Saturday, January 28, 2012

new poem - the chant

It's been a long time since I have written a poem - but I saw this women the other day, rolled down my window to hear what she was saying out of curiosity . . . maybe this is not so much a poem as a snapshot.

the chant

"And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a koan and it's a broken Hallelujah"
~ Leonard Cohen

she walks in circles
muttering about her daughter
and the man who beat them,
even in January
the Sonoran Desert sun
pounds the street corner
where she awaits her bus,
but no one looks up
at her, no one asks
if she is okay,
if she needs help
for the bruises tattooing
her cheek and lips,
the small spot of dried
blood beneath her nose,
as she continues
the story, walking round
and round, almost chanting,
"I tried . . . I tried
. . . I tried . . ."

TEDxBrainport - Bernardo Kastrup -- Computer, brains and logic

Interesting TED Talk - Bernardo Kastrup on how our brains generate a version of "reality" that may or may not be accurate.

TEDxBrainport - Bernardo Kastrup -- Computer, brains and logic
How real is reality? Are we all collectively cheating ourselves that the world that surrounds us is real? A bit like the movie "The Matrix" but without machines at the steering wheel. It's this mind-boggling thought that Kastrup leaves the audience with. Starting with the bivalent operation of computers -- thé instrument we use to investigate the working of our own brain -- via the definition of logic, Kastrup holds up a mirror that will keep a lot of us reflecting on reality and gives a new direction to what 'thinking out of the box' might mean.

Brain Science Podcast - Patricia Churchland on Neuroscience and Morality (BSP 81)

Patricia Churchland is the guest on the new episode of the Brain Science Podcast. Churchland's most recent work has been on the neuroscience of morality, Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality. An interesting part of the discussion is comparing Churchland's view to that of Sam Harris, (The Moral Landscape).

Patricia Churchland on Neuroscience and Morality (BSP 81)


Patricia Churchland (photo by Nines Minquez)

BSP 81 marks the return of philosopher Patricia Churchland, who I first interviewed back in Episode 55. Our recent conversation focuses on her latest book, Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality. We discuss the historical background and contrast Churchland's approach to that of Sam Harris in The Moral Landscape. Then Professor Churchland discusses how recent discoveries in neuroscience are shedding light on the evolutionary origins of morality.

It's a fascinating conversation that you won't want to miss.

Listen to BSP 81 (Free mp3)
Episode Transcript (Free PDF)

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Film - Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation



Powaqqatsi, or Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation, is the 1988 sequel to the experimental 1982 documentary film Koyaanisqatsi, by Godfrey Reggio. It is the second film in the Qatsi trilogy.

Powaqqatsi is a Hopi word meaning “parasitic way of life” or “life in transition” . While Koyaanisqatsi focused on modern life in industrial countries, Powaqqatsi, which similarly has no dialogue, focuses more on the conflict in third world countries between traditional ways of life and the new ways of life introduced with industrialization.

As with Koyaanisqatsi (1982) and the third and final part of the ‘Qatsi’ trilogy, Naqoyqatsi (2002), the film is strongly related to its soundtrack, written by Philip Glass. Here, human voices (especially children’s and mainly from South America and Africa) appear more than in Koyaanisqatsi, in harmony with the film’s message and images.

Friday, January 27, 2012

No Evidence that a Serotonin Imbalance Causes Depression, or that Antidepressants Improve Depressive Symptoms

There has never been a single study that conclusively links serotonin levels (low, high, or normal) with depression, so using drugs to increases serotonin is completely unrelated to the subjective experience and the objective brain chemistry of the patient. This is not new information - I've presented this argument before.

In 2006, Joanna Moncrieff and David Cohen wrote an editorial essay for PLoS Medicine, Do Antidepressants Cure or Create Abnormal Brain States? The gist of their article is articulated in the summary:
Antidepressants are assumed to work on the specific neurobiology of depressive disorders according to a “disease-centred” model of drug action. However, little evidence supports this idea. An alternative, “drug-centred,” model suggests that psychotropic drugs create abnormal states that may coincidentally relieve symptoms. Drug-induced effects of antidepressants vary widely according to their chemical class—from sedation and cognitive impairment to mild stimulation and occasionally frank agitation. Results of clinical trials may be explained by drug-induced effects and placebo amplification. No evidence shows that antidepressants or any other drugs produce long-term elevation of mood or other effects that are particularly useful in treating depression.
Moncrieff J, Cohen D. (2006). Do antidepressants cure or create abnormal brain states? PLoS Med 3(7): e240. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030240

The recent discussion of this topic began with an NPR Morning Edition segment, When It Comes To Depression, Serotonin Isn't The Whole Story, that examined the "chemical imbalance theory." Nearly all of the psychiatrists they spoke with admitted that there was never any real evidence that supported the "low serotonin causes depression" hypothesis.

Many listeners were outraged that these same doctors still tell patients that their depression is caused by low serotonin levels and that drugs correct that imbalance.

Jonathan Leo, Ph.D. and Jeffrey Lacasse, Ph.D. at Mad in America, a very cool new site run by Robert Whitaker (see his article, The chemical imbalance theory of mental disorders was disproven long ago — as well as Marcia Angell (former Editor in Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine), whose pieces in the New York Review of Books mentions that the chemical imbalance story didn’t appear to have merit), fired off a nice post in response:

Psychiatry’s Grand Confession

The psychiatry profession has finally come clean and confessed on a national media outlet that there is no evidence to support the Serotonin Theory of Depression. Today, on NPR’s Morning Edition there is a segment about the chemical imbalance theory, and virtually all the psychiatrists who are interviewed acknowledge that the there was never any evidence in support of the idea that low serotonin causes depression. But then, amazingly, they go on to say that it is perfectly fine to tell patients that serotonin imbalance causes depression even though they know this isn’t the case.

