Saturday, February 25, 2012

Open Culture - Inspirations: A Short Film Celebrating the Mathematical Art of M.C. Escher

This is very cool - especially for fans of M.C. Escher. Open Culture posts the coolest stuff. The animation on this is simply amazing, even if it is computer generated.

Inspirations: A Short Film Celebrating the Mathematical Art of M.C. Escher

February 24th, 2012

Almost two years ago, Spanish filmmaker Cristóbal Vila shot an exquisite little film, Nature by Numbers, which captured the ways in which mathematical concepts (Fibonacci Sequence, Golden Number, etc.) reveal themselves in nature. And the short then clocked a good 2.1 million views on YouTube alone.

This week, Vila returns with a new film called Inspirations. In this case, the inspiration is M.C. Escher (1898-1972), the Dutch artist who explored a wide range of mathematical ideas with his woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints. Although Escher had no formal training in mathematics beyond secondary school, many mathematicians counted themselves as admirers of his work. (Visit this online gallery to get better acquainted with Escher’s art, and be sure to click on the thumbnails to enlarge the images). As Vila explains, Inspirations tries to imagine Escher’s workplace, “what things would surround an artist like him, so deeply interested in science in general and mathematics in particular.” It’s a three minutes of unbridled imagination.

Andrew Miller, MD - An Evolutionary View of Depression

Generally, as I have mentioned here more times than I can remember, I think evolutionary psychology is about 75% crap and only 25% useful (I just pulled those numbers out of my arse, so don't hold me to them). Occasionally, however, something useful comes out of this field.

One of the places where there seems to be some merit is in looking at the evolution or mental illness. For example, there is some strong evidence that schizophrenia is an unfortunate by-product of brain evolution.

In these two short video clips, Andrew Miller, MD, of Emory University, talks about an evolutionary view of depression as a possible immune adaption. The idea that depression is some form of evolution adaptation is not new - and those who suffer from depression tend to express horror that anyone would take this view of their suffering - but the article and videos offer a good explanation of this newer theory.

First a brief article and then the two videos.

Depression: an evolutionary byproduct of the ability to fight infection?

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Feb. 23, 2012
Kathi Baker
Miller and Raison view the relationship between depression and inflammation through an evolutionary lens. Their ideas could have implications for the treatment of depression.
Depression is common enough – afflicting one in ten adults in the United States -- that it seems the possibility of depression must be “hard-wired” into our brains. This has led biologists to propose several theories to account for how depression, or behaviors linked to it, can somehow offer an evolutionary advantage.

Some previous proposals for the role of depression in evolution have focused on how it affects behavior in a social context. A pair of psychiatrists addresses this puzzle in a different way, tying together depression and resistance to infection. They propose that genetic variations that promote depression arose during evolution because they helped our ancestors fight infection.

An outline of their proposal appears online in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The co-authors are Andrew Miller, MD, William P. Timmie professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory and director of psychiatric oncology at Winship Cancer Institute, and Charles Raison, MD, previously at Emory and now at the University of Arizona.

For several years, researchers have seen links between depression and inflammation, or over-activation of the immune system. People with depression tend to have higher levels of inflammation, even if they’re not fighting an infection.

“Most of the genetic variations that have been linked to depression turn out to affect the function of the immune system,” Miller says. “This led us to rethink why depression seems to stay embedded in the genome.”

“The basic idea is that depression and the genes that promote it were very adaptive for helping people—especially young children—not die of infection in the ancestral environment, even if those same behaviors are not helpful in our relationships with other people,” Raison says.

Infection was the major cause of death in humans’ early history, so surviving infection was a key determinant in whether someone was able to pass on his or her genes. The authors propose that evolution and genetics have bound together depressive symptoms and physiological responses that were selected on the basis of reducing mortality from infection. Fever, fatigue/inactivity, social avoidance and anorexia can all be seen as adaptive behaviors in light of the need to contain infection, they write.

The theory provides a new explanation for why stress is a risk factor for depression. The link between stress and depression can be seen as the byproduct of a process that preactivates the immune system in anticipation of a wound, they write.

Similarly, a disruption of sleep patterns can be seen in both mood disorders and when the immune system is activated. This may come from our ancestors’ need to stay on alert to fend off predators after injury, Miller says.

Miller and Raison's theory could also guide future research on depression. In particular, the presence of biomarkers for inflammation may be able to predict whether someone will respond to various treatments for depression.

Miller and Raison are involved in ongoing research on whether certain medications, which are normally used to treat auto-immune diseases, can be effective with treatment-resistant depression.

This is the description that comes with the video:

Depression is common enough -- afflicting one in ten adults in the United States -- that it seems the possibility of depression must be "hard-wired" into our brains. This has led biologists to propose several theories to account for how depression, or behaviors linked to it, can somehow offer an evolutionary advantage.

