Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year in Review - Have You Made a Difference This Year?

Well, have you? I have.

By Donald Latumahina, December 31, 2008

We have come to the end of 2008 and soon we will enter 2009. Now is a good time for you to reflect on how your life is going. How have your year been? Did it meet your expectation? Have you made a difference this year?

Have you made a difference this year?To answer this question, simply look at yourself one year ago. How was your career and finance? How was you spiritually? How was your health? How was your relationships? It’s better if you have numbers that clearly show you how you were (after all, measuring your life is a good life management practice). For instance, what was your income, expenses, net worth, or weight?

Next, compare your situation back then with your current situation. Is there any difference? Or have you let this year pass by without any significant growth on your part?

Read the whole post.

I wasn't planning to do a "year in review" post this year because, well, I'm lazy and it seemed like more work than it's worth. Who the hell cares what kind of year I had?

I did some good writing this year, mostly for other people, but in the coming year I see some new opportunities opening up - that's exciting.

Work stayed steady this year, which is no small feat considering that Tucson has been hit harder than other parts of the nation in the current depression/recession mess. I kept many long-time clients and picked up a few new ones. The coming year looks promising.

I decided last year to go back to school. I have been wanting to become a therapist for at least five years now, after having originally gone to school for that reason. A bad program, another life, and then a reconnection with who I was meant to be have made this the right time to go back. Classes start in February.

My Buddhist practice has continued to wax and wane. But more than ever before, my practice is my life. I don't sit very much these days, but I practice mindfulness and compassion as a part of each day, with each person, in each situation - as best I can.

My blogs have continued to grow, and with the launch of The Masculine Heart this year, I think I found a niche where my experience can be of use to others. IOC had it's best month ever in October, with more than 40,000 visitors. I've been slacking on Elegant Thorn, but with the new year I plan to revive that blog as well.

Most importantly, however, I fell in love with the woman I have always been waiting for this year. Lucky for me, she thinks I'm pretty OK as well. Jami and I are co-creating an amazing relationship. For this, I am most grateful and most humbling aware that life brings us beautiful gifts if we have the courage to accept them.

I'm not the same person I was at the beginning of 2008. No one is. But I like who I am, and I feel that I have grown a lot over the last year. What more can I ask for?

How was your 2008? Hope you are safe, happy, and growing.

Research Supports Spiral Dynamics Model of Memetic Evolution

Over the years, Don Beck (and I would guess Chris Cowen, as well) received a good bit of grief for asserting that religion is a necessary evolutionary development to contain the egocentric power drive of the previous stage. In Sprial Dynamics speak, the rule-bound, authoritarian Blue meme is necessarily developed as a containment for the previous egocentric power drives of the Red meme.

Turns out that Beck and Cowan - and Clare Graves before them - were exactly right. And now there is research to support them.

From PhysOrg:

Religion may have evolved because of its ability to help people exercise self-control

December 30th, 2008 in Medicine & Health / Psychology

Self-control is critical for success in life, and a new study by University of Miami professor of Psychology Michael McCullough finds that religious people have more self-control than do their less religious counterparts. These findings imply that religious people may be better at pursuing and achieving long-term goals that are important to them and their religious groups. This, in turn, might help explain why religious people tend to have lower rates of substance abuse, better school achievement, less delinquency, better health behaviors, less depression, and longer lives.

In this research project, McCullough evaluated 8 decades worth of research on religion, which has been conducted in diverse samples of people from around the world. He found persuasive evidence from a variety of domains within the social sciences, including neuroscience, economics, psychology, and sociology, that religious beliefs and religious behaviors are capable of encouraging people to exercise self-control and to more effectively regulate their emotions and behaviors, so that they can pursue valued goals. The research paper, which summarizes the results of their review of the existing science, will be published in the January 2009 issue of Psychological Bulletin.

"The importance of self-control and self-regulation for understanding human behavior are well known to social scientists, but the possibility that the links of religiosity to self-control might explain the links of religiosity to health and behavior has not received much explicit attention," said McCullough. "We hope our paper will correct this oversight in the scientific literature." Among the most interesting conclusions that the research team drew were the following:

• Religious rituals such as prayer and meditation affect the parts of the human brain that are most important for self-regulation and self-control;
• When people view their goals as "sacred," they put more energy and effort into pursuing those goals, and therefore, are probably more effective at attaining them;
• Religious lifestyles may contribute to self-control by providing people with clear standards for their behavior, by causing people to monitor their own behavior more closely, and by giving people the sense that God is watching their behavior;
• The fact that religious people tend to be higher in self-control helps explain why religious people are less likely to misuse drugs and alcohol and experience problems with crime and delinquency.

McCullough's review of the research on religion and self-control contributes to a better understanding of "how the same social force that motivates acts of charity and generosity can also motivate people to strap bomb belts around their waists and then blow themselves up in crowded city buses," he explained. "By thinking of religion as a social force that provides people with resources for controlling their impulses (including the impulse for self-preservation, in some cases) in the service of higher goals, religion can motivate people to do just about anything."

Among the study's more practical implications is that religious people may have at their disposal a set of unique psychological resources for adhering to their New Year's Resolutions in the year to come.

Source: University of Miami
Here are Don Beck's comments on this study, which was also discussed by John Tierney in the New York Times:
For a number of years I have been under criticism because I recommended that the 4th Level System would be essential in the shaping of the 3rd Level conditions, and that would often take the form of some versions of "religion." But, as many of you know, Blue can wear different types of Content hats but the theme: "Sacrifice self now, to obtain later" will be consistent. There are so many places where this is happening in the geopolitical dynamics and often the transformation is violent as Red resists the discipline and control.

Here, now, is scientific evidence for what Graves expressed in his theoretical models, and for what is contained in the Spiral Dynamics conceptual system. The Content of the Blue code becomes critical, as we are learning in Palestine, for if that Content is anti-Jewish, anti-Western, and even anti-American, then this will set up holy wars for years to come. One of the strategies Elza and I have been using is to help shape (thus Integral Design Engineering) the specific Content of the Palestinian "Blue." This gave rise to the "Hong Kong of the Middle East" initiative, and the nation-building activities in Bethlehem.
In my arguments against the New Atheists, this in one of the areas where I think they have been short-sighted and just plain blind. The completely fail to grasp the developmental structure of human psyches and value systems, which requires that every person and every culture move through fairly precise stages (although how the stages manifest varies).

The New Atheists are right to reject the fundamentalism that makes religion dangerous, but at its heart, nearly every religion is about sacrificing self-interest now for a better life later (often in heaven). This self-control (as the new research highlights) is crucial to containing (creating boundaries for) the egocentric power drives of the previous stage, just the ego development and expression of the Red meme was crucial for movement beyond the embedded tribal kinship system of the previous stage.