Several years ago in PLoS Medicine we wrote a long piece about the serotonin theory and the disconnect between what research psychiatrists say in professional journals and textbooks and what the advertisements say. While the advertisements presented the theory as scientific fact, the scientific sources clearly did not. Given the enormous marketing programs that pushed this theory combined with the media’s lack of skepticism, we were sympathetic to the general public who could hardly be faulted for thinking that theory had some foundation in fact. Following the publication of our piece a reporter contacted us and suggested that we were attacking a well accepted theory. We pointed out to the reporter that we weren’t attacking a sacred cow but that instead we were pointing out the mainstream psychiatry didn’t even accept this theory. We urged the reporter to contact the FDA, NIMH, APA, etc and ask them about the science behind the advertisements. He did, and as expected, an expert from the FDA explained that the theory was really just a metaphor. The problem is that patients who heard their physician explain the serotonin theory thought they were hearing real science. They weren’t told it was a metaphor and hence thought it was a fact. When a doctor talks about high cholesterol, diabetes, or hypothyroidism, they are talking about scientific measurement, not a metaphor. How is a patient with high cholesterol and depression who listens to their doctor’s explanation of their conditions supposed to know when the doctor has moved from science to metaphor?

Several months ago Ronald Pies published an interesting article in Psychiatric Times entitled, “Psychiatry’s New Brain-Mind and the Legend of the Chemical Imbalance.” Pies, just like the experts on NPR, acknowledges that the Chemical Imbalance theory is not true. However, according to Pies, it was the pharmaceutical companies who espoused the theory, and not well-informed, practicing clinicians, because the psychiatry community has known all along that the theory is not true.

But if the Psychiatry Community knew all along that the theory was not true, then why did they not clarify this issue for the general public? Shouldn’t they have pointed out to the general public and patients that what the pharmaceutical companies were saying about psychological stress was not true? Why did the professional societies not publicly set the record straight?
Read the whole article.

Some of the most consistent work in this realm has been posted at Beyond Meds - check out these articles:


INTEGRALES FORUM - A Statement on Sexual Ethics

The INTEGRALES FORUM issued a statement a little while back on their choice not to work with Marc Gafni any longer. They had reservations about working with Gafni in the first place, but were persuaded (I have heard coerced by some) by Ken Wilber to work with him. But like Integral Life, they have chosen to sever ties with Gafni. Ken Wilber applauds their decision in a note he allowed them to post on their site.

Integral blogger Joe Perez called their statement sexual fascism - but one of the members of the Integrales Forum offered his own response to Perez. For once, an argument about Gafni in which I am not involved.

For what it's worth, I also applaud the statement by IF - they have shown the highest integral ethics and the moral spine to make their position public.

Here is the post from Integrales Forum (including their original statement, dated in September of last year):

Ken Wilber's response to the IF statement from January

My statement asked that each and every person—and organization—search their conscience and come to their own decision about Marc and CWS.  I am deeply gratified that that individuals connected with IF have done exactly that, and although we came to somewhat different conclusions, I deeply respect and honor the decision reached by IF and its members.  This is exactly the type of personal decision that I hoped individuals would indeed come to.  The fact that they did shows a strong Integral ethics and conscience that bodes well for the future of Integral.  Allow me to congratulate all the members of IF for reaching this deeply ethical conclusion.  I am very proud of each and every one of you.

-- All love, Ken Wilber 2012-01-17

Postscript 1: Ken Wilber agreed to publish this statement.

Postscript 2: We (the IF board) are aware, that our statement is not a statement for all IF members, but is rather a reflection of our own position. We respect and honor if people come to different conclusions and decisions. Nevertheless, our statement is also the result of ten years of co-creation of and within the integral movement, as well as the continual discussion with a lot of people. That is why we would like to thank all the participants here, who further integral theory and practice, inside and outside of the IF. In this way we understand the congratulation by Ken Wilber as including all, even if we are not of the same opinion, and are very grateful for it.

-- The IF board 2012-01-17

Integrales Forum Statement Concerning Further Cooperation with Marc Gafni

After renewed allegations were presented against the spiritual teacher Marc Gafni in the fall of 2011, Ken Wilber took a three month period of time for reflection in order to state his own opinion in the matter. This statement (end of December) is now available [link]. In the statement Ken Wilber explains his further support and cooperation with Marc Gafni in the continuing development of the Center for World Spirituality (CWS) which was founded and is being led by Marc. At the same time Ken Wilber noted that this is his own personal decision and each and every individual should develop his own responsible position with respect to the situation. All members of the board of Integral Forum, including the working group for Integral Spirituality, have done just that. 

After intensive discussions with members of the Integral Forum, partners, friends and also critics of Marc Gafni, we have come to a different decision than Ken Wilber. Until further notice, IF as an organization as well as individual members of the board will not take part in CWS and IF will not work together with Marc Gafni as a spiritual teacher. The main reason for our decision is our conviction that the leader of such an organization as CWS should exhibit a high degree of integrational capabilities in order to bring different religious and spiritual movements and personalities of the world together.

In a current statement, Marc Gafni confirmed that he does not exclude the possibility of sexual relationships with students of his circle in the future. 

"Let me state formally that if in the future I enter into a monogamous commitment, then I will honor it and live in it to the fullest. If that is the right path for me then I will enter into it with full delight and even ecstasy. If I do not enter into that path, and choose to love from a different place, then I will enter into that path with full delight and even ecstasy. If that is the case then it is not impossible that at some point I will date women who are in my circle. If that feels uncomfortable to someone in principle that it might not be wise to join my circle of teaching."

