beginning and a selected quote from the middle of the article.

Dreams of Meaning: Where Religion and Neuroscience Can’t Compete

We sleep. We dream. We do not know why.

Faith traditions have interpreted sleep and dreams as meaningful for millennia without the need for scientific grounding, though. Dreams are visits from angels, attacks by devils, and revelation from the divine. Some dreams predict the future while others seem like spiritual exhaust from the day. Dreams drove the Buddha toward enlightenment and saved Egypt from seven years of famine. They propelled Sigmund Freud to stardom through his writings on sublimated wish fulfillment and the royal road to the unconscious.

But the last century has shown a shift in focus from decoding dream content to mapping neuroanatomy,1 and the past two decades have produced much of the technology needed to begin preliminary exploration. When we sleep, proteins knit cells together, growth hormones release, and our bodies paralyze to give our brains room to roam without physically acting out dreams. When it comes right down to it—we spend one third of our lives doing something the medical community currently understands only in scraps and pieces. Sleep research—and the cognitive sciences that engage in it—are young but promising. Each new breakthrough drives this kind of question to the fore: If we can map the neurological processes correlated with dreaming, do dreams lose their religious meaning along the way?

I respond with a resounding no, but we need at least a cereal box understanding of neuroscience and memory before we can discuss why.

* * * * *
We all dream every night whether we consciously remember it or not, and—when we dream— boundaries blend, physical laws break, and imagination combines experiences freely. Emotional potency from dreams often spills over into waking life, too, and haunts us throughout the day. Dreams open windows into the self that often remain closed when we are awake. They force us to face difficult questions every night of our lives and engage imagination in response. Few other experiences can drive us to search ourselves so deeply and detach us from what we think we know so successfully—meditation, prayer, or a particularly moving liturgy, maybe—but the experience of dreaming often feels spiritual whether or not dreamers know about brain cells firing patterns. Now: if we can map the neurological processes correlated with dreaming, do dreams lose their religious meaning along the way? It would be overly ambitious to say that we can comprehensively explain anything relating to the brain at this point, but the need for an answer still seems imminent.

This sort of question is not unique to dreams; it has plagued every area of human experience for centuries. How did humans come to be? God. Until evolution. How did the cosmos come to be? God. Until the Big Bang. When gaps in understanding of physical processes disappear, many people’s God goes with them. Their sense of meaning diffuses like breath in the wind. In the future: if we can map the neurological processes correlated with waking experience, does all of life lose its religious meaning along the way, too?

I will leave debates about ideals and absolutes to Plato and Nietzsche for now and focus on what we can engage as internal participants in social systems instead. Academia and popular culture have treated science and religion as separate categories at least since both underwent revolutions and reformations and counter-revolutions and counter-reformations and cultural cross-pollinations some centuries ago. We might treat science and religion as separate categories now— at least on paper—but those categories do not need to compete for primacy. They approach the same experience—dreaming in this case—from different angles and evaluate it using different criteria. Placing them in competition shows misunderstanding of both.

Read the whole article.

NPR - Is The Dalai Lama Playing A Dangerous Game?

Interesting perspective - I don't think it feels like a game to the Dalai Lama, or to the Tibetan people. China has already shown that it will imprison (or kill?) the chosen successor in the important Tibetan leadership roles (the Panchen Lama is the prime example) and install their own puppet, so there is no reason to think they would not do this for the successor to the Dalai Lama.

By separating his political role from his spiritual leadership role, while he's still alive, the Dalai Lama may be able to prevent the Chinese from co-opting the government in exile through appointing their own Dalai Lama - better the have the political leadership as a separate entity.

Is The Dalai Lama Playing A Dangerous Game?

The Dalai Lama gives a religious talk at the Tsuglakhang temple in Dharmsala, India, on March 15.

The Dalai Lama gives a religious talk at the Tsuglakhang temple in Dharmsala, India, on March 15. - Ashwini Bhatia/AP

Just last month, the Dalai Lama sent a shockwave through the world of Buddhism when he announced that he was giving up his political powers as head of the Tibetan government in exile.