Some previous proposals for the role of depression in evolution have focused on how it affects behavior in a socialcontext. A pair of psychiatrists addresses this puzzle in a different way, tying together depression and resistance to infection. They propose that genetic variations that promote depression arose during evolution because they helped our ancestors fight infection.

An outline of their proposal appears online in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The co-authors are Andrew Miller, MD, William P. Timmie professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory and director of psychiatric oncology at Winship Cancer Institute, and Charles Raison, MD, previously at Emory and now at the University of Arizona.

Part One:

Part Two:

Tucson - Crazy Wisdom (Life of Chogyam Trungpa) with Director Johanna Demetrakas

Very cool to have this film actually show in Tucson - more cool to have the director here for a question and answer session withe audience!

You can also read my brief review of the film.
Crazy Wisdom with Director Johanna Demetrakas in Person!
The Loft Cinema, Saturday, March 3, 2012 @ 7:00 P.M.
Crazy Wisdom Movie Poster

CRAZY WISDOM is the long-awaited feature documentary to explore the life, teachings, and "crazy wisdom" of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, a pivotal figure in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West. Called a genius, rascal, and social visionary; 'one of the greatest spiritual teachers of the 20th century,' and 'the bad boy of Buddhism,' Trungpa defied categorization.

Raised and trained in the rigorous Tibetan monastic tradition, Trungpa came to the West and shattered our preconceived notions about how an enlightened teacher should behave - he openly smoked, drank, and had intimate relations with students - yet his teachings are recognized as authentic, vast, and influential.

For 17 years in North America, Trungpa taught Buddhism as though it were a matter of life and death. He was committed to creating the foundation from which to build an enlightened society. Allen Ginsberg considered him his guru; Thomas Merton wanted to write a book with him; Joni Mitchell wrote a song about him.

Filmed in the UK, Tibet, Canada, & the US, twenty years after Trungpa’s death, with unprecedented access and exclusive archival material, CRAZY WISDOM looks at the man and the myths about him, and attempts to set the record straight. "It wasn't what he taught, it was how he taught," says Pema Chodron, author, teacher, former student of Trungpa.

So fasten your seat-belts and get ready to meet Chogyam Trungpa!
  • Meet CRAZY WISDOM director Johanna Demetrakas in person at a post-film Q&A on Saturday, March 3rd at 7:00 p.m.!
  • "The late Chogyam Trungpa's very colorful life makes for a most engaging narrative." - Dennis Harvey, VARIETY
  • "A provocative account of Trungpa's global odyssey ... insightful and often entertaining." - Justin Lowe, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
  • "(Director) Demetrakas has decided to simply present the man in all his demanding complexities and let him and his encounters with associates speak for themselves." - Kenneth Turan, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
Read an interview with director Johanna Demetrakas:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Two Recent Studies on the Neuroscience of Mindfulness

Both of these studies appeared in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal's most recent issue - online and open access. The first study looks at how mindfulness, each brief sessions, can improve attentional control. The second study looks at how mindfulness practice improves the recall of positively-associated memories, with a corresponding decrease in depression and anxiety.

Regular, brief mindfulness meditation practice improves electrophysiological markers of attentional control

  • 1School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK
  • 2Institute of Experimental Psychology I, University of Osnabrück, Osnabrück, Germany
Mindfulness-based meditation practices involve various attentional skills, including the ability to sustain and focus ones attention. During a simple mindful breathing practice, sustained attention is required to maintain focus on the breath while cognitive control is required to detect mind wandering. We thus hypothesized that regular, brief mindfulness training would result in improvements in the self-regulation of attention and foster changes in neuronal activity related to attentional control. A longitudinal randomized control group EEG study was conducted. At baseline (T1), 40 meditation naïve participants were randomized into a wait list group and a meditation group, who received three hours mindfulness meditation training. Twenty-eight participants remained in the final analysis. At T1, after eight weeks (T2) and after 16 weeks (T3), all participants performed a computerized Stroop task (a measure of attentional control) while the 64-channel EEG was recorded. Between T1 and T3 the meditators were requested to meditate daily for 10 min. Event-related potential (ERP) analysis highlighted two between group effects that developed over the course of the 16-week mindfulness training. An early effect at left and right posterior sites 160–240 ms post-stimulus indicated that meditation practice improved the focusing of attentional resources. A second effect at central posterior sites 310–380 ms post-stimulus reflects that meditation practice reduced the recruitment of resources during object recognition processes, especially for incongruent stimuli. Scalp topographies and source analyses (Variable Resolution Electromagnetic Tomography, VARETA) indicate relevant changes in neural sources, pertaining to left medial and lateral occipitotemporal areas for the early effect and right lateral occipitotemporal and inferior temporal areas for the later effect. The results suggest that mindfulness meditation may alter the efficiency of allocating cognitive resources, leading to improved self-regulation of attention.

