Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ken Wilber - The Myth of the Given

This weeks ISC offering looks at Reverse-Engineering the Kosmos. It features Ken Wilber talking about The Myth of the Given.

At the second gathering of the teachers of Integral Spiritual Center, Patrick Sweeney famously asked Ken Wilber, “what can we do to stay out of Appendix III of Integral Spirituality?” In “The Myth of the Given,” Ken surveys some major modern approaches to spirituality, and demonstrates via AQAL their partiality—and how that partiality might be remedied.

It’s sobering to consider that so many of today’s most eminent teachers are partial! But as Ken points out, Appendix III (and the Integral approach in general) is meant not so much to point out that partiality as to highlight expertise in a highly specialized area. AQAL is an incredible tool for both situating various approaches and for understanding how they are related to each other. To the extent that the conclusions of these approaches fall within their area of expertise, they are most assuredly true. But to the extent that their conclusions overstep their area of expertise, a broader context such as AQAL can be enormously helpful.

The potency of AQAL to situate various approaches derives from its own formulation. Take, for example, the field of psychology. Ken points out that there are six major schools of psychology, each advanced by brilliant researchers who pioneered a particular approach to the field. Ken’s approach was to ask “what must be the characteristics of the human mind, such that the major conclusions of each of these schools could hold true?” His goal, rather than to work within one of the major schools to further its particular conclusions, was to reverse-engineer the human psyche—indeed, the entire Kosmos—altogether. The result of that inquiry was AQAL, perhaps the most complete map yet of the Kosmos we inhabit and the awareness in which it arises.

“The Myth of the Given” highlights a number of otherwise brilliant modern approaches to spirituality that fail to take into account the insights of postmodernity, thus unwittingly perpetuating the myth. Postmodernity, Ken demonstrates, deconstructed not only the mythical formulations of premodernity; with the same ferocity, it deconstructed the rational formulations of modernity! Postmodernism shows—rightly so—that nothing is apart from its context. But in doing so, and especially in its more recent turns, it throws out both the premodern and modern babies with the bathwater. Context, contends the integral approach, is not everything—but it is something! The integral approach is the first to take the truths of premodernity and modernity, consider their context as postmodernism necessitates, and locate them in a larger map. Once this blind spot is acknowledged, says Ken, it is easily remedied, leaving us with enduring truths, properly contextualized, and situated in a greater whole. And that changes just about everything….

If you have a membership, you can listen to the audio here: Reverse-Engineering the Kosmos

Dharma Quote - Motivations

Dharma Quote of the Week from Snow Lion Publications.

The recognition that worldly attainments just do not provide enduring happiness, and that we need to work on the internals, rather than the externals, is an important motivation. It is also the basis of achieving nirvana, often represented by the lotus flower. It is no accident that most statues of Buddha have him sitting on cushions resting on a lotus flower--the symbol of renunciation.

But what if we achieve nirvana? What if, through extreme diligence, we attain its supreme peace and happiness? Would that be enough, or is there a more profound level of motivation still?

Some years ago a number of tourists were kidnapped by terrorists in the Philippines, and held hostage in the jungle for many months. Finally they were released in small groups. I will never forget the reaction of one hostage who was interviewed at the airport on his way home to join his wife, who had been freed just days earlier.

You would think that after months of extreme privation and the constant threat of uncertainty and death, returning safely to one's wife, home, and family would be a cause for joyful celebration. But the hostage, while relieved, could only think of the group of hostages he'd left behind. Those who, in the preceding months, had been his fellow prisoners, whom he now knew better than anyone else, and with whom in several cases, he had formed unique and profound bonds of attachment. His overriding concern was to ensure that those still being held captive would be safely released to experience the same freedom he had now. Only then would he really be able to celebrate.

~ From Buddhism for Beginners: Finding Happiness in an Uncertain World by David Michie, published by Snow Lion Publications

The Evolution of the Humanist Manifesto

Wishtank has a cool article on the evolution of the Humanist Manifesto. I wasn't terribly aware of its evolution over the years, but it makes sense that as humanism evolved from a religiously inspired rational self-interest to a more non-theistic, relativist multiculturalism, its defining document would change as well.

The Evolution of the Humanist Manifesto

As Editor of this project, it is important to me that the Wishtank community maintains an openness in regards to our motivations and principles. Transparency, as we are learning, is a virtue of truly functional and sustainable communities. With this in mind, this essay will serve as both an educational article on the evolution of humanism, as well as a notice to our readers that Wishtank is, and has always been, a humanist journal.

As many do, I developed an understanding of humanism through literature, written by or about thinkers who promote humanist thought. I came to my personal understanding of humanism through the words of Kurt Vonnegut, R. Buckminster Fuller, Albert Einstein, Julian Huxley, Erich Fromm and members of the NEK tribe, including Spencer Ford, Dan Briggs and Justin Boland.

In more directed research, I read three versions of the Humanist Manifesto that were proposed by the American Humanist Association in 1933, 1973 and 2003 respectively. The document’s evolution over the course of 70 years is inspiring and prompted me to draw up this analysis. Before we get too far along, though, we should assert a working definition of humanism so that we can share a common understanding.

What is humanism?

Kurt Vonnegut was Honorary President of the AHA from 1992 to his death on April 11, 2007
Kurt Vonnegut, Honorary President of AHA
from 1992 to his death on April 11, 2007

Vonnegut summed it up concisely when he said, “I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I’m dead.”

The most complete and agreeable definition that we have found, though, comes from The Humanist Magazine (a publication of the American Humanist Association):

“Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. It advocates the extension of participatory democracy and the expansion of the open society, standing for human rights and social justice. Free of supernaturalism, it recognizes human beings as a part of nature and holds that values — be they religious, ethical, social, or political — have their source in human experience and culture. Humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.”

One of the most definitive attributes of humanism is that it does not rely on the supernatural, or any perceived deity or divine force. In 1933, when the original Humanist Manifesto was published, the language was mostly about summoning religions to accept the core ideas behind humanism — the idea being that science had basically nullified the supernatural and theist ideas of the world’s religions. The Manifesto includes 15 affirmations.

The fifth affirmation reads:

“Humanism asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values. Obviously humanism does not deny the possibility of realities as yet undiscovered, but it does insist that the way to determine the existence and value of any and all realities is by means of intelligent inquiry and by the assessment of their relations to human needs. Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method.”

And the sixth reads:

“We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of “new thought.”

Read the rest of this informative article.

