Saturday, October 20, 2012

Paul Kiritsis - Social Neuroscience and its Natural Theory of Emergence: Mind as an Embodiment of Brain

Here is another interesting article from Paul Kiritsis's Down the Rabbit Hole, an outstanding brain, mind, and neuroscience blog. Here he discusses a theoretical model of mind based in emergence and dynamical systems theory (a mathematical model of complex systems theory). This is a topic I have posted about many times, and the outline he shares here is similar to my own theoretical approach.

I have been intrigued by his posts on brain, mind, and consciousness, partly because that is not where his education lies, although he did get a degree in psychology (along with literature, metaphysics, and now Western Esotericism).

Kiritsis is also a published poet, but his principle area of research is Hermeticism and Western alchemy, along with Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, astrology.
Of particular interest to him is the manner in which these primordial disciplines have spurred the development of analytical psychology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (i.e Freudian and Jungian ideas surrounding the human psyche), and consequently, the development of contemporary transpersonal counselling.
I'm not so much into the esoteric stuff, although I spent a fair bit of time with alchemy, gnosticism, hermeticism, shamanism, and other forms of mystical experience. And like him, I found Jung's inclusion of these traditions in his work very important and intriguing. But I do find his writings on mind and consciousness to be well-done and thought-provoking.

Social Neuroscience and its Natural Theory of Emergence: Mind as an Embodiment of Brain

MRI showing brain (2010)
MRI showing brain (2010)

Nowadays, the physical, natural, and medical sciences are progressing at rates that would have no doubt impressed the likes of legendary physicists Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein had they been around to witness them. The advances that we’re seeing in subdisciplines like cognitive neuroscience and aerospace engineering are so astounding and unprecedented that they continue to forge comparisons with magical feats witnessed only when one reads a work of fiction or watches a cartoon featuring a favourite superhero. Soon, diseases like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and a host of others will be rendered treatable through neuronal transplantation and our celebrated and esteemed astronauts will be traversing the surface of the moon and even Mars equipped with a robotic exoskeleton designed to assist physical movement around the joints. It all sounds freaky and somewhat scary, doesn’t it?

Absolute knowledge gained through scientific inquiry is morally and ethically neutral though the same cannot be said of the individuals who appropriate the archetypal models of their day to come to various conclusions about an objectified reality. Scientists are people too, each with their own set of beliefs, aspirations, motivations, and wishes. Some of the more prominent and intellectual amongst them have axes to grind and workable theories to defend. What all of these prevailing factors reveal is that there can be no consensus agreement regarding the nature of reality and for the purpose of this article the reality of the rich, multifaceted, and operative stream of mental life we call human consciousness. In daring to traverse the nebulous cloud of scientific stellar space, it should immediately become evident that any cosmological understanding of human nature rests precariously upon the shoulders of the individual scientist. Depending on formative influences these shoulders can be narrow, single-sided, and basic or wide, polygonal, and comprehensive.

These personal perspectives are best represented by an iron ladder with individual rungs where the bottommost one connotes the most rudimentary or reductionist approach and the uppermost the dualistic and fatalistic one. At the bottom stand the scientists who believe that the most evolved and complex streams of life activity like human behaviour and the mentation responsible for decision-making and belief are merely inconsequential by-products of chance events involving only the rudimentary laws which mediating simple electrical and chemical activity. Other scientific terms that have been used to describe the towering mount of human nature and consciousness as a bastard child of lower-order determinism are epiphenomenalism and eliminative materialism. From this angle, theories of causation governing more sophisticated biological organisms only exist on a subatomic or atom level; in fact, the whole action loop of sensory feedback and motor adjustment to achieve environmentally-based goals expressed by these dynamic systems of being can be reduced to an agglomeration of organizations and reorganizations occurring in microstructures to deal with an ever-changing environment.

Higher up along the ladder we find scientists espousing cosmological vantage points much more hospitable to our socio-philosophical comprehension of human nature. These outright reject the lower forms by postulating that causation must be perceived in the context of the emergent properties of the respective organism as a whole. In these categories or rungs we could probably place scientists with religious or spiritual leanings who are very uncomfortable with the non-existence of determinism in higher mental processes. According to the just mentioned persons, the act of relegating causation to the biological level excuses all human beings from moral and ethical agencies engendered by the development of civilization and culture. Moreover, holding onto material and reductive views of physical processes quintessentially means that humanistic concepts like choice or free will are non-existent. Is this an acceptable and feasible belief to embrace in a modern world where order, dynamic hierarchies, and exoteric codes of social and moral conduct are supposed to reign? The scientific conscious that proceeds with the human construct of conscience in mind is disenchanted by reductionist notions that demean universal or romantic love by professing that it is merely an influx of cortical activity in one area of the brain or that the act of contemplative prayer is “nothing but” the excitation of inestimable interneurons in another. When taken as entirely separate agencies, neither the physical nor the mental can decode the mysterious nature of human perception and cognition. The answer lies in more holistic interpretations that sketch out how higher forms of causation proceed from and operate independently of the rudimentary biological systems that birthed them.

Fortunately, there are many parallels existing in the inert physical universe we can call upon to understand nested hierarchies of causation where a higher and more complex functional system will manifest original and emergent properties not autochthonous to the order immediately preceding it. One of these is the spatiotemporal concept upon which modern anatomical physics bases the sum of its mathematical premises. Anything operational in the third dimension can move forwards and backwards, up and down, sideways and diagonally, and in a number of other ways. On the other hand subsistence in the two-dimensional world is less supple and mutable and involves the discernment of colours, measurements, impressions, and shades contained in the more limited trajectory of flatland. Finally we have the monocular universe of single dimensions, a rather uneventful and uninteresting plane of horizontal and vertical lines void of curves or any other spatiotemporal anomalies or alterations. The third dimension contains and comprehends everything in the second and first; the second knows of the first but not of the mightier and more comprehensive third; and the world of single dimensions knows of nothing other than the unswerving or unbending line of possible points within it. Essentially, what we have is a nested hierarchy of lower and higher-level elements separated by degrees of freedom. Within this specific hierarchy, constraints and physical laws that delimit all possible interactions in a lower-level system are inevitably transcended by the reorganized complexity of a higher-level and more comprehensive one.