Citation: Moore A, Gruber T, Derose J and Malinowski P. (2012) Regular, brief mindfulness meditation practice improves electrophysiological markers of attentional control. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience; 6:18. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00018

* * * * * * *

Mindfulness training alters emotional memory recall compared to active controls: support for an emotional information processing model of mindfulness

Douglas Roberts-Wolfe1,2,3, Matthew Sacchet1,2,4, Elizabeth Hastings1,5, Harold Roth1,6,7 and Willoughby Britton1,2*
  • 1 Contemplative Studies Initiative, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
  • 2 Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University Medical School, Providence, RI, USA
  • 3 Medical Scientist Training Program, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA
  • 4 Neurosciences PhD Program, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA
  • 5 Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
  • 6 Department of Religious Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
  • 7 Department of East Asian Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
Objectives: While mindfulness-based interventions have received widespread application in both clinical and non-clinical populations, the mechanism by which mindfulness meditation improves well-being remains elusive. One possibility is that mindfulness training alters the processing of emotional information, similar to prevailing cognitive models of depression and anxiety. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of mindfulness training on emotional information processing (i.e., memory) biases in relation to both clinical symptomatology and well-being in comparison to active control conditions. Methods: Fifty-eight university students (28 female, age = 20.1 ± 2.7 years) participated in either a 12-week course containing a “meditation laboratory” or an active control course with similar content or experiential practice laboratory format (music). Participants completed an emotional word recall task and self-report questionnaires of well-being and clinical symptoms before and after the 12-week course. Results: Meditators showed greater increases in positive word recall compared to controls [F(1, 56) = 6.6, p = 0.02]. The meditation group increased significantly more on measures of well-being [F(1, 56) = 6.6, p = 0.01], with a marginal decrease in depression and anxiety [F(1, 56) = 3.0, p = 0.09] compared to controls. Increased positive word recall was associated with increased psychological well-being (r = 0.31, p = 0.02) and decreased clinical symptoms (r = −0.29, p = 0.03). Conclusion: Mindfulness training was associated with greater improvements in processing efficiency for positively valenced stimuli than active control conditions. This change in emotional information processing was associated with improvements in psychological well-being and less depression and anxiety. These data suggest that mindfulness training may improve well-being via changes in emotional information processing. Future research with a fully randomized design will be needed to clarify the possible influence of self-selection.
Citation: Roberts-Wolfe D, Sacchet M, Hastings E, Roth H and Britton W (2012) Mindfulness training alters emotional memory recall compared to active controls: support for an emotional information processing model of mindfulness. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 6:15. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00015

Father Laurence Freeman - Knowledge Is . . . Love: Christian Meditation

This is a two-part Google Tech Talk - Father Laurence Freeman (Benedictine Monk) talks about meditation and different kinds of knowing. He has done a lot of work in "interfaith friendship." He is the Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation, a global network of Christian meditation groups that practice the way of Christian meditation, and of its Benedictine oblate community.

Very cool to see this side of the Catholic tradition.

Father Laurence Freeman - Knowledge is... Love

Different kinds of knowing - but the most human kind reveals our universal kinship and transforms relationship. Meditation is more than you think. The oldest and youngest form of human wisdom makes good sense in a digital age.

Speaker Info:

Father Laurence Freeman is a benedictine monk whose work in teaching meditation and interfaith friendship takes place in a global community formed by the daily practice of dynamic stillness and transformative silence.

Meditate with Father Laurence Freeman

Dave Pollard - Collective Mindfulness Practices

This is an interesting post from Dave Pollard at How to Save the World (his blog is under the Creative Commons License: some rights reserved). However, I think he is missing a huge piece of the puzzle as to why the effects of violence, addiction, and abuse are so much more visible now - namely, that we are moving into more of a post-modern cultural perspective that honors feelings and experience, whereas many our parents were born into a world that was still largely devoted to rules and roles, which are defined by religion or some other "higher" power.

That is no longer true. Large parts of our society now honor feelings even more than rational thought - with sometimes disastrous results. But it has created an atmosphere where it is not only okay to seek treatment for these childhood traumas, it's actually encouraged, and it's also encouraged to talk about them in public, in magazine interviews, in books/memoirs, and in movies and television.

As far as I can see, this is mostly a good thing.

