Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Wild Kingdom: Brought to You by Mutual of Omaha (and YouTube)

Awesome - this was my favorite show when I was little - and my dad used to get pissed off at me when I would cry over the death of one animal as food for another. Maybe that's why I still prefer the underdog.

Curiously, I remember being both happy for the lucky animal (deer, rabbit, whatever) when it got away and sad for the predator (cougar, coyote, etc.) when it lost out on its meal for the day.

Ah, nature - this show certainly did a lot to build my appreciation of nature and desire to maintain as many wild spaces as possible.

Open Culture posted this, from Metafilter.

If you’re a Gen-X’er or older, this will likely dust off some old memories, unleashing one of those “Yes, I remember that” moments.

From 1963 through 1988, Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler hosted Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, a 30 minute program that aired Sunday nights on NBC. An early precursor to Animal Planet and The Discovery Channel, Wild Kingdom let American audiences travel (at least virtually) to exotic destinations and observe wild animals in their natural habitats. It all happened during prime time with millions watching. And the show, otherwise credited with raising ecological and environmental awareness, won 41 major awards, including four Emmys.

There are two ways to revisit Wild Kingdom. One is to purchase The Definitive 50 Episode Collection on DVD. The cheaper option (actually, it’s free) is to visit Wild Kingdom’s Channel on YouTube, which hosts hours and hours of free programming. The episode below takes you into the mysteries of the Amazon. Enjoy…

via metafilter

The Wild Kingdom: Brought to You by Mutual of Omaha

Javier DeFelipe - The evolution of the brain, the human nature of cortical circuits, and intellectual creativity

Pillars at the temple of Göbekli Tepe

Frontiers in Neuroanatomy posted this article by Dr. Javier DeFelipe on "The evolution of the brain, the human nature of cortical circuits, and intellectual creativity." In this paper he looks at the evolutionary increase in (1) size and (2) complexity of the mammalian brain and how that change has been even more pronounced in primates/humans than in other mammal species.

Earlier this week, National Geographic posted an article on the origins of human civilization in religious temples, which combine art and devotion to gods/spirits - at the Göbekli Tepe.
Eleven millennia ago nobody had digital imaging equipment, of course. Yet things have changed less than one might think. Most of the world's great religious centers, past and present, have been destinations for pilgrimages—think of the Vatican, Mecca, Jerusalem, Bodh Gaya (where Buddha was enlightened), or Cahokia (the enormous Native American complex near St. Louis). They are monuments for spiritual travelers, who often came great distances, to gawk at and be stirred by. Göbekli Tepe may be the first of all of them, the beginning of a pattern. What it suggests, at least to the archaeologists working there, is that the human sense of the sacred—and the human love of a good spectacle—may have given rise to civilization itself.
It's interesting to keep this in mind as one reads the following article.

The evolution of the brain, the human nature of cortical circuits, and intellectual creativity

  • 1 Instituto Cajal, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, Spain
  • 2 Laboratorio Cajal de Circuitos Corticales, Centro de Tecnología Biomédica, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
  • 3 Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red sobre Enfermedades Neurodegenerativas, Madrid, Spain

The tremendous expansion and the differentiation of the neocortex constitute two major events in the evolution of the mammalian brain. The increase in size and complexity of our brains opened the way to a spectacular development of cognitive and mental skills. This expansion during evolution facilitated the addition of microcircuits with a similar basic structure, which increased the complexity of the human brain and contributed to its uniqueness. However, fundamental differences even exist between distinct mammalian species. Here, we shall discuss the issue of our humanity from a neurobiological and historical perspective.


DeFelipe, J. (2011). The evolution of the brain, the human nature of cortical circuits, and intellectual creativity. Frontiers in Neuroanatomy, 5:29. doi: 10.3389/fnana.2011.00029


The nervous system has evolved over millions of years, generating a wide variety of species-specific brains and behavioral capacities. For example, the production and appreciation of art seems to be a uniquely human attribute, a recently acquired cognitive capacity in the genus Homo. Almost everything that the human being creates has a touch of art, although we do not need beauty or an esthetic perception to survive but rather, it just simply produces intellectual pleasure. The same occurs with other mental activities, like reading a book or listening to music. It seems obvious that only anatomically modern humans (i.e., Homo sapiens) can be behaviorally modern, capable of creating symbolic objects. Maybe this is when we discovered the world of ideas and created the concept of the soul or spirit. From that moment, the relentless pursuit to define where such a trait is forged began, resulting in the so called “mind–body problem.” Of the numerous images available, we have chosen two here to illustrate in distinct ways the relationship between the mental and the physical worlds, both suggesting a separation between the two entities. Figure 1 shows the painting Fray Pedro de San Dionisio by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1598–1664, and a sculpture of Don Quixote present at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico.