We can easily transpose this little blueprint to the phenomenal world of nature with its phylogenetic kingdoms to garner a better understanding of how higher cognition or mentation can mediate behavioural patterns that are themselves couched in much lower biological and physical operations. For instance, unicellular organisms like some prokaryotes and fungi carry our processes indispensable to life like respiration and binary fission that individual molecules comprising the entire unit cannot do of their own accord. Any molecular biologist comfortable with the theory of higher causation would freely admit that the dynamic configuration of molecules facilitating cellular activity at that level isn’t directly contingent on the basic elements which make up the organism itself. By surmounting conditions at the rudimentary level, the organism has spawned a more complex set of functional conditions that can operate above constraints bounding lower-level elements to a set of physical laws. This intermediary view of higher determinism standing between the rungs of reductionism and dualism acknowledges innovation and novelty of more dynamical systems and higher processes in nature that might emerge as a result of symbiotic or predatory interactions and defends the humanistic impression that once spawned, the higher cognitive faculties command interaction loops between the organism and its environment in a most dynamic, intelligent, and meaningful way. As a holistic and humanistic archetypal model of determinism, it applies to all levels of creation and defines each level in terms of the complexity of nonlinear interactions and degrees of cosmic freedom. It is usually referred to by scientists and philosophers as the emergence or dynamical systems theory.

For the neuroscientist, the evolution of this particular theory has been a godsend for it has enabled a systematic and comfortable examination of the neural, biological basis of human cognition as well as the moral agencies and individual accountabilities that go with it without having to resort to the disenchanting and stark reductionism that the radical materialists are avid fans of. Now, let’s take a brief look at the illustrious nucleus of their studies; the most complex piece of matter in the universe, the human cerebral cortex. In this miniscule space of about 2-4mm, we find one hundred billion neurons and one trillion synapses interconnected like leaves on the branches of a sequoia tree. In fact, the concentration of grey and white matter is such here that the only way that evolution could proceed with its moulding of the modern Homo sapien without having to enlarge the size of the skull was to scrunch it up into a gelatinizing heap comprised of bulges called gyri and furrows called sulci.

If we were to make a comparison based on microcosm and macrocosm, the cerebral cortex is to the human body what a black hole is to the heart centre of intragalactic space. The sheer density of its neuronal connections explicates perfectly why it’s one of the most intricate, nonlinear, dynamical systems known to the greater cosmos and why it can attain sublime degrees of freedom unfamiliar to all other living organisms co-habiting the planet. It’s the instrument that makes us who and what we are what we might become. Without it we never have been able to speak and internalize spoken language, to read or reread our favourite works of fiction or nonfiction, to imagine certain beautiful and titillating scenes, or to juxtapose a unique event in our lives with an archetypal classical myth of the proverbial heroic journey. Furthermore, reliving experiences of merriment with loved ones that have left their subtle footprints on the sands of our being through the cognitive faculty of memory would have been impossible. Ultimately we would never have been able to become the complex and sometimes unpredictable bundles of biological and psychological impulses that make us unique in the eyes of consensus reality, and to assemble complex socio-political hierarchies and relationships within communities upon which our technologically driven civilization is based. In short, we wouldn’t be human.

Perhaps the best way to comprehend how the theory of emergence operates in the phenomenal world is to equate the brain with a bee hive; in such a comparison, the individual bees will connote individual neurons and the colony itself–comprised of the queen, the workers, and the drones–are the human brain. Bees are primarily communal creatures and all of their time and energy is spent engaging in targeted and selective activities assessed as those that might guarantee the survival of the entire colony. Their individual powers of discernment are commendable. Some will defend the nest against predators; others will scout for pollen and nectar or possible nesting sites; and others still will remain in the nest for the sake of tending to the developing larvae. Age is an instrumental factor that dictates the type of work an individual member of the colony will engage in; hence during their ephemeral six-week lifecycle, bees will have assumed all the supporting roles which constitute bee culture. Despite the individual roles ascribed to each, bees will frequently work together to come to some consensus agreement about which flowers offer the highest-quality and most wholesome pollen or which crevices and orifices make for the best nesting sites. With respect to the latter, recent studies conducted by a group of London scientists have demonstrated that group affirmation is offered in the form of a ritualistic dance performed by all members of the community. Thus, decisions regarding the location of possible nesting sites are rendered final only after the scouters offer the colony a unanimous gesticulation.  By engaging in such vigorous and meaningful rapport with one another, bees are guaranteed to make the best possible decision for the swarm in the least amount of time possible.

Looking at the bee colony as a whole, it appears that each bee is first subjected to a set of extrinsic stimuli inextricably linked to the environment before it responds accordingly. To address the likelihood of emergence we must discern whether the collective behaviours of the bee colony express a higher and more comprehensive degree of operative freedom from the physical laws which govern an individual member of the colony. Can higher and more complex order of behaviours evolve from lower and more rudimentary ones? In juxtaposing individual and collective aptitude in bees, we can safely conclude that the collective will of the bees, whether consciously or unconsciously rendered, can rise above ‘cosmic accidents’ and the contingencies of chance events to effectively and swiftly locate the most fitting site for habitation. This, dare I say it, is a phenomenon that any solitary bee could probably not accomplish. From the relentless, sympathetic, and nonlinear interactions between identical organisms operating in a world of chaotic antipathies, we get a dynamic system able to work efficiently and cooperatively with the prevailing circumstances to ensure the survival of life. The answer is obviously yes.