Later in the article, however, when he talks about collective mindfulness practices, I think he's on to something. Here are some of the practices he has come up with through discussions with Michael and other friends:
  1. Ask open, interesting questions, and enable the group to explore them without expecting to find answers.
  2. Bohm/Bohmian Dialogue:
    • Bohm dialogue is a way of being together in a group. Twenty to forty participants sit in a circle, for a few hours during regular meetings, or for a few days in a workshop environment. This is done with no predefined purpose, no agenda, other than that of inquiring into the movement of thought, and exploring the process of ‘thinking together’ collectively. This activity can allow group participants to examine their preconceptions and prejudices, as well as to explore the more general movement of thought.” (Thanks to Seb Paquet for this link)
    • Participants of such Dialogues (the etymological meaning of the word is ‘speaking among’ and the ‘dia-’ means ‘across or among’ not ‘two’ as many think) are urged (a) to suspend judgements and expectations, (b) not to make any group decisions during or at the conclusion of the dialogue (the process is emergent), (c) to practice total honesty, openness and transparency, and (d) to build on rather than challenging or contradicting what has been said before.
    • Rather than being action-oriented (although some users of the approach have coopted it for making decisions and agreeing upon actions), this approach seems to be all about increasing understanding of who we (collectively) are, and appreciation of how our thoughts align and differ, our worldviews and belief systems overlap and diverge, how our minds work, imagine and create, and how we “change” our minds.
  3. Karl Weick’s Simplicity Beyond Complexity Sense-making approach:
    • Encourage unstructured conversations to enable shared meaning and understanding to emerge.
    • Enable people to move beyond fixed self-identities, to learn about themselves and see themselves differently and more empowered, more flexible.
    • Appreciate that we often act even before we “make up our minds” and then rationalize what we did, and facilitate a deep understanding of what actually underlies our actions and decisions.
    • Encourage suspension of decisions and avoidance of confirmation bias (hearing what we want to hear and disregarding what doesn’t fit with our worldviews and beliefs).
    • Help people understand that complex processes are dynamic and ongoing and that rigorous analysis, forecasts, predictions, causal certainty, defined goals, ends and mandates are inherently simplistic and unrealistic ways to deal with them.
    • Dig deeper beyond what seems to make ‘perfect’ sense, with the knowledge that the truth is always more profound and complex than we can every fully understand.
    • Iterate and try lots of “safe-fail” explorations and experiments to avoid being locked in to one way of thinking or one course of action.
  4. Make music, art, theatre, quilts, or barns together, improvisationally and cohesively.
  5. Nature walks, watching the sunrise/sunset/storm/stars, and similar unstructured shared observation and exploration experiences. By this I mean peaceful, silent, reflective activities, not White Mile character-building or cult indoctrination activities. I also don’t mean watching movies or theatre together — such activities, like reading (even while in each other’s arms), take our attention away from the others we attend with, instead of engaging us together as part of a larger whole.
  6. Playing together, either collaboratively or, if not, then without intense competition or keeping score. Role-playing games, cooperative board games, ultimate frisbee — it doesn’t really matter what you play.
  7. Eating together, without outside distractions.
Be sure to read the whole article - these suggestions make only minimal sense out of context.

Collective Mindfulness Practices

Dave Pollard - Feb. 16, 2012
The other day I had lunch with Michael Nenonen, a Vancouver social worker and freelance journalist (and a new friend). Michael has written a lot about the malaise of our modern culture and the damage it has done to us individually and collectively. One of the things we discussed was why, when there is plenty of evidence that physical and psychological abuse (in families, in the workplace, and in institutions) was at least as common in previous generations of our modern industrial civilization as it is today, the evidence of the trauma that abuse causes seems so much more visible today. Were previous generations just more stoic than ours in accepting this? Were they somehow more resilient, less affected by it than we are?

Michael’s view is that, in the first place, the damage done in previous generations was just as great — the extent of alcoholism, incarceration of the “mentally ill”, and the consequent abuse these previous generations have in turn inflicted on ours, all attest to that. The fact that it’s more visible today, he thinks, is due to the evolution of our society in recent generations from a “producer” society to a “consumer” society. My parents’ generation was expected to work hard and produce, and were assessed by their peers (and probably self-assessed as well) by how successful and effective they were at producing. There was considerably less tolerance for or consideration of behaviours of conspicuous consumption, or in fact any “weak”, unproductive, unexemplary or disobedient behaviour. One was expected to behave oneself, and, when one felt bad, buck it up, for the good of all.

By contrast, we are now judged largely by what we consume, and it is relatively unimportant how we came by the means to consume it (hard work, theft or inheritance). As a result, a much broader range of visible behaviour is tolerated, and responsibility for what we do and how we act has been substantially left to our discretion (or lack thereof). The “insane asylums” and hospitals for the poor have mostly been emptied and closed, their previous residents for the most part thrown into the streets. From schools to workplaces to religious observances, our culture has been socially deregulated, and the result is that our personal and collective trauma is on display, untreated (for better or worse), unconcealed and made our own personal responsibility. It is even, when sufficiently entertaining, celebrated, in an endless orgy of schadenfreude on Reality TV.

We are left to heal ourselves, and our homes and communities have now become the prisons and hospitals in which we seek to do it. Mental illness has become a huge and profitable industry for Big Pharma to exploit; giant pill-pushing corporations now relentlessly press us to “ask your doctor if X is right for you” (and challenge him or her if the answer is “no”).
Read more.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Non-pharmacological Variables Shape the Subjective Experience of Psilocybin

Back in the early days of LSD use and research, Timothy Leary stressed the importance of "set and setting" in determining whether or not someone had a good experience on the drug. Most users acknowledge the importance of having a good mind-set and a pleasant setting when using hallucinogens.