Over time, I'm sure we will see more research that supports the SDi model. It's an exciting time. Too bad so few people in power are willing or able to grasp the utility of the system.

Blogging Heads - What Babies Tell Us About Cognitive Development, Math and Racism

Joshua Knobe and Elizabeth Spelke talk about children, cognitive development, and what we can learn about various traits from how infants develop.

The "I Feel Like a Child" Syndrome

, is one of the bloggers Psychology Today features on their page from time to time. In this post he looks at a feeling many of us have from time to time, that we still are not mature adults.

Although he doesn't use the terminology, he is talking about exiled or disowned subpersonalities or parts - distinct personalities that have been split off from the "self" during the developmental process for any number of reasons (although most of the time it is trauma, attachment failures, or other empathic failures).

These parts have a tendency to be triggered by currents events that in some way mirror the original situation that caused them to split off. Working with these parts, in a safe and managed way, is one of the most important pieces of shadow work we can ever do to make ourselves more whole and less reactive.

The "I Feel Like a Child" Syndrome

charlie brownIf our various child parts are not fully integrated into our adult self, we're likely at times to feel like a child inside an adult's body. We won't be able to feel truly grown up because our basic sense of self hasn't sufficiently evolved into the actual adult we've become. Our chronological age, our body, our mind may all say "adult" . . . but our psyche nonetheless continues to say "child."

To put it more concretely, when present-day circumstances tap into old, unresolved doubts or fears--that is, distressful feelings that may go all the way back to childhood--we'll experience ourselves in the same way we did in the past. (And to be honest, looking back at our lives, which of us hasn't many times felt unsure, or defective, or unsafe?) If we haven't yet managed to "assimilate" the growth or maturation that typically characterizes our current level of functioning, then questions we had about ourselves during an earlier stage of development will resurface, leading us to feel an insecurity that may no longer accurately portray our actual resources.

In the past, caught up in the struggle to find ourselves and our place in the world, we may have had good reason to doubt ourselves. But such self-skepticism may no longer be fitting. All the same, various circumstances may prompt us to be besieged by this suddenly revived self-mistrust or apprehension--and quite independent of the possibility that now we may well possess the wherewithal to deal with the kind of problem, or problematic person, that originally overwhelmed us.

It's probably universal that former negative beliefs we had about our limitations (limitations probably congruent with where we were developmentally), can yet hinder us from seeing ourselves as the more or less competent, resourceful adults we've become. And although we may well have become more self-confident, as long as that insecure "child fragment" still residing within us hasn't been made privy to all the changes we've accomplished since that fragment was us, then stressful situations will continue to make us vulnerable to the same insecure feelings that "afflicted" us in growing up. On such occasions, we'll internally "harass" ourselves by identifying with an image of self that is as uncertain and self-critical as it is out-of-date-an image that has been (or should have been) superseded by now.

Experiencing ourselves at a core level as though we were still children is apt to render us indecisive, helpless, or prematurely impel us to suspend our efforts on a task, pursuit, or even relationship. In the moment confusing our present-day self with an earlier, less capable self, we may also--regressively--be driven to look for another person to rely on (reflecting old dependency needs); or shy away from accepting a responsibility that now seems intimidating and makes us feel overwhelmed (reflecting our insecure inner child's need for external direction and authority). In short, our brain has been hijacked--sabotaged by that earlier part of us who was never quite able to "merge" with the adult we eventually became.

When we speak of "getting our buttons pushed," what we're really talking about is a circumstance that's provoked us principally through re-stimulating old doubts and anxieties. Our emotional equilibrium temporarily thrown off balance, we feel compelled to go into self-defensive mode. And this irresistible impulse to protect our suddenly re-experienced frailty can take many forms, some of them not particularly obvious. We might, for instance, be driven toward aggressive verbal combat (as in, "the best defense is a good offense"); or we might strive ardently (even desperately) to justify ourselves; or we might feel a tremendous pull toward retreating from this upsetting situation altogether. At a deep, unconscious level the here-and-now scenario may make us feel almost as though our very survival is at stake. And, reacting in accordance with these overblown feelings, we may well come across to others as overly dramatic, or "overplaying our hand," or (to them, inexplicably) fighting for our lives--especially since the apparent stimulus for our hyper-reactive response may actually be quite minor.

To provide a clinical context for what I've been describing theoretically, let me present a couple of examples of what I've come to regard as the "‘I feel like a child' syndrome."

One case (of many, many cases) involved a client of mine forced to take on the responsibilities of parenthood before, psychologically, he felt ready to. He spoke to me about his uneasiness in this demanding parental role, and about his seeing himself as insufficiently prepared to father not just one but two young children (and girls yet!) He felt "stressed out" by these unrelenting feelings of not being adult enough to handle such a responsibility. His fundamental sense of self simply hadn't caught up with his current-day position in life. But the essence of his anxiety really related to deeper feelings of insecurity--feelings that harked back to the insecurity that plagued him when he was growing up.

He also felt that others saw him in a favorable light that didn't at all match the subjective reality of his own massive self-doubt. It seemed almost incredible that he could convince others that he knew what he was doing when he couldn't at all convince himself. Distraught and feeling like a fraud, he was unable to see himself as old enough, or mature enough, to be doing what in fact he was doing--especially after he got divorced and was awarded primary custody of his children. Though hardly visible to others, his self-doubt gnawed away at him. Outwardly, he may have behaved appropriately in all this, but--internally--he couldn't see his behaviors as anything like a true, spontaneous expression of who he felt he actually was.

Another client regularly got her buttons pushed--and was made to feel like a child--when she spent time with her critical mother, or when superiors at work were judgmental toward her. As in the above example, this client--despite her considerable talents and achievements--hadn't been able to adequately integrate her already well-demonstrated adult competence. And so old feelings of insufficiency and trepidation would crop up whenever someone in authority (or someone whom she couldn't help but assign authority to) seemed critical of her. Experiencing herself as somehow being attacked, her old insecurities--and self-criticism--would be re-awakened. And she'd find herself feeling utterly deflated (at times, even devastated)--her composure for the moment totally shaken.

Again, when her words or behavior seemed to be called into question, ancient child parts of her that felt deficient would re-emerge, and feelings she thought she should certainly be over by now would return to torment her. In such situations, she felt "like a little kid," and she talked about how hard it was to see her present-day self as possibly having as much authority as those whose criticisms of her might be based less on her performance than their own particular bias--or, in fact, their own unresolved childhood issues. Even when she was consciously aware that a criticism from a superior was without merit, she still reacted as though there must be something wrong with her for having received the criticism in the first place. It was as though the immediate, precipitating circumstance forced her to regress to her child self, during which her abusive parents constantly made her feel she was somehow to blame for whatever tensions existed in her blatantly dysfunctional family.