The ability to survive and develop a multifaceted pathway of interactions with a fluctuating, protean environment is an overarching feature of all complex and dynamical systems. How this occurs in the natural world isn’t all that hard to comprehend.  Basically constraints or hindrances placed on existing interactions between a dynamic system (usually an organism) and its environment produces what we might call a crisis in self-esteem. To temper the interference and re-establish equilibrium with its surrounds, the system’s interactive elements are spurred to the investigation of developing new, coordinated actions that inexorably transcend all interactive patterns hindered by the crisis. This paradoxical active and passive state of esteem is strikingly reminiscent of the alchemical nigredo, a stage in the Great Work where an old form must be destroyed for a newer, purer, and more comprehensive one to rise anew from the putrefying matter in a retort or alembic. During the modification phase the individual elements pertaining to the dynamic system recoordinate and forge a new relationship of interactions that is far more complex and inventive than the one just succeeded. Once the new dynamical form has concretized and become fully operational, the lower order properties upon which the newer aggregate of higher-order patterns have been synthesized organize and increasingly reorganize themselves in accordance to upper-lower relational constrictions. Consequently, a greater degree of freedom and meaning can emerge with higher-order configurations that do not apply to the lower and more fundamental ones.

Looking at the evolution of the human cerebral cortex and all life from such an angle, we see that all complex forms of organization embody a tangible “memory” of their preceding operative incarnations in the manner that a beautifully crafted Russian matryoshka doll contains within it numerous replicas of decreasing sizes. The increased efficiency, complexity, and multifaceted modes of operation demonstrated by these higher and more evolved dynamic systems and their causal emergent properties are no doubt the result of trial-and-error interactions of prior “incarnations” where repetitive cycles of organization and reorganization progressively garnered greater and greater freedom from the slime of elementary inertia.

Let’s probe the meandering course of evolution for a sweet second or two. Isn’t it funny that a country like contemporary Australia, decreed by the West to be the youngest culturally, happens to be the same land on which organic life first appeared some 3.5 billion years ago? At that time, the country was floating over North Pole, thousands of kilometres from where it finds itself today. Mother Nature (life), together with her foremost assistants, flaura and fauna, made their debut in the Land Down Under–or Over, as it might have been known then. Scouring the planet’s evolutionary history, we see that she started with single-celled organisms called prokaryotes before moving onto cells with a nucleus called eukaryotes. She was a little unsure in the beginning, testing the waters with the creation of soft-bodied animals that probably weren’t the best vehicles to carry the miracle we call life. Later, during a phase of geological history known as the Cambrian explosion (c. 545 million years ago) she decided to incorporate shells and skeletons in the bodies she designed and used those as a general blueprint. Experimentation started in the depths of the tropical seas with jawless fish, molluscs, tetrapods, crustaceans, and reptiles.

The Golden Age of the Earth had begun, fuelled by the merits of artistic vision and fierce individuality. It wasn’t long before Mother Nature became possessed by the idea of inducing many more innovative and creative ways of being; her amphibians dared to test the physical limits of their own reptilian genetic makeup by climbing out of the water. The Herculean effort worked, and before long the uninhabited green land, so heavily carpeted by tropical rainforest, was abreast with land reptiles, bats, and insects. All animals belonged to one of two groups; the herbivorous feasted on plants and trees and the carnivorous on anything that moved. An increase in atmospheric oxygen hit Mother Nature so hard in the head that it were as if she’d fallen down a flight of stairs and sustained a permanent brain injury. She became careless, fearless, and bold. Her will was schizophrenic, self-destructive even. She became the stuff of nightmares; dinosaurs, flying reptiles like pteranadons and a monster-like raven with teeth and claws named Archaeopteryx that palaeontologists mistook to be the first bird.

The disappearance of dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period (c. 65 million years ago) coincided with the appearance of the first primates, but it wasn’t until about 4.4 million years ago that they actually stood erect on their hind feet and became bipedal creatures under the “incarnation” of the slimly-built hominid Australopithecus Aferesis. Sadly hominids weren’t too well equipped to deal with the fluctuating environment and became extinct about a million years later. The first Homo sapiens replete with anatomical modernity, a well-developed brain, and bipedal locomotion appeared two hundred thousand years ago. Thus it took roughly 3.5 billion years for the most dynamic functional system of all–the human cerebral cortex–to come about. During that time each new level of development attained by Mother Nature was heeded by a new and exclusive set of emergent properties. Using this very simple rationalistic model, neuroscientists engaged in research today can speak freely and openly of thinking, perceiving, understanding language, consciousness, and all other causal emergent properties and faculties associated with the human cerebral cortex without having to entertain the absurd notion that they’re nothing but inconsequential side-effects of neurophysiological singularities.

Or are they…

Parsing the 2012 Presidential Race - The Most Pivotal Election of Our Time and the Role of Progressives

Here are two video talks on the 2012 election, one from Jonathan Alter on the critical importance of the 2012 presidential election, and a panel discussion of authors from The Nation on the role of progressives in this election cycle.

This is interesting and important stuff. I agree with Alter that this presidential election will determine where we head as a nation for the next couple of decades - the renegotiation of the American Social Contract.

Jonathan Alter - Why the 2012 Election Is the Most Pivotal of Our Lifetime

Author and columnist Jonathan Alter argues that the question in the 2012 presidential election is whether the country will stay on a centrist course with Obama or make a sharp turn to the right with Romney. He says that because few votes may be won by discussing the poor, the American social contract is rarely discussed but he feels it is on the line. Series: "Walter H. Capps Center Series" [10/2012]

* * * * *

The Nation at The New School: Progressives and Election 2012

A conversation about the role of progressives in the next election. How do we balance support for the Democrats with the need to mobilize grassroots support for social and economic causes? How do we determine priorities for strained resources? What should we be seeking from a second term Obama administration? Audience questions to follow conversation.

Featuring Nation contributors:
  • Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor, publisher, The Nation
  • John Nichols, Washington correspondent, The Nation
  • Chris Hayes, MSNBC host
  • Ilyse Hogue, political strategist
  • Patricia J. Williams, Professor of Law, Columbia University
Moderated by Richard Kim, Executive Editor, The Nation


Sponsored by The New School and The Nation.

