Saturday, June 14, 2008

Brain Science Podcast #39: Michael Arbib on Mirror Neurons

I just recently found this site, Brain Science Podcast and Blog with Dr. Ginger Campbell. Dr. Campbell does some cool podcasts on brain science, such as this one: Brain Science Podcast #39: Michael Arbib on Mirror Neurons.

Here is the whole post, with linkage and other good stuff.

Episode 39 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with Dr. Michael Arbib from the University of Southern California. Dr. Arbib’s work with functional brain imaging has established the presence of mirror neurons in the human brain. In our interview we focused on the role of mirror neurons in imitation and language. In particular I questioned Dr. Arbib about the Mirror System Hypothesis (MSH) of Language Evolution that he proposed in 1998 with Giacomo Rizzolatti. We also explored how this hypothesis diverges from the universal grammar proposed by Noam Chomsky. Dr. Arbib also shared his enthusiasm for future research and we talked about the special challenges caused by the interdisciplinary nature of modern neuroscience.

Listen to the Interview

Related Episodes:

Scientists Mentioned in the Interview:

  • Giacomo Rizzolatti: His team discovered mirror neurons at the University of Parma, Italy
  • Other team members: Vittorio Gallese, Luciano Fadiga, and Leo Fogassi
  • Ursula Bellugi (Salk Institute): pioneered the neurobiology of sign language
  • Richard Byrne (University of St. Andrews): studies how gorillas learn in the wild
  • Michael Tomasello (Max Planck Institute for Comparative Anthropology): studies social behavior of primates, including how communicative gestures vary between groups.
  • Noam Chomsky (MIT): famous linguist who has proposed an inborn universal grammar
  • DL Cheney and RM Seyfarth: research about primate vocal behavior, especially the use of calls in the wild.


Other Links:

Listen to Episode 39 of the Brain Science Podcast

Cornel West - To Be a Leftist in the 21st Century

I like Cornel West. I quite often disagree with him, but he always makes me think critically about my beliefs.

This video is sure to earn the derision of conservatives, but that's cool. I think he makes some good points here.


Howard Bloom - The Lucifer Principle and Human Evolution

I love Howard Bloom's books, and The Lucifer Principle is the only one I have not yet read. Arthur posted this short video over at the I-I pod at Gaia/Zaadz.

The book has not been without controversy. Here is the entry at Wikipedia:
The Lucifer Principle (1995, ISBN 0871135329) is a book by Howard Bloom. It "explores the intricate relationships among genetics, human behavior, and culture" and argues that "evil is a by-product of nature's strategies for creation and that it is woven into our most basic biological fabric".[1] It sees violence as central to the creation of the 'superorganism'[2] of society and the inevitable 'pecking orders' and hierarchies inherent in human social groups.

The book was criticized in a review in the Atlantic Monthly Press for ascribing moral notions such as 'good' and 'evil' to the essentially amoral world of nature. Other reviews[3] saw it as 'ambitious' and 'disturbing' in its conclusions that societies based on individual freedom might succumb to systems such as communism or islamic fundamentalism.[4] [5] The Washington Post said that "Readers will be mesmerized by the mirror Bloom holds to the human condition... He draws on a dozen years of research into a jungle of scholarly fields...and meticulously supports every bit of information...." while Chet Raymo in the Boston Globe termed it "a string of rhetorical firecrackers that challenge our many forms of self-righteousness."

Bloom later wrote[6] that he and his publisher had been threatened by Islamic groups who objected to aspects of the book. He claimed that "Arab pressure groups asked ever so politely that The Lucifer Principle be withdrawn from print and that nothing that I write be published again. They offered to boycott my publisher's products — all of them — worldwide. And they backed their warning with a call for my punishment in seventeen Islamic countries." Bloom states that the Attorney for the Authors Guild wrote to his publishers, warning of an author boycott if the book was pulled from the shelves. The publishers asked Bloom to rewrite a chapter on Islamic violence, which led to the creation of 358 lines of footnotes attesting to the facts he presented within it.

Here are a few links, also from Wikipedia:

Friday, June 13, 2008

Ego States as Subpersonalities

It seems that nearly every theory of psychology has its own version of subpersonalities, whether they refer to them by that term or not. The Jungians have complexes. Psychosynthesis has actual subpersonalities, and may be the source of the term. The Freudians have ego states. To be fair, John G. and Helen Watkins (creators of ego state theory and therapy) are not traditional Freudians, but they are firmly entrenched in the psychoanalytic tradition and use many of its terms in their theoretical work.

The description I want to post here is one of the best definitions of subs/parts/ego states that I have read anywhere, revealing many of the fine details of how these other "selves" function in us.

What follows is a lengthy passage from the Watkins' book, Ego States: Theory and Therapy. I've added links where they might be useful.
To understand and deal with ego states one must consider their origin. Often they were first created when the individual was quite young. Accordingly, they think concretely like a child. Adult logic may not reach them, even though they often talk in an adult voice. It is as if they were frozen in time. Covert ego states, unlike the alters in a true multiple personality, require hypnosis for their activation. But if they first originated when the patient was a child, then one should think of them like a small girl who is dressed up in mother's clothes and pretending to be an adult.

Most adults have lost the ability to think concretely like a child, and thus we are at a disadvantage in dealing with child ego states, especially when they are not so differentiated as true multiple personality alters [editor's note: MPD is now called dissociative identity disorder]. States that were created during the subject's adolescence will think like a teenager, rejecting and suspicious of grown-ups and very defensive of their own independence; they don't want to be told what is right or what they ought to do. ... In dealing with child and adolescent states, one should conceptualize to whom one is talking and conduct the interaction accordingly. The clinician who resonates well (Watkins, J., 1978a) will be more successful.

One should be mindful that a child ego state was formed to adapt to the conditions of yesteryear, not today, and that often its attempts to function today result in maladaptation. As one inquires and secures some information about the time and the circumstances when an ego state first appeared, one's approach can be modified accordingly, even though one in confronted ostensibly with a full-grown adult. This modification can be done without embarrassment under hypnosis.

Another characteristic of an ego state is that it was probably developed to enhance the individual's ability to adapt and cope with a specific problem or situation. Thus, one ego state may have taken over the overt, executive position when dealing with parents, another on the playground, another during athletic contests, etc.