We do not see this position as commensurate with the expectations for someone in such a prominent role as the leader of CWS, particularly in view of the many years of critical discussions with respect to his person and behavior [link]. Against the background of the existing spectrum of cultural values, Marc Gafni polarizes people and opinions and for this reason does not meet the criteria we expect in a personality with the ability to lead and integrate such a meaningful global project. 

This polarization could also be seen within IF in view of the reaction to the most recent events. Many of us still hold him in high esteem as before, others view him very critically as a person. We are however unanimously of the same opinion that Marc Gafni, as author and integral thinker for the further development of the integral theory with concepts such as the unique self, provides an important contribution and we will continue to provide access to his contributions in our media.

The subject of world spirituality remains on our agenda. We will further promote this within the framework of the School for Integral Spirituality (SIS) in connection with the development of principles and ethical basics of this school. 

Our wish is that a constructive and responsible interaction with differences of opinion concerning theory, individuals, methods, and paths will lead to the realization of a truly integral and integrative spirituality. 

Integrales Forum, January 2012 

Michael Habecker, Sonja Student, Dennis Wittrock, Hilde Weckmann, Rolf Lutterbeck, Erich Carl Derks, Stefan Schoch und Helmut Dörmann
IF Board and working group School for Integral Spirituality (SIS) in the IF

A Statement of IF concerning Marc Gafni

Since its foundation, Integrales Forum has made an effort to develop an independent integral perspective in the German speaking countries, while also continuously looking for contact with the American integral scene around Ken Wilber. During the past years, several occasions for fruitful contact and cooperation have emerged, including with Marc Gafni, who together with co-teacher Diane Hamilton offered a contribution at the IF conference 2010 in Berlin and was a main contributor at this year's annual conference in Nuremberg. 

A few years before this cooperation there were indications of Marc's ethical misconduct in connection with female students. At the time, this lead to a break between Marc and the Integral Institute. In this context Ken Wilber composed a critical text, which we have published in German language in the „Integrale Bibliothek“(integral library), which has now been incorporated in the general website of the Integral Forum. A few years later, Marc was officially rehabilitated by Integral Life (the CEO  Robb Smith). This was the basis for the ensuing cooperation between Integrales Forum and Marc, after thoroughly checking the reasons for the rehabilitation, which had been supported by many teachers. Now (September 2011), new accusations of misconduct have been made against Marc, which we from Integrales Forum take very seriously and which have shaken the trust which we had shown in him after his rehabilitation. We have entered a new process of information and clarification. We will bring this process of clarification to a temporary conclusion from our side by the middle of October at the latest, and then make a statement. During this time we will put our cooperation with Marc as a spiritual teacher and in the context of the project of world spirituality on halt. 

The IF aims to contribute to a more integral understanding in a variety of fields, including business, education, ecology, politics, etc. This also includes the very sensitive field of spirituality that we want to help evolve from an integral perspective with the help of many other spiritual teachers. We will continue working on the subjects such as world spirituality, a new concept of self and an evolutionary-integral understanding of love. In this, we will also take into account  Marc's contributions, such as the ones we are publishing in the new edition of our magazine Integrale Perspektiven and the Online Journal. We’ve started this public discussion about spiritual standards already last year with our position paper (also discussing the role of spiritual teachers) and we will definitely continue to deepen it in the future. 

The Integrales Forum Board and the DIA-Team:
Dennis Wittrock, Sonja Student, Hilde Weckmann, Michael Habecker, Rolf Lutterbeck

September 15th, 2011

Lucia Mann - Free the Slaves – A Call to Action for Modern Society

This article was provided by Ginny Grimsley - and I thought it worth sharing, even though it is promotion for Lucia Mann's book, Rise Above Hate & Anger.

Free the Slaves – A Call to Action for Modern Society
Advocate Offers Tools to End Horrific Practice

In January, posted a report of its four-month investigation into a slavery network emanating in Eastern Europe. Every year, it says, some 200,000 women and girls are  smuggled out of impoverished former Soviet countries and sent to the Middle East, Western Europe and the United States, where they’re held captive.

In Haiti, UNICEF reported thousands of children were illegally trafficked out of the country following the devastating earthquakes two years ago. Selling orphaned children as slaves is a common problem following natural disasters, it says.

“Modern-day slavery is an even bigger problem than it was during the years of legalized slave trade from Africa to the Americas,” says Lucia Mann, the daughter of a woman who was held as a sex slave in South Africa in the 1940s. Mann, a former journalist, tells a slightly fictionalized version of her family’s story in Rise Above Hate & Anger (

There are ways individuals can help end the suffering and reach out a hand to victims, says Mann, who created the Modern-Day Slave Reporting Centre as a tool to address the problem. Here are details about the reporting center and other resources.
• At The Modern-Day Slave Reporting Centre,, anyone who suspects a person is being held captive, or any person who is being held their will, can file a report. The information will be reported to law enforcement officers and the person filing can request they remain a confidential source. The Web site also includes links to relevant law-enforcement agencies in Canada and the United States.

• At, people can take a short online survey that calculates the number of slaves working for you around the world based on the clothes, cars, electronic items and other consumer goods you own. The number is calculated according to what’s known about slave labor in the regions where the raw materials are produced and the goods are manufactured. (Google Chrome is required to take the survey.)

• At, are email prepared letters and surveys to any of 1,566 companies asking what steps they’re taking to ensure no slave labor is used in their supply chains. Companies who complete the survey and go out of their way to describe ongoing and current efforts are tagged with a “Thank You.” Companies that complete the survey are tagged with “View Response.” As of mid-January, 70 companies ranging from Fruit of the Loom to Campbell’s Soup had earned a “Thank You.” Another 25, including Avon and Best Buy, had completed the survey. Most, though, had not responded despite numerous emails. Duracell, for instance, was sent 432 emails and Bounty was sent 221.