Location: Tishman Auditorium, Alvin Johnson/J. M. Kaplan Hall
Wednesday, October 17, 2012 7:00 p.m.

Secular Buddhist Episode 138 - Brad Warner: Hardcore Zen Strikes Again

This week's episode of the Secular Buddhist Podcast features Ted Meissner (your host) in conversation with Brad Warner, one of the most controversial and popular young Buddhist teachers in America. Warner began life as a musician in bands such as Zero Defex, Dementia 13 (I loved the punk psychedelics of Mirror Mind and Disturb the Air, on vinyl no less), and others, and as an aficionado of B-grade horror film monsters (especially those from Japan).

Here is a little history of his training in Zen, from Wikipedia (edited and condensed):
He began practicing Zen Buddhism under his first teacher, Tim McCarthy. Warner later studied with Gyomay Kubose. When music failed to earn him a living, he moved to Japan. While in Japan he met and trained with Gudo Wafu Nishijima, who ordained him as a priest. In 2007, Gudo Wafu Nishijima named Warner the leader of Dogen Sangha International which Nishijima had founded. Warner dissolved the organization in April 2012.
Warner is an interesting guy - and while his background and context is very DIY, his Zen teachers, to me, have seemed very traditional and faithful to the structure in which he was taught.

This is an interesting conversation for those reasons and many others.

Episode 138 :: Brad Warner :: Hardcore Zen Strikes Again

Hosted by | October 13, 2012

Brad Warner

Zen teacher Brad Warner speaks with us about his new book, Hardcore Zen Strikes Again.

Zen stories are filled with teachers doing odd things. Their behaviors, their words, can often rub people the wrong way as the softness of social constraint gives way to pointing out the realities we often lose sight of, and the profound nature of our practice. By their very example, these teachers have historically called us out in our lack of questioning the urgent need for looking at life differently, and changing it.

Fast forward in time and to the left geographically, to modern day America. How might the words of some contemporary Zen teachers have that same impact on our social attitudes? It can be said that it challenges us to rethink what we’re really responding to, and what that can tell us about our priorities. Interestingly enough, punk does the same thing, so to find the radical hardness of punk in alignment with a coarse zen teaching shouldn’t be very surprising.

Our guest today is Brad Warner, Zen monk, writer, bass player, and film-maker. He wrote the books Hardcore Zen, Sit Down And Shut Up, Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate, and Sex, Sin, and Zen. He received Dharma Transmission from Gudo Nishijima Roshi, who received his transmission from Rempo Niwa Roshi who, at the time was the head of the Soto Sect in Japan. Brad was also a student of Tim McCarthy, who was a student of Kobun Chino Roshi.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Oyama cold sake.




Web Links


Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The track used in this episode is “Shikantaza” from his CD, Shakuhachi Meditations.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Scientists Reveal Brain Circuitry Involved in Post-Traumatic Stress and Related Disorders

The recent Society for Neuroscience Conference recently concluded and the research presented has been trickling out into the wider media. This study is particularly relevant to my work with sexual trauma survivors, so I wanted to share it for others who might find it interesting or useful.

Scientists reveal brain circuitry involved in Post-Traumatic Stress and related disorders

“Light switch” in rodent brain turns off depressive behaviors; altered brain circuitry that presents potential risk factor for PTSD identified; rodent study on extinguishing bad memories

NEW ORLEANS — Researchers report new insights into how the brain responds to extreme stress, whether from combat, natural disasters, or repeated violent competition. The insights offer hope for detecting and treating several widespread and debilitating neuropsychiatric disorders, and were presented at Neuroscience 2012, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after experience of a traumatic or terrifying event, such as those experienced in combat or from sexual aggression. Such events can overwhelm the individual’s ability to cope and lead to a long-lasting disorder. Symptoms include re-experiencing the original trauma through flashbacks or nightmares, often triggered by seemingly innocuous events. PTSD can harm an individual’s relationships, ability to work, to sleep, and other aspects of life.

The lifetime prevalence of PTSD among adult Americans is 8 percent. Neither drug nor behavioral treatments currently available are consistently effective in treating PTSD. Therefore, scientists are studying brain changes associated with PTSD and related cognitive disorders, looking for clues to help in the development of new treatments.

Today’s findings show that:
  • A fast-acting antidepressant, ketamine, appears to aid the formation of new nerve connections in the brain, helping to extinguish fearful memories. The mouse study could possibly lead to new PTSD treatments (Neil Fournier, PhD, abstract 399.09, see attached summary).
  • In a mouse model, when dopamine neurons in the brain’s reward system are turned on and off with a genetically engineered “light switch,” depressive symptoms also come and go. The research highlights the importance of this neural circuit as a potential target for new depression treatments (Dipesh Chaudhury, PhD, abstract 522.01, see attached summary).
  • Brain images of adolescents taken before and after the 2011 Japanese earthquake reveal that pre-existing weakness in certain brain connections could be a risk factor for intensified anxiety and PTSD after a traumatic life experience (Atsushi Sekiguchi, MD, PhD, abstract 168.12, see attached summary).
  • Rodent studies show that repeated violent, competitive encounters drive changes in brain activity that shapes the ongoing behavior of losers and winners in distinct ways, and can contribute to depression and/or anxiety (Tamara Franklin, PhD, abstract 399.10, see attached summary).
Other recent findings discussed show:
  • How exposure to stress causes molecular changes that weaken the ability of the prefrontal cortex to regulate behavior, thought, and emotion, while strengthening more primitive brain circuits (Amy Arnsten, PhD, abstract 310, see attached speaker summary).    
“New methods for looking deep into the brain are revealing a dynamic landscape that changes as it must to cope with trauma,” said press conference moderator Sheena Josselyn, PhD, from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario, an expert on the neural basis of brain function. “The more we learn about those changes, and how experiences remodel the brain, the more tools we will acquire for treating disorders that affect millions of people.”