I can see why humanism bothers the fundies. Most religious folks (and not just fundies) have a hard time with the idea that there can be any morality without religion, and especially without God. Because orthodox religion tends to be authoritarian in its beliefs, there must be an authority, and that would be God. No God, no morality.

But the HM in its many forms reveals that that need not be the case. As this synopsis of the third version of the document demonstrates, there is no need of higher authority:
  • Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. (See ethical naturalism.)
  • Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.
  • Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.
  • Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.
Human beings are by natural communal creatures. We need each other to survive -- more so in our ancient history, but even now. It is in our interest as individuals and as communities to treat each other well.

More to the point, current research suggests that the mechanism for this morality may be hard-wired into our brains in the form of altruism. If we have evolved to be altruistic (either by natural selection or by some other means) than there is no need for a God to dictate to us how to treat each other.

This, of course, doesn't mean there is no God. The ID folks would say God designed us this way, and there is no way to disprove their hypothesis.

Anyway, the HM is interesting as a document of the evolving meme of humanism.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Transcendental Meditation - Much Dispute About Nothing

Thanks to the David Lynch Foundation, transcendental meditation is making inroads -- and changing the lives of children -- in the inner cities. But of course, the fundies are not pleased.

Is TM a religion? Does it violate the separation of church and state as does prayer? If not, is prayer a technology the same as TM? All good questions.

From Newsweek, Much Dispute About Nothing:

It might have been the teenager stumbling into the school hallway bloodied by six gunshot wounds. Maybe it was the funerals of more than a dozen of his students or the drug dealers competing for "his kids." In the mid-'90s, George Rutherford, a devout Baptist who spent 20 years as principal of one of the toughest middle schools in Washington, D.C., Fletcher Johnson, knew he and his 1,500 students had reached a breaking point.

"That's when I stumbled onto Transcendental Meditation," says Rutherford. "I feel it is the greatest savior other than Jesus Christ that I know." Rutherford, his teachers and his students began meditating in the classroom twice a day for 20 minutes. "Fights stopped breaking out on the third floor, test scores went up," he recalls. Now, as principal of a small charter school in the nation's capital, he makes sure his students, like 11-year Markell Talford, keep up the practice.

"Now when people mess with me I don't hit them," explains Talford. "I sit down and try to meditate."

That kind of response is fueling a small but growing movement to bring Transcendental Meditation (TM), a practice inherited from India and made hip by high-profile devotees like the Beatles in the 1960s, into more U.S. schools as a stress-buster for America's overwhelmed kids. TM is the trademarked name of a meditation technique created by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1958. In the past decade or so, alternative and Eastern forms of health have been gaining traction in the mainstream, including for kids. Some schools include yoga in their physical-education classes, private kiddie yoga classes abound and top universities regularly publish research on the benefits of meditation and prayer. TM itself, which is promoted as a 20-minute physiological technique that calms the mind and nervous system, is also showing profound results where practiced, according to proponents: better grades and SAT scores, less bullying, longer attention spans and happier kids. They point to a slew of recent medical studies to back up their claims.

TM doesn't have a calming influence on everyone. Critics believe that TM is a repackaged Eastern religious philosophy that should not be infiltrating public schools. They argue that TM invokes Hindu deities and in some cases is step one toward joining a cult. TM's private "Puja" initiation ritual in Sanskrit, involving incense and a candle and the bestowing of mantras, is a focus of the concern. "TM has always been rooted in the religion of Hinduism," says Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which keeps a close legal eye on the TM movement. "There are no imminent cases right now, but people, including conservative Christian parents will say if Christianity can't be taught in the public schools then Hinduism can't be either."

Advocates of TM, however, say that TM practiced by itself is purely a mechanical, physiological process, that the initiation is a two-minute ceremony of appreciation for the teacher with no deities invoked, that mantras are simple sounds without meaning and that the practice pre-dates Hinduism by 5,000 years. "Things have changed over the past 25 years. If you take out the trivial, ceremonial part of this—and I've seen tapes of the Puja (initiation) ceremony, it's not religious—you'll see this is not being promoted as a religion but as a way to physically and emotionally relax," says Carter Phillips, a lawyer who represents the TM movement. "This 1-2 minute ceremony of gratitude in India is traditionally done in appreciation for one's teacher," says Robert Roth, vice president of the David Lynch Foundation. "Bottom line: One should not confuse something that is cultural with something religious."

Much of the debate stems from the growing success of the David Lynch Foundation, which funds TM training in private and public schools, especially charter schools, with a focus on inner-city youth. Since 2005, a foundation begun by Hollywood filmmaker and long-time meditator David Lynch has provided some $5 million for TM research and voluntary in-school programs for more than 2,000 students, teachers and parents at 21 U.S. schools and universities, with substantially wider reach overseas. "It's like going from zero to 60 in terms of pulling yourself away from stress. Intelligence goes up, creativity flowers and energy zooms forward," says Lynch, who says "receptivity" to the idea is growing. (Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons appears on the foundation's introductory video as part of its outreach to inner-city schools). Lynch's foundation says it now has more than 4,000 students and dozens of U.S. schools, mostly charter and public, on its waitlist for grants of $625 per student, parent or teacher.

Back in 1979, a federal appeals court ruled that a course called the Science of Creative Intelligence Transcendental Meditation could not be taught in public schools in New Jersey because it "had a primary effect of advancing religion and religious concepts" and violated the First Amendment. "If they want TM in private universities or schools, no problem," says Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "But when they move into public schools they are crossing that same constitutional line that was crossed in 1979." Francisco Negrón, general counsel for the National School Boards Association, says that while relaxation techniques around test taking might be OK and that a nonsectarian approach to meditation is plausible, "the devil is in the details. The concern would be that here is a religious angle to it that amounts to indoctrination or proselytizing."

In 2006, on learning the Lynch Foundation was offering a $175,000 grant for the Terra Linda High School in San Rafael, Calif., half a dozen parents protested vehemently, some arguing it was a cult—and the funding was withdrawn. The parents argued it could lead to lifelong personal and financial servitude to a corporation run by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the recently deceased founder of the TM movement. "TM is not really Hinduism. It's an amalgam of beliefs that puts Maharishi—or whoever his successor will be—as the ultimate arbiter of all things spiritual," says Ford Greene, a lawyer who represented parents at the raucous meeting.

Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute, which threatened to sue the Lynch Foundation over Terra Linda, says doing TM during a school's "quiet time"—a short period many schools adopt for children to use as they wish for prayer or relaxation—is constitutional. "But it's like a literature class that teaches the Bible. That's not unconstitutional, but the school district has to be careful the class doesn't become evangelical." When a school is approved for a David Lynch Scholarship, say foundation representatives, teachers and parents are trained first and the program is voluntary, most often practiced by students during a pre-existing quiet time period. "Childhood is a time of incredible growth of the nervous system and physiology," says Gary Kaplan, an associate professor of neurology at New York University's School of Medicine and chairman of the New York chapter of the Committee for Stress Free Schools, created in 2004. "I prescribe plenty of medications, but if there is a way to unleash the full potential of a child's mind without medication or side effects, then why not do it?"

Despite the criticism, many parents say they've seen profound results from meditation and that that they hardly view TM as exclusively, or even overtly, religious. Lynch himself is a Presbyterian. "When I started doing transcendental meditation, I found that my relationship with God deepened," says Dick DeAngeles, a meditator who has had five of his children—all devout Roman Catholics who regularly attend Sunday school—learn TM at the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa.

Other parents are open to anything that might scientifically be proven to reduce stress. The National Institutes of Health has awarded some $20 million to study TM. A 2004 Medical College of Georgia study of 156 inner-city African-American teens found that TM helped lower blood pressure, while a 2003 University of Michigan study found that African-American sixth-graders who practiced TM daily had better self-esteem and handled stress better than other area students. The largest study on TM and young people is currently being undertaken by researchers from American University in Washington, D.C., and Maharishi University in Iowa. They have been monitoring 250 college students from American, Georgetown, Howard and other D.C.-area universities who practiced meditation for nine months. Early results appear to show greater brain functioning and less irritability and sleepiness.

"There are serious problems in our schools and a small number of voices trying to Swift Boat TM should not discourage people from looking at the medical benefits of this technique," says the Lynch Foundation's Roth. "TM training is offered to schools that already set aside part of the day for 'quiet time.' A kid can do TM, or take a nap, pray or do Zen meditation, it's up to them."

At the Kingsbury School in D.C., a private K-12 for students with learning disorders like attention deficiency and dyslexia, children have been practicing in-school voluntary meditation since 2005. One student interviewed by NEWSWEEK this past winter, 14-year-old Scott Bertaut, who has Asperger syndrome, says that TM helps him control his sometimes violent temper. "When I stopped doing TM during summer break [my temper] got bad again." Only about 10 percent of parents, teachers and students have opted out of the program, says school director Jessica Lux. Some want the kids to focus on academics, "some for religious reasons or because they find it cultish," she says. "I think it's fear of the unknown."

A Race Straight Out of a 'West Wing' Rerun

As a huge West Wing fan, I found this article pretty cool, and a little surreal. How much did David Axelrod have in mind a possible Obama candidacy when he advocated for and helped create the character of Matthew Santos? Strange, very strange.

A Race Straight Out of a 'West Wing' Rerun

By Peter Funt
Monday, May 26, 2008; Page A17

How's this for a political plot: Good-looking congressman in his mid-40s, married with two young children, known for his inspirational speeches, comes from far behind to clinch the Democratic nomination and face an older, more experienced centrist Republican. If he wins, he's America's first non-Caucasian president.

It's a drama that plays out each day in the papers and through nonstop cable-TV coverage. But some are beginning to notice that it's a rerun. The whole thing was broadcast a few years back on NBC's "The West Wing."

As one who believes Aaron Sorkin's program belongs on a short list of television's finest dramas, I've been fascinated by similarities between the show's Democratic candidate, Matthew Santos, and the party's apparent real-life counterpart, Barack Obama. With Obama's nomination becoming more certain, "West Wing" references have intensified among bloggers and in the British press.

Apparently even Obama's staff is taking note of the degree to which life is imitating art. (They especially like the ending in which Santos, played by Jimmy Smits, narrowly defeats Alan Alda's character, Arnold Vinick, who bears more than a little resemblance to John McCain.)

Here's Santos on the campaign trail: "In a time of global chaos and instability, where our faiths collide as often as our weapons, hope is real . . . I am sure I will have my share of false starts. But there is no such thing as false hope. There is only hope."

How is this happening? Is politics so predictable, even in what some call the most unpredictable campaign ever? Or were the writers of "The West Wing" just that insightful? Turns out, it's a little of both.

The Santos character was created by Eli Attie, currently co-executive producer of Fox's "House M.D.," who spent four years as head speechwriter for Al Gore during the Clinton administration. Gore's 2000 concession speech was Attie's final task before seeking a career in television. He joined the "West Wing" writing staff during the third season.

As Attie explained it to me, the Santos-Vinick campaign was invented in mid-2004, about the time Barack Obama gave his acclaimed speech at the Democratic convention. David Axelrod, Attie's friend and now Obama's chief strategist, suggested that Obama was a "rock star" politician whose profile was perfect for Attie's needs. Since NBC had already signed Smits to play the part, the character became Hispanic.

"We were trying to look at what was happening in the country and around the world," recalls Attie. "Things are more multicultural, more diverse. We tried to look ahead of the curve, and it seemed inevitable that a successful Latino or black candidate would emerge."

Even though Obama had not yet won his Senate seat, Axelrod was promoting him as "handsome, appealing, articulate" -- a politician who could find new paths to solve old problems; a minority candidate who could show pride in his race without allowing it to define him. That's what Matt Santos became.

Alan Alda's character, although in many ways eerily similar to McCain, did not have a real-life model. Most of the Vinick episodes were written by Lawrence O'Donnell, professional pundit and onetime adviser to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Attie notes that Vinick, a Republican senator from California, was crafted with wisdom O'Donnell collected from the maverick New York Democrat (branded with the term "straight talk").

Attie doesn't care to comment much about the real-life campaign. But as a TV writer he provides this perspective: "Ultimately, the characters are not defined by who they are. They're defined by what they want."

On "The West Wing," Santos battles a White House insider, Vice President Bob Russell, played in real life by Hillary Clinton. A deadlocked Democratic convention finally nominates Santos, who selects an older, experienced Washington pro, Leo McGarry, as his running mate (Joe Biden?). Vinick, the GOP candidate, chooses the young West Virginia governor Ray Sullivan, who is a favorite of evangelicals (Mike Huckabee?).

Santos and Vinick depart from the conventional debate format and question each other without ground rules (Obama has advocated this). In the end, after winning by the narrowest of margins, Santos demonstrates his willingness to cross party lines by naming Vinick secretary of state (both Obama and McCain have pledged to include members of the opposing party in their administrations).