• In California, the Transparency in Supply Chains Act became effective Jan. 1. It requires retailers and manufacturers with gross receipts of $100 million to disclose what they’ve done – or haven’t done – to eliminate slavery in their supply chains. While there are no punitive consequences, advocates say the law will raise awareness and allow consumers to reward or punish companies with their shopping choices. Residents of other states can lobby legislators for a similar law.
“There is nowhere in the world now where slavery is legal, and yet more than 27 million people are held captive as forced laborers or sex slaves,” Mann says. “That’s more than twice the number enslaved during 400 years of trans-Atlantic trading.

Raising Americans’ awareness and concern is the first step to ending slavery, Mann says.

“If there is no money to be made from enslaving people, it will end.”

About Lucia Mann: Lucia Mann was born in British colonial South Africa in the wake of World War II and lives in British Columbia, Canada. She retired from freelance journalism in 1998 and wrote Rise Above Hate & Anger to give voice to those who suffered brutalities and captivity decades ago.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Minessence Group - Nothing Will Ever Change Until There's a Change of Worldview

Good post . . . here is a taste.

For change to occur, people need to make different choices in familiar situations. Since values lie behind all our choices, this means people need to undergo a values shift. For a values shift to occur, people's world-view must change. The diagram below shows the main things which shape a person's world-view:

Two of the most powerful influencers of worldview are emotion and the media:
The fastest way of shifting people's world-view is through deliberately provoking a "significant emotive event"--brain washing techniques are an extreme example of this. If you think people would never resort to these techniques, think again! The question we must ask is, are techniques which deliberately provoke "significant emotive events", ethical?
Read the whole article.

Diane Rehm - Language, Music and the Brain

I listened to this yesterday in the car on my way to work - it's a nice discussion worth listening to. Learning languages or how to play a musical instrument can slow cognitive decline and make other forms of learning much easier.
The Diane Rehm Show - Language, Music and the Brain

Wednesday, January 25, 2012
This undated handout photo provided by P. K. Kuhl, Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences and the LIFE Center, University of Washington, shows a nine-month-old Finnish girl listening to the sounds of English, Finnish and Mandarin Chinese while in a MEG machine. - AP Photo/P. K. Kuhl, Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences and the LIFE Center, University of Washington
This undated handout photo provided by P. K. Kuhl, Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences and the LIFE Center, University of Washington, shows a nine-month-old Finnish girl listening to the sounds of English, Finnish and Mandarin Chinese while in a MEG machine.

Learning new skills in adulthood may seem like a daunting task. Over time there is a gradual decline of the brain’s ability to absorb new information. But experts say, with the right tools and a few tricks, we can continue to grasp and retain information as we age. The process of learning a language or how to play a new instrument offers interesting insights into the challenge. Two experts join us to talk about how mastering new and complex skills differs as we age and what it takes to become a lifelong learner.


Gary Marcus - Professor of psychology, the director of the New York University Center for Language and Music, and author of "Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning."
Michael Erard - author of "Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners"

Mo Costandi - Magic mushrooms in the neuropsychoanalytical framework

The Guardian (UK) recently posted this article by Mo Costandi in his Neurophilosophy column on the most recent research into the use of psilocybe mushrooms in neuropsychoanalysis. Costandi highlights some recent research from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and from the British Journal of Psychiatry.

One of the interesting findings is that the psychoactive chemicals seem to dampen the parts of the brain associated with executive function, what the Freudian model might think of as the ego. This likely results in the diminishing of personal identity and the expansion of worldcentric and cosmocentric consciousness.

[NOTE: I originally had posted the whole article, but Mr. Costandi felt I was stealing his material. This is yet another reason to support open access to science research, so that the public is not forced to rely on journalists for access to new and useful research.]

Magic mushrooms in the neuropsychoanalytical framework

Psilocybe cubensis on sale in north London. Photograph: Martin Godwin/Guardian 
  This week, researchers from Imperial College London publish two separate studies of the effects of psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient of magic mushrooms. The first appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, and I've written a news story about it for Nature. It's one of a small number of studies using brain scanning to examine the neurological effects of the drug. The second, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, examines the effects of the drug on the quality of recalled memories.

The past decade has seen a resurgence in psychedelic research, not least because psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs have potential therapeutic value for various psychiatric conditions. Here, I'd like to focus on another aspect of the new studies. Robin Carhart-Harris, lead author on both of the papers, interprets the findings within the framework of neuropsychoanalysis. I briefly describe this emerging movement, and how it might be used to explain the psychological effects of psilocybin.
Read the whole article.

Reference: Carhart-Harris, R. L. & Friston, K. J. (2010). The default-mode, ego-functions and free-energy: a neurobiological account of Freudian ideas. Brain, 133: 1265–1283. DOI: 10.1093/brain/awq01

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Integral Trollz Join the Marc Gafni Defense Team

The Integral Trollz (Kaine DeBoer and Hokyo Joshua Routhier) have adopted the personas of Robin Koki Lawson and Bonnitta Roy to create an animated defense of Marc Gafni's right to boink his students, as if that were ever the real issue. The two original trolls are fans of Gafni, so their efforts to "exonerate a non-predator" make perfect, though misguided, sense. I don't know Lawson, but I had not thought Roy to be so dim as these trollz.

Aside from completely misunderstanding everything I have written on Gafni's abuses, and mocking me as "Sir William," they also miss many of the relevant facts (for example, Gafni was having affairs with one or both of the women while holding up his monogamous marriage as an example to his community). Oops. Then there are all the other lies. Oops.

Since I am the only person who is named in the video (they mention Joe Perez but do not comment on him), I'll offer a very weak defense because, really, who gives a fuck anymore? Gafni is essentially isolated, with Sally Kempton the only big supporter left at his side, and well . . . enough said.