This research was supported by national funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as private and philanthropic organizations.

Peter Buffett - The Possibility of Transformation

Utne Reader recently posted this article from Peter Buffett, son of billionaire Warren Buffett, on how a single musical experience changed his life. The musician who played that night was William Ackerman, one of the originators of the acoustic guitar New Age music genre (co-founder of Windham Records).

Here is a video of Ackerman, with one of the greatest guitarists to ever pick up the instrument, Michael Hedges, playing "Hawk Circle," a song Ackerman originally performed with pianist George Winston.

It's easy to see how a young aspiring musician might be inspired and transformed by this music. I have included one of Buffett's videos at the bottom - not my style, but not bad music.

The Possibility of Transformation

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.


This is a song about transformation. While that may not be readily apparent by listening, it's the story behind it that explains why this is so:

“Butterfly” by Peter Buffett

I grew up in a house with an upright piano. As soon as I could stand tall enough to reach the keys, I would bang out expressions. Thunder on the low keys, rain on top. Soon these turned into little melodies. Or I would use the keyboard to try and decipher the mystery behind what made a good song so good.

I was taking lessons by the time I went into the first grade. But after learning the basics of scales and correct fingering, I started to get frustrated at all those black dots and lines on the page. It was a lot more fun to make things up; to try and capture the ideas I heard in my head.
By the time I was in high school, I was playing four-handed piano with a friend and soon realized that my skills were limited. I just couldn't hear the kinds of things he was hearing. I couldn't seem to sense what complexities lay beneath the simple melodies and harmonic structure that came naturally to me. And while I never really considered that music would be any more than a pleasant diversion, this greater awareness of my limitations sealed the deal.

I went off to college without a clear idea of what would come of it. Taking everything that ended in 101 or -ology, I enjoyed learning a little about a lot of things. But nothing reached in and said, "This is your life!"

I was fortunate to have a little money set aside that allowed me to buy a portable piano and a 4-track reel to reel tape recorder. So I would continue to play and write songs when I wasn't in school. It was also around this time that my continual wish that I could play the guitar came into full bloom. Oh how nice it would be to grab a guitar and head to the beach and play. Somehow, strapping a piano to my back just wasn't an option.

College progressed and there was no clear path in sight.

One night, a friend suggested I come over to his dorm and check out a local guitar player that was coming by to perform. I did, and it changed my life.

Here was someone—William Ackerman, to be specific—who was sitting on the floor playing from his heart. Simple melodies that spoke so much more than any complex chord or harmonic structure could ever do.

I raced home and started to create songs that were both new, and that I knew by heart. From that point forward music would be the driving force in my life. I wish I could say precisely what that moment triggered in me. But I do know that it took every aspect of my life up until that point to make that moment what it was. I couldn't have planned it. And I couldn't have made it happen any sooner. All the experiences and frustrations—smart choices and wrong directions—lead me right to the perfect place.

Since then, I've still always wanted to play the guitar. To be able to sit down and just let my heart speak through the strings. But ultimately, I never had the discipline to learn.

So now, as of the latest download of the latest version of "this really sounds like a guitar," I can sit at the piano and let my hands believe they are holding a guitar and my fingers believe that they are playing the strings.

This song is about the beginning of my journey into a life of music. And the completion of one part I wasn't so sure would ever be possible: to create the sounds I would make if I just sat down with a guitar and free associated as I would if I could really play one.

Like a butterfly, my fingers would light where they would and then move on. I wonder if the butterfly remembers the comfort of its cocoon? And what made it too uncomfortable to stay there? There's the possibility of transformation in each of us. What will it take? Too much discomfort with the old? Or a path as clear as a guitar player playing from his heart?
What do you think? Share your story at . Visit to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.

Image courtesy of Randy Read, licensed under Creative Commons. 

Dr. Judith Wright - Mindful Ways to Over Mindless Habits: The Neuroscience of our Deeper Yearning

An interesting talk from the Authors@Google series on how we might be more present in our lives and use mindfulness to overcome mindless habits.

Dr. Judith Wright - Mindful Ways to Overcome Mindless Habits: The Neuroscience of our Deeper Yearning

All the yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and exercise won't keep you conscious when you're in the grips of your mindless habits--your soft addictions. We all have soft addictions--whether it's procrastinating, over-shopping, overeating, texting, video games, too much TV . . . the list is endless. These seemingly harmless habits that we so often overdo not only cost time, money, and energy, but they also drain our productivity, numb our feelings, and mute our consciousness. It's not really a question of if you have soft addictions, but which ones do you have.

The only reason we turn to our soft addictions is that they are trying to let us know about something we yearn for -- it's just that they don't deliver on that yearning. But if you wake up and pay attention, you can learn to design your life around these deeper needs. And when you do, amazing things happen. Not only do your bad habits start to drop away, you also save money, lose weight, have more energy, get more time in your day, design a life of consciousness and mindfulness.

In this compelling keynote presentation, Dr. Judith Wright, shares the research and neuroscience behind our deeper yearning and how you can use that information to not only let go of your soft addictions, but also to create a spectacular life.

A media favorite, sought-after speaker, respected leader, best-selling author, world-class coach, and corporate consultant in the area of personal transformation, leadership development, and personal goal fulfillment, Dr. Judith Wright wrote There Must Be More Than This, The One Decision, The Soft Addiction Solution, and soon-to-be-released Transformed! The Science of Spectacular Living to share her personal transformation and proven methodologies with a broader audience. Dr. Wright's ground-breaking research into the fundamental process by which human beings learn, grow, and develop is the core of the curriculum at Wright and the Wright Graduate Institute, which she co-founded. Dr. Wright has appeared on more than 500 radio programs, and 80 TV programs including Oprah, ABC's 20/20 and the Today show.