A recent study posted in PLoS ONE wanted to test the reality of this injunction with psilocybin (for testing the traditional hallucinogens, the short half-life of psilocybin makes it the best candidate). The researchers looked "investigated the effects of 24 predictor variables, including age, sex, education, personality traits, drug pre-experience, mental state before drug intake, experimental setting, and drug dose on the acute response to psilocybin." The results confirmed, at least in part, the set and setting model.

Prediction of Psilocybin Response in Healthy Volunteers

Erich Studerus1*, Alex Gamma2, Michael Kometer1, Franz X. Vollenweider1

1 Neuropsychopharmacology and Brain Imaging & Heffter Research Center, University Hospital of Psychiatry, Zurich, Switzerland  
2 Department of Clinical and Social Psychiatry, University Hospital of Psychiatry, Zurich, Switzerland


Responses to hallucinogenic drugs, such as psilocybin, are believed to be critically dependent on the user's personality, current mood state, drug pre-experiences, expectancies, and social and environmental variables. However, little is known about the order of importance of these variables and their effect sizes in comparison to drug dose. Hence, this study investigated the effects of 24 predictor variables, including age, sex, education, personality traits, drug pre-experience, mental state before drug intake, experimental setting, and drug dose on the acute response to psilocybin. The analysis was based on the pooled data of 23 controlled experimental studies involving 409 psilocybin administrations to 261 healthy volunteers. Multiple linear mixed effects models were fitted for each of 15 response variables. Although drug dose was clearly the most important predictor for all measured response variables, several non-pharmacological variables significantly contributed to the effects of psilocybin. Specifically, having a high score in the personality trait of Absorption, being in an emotionally excitable and active state immediately before drug intake, and having experienced few psychological problems in past weeks were most strongly associated with pleasant and mystical-type experiences, whereas high Emotional Excitability, low age, and an experimental setting involving positron emission tomography most strongly predicted unpleasant and/or anxious reactions to psilocybin. The results confirm that non-pharmacological variables play an important role in the effects of psilocybin.
Citation: Studerus E, Gamma A, Kometer M, Vollenweider FX. (2012). Prediction of Psilocybin Response in Healthy Volunteers. PLoS ONE 7(2): e30800. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030800

Here is the introduction to the paper, which introduces the central issues that led to the investigation undertaken with this project.


Responses to classical hallucinogens, such as psilocybin, strongly vary between and within subjects, even when the drug dose is kept constant [1], [2]. It has therefore long been postulated that a large proportion of inter- and intraindividual differences in reactions to hallucinogens is determined by non-pharmacological variables – also often referred to as set and setting. As originally defined by Leary et al. [3], set refers to the preparation of the subject, his personality structure, and current mood state, whereas setting refers to the the physical, social, and cultural environment in which the drug is taken. Although set and setting influence the psychological effects of any psychotropic substance, including alcohol and nicotine (e.g. see [4]), the effects of hallucinogens seem to be particularly strongly determined by these conditions [1], [5]. In fact, they are not only said to be influenced by an individual subject's mental state and surroundings, but to pharmacologically amplify the impact of these non-pharmacological factors on human experience [6], [7].

Since human hallucinogen research has been dormant for almost three decades and has only come to a revival recently [8], most of what we know today about non-pharmacological predictors of hallucinogen response is based on a small number of older studies, many of which do not conform to modern methodological standards. Nevertheless, most of these studies suggest that responses to classical hallucinogens are dependent at least to some degree on the personality structure (e.g., [9][16]). Further influencing factors include the mood state immediately before drug intake (e.g., [14], [17]), peer-support [18], estimated emotional support [3], expectations of the subjects (e.g., [3], [14], [17]), age [17], [19], body morphology [17], size of the group in which the drug is taken [3], and drug pre-experiences [3], [17].

However, most of these studies have obtained only a limited number of potential predictors at a time. Furthermore, almost all of these studies have relied on simple correlations instead of multiple regression to investigate associations between set and setting variables and drug response. Thus, they did not adjust for potentially confounding variables and also could not reveal the order of importance of different variables. The only exception is a study by Dittrich and his colleagues [14], [20], which has used multiple regression to predict responses to N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), nitrous oxide, and sensory deprivation from a large number of different set and setting variables. Unfortunately, the sample size of the DMT subgroup was relatively small (n = 45), and the study so far has only been published in book chapters.