David Axelrod exchanged e-mails for a year with Attie as the Santos character was developed and written. Santos was Attie's project, but Obama was Axelrod's project. So, to what degree did "The West Wing" create a test market for a minority candidate? By campaigning to have his guy portrayed in a network hit, did Axelrod soften up millions of Americans for the task of electing the first minority president?

Attie says his latest e-mail from Axelrod includes the good news: "We're living your script." If the ending holds up, it may be Axelrod who deserves an Emmy.

Daily Dharma - Experiencing the Ground of Consciousness

This was yesterday's Daily Dharma from Tricycle.

Experiencing the Ground of Consciousness

People often confuse meditation with prayer, devotion, or vision. They are not the same. Meditation as a practice does not address itself to a deity or present itself as an opportunity for revelation. This is not to say that people who are meditating do not occasionally think they have received a revelation or experienced visions. They do. But to those for whom meditation is their central practice, a vision or a revelation is seen as just another phenomenon of consciousness and as such is not to be taken as exceptional.

The meditator simply experiences the ground of consciousness, and in doing so avoids excluding or excessively elevating any thought or feeling. To do this one must release all sense of the "I" as experiencer, even the "I" that might think it is privileged to communicate with the divine.

--Gary Snyder, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Vol.I, #1

Andrei Tarkovsky Discusses Cinema

I haven't seen all of this yet, but it looks good, especially for film buffs.
Is Art good only if it sells well? Andrei Tarkovsky, Russia's greatest filmmaker, discusses cinema.
This is from Wikipedia.
Although Tarkovksy directed only seven feature films during his twenty-year active career, he is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers of the late 20th century.

He attained critical acclaim for directing such films as Andrei Rublev, Solaris and Stalker.

Tarkovsky also worked extensively as a screenwriter, film editor, film theorist and theater director. He directed most of his films in the Soviet Union, with the exception of his last two films which were produced in Italy and Sweden. His films are characterized by Christian spirituality and metaphysical themes, extremely long takes, lack of conventional dramatic structure and plot, and memorable images of exceptional beauty.


7 Challenges of Psychotherapy

A great post for therapists and clients alike, but John Grohol at Psych Central. I've done a fair bit of therapy in my life, and I am a huge fan of the process. But these are all good points, especially about finding a therapist you are comfortable with -- we need to spend the time and effort to find the right person so that we can get the most from the process.

In my own experience, and think this is true for nearly everyone who really commits to the work, therapy will completely destabilize your life at first, and sometimes for quite a while. When we begin to get close to the things we have buried (exiled selves, challenging emotions, broken dreams, and so on), the rawness of it can disrupt our safe and predictable lives. That can be rough on those who love us, so we need to try to be as honest with them as we can.

In respect to his last point, most good therapists are in therapy or have done extensive therapy. If they haven't, that's a red flag worth looking at more closely.

Anyway, this is good stuff.

7 Challenges of Psychotherapy

by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
May 29, 2008

Every treatment has a downside. Medications have side effects and it can often feel like a revolving door trying to find one (or a combination of a few) that work for any particular person. And while medications’ side effects are well-publicized, few articles are written about the potential “side effects” of other types of treatments, such as psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy can be a powerful treatment for everything ranging from depression and attention deficit disorder, to anxiety and panic attacks. And while there are many different forms of psychotherapy, virtually all of them share the challenges discussed in this article.

1. It can take awhile to find the “right” therapist and you shouldn’t stop at Therapist #1.

Finding the right therapist can be a frustrating hit-or-miss proposition. But it’s also imperative for a person to find a therapist that they feel comfortable working with in the therapeutic environment. Sticking with a therapist you don’t quite click with could mean weeks or months of frustratingly little progress. But find the right therapist for you, and suddenly each week can bring new insights and changes into the way you’re feeling and behaving.

I recommend people “try out” their therapist, much as one does for a hair stylist or even a blind date. If you don’t feel a strong connection after a few sessions, it’s time to move on. A strong psychotherapeutic relationship is one of the reasons psychotherapy works. Without it, you might as well just be talking to a friend.

2. Therapy is a strange, unnatural combination — an extremely personal, intimate relationship in a professional setting.

The very nature of one’s relationship with a therapist is a little weird. Professionals rarely acknowledge it, but there isn’t another relationship of this kind in the world. You’re expected to open up and share the thoughts and feelings that are causing you pain or trouble in your life, but it’s a completely one-sided relationship. All the while, it is a professional relationship as well, so while you’re sharing your innermost secrets you’re doing so in someone’s clinical office setting.

Of course, some professionals recognize the dichotomy inherent in the therapeutic relationship and work to make a client feel at ease in the professional setting. Although a little strange, the duality of this relationship usually starts to feel more natural the longer you’re in it. If it doesn’t, that could be a sign that something isn’t quite working well in the therapy relationship – an issue to talk to your therapist about.

Just because it’s a professional relationship you’re paying for doesn’t mean it will necessarily be easier to open up and talk about potentially embarrassing or difficult topics. Some people find it just as hard to talk to therapist as anyone else in their life about emotional topics or thoughts they are thinking. For therapy to be effective, however, you will need to find a way to overcome your fears and hesitation and open up to your therapist.

3. Therapists leave and therapy ends.

You can keep taking a medication forever, barring any unpleasant side effects. And we don’t form emotional attachments with our medications. But psychotherapy is different. If you’ve been involved in a good therapy relationship, chances are you’re going to feel a natural emotional or spiritual attachment to your therapist. That’s natural, but it also makes ending the relationship all the more difficult. And when it’s done against our will – because, for instance, a therapist is moving far away, changes jobs, or retires – it can be devastating.

Good therapists will recognize that such changes can be especially challenging for their clients, and will spend the time needed to help them through the transition. All therapists are trained on how to best handle the ending of the relationship, for whatever reason. It usually hurts most people, just as the end of any important relationship in our lives.

4. It’s only 50 minutes a week.

It’s funny how a human being is expected to turn their emotions on and off at will. And yet that’s exactly what a therapist asks you to do once a week, for only 50 minutes. You come in and start talking and most people need time to ease into the session. It takes most people 5 to 10 minutes to get into the “therapy mode” of being there with their therapist and start talking about the serious stuff.

The worst part, though, comes at the end of your 50 minutes. Good therapists keep track of time and don’t let their clients get into new, emotional material near the end of the session, in order to ensure the client doesn’t have to leave in the middle of something. But sometimes that can’t be avoided. When it can’t and time’s up, it can feel like the therapist doesn’t care that you’re an emotional wreck and are being kicked out of the office.