Check out the following published works by Dr. Judith Wright:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Parkour and Freerunning Gives a Moment of Meditation

This was posted on the CBS News website - it's a cool video and the talent of the people in the video is mind-boggling. And somehow, as the article suggests, there is a meditative quality to the ways these people navigate their environment. Beautiful.

Parkour and freerunning gives a moment of meditation

By William Goodman

(CBS News) There are many things in this world that are beautiful and can allow us a moment to take pause and reflect. Yesterday we showed you some examples through the medium of time-lapse video. Today, we take a different direction and give you a moment of meditation through the medium of - wait for it - parkour and freerunning. You're going to have to trust me on this one.

The rather striking and extreme, yet also very calming Vimeo video was directed, edited, filmed by and stars one multi-talented Will Sutton who writes:
My new film of my things, Parkour Free Running and Film Making. I wanted to create a film where it involves my passions together. After a year and a half I created this. There are many more film ideas I have which I am now starting to create now this has finish. Yeya! 
Directed, Filmed, Starred and Edited by Will Sutton
Cinematography by Will Sutton
I directed my friends on how I would like it filmed after I setup the shots. Scenery shots I filmed myself.
Glidecam at the rocks were shot with Giles from Visive and a few clips with Scott Bass.
This is a project I have been working on for about a year and half. Whenever I had free time I would go out and film. I wanted to show how much I love to go out and make films and do Parkour.
Song: Tides From Nebula - Purr
Thanks to everyone on my journeys and who helped make this!
A wonderful piece of work that has earned a major triple-rainbow salute of awesome from all of us here at The Feed. Keep finding ways to follow all of your passions, Will! And if you'd like to check out more work by Will Sutton, you can visit his website by clicking here.

Felix Guattari - To Have Done with the Massacre of the Body

The following essay comes from Felix Guattari's posthumous book, Chaosophy: Texts and Interviews, 1972-1977, published in 2009 (Guattari died in 1992). The essay is entitled, "To Have Done with the Massacre of the Body," originally published anonymously in a special issue of Retherches, "Three Billion Perverts," March, 1973.

Nearly 40 years after its printing, this "manifesto" for the freedom of desire, freedom of the body, from socio-economic oppression is a relevant today as it was then. To me, this is the philosophical and almost spiritual, foundation that is missing from the Occupy movement or any of the other recent attempts to reframe the capitalist model.

Here are two representative quotes:
We want to recover the pleasures of producing pleasure and of creating pleasures which have been ruthlessly quashed by educational systems charged with manufacturing obedient worker-consumers.

We want to open our bodies to the bodies of other people, to other people in general. We want to let vibrations pass among us, let energies circulate, allow desires to merge, so that we can all give free reign to our fantasies, to our ecstasies, so that at last we can live without guilt, so that we can practice without guilt all pleasures, whether individual or shared by two or more people. All of this pleasure we desperately need if we are not to experience our daily reality as a kind of slow agony which capitalist, bureaucratic civilization imposes as a model of existence on its subjects. And we want to excise from our being the malignant tumor of guilt, which is the age-old root of all oppression.
We want to put an end once and for all to any rigid assigning of sexual identity. We do not want to think of ourselves anymore as men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals, possessors and possessed, older and younger, masters and slaves, but rather as human beings who transcend such sexual categorization, who are autonomous, in flux, and multifaceted. We want to see ourselves as beings with varying identities,· who can express their desires, their pleasures, their ecstasies, their tenderness without relying on or invoking any system of surplus value, or any system of power at all, but only in the spirit of play.
Even if you disagree with his assessment of capitalism and its systematic need for control, this is still an essay worth your time to read.

To Have Done with the Massacre of the Body

No matter how much it proclaims its pseudotolerance, the capitalist system in all its forms (family, school, factories, army, codes, discourse ... ) continues to subjugate all desires, sexuality, and affects to the dictatorship of its totalitarian organization, founded on exploitation, property, male power, profit, productivity ...

Tirelessly it continues its dirty work of castrating, suppressing, torturing, and dividing up our bodies in order to inscribe its laws on our flesh, in order to rivet to our subconscious its mechanisms for reproducing this system of enslavement.

With its throttling, its stasis, its lesions, its neuroses, the capitalist state imposes its norms, establishes its models, imprints its features, assigns its roles, propagates its programs ... Using every available access route into our organisms, it insinuates into the depths of our insides its roots of death. It usurps our organs, disrupts our vital functions, mutilates our pleasures, subjugates all lived experience to the control of its condemning judgments. It makes of each individual a cripple, cut off from his or her body, a stranger to his or her own desires.

To reinforce its social terror, which it forces individuals to experience as their own guilt, the capitalist army of occupation strives, through an ever more refined system of aggression, provocation, and blackmail, to repress, to exclude, and to neutralize all those practices of desire which do not reproduce the established form of domination.

In this way the system perpetuates a centuries-old regime of spoiled pleasures, sacrifice, resignation, institutionalized masochism, and death. It is a castrating regime, which produces a guilty, neurotic, scrabbling, submissive drudge of a human being. This antiquated world, which stinks everywhere of dead flesh, horrifies us and convinces us of the necessity of carrying the revolutionary struggle against capitalist oppression into that territory where the oppression is most deeply rooted: the living body.

It is the body and all the desires it produces that we wish to liberate from "foreign" domination. It is "on that ground" that we wish to "work" for the liberation of society. There is no boundary between the two elements. "I" oppress myself inasmuch as that 'I' is the product of a system of oppression that extends to all aspects of living. The "revolutionary consciousness" is a mystification if it is not situated within a "revolutionary body," that is to say, within a body that produces its own liberation.

Women in revolt against male power - a power that has been forced on their bodies for centuries - homosexuals in revolt against a terroristic "normality," young people in revolt against the  pathological authority of adults: these are the people who, collectively, have begun to make the body a means of subversion, and have begun to see subversion as a means for meeting the "immediate" needs of the body.