Given these methodological problems and given that a growing number of investigators are using hallucinogens for experimental and therapeutic purposes [8], new investigations on set and setting are both timely and important. Beyond basic research, such investigations could serve the following purposes. First, they can help to improve the safety of controlled experiments using hallucinogens by providing a basis for deciding which subjects to exclude at screening and how to adjust the environment and procedures for minimizing the risk of adverse reactions. Second, they help to better standardize future experiments. For instance, treatment allocation can be improved by stratifying experimental and control groups on the most important non-pharmacological predictors and efforts in controlling confounding variables can be better directed to those that really matter. Furthermore, the most important predictors can be used for covariate adjustment in randomized controlled trials, which improves precision and power in the estimation of treatment effects [21]. Last but not least, knowledge about non-pharmacological predictors can significantly advance our understanding of the neurobiological systems involved in the actions of hallucinogens. This is because individual differences in personality, demographic characteristics, mood, etc. on the one hand, and responsiveness to hallucinogens on the other hand, could be both related to structural and functional differences in specific neurotransmitter systems. In the case of psilocybin, differences are most likely related to differential functioning and density of cortical 5-HT2A receptors because this is the main site of action of classical hallucinogens [22], [23]. However, other receptors (particularly the 5-HT1, 5-HT4, 5-HT5, 5-HT6, and 5-HT7 receptors) and neurotransmitter systems (particularly the glutamate system), which are additionally involved in the actions of classical hallucinogens [8], [24], might also contribute to common individual differences.

Thus, to further elucidate the dependency of psilocybin response on set and setting, the present study investigates the relative importance of 24 predictor variables, including age, sex, years of education, body mass index, personality traits, drug pre-experience, mental state before drug intake, psychological distress, experimental setting, and drug dose. The analysis is based on the pooled data of 23 controlled experimental studies. Most of these have been published before as single studies. Additionally, data from eight of the 23 pooled studies (i.e., those carried out between 2000 and 2008) were used in a recent pooled analysis on acute, subacute, and long-term subjective effects of psilocybin [2] and data from 20 studies (i.e., all but the three most recent studies) were used in a recent psychometric investigation of the OAV questionnaire [25]. However, none of these studies have yet reported about the dependency of psilocybin effects on non-pharmacological predictors.

This study improves on previous predictor studies in several ways. First, the sample size (n = 409) is about four times as large as in the largest previous study [3]. Second, the predictor variables that we used covered a wide range of potentially important domains, and the effects of these predictors were adjusted for the most important confounders. Third, all outcome variables and most of the predictor variables were measured by validated instruments. Fourth, psilocybin was administered under highly standardized research conditions. Finally, by using modern statistical techniques, such as the bootstrap, more reliable estimates of variable importance were obtained.
Read the whole study.

Open Culture - Filling All of Your David Foster Wallace Needs

For fans of David Foster Wallace, who died far too young, Open Culture is your one-stop resource for all kinds of writing, interviews, and other media. They've posted two collections of links and an interview this week that I wanted to share with all of you.

Yesterday would have been his 50th birthday.

David Foster Wallace: The Big, Uncut Interview (2003)

Post-Jungian Analytical Psychology - Hillman, Woodman, and Hollis

Three of the most prolific and respected of the post-Jungian or neo-Jungian analytical psychologists are James Hillman (also known as an archetypal psychologist), Marion Woodman, and James Hollis. I have collected here some relatively short but useful videos of them talking about their work. If you are not familiar with these folks, the videos may inspire your to seek out the books of one or more of these leading figures.

Because Jung has been deceased (1961) for a far shorter time than Freud (1939), his theories and models have not experienced the growth and transformation we see in Freudian psychoanalytic tradition. Along with William James (and perhaps Alfred Adler), Freud and Jung shaped the early growth of psychology.

While Jung has been in favor in the academic world, his theories continue to resonate in various ways throughout the psychology and psychotherapy worlds. From Wikipedia:
Jung is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as "by nature religious" and make it the focus of exploration.[1] Jung is one of the best known researchers in the field of dream analysis and symbolization. While he was a fully involved and practicing clinician, much of his life's work was spent exploring tangential areas, including Eastern and Western philosophy, alchemy, astrology, and sociology, as well as literature and the arts.

Jung considered individuation, a psychological process of integrating the opposites including the conscious with the unconscious while still maintaining their relative autonomy, necessary for a person to become whole.[2] Individuation is the central concept of analytical psychology.[3]

Many psychological concepts were first proposed by Jung, including the archetype, the collective unconscious, the complex, and synchronicity. A popular psychometric instrument, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), has been principally developed from Jung's theories.
He also gave us the distinction between introversion and extraversion (although he did not define these terms as they are popularly defined today), as well as being one of the first therapists to use art therapy and active imagination.

In recent years, younger theorists who are interested in Jungian work have started the reformation process of revision, refining, and bring his modernist perspectives into the post-modern world.