It's probably true for most of us that when we visit our families, our parents exhibit a special knack for making us feel that--just maybe--we never really did grow up. After all, many (if not most) parents struggle to relinquish the parent-child relationship that over the years may have come to define their bond with us (and maybe their own identity as well). So treating us as the adult "equals" that in time we did become can be exceedingly difficult for them. If we still have self-doubting child parts submerged within us, parts that have yet to be subsumed by the adults we are today, our caretakers are the ones most likely to bring to light these not-grown-up segments of self--inducing us to feel (and react) in ways hardly representative of our present-day relationships with others.

Go read the rest of the article, in which he offers a "remedy" for this "syndrome."

The "internal dialogue" approach he recommends is most fully developed in the model created by Hal and Sidra Stone, the Voice Dialogue Model.

Eric Weislogel - The Transdisciplinary Imperative

Here is an excellent article from Eric Weislogel, writing at the always interesting The Global Spiral, on the need for a transdisciplinary approach to solving our multiple problems.

His argument approaches the idea of a "theory of everything," a foundation of Ken Wilber's integral agenda. But Weislogel recognizes that the "whole story" (a better term than Wilber's TOE) can never be grasped because it's still in process - an interesting and insightful twist to the idea. Even so, he argues, we must make the attempt.
The Transdisciplinary Imperative

Image copyright Jeff LeFever 2008, all rights reservedThe problems we face today—economic collapse, environmental degradation, energy needs—are so broad and complex that they seem intractable. Plenty of brain-power is being applied to our situation, and there is no shortage of individuals trained at our blue-chip academic institutions on Wall Street , in the halls of government, and in corporate enterprises. And yet, here we are. But one might just wonder whether knowledge itself shares some of the blame for these troubles—I mean knowledge divorced from the larger view, divorced from the whole. Could it be that knowledge without wisdom causes as many problems as it solves?

The economic, moral, political, environmental, technical, intellectual, scientific, and even spiritual challenges we face demand approaches that are suitably rich in resources for tackling them. We need to learn how to take the full measure of our knowledge, to find out what it is we really know now that we know so many disciplinarily distinct things. We need to find a way of recapturing a vision of the “forest” and not just the “trees.” The negative consequences for failing to do so are obvious. Our disciplinary practices inevitably give rise to the fragmentation of knowledge. This fragmentation of knowledge leads to the fragmentation of the university, which has a significant impact on its mission to educate the next generation. The fragmented university leads—consciously or unconsciously—to training students (and faculty, too) to compartmentalize their thinking, their reality, and hence their lives.

Our situation demands we respond to the “transdisciplinary imperative,” an approach to research and teaching that would serve to mitigate the consequences of this fragmentation.

What is a transdisciplinary approach?

The term “transdisciplinarity” can be found occasionally in the intellectual landscape. There have been conferences held, manifestos published, organizations formed, and some good work has been undertaken. However, the term still lacks specificity and is often applied without sufficient theoretical reflection. As yet, transdisciplinarity has been unable to bear the weight of the profoundly important idea in names.

Physicist Basarab Nicolescu1 explains that the “trans-“ in transdisciplinary signifies working simultaneously through disciplinary practices, between the disciplines (as in multi- and interdisciplinary endeavors), and beyond the disciplines and the institutions they form and in which they reside, in the hope of approaching something like the unity of knowledge.

Transdisciplinarity depends upon rigorous disciplinary work. The various academic disciplines—the “sciences,” broadly construed to include the social and the human sciences along with the natural sciences—form around the practice of making our questions precise, focusing our investigations, and employing analytic techniques in order to come to knowledge. Transdisciplinarity rejects attempts to address broader questions in ways that ignore the undeniable advances produced by the various disciplines.

Transdisciplinarity also relies on innovative interdisciplinary work. Many areas of inquiry—and many real-world problems we need to address—can only be pursued in a collaborative manner that utilizes multiple areas of specialized expertise. Transdisciplinarity rejects attempts at “reductionism”—the idea that one area of knowledge or expertise can adequately account for the richness of nature and human experience. It recognizes that successful interdisciplinary efforts often result in the formation of new disciplines, new spheres of specific expertise, with their own canons and methodologies.

Transdisciplinarity demands something more. Disciplinary and interdisciplinary work, with their overarching emphasis on analysis (breaking ‘reality’ into its constituent ‘parts,’ around which develop methodologies, standards of practice, certifications of expertise, and quite often ‘orthodoxies’) make significant contributions to our knowledge. But they also exact a price: the fragmentation of knowledge. This fragmentation is widely lamented. Unless universities restore the idea of synthesis as a complement to (not a replacement for) analysis, unless they regain the taste for something like the unity or the “symphony” of knowledge, unless they embark once again on a quest for wholeness, unless they learn to seek wisdom in addition to knowledge—they will not live up to their name and their mission.

Some may argue that transdisciplinarity is impossible. It will result either in a homogenous, vague, superficial “theory of everything” or it will develop into yet another discipline, another parochial body of knowledge without achieving the goal of a synoptic view. The transdisciplinary desire for something like a harmony or symphony of knowledge is simply a pipe dream.

One way to think of transdisciplinarity is to see it as a quest for the “whole story.” Whole stories are impossible, however, if for no other reason than the temporality of stories. Our story is ongoing, so we can’t write the ending yet. And while our stories are being written—including the stories from all of the disciplines in the natural, social, and human sciences—there will be the rough and tumble we’ve come to expect in the highly competitive marketplace of ideas.

Go read the rest of the argument for the value of a transdisciplinary approach.

One Year in 40 Seconds

I may have seen and posted this before, but so what, it's still beautiful, and it's a great reminder that nothing is permanent, even if it seems so at the time.

One year in 40 seconds from Eirik Solheim on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Lover and the Warrior in Buddhism

An interesting teaching on The Lover and the Warrior from Kendo Roshi Rich Hart, at the Clear Mountain Zen Center of West Hempstead, NY.

The Lover and the Warrior from Clear Mountain Zen Center on Vimeo.

Seed Magazine - Longevity Research

This cool but brief article from Seed Magazine appeared a few days back.

Longevity research is all the rage these days as Boomers try to find ways to defeat time and death. But this research is also uncovering new ways for us to be healthy while we are here in these bodies, which is something most of us fund useful.

Here they offer three pathways for research and links to the studies.

ScienceBloggers discuss the latest developments in longevity research.