Figure 1. The mind–body problem. Left: Fray Pedro de San Dionisio, painted by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664). © Fundació Institut d’Art Hispanic Amatller. Arxiu Mas. Right: Don Quixote, Museum of Arte Moderno in Mexico. These images are examples of the separation between the mental and the physical worlds. The saint levitates while praying, and his head is separated from his body; Don Quixote appears reflective, with an empty head.

Perhaps modern neuroscience has contributed most in this field by addressing the issue of mental processes from a biological standpoint. Nevertheless, it is striking how little influence this neuroscientific knowledge has had on society due to the failure in conciliating the relationship between the brain and our humanity. It is commonly thought that the increase in complexity as our brain has evolved is a product of the addition of microcircuits with a similar basic structure that incorporate only minor variations. Indeed, species-specific behaviors may arise from very small changes in neuronal circuits (Katz and Harris-Warrick, 1999). However, we will see that the human cerebral cortex has some distinctive circuits that are most likely related to our humanity. In addition, there are some erroneous popular beliefs regarding the relationship between brain size, evolution, and intellectual capabilities, and regarding the patterns of convolutions and the external morphology of the brain. Here, I shall deal with these topics with the aid of some historical notes.

The article is open source and can be downloaded as a PDF.

Upaya Dharma Podcasts - Exploring the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye Series: All 4 Parts

Nice series of four talks from the Upaya Zen Center, featuring Kazuaki Tanahashi, Peter Levitt, Roshi Joan Halifax, Henry Shukman, and Natalie Goldberg on the life, poetry, and dharma of the great Zen master Dogen.
During this unique weekend, through his passion for poetry, practice, painting, and interpretations, renowned Dogen translator, Kazuaki Tanahashi explores being a clumsy student of a great master. Poet and Zen Teacher, Peter Levitt, touches the heart of practice through Zen Master Dogen’s life and work. Roshi Joan plays with directly not understanding Dogen. Writer Natalie Goldberg gets us to sit, write, walk in the spirit of Dogen. This gathering is a celebration of the completion of a fifty year translation project guided by Kaz Tanahashi, and recently published by Shambhala Publications. It includes a calligraphy dedication to Dogen with a gold calligraphy of Dogen’s “Circle of the Way.” There will be a book signing by the translators, and a showing of the extraordinary film “Zen: The Life of Dogen.”
Here are the podcasts:

5-6: Joan Halifax, Kazuaki Tanahashi, Natalie Goldberg, Henry Shukman, and Peter Levitt: Exploring the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye (Part 1 of 4)

Recorded: Friday May 6, 2011

* * * * * *

5-7: Peter Levitt: Exploring the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen Hidden and Revealed (Part 2 of 4)

Recorded: Saturday May 7, 2011

This episode features Sensei Peter Levitt, who shares Dogen’s role in his poetry. Sensei Levitt expounds on the truth of intimacy in practice and art, bringing the heart of Dogen’s writing to our own creative process.

5-7: Natalie Goldberg: Exploring the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen Hidden and Revealed (Part 3 of 4)

Recorded: Saturday May 7, 2011

Natalie Goldberg offers her great depth of writing experience in this talk and exercise. “If you want to meet Dogen you have to sit, because in sitting the world opens. . . and his writing is coming out of that big world.”

5-7: Kazuaki Tanahashi: Exploring the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen Hidden and Revealed (Part 4 of 4)

Recorded: Saturday May 7, 2011

In the final episode of this series, Sensei Kazuaki Tanahashi analyzes selected readings from his new translation of the Shōbōgenzō. Sensei shares the history of Dogen’s life, and what drove him to write the masterwork still treasured nearly eight centuries after its creation.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Adrian J Ivakhiv - Wilber’s post-metaphysical turn

Over at the excellent Immanence blog, Adrian J Ivakhiv has been posting a series that looks at Ken Wilber and the AQAL model in preparation for a reading on his blog (and several others) of Sean Esbjorn-Hargens's and Michael Zimmerman's, one half of the duo that authored the mammoth Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World -newly released in paper in March of this year.