It's funny that they attack me, oh so gently, for supposedly thinking that this whole issue was about a sexually aggressive man and weak women in need of [my] defense. I have no doubt that both women willingly entered into relationship with Gafni, and even seduced him, but that does not negate his lies and manipulations.

One of Gafni's criticisms of those who have called him out has been that we fail to grasp the complexity of an integral, all quadrants perspective, yet his whole defense (and that of his defenders) is to simplify his actions to "adults having consensual sex" and, with that, sometimes people have their feelings hurt.

The trollz also try to compare this to the Denis Merzel affair - they claim Merzel got off easy in comparison. But in the Zen community, Merzel was ostracized and there has been a concerted effort by leaders in the Zen community to prevent him from teaching as a Zen Buddhist.

To their credit, Robb Smith, Diane Hamilton, John Dupuy, and even Elliott Ingersoll (in a Facebook thread) made public statements about Gafni's misconduct. Too bad more integral teachers also did not step up.

You can watch the video for yourself. I realize they were just having fun - but if they did not have an agenda, they would have poked at Perez and Gafni, as well.

Sounds True - Bruce Tift: Being and Becoming

Sounds True presents periodic Director's Picks, an interview with one of the people who has produced an audio or book program for Sounds True, someone who has made an impact on Tami Simon or other staff members. Recently, that person was Bruce Tift, a Buddhist psychotherapist - thus my interest.

Bruce Tift: Being and Becoming


Buddhism and psychotherapy both share the same ultimate goal: the alleviation of human suffering. Yet it can be puzzling for therapists and practitioners alike to try to integrate these two very different approaches. When Tami Simon was recording the new audio learning program Already Free with Bruce Tift, she was impressed by the depth of Bruce’s understanding of these two paths and their inherent contradictions. Tami says that Bruce’s inquiry opened her mind to resting with paradox in an open and accepting way—and that this skill of accepting paradox instead of struggling to resolve it may be a key to happiness. In this excerpt, Bruce talks about the key ideas of “being” and “becoming,” and how they are expressed in Western and Eastern traditions.

NPR - First Listen: Leonard Cohen, 'Old Ideas'

NPR has made Leonard Cohen's new album, "Old Ideas," available in its entirety for streaming, but only for a limited time - so go listen now.

Leonard Cohen's new album, Old Ideas, comes out Jan. 31.
Leonard Cohen's new album, Old Ideas, comes out Jan. 31.

January 22, 2012

In a recent public conversation with fellow rock bard Jarvis Cocker about the new recording Old Ideas, Leonard Cohen answered the younger man's suggestion that his songs are "penitential hymns" (a phrase Cohen himself employs in his new song "Come Healing") with jocular humility. "I'm not sure what that means, to be honest," Cohen reportedly replied. He continued, "Who's to blame in this catastrophe? I never figured that out."

The catastrophe he mentions is life itself — a description Cohen probably picked up from a fictional character he admires, Zorba the Greek, who embraced the "full catastrophe" of a well-connected, joyfully physical existence. The Buddhist teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn has also borrowed it for a book title, which is relevant, since Cohen's writing is famously philosophical, connecting his Jewish heritage to years of Zen meditation and an enduring existentialist bent.

But this spiritual master is a sensualist, too: His artistry is grounded in the careful examination of how the body and the soul interact. Old Ideas, his 12th studio album, was recorded after a triumphant world tour that had Cohen performing three-hour shows night after night — no mean feat for a man in his late 70s. It throbs with that life, its verses rife with zingers and painful confessions, and its music sounds more richly varied than anything Cohen has done in years.

Its depth comes in the tenderness and refined passion Cohen brings to his thorough descriptions of being human — a state in which pain and failure dance with transcendence and bliss, as he growls in harmony with his angelic backup singers in the beautiful "Come Healing," "The heart beneath is teaching to the broken heart above."

Old Ideas provides plenty of new lines like that, worthy of a Quotable Cohen anthology. (My favorite right now is from the folksy waltz "Crazy to Love You": "Crazy has places to hide in that are deeper than any goodbye.") But what makes this album special is its sound, which steps back from the synthesizer-heavy arrangements dominant on Cohen's other late-period work and explores a range of styles, from countrypolitan twang to gypsy jazz to Dylanesque blues.

Bobby Zimmerman, in fact, is a clear reference point throughout Old Ideas. At times, it seems like a response to Time Out of Mind, the 1997 release that marked the beginning of Dylan's epic lion-in-winter phase. (That he was only 57 when he made it shows how long a pop star's old age can last.) Like that album, Old Ideas contemplates mortality in the bitter light of failed romance; it fearlessly broaches emotional extremes while still dropping the wisdom of an elder who should know better. "The Darkness," with its funky undertow, and "Banjo," an easy talking blues, are especially Dylanesque, with Cohen adding tartness to his own gravelly growl and his band getting into a loose Americana groove.

In the end, of course, Leonard Cohen remains his own man, with a unique sound that brings the temple to the cabaret and a sensibility balancing humor and profundity on the crystal stem of a glass filled with red wine of an ideal vintage. In "Going Home," whose words were recently featured in The New Yorker by poetry editor Paul Muldoon, Cohen's inner spirit pokes fun at his pop-star self: "He's a lazy bastard living in a suit," the enlightened voice says. But you know what? That suit still fits, and the cut is perfection.

First Listen: Leonard Cohen, 'Old Ideas'

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Discover - Culture evolves our bodies!

Part of the integral model of human evolution is that culture acts as an engine for physical and psychological evolution, and likewise, physical evolution contributes to psychological and cultural evolution. Until recently, there was little evidence for this model - but with epigenetics, all of that has changed.