Calorie Restriction
In October 2006, Jonah Lehrer noted that the low-calorie link to longevity had received a spree of publicity in the popular press. Although a restricted diet has been shown to increase the lifespan of rodents and primates, Jonah points out that severe dieting has a major evolutionary drawback: your body won't have enough energy for sex. Furthermore, given many Americans' habits today, dieting may be culturally unrealistic: "since 40 percent of Americans are currently obese, mass starvation probably isn't a viable public health plan," he writes. About a year later, Mark Hoofnagle wrote about a study in PLoS suggesting that it's not just how little you eat that makes you live longer, but how little protein you eat.


In November 2006, a Nature report found that resveratrol, a compound in red wine, can increase the lifespan of yeast, worms, flies, and mice by up to 20%. Shelley Batts explained the findings.

The results were so tantalizing, noted Abel Pharmboy, that the senior author of the paper, David Sinclair, raised $82 million in venture capital funding to continue the research.

This August, however, Jake Young reviewed the resveratrol research and brought up some lingering questions about the drug's biological mechanism. "While we are beginning to understand the molecular biology of aging, we should remember that mice are not humans," he wrote. "There are good reasons to be skeptical that inhibiting pro-aging pathways in humans will have the same effect that it has in lower organisms."

Sex Differences
Last year, Afarensis explained that studying the tooth size of hoofed animals can help us understand why women live longer than men.

Darwin's Living Legacy - Evolutionary Theory 150 Years Later

Scientific American has been celebrating the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory - here is the lead article.

Along with Einstein's physics and quantum theory, Darwin's work changed our understanding of our world in more profound ways that almost any other body of work. That his work has been so often misunderstood - often willfully - is evidence of its power.
Darwin's Living Legacy--Evolutionary Theory 150 Years Later

A Victorian amateur undertook a lifetime pursuit of slow, meticulous observation and thought about the natural world, producing a theory 150 years ago that still drives the contemporary scientific agenda

By Gary Stix

Doug Alves (illustration); Granger Collection (Darwin)

Key Concepts

  • Charles Darwin’s insights about evolution have withstood 150 years of scrutiny.
  • But evolutionary theory has broadened and changed as his ideas have been melded with genetics.
  • Evolutionary biology still must contend with some of the same questions that preoccupied Darwin: What, for one, is a species?

When the 26-year-old Charles Darwin sailed into the Galápagos Islands in 1835 onboard the HMS Beagle, he took little notice of a collection of birds that are now intimately associated with his name. The naturalist, in fact, misclassified as grosbeaks some of the birds that are now known as Darwin’s finches. After Darwin returned to England, ornithologist and artist John Gould began to make illustrations of a group of preserved bird specimens brought back in the Beagle’s hold, and the artist recognized them all to be different species of finches.

From Gould’s work, Darwin, the self-taught naturalist, came to understand how the finches’ beak size must have changed over the generations to accommodate differences in the size of seeds or insects consumed on the various islands. “Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends,” he noted in The Voyage of The Beagle, published after his return in 1839.

Twenty years later Darwin would translate his understanding of finch adaptation to conditions on different islands into a fully formed theory of evolution, one emphasizing the power of natural selection to ensure that more favorable traits endure in successive generations. Darwin’s theory, core features of which have withstood critical scrutiny from scientific and religious critics, constituted only the starting point for an endlessly rich set of research questions that continue to inspire present-day scientists. Biologists are still seeking experimental results that address how natural selection proceeds at the molecular level—and how it affects the development of new species.

Darwin’s famed finches play a continuing role in providing answers. The scientist had assumed that evolution proceeded slowly, over “the lapse of ages,” a pace imperceptible to the short lifetime of human observers. Instead the finches have turned into ideal research subjects for studying evolution in real time because they breed relatively rapidly, are isolated on different islands and rarely migrate.

Since the 1970s evolutionary biologists Peter R. Grant and B. Rosemary Grant of Princeton University have used the Galápagos as a giant laboratory to observe more than 20,000 finches and have shown conclusively how average beak and body size changes in a new generation as

El Niños come and go, shifting climate from wet to arid. They have also been able to chronicle possible examples of new species that are starting to emerge.

The Grants are just one among many groups that have embarked on missions to witness evolution in action, exemplars of how evolution can at times move in frenzied bursts measured in years, not eons, contradicting Darwin’s characterization of a slow-and-steady progression. These studies focus on the cichlid fish of the African Great Lakes, Alaskan sticklebacks, and the Eleutherodactylus frogs of Central and South America and the Caribbean, among others.

Ruminations on evolution—often musings on how only the fittest prevail—carry an ancient pedigree, predating even Socrates. The 18th and 19th centuries produced fertile speculations about how life had evolved, including ideas forwarded by Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who lived between 1731 and 1802.

Darwinian evolution was the first capable of withstanding rigorous tests of scientific scrutiny in both the 19th century and beyond. Today investigators, equipped with sophisticated cameras, computers and DNA-sampling tools thoroughly alien to the cargo hold of the Beagle, demonstrate the continued vitality of Darwin’s work. The naturalist’s relevance to basic science and practical pursuits—from biotechnology to forensic science—is the reason for this year’s worldwide celebration of the bicentennial of his birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of his masterwork, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.

Read the rest of the article.

Willis Harmon - A Changing Worldview

While researching something else entirely, I came across this essay by Willis Harmon, one of the principle figures at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Harmon is both noted (his presidency and work with IONS) and notorious (he was a principle figure at the Stanford Research Institute, a government funded think-tank that produced the Changing Images of Man document [more on this strange piece of history in a future post] that some think was a secret plane to socially engineer American Society).

Aside from all that, Harmon has been associated with Barbara Marx Hubbard over the years, and it was through researching one of her books that I came to this article by Harmon. Hubbard's work, much like this essay, has for many years been focused on the emergence of a new worldcentric world view. Harmon is looking at the same emergence in this interesting article, given as the keynote address at an ISSS conference.

Of note to integral folks, his paper acknowledges Ken Wilber's work in recognizing and creating the emerging trans-modern scientific worldview.
A Changing Worldview

Willis W. Harman
Institute of Noetic Sciences, Sausalito, California

One of the most important aspects of these forces for change is the apparent emergence of a new worldview... On the other hand, there are many indications of the possible emergence of a trans-modern picture of reality differing both from the scientific worldview and the traditional religious worldview.

This emerging trans-modern worldview, involves a shift in the locus of authority from external to "inner knowing." It has basically turned away from the older scientific view that ultimate reality is "fundamental particles," and trusts perceptions of the wholeness and spiritual aspect of organisms, ecosystems, Gaia and Cosmos. This implies a spiritual reality, and ultimate trust in the authority of the whole. It amounts to a reconciliation of scientific inquiry with the "perennial wisdom" at the core of the world's spiritual traditions. It continues to involve a confidence in scientific inquiry, but an inquiry whose metaphysical base has shifted from the reductionist, objectivist, positivist base of 19th- and 20th-century science to a more holistic and transcendental metaphysical foundation.