This is the fourth in a series (so far), but for me it is the best so far.
In his latest post, Ivakhiv offers an outsider's perspective on Wilber's place in the academy, or the lack of a place, actually. It's interesting how this is seen from someone not associated with integral theory and who is associated with academia.

This post is fairly comprehensive, but I wanted to share this one section and encourage readers to go check out the rest of it, and at least the previous two as well.
A few points to clear the air

Two kinds of responses seem to be fairly common when one inquires about what people think of Ken Wilber.
The first, typical among academics, is something along the lines of “who’s he?” or (though never stated quite like this) “why should I be interested in that?” The reason for this sort of response is that Wilber’s name does not circulate widely in the main currents of scholarly discourse; and two of the important reasons for that, in turn, are (i) that he doesn’t publish in scholarly journals and (ii) that the scope of his work is so broad that if he tried to publish in scholarly journals, he would likely get nailed on one thing or another in the peer-review process. His work simply raises too many questions in too many fields at once.

Furthermore, due to the nature of his earlier writings (before about 1995) and the venues in which they were published (mainly the popular Buddhist publisher Shambhala, the Theosophical publishing house Quest Books, and the journal Wilber co-founded, ReVision), he had established a reputation as a “new agey” or “new paradigm” thinker alongside the likes of Deepak Chopra, Fritjof Capra, and others in that vein, none of whom capture a great deal of attention in academe. This association of Wilber with such authors makes historical sesnse, but readers of his more recent work know how significantly Wilber deviates from the great bulk of “new paradigm” thought.

The second response, typical among those who know something about him, is something negative either about Wilber’s personality (e.g., that he’s arrogant, full of himself, etc.) or about his organization, the Integral Institute, and its satellites (that they’re cultish, fawning, commercial hucksters, etc.).

Evidence for the first claim would seem to lie in Wilber’s perceived attitude regarding his world-historical importance and in his often vehement responses to many critics. (I’m not particularly bothered by the swearing and the cowboy imagery as much as I squirm at lines like this:
“Not only did I grok what the postmodernists were saying, I have given, in dozens of writings, what numerous experts and specialists in the field (including experts on Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, among others) have called some of the best, and in a few instances, THE best, treatment of these topics.”
Umm, oops. But okay, we’re all entitled to say some stupid things now and then, so maybe we can cut him some slack there.)

Evidence for the second claim — about the Integral Institute and its offshoots — lies simply in the style by which they sell their wares, and perhaps the fact that people who aren’t employed by universities have to make a living somehow. I don’t have much to say about that, except that other philosophers might learn a trick or two from them about how to make philosophical ideas relevant to contemporary lives.

With regard to his relationship to critics, the story is more complicated than many critics make it sound. He talks to a lot of people — interviewing them, being interviewed by them, and so on — and he has in fact changed his mind a lot and developed his ideas in radically new directions over the years, often in response to critiques. In the process, he has come up with the most wide-ranging and integrated philosophical-psychological-sociocultural-cosmological synthesis I have ever seen.

How well this synthesis holds together is another question. Answering that question requires the kind of analysis and scholarship that few are prepared to take up.

The above two responses are certainly not the only responses you will hear — Wilber has many followers, and a great many readers — but they are worth mentioning at the outset, if only as to indicate that I’m aware of them. Fortunately, both responses are fairly peripheral to the value of Wilber’s ideas, so now that I’ve mentioned them, I can simply set them aside and not comment on them further.

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Dharma Quote - The Nature of the Mind Is Like a Mirror


translation and commentary by
John Myrdhin Reynolds
foreword by Namkhai Norbu


Dharma Quote of the Week
When we understand the empty nature of our own mind, then the consequences of merit and sin will not be realized. In the state of emptiness, there exists no objective merit or sin.

...The nature of the mind is like a mirror; merits and sins are like the reflections in this mirror; and reflections in no way affect or modify the nature of the mirror. When we are in a state of contemplation, we are living in the condition of the mirror. At the time when all phenomena are exhausted and pass into the nature of reality, then our virtuous and vicious deeds will cause no benefit or harm to us. There is no basis for effect--all limitations, all frames of reference, all solid ground having been eliminated. But if we do not understand the nature of the mind and intrinsic awareness through direct personal experience, it will be a very dangerous situation for us.