By the way, there’s no scientific reason why it’s 50 minutes and not, say, 2 hours a week. This seems to just be a reasonable amount of time two people can talk to each other (and in modern times, how much insurance will pay for).

5. Sometimes a friend will work just as well.

One of psychotherapy’s little secrets is that up to 40% of new clients never return for a second session. Why is that? Researchers speculate that it could be for a variety of reasons, including feeling uncomfortable with the process (#2) or the therapist (#1). Or because one session is all the person needed – the ability to just talk to a stranger and let out everything one is feeling or experiencing can itself be cathartic.

At times like this, many people might gain similar results from talking to someone you trust – a close friend or family member, or even your favorite pet. While such people (or animals!) can’t replicate a therapist’s training or experience, for many people this may be sufficient enough. The challenge, though, is to find someone who won’t blab your feelings to others. With a therapist, you’ll never have to worry about that.

6. “Side effects” of psychotherapy are unpredictable.

At least with psychiatric medications, you have a laundry list going into your prescription knowing what to expect. In psychotherapy, you never know what to expect. You could go into a session feeling perfectly comfortable, end up discussing a traumatic childhood experience, and come out feeling completely exposed and re-traumatized.

Unfortunately, many therapists won’t discuss or acknowledge such “side effects,” but they occur all the time. And the worst part for an individual is that you never know what might be in store in any given week. Being aware that psychotherapy is often a very emotionally trying experience helps, but it can still catch you off guard.

7. Therapists can be just as crazy as any of their clients.

Just like the old joke about the general contractor’s house being the one that is most in need of repair, sometimes a therapist can be the person who is also need in some of emotional “repair.” People aren’t barred from becoming a therapist just because they have their own psychological demons they battle — although it may be discouraged unless the person is actively working on themselves in their own private therapy sessions.

You can try to find out if your therapist is seeking therapy themselves by asking, but not all therapists will tell you. That’s not an attempt to deceive you, but some therapists have the belief that the less you know about them, the better. This is to encourage the formation of transference, which some therapists believe is crucial to the psychotherapeutic process.

If you’re uncomfortable with this possibility, ask the therapist before you even begin therapy with them. If you’re not comfortable with their answer, it may be a sign that another therapist may be more compatible with your needs.

* * *

Therapy can be a powerful treatment modality, when wielded by experienced and well-trained professionals who understand these issues. Being aware of these challenges ahead of time can help you better a more informed and empowered consumer, and help make your psychotherapy experience a positive one.

Seven Awesome Ab Exercises

These seven ab exercises came in an email from Charles Staley. They look a bit different, which means they probably work at least a little bit.

There isn't anything too revolutionary about any of these, despite the hype. The best ab exercises will always involve holding a heavy weight overhead (overhead lunges, overhead squats, hanging leg raises, and so on). But variety is always good, too.

So Nick has very kindly provided me with links to 7 sample exercises (with pictures and video demos), taken directly from the book. Be sure to give them all a try!

I think you'll find your abs will be quite pleasantly trashed after doing these... :)

1. Pushdown Crunches to the Floor

If you're looking for an extremely intense contraction in the upper abs against resistance, this exercise is what you need. It places the majority of its tension on the abs in their most contracted position. It also hits the abs with a pushing movement rather than a pulling movement, giving it a VERY unique action on the midsection. st-ab-exercises1.htm

2. Reverse Leg Raises

This exercise works the abs in a very unique fashion. It can be done using only bodyweight and actually uses the abs to draw the lower body up and in (bringing the pelvis towards the rib cage), rather than crunching the rib cage down towards the pelvis, as with most ab exercises. This is EXCELLENT for tightening the waist. st-ab-exercises2.htm

3. Resting Forearm Cable Crunches

This exercise literally FORCES the obliques into proper alignment during a cable crunch movement. How you hold the bar while you're doing the exercise hits the obliques without torqueing the lower back. If you've ever had trouble feeling the side abs/obliques working when doing crunches to the side, this exercise is going to really surprise you! st-ab-exercises3.htm

4. Seated Hanging Leg Raises

The hanging leg raise is an excellent abdominal exercise. This variation is not only easier on your lower back but helps to remove the hip flexors from the movement, all the while increasing the contraction on the abs. This exercise targets the abdominal muscles with an extremely intense contraction. The range of motion of the exercise is short but the tension on the abs is powerful. st-ab-exercises4.htm

5. Dumbell Side-To- Sides

Developing the core muscles is essential for optimum lifting and sports performance. This exercise uses resistance and a side-to-side movement to directly work the muscles that are responsible for transferring power through your body (e.g. lower body to upper body). st-ab-exercises5.htm

6. Two Dumbell Ball Twists

Using only a Swiss Ball and two dumbells, you can achieve an extraordinary ab-tightening contraction around the entire midsection musculature. This exercise places a great stretch on the obliques along with great tension, forcing quick abdominal development. st-ab-exercises6.htm

7. Inverse Crunches

This exercise requires no equipment other than a floor and something solid to grab onto, e.g. a doorframe, a pole or even a solid table leg. It's an incredibly effective "zero-equipment" abdominal exercise - one of the best I've come across. st-ab-exercises7.htm


So take the next few days to give these exercises a try. See how your abs feel then imagine what kind of results you'll get from 70 MORE exercises just like these.

I like the reverse leg raises. I'll have to try those in my next workout.

TED Talk - Paul Collier: 4 ways to improve the lives of the "bottom billion"

A great TED Talk from Paul Collier: 4 ways to improve the lives of the "bottom billion".

Around the world right now, one billion people are trapped in poor or failing countries. How can we help them? Economist Paul Collier lays out a bold, compassionate plan for closing the gap between rich and poor.

Paul Collier studies the political and economic problems of the very poorest countries: 50 societies, many in sub-Saharan Africa, that are stagnating or in decline, and taking a billion people down with them. His book The Bottom Billion identifies the four traps that keep such countries mired in poverty, and outlines ways to help them escape, with a mix of direct aid and external support for internal change.

From 1998 to 2003, Collier was the director of the World Bank’s Development Research Group; he now directs the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford, where he continues to advise policymakers.

Cracked: The 6 Most Frequently Quoted Bullsh*t Statistics

A great post over at Cracked. I knew about the brain thing, that's just nonsense to anyone who has ever seen an fMRI scan of the brain. I had my doubts about the sex thing with men, too, although I thought maybe I was just weird for not thinking about sex at least eight times a minute.