The modern worldview is based on Western science which, in terms of its goals of prediction, control, and generation of manipulative technologies, is amazingly successful. Nevertheless, it is an artifact of Western culture and it does have its limitations. The core of the current challenge to the scientific worldview can be taken to be "consciousness," which has come to be a code word for a wide range of human experience, including conscious awareness or subjectivity, intentionality, selective attention, intuition, creativity, relationship of mind to healing, spiritual sensibility, and a range of anomalous experience and phenomena. Efforts toward incorporating within the scientific purview any or all of this territory has proven to be an extremely difficult task.

The fundamental reason for this difficulty appears to be that Western science has been caught in a basic dualistic trap - that of considering the subject doing the mapping as separate from the map.Getting a more accurate map (more based on modern physics, more "holistic", more "systems") will not solve this problem. Rather, we must realize that thoughts are not merely a reflection on reality, but are also a movement of that reality itself. The mapmaker, the self, the thinking and knowing subject, is actually a product and a performance of that which it seeks to know and represent.

Modern Western science fundamentally entails three important metaphysical assumptions: a. Realism (ontological-leads to epistemological conclusion). There is a real world which is, in essence, physically measurable (positivism). We are embedded in that world, follow its laws, and have evolved from an ancient origin. Mind or consciousness evolved within that world; the world pre-existed before its appearance, and continues to exist and persist independent of consciousness. b. Objectivism (epistemological and ontological) That real world exists independently of mind, and can be studied as object. That is, it is accessible to sense perception and can be intersubjectively observed and validated. c. Reductionism (epistemological). That real world is described by the laws of physics, which apply everywhere. The essence of the scientific endeavor is to provide explanations for complex phenomena in terms of the characteristics of, and interactions among, their component parts.

These underlying assumptions are directly challenged by a wide range of data regarding "anomalous" phenomena, and by a wide range of human experience. The critical epistemological issue is whether we humans have basically one way of contacting Reality (namely, through the physical senses) or two (the second being the deep intuition). The importance of the issue shows up in a central ontological question namely whether consciousness is caused (by physiological processes in the brain, which in turn are consequences of the long evolutionary process) or causal (in the sense that consciousness is not only a causal factor in present phenomena, but also a causal factor throughout the entire evolutionary process). Western scientific method urges toward the former choice in both cases, whereas the phenomena of consciousness suggest the latter choice in both cases.

A step toward resolving this long-standing impasse may be the recognition that it is, in a sense, a historical accident that physics was taken to be the root science. That led naturally enough to such ideas as seeking objectivity through separating observer and observed; taking reality to be essentially that which can be physically measured; and seeking explanations of the whole in terms of understanding the parts.

But what if the study of living systems had been taken to be the root science, rather than physics? Had this been the case, science would undoubtedly have taken a more holistic turn. It would have recognized that wholes are self-evidently more than the sum of their parts, and would have adopted an epistemology more congenial to living organisms. It might well have adopted a different ontological stance in viewing reality.

Such an alternative ontological stance is proposed by American philosopher Ken Wilber (1996; based on earlier work by Arthur Koestler), that of considering reality as composed of "holons," each of which is a whole and simultaneously a part of some other whole-"holons within holons." (For example, atom-molecule-organelle-cell-tissue-organ-organism-society-biosphere.) Holons at the same time display agency, the capacity to maintain their own wholeness, even as they are also parts of other wholes. A holon can break up into other holons. But every holon also has the tendency to come together with others in the emergence of creative and novel holons. Evolution is a profoundly self-transcending process: It has an utterly amazing capacity to go beyond what went before. The drive to self-transcendence is built into the very fabric of the universe. The self-transcending drive produces life out of matter, and consciousness out of life.

Holons relate "holarchically." (This term seems advisable because "hierarchy" has a bad name, mainly because people confuse natural hierarchy [inescapable] with dominator hierarchy [pathological].) Thus cell-holons are parts of organ-holons, which in turn are parts of organism-holons, which are parts of community-holons. For any particular holon, functions and purposes come from the next level up in the holarchy; capabilities depend upon the next level down. Within such a representation of the global system, let us now explore how goals are achieved and problems get resolved.

In the holarchic picture of reality, the scientist-holon seeking to understand consciousness is in an intermediate position. Looking downward in the holarchy (or to the same level, in the social sciences), and exploring in a scientific spirit of inquiry, it is immediately obvious that the appropriate epistemology is a participative one. That is, it recognizes that understanding comes, not alone from being detached, objective, analytical, coldly clinical, but also from cooperating with or identifying with the observed, and experiencing it subjectively.This implies a real partnership between the researcher and the phenomenon, individual or culture being researched; an attitude of "exploring together" and sharing understandings.

Looking upward in the holarchy, it is apparent that the appropriate epistemology involves a holistic view in which the parts are understood through the whole. This epistemology will recognize the importance of subjective and cultural meanings in all human experience, including experiences-such as some religious or interpersonal experiences-that seem particularly rich in meaning even though they may be ineffable. In a holistic view, such meaningful experiences will not be explained away by reducing them to combinations of simpler experiences or to physiological or biochemical events. Rather, in a holistic approach, the meanings of experiences may be understood by discovering their interconnections with other meaningful experiences.

If this ontological stance is accepted, a good many seemingly opposing views in Western thought become reconciled. From the level of the human-holon, the scientist looks mainly downward in the holarchy; the mystic looks mainly upward. Science and religion are potentially two complementary but entirely congenial views; each needs the other for more completeness. In Western philosophy there have been three main ontological positions: the materialist-realist, the dualist, and the idealist. Again, the materialist looks downward, the idealist upward, and the dualist tries to reconcile fragments of the two-but all represent but partial glimpses of the holarchic whole.

This new ontological stance takes some living with to fully appreciate how successfully it resolves many of the time-honored puzzles of Western philosophy-the mind-body problem, for example, and free will versus determinism. Since everything is part of the one holarchy, if consciousness or purpose is found anywhere (such as at the level of the scientist-holon), it is by that fact characteristic of the whole. It can neither be ruled out at the level of the microorganism, nor the level of the Earth, or Gaia. Nor need we be nonplussed by evidence of anomalous phenomena and experiences that don't fit with a materialist, reductionist ontology.

As within the presently dominant concept of science, the epistemology implied by this ontological stance will insist on open inquiry and public (intersubjective) validation of knowledge; at the same time, it will recognize that these goals may, at any given time, be met only incompletely. Taking into account how both individual and collective perceptions are affected by unconsciously held beliefs and expectations, the limitations of intersubjective agreement are apparent.