Dr. James Hillman Live at Mythic Journeys: Part 1

Dr. James Hillman discusses myth and the world around us at one of the Mythic Journeys conferences. To find out more information, please go to:

Dr. James Hillman Live at Mythic Journeys: Part 2

Jungian Analyst Marion Woodman on her approach to therapy

Jungian Analyst Marion Woodman describes her approach to therapy, which she says, comes from the unconscious. She goes on to define and explain the unconscious and how it starts with a dream. The dream is a picture of the unconscious and what you do through the day is mirrored in the dream at night. (Originally aired May 1997)

James Hollis PhD: Finding Your Own Path on LIVING SMART with Patricia Gras

Author and Jungian Analyst James Hollis PhD is one of the most prolific Jungian analysts in the country. He discusses finding your own individual path. If we indeed want to create a life worth living, we have to do our inner work -- something we sometimes forget in a shallow, fast-paced culture which seldom challenges us & spoon-feeds us comforting junk food instead of genuine nourishment. Find out what this Jungian psychologist and prolific author can teach us about creating a life and finding our path, a pragmatic guide to individuation-the creation of a meaningful life worthy of its soul.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Evolving Self-Consciousness - Peter Carruthers, Logan Fletcher, J. Brendan Ritchie

This is one of the sections from the Online Consciousness Conference (2012) that I have found intriguing and thought-provoking..
Special Session on the Developmental Conditions of Self Consciousness organized by James Dow, Hendrix College
  1. James Dow, Hendrix College On the Developmental Conditions of Self-Consciousness
  2. Peter Carruthers, Logan Fletcher, and J. Brendan Ritchie (all at) University of Maryland Evolving Self-Consciousness
    Commentators: Joel Smith, University of Manchester JeeLoo Liu, California State University, Fullerton
  3. Radu J. Bogdan, Tulane University
    Self-Consciousness: Executive Design, Sociocultural Grounds
    Commentators: Kyle Ferguson Graduate Center, CUNY Robert Lurz, Brooklyn College, CUNY Henry Shevlin Graduate Center, CUNY
Particularly, it was the article by Peter Carruthers, Logan Fletcher, and J. Brendan Ritchie, Evolving Self-Consciousness, that I found interesting (the article from James Dow, On the Developmental Conditions of Self-Consciousness, is also interesting).

The authors offer two differing accounts of how we have become capable of being self-conscious, and conclude that one - a third-person account based in mind-reading - is more likely the the other - a first-person based need for metacognitive control and awareness. Integrally, the answer is that both are true and interdependent, likely with other mechanisms also playing a role.
Evolving Self-Consciousness
Peter Carruthers, Logan Fletcher, and J. Brendan Ritchie
University of Maryland

Humans have the capacity for awareness of many aspects of their own mental lives—their own experiences, feelings, judgments, desires, and decisions. We can often know what it is that we see, hear, feel, judge, want, or decide. This article examines the evolutionary origins of this form of self-consciousness. Two alternatives are contrasted and compared with the available evidence. One is first-person based: self-consciousness is an adaptation designed initially for metacognitive monitoring and control. The other is third-person based: self-consciousness depends on the prior evolution of a mind-reading system which can then be directed toward the self. It is shown that the latter account is currently the best supported of the two.

1. Introduction
There are a number of kinds of self-consciousness. One is awareness of oneself as a bodily agent, as established by the so-called “mirror test” (Gallup, 1970). While interesting, this form of self-consciousness has little to do with awareness of oneself as a cognitive being. Rather, the mirror test measures an ability to notice cross-modal contingencies, becoming aware of the mapping between one’s own bodily movements (as experienced proprioceptively) and what one perceives in the mirror. Another—much more demanding—form of self-consciousness concerns awareness of oneself as an on-going bearer of mental states and dispositions, who has both a past and a future. In effect, this form of self-consciousness seems to require a conception of oneself as a self, together with a capacity for narrative, weaving one’s current thoughts and experiences into a larger story of one’s life.

Situated somewhere between these two—more demanding than agentive self-awareness but less demanding than awareness of oneself as an ongoing self—is the form of self-consciousness that is the focus of this article. This is awareness of one’s own current mental states: one’s judgments, beliefs, desires, values, decisions, intentions, experiences, and emotions. Humans undoubtedly enjoy such self-awareness. We don’t just see, we are aware that we see; we don’t just hear, we are aware that we hear; and so on. And we often know what we think, want, decide, or fear. Our question concerns the evolutionary roots of these capacities for self-knowledge.

This paper will assume that capacities for self-consciousness are rooted in some kind of distinct adaption in addition to general learning abilities. This assumption is not uncontroversial. Some might be tempted to endorse empiricism about concepts and concept acquisition, for example (Prinz, 2002), while claiming that the classifications that we make among our own mental states and the knowledge that we have of their patterns of interaction and contributions to behavior are a product of general learning (whether associative, or involving some sort of inference to the best explanation, or both). This account strikes us as quite implausible. But for present purposes we will simply assume, without argument, that it is false.