In the case of a true multiple personality, the specific situation is usually some very severe trauma such as child abuse. An ego state formed to help in dissociating the pain from the primary alter or to make it easier for the major personality to deal with an abuser without inviting retaliation. It is to be expected that these specific ego states will be reactivated in the transferences of the present, such as to teachers, employers, supervisors, colleagues -- and therapists (Watkins & Watkins, 1990a).

Another common trait is that once created, ego states are highly motivated to protect and continue their existence. The clinician who tries to eliminate a maladaptive state will find to his dismay that the entity probably does not disappear, but that one's intervention has now created an internal enemy who resists therapeutic intervention. Part-persons seek to protect their existence, as do whole-persons. ... It is much easier to modify the motivations of ego states and change their behavior constructively than it is to attempt their total elimination.

A related corollary to this persistence in existence is to realize that the original ego state came into being to protect and facilitate the adaptation of the primary person. It remained because it had a certain amount of success. And from what we have learned about behavior modification we can recognize that it was positively reinforced, first for coming into existence, then for continuing its being. Never mind that now its efforts may be counterproductive. The earliest conditionings hold precedence.

We must recognize the differences in the environment of the past and that of today. One cannot generally induce a state to change into an adaptive stance toward today's adult problems when its earlier struggles are not understood by the treating clinician. Recognition of these traits are essential in the planning and conduct of effective therapeutic maneuvers (such as abreactions).

Often when working with ego states the internal equilibrium of the subject will change in such a way that a new ego state (or one which has been long dormant) will be energized and will make itself known. This state may first manifest itself by slight changes in posture, mannerism, or voice pitch.

Ego states that are cognitively dissonant from one another or have contradictory goals frequently develop conflicts with one another. When they are highly energized and have rigid, impermeable boundaries, multiple personality may result. However, many such conflicts appear between ego states only covertly, and are frequently manifested by anxiety, depression, or any number of neurotic symptoms and maladaptive behaviors. (Watkins & Watkins, 29-30)
This is textbook subpersonality theory, and it covers many essential elements important to specific theories within the field of subpersonality work.

One qualm I have with this approach is the felt need for hypnosis. While I am sure that it is a useful tool, it seems to me unnecessary in the majority of cases. More often than not, such standard techniques as empty chair, active imagination, or voice dialogue, among many options, will do the job quite nicely when accessing ego states.

The key points from this passage that I want to highlight:

1) Ego states, or parts, were created when we were young. This being the case, they think like children, concretely.
2) Most ego states arise as a protective measure for the core self. While not as extreme as alters in DID, they serve the same purpose - to protect the fragile and vulnerable self.
3) When ego states were formed, their behavioral patterns were adaptive and useful, or they would not have persisted. While they may not be adaptive in adults, they (the ego states) don't realize that they are not helping, which is why they arose in the first place.
4) When an ego state, or part, "hijacks" the self, it assumes the role of executive in the self system, and we often do not realize we have been hijacked until after the fact.
5) Ego states, or parts, do not give up control easily. They see it as their sacred duty to keep protecting the self from any situation that resembles the one in which it came online. In IFS theory, these ego states are actually protecting much more fragile ego states, called exiles. Until those exiles are healed, the protector states aren't going anywhere. And any attempt to dislodge them will make them even more militant.
6) Ego states, or parts, can be in conflict with each other, especially when one state wants to engage in an activity that another state feels might be to risky in some way (embarrassment, shame, fear, or pain, and so on).

I hope to post one more entry on this topic, looking more closely at the origin of ego states, as theorized by the Watkins.

The Thrill Is Gone--B.B. King & Tracy Chapman

Awesomely soulful blues.


Daily Om - Life Transitions

This was yesterday's Daily OM. This is the essential message of the change articles listed on the sidebar.

Life Transitions
The Death And Rebirth Of Self

Sometimes a part of us must die before another part can come to life. Even though this is a natural and necessary part of our growth, it is often painful or, if we don’t realize what’s happening, confusing and disorienting. In fact, confusion and disorientation are often the messengers that tell us a shift is taking place within us. These shifts happen throughout the lives of all humans, as we move from infancy to childhood to adolescence and beyond. With each transition from one phase to another, we find ourselves saying good-bye to an old friend, the identity that we formed in order to move through that particular time.

Sometimes we form these identities in relationships or jobs, and when we shift those areas of our life become unsettled. Usually, if we take the time to look into the changing surface of things, we will find that a shift is taking place within us. For example, we may go through one whole chapter of our lives creating a protective shell around ourselves because we need it in order to heal from some early trauma. One day, though, we may find ourselves feeling confined and restless, wanting to move outside the shelter we needed for so long; the new part of ourselves cannot be born within the confines of the shell our old self needed to survive.

We may feel a strange mixture of exhilaration and sadness as we say good-bye to a part of ourselves that is dying and make way for a whole new identity to emerge in its place. We may find inspiration in working with the image of an animal who molts or sheds in order to make way for new skin, fur, or feathers to emerge. For example, keeping a duck feather, or some other symbol of transformation, can remind us that death and rebirth are simply nature’s way of evolving. We can surrender to this process, letting go of our past self with great love and gratitude, and welcoming the new with an open mind and heart, ready for our next phase of life.

Tim Russert, Dead at 58

Tim Russert, the host of NBC's "Meet the Press," died Friday of an apparent heart attack. He was 58. Blessings to his family and friends.


The news stories are all brief, as this is breaking news. I'm sure there will be more in the coming days.

Winona LaDuke on The Colbert Report

Funny. Stephen asks former Green Party vice presidential candidate and Native American activist Winona LaDuke what it's like to be an oppressed elitist.

Daily Dharma - Wholehearted Commitment

This was yesterday's Daily Dharma from Tricycle.

Wholehearted Commitment

Few people are capable of wholehearted commitment, and that is why so few people experience a real transformation through their spiritual practice. It is a matter of giving up our own viewpoints, of letting go of opinions and preconceived ideas, and instead following the Buddha's guidelines. Although this sounds simple, in practice most people find it extremely difficult.Their ingrained viewpoints, based on deductions derived from cultural and social norms, are in the way.