This epistemology will be "radically empirical" (in the sense urged by William James, 1912) in that it will be phenomenological or experiential in a broad sense (that is, it will include subjective experience as primary data, rather than being essentially limited to physical-sense data) and it will address the totality of human experience (in other words, no reported phenomena will be written off because they "violate known scientific laws"). Thus, consciousness is not a "thing" to be studied by an observer who is somehow apart from it; research on consciousness involves the interaction of the observer and the observed, or more accurately, the experience of observing.

This adequate epistemology will be, above all else, humble. It will recognize that science deals with models and metaphors representing certain aspects of experienced reality, and that any model or metaphor may be permissible if it is useful in helping to order knowledge, even though it may seem to conflict with another model which is also useful. (The classic example is the history of wave and particle models in physics.) This includes, specifically, the metaphor of consciousness. That may sound strange.

It is a peculiarity of modern science that it allows some kinds of metaphors and disallows others. It is perfectly acceptable to use metaphors which derive directly from our experience of the physical world (such as "fundamental particles," acoustic waves), as well as metaphors representing what can be measured only in terms of its effects (such as gravitational, electromagnetic, or quantum fields). It has further become acceptable to use more holistic and non-quantifiable metaphors such as organism, personality, ecological community, Gaia, universe. It is, however, taboo to use non-sensory "metaphors of mind"-metaphors that tap into images and experiences familiar from our own inner awareness. I am not allowed to say (scientifically) that some aspects of my experience of reality are reminiscent of my experience of my own mind-to observe, for example, that some aspects of animal behavior appear as though they were tapping into some supra-individual nonphysical mind, or as though there were in instinctual behavior and in evolution something like my experience in my own mind of purpose.

The epistemology we seek will recognize the partial nature of all scientific concepts of causality. (For example, the "upward causation" of physiomotor action resulting from a brain state does not necessarily invalidate the "downward causation" implied in the subjective feeling of volition.) In other words, it will implicitly question the assumption that a nomothetic science-one characterized by inviolable "scientific laws"-can in the end adequately deal with causality. In some ultimate sense, there really is no causality - only a Whole evolving.

It will also recognize that prediction and control are not the only criteria by which to judge knowledge scientific. As the French poet Antoine Saint Exupéry put it, "Truth is not that which is demonstrable. Truth is that which is ineluctable." In other words, the unquestioned authority of the double-blind controlled experiment is thrown deeply into question.

This epistemology will involve recognition of the inescapable role of the personal characteristics of the observer, including the processes and contents of the unconscious mind. The corollary follows, that to be a competent investigator, the researcher must be willing to risk being profoundly changed through the process of exploration. Because of this potential transformation of observers, an epistemology which is acceptable now to the scientific community, may in time have to be replaced by another, more satisfactory by new criteria, for which it has laid the intellectual and experiential foundations.

We need to comment briefly on the dialogue between society and science. Science and society exist in a dialectical relationship. The findings of science have a profound effect on society; none of us have any doubts about that. But science is also a product of society, very much shaped by the cultural milieu within which it developed. Western science has the form it does because it developed within a culture placing unusual value on the ability to predict and control.

Research on perception, hypnosis, repression, selective attention, mental imagery, sleep and dreams, memory and memory retrieval, acculturation, etc. all suggests that the influence of the unconscious on how we experience ourselves and our environment may be far greater than is typically taken into account. Science itself has never been thoroughly re-assessed in the light of this recently discovered pervasive influence of the unconscious mind of the scientist. The contents and processes of the unconscious influence (individually and collectively) perceptions, "rational thinking," openness to challenging evidence, ability to contemplate alternative conceptual frameworks and metaphors, scientific interests and disinterests, scientific judgment - all to an indeterminate extent. What is implied is that we must accept the presence of unconscious processes and contents, not as a minor perturbation, but as a potentially major factor in the construction of any society's particular form of science.

The implications of research on consciousness go even further. They suggest interconnection at a level that has yet to be fully recognized by Western science, and throw into doubt the pervasive conception of a world dominated by competition. The ontological stance of the universe as holarchy appears to have great promise as the basis for an extended science in which consciousness-related phenomena are no longer anomalies, but keys to a deeper understanding; a science that transcends and includes the science we have. But the most important thing is not to accept a particular answer, but to open the dialogue about the metaphysical foundations of Western science.

In his Introduction to Metaphysics the eminent French philosopher Henri Bergson said of the "much-desired union of science and metaphysics" that it would "lead the positive sciences, properly so-called, to become conscious of their true scope, often far greater than they imagine." The time may have arrived for realization of that dream.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Steven Pinker - The Republican War on Science Isn't Going Anywhere

An interesting interview with Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker on the Republican war against science, via Alternet, who used it from Greater Good.

The Republican War on Science Isn't Going Anywhere

By Jeremy Adam Smith, Greater Good. Posted December 29, 2008.

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker discusses the lasting effect of the Bush administration's contempt for science.

Americans' trust in the media, their government and each other has declined over the past four decades. And yet, according to many national surveys, such as the Harris and Gallup polls, trust in science and scientists remains high. In one Harris poll, for example, 68 percent of respondents said they trust scientists to tell the truth -- more than the number who trusted the president.

In recent years, however, several areas of scientific research -- from global warming to stem cell research to evolution -- have become highly politicized, in ways that threaten the credibility of prominent scientists and their findings.

In one notorious instance, the Bush administration fired cell biologist Elizabeth Blackburn and medical ethicist William May from the President's Council on Bioethics, a decision that many critics alleged was part of an effort to purge the council of dissenting scientific voices. Janet Rowley, professor of molecular genetics at the University of Chicago and a member of the council, later characterized the dismissals as "an important example of the absolutely destructive practices of the Bush administration" when it comes to science and scientific issues.

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker is no stranger to these debates. In a recent essay for the New Republic, for example, Pinker argues that the work of the President's Council on Bioethics "springs from a movement to impose a radical political agenda, fed by fervent religious impulses, onto American biomedicine."

Pinker is the Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor in Harvard University's psychology department. He is famed for his research on language acquisition, and has published extensively on the idea that both language and moral intuitions are biological adaptations that arose from a process of natural selection.

In addition to being a working scientist, Pinker is a leading public intellectual, consistently offering an informed perspective on the wide implications of scientific debates. As one of America's most popular science writers, his articles have appeared in the New York Times, Time and the Atlantic Monthly, and he is the author of seven books, two of which were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Pinker was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in 2004 and one of Foreign Policy's 100 top public intellectuals in 2005. His most recent book is The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, a New York Times best-seller.

While on a 10-city tour to support the paperback publication of The Stuff of Thought, Pinker talked us about science, politics and trust.

Jeremy Adam Smith: Americans seem to hold science and scientists in high esteem. Do you think this trust is justified?