The 6 Most Frequently Quoted Bullsh*t Statistics

By Levi Ritchie

Every once in awhile, you'll hear a statistic so striking you can hardly believe it's true. Our first impulse is to repeat it, because knowing interesting things tends to make people like us better.

Unfortunately, some people are so desperate for interesting facts to quote, that they'll just pull them right out of their ass. Then those facts get repeated, by--you guessed it--people like us.

The six most quoted "too awesome to be true" stats that, in fact, are ...

#6. You Accidentally Swallow About 8 Spiders a Year

This extremely commonly believed statistic has been fed to us by countless internet chain mails, and probably by some know-it-all kid who sat next to you in some class or other. When you sleep, you open your mouth to breath (and drool on your pillow), and supposedly this is the ideal window of oppurtunity for all the spiders who hang out near your bed hoping to be eaten alive.

Why Is It a Load of Crap?

Well, first of all, this a real kick in the crotch of the intellect of spiders everywhere. Although spiders are occasionally seen doing stupid things, it's safe to assume they have enough wit to realize when they're about to crawl through the mouth of a damned giant. If the giant white teeth aren't enough to deter them from going spelunking down your dark, wet throat (apparently no other animals have these) you'd think the heavy draft and deafening snoring sounds would be some sort of indication of how terrible a home your mouth would be.

Who Started It?

Back in 1993, people were already getting fooled by online urban legends at an amusing rate. So, a columnist for PC Professional named Lisa Holst decided to prove that you could make up anything on the internet and people would believe it.

She did this by making up a set of facts that were utterly ridiculous, the spider myth among them (which itself was taken from a collection of insect folklore that dates back to the 1950s), and unleashing it on the world in the form of emails.

In a twist of oh-so-predictable irony, people who forwarded chain mail about this just "happened" to forget to include the fact that these were completely fake.

Who Was Fooled?

Ask a group of internet strangers and you'll find at least a handful of people who wholeheartedly believe this myth. Presumably because they read it somewhere. You've even got this supposed entomologist from quoting it.

In 2006 The UK's Daily Mirror warned that "the average person will swallow anything from eight to 20 spiders before they die."

Not satisfied to go along with the normal fudged data, The Mirror upped the ante of retardation by adding "A spider is also likely to drink from your eye at least THREE times in your life. Some experts have suggested they are attracted by the vibrations of snoring and the smell of undigested food - a good reason to floss your teeth before bedtime."

Really, is that what it takes to get the UK to worry about dental hygiene?

#5. You Only Use 10% of Your Brain

You've heard it since you were a child, and it might have even crept into one of your textbooks: "We only use 10% of our brain! Just think what we'd be capable of if we could tap into the rest!"

The idea that the brain has UNLIMITED POTENTIAL is probably pretty appealing to 2nd grade teachers whose students complain that they can't do ONE MORE math problem. We still remember our teachers happily informing us that we're only using 10% of our brains, so we could do ten more if we wanted. The implication was of course that if we worked hard enough, we'd be able to set fire to the school with the power of our minds.

Why Is It a Load of Crap?

How fast are you reading this article? Well, let's suppose you are only using 10% of your brain. Now, read it 10x faster. Go, do it now! Are you having trouble? Yeah, that's because you can't devote that other 90% to just whatever you want. The parts of the brain are specialized, so trying to use all of it at once isn't going to make you any smarter. That would be like trying to become a better writer by striving to use all the keys on your keyboard in every sentence.

So the part of your brain you're using to read this article is not the same part you'll be using tonight when you get drunk and fight a hobo. There's even a special part of the brain that apparently keeps you from turning into a dick (No, really).

Who Started It?

There is a bit of debate on who exactly brought this bullshit statistic into the world. A series of neurologists over the past few hundred years figured out that a human can survive when parts of the brain are removed. Over time, this was misinterpreted to mean that the brain uses little of its potential, and thus the 10% statistic was born.

Facts tend to survive based on how interesting they are, rather than whether or not they're true.

Who Was Fooled?

Surely nobody takes this seriously any more, not when a ten-second Google search can tell you otherwise, right? Well don't tell that to Psychology Today, who ran that helpful 2006 article on how to access the lazy 90% of your grey matter.

One of their tips is to replenish the brain with nutrients, but we're assuming we get plenty with all the spiders we've eaten.

#4. Men Think About Sex Every Seven Seconds

As we all know, men do nothing all day but think about having sex with their girlfriend/ex-girlfriend/friend that happens to be a girl/friend's sister. It should come naturally, then, that, on average, men think about sex every seven seconds or so, right? I mean, what else are men going to think about? Their jobs?

"Puhleaze, sister. We all know what's going on in there."

Why Is It a Load of Crap?

Let's suppose for a moment that you are a man. Have you thought about sex since you began reading this article? Well, probably, yes, because you just read the word "sex" several times. How about when you were reading the spider-eating segment moments ago? Were you imaging a massive spider-orgy? If so, you are unlike most men in the world. As a matter of fact, many experts estimate that 30% of men don't think about sex during the day at all. There are variants of this myth, usually ranging from 3 seconds to 20 seconds, but none of them are based on any actual research, and none of them are really true.

After all, how would they even arrive at such a number? Hook electrodes up to a dude's head and have him walk around for a week, counting how many times the sex lobe lights up?

Who Started It?

The origins of this statistic stretch long and far (no "that's what she said" intended), so again we can't pin it on a single person. We all know who it really was, though. A group of wives sitting at a table drinking tea or coffee, start talking about their horrible husbands. They just hate how it is always about sex sex sex sex sex. So, one of them pulls a number out of her head for a joke. "Did you know that men think about sex every seven seconds?"

The others have a good, womanly laugh about their husbands, and then they all run off to do womanly things, like quilting, or going to the bathroom at the same time. That's what women do, right? We don't really know.

Who Was Fooled?

Well, about half of us, according to this online poll. Countless sites are still including it among their "interesting facts" about sex, like this one and this one over here.

It seems like common sense would have squashed this one even before it got started. Obviously there are long stretches where a guy isn't thinking about sex (say, while spending 45 infuriating minutes on the phone with Microsoft tech support). To make up that average later he would have to think about sex every, what 2 seconds? So for the rest of the day his brain just turns into a spinning kaleidoscope of titty?

You can see the final three here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Maurice Ravel - Bolero

A strange and cool animation set to Ravel's Bolero.