The authors of the article are cautious to see this evidence as an important new element of evolution that Darwin did not account for. There is a name for this field - sociobiology, and it's leading proponent is no less a mind that E.O. Wilson.

Culture evolves our bodies!

Human cultural diversity

One of the most annoying aspects of talking about human evolution is the rather misguided idea that cultural evolutionary processes operate in a zero-sum environment in relation to biological evolutionary processes. The colloquial rendering of this idea is that because humans are a highly cultural plastic species, we are “beyond” biological evolution. Many researchers though suspect that on the contrary, because of cultural variation and plasticity we may be buffeted by even greater evolutionary pressures than is the norm for a relatively slow-breeding species with a small effective population size. Probably the best example of this is the ability of adults in several human populations to digest lactose sugar. This is, to not put too fine a point on it, a freak ability. Why would a mammal need to digest milk sugar as an adult after all? Well, you know why, the human mammal is wont to consume the milk of other mammals, which it has taken into bondage. Viewed from the outside the whole process is rather weird and Frankenstein-like, but we’ve been habituated to the normalcy of this sort of thing because of the diversity of cultural forms on evidence in H. sapiens (though in some societies the initial exposure to the fact that Europeans, for example, consume milk and milk products into adulthood was perceived to be highly strange).

A new paper in PNAS implicitly makes this point, Cultural diversification promotes rapid phenotypic evolution in Xavánte Indians. To be sure, I think it does set up some strawmen as well. For example, the authors suggest that their results depart “from the classic view that human evolution is the sole result of adaptation to the external environment.” “Classic” is the wrong word. Outmoded is perhaps better. I doubt any evolutionary minded anthropologist would espouse this viewpoint. Rather, the idea that culture drives evolution is I believe a null hypothesis (this may not be the case for cultural anthropologists). In other words, this paper supports and adds detail to our prior expectations, it does not shift a paradigm.

All that being said, what did they do? The authors used a set of variables amongst groups of indigenous Amazonian populations, and analyzed how the variables related to each other. In particular, they found that one tribe seems to have undergone a great deal of phenotypic divergence from a genetically and linguistically related population (last common ancestors ~1,500 years B.P.). The phenotypic variables were head circumference, facial height, nasal height, nasal breadth, and glabello-occipital length. They also constructed a phylogeny using mtDNA, and related that and the phenotype to geography, and climatic 6 × 6 distance matrix. One assumes that variables like phylogeny, geography and climate should be robust predictors of phenotypic divergence (i.e., in a random drift model phenotypic divergence would be proportional to genetic distance).

The primary descriptive result in illustrated to the left. The Xavánte are outliers in both genotype and phenotype. But, they do cluster with the Kayapó on genotype. The phenotypic and genotypic pattern simply does not align. Why? One rationale would be local adaptation, which drives between group divergence out of sync with total genome genetic distance. But recall that the authors attempted to take into account these particular exogenous variables into their model. In other words, the phenotypic distance can not be explained by variation in genetic distance, or conventional exogenous variables such as geography and climate. By a process of elimination one is then left with the position that endogenous cultural factors are driving the phenotypic separation of the outgroup.

First, how plausible are these results? I have little to say about the geographic, climatic, or phenotypic variables. But, as the authors observe mtDNA is a single locus. That’s the only genetic data they had, but it may not be very reflective of the average phylogeny when you draw at random from the broader genome, which would be a much better reflection of population genetic history. One can easily imagine this sort of study being subject to false positive bias. Many researchers have databases of mtDNA genetic distance, as well as other variables, and the only ones which get published are those which show the statistically significant deviation noted above. So replication of the same sort of result in other populations is essential when it comes to lending credit to the plausible model of culture-driven evolution.

A bigger issue for me is the theoretical assumption that between society gene flow will rapidly eliminate differences sans very strong cultural pressures. Hostile neighbors still tend to exchange genes (e.g., kidnapping of women for brides, or slaves which are eventually assimilated into the enslaving tribe). Only a small amount of gene flow is necessary to prevent the accumulation of group-level differences. So you need strong between group selection to maintain those differences.

In contrast, cultural differences can easily manifest in large between group variation, and little within group variation. An accent is the most obvious illustration. A tribe can easily have a distinctive accent which immediately separates it from its neighbors, and only manifests modest within group variation (e.g., along generational lines). The model posited here is that these between group cultural differences are powerful enough to driven biological differences. Are they? I am not sure that they are at this fine a scale, but am open to the proposition.

What we need are cultural forms which are resistant to stochastic forces. In other words, something which is not a fad or fashion, but will be maintained for generations. In a literate society one can imagine such a thing (e.g., Jewish circumcision has persisted over 2,000 years, while the Zulu only gave up the practice during the time of Shaka). But what about pre-literate societies? I’m not so sure.

On the other hand, I also expect that between group differences and hostilities are greater amongst pre-literate groups, so that works in favor of the model (societies characterized by literate elites and elaborated ideologies generally have systems and justifications for assimilation and absorption of outsiders in a coherent and systematic manner; those without may not, though often they do as well). In the final sum: more study needed!

Citation: Cultural diversification promotes rapid phenotypic evolution in Xavánte Indians, doi:10.1073/pnas.1118967109

Image credit: Wikipedia

The Secular Buddhist - Episode 100 :: Stephen Batchelor :: The Awakening of the West

My favorite secular Buddhist is featured on this episode of The Secular Buddhist Podcast - Stephen Batchelor talks about his newest book, The Awakening of the West: The Encounter of Buddhism and Western Culture.