Indeed, it is not sufficient merely to understand these teachings intellectually; one must first practice and attain realization from this practice. Otherwise the virtuous and the vicious acts we commit in this life will create and accumulate karma, leading us again inevitably into transmigration. From the present time until we realize the ultimate exhausting of all phenomena into the nature of reality, our behavior must be refined; it must be heedful and scrupulous. Otherwise our view is only so much empty intellectual talk. (p.66)

--from Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness translation and commentary by John Myrdhin Reynolds, foreword by Namkhai Norbu, published by Snow Lion Publications

Self-Liberation • Now at 5O% off
(Good until May 27th).

TEDxHendrixCollege - Doug Fields - The Other Brain

What glial cells do and how they function - as we begin to understand what this cerebral "dark matter" does (85% of the brain is glial cells), we are being forced to change our ideas about how the brain functions.

TEDxHendrixCollege - Doug Fields - The Other Brain

In this talk, Dr. Doug Fields discusses glia, or "glue," which make up 85% of the cells in the human brain. New discoveries about these glial cells are revolutionizing the way that scientists view the brain, and Dr. Fields gives us a glimpse into this burgeoning area of neuroscience.

R. Douglas Fields, Ph.D., is the Chief of the Section on Nervous System Development and Plasticity at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Adjunct Professor in the Neuroscience and Cognitive Science Program at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is author of the new book The Other Brain, which gives readers an eyewitness view of the discovery of brain cells, called glia, that communicate without using electricity. He is an internationally recognized authority on neuron-glia interactions, brain development, and the cellular mechanisms of memory. In 2004 Dr. Fields founded the scientific journal Neuron Glia Biology, where he is the Editor-in-Chief, and he serves on the editorial board of several other neuroscience journals. The author of over 150 articles in scientific journals, Dr. Fields also enjoys writing about science for the general public. He is a scientific advisor to Scientific American Mind and Odyssey magazines. He has written articles for Outside Magazine, the Washington Post and other, and he writes on-line columns for the Huffington Post, Psychology Today and Scientific American. Dr. Fields received advanced degrees at UC Berkeley (B.A.), San Jose State University (M.A.), and in 1985 he received the Ph.D. degree from the University of California, San Diego, jointly from the Neuroscience Department, in the Medical School and the Neuroscience Group, at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. He held postdoctoral fellowships at Stanford University, Yale University, and the National Institutes of Health before starting his research laboratory at the NIH in 1994. In addition to science he enjoys building guitars, rock-climbing, and scuba diving.

A Quotation from "Glimpse After Glimpse " by Sogyal Rinpoche

The times when you are suffering can be those when you are open, and where you are extremely vulnerable can be where your greatest strength really lies.

Say to yourself: “I am not going to run away from this suffering. I want to use it in the best and richest way I can, so that I can become more compassionate and more helpful to others.” Suffering, after all, can teach us about compassion. If you suffer, you will know how it is when others suffer. And if you are in a position to help others, it is through your suffering that you will find the understanding and compassion to do so.
~ Sogyal Rinpoche

Open Culture - The Legend of Bluesman Robert Johnson Animated


The Legend of Bluesman RobertJohnson Animated

Robert Johnson: Devilish Detail on

Robert Johnson, the legendary bluesman, would have turned 100 this week. That’s well beyond the age he actually lived to – a very young 27. During his short life (1911-1938), Johnson recorded 29 individual songs. But they could not have been more influential. Songs like Cross Road Blues, Sweet Home Chicago, and Kind Hearted Woman Blues (all found in this newly-released Centennial Collection) had a remarkable influence on musicians growing up generations later. Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Robert Plant – they all acknowledge a deep debt to Johnson.

Speaking of debts, you can’t talk about Robert Johnson without talking about the famous devil legend. The legend holds that Johnson made a Faustian bargain with the devil, selling his soul in exchange for boundless musical talent. It’s a great tale, and it all gets brought back to life in “Devilish Detail,” a new animated film (above) featuring illustrations by Christopher Darling. You can view it in a larger format on
Illustrator Christopher Darling Brings the Myth of the Legendary Blues Musician to Life.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine as Documentary.

Klein's book is a little over the top at points, but it also is incredibly important. Maybe more people will be exposed to these ideas and facts since it is now in video.

The Shock Doctrine

The Shock DoctrineA documentary adaptation Naomi Klein’s 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, based on Naomi Klein’s proposition that neo-liberal capitalism feeds on natural disasters, war and terror to establish its dominance.