We must also remember that heart and mind need to work together. If we understand something rationally but don't love it,there is no completeness for us, no fulfillment. If we love something but don't understand it, the same applies.

If we have a relationship with another person, and we love the person but don't understand him or her, the relationship is incomplete; if we understand the person but don't love him or her, it is equally unfulfilling. How much more so on our spiritual path. We have to understand the meaning of the teaching and also love it. In the beginning our understanding will only be partial, so our love has to be even greater.

~ Ayya Khema, from When the Iron Eagle Flies

Bhutan: The World's Last Shangri La Is Facing Major Change

It's a tough time to be shifting from a successful and well-loved monarchy to a democratic system of government, but that is what has been happening in Bhutan is recent years. This video takes a look at the process from the people's point of view.

Psychedelic Science - Documentary

This is an older documentary (from the 1990s) that offers a fairly even-handed and objective look at the history and potential of psychedelics. There was a lot of great research before the government banned all research in the late 1960s. But in recent years, even more now than when this was made, some of those restrictions are being lifted (most notably in a "magical mushroom" study at UCLA focused on use of the drug in terminally ill patients).

Here is the blurb with the videos.
LSD's psychological effects (colloquially called a "trip") vary greatly from person to person, depending on factors such as previous experiences, state of mind and environment, as well as dose strength. They also vary from one trip to another, and even as time passes during a single trip. An LSD trip can have long term psychoemotional effects; some users cite the LSD experience as causing significant changes in their personality and life perspective. Widely different effects emerge based on what has been called set and setting; the "set" being the general mindset of the user, and the "setting" being the physical and social environment in which the drug's effects are experienced.

Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert considered the chemical to be of potentially beneficial application in psychotherapy. If the user is in a hostile or otherwise unsettling environment, or is not mentally prepared for the powerful distortions in perception and thought that the drug causes, effects are more likely to be unpleasant than if he or she is in a comfortable environment and has a relaxed, balanced and open mindset.

Some psychological effects may include an experience of radiant colors, objects and surfaces appearing to ripple or "breathe," colored patterns behind the eyes, a sense of time distorting (time seems to be stretching, repeating itself, changing speed or stopping), crawling geometric patterns overlaying walls and other objects, morphing objects, a sense that one's thoughts are spiraling into themselves, loss of a sense of identity or the ego (known as "ego death"), and powerful, and sometimes brutal, psycho-physical reactions interpreted by some users as reliving their own birth.[9][40]

Many users experience a dissolution between themselves and the "outside world".[41] This unitive quality may play a role in the spiritual and religious aspects of LSD. The drug sometimes leads to disintegration or restructuring of the user's historical personality and creates a mental state that some users report allows them to have more choice regarding the nature of their own personality.

Some experts hypothesize that drugs such as LSD may be useful in psychotherapy, especially when the patient is unable to "unblock" repressed subconscious material through other psychotherapeutic methods,[42] and also for treating alcoholism. One study concluded, "The root of the therapeutic value of the LSD experience is its potential for producing self-acceptance and self-surrender,"[43] presumably by forcing the user to face issues and problems in that individual's psyche. Many believe that, in contrast, other drugs (such as alcohol, heroin, and cocaine) which are used to escape from reality, LSD is seen as more of an introspective experience. Studies in the 1950s that used LSD to treat alcoholism professed a 50% success rate,[44] five times higher than estimates near 10% for Alcoholics Anonymous.[45]

Some LSD studies were criticized for methodological flaws, and different groups had inconsistent results. Mangini's 1998 paper reviewed this history. She concluded that the efficacy of LSD in treating alcoholism remains an open question.[46] Dr Abram Hoffer referred to Mangini's paper as "a good review of the literature" but said that, in common with many other scientists, the author has failed to grasp the important point that psychedelic therapy is a therapeutic experience.

The critics of psychedelic therapy have not taken this into account. Thus the Toronto studies studied the drug. They made no attempt whatever to induce a psychedelic experience. I saw at least two of the patients many years after they had been treated in Toronto and they told me that it was the most horrible experience they had ever had. It was in fact a true psychotomimetic experience and probably reproduced delirium tremens more than anything else. Not surprisingly their patients did not do well. They gave them 800 micrograms which is too heavy, gave them a barbiturate in advance to prevent convulsions, tied them to the bed so that they could not run away, and had sitting with them a psychologist who wrote notes all the time and did not interact with the patients.

—Abram Hoffer M.D, Ph.D, FRCP
Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Snapshots of Awakening

This week's One Minute Shift from IONS features Adyashanti, who I have never heard of before, but I like what he has to say.
Spiritual teacher and author, Adyashanti, shares many inspiring thoughts on awakening. Take a journey through thought-provoking images, inspired by his words of wisdom. “Authentic Awakening,” “Ruthless Honesty” and “Dissolving Divisions” are some of the titles for the snapshots brought to you in this One Minute Shift. You may want to watch this one more than once!

Rewriting Genesis . . . Accurately

The creation story retold in 10 minutes using modern science and plain words.


The funny thing about this is that when you think about it, we really are all composed of stardust. We are integrated parts of the Kosmos. It's awe inspiring and humbling.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Colbert Report: The Elitist Menace Among Us

I didn't know being an elitist was a menace, since the country was founded by a whole mess of elitists -- so elite they didn't trust the general population to pick a president, so they instituted the electoral college.

Anyway . . .

David Byrne: Playing the Building (BBTV)

This is pretty cool, and I'm not even a big fan of David Byrne.
In today's edition of Boing Boing tv, music legend David Byrne transforms an entire NYC building into a giant musical instrument, and Xeni joins him inside for a BBtv tour.

Details here on "Playing the Building", which is open and free of charge to the public in New York City through August 10, 2008.

Battery Maritime Building: PTB Mockup 2008

Addicted to Starvation: The Neurological Roots of Anorexia

This is a great article from the current issue of Scientific American Mind, now available for free at the Scientific American site. Treating anorexia as an addiction may be one valuable way of dealing with the disease. Potentially, it could open a pharmaceutical approach to treatment, since the current use of antidepressants does little good.

One of the curious findings is that many anorexics feel more energetic on their starvation diets. And contrary to what might happen to the rest of us, their metabolism actually increases rather than decreases. This may be a result of the increase in dopamine they experience.