The Science of Happiness and Potential

I found these interesting videos at Improved Lives on positive psychology, featuring Shawn Achor (Harvard University). He describes the approach of positive psychology, the research behind how people can change, and the dramatic effects of positive psychology upon productivity, health, relationships, creativity, and success rates. He is the CEO of Aspirant, LLC, a positive psychology consulting firm in Cambridge, MA.

The Science of Happiness and Potential - Part 1:

The Science of Happiness and Potential - Part 2:

The Science of Happiness and Potential - Part 3:

Yehudi Menuhin - The Violin of the Century

This is a full documentary on the life of the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin (April 22, 1916 – March 12, 1999) by Bruno Monsaingeon. The volume is a little sketchy, so you might need to crank it up a lot.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sure, Stevia is More Natural, But Is It Actually Better For You?

A good article from Ryan Andrews writing at the Precision Nutrition forums. This is a well-researched and highly informative article, as one might expect from a site run by Dr. John Berardi, nutritional guru for the fitness experts.

Sure, Stevia is More Natural
But Is It Actually Better For You?
by Ryan Andrews

Every day, here at PN HQ we receive a ton of questions about sweeteners in general, artificial sweeteners in particular.

This is in part related to the natural relationship between sweeteners and food - nowadays we find sweeteners in almost everything.

However, beyond this simple relationship, many folks have noticed that in our Gourmet Nutrition v1 and Gourmet Nutrition v2 products, we've actually discussed the use of sweeteners like Stevia, Splenda, and Aspartame.

Because of this, people want to know whether Splenda is as bad as some folks say it is. They want to know if Aspartame can cause cancer? And they want to know if the "all natural" sweetener, Stevia, is a safe alternative to these "artificial" sweeteners.

So, in this week's newsletter, we're going to explore this last question in particular. Is Stevia a safe alternative to Splenda or Equal?

Of Course It Is - It's Natural

Now, before coming up with a knee jerk response - believing that Stevia MUST be better because it's natural - take a second to think this through.

Just because Splenda and Equal are laboratory produced while Stevia is a green, harmless looking plant, doesn't mean that Stevia is great while the other two are pure dietary evil.

After all, hallucinogenic mushrooms, ephedra sinica and poison hemlock all grow in the ground and are completely natural too. And I don't think too many of you would argue that somehow these organic materials, part of nature's bounty, are healthy to eat.

So, instead of making up your mind based on the natural vs. artificial debate, let's actually look into this plant, Stevia, and see what the research has to say.

Meet - Stevia
Stevia's real name is stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) and it is an herb native to Paraguay and Brazil.

It can grow to be the same height as your 3 year old nephew (about 3 feet tall). Well, unless that nephew has acromegaly and is abnormally large, like Andre the Giant.

Stevia has actually been used as a sweetener since the year 1600 and has been gaining popularity in recent years. Here's a little list of stevia facts:
--Stevia is about 250-300 times sweeter than sugar
--Stevia is stable to heat, making it safe for cooking
--Stevosides produced in stevia leaves = sweetness
--Specifically, the sweetness comes from the isosteviols
--Stevia is non-caloric
--Stevia doesn't promote dental caries, as does sugar
So far, so good.

Once harvested, stevia leaves are processed using water and alcohol. Next, they're subjected to enzymatic catalysis. Finally, we get stevia extracts. These extracts are then sold as commercial sweetening agents. Indeed, this process has been used for more than 30 years in Japan and Brazil.

Stevia as a Supplement
The USDA was introduced to stevia between 1918 and 1921. And ever since, they continue to greet it with CLOSED arms.

Since stevia grows naturally, it requires no patent to produce it. This has led some to believe that the reason it hasn’t been approved for use as a food additive in the U.S. and Canada is based on financial motivations.

As a result, in the U.S. and Canada, stevia is currently considered a dietary supplement. This shouldn’t be taken lightly. Food manufacturers need to check themselves if they start using it in foods (see here).

Unlike the US and Canada, Japan approved stevia extract as a sweetener around 1970. They have used it in gums, cereals, toothpastes, mouthwash, sodas, etc.

Back in 1941, during World War II, the British seriously studied the possibility of commercially extracting stevia as an alternative to their threatened sugar supplies. For individuals looking to sweeten tea, coffee, etc – and wanted to avoid artificial compounds - stevia seemed to be the next best option.

Yet they never adopted it...

Are You Using?
The term “eight ball” is slang for 1/8 of an ounce or 3.5 grams of methamphetamine or cocaine.

Just in case you’re wondering, “eight ball” is not a term used when dealing stevia.

Rather, much of the stevia in North America is measured out in packets, tinctures or tablets.
-1 packet usually contains about 85 mg of stevia extract
-4 drops of tincture will usually contain about 40 mg of stevia
-1 tablet usually has about 50 mg of stevia
Brands tend to vary, so keep that in mind. These numbers will be useful as we get into some of the research.

Is It Safe?
When a chemical is being studied for safety, scientists first do what's called a LD50 test.

If you need a quick refresher on pharmacology, LD50 is the dose of a substance required to kill 50% of the tested population. For obvious reasons, these studies are done in animal populations - and not in humans.

When it comes to stevia, a study back in 1975 reported an LD50 of 15 grams of stevia per kilogram of body weight. For example, if you're 220lbs, or 100kg, it would take 1500grams to kill you. And if you're 110lbs, or 50kg, it would take 750g to kill you.

Uh, that's a lot! Indeed, that's about 15,000 to 30,000 tablets.

Interestingly, however, another study found that the LD50 min mice was only 2 grams per kilogram. Again, at 220lbs, that's only 200grams (or 4,000 tablets). And at110lbs, that's only 100g (or 2,000 tablets).

2g vs. 15g - that's a pretty wide range of results - something kinda scary when we're talking about death and all. However, let's get real here, no healthy person free of some sort of stevia allergy is dying of a stevia overdose.

The table below summarizes the LD50 study results.

Species_____Gender_____LD50 (g/kg body weight)_____Reference
Mouse________M & F _______>15 grams per kilogram____ Toskulkao 1997
Mouse________M___________>2 grams per kilogram______Medon 1995
Rat___________M & F _______>15 grams per kilogram____ Toskulkao 1995
Hamster_______M & F _______>15 grams per kilogram____ Toskulkao 1995
*To provide a little perspective, the LD50 of caffeine in rats is 192mg/kg. So, for a 60kg human, that would be about 11,500mg or 11.5grams of caffeine. Therefore, relatively speaking, caffeine is much more lethal relative to stevia.
So, in the end, it doesn't look like any of us will be ODing on stevia anytime soon.