Based on breakthrough historical research and four years of on-the-ground reporting in disaster zones, The Shock Doctrine vividly shows how disaster capitalism – the rapid-fire corporate re-engineering of societies still reeling from shock – did not begin with September 11, 2001.

The films traces its origins back fifty years, to the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman, which produced many of the leading neo-conservative and neo-liberal thinkers whose influence is still profound in Washington today.

New, surprising connections are drawn between economic policy, shock and awe warfare and covert CIA-funded experiments in electroshock and sensory deprivation in the 1950s, research that helped write the torture manuals used today in Guantanamo Bay.

The Shock Doctrine follows the application of these ideas through our contemporary history, showing in riveting detail how well-known events of the recent past have been deliberate, active theatres for the shock doctrine, among them: Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973, the Falklands War in 1982, the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Asian Financial crisis in 1997 and Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Watch the full documentary now

Buddhist Geeks 217: The Aesthetic of Meditation is Broken (with Rohan Gunatillake)

This is an interesting and somewhat different Buddhist conversation than one usually hears - another great reason to tune into the Buddhist Geeks.

Rohan Gunatillake is Vince's guest this week - he blogs at and is working on a new project called Buddhify.

Buddhist Geeks 217: The Aesthetic of Meditation is Broken

BG 217: The Aesthetic of Meditation is Broken

16. May, 2011 by Rohan Gunatillake


Episode Description:

We’re joined again by a regular contributor of Buddhist Geeks and blogger at, Rohan Gunatillake. Rohan joins us to explore three areas in which the aesthetic of meditation could be improved. Specifcally these areas are: 1) language, 2) look & feel, & 3) delivery models. We then explore various ideas on how to meet these design challenges with design-specific solutions. Rohan suggests that taking a co-design approach to these challenges, including the users more fully into the design process, is a great first step. In addition he shares details on a project that he’s currently working on, a mobile application called Buddhify, which is a specific example of improving the aesthetic of meditation through technological and design innovations.

Episode Links:


Koshin Paley Ellison and Robert Chodo Campbell - Commit to Compassion

Via the Tricycle blog - a cool video on committing to a life of compassion and service - follow the link to see the video.

Watch: Commit to Compassion

Koshin Paley Ellison and Robert Chodo Campbell, founders of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, on why one would commit to a life service.

Join the special Tricycle Community discussion with Koshin and Chodo here!

Religion (and its Absence) Shrinks the Hippocampus

Religious Affiliation and Brain Shrinkage

We have known for a long time that the brain shrinks with age, and that the hippocampus shrinks considerably in old age. Now we also know that the hipocampus shrinks MORE in Catholics and born-again protestants - as well as those with no religion. Maybe this is another good reason to be a Buddhist? Meditation is know to prevent hippocampal shrinkage.

The researchers attribute the shrinkage to the cumulative stress of being a religious minority - but that makes no sense in the U.S., where Catholics and born-again Protestants are the majority religion by far - whereas for atheists, there is certainly a lot of bias against them (us) that could cause stress.

The stress element is logical - we know from trauma and PTSD that the stress response (cortisol in particular) shrinks the hippocampus. I would want to see if cognitive dissonance creates significant stress - enough to account for this change in brain volume. My suspicion is that many people in traditional religions experience cognitive dissonance between their beliefs and the reality within which they live.

The abstract and a link to the full article are at the bottom.

Religious Affiliation and Brain Shrinkage

New research finds membership in a minority religion seems to hasten a loss of volume of the hippocampal region of the brain.

Aging baby boomers are using a variety of methods to remain mentally sharp, from brain fitness classes to simply staying social. Newly published research suggests another, admittedly unorthodox approach to promoting brain-cell survival:

Changing your religious affiliation.

A study published in the online journal PLoS ONE found a key part of the brain atrophied more rapidly in Catholics and born-again Protestants than it did in mainline Protestants. This accelerated shrinkage was also found in people who reported a life-changing religious experience, as well as those with no religious affiliation.

The reason, the researchers speculate, is the cumulative stress that comes with being a member of a religious minority.

The research team, led by Amy Owen of Duke University, notes that the human brain shrinks with age, and the region known as the hippocampus, which has been linked to learning and memory, typically atrophies at an accelerated rate late in life. This shrinkage has been linked to depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Intrigued by previous research that linked smaller hippocampus volume with hyper-religiosity in some epileptics — as well as research on the effect of meditation on the hippocampus — the researchers decided to conduct a wider study of religious belief and brain shrinkage. The participants were 268 residents of the American Southeast, all of whom were at least 58 years old when the project got underway. All were involved on an ongoing basis for two to eight years.