Addicted to Starvation: The Neurological Roots of Anorexia

Anorexia may represent a profound psychiatric disorder that spawns an addiction to deprivation

By Trisha Gura

A recent tabloid captured the common wisdom about anorexia nervosa. In an interview, actor Christina Ricci blamed the pressures of success for her prior struggle with the disease. The headline flashed, “Ricci: Hollywood made me anorexic.”

But did it? True, anorexia is characterized by compulsive dieting or exercise to get thin. And the pursuit of thinness in contemporary culture—particularly in Hollywood—has become a seemingly contagious obsession. Yet there is thin, and then there is emaciated. Crossing over that line means a loss of a basic survival instinct—to eat in response to hunger—that culture should not be able to touch.

What is more, cultural cues cannot easily explain why the afflicted, who are shockingly skinny, misperceive themselves as fat. Anorexics also say they feel more energetic and alert when starving: starvation boosts their metabolic rate, which is in stark contrast to the slowing of metabolism that occurs in most people during a fast.

Such mysteries cry out for a biological explanation. To find one, researchers are probing the brains of anorexics; their work is painting a new picture of anorexia as a multifaceted mental illness whose effects extend far beyond appetite. The illness is accompanied by disturbances in the brain’s reward circuitry that may lead to a general inability to feel delight from life’s pleasures, be they food, sex or winning the lottery. As such, the ailment shares characteristics with drug addiction—the drug in this case being deprivation itself. The study of anorexia, therefore, may yield insights into brain mechanisms for producing pleasure and how something as seemingly unpalatable as starvation or extreme asceticism might, oddly, give rise to a sense of hedonism.

An estimated 0.5 to 3.7 percent of girls and women in the U.S. suffer from anorexia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. (One tenth as many males experience the illness.) At least two thirds of anorexics do not fully recover even after years of the current treatment, which consists largely of psychotherapy. As a result, anorexia still holds the record for the highest mortality rate (up to 20 percent) for any mental illness in young females. Cutting that death rate will require a new approach, experts say. “People have long been blaming families and media,” says psychiatrist Walter Kaye of the University of California, San Diego. “But eating disorders are biological illnesses, and better treatments will come from more biologically-based approaches.”

Diet as a Drug
Most people abhor dieting. But when a person with anorexia diets, he or she actually feels better—more alert and energetic—when starving. Anorexics do feel hunger pangs; they simply find ways to override them. Dieting becomes the ultimate accomplishment, a fix that a certain kind of dieter learns to crave.

The lack of food may function like an addictive drug for anorexics, says biologist Valerie Compan of CNRS in Montpellier, France. Almost every drug of abuse acts on the brain’s natural reward circuitry—and in particular on a pleasure hub called the nucleus accumbens—to boost the levels of a signaling chemical, or neurotransmitter, called dopamine. The release of dopamine prompts good feelings and also produces the “high” in the case of many abused drugs. Some such drugs, including the highly addictive club drug ecstasy, also suppress appetite—a clue that a refusal to eat might somehow arise from abnormal activity in the brain’s reward system.

In October 2007 Compan and her colleagues found some evidence for that idea. When the researchers injected ecstasy into the nucleus accumbens of mice, the rodents acted like anorexics. When they were offered food, the animals did not eat much, and when food was withheld, they did not work to get it. Ecstasy suppressed the rodents’ appetites, the researchers determined, by stimulating a receptor for the neurotransmitter serotonin. Activating that receptor on neurons in the nucleus accumbens led to the production of a neuro­transmitter associated with addiction called CART (for cocaine- and amphetamine-regulated transcript) that ultimately depressed the desire to eat.

PAGE 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Next»
I would be remiss here if I didn't mention that Internal Family Systems Therapy has been one of the most successful psychotherapies for dealing with the various trauma-related mental illnesses, including especially eating disorders and self-harm disorder.

The model does a great job of separating out the "part" that starves the client, or cuts the client, and determines its role as a protector of another part that is often very young and very vulnerable, a part that was "exiled" as a result of abuse (most often) or some other form of trauma.

When that protector part can be isolated and negotiated with, it will often allow access to the exiled part so that it can be healed. Once the exile has released its "burden," the protector will no longer need to do its job (of staring or cutting) and its energy can be reallocated to something more healthy.

This sounds like magical thinking to some people, but it is remarkably effective. Relapse is far less common in this approach than in traditional psychotherapies.

Jonathan Haidt - Nothing Is Good or Bad

The Big Think posted a video of Jonathan Haidt talking about happiness. Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so. I'm not so sure.

Haidt dislikes the contemplative traditions, such as Buddhism, because he feels it is contrary to who we are. I do agree that the contemplative tradition is not right for a lot of people. He distinguishes between Western, Americanized Buddhism and the actual truth of Buddhist practice. But I still think that most people can get a lot out of studying Buddhism and practicing meditation and mindfulness.

And here is Dan Gilbert talking about what it means to be happy at TED. [The video posted at Big Think wouldn't run this morning, so I substituted.] I like Gilbert. He argues that we are remarkably inept at knowing or predicting what will make us happy, which may support some of Haidt's arguments.

NYT: Gay Unions Shed Light on Gender in Marriage

An interesting article from the New York Times on how gay relationships are helping researchers understand gender roles in marriage. It seems that traditional gender roles (somewhat obviously) cease to exist in gay partnerships -- they are much more egalitarian.

Gay Unions Shed Light on Gender in Marriage

Published: June 10, 2008

For insights into healthy marriages, social scientists are looking in an unexpected place.

A growing body of evidence shows that same-sex couples have a great deal to teach everyone else about marriage and relationships. Most studies show surprisingly few differences between committed gay couples and committed straight couples, but the differences that do emerge have shed light on the kinds of conflicts that can endanger heterosexual relationships.

The findings offer hope that some of the most vexing problems are not necessarily entrenched in deep-rooted biological differences between men and women. And that, in turn, offers hope that the problems can be solved.

Next week, California will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, reigniting the national debate over gay marriage. But relationship researchers say it also presents an opportunity to study the effects of marriage on the quality of all relationships.