Steven Pinker: I think it is. Not because scientists are necessarily trustworthy people, any more so than anyone else, but because the institutions of science are set up to reward finding the truth and to punish hiding it. So, as a matter of self-interest, scientists are nudged toward the truth. They suffer a loss of prestige and esteem if someone else fails to replicate an experiment they have used to back up a claim.

Likewise, if there is some obvious flaw in an experiment or in an argument, the mechanisms of peer review will ensure that they don't get their next grant or don't get their next paper published. And they will be humiliated if the paper does come out and the flaw is exposed afterward. If they say something patently false during a public meeting, there will be consequences.

In contrast, I think politicians have low credibility because our institutions at present don't reward truth-telling among them. Quite the contrary. It's easy to get away with blatant lies and misleading euphemism and doublespeak. So the incentive structure favors bending the truth among politicians, more so than one finds in the institutions of science.

JAS: Quite a few people argue that the Bush administration has been especially misleading and meddlesome in distorting the truth about scientific research, suppressing evidence in favor of a political agenda. Do you think it's true that the Bush administration is more anti-science than previous administrations, or do some of these problems stretch back even farther?

SP: To some extent they go back further. To be honest, I was skeptical of claims that the Bush administration is worse than previous ones. But I have now been turned around, and I see that the accusations are correct, that there is a Republican war on science, and that it does seem unprecedented. I see that in the areas with which I have firsthand familiarity. For issues like sex education and climate, I have had to take the word of the scientists who have been directly involved.

JAS: What changed your mind?

SP: I've been personally involved in three issues, and in each case, intervention from the Bush administration has gone against scientific consensus.

The first involved bioethics, where the President's Council on Bioethics has been packed with cultural conservatives and opponents of biomedical research, with a concerted effort to exaggerate the downside of biomedical research and to play up the fears.

The second is evolution, where Bush himself called for the so-called "controversy" between intelligent design and evolution to be taught in schools, whereas virtually every intelligent scientist believes that there is no such controversy.

The third involves regulation of language on the airwaves, where my book The Stuff of Thought was cited by the solicitor general in a brief to a U.S. Appeals Court on whether the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to sanction the networks for failing to bleep out fleeting expletives -- that is, celebrities such as Cher or Bono or Nicole Richie saying "fucking brilliant" or "they can fuck themselves" during live television broadcasts. And the government cited what I think are bogus considerations about protecting the mental health of children as a rationale for restricting speech on the airwaves. They used my writing to support their case in a way that I felt was deceptive.

JAS: Do you believe that the Bush administration's actions will have any lasting impact on Americans' levels of trust in science and scientific institutions?

SP: Yes. For example, the Religious Right and their supporters in the Bush administration argue that scientists are suppressing debate about evolution. Having long ago lost the legal battle to have intelligent design taught in the classrooms, they are now framing the issue as an attempt to "teach the controversy," therefore putting scientists on the side of appearing to want to suppress controversy.

To the extent that they succeed in framing the debate that way, it would look as if scientists are pushing their own dogma. And that is simply dishonest. Scientists would have no interest in a debate between astronomy and astrology or chemistry and alchemy, simply because you have to draw the line somewhere and impose some barrier to entry of basic scientific credibility before you engage in a debate. But that can be distorted into making it seem as if scientists are as dogmatic as the defenders of religious fundamentalism.

JAS: You mentioned taking the word of climate scientists about debates in global warming because you have no expertise in that area -- something you have in common with me and a majority of Americans. What red flags should ordinary citizens watch out for when it comes to political debates about science and scientific issues?

SP: Certainly they should be curious about the degree of scientific consensus, which is what I sought to understand in forming an opinion about climate change. And science journalism has a responsibility to report the current degree of consensus, rather than taking a "he said-she said" approach.

Secondly, people should be curious about the state of the evidence, which means that there is a parallel obligation on the part of scientists to lay out the evidence. Scientists should resist any temptation to pronounce what might look like dogma. They should be prepared to explain, in intelligent layperson's language, what compelled them to a particular position, in terms of the available evidence, and be prepared to articulate that background in publicly accessible articles. Conversely, the public should insist on being persuaded by seeing the evidence stated as clearly as possible.

JAS: What, in your opinion, does the next presidential administration need to do in order to repair the damage done by the Bush administration?

SP: At the very least, the next administration needs to renew a commitment to the de-politicization of science. ... In the long term, this underscores the need not just for better science education, but for the attitudes of science at its best to be applied throughout the public sphere -- a demand for evidence and logical consistency rather than dogma, and an emphasis on understanding rather than sloganeering.

All in the Mind - Disembodied Brains, Culture and Science: Indigenous Lives Under Gaze [Part 2 of 2]

Here is part 2 of last week's episode of All in the Mind, a look at indigenous cultures and psychology, focusing on Australia's Maori.

Disembodied brains, culture and science: Indigenous lives under gaze [Part 2 of 2]

Maori people believe the body is derived from the earth, and returns to the ancestral earth at death—complete. The flesh, and all its bits, are sacred. The new Human Tissue Bill in New Zealand has provoked debate over who owns your body at death—you or your family? The Maori Party argues the legislation is Western-centric and racist. And, a young Maori scientist working with post-mortem brain tissue is breaking new ground, to keep her lab life 'culturally safe', in consultation with her tribe.

Original broadcast: 3/5/2008

Show Transcript | Hide Transcript


Melanie Cheung
PhD Student
Pharmacology Department
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences
University of Auckland
Auckland, New Zealand

The Hon Tariana Turia
Co head, The Maori Party
NZ Member of Parliament for Te tai Hauauru, Maori Party
Member, Health Committee, New Zealand Government

Further Information

All in the Mind blog post for this program
To add your comments, simply click on "Comments" under the post and follow the instructions.

All in the Mind blog
Discuss, and comment about the program.

Australian Huntington's Disease Association

Australian brain banks - background

Australian Brain Bank Network

Huntington's Disease Associations of New Zealand

Human Tissue Bill, New Zealand
This Bill replaces the Human Tissue Act 1964 and regulates collection and use of tissue from dead human bodies. It also regulates trading in tissue, export and import of tissue, and use of tissue for non-therapeutic purposes

Speech by The Hon Turiana Turia about the Human Tissue Bill - 9 April 2008

Speech by The Hon Pita Sharples about the Human Tissue Bill - 7 November 2007
Dr Pita Sharples is cohead of the Maori Party.

Speech by The Hon Turiana Turia about the Human Tissue Bill - 24 October 2007

First reading of the Human Tissue Bill in NZ Parliament, with representation of a range of views from MPs
14 November 2006.

Rangahau means research. This site is a researcher resource supporting Kaupapa Maori approaches.

Kaupapa Maori Research
About Kaupapa Maori research and approaches to research.