These are the people who have begun to question the mode of production of desires, the relationship between pleasure and power, the relationship between the body and the individual. These are the people who question the function of such relationships in all spheres of capitalist society, including within militant groups.

These are the people, of both sexes, who have finally broken that perennial barrier between "politics" and reality as it is actually lived-a barrier that has served the interests of both the leaders of bourgeois society and those who have claimed to represent and speak for the masses.

These are the people, of both sexes, who have opened the way for a great uprising of life against the forces of death-even as these latter continue to infiltrate our organisms in order to subjugate, with greater and greater subtlety, our energies, our desires, and our reality to the demands of the established order.

A new cutting edge, a new line of more radical and more definitive attack has been opened up, and because of it there will necessarily be new alignments among revolutionary forces.

We can no longer sit idly by as others steal our mouths, our anuses, our genitals, our nerves, our guts, our arteries, in order to fashion parts and works in an ignoble mechanism of production which links capital, exploitation, and the family.

We can no longer allow others to turn our mucous membranes, our skin, all our sensitive areas into occupied territory-territory controlled and regimented by others, to which we are forbidden access.

We can no longer permit our nervous system to serve as a communications network for the system of capitalist exploitation, for the patriarchal state; nor can we permit our brains to be used as instruments of torture programmed by the powers that surround us.

We can no longer allow others to repress our fucking, control our shit, our saliva, our energies, all in conformity with the prescriptions of the law and its carefully-defined little transgressions.

We want to see frigid, imprisoned, mortified bodies explode to bits, even if capitalism continues to demand that they be kept in check at the expense of our living bodies.

This desire for a fundamental liberation, if it is to be a truly revolutionary action, requires that we move beyond the limits of our "person," that we overturn the notion of the "individual," that we transcend our sedentary selves, our "normal social identities," in order to travel the boundaryless territory of the body, in order to live in the flux of desires that lies beyond sexuality, beyond the territory and the repertories of normality.

So it is that some of us have felt the vital need to act as a group in liberating ourselves from those forces that have crushed and controlled desire in each one of us.

Everything that we have experienced on the level of personal, intimate life we have tried to approach, explore, and live collectively. We want to break down the concrete wall, erected by the dominant social organization, that separates being fr om appearance, the spoken from the unspoken, the private from the social.

Together, we have begun to explore all the workings of our attractions, repulsions, our resistances, our orgasms, the universe of our representations, our fetishes, our obsessions, our phobias. The "unconfessable secret" has become for us a matter for reflection, public discussion, and political action - where politics is taken as the social manifestation of the irrepressible aspirations of the "living being."

We have decided to break the intolerable seal of secrecy which the power structure has placed on the reality of sensual, sexual, and affective practices; thus we will break the power structure's ability to produce and reproduce forms of oppression.

As we have explored collectively our individual histories, we have seen to what extent all of our desiring life has been dominated by the fundamental laws of the bourgeois capitalist state and the Judeo-Christian tradition; all of our desires are subjected to capitalism's rules concerning efficiency, surplus value, and reproduction. In comparing our various "experiences," no matter how free they may have appeared, we recognized that we are always and forever obliged to conform to the officially sanctioned sexual stereotypes, which regulate all forms of lived experience and extend their control over marriage beds, houses of prostitution, public bathrooms, dance floors, factories, confessionals, sex shops, prisons, high schools, buses, etc.

Let us discuss this officially sanctioned sexuality, which has been defined as the one and only possible sexuality. We do not wish to manage it, as one manages the conditions of one's imprisonment. Rather, we wish to destroy it, eliminate it, because it is nothing more that a mechanism for castrating and recastrating; it is a mechanism for reproducing everywhere, in every individual, over and over again, the bases for a system of enslavement. "Sexuality" is a monstrosity, whether in its restrictive forms, or in its so-called "permissive" forms. It is clear that "liberalizing" attitudes and "eroticizing" the social reality through advertising is something organized and controlled by the managers of "advanced" capitalism for the sake of a more efficacious reproduction of the officially sanctioned libido. Far from reducing sexual misery, these transactions only increase frustrations and feelings of "failure," hence permitting the transformation of desire into a compulsive consumer need, while also guaranteeing "the production of demand," which of course is the very motor of capitalist expression. There is no real difference between the "immaculate conception" and the seductive female of advertising, between dutifully-fulfilled marital obligations and the promiscuity of bourgeois women on the go. The same censorship is at work in all cases. The same will to put to death the body-that-desires perpetuates itself. Only a change of strategy has occurred.

What we want, what we desire, is to burst through the screen of sexuality and its representations in order to know the reality of our bodies, of our bodies-that-desire.

We want to free this living body, make it whole again, unblock it, clear it, so that it may experience the liberation of all its energies, desires, intensities, which at present are crushed by a social system that prescribes and conditions.

We want to recover the full use of all our vital functions, complete with their particular potentials for pleasure We want to recover such elementary faculties as the pleasure of breathing, which has literally been strangled by the forces that oppress and pollute. We want to recover the pleasure of eating and digesting, which has been disrupted by the rhythms imposed by Productivity and by the bad food that is produced and Prepared according to criteria of marketability.

And let us not forget the pleasure of shitting and the pleasures of the anus, systematically destroyed by the coercive conditioning of the sphincter-a conditioning used by capitalist authority to inscribe even onto the flesh its fundamental principles (relationships of exploitation, neurotic accumulation, the mystique of property and of cleanliness, etc.). Or the pleasure of masturbating happily and without shame, with no anguished feelings about failure and compensation, but simply for the pleasure of masturbating. Or the pleasures of shaking oneself, of humming, of speaking, of walking, of moving, of expressing oneself, of feeling delirious, of singing, of playing with one's body in every possible way. We want to recover the pleasures of producing pleasure and of creating pleasures which have been ruthlessly quashed by educational systems charged with manufacturing obedient worker-consumers.