MRI scans of their brains were performed every two years; data on their spiritual life and psychological state (including levels of stress and depression) was collected annually. Religion-oriented questions included their specific affiliation (or lack thereof); how often they worship publicly and pray privately; and whether they consider themselves “born again,” or have had any other religious experience that changed their life.

“Significantly greater hippocampal atrophy was observed from baseline to final assessment among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again,” the researchers report.

“These longitudinal associations were not explained by baseline psychosocial or psychiatric factors (social support, stress, and depression status), demographic factors, duration in the study, or total baseline cerebral volume.”

The researchers found no relationship between changes in hippocampal volume and a participant’s frequency of public or private religious activity. They did, however, find greater shrinkage in people who reported at the study’s outset that they had undergone life-changing religious experiences.

“Such experiences have the capacity to produce doubts regarding previously unquestioned convictions, potentially inducing cumulative stress even if the experience was subjectively positive,” Owen and her colleagues write. They add that “If the experience prompts a change in religious groups, existing social networks may also be disrupted” — another source of stress.

The researchers suspect low-level tension is also impacting the brains of non-mainline Protestants.

“These findings may reflect potential cumulative stress associated with being a member of a religious minority,” they write. “Though religious factors have been associated with positive mental health, studies have shown members of religious minority groups may also experience stressors related to those group affiliations.”

The researchers concede that the pool of study participants was “geographically and religiously constrained,” consisting largely of “Southeastern Protestant Christians.” Perhaps in a region of the country that is more religiously diverse, or where religion plays less of a role in public life, the stressors on those with minority beliefs might be less pronounced.

Nevertheless, these findings raise interesting questions about the role cumulative stress plays in hastening our mental decline. The researchers note that a 2009 study found that people who regularly engage in one stress-reduction technique — meditation — tend to have larger-than-average hippocampal volume.

The implication of all this is that Buddhists, being members of a minority religion in the U.S., are subject to stress-related hippocampal shrinkage. But meditation, which is a key component of Buddhist religious practice, may counteract this tendency.

Of course, anyone can meditate, or use other methods of stress reduction. If Owen and her team are right, the stress of being a nonconformist takes its toll on our neural system, and taking action to stay calm and centered is the brainy way to respond.

From PLoS ONE, an open access collection of journals:
Religious Factors and Hippocampal Atrophy in Late Life

Amy D. Owen1, R. David Hayward2,3*, Harold G. Koenig1,2,4, David C. Steffens2,4, Martha E. Payne2,3

1 Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America, 2 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America, 3 Neuropsychiatric Imaging Research Laboratory, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America, 4 Department of Medicine, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America


Despite a growing interest in the ways spiritual beliefs and practices are reflected in brain activity, there have been relatively few studies using neuroimaging data to assess potential relationships between religious factors and structural neuroanatomy. This study examined prospective relationships between religious factors and hippocampal volume change using high-resolution MRI data of a sample of 268 older adults. Religious factors assessed included life-changing religious experiences, spiritual practices, and religious group membership. Hippocampal volumes were analyzed using the GRID program, which is based on a manual point-counting method and allows for semi-automated determination of region of interest volumes. Significantly greater hippocampal atrophy was observed for participants reporting a life-changing religious experience. Significantly greater hippocampal atrophy was also observed from baseline to final assessment among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again. These associations were not explained by psychosocial or demographic factors, or baseline cerebral volume. Hippocampal volume has been linked to clinical outcomes, such as depression, dementia, and Alzheimer's Disease. The findings of this study indicate that hippocampal atrophy in late life may be uniquely influenced by certain types of religious factors.

Citation: Owen AD, Hayward RD, Koenig HG, Steffens DC, Payne ME (2011) Religious Factors and Hippocampal Atrophy in Late Life. PLoS ONE 6(3): e17006. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0017006

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo - Feeling Cozy in Samsara

by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo
foreword by H.H. the Gyalwang Drukpa


Dharma Quote of the Week

Most people feel cozy enough in samsara. They do not really have the genuine aspiration to go beyond samsara; they just want samsara to be a little bit better. It is quite interesting that "samsara" became the name of a perfume. And it is like that. It seduces us into thinking that it is okay: samsara is not so bad; it smells nice! The underlying motivation to go beyond samsara is very rare, even for people who go to Dharma centers. There are many people who learn to meditate and so forth, but with the underlying motive that they hope to make themselves feel better. And if it ends up making them feel worse, instead of realizing that this may be a good sign, they think there is something wrong with Dharma. We are always looking to make ourselves comfortable in the prison house. We might think that if we get the cell wall painted a pretty shade of pale green, and put in a few pictures, it won't be a prison any more.