“When I look at what’s happening in California, I think there’s a lot to be learned to explore how human beings relate to one another,” said Sondra E. Solomon, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Vermont. “How people care for each other, how they share responsibility, power and authority — those are the key issues in relationships.”

The stereotype for same-sex relationships is that they do not last. But that may be due, in large part, to the lack of legal and social recognition given to same-sex couples. Studies of dissolution rates vary widely.

After Vermont legalized same-sex civil unions in 2000, researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 couples, including same-sex couples and their heterosexual married siblings. The focus was on how the relationships were affected by common causes of marital strife like housework, sex and money.

Notably, same-sex relationships, whether between men or women, were far more egalitarian than heterosexual ones. In heterosexual couples, women did far more of the housework; men were more likely to have the financial responsibility; and men were more likely to initiate sex, while women were more likely to refuse it or to start a conversation about problems in the relationship. With same-sex couples, of course, none of these dichotomies were possible, and the partners tended to share the burdens far more equally.

While the gay and lesbian couples had about the same rate of conflict as the heterosexual ones, they appeared to have more relationship satisfaction, suggesting that the inequality of opposite-sex relationships can take a toll.

“Heterosexual married women live with a lot of anger about having to do the tasks not only in the house but in the relationship,” said Esther D. Rothblum, a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University. “That’s very different than what same-sex couples and heterosexual men live with.”

Other studies show that what couples argue about is far less important than how they argue. The egalitarian nature of same-sex relationships appears to spill over into how those couples resolve conflict.

One well-known study used mathematical modeling to decipher the interactions between committed gay couples. The results, published in two 2003 articles in The Journal of Homosexuality, showed that when same-sex couples argued, they tended to fight more fairly than heterosexual couples, making fewer verbal attacks and more of an effort to defuse the confrontation.

Controlling and hostile emotional tactics, like belligerence and domineering, were less common among gay couples.

Same-sex couples were also less likely to develop an elevated heartbeat and adrenaline surges during arguments. And straight couples were more likely to stay physically agitated after a conflict.

“When they got into these really negative interactions, gay and lesbian couples were able to do things like use humor and affection that enabled them to step back from the ledge and continue to talk about the problem instead of just exploding,” said Robert W. Levenson, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

The findings suggest that heterosexual couples need to work harder to seek perspective. The ability to see the other person’s point of view appears to be more automatic in same-sex couples, but research shows that heterosexuals who can relate to their partner’s concerns and who are skilled at defusing arguments also have stronger relationships.

One of the most common stereotypes in heterosexual marriages is the “demand-withdraw” interaction, in which the woman tends to be unhappy and to make demands for change, while the man reacts by withdrawing from the conflict. But some surprising new research shows that same-sex couples also exhibit the pattern, contradicting the notion that the behavior is rooted in gender, according to an abstract presented at the 2006 meeting of the Association for Psychological Science by Sarah R. Holley, a psychology researcher at Berkeley.

Dr. Levenson says this is good news for all couples.

“Like everybody else, I thought this was male behavior and female behavior, but it’s not,” he said. “That means there is a lot more hope that you can do something about it.”

Based on this research, if the fundamentalists want to save the idea of marriage, their best bet would be to let gays and lesbians get married too. The breeders keep messing it up, and the non-breeders seem to be pretty good at it.

TED Talk - Julie Taymor: Theater and the Imagination

A great TED Talk on the artist and the need to respect the imagination of the audience. The Lion King is one of the most successful Broadway plays of all time.

She talks, in the beginning of the lecture, about an initiation ceremony she witnessed in Indonesia, which seem to me a living example of the origins of theater in ritual.

Here is a brief piece on the origins of Western Theater:
The earliest days of western theatre remain obscure, but the oldest surviving plays come from ancient Greece. Most philologists agree that Greek theatre evolved from staged religious choral performances, during celebrations to Dionysus the Greek God of wine and ecstasy (Dithyrambos). There are, however, findings suggesting the possible existence of theatre-like performances much earlier, such as the famous "Blind Steps" of the Minoan Palace at Knossos: a broad stone stairway descending to a flat stone courtyard that leads nowhere - an arrangement strongly suggesting that the courtyard was used for a staged spectacle and the stairway was in fact used as seating.
And here is some biography on Julie Taymor:
Director/designer Julie Taymor talks about her boundary-shattering theater work -- such as turning The Lion King into an astonishing live musical. The key? Always respect, and rely on, the audience's imagination.

Working in musicals, Shakespeare, film and opera, Julie Taymor is a wildly imaginative and provocative director and designer. She is perhaps best known for having translated the film The Lion King to Broadway, a still-running show for which she also designed costumes, masks and puppets, wrote music and lyrics -- and won two Tony Awards. (She is the first woman to win a Tony for directing a musical.) She's also received MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, as well as two Obies, an Emmy and an Oscar.

Her recent stage work has focused on opera, with a production of Mozart's The Magic Flute in New York in 2005, and Grendel, which she co-wrote, in Los Angeles and New York in 2006. Meanwhile, she has developed a fascinating career in the movies. Her most recent film is 2007's Across the Universe, a romp through the music of the Beatles. Add this to 1999's Titus, a visually remarkable adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, and the glorious Frida, a 2002 film about Frida Kahlo. Taymor is now working on a Broadway musical in collaboration with Bono based on Marvel Studios' Spider-Man.

Reverend Horton Heat - Psychobilly Freakout

This is what happens when a bunch of hillbilly punks drop acid and write a song.

Seriously, though, these guys are fun to see live.

Satire: Latest Cheney Tape May Contain Evidence Of His Whereabouts

The Onion is keeping an eye on the terrorism threat.

Latest Cheney Tape May Contain Evidence Of His Whereabouts

June 11, 2008 | Issue 44•24

WASHINGTON—Reports surfaced Tuesday that the New York–based Fox News Channel has obtained a tape which purportedly features another cryptic video message from U.S. vice president and known extremist Dick Cheney, widely regarded as the most feared man in America.

Enlarge Image Dick Cheney

Cheney calls on Americans around the world to join the fight in Iraq.

"We have analyzed the tape, and the voice on it matches up with earlier recordings of the vice president," said CIA spokesman George Little, who claimed the tape may contain valuable clues regarding the location of the elusive Cheney, who was last sighted in late 2005 along the border of Maryland and Virginia.