We want to open our bodies to the bodies of other people, to other people in general. We want to let vibrations pass among us, let energies circulate, allow desires to merge, so that we can all give free reign to our fantasies, to our ecstasies, so that at last we can live without guilt, so that we can practice without guilt all pleasures, whether individual or shared by two or more people. All of this pleasure we desperately need if we are not to experience our daily reality as a kind of slow agony which capitalist, bureaucratic civilization imposes as a model of existence on its subjects. And we want to excise from our being the malignant tumor of guilt, which is the age-old root of all oppression.

Obviously we are aware of the formidable obstacles that we will have to overcome if our aspirations are not to remain simply the dream of a tiny set of marginalized people. We are quite aware that the liberation of the body and the freeing of sensual, sexual, affective, and ecstatic feelings are indissolubly linked to the liberation of women and the abolition of every kind of sexual categorization. Revolutionizing desire means destroying male power and rejecting all its modes of behavior and its ideas about couples; revolutionizing desire means destroying all forms of oppression and all models of normality.

We want to put an end once and for all to the roles and identities instituted by the Phallus.

We want to put an end once and for all to any rigid assigning of sexual identity. We do not want to think of ourselves anymore as men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals, possessors and possessed, older and younger, masters and slaves, but rather as human beings who transcend such sexual categorization, who are autonomous, in flux, and multifaceted. We want to see ourselves as beings with varying identities,· who can express their desires, their pleasures, their ecstasies, their tenderness without relying on or invoking any system of surplus value, or any system of power at all, but only in the spirit of play.

We have begun with the body, the revolutionary body, as a place where "subversive" energies are produced-and a place where in truth all kinds of cruelties and oppressions have been perpetuated. By connecting "political" practice to the reality of this body and its functioning, by working collectively to find means to liberate this body, we have already begun to create a new social reality in which the maximum of ecstasy is combined with the maximum of consciousness. This is the only way that we will be able to directly combat the hold that the Capitalist State exercises over us. This is the only step that will truly make us STRONG against a system of domination that continues to strengthen its power, that aims to weaken and to undermine each individual in order to fo rce him or her to bow to the system, that seeks, in effect, to reduce us all to the level of dogs.

Paul Kiritsis - The Evolution of Mind: A Brief Historiographical Review

I recently discovered this cool blog by Paul Kiritsis, Down the Rabbit Hole, and I am thoroughly enjoying the interesting assortment of articles he writes for the site. This article is an interesting historical examination of how humans have understood the mind - here is the beginning of it, follow the link to read the whole article if you are so inclined.

The Evolution of Mind: A Brief Historiographical Review

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Exercise as Medicine - Mind and Body Benefits of Regular Exercise

By now we should all know that exercise is good for us, but the number of people who engage in regular exercise is still a small minority. But what if your doctor prescribed 5 hours of exercise a week? Would you do it? Would you do it if you knew it would improve symptoms for very specific illnesses or conditions, one of which you have?

The current trend in exercise research seems to be assessing the benefits of exercise, and specific forms of exercise, for specific health issues. For example, we now are fully convinced that aerobic exercise in particular is very effective in reducing the symptoms of mild to moderate depression. We also know that weight training is more beneficial than aerobic exercise for osteoporosis/osteopinea and also for diabetes, type II.

Below are links to several articles from just the last week or so that highlight the benefits of exercise for specific health concerns, both physical and psychological. I'll give a little blurb from each piece, but follow the title link to see the whole article.

Exercise Improves School Performance For Kids With ADHD

17 Oct 2012

Children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) may perform better in school after just twenty minutes of exercise.

The finding, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, came from a team of experts at Michigan State University who have demonstrated for the first time that kids withADHD can focus better and become less distracted after a quick session of exercise. This is significant because "inhibitory control" is the biggest struggle people with the disorder have to deal with.

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Research Shows Exercise As Key In Reducing Body Fat While Preserving Muscle

Article Date: 17 Oct 2012

Exercise and healthy eating reduce body fat and preserve muscle in adults better than diet alone, according to a study funded and conducted by National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The study was recently published online in Obesity and will be in a future print edition.

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Exercise could fortify immune system against future cancers

posted on: October 11, 2012

WESTMINSTER, CO (October 10, 2012)—Researchers may soon be able to add yet another item to the list of exercise's well-documented health benefits: A preliminary study suggests that when cancer survivors exercise for several weeks after they finish chemotherapy, their immune systems remodel themselves to become more effective, potentially fending off future incidences of cancer. The finding may help explain why exercise can significantly reduce the chances of secondary cancers in survivors or reduce the chances of cancer altogether in people who have never had the disease.

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Minutes of hard exercise can lead to all-day calorie burn

posted on: October 11, 2012

WESTMINSTER, CO (October 10, 2012)—Time spent in the drudgery of strenuous exercise is a well-documented turn-off for many people who want to get in better shape. In a new study, researchers show that exercisers can burn as many as 200 extra calories in as little as 2.5 minutes of concentrated effort a day—as long as they intersperse longer periods of easy recovery in a practice known as sprint interval training. The finding could make exercise more manageable for would-be fitness buffs by cramming truly intense efforts into as little as 25 minutes.

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Exercise helps ease premature cardiovascular aging caused by type 2 diabetes

posted on: October 11, 2012

WESTMINSTER, CO (October 10, 2012)—One of life's certainties is that everyone ages. However, it's also certain that not everyone ages at the same rate. According to recent research being presented this week, the cardiovascular system of people with type 2 diabetes shows signs of aging significantly earlier than those without the disease. However, exercise can help to slow down this premature aging, bringing the aging of type 2 diabetes patients' cardiovascular systems closer to that of people without the disease, says researcher Amy Huebschmann of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. She will be presenting these findings she developed with colleagues Wendy Kohrt and Judith Regensteiner, both from the same institution.

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The Impact of Aerobic Exercise on Crohn’s and Colitis

By Travis Saunders, MSc, CEP
Posted: October 17, 2012