...There are two basic reasons we follow a spiritual path and look for liberation. One reason is that we want to be free. Let's take the traditional example of a burning house: your whole house is on fire, and you run out from it. But all your family--your partner, your children, your parents, even your pet dog--are all still inside. What are you going to do? You don't just say, "Well, I'm out. So too bad. Do your best to get out, too." Naturally this leads to the second basic reason for following a spiritual path: we will try to pull them out as well. (p.71)

--from Into the Heart of Life by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, foreword by H.H. the Gyalwang Drukpa, published by Snow Lion Publications

Into the Heart of Life • Now at 3O% off!

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo's Spring Teaching Tour:

May 18
Bedford, NY
Westchester Buddhist Center

Bedford Post Inn
"Premature Claims to Enlightenment: If You Think You Are, You're Probably Not!"

May 30
Irvington, NY
Westchester Buddhist Center

Eileen Fisher Headquarters
4 PM
"The Legacy of Women in Buddhism"

May 21-22
New York, NY
Shambhala Meditation Center

10 AM-4 PM
"The Eight Worldly Concerns"
A weekend of teachings, meditation, and personal inquiry

June 1
New York, NY
Rubin Museum of Art

6 PM
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo in discussion with Gloria Steinem: Topic TBD

May 25
New York, NY
Shambhala Meditation Center

7 PM
"Practicing the Good Heart"
Talk and book signing for Into the Heart of Life

June 2
New York, NY
E-Vam Institute

7-9 PM
"The Contemplative Life for Women in the West"
For aspirants to the path of sustained spiritual development

May 27-30
Rhinebeck, NY
Omega Institute

"Into the Heart of Life Retreat: The Eight Verses of Mind Training"
A weekend of talks, meditation practice, Q&A, and periods of silence

June 4-5
New York, NY
Shambhala Meditation Center

10 AM-4 PM
"Faith, Devotion, and Refuge"
A weekend of teachings, meditation, and personal inquiry

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Norman Doidge: The Neuroplasticity Revolution (An Update)

This is from last September in Australia - but it was only available as a radio broadcast then, and not as long as this version. Norman Doidge, M.D., is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher, author, essayist and poet. He is on the Research Faculty at Columbia University's Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, in New York, and the University of Toronto's Department of Psychiatry. He is is the author of The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science.
What is brain plasticity? It's a term that explains how brain functions aren't rigid and set in stone at an early age, but rather are changeable and adaptable. Put simply, an old dog CAN learn new tricks...but they need to apply themselves. It's "use it, or lose it."

In his return to the Brisbane Writers Festival, Norman Doidge gives an update on some of the latest findings relating to brain plasticity. He explains how understanding that the brain can change itself has huge potential for new treatments for neurological problems, and can also inform what we know about how the human brain grows, learns and adapts.

Doidge tells the remarkable story of how, in his last visit to Brisbane in 2008, he met a woman Jane Gapp whose daughter had the incurable condition Locked-In Syndrome. Reading Doidge's book compelled Gapp to persevere in her attempts to help her daughter recover, and she has since pulled her out of her "Locked-In" state.

Changesurfer Radio - Transhumanism, Religion and Science w/ William Grassie

[NOTE: This was originally posted last week, but it disappeared into the ether during Blogger's downtime - only to suddenly reappear yesterday.]

William Grassie is the founder and former director of the Metanexus Institute on Religion and Science, author of The New Sciences of Religion: Exploring Spirituality from the Outside In and Bottom Up and Politics by Other Means: Science and Religion in the 21st Century.

He was recently interviewed for Change Surfer Radio, a production of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.

Transhumanism, Religion and Science

William Grassie

Changesurfer Radio

Posted: May 11, 2011

Dr. J. chats with William Grassie, founder and former director of the Metanexus Institute on Religion and Science, author of The New Sciences of Religion and Politics by Other Means, and editor with Gregory Hansell of Transhumanism and Its Critics. They discuss the relationship of religion to science and transhumanism.