However, it's important to look at the stevia safety data in another way. For this, researchers look at the "no adverse effect" level studied in rats.

The "no-effect" level for stevia is about 794 mg/kg. That means about 7.94 mg/kg/day would be safe for humans. This 7.94 mg/kg/day value is based on a very conservative safety factor of 100X. And, technically speaking, this is typically called the ADI (or acceptable daily intake).

You could probably get away with quite a bit more. However, I'm not sure I'd be the one signing up to test that theory out.
Note: in terms of numbers, for a 110lb adult, that would be about 400mg per day (or about 5 packets) and for a 220lb adult, that would be about 800mg per day (or about 10 packets).

Also note: it's interesting to consider that in studies with Splenda/sucralose, the ADI is actually 15mg/kg/day. Relative to the ADI of about 8mg/kg/day for stevia, this means double the Splenda/sucralose could be consumed without adverse events.
Steviol and DNA
Interestingly although most of that data we've reviewed so far doesn't raise any red flags for stevia use, there have some negative data published. Indeed, these data suggest excessive use of stevia might lead to health issues, starting with DNA damage.

These data are mixed, however, and have been collected in rats and mice. In total, there are about 10 studies showing that stevia doesn't cause DNA damage. However, there are a handful more that show that a natural breakdown product of stevia metabolism - steviol - can damage our DNA.

Not so good. And definitely something to consider.

Reviewing The Research

At this point, let's review the most accessible research looking at stevia.
See the site.
The Verdict
In preparing this article, we read through quite a bit of stevia information. And the balance of it suggests that in low-moderate doses, stevia probably won't cause any health problems.

Although, we should mention that some of the toxicity data is odd. And some of the DNA damage info is enough to give one pause. So, our advice to you is this:
Apply for grant money so you can do more stevia research.
Ok, ok. If you don’t get around to doing that, then consider your overall stevia use. If it's moderate, you're probably fine. However, just like with other sweeteners, problems can probably develop at higher doses.

For what it's worth, we here at PN aren't moved by stevia either way.

Just like with Splenda, the research doesn't convince us that there's any need for fear or paranoia. Nor does the research convince us that stevia (or Splenda) is friendly, helpful, or necessary.

A little bit of it each day in some tea, coffee, oatmeal, or a protein shake is probably fine. But we wouldn’t break out the stevia cookbook just yet.

What About My Cookies?
But what if you want some cookies - and you want them sweet? We say, make some real cookies. And eat them infrequently.

Use a whole grain flour, unrefined sweetener (like date sugar or evaporated cane), and other healthy organic ingredients. And then eat them after exercise, with a PW meal.

That way, you get something sweet, get some quality nutrition and don’t have to second guess your use of “alternative” sweeteners.

Gourmet Nutrition and the Gourmet Nutrition Desserts books have quite a few ideas on this front.

However, just like with stevia, Splenda, etc, you've got to be careful with ALL sweeteners. Even with the "natural" ones - date sugar, cane, etc. - overindulgence can lead to fat gain, blood sugar swings, and problems with insulin sensitivity.

So your best bet is to get control of that sweet tooth.

No, you don't have to eliminate sweet things altogether. Yet keeping your sugar and sweetener use in check is one sure-fire way to improve your health and body composition.

Neuroscience: Psychotherapy’s Executioner?

I've been wanting to mention this post for a while now. It raises a point that many of us who support the "soft science" of psychology are concerned about. Brain Blogger addresses the rise of neuroscience in this post, Neuroscience: Psychotherapy’s Executioner?

Psychiatry and Psychology Category

Within the field of psychology more and more research is based on the functioning of the brain. Even in fields such as social psychology, which traditionally was opposed to looking at the relationship between brain and behavior, neuroscience is growing. More and more psychological disorders are being explained in relation to neurological function or dysfunction. Depression is caused by too few or too many neurotransmitters. Schizophrenia is caused by a “mis-wired” brain. Anxiety is caused by a hyper-reactive sympathetic nervous system (and possibly an abnormal amygdala). We are overweight because of hypothalamic problems and can’t sleep because our reticular activating systems are out of whack.

All psychopathology is now being described in neurological terms. Many believe this implies that all psychopathology is now treatable and curable by medication because all psychopathology has a biological basis. Cartesian dualism is alive and well; in fact, it’s never been stronger.

Does this spell out impending doom for psychotherapy? Can we simply medicate our problems away?

Let’s return to philosophy to find out. The increasing emphasis on the brain is leading to a blurring between what is mind and what is body. Perhaps, Descartes’ philosophy isn’t as strong today as we thought. If body and mind are not separate entities then we no longer have a dualism but rather a monism. This implies that psychopathology is, at its core, nothing more than pathological brain function or structure. For example, according to the philosophy that underlies the neuroscience of psychopathology, depression is nothing more than a perhaps smaller cingulated gyrus and basal forebrain with abnormally low production or abnormally high re-uptake of serotonin and norepinephrine. This does not, however, imply that behavioral or cognitive therapies are not necessary and that all psychopathology is ultimately treatable by medication or electrode implants or neurogenesis or whatever the next neuroscience fad is.

Having no distinction between mind and body or brain and behavior (a monism opposed to a dualism) implies that affecting either mind or body affects both because they really are the same. As confusing as that sounds, it’s an important concept. It means that psychotherapy is not threatened with extinction by neuroscience or pharmaceuticals. Treating the mind (behavior) changes the body (brain). Conversely, treating the body (brain) changes the mind (behavior). There is room for both biological and psychological therapies. There are people who seek a purely biological cure and those who eschew biology for psychology. However, the ultimate solution lies in moderation — a balance between the two.

I agree with his conclusions. And I am glad that he raised the mind/body issue. The more we learn about the "mind," whatever that may be, the more we come to see that the mind cannot be separate from the body. We are not body and mind, we are bodymind.

Talk therapy, parts work, CBT, behavior modification, mindfulness -- all these approaches and many more prove effective at changing the functions of behavior, thinking, and feeling, all of which then change the biochemical functioning of the brain.

From what I have seen in myself and my friends, we often need some chemical intervention to quiet the symptoms long enough to take advantage of traditional psychotherapy approaches (which goes to sources). When the therapy has alleviated the psychic turmoil, the chemicals are often no longer needed.

The risk right now is that the hard science of neuroscience has taken over the field and psychopharmacology is all the rage -- even more than it used to be. But as yesterday's post on mindfulness in therapy shows, there is still much to learn in the soft science of psychology and therapy.