For more than 50 years, the Nobel peace laureate has been the public face of resistance to Chinese control of Tibet.

Some analysts say the aging leader is playing the opening moves of a risky strategy to preserve the spiritual leadership of Tibetan Buddhism in the event of his death.

'It Is Something That Is Unthinkable'

The Dalai Lama's headquarters is in Dharamshala, India, where Buddhist temples and monasteries cling to slopes that rise to the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas. Tibetan exiles come to this temple to pray and walk counterclockwise around the sanctuary, turning the big brass cylinders that are believed to release prayers and mantras.

The Indian government allowed the 14th Dalai Lama to establish himself here when he and many of his followers escaped from Tibet after a failed uprising against the Chinese in 1959.

Many more Tibetan refugees live in settlements in South India, or are scattered across the globe, including in the United States.

Now, the Tibetan refugee community is trying to come to terms with the news that Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, will pass his political powers to elected leaders of the Tibetan government in exile.

"From the point [of] view of his holiness, it is for the good of the Tibetans for the long haul," says Chhime Chhoekyapa, the Dalai Lama's secretary. "But from the Tibetan people's side, for many of them, it is something that is unthinkable."

Finding The Dalai Lama

Chhoekyapa says it's a hard development for people to digest when they have known no other political leader for more than 50 years.

Why do it now?

Tenzin Gyatso is 75 years old and, though he keeps a busy schedule of travel around the world, he has suffered bouts of ill health.

The choice of his successor is governed by the belief that when the Dalai Lama dies, he reincarnates himself in another body to continue his work.

"Reincarnation is a belief," says Thubten Samphel, secretary of international relations for the government in exile. "You either believe in it, or you laugh at it. We Tibetans believe human beings have the spiritual resources to reincarnate, especially [highly] realized beings, at a time and place of his choosing."

The tradition calls for senior Tibetan lamas to find the child who is determined to be the reincarnation of the leader who has died. That child is then brought up and educated to be the next Dalai Lama.

China, which claims Tibet as part of its territory, has intervened in the choosing of two other major Tibetan lamas.

The best-known case is that of the Panchen Lama.

The Threat Of An 'Impostor' Dalai Lama

In 1995, the Chinese government rejected a boy chosen by the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders. They supervised the selection of a Panchen Lama of their own, who has never been accepted by most Tibetans.

The boy who was selected by the Dalai Lama is said to be alive, in Chinese government custody, but his whereabouts are unknown.

Brahma Chellaney, an Indian expert on Tibetan issues, says that's a situation the Dalai Lama is trying to avert.

"If the same situation were to happen after the present Dalai Lama were to pass away, then we will have two dueling Dalai Lama," says Chellaney, a professor at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

Chellaney thinks Tenzin Gyatso is trying to make the institution of the Dalai Lama less of a target by separating the political powers from the spiritual leadership while he's still alive.

"I think it's a smart move because once he passes away," Chellaney says, "there will be great opportunity for the Chinese to take advantage of the situation and impose their own impostor Dalai Lama on the world."

Choosing A Successor?

Officials of the Tibetan government in exile say there is precedent for the Dalai Lama to choose a successor while he is still alive — a person who would later become his reincarnation.

Editorial writers in the official Chinese media have already accused the Dalai Lama of trying to manipulate the reincarnation process to designate a successor during his lifetime.

A committee of Tibetan scholars and officials is working to change the charter of the government in exile to specify exactly how the Dalai Lama's powers will be handed over. The process of change will begin once a new government has been installed. The government in exile is about to announce the results of an election for a new parliament and chief minister.

In the meantime, life goes on for the exile community in Dharamshala known as Little Tibet.

People come to pray and turn the mantra wheels as they have done for 50 years.

Monks chant as they renew their vows.

Everyone here knows that change is coming, but no one is sure what that change will bring.