"Though more specific details on his whereabouts have yet to emerge, we do know two things," Little added. "Dick Cheney is still alive, and he is out there somewhere."

The tape, which is 18 minutes in length, contains grainy footage of what appears to be the vice president standing in front of a featureless brown background. Despite a history of heart problems, Cheney seems to be in good health, though he does appear agitated. Analysts said his hair is grayer than in previous tapes, and his hairline has receded by a half inch. He appears to be wearing the exact same suit he wore in his most recent video in 2004.

Enlarge Image Cheney Map

Federal law enforcement agencies track Cheney's movements by satellite.

Though Cheney makes no specific threats in the tape, he does issue vague warnings that the United States will soon face a large-scale attack.

"The possibility of a nuclear attack is very real," Cheney says in his speech, which he addresses to the "people of America." "It could happen tomorrow, it could happen a week from now, it could happen next year. It is not a matter of if, but when."

Cheney warns that, no matter what security measures the United States takes, the terrorists will remain determined to bring death and destruction to American soil. He goes on to insist that he will never give in, claiming that the country should be prepared for "decades of war."

"Praise be to God," adds Cheney, concluding his message.

Cheney reportedly makes reference to President Bush and the Iraq War, alludes to the 9/11 attacks 27 times, and warns eerily about Americans "making the wrong choice" in November. He also mentions current presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama by name, indicating that the tape was made recently and dispelling the rumor that Cheney died of a heart attack four years ago.

"We are closer than ever to finding the U.S. No. 2," FBI spokesman David Hart said. "Taking into account his last known whereabouts and the fact that his health condition makes it difficult for him to travel, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the vice president is still somewhere within our borders."

"God help us all," he added.

A number of experts suggest that Cheney has taken refuge in a D.C. war room, while some claim he is hiding out in an underground bunker beneath NORAD headquarters. Others speculate that Cheney crossed into Virginia two years ago and has been roaming the remote foothills of the Appalachian backwoods.

In a press conference yesterday, President Bush told reporters that he is prepared to do anything in his power to hunt down the vice president.

"This is our top priority," Bush said. "Before I make any further decisions regarding the situation in Iraq, the economy, or anything else, it is absolutely imperative that I find Dick Cheney."

Some conspiracy theorists, however, have begun to question the tape's authenticity.

"That video's a fake," said Bethesda, MD citizen Blake Bresler. "This Cheney looks fatter, and his lip snarl is on the wrong side. Also, if you look closely, those aren't Cheney's real glasses."

Whether or not the tape is legitimate, a growing number of citizens say the fact that Cheney is still on the loose can be traced back to failures by the Clinton White House.

"The only reason that this madman is still out there is because the previous administration messed up," said Richmond, VA resident Curt Meredith. "Bill Clinton should have killed him when he had the chance."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Camille Paglia - Obama's Best Veep Choice

Didn't know Paglia was an Obama girl. In her new article at Salon, Camille Paglia tells us just who is Obama's best VP choice. One of the names in the news has been Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, and it seems Paglia likes her, too, although she describes the governor as possessing a "blandly generic WASPiness that has persistently defined the American power structure in business and government and that has weirdly resisted wave after wave of immigration since the mid-19th century."

Here's the whole section:
As an Obama supporter, I of course see things quite differently. Whatever his tactical assertions in the primary trenches, Obama seems to have an open and flexible mind. He is a conciliator and synthesizer, ready to give due respect to opposing views -- a grace desperately needed in paralyzed Washington. When the camera comes close -- as it did last week when CNN's terrific Candy Crowley tenaciously grilled him about Hillary Clinton's prospects for the vice-presidency -- his deliberative thought process is plainly visible. What a deft performance under high-stakes pressure: Obama was firm, authoritative and methodical without ever losing his warmth and geniality. The guy is smart as a whip. And his administration will be as good as its appointments. As for Michelle Obama, she is formidable, representing a bold, stylish feminism more authentically contemporary than the old, bellyaching, blame-the-males style of Hillary's omnipresent cheerleader, Gloria Steinem.

Given the looming importance of national security concerns, I used to think that Virginia's pugnacious junior senator, Jim Webb, an ex-Marine, would be Obama's most prudent running mate. Obama doesn't need some veteran pol like the 66-year-old governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, who would simply make Obama look younger than he is. Arizona's ebullient Governor Janet Napolitano would certainly fill out my Italian-American dream ticket and help to nail down the Southwest. But I've come to feel that Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius is Obama's best bet. She is a polished public presence who epitomizes that cordial, smoothly reassuring, and blandly generic WASPiness that has persistently defined the American power structure in business and government and that has weirdly resisted wave after wave of immigration since the mid-19th century. An Obama-Sebelius pairing would be visually vibrant and radiant, like a new day dawning.

Hillary for veep? Are you mad? What party nominee worth his salt would chain himself to a traveling circus like the Bill and Hillary Show? If the sulky bearded lady wasn't biting the new president’s leg, the oafish carnival barker would be sending in the clowns to lure all the young ladies into back-of-the-tent sword-swallowing. It would be a seamy orgy of scheming and screwing. Hillary could never be content with second place. But neither could an alpha male like Obama. The vice-president should be an accomplished but subordinate personality. An Obama-Hillary ticket might tickle party regulars, but it would be a big fat minus in the general election. Republicans have shrewdly stockpiled a mammoth arsenal of past scandals to strafe Hillary with. Only a sentimental masochist would want to relive the tawdry 1990s.

More to the point, however, Paglia laments the resurgent male bashing that came out of the Clinton camp. Hillary tried to turn the Democratic contest into a giant gender issue, the kind of "identity politics" that conservatives love to see, since it often means an easy victory for them.
In point of fact, Hillary's sex helped her more than hurt her. What the media repeatedly claimed was her success in debate was predicated on her silencing of her male competitors, who were bullied into excess caution in dealing with a woman. Not one Democratic male dared attack or rebut her with the zest shown by all the Republican candidates jousting with each other. Hillary had to be coddled with elaborate deference -- or the delicate little woman would squawk bloody murder (as she did when she petulantly complained about always being given the first debate question). All of this rubbish was resurrected last week in the thousand mawkish excuses found by the media and her crooning acolytes for "giving her time" to withdraw from the race. No man would have been treated in that overconcerned way -- as a frail vessel of quivering emotion. Yet another blot on feminism, courtesy of Clinton, Inc.