One can then envisage two broad accounts of the evolution of a capacity for self-consciousness. One is first-person based. It is that self-consciousness evolved for purposes of metacognitive monitoring and control. On this account, organisms evolve a capacity for self-consciousness in order better to manage and control their own mental lives. By being aware of some of their mental states and processes, organisms can become more efficient and reliable cognizers, and can make better and more adaptive decisions as a result.(1)

The first-person-based view is consistent with a range of accounts of the cognitive capacities or mechanisms underlying self-consciousness. At one extreme are those who believe in mechanisms of so-called “inner sense” (Nichols and Stich, 2003; Goldman, 2006). Just as our regular senses detect, and enable us to have knowledge of, properties of the external world and of our own bodies, so inner sense is supposed to enable us to detect and have knowledge of our own mental lives. At the other extreme one might postulate just a body of core knowledge, similar to the knowledge proposed in the domains of physics and number (Spelke and Kinzler, 2007). This would contain a set of representational primitives like THINKS and WANTS, together with some basic inferential principles that would enable one to predict the impact of some simple self-directed interventions. The executive systems that deploy this knowledge would have access to just the same “globally broadcast” perceptual and imagistic information as do other decision-making systems, and would lack any special channels of access to the subject’s own non-sensory mental states.

The first-person-based view is also consistent with a range of accounts of the relationship between self-consciousness and third-person mind-reading. On one view, it might be claimed that the mechanisms of inner sense are exapted and used when simulating the minds of others, in such a way that capacities for mind-reading depend upon our capacity for self-consciousness (Goldman, 2006). Likewise it might be claimed that the core knowledge that underlies self-consciousness is re-deployed (either by evolution or by individual learning) to provide the basis for third-person mind-reading. Alternatively, it might be claimed that capacities for self-consciousness and for mind-reading are independent of one another (Nichols and Stich, 2003).

Since theories are stronger (less open to attack) that make fewer assumptions, our focus in this article will be on a minimalist “core knowledge” first-person-based account of the adaptive basis of self-consciousness, which makes no claim to explain the basis of mind-reading. Hence the first-person-based account to be considered here holds that self-consciousness and mind-reading are independent capacities. Moreover, the account of self-knowledge in play is consistent with the “interpretive sensory-access” (ISA) theory defended by Carruthers (2011), and is not directly targeted by the critiques of other views that are mounted in that work. Because these assumptions are significantly more minimal than any that are made in the existing literature, if they turn out to be indefensible then by the same token all existing first-person-based views will also be undermined.

The contrasting account of the evolution of self-consciousness is third-person based. It maintains that the adaptation underlying the capacity for knowledge of one’s own mental states is a mind-reading faculty (consisting of a body of core knowledge about the mind, or a domain-specific learning mechanism with representational primitives, or both), which evolved initially for social purposes (Carruthers, 2011). These purposes might be competitive, as “Machiavellian intelligence” accounts of the evolution of mind-reading maintain (Byrne and Whiten, 1988, 1997), or cooperative (Richerson and Boyd, 2005; Hrdy, 2009), or both. The mind-reading faculty would have access to globally broadcast perceptual and imagistic representations as input, and attributions of mental states to oneself would initially utilize this input together with the same core knowledge and principles that are employed for third-person mind-reading. (Some first-person principles might subsequently be learned, of course.) In effect, self-consciousness results from turning our evolved mind-reading capacities on ourselves.(2)
In what follows we will compare the empirical predictions made by these first-person-based and third-person-based accounts, and confront them with the available data. Section 2 will focus on the expected signature effects of the adaptations that these theories postulate, before Section 3 turns to evidence from comparative psychology.(3)

Open Culture - Animated: Robert Johnson’s Classic Blues Tune Me and the Devil Blues

Awesome - 'nuff said. As usual, it's from Open Culture, curators of cool on the web.

Animated: Robert Johnson’s Classic Blues Tune Me and the Devil Blues

Last year, we featured a slick animation of Cross Road Blues by the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson. This morning, one of our Twitter friends highlighted for us a 2007 animation of Johnson’s Me and the Devil Blues, created by Dutch artist Ineke Goes. Recorded in 1937 in only two takes, the song (find the lyrics here) helped cement the legend of the bluesman. According to the old tale, Johnson made a Faustian bargain with the devil, selling his soul in exchange for boundless musical talent. And that he had. But, of course, the devil eventually demands his payback. Johnson died in 1938.

Bookforum's Omnivore - A Point of Critique

Another interesting collection of links for Bookforum's Omnivore - this one looks at criticism and critical theory, including philosophy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

TEDxUHowest - Fabien Pinckaers - Open source as a mature example of emergent collectives

Open Source is the future of cooperative learning, business, research, and community - nice talk.

Open source as a mature example of emergent collectives
Fabien Pinckaers is the founder and CEO of OpenERP, an open source business applications company. His talk is about how open source communities can leverage their cooperative business model to compete in a market that is crowded with commercial players. Open source collaboration gives an edge to innovative early market players.