Episode 100 :: Stephen Batchelor :: The Awakening of the West

Stephen Batchelor

Hi, everyone. Welcome to this milestone in The Secular Buddhist podcast, as we expand into our third digit of Episode 100. We would not have reached this point without you, our growing listener community. And it is growing, as of this recording each episode is getting over 1200 downloads with over 142,000 total. The Secular Buddhist is usually if not always listed in the top 36 on iTunes for Buddhist podcasts, the FaceBook page has over 2000 Likes, and even our Twitter feed is seeing a constant stream of new Followers. We have a new website for the Secular Buddhist Association, designed for the development of community, with new sites springing up in other countries (more on that next week!). And our sincerest thanks to the many wonderful guests it has been a great joy to speak with. If not for you, this podcast would not have gained the attention it has.

Part of the reason for this steady increase in the interest of a secular way of engaging with a traditional practice is our culture, both in terms of our becoming a more secular society, and the technological tools I mentioned that foster that growth. Far from being a “watering down” of the teaching and practice of Buddhism, this is a watering of those seeds planted in new and rich soil, that of our contemporary culture. Conveniently, tracing the evolution of Buddhism in the West is the subject of the book we’re discussing today.

Stephen Batchelor is a contemporary Buddhist teacher and writer, best known for his secular or agnostic approach to Buddhism. Stephen considers Buddhism to be a constantly evolving culture of awakening rather than a religious system based on immutable dogmas and beliefs. In particular, he regards the doctrines of karma and rebirth to be features of ancient Indian civilisation and not intrinsic to what the Buddha taught. Buddhism has survived for the past 2,500 years because of its capacity to reinvent itself in accord with the needs of the different Asian societies with which it has creatively interacted throughout its history. As Buddhism encounters modernity, it enters a vital new phase of its development. Through his writings, translations and teaching, Stephen engages in a critical exploration of Buddhism’s role in the modern world, which has earned him both condemnation as a heretic and praise as a reformer.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice French Lemon Ginger tea.

:: Discuss this episode ::


“To suggest that traditional Buddhism is just as impermanent and as contingent and as imperfect as everything else, is not going to sit very happily with beliefs that are held regarding the truth of our particular doctrines, the authority of our lineage — all of these things are very much threatened by historical awareness of the actual state of affairs. But frankly I find that historical awareness of Buddhism is a wonderful way of illustrating the core teachings of Buddhism itself, namely that Buddhism is not somehow excluded from being contingently arisen, nor is it excluded from being impermanent, nor is it excluded from being dukkha, from being dissatisfactory and imperfect.” — Stephen Batchelor

Web Links

Music for This Episode

Shakuhachi Meditations

Documentary - The Real Bonnie and Clyde

I found this interesting - maybe you will, too. It's fascinating how history can become myth - in this case it seems the subjects were heavily invested in creating the myth.

The Real Bonnie and Clyde

The Real Bonnie and ClydeHollywood portrayed them as the most glamorous outlaws in American history, but the reality of life on the run for Bonnie and Clyde was one of violence, hardship and danger.

With unprecedented access to gang members’ memoirs, family archives and recently released police records, Timewatch takes an epic road trip through the heart of depression-era America, in search of the true story of Bonnie and Clyde.

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow were well-known outlaws, robbers, and criminals who traveled the Central United States with their gang during the Great Depression.

Their exploits captured the attention of the American public during the public enemy era between 1931 and 1934.

Though known today for his dozen-or-so bank robberies, Barrow in fact preferred to rob small stores or rural gas stations.

The gang is believed to have killed at least nine police officers and committed several civilian murders.

The couple themselves were eventually ambushed and killed in Louisiana by law officers. Their reputation was cemented in American pop folklore by Arthur Penn’s 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde.

Watch the full documentary now

Monday, January 23, 2012

BBC Radio 4 - Freud vs Jung

With the most recent David Cronenberg film in theaters now, called A Dangerous Method, being about the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, this BBC Radio 4 episode is highly relevant. Even without the film, it's very interesting.

Freud vs Jung

Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung's names may be linked in the public imagination but the two men were friends and collaborators for only a few short years. In 1912 they had a final, catastrophic split and never worked together again. Lisa Appignanesi tells the story of the titanic struggle which shaped our map of the unconscious. Did the bisected science fail to fulfill its promise and how much can be laid at the door of the primal argument between its dominant father and rebellious son?

Is there a real you? Julian Baggini on

I think this video of philosopher Julian Baggini falls into the category of a TED's Greatest Hits. They posted it this weekend on the Editors' Blog, which is where they generally highlight their best or most popular videos.

Is there a real you? Julian Baggini on

What makes you, you? Is it how you think of yourself, how others think of you, or something else entirely? At TEDxYouth@Manchester, Julian Baggini draws from philosophy and neuroscience to give a surprising answer. (Recorded at TEDxYouth@Manchester, August 2011, in Miami Beach, Florida. Duration: 12:14)

Watch Julian Baggini’s talk on, where you can download it, rate it, comment on it and find other talks and performances from our archive of 1,000+ TEDTalks.

Upaya Dharma Podcasts - Zen Brain: Emotions, Equanimity, and the Embodied Mind

Upaya Zen Center recently hosted another Zen Brain series (all twelve parts are below). This years speakers were Evan Thompson, John Dunne, Rebecca Todd,  Al Kaszniak, Richie Davidson, George Chrousos, and Joan Halifax. This year's topic is Emotions, Equanimity, and the Embodied Mind.

I have included the audio player for the first two segments, then all of the rest are linked back to the Upaya Zen Center podcast page. I have been listening as these were posted - and enjoying them a lot. Evan Thompson and Richie Davidson are among my favorite people in this realm, and the topic is embodied mind, one of my favorite topics.

Evan Thompson & John Dunne & Rebecca Todd & Al Kaszniak & Richie Davidson & George Chrousos & Joan Halifax: 01-12-12: Zen Brain: Emotions, Equanimity, and the Embodied Mind (Part 1)

Recorded: Friday Jan 13, 2012

In this opening session of the Zen Brain Retreat, the presenters introduce themselves and the presentations they will make in the coming days.