Title: Tikanga in the Laboratory: Engaging Safe Practice
Author: Melanie J Cheung, Hannah M Gibbons, Michael Dragunow and Richard L M Faull.
Publisher: MAI Review, 2007, 1, Article 1
Link is to a PDF file.

Title: Tikanga Māori: living by Māori values.
Author: Sidney (Hirini) Moko Mead
Publisher: Wellington, N.Z: Huia, 2003.
A guide to Maori customary practice and values.

Title: Decolonizing methodologies: research and indigenous peoples.
Author: Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Editors N K Denzin, Y S Lincoln)
Publisher: Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1998
The link is to a review of Linda's title by Carla Wilson

Title: Native science: natural laws of interdependence.
Author: Gregory Cajete
Publisher: Santa Fe, N.M. : Clear Light Publishers, c2000
A book about indigenous science and ways of knowing. Link is to Cajete's website.


Natasha Mitchell

Mind Mods - Alpha/Theta Neurofeedback & Creativity Study

A cool new study looked at the use of neurofeedback for improving creativity in professionals, brought to you by the Mind Modulations blog. It would be seriously cool if all research were open source, so that not only professionals can have access to it.
New Alpha/Theta Neurofeedback & Creativity Study

Sunday, 21 December 2008

A theory of alpha/theta neurofeedback, creative performance enhancement, long distance functional connectivity and psychological integration.

Gruzelier J.
Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, Lewisham Way, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW, UK, email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

Professionally significant enhancement of music and dance performance and mood has followed training with an EEG-neurofeedback protocol which increases the ratio of theta to alpha waves using auditory feedback with eyes closed. While originally the protocol was designed to induce hypnogogia, a state historically associated with creativity, the outcome was psychological integration, while subsequent applications focusing on raising the theta-alpha ratio, reduced depression and anxiety in alcoholism and resolved post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). In optimal performance studies we confirmed associations with creativity in musical performance, but effects also included technique and communication. We extended efficacy to dance and social anxiety. Diversity of outcome has a counterpart in wide ranging associations between theta oscillations and behaviour in cognitive and affective neuroscience: in animals with sensory-motor activity in exploration, effort, working memory, learning, retention and REM sleep; in man with meditative concentration, reduced anxiety and sympathetic autonomic activation, as well as task demands in virtual spatial navigation, focussed and sustained attention, working and recognition memory, and having implications for synaptic plasticity and long term potentiation. Neuroanatomical circuitry involves the ascending mescencephalic-cortical arousal system, and limbic circuits subserving cognitive as well as affective/motivational functions. Working memory and meditative bliss, representing cognitive and affective domains, respectively, involve coupling between frontal and posterior cortices, exemplify a role for theta and alpha waves in mediating the interaction between distal and widely distributed connections. It is posited that this mediation in part underpins the integrational attributes of alpha-theta training in optimal performance and psychotherapy, creative associations in hypnogogia, and enhancement of technical, communication and artistic domains of performance in the arts.

more here (study abstract)

Simple Steps For A Healthier You

A nice little list to help us all be a little healthier as we head into the New Year. Some of these suggestions are things most of us seldom think about, which is why a reminder can be useful. I added bold text to highlight the suggestions.

Simple Steps For A Healthier You

Main Category: Public Health
Article Date: 27 Dec 2008

Quit Smoking. Lose weight. Get more exercise. These are popular New Year's resolutions, but they are undoubtedly a chore. A third of resolutions, however well motivated, are broken within a week.

If better health is your aim, there are many other simple, less obvious things you can do without a great deal of effort. Here are a few recommended by physicians at Rush University Medical Center.

Have fun to help de-stress. Experts recommend regular exercise, meditation and breathing techniques to reduce stress, but even something as simple as listening to soothing music, reading a good book, soaking in a hot tub or playing with your pet can help you relax. "Spending just 30 minutes a day doing something you enjoy can go a long way toward beating the stressors of everyday life," says cardiologist Dr. Annabelle Volgman, director of the Rush Heart Center for Women. That's advice you should take to heart because prolonged stress can cause or exacerbate a number of health problems some serious including heart disease, stroke, hypertension, depression, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and obesity.

Practice good oral hygiene. Spend a minimum of two minutes to brush your teeth twice a day and don't forget the dental floss. Daily flossing and brushing of teeth not only help prevent cavities but may keep other diseases at bay as well. Experts suspect that bacteria-producing dental plaque, which leads to gum inflammation, can result in or exacerbate heart disease. Although the exact mechanism of why this occurs is not clear, a connection has also been found between poor periodontal health and stroke, diabetes, premature births and low birth weights. "It's also a good idea to take a three-hour break between eating foods that contain sugar," says Dr. Joel Augustin, a family medicine physician at Rush.

Do a crossword puzzle. Researchers at Rush have found that mentally challenging activities, such as reading and playing chess, may have a protective effect on your brain. "Regularly engaging your mind may help lower your risk for the dementia associated with Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Augustin says.

A little red wine is fine. Recent studies have shown that the powerful antioxidants found in red wine protect against heart disease, colon cancer, anxiety and depression. So unless there is a medical reason why you shouldn't imbibe, go ahead and enjoy that glass of merlot with your nightly meal you can even toast to your good health.

But don't drink excessively. Just as a small amount of red wine has health benefits, too much alcohol even red wine can cause a variety of health problems, including liver and kidney disease and cancer. Women, in particular, need to be careful about alcohol consumption. "Women are at higher overall risk of liver problems than men, so they are more likely to experience liver problems from smaller amounts of alcohol," says Dr. Carline Quander, a gastroenterologist at Rush. "They simply shouldn't drink as much as men." For a healthy man, two drinks a day is not likely to do harm; women, on the other hand, should limit themselves to one daily drink.

Stop the snore cycle. When half of a couple snores, the other person loses sleep. The snorer is frequently tired too because people who snore loudly often have sleep apnea. In the most common form of this condition, the airway is blocked, causing the person to stop breathing and wake up repeatedly. Physicians at the Sleep Disorders Service and Research Center at Rush found that treating the snorer with continuous positive airway pressure, which keeps the airway open, results in better sleep for both people.

Don't skip the seatbelt ever. Even if you're driving only a short distance or are in a parking lot, take a few seconds to fasten your safety belt, which prevents you from being tossed around the car or thrown from it in the event of a crash. Most cars these days are equipped with air bags, but these lifesaving features are designed to work with safety belts. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, air bags alone are only 42 percent effective in providing protection.

Check your ergonomics. If you work at a computer, look at the ergonomics of your workstation how you fit and move in your environment. You can start by visiting the Division of Occupational Health and Safety at "An ergonomics review can help you avoid neck, back and eye strain," Dr. Augustin says.

Even small steps toward better health can yield surprising rewards.