And here’s another whopping female advantage: Hillary could jet around the country with an elaborate, color-keyed wardrobe and a professional hair and makeup crew, who plastered and insta-lifted her with dewy salon uber-ointments and cutting-edge technology before every appearance. No male candidate has ever had that theatrical privilege. (John Edwards, in contrast, was heaped with scorn for his simple yet pricey haircuts.) When the mega-prep for some reason failed -- as on a frigid morning in Iowa -- the resultant photo of Hillary in realistically wrinkled 60-year-old mode caused repercussions around the world. Golda Meir, with her robustly lived-in face and matriarchal jowls, would have given ever-primping Hollywood Hillary a derisive Bronx cheer.

There can be no doubt that Hillary's travails have reignited the feminist wars, which sputtered out in the mid-'90s after the rousing triumph of the insurgent pro-sex wing of feminism to which I belong. Grab your swords and saddle up, ladies! The spectral Steinem is clinging to Hillary like a limpet. Oh, and there's Susan Faludi wispily brooding in Steinem's papoose. Get ready to rumble: Male-bashing feminism is back with a vengeance.

My latest salvo, which opens with Hillary, will be published in two weeks by Arion: "Feminism Past and Present: Ideology, Action, and Reform," which was the keynote address of a conference called "The Legacy and Future of Feminism," held at Harvard University in April. The article may be available on Arion's Web site by late next week.

Thank god for Paglia. The last thing we need is a return to male bashing. If Clinton had been treated fairly, like all the other candidates, she would not have stayed in the race so long, having been defeated by her own version of pseudo-feminism -- conveying to voters that they should vote for her simply because she is a woman.

But how great would it be if Obama chose a woman as his running mate, a talented, engaging, intelligent woman who is his equal. Clearly, as anyone who has seen Michelle speak would guess, he is not afraid of powerful women.

Link Dump - Bikini Effect, the Brain, Evolution, Synapses, and Book Reviews

It's time for another link dump, so that I can clear some tabs and get Firefox back to functioning correctly. Lot's of good stuff this week, so let's dive in.

* * * * *

The Bikini Effect Makes Men Impulsive, by Robin Nixon, Special to LiveScience.

Bikinis and other sexy stimuli can make men more prone to seek immediate gratification — leading to blown diets, budgets and bank accounts, new research suggests.

In the study, detailed in the Journal of Consumer Research, men alternately fondled t-shirts and bras (which were not being worn during the test). After touching the bras, men valued the future less and the present more, said lead researcher Bram Van Den Bergh of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. Viewing ads with women in bikinis had the same effect.

It wasn't that the men were simply distracted by their sexual arousal, which caused them to choose more impulsively. On the contrary, they exhibited improved cognition and creativity after exposure to sexy stimuli.

The researchers conclude that there is one common appetite system in the brain monitoring our desire for a host of pleasures from sweets to pretty faces, alcohol to lotto winnings. When it is stimulated by, say, a sexy picture or the smell of baked goods, we experience a general craving for anything pleasant. "Basically, you just want to be rewarded," explained Barbara Briers, a researcher at HEC Paris School of Management. Briers, who has conducted related research, was not involved with this study.

OK, they really needed a study to know that men get impulsive when they see partially-clad women? That we think more rationally is quite a surprise, however. Good study, and I'm sure the marketing folks loved it -- more bikini beer ads.

* * * * *

Why the Brain Follows the Rules
, from Scientific American.
People are incredibly social beings, and we rely heavily on our interactions with others to thrive, and even survive, in the world. To avoid chaos in these interactions, humans create social norms. These rules and regulations establish appropriate and acceptable ways for us to act and respond to each other. For instance, when waiting in line, we expect people also to wait their turn. As a result, we get upset when someone decides to cut in line: they violated a social norm.

But how are social norms maintained? And what makes us comply with social norms? Primarily, the answer is that, if we don’t follow the rules, we might get in trouble. Numerous studies demonstrate that, when the threat of punishment is removed, people tend to disregard social norms. The neat and orderly line disintegrates.

It remains unclear, however, how the brain processes the threat of punishment when deciding whether or not to comply with a social norm. A recent study conducted by neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer and his colleagues at the University of Ulm in Germany and the University of Zurich in Switzerland tried to shed light on this mystery. The researchers put 24 healthy male students in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to see what parts of the brain were activated during a two-person social exchange with real monetary stakes.

* * * * *

New Theory For Evolution Of Brain Power from Medical News Today.
"Human intelligence has little to do with having a big brain", the headline suggested today. The newspaper report is based on a study that compared human brains with the brains of other species. The study found that "mammals have a higher percentage of proteins" in the regions where nerves connect to each other, called synapses. The researchers found that of the 600 proteins found in mammalian synapses, half were found in invertebrates, and only a quarter in single-celled organisms, which don't have nerves.

The newspaper quoted the lead researcher as saying, "This work leads to a new and simple model for understanding the origins and diversity of brains and behaviour in all species. We are one step closer to understanding the logic behind the complexity of human brains."

This complex study contributes to knowledge about the differences in one important group of proteins between the species. This study did not compare the relative contributions of differences in these proteins and brain size to intelligence in humans or any other species, therefore it is not possible to draw any conclusions about their relative importance. The brain is hugely complex, and there will be many internal and external factors contributing to differences in behaviour and learning both between and within species.
This is actually good science. The same is true in muscles. A big muscle is not necessarily stronger than a smaller muscle -- it comes down to muscle cell density.

* * * * *

The New York Times riffed on the same study in "Brainpower May Lie in Complexity of Synapses."
Evolution’s recipe for making a brain more complex has long seemed simple enough. Just increase the number of nerve cells, or neurons, and the interconnections between them. A human brain, for instance, is three times the volume of a chimpanzee’s.

A whole new dimension of evolutionary complexity has now emerged from a cross-species study led by Dr. Seth Grant at the Sanger Institute in England.