In recent years, philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience have contributed new observations and insights into the brain and bodily processes involved in those states we call emotions and their relationships to our perceptions and actions. These observations support the conclusion that bodily changes and the experience of the body are inextricable aspects of emotions, and of most other aspects of mind. These disciplines have also provided frameworks for understanding how emotions are initiated and regulated in the mind/brain/body that are resonant with Buddhist perspectives and practices.

Well known scientists and scholars will explore emotions, equanimity, and the embodied mind from the perspectives of Buddhist theory and practice, neuroscience/neuroendocrinology, psychology, and philosophy of mind. Special consideration will be given to recent studies of emotion response and regulation in meditation practitioners.

Evan Thompson is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. He received his B.A. from Amherst College in Asian Studies, and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto. He is the author of Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind (Harvard University Press, 2007), and the co-editor (with P. Zelazo and M. Moscovitch) of The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness (Cambridge University Press, 2007) He is also the co-author with F.J. Varela and E. Rosch of The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991) and the author of Color Vision: A Study in Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Perception (Routledge Press, 1995). He is currently working on a new book, titled Waking, Dreaming, Being: New Revelations about the Self from Neuroscience and Meditation.

John Dunne is an associate professor in the Department of Religion at Emory University, where he is Co-Director of the Encyclopedia of Contemplative Practices and the Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies. He was educated at the Amherst College and Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. from the Committee on the Study of Religion in 1999. 

His work focuses on various aspects of Buddhist philosophy and contemplative practice. In Foundations of Dharmakirti’s Philosophy (2004), he examines the most prominent Buddhist theories of perception, language, inference and justification. His current research includes an inquiry into the notion of “mindfulness” in both classical Buddhist and contemporary contexts, and he is also engaged in a study of Candrakirti’s “Prasannapada”, a major Buddhist philosophical work on the metaphysics of “emptiness” and “selflessness.” His recently published work includes an essay on neuroscience and meditation co-authored with Richard J. Davidson and Antoine Lutz. He frequently serves as a translator for Tibetan scholars, and as a consultant, he appears on the roster of several ongoing scientific studies of Buddhist contemplative practices.

Rebecca Todd received her Ph.D. in Developmental Science and Neuroscience from the University of Toronto Her doctoral work focused on mapping neural activation patterns underlying affective processing as well as cognition/emotion interactions associated with individual differences and normative development of self-regulation in childhood. Current research interests include investigating the effects of emotional arousal on the subjective experience of perceptual vividness and its link with memory vividness in healthy young adults and in post-traumatic stress disorder. She is also interested in the influence of emotional state on perceptual processing and higher-order cognitive processes, and the neural mechanisms underlying such influences.

Richie Davidson received his Ph.D. in Personality, Psychopathology, and Psychophysiology from Harvard University. He is currently Director for the Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience as well as the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research is focused on cortical and subcortical substrates of emotion and affective disorders, including depression and anxiety, using quantitative electrophysiology, positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging to make inferences about patterns of regional brain function. A major focus of his current work is on interactions between prefrontal cortex and the amygdala in the regulation of emotion in both normal subjects and patients with affective and anxiety disorders.

Dr. George Chrousos has earned an esteemed reputation for his tireless research in not only pediatrics, but endocrinology, psychiatry, rheumatology, allergies, surgery, oncology, and reproductive medicine. According to his ISI, he is one of the world’s pre-eminent pediatric physicians and endocrinologists and is the UNESCO chair in adolescent care. His expertise in stress in large part can be linked to his work in endocrinology. The interrelationships between the nervous system and the endocrine systems have a significant impact on mood and sleep disorders, pain perception, and immune Dr. Chrousos is among the 250 most prominent clinical investigators in the world. In his illustrious career as a medical researcher and educator, he has authored more than 1100 scientific publications, has edited 26 books and his work has been cited over 52,000 times.

Al Kaszniak received his Ph.D. in clinical and developmental psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1976, and completed an internship in clinical neuropsychology at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago. He is currently Head of the Department of Psychology, Director of Clinical Neuropsychology, Director of the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium Education Core, and a professor in the departments of psychology, neurology, and psychiatry at The University of Arizona. His research, published in over 150 journal articles, chapters and books (including edited volumes on consciousness and science), has been supported by grants from the NIH, NIMH, and several private foundations. His work has focused on the neuropsychology of Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related neurological disorders, memory self-monitoring, the biological bases of emotion, and emotion response and regulation in long-term Zen and mindfulness meditators.

Joan Halifax Roshi is a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, and author. She is Founder, Abbot, and Head Teacher of Upaya Zen Center, a Buddhist monastery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She received her Ph.D in medical anthropology in 1973. She has lectured on the subject of death and dying at many academic institutions, including Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Medical School, Georgetown Medical School, University of Virginia Medical School, Duke University Medical School, University of Connecticut Medical School, among many others.

Evan Thompson: 01-13-12: Zen Brain: Emotions, Equanimity, and the Embodied Mind (Part 2)

Speaker: Evan Thompson

Recorded: Friday Jan 13, 2012

Episode Description: In this presentation, Evan explores Life, Mind, Sociality and Empathy.

For the Series Description and the Bio for the entire faculty please click Zen Brain Jan 2012 Series Part 1.


John Dunne & Evan Thompson: 01-13-12: Zen Brain: Emotions, Equanimity, and the Embodied Mind (Part 3)

Recorded: Friday Jan 13, 2012

Episode Description: In his presentation, John discusses why we notice some things and not others, how we notice, affective frameworks and the connection to action. This is followed by a period of questions and answers with Evan and John and then a brief guided meditation.