Dr. Grant looked at the interconnections between neurons, known as synapses, which until now have been regarded as a standard feature of neurons.

But in fact the synapses get considerably more complex going up the evolutionary scale, Dr. Grant and colleagues reported online Sunday in Nature Neuroscience. In worms and flies, the synapses mediate simple forms of learning, but in higher animals they are built from a much richer array of protein components and conduct complex learning and pattern recognition, Dr. Grant said.

The finding may open a new window into how the brain operates. “One of the biggest questions in neuroscience is to answer what are the design principles by which the human brain is constructed, and this is one of those principles,” Dr. Grant said.

If the synapses are thought of as the chips in a computer, then brainpower is shaped by the sophistication of each chip, as well as by their numbers. “From the evolutionary perspective, the big brains of vertebrates not only have more synapses and neurons, but each of these synapses is more powerful — vertebrates have big Internets with big computers and invertebrates have small Internets with small computers,” Dr. Grant said.

This article is a little easier to get since it focuses on one aspect of the study.

* * * * *

And now for a few book reviews, some psychology and some others.

From Prospect (both these books are reviewed in the same article):
Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate
by Kenan Malik (Oneworld, £18.99)

The Great Hall at the University of Reading is a lively piece of Victoriana: a broad neo-Romanesque structure suggestive of a nave, with a concave arched ceiling of gilt-edged rectangular sections painted a pastel green and decorated with rosettes.

The uniformity of its architectural style contrasts with the people I can see under its roof. Perhaps 200 students are at work here, and my guess, from their faces, is that between them they could trace their ancestry to Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, the far east and perhaps the Indian subcontinent.

These observations collide with Kenan Malik's insistence in his new book, Strange Fruit, that there is no such thing as race: that it is nothing more than a social construct, having little to do with biology. It is true that the history of racial thinking is mostly an odious embarrassment. And using the idea of race as an assertion of abrupt or clear genetic boundaries between peoples is wrong. All of humanity shares the same genes, and we can all happily and successfully interbreed. And, contrary to the pronouncements of some well-known public figures, there is no evidence that human groups differ in the genetic factors that cause intelligence or even cognitive abilities in general. But we mustn't take this to mean that there are no differences among us. Variants of our shared genes do differ among human groups. If my ancestors were from the far east, I would have the epicanthal fold of skin above my eyes so distinctive of peoples from that region. Were I able to trace my ancestry to the Ethiopian highlands, it is likely that I would have a wiry frame and sinewy muscles. And were my ancestors from the Tibetan plateau, it is likely that my body shape would be good at conserving heat. I could go on; and the list could contain far more than morphological characters—just think, for example, of who carries genes to protect against malaria or to digest milk proteins as adults.

Trust: Self-interest and the Common Good
by Marek Kohn (OUP, £10.99)

Co-operation among unrelated humans is a different matter. If you help someone and they don't help you back, you lose. Co-operative societies can soar to great heights, but they can cost you dearly, as when cheats take the spoils of co-operation without returning the benefits. This means that humans have evolved sensitive mechanisms to discriminate between people likely to share their co-operative values from those that do not.

Trust, the topic of Marek Kohn's book of the same name, is what arises from this discrimination—and Kohn rightly recognises that trust promotes both self-interest and the common good. As individuals, we toil to build reputations as a way of advertising our trustworthiness and of attracting like-valued people. Indeed, it is hard to overstate the importance of co-operative social systems to our psychology and social behaviour. If trust is the fuel of our co-operation, reputation is the currency with which we buy it. Apes, dolphins and ants don't feel shame or engage in honour killings.

This view of what makes humans tick also helps us to understand the awkwardness of the public debate about multiculturalism. Malik asserts that there is a tendency for what he calls the liberal left to "resurrect racial concepts" in framing their views on multiculturalism. Thus we grant authenticity, and equal but separate status, to the different desires and practices of some groups on the basis of their deep cultural heritage: consider the recent uproar over sharia law. Malik doesn't suggest these liberals are racist, just that the language they use—of ethnicity, authenticity and identity—is laden with racial baggage and reminiscent of that used by the old racists when justifying their exclusionary views.

* * * * *

Next up, two reviews from Metapsychology Online Reviews.

Review - The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding, by Mark Johnson; University Of Chicago Press, 2007. Review by Tom Sparrow.
Mark Johnson's book is a welcome contribution to the recent philosophical literature meant to expound the ontological, epistemological, aesthetic, and moral implications of research coming out of second-generation cognitive science. It belongs in the company of theorists like George Lakoff, Antonio Damasio, Eugene Gendlin, Shaun Gallagher, and Francisco Varela. Its specific aim is to develop and defend a theory of embodied cognition which gets beyond objectivist and dualist metaphysics, and which is intended to ground the meaning of human experience in body-environment interactions. As Johnson puts it: "This book is about meaning--what it is, where it comes from, and how it is made" (ix). This engagement with the whence and whither of meaning is situated by Johnson in the field of aesthetics, by which he means "the study of everything that goes into the human capacity to make and experience meaning" (x). Using this broadened definition, The Meaning of the Body argues for the bodily/aesthetic basis of all philosophy--as well as logic, mathematics, and language (cf. 102, 181, 195)--and for an expansive understanding of meaning as such. In Johnson's words, "meaning is not just a matter of concepts and propositions, but also reaches down into the images, sensorimotor schemas, feelings, qualities, and emotions that constitute our meaningful encounter with our world. Any adequate account of meaning must be built around the aesthetic dimensions that give our experience its distinctive character and significance" (xi-xii).
Review - The Situated Self, by J. T. Ismael; Oxford University Press, 2007. Review by James Dow.
J. T. Ismael's The Situated Self provides a unique account of the relation between self and world. The book has three major parts. The first part explores an account of the situated mind with emphasis on reflexive representation-- the self is situated in the physical world through mental representations defined as egocentric maps that enable navigation through an environment. The second part employs ideas developed in the first part to address traditional problems in philosophy: Frank Jackson's (1986) argument for dualism, the problem of the inverted spectrum, and McTaggart's (1908) argument against time as an intrinsic property of events. The third part provides details for Ismael's account of the self, which is defined as "a sealed pocket of world-representing structure" (182).
* * * * *

Alrighty then, that's a wrap.