Saturday, September 27, 2008

McCain Couldn't Look at Obama in Debate

Someone who studies primates observed that McCain acted in deference to Obama by not being to make eye contact, which indicates his sense that Obama is the alpha male. Can't argue with that logic - it's obvious in this video.

Here is Alternet's take on it, which looks more at the pseudo condescension McCain exhibited toward Obama in the video above.

Those of you who have read my posts in the past know that I can be as wonky and policy-oriented as anyone. But what really struck me most about the first presidential debate was this:

John McCain acted like a jerk.

Not once did McCain look Barack Obama in the eye. That's right — John McCain refused to even look at Obama, a man who is making an historic bid to become the next president of the United States. Say what you will about Obama, but I don't think anyone believes that he does not deserve eye contact once in 90 minutes.

McCain was dismissive and derisive. He treated Obama with disdain and condescension. He was smug, arrogant, and patronizing. He simply refused to take Obama seriously. And he repeatedly smirked, giggled, snickered and mocked.

This isn't a fucking joke. It really isn't.

This is about our lives, and the lives of our families, our children, our grandchildren and everyone we love. The lives of billions of people around the world, and literally all life on this planet. But John McCain grins and snickers as if it were Scary Movie 3, not a country and world that seems to get scarier by the day.

Giggling and smirking and not taking important people and issues seriously — remind you of anyone? McCain's behavior did not make him seem presidential. It made him seem like George W. Bush. Only older. Much older. And old enough to know better.

It was disturbing to witness. Remember, the subject of the debate was foreign policy. If this is the way McCain treats a man who may be the next president of the United States, how would he treat foreign leaders whose countries are increasingly interconnected with ours? Would he also refuse to acknowledge their presence when he is standing right next to them? Would he ridicule their values and treat them like children as they share their thoughts on what makes a nation great?

In contrast Barack Obama was polite and respectful — many would say to a fault. When he thought that McCain was right about something or that they agreed on an issue, he was not afraid to admit it. When he disagreed with McCain, he was firm and direct. And when McCain lied about Obama's positions, Obama was sharp and forceful. But he was never a jerk.

Obama recognizes that he and McCain are in the same tough business, and that it takes more than luck to stay in it for as long as McCain has. So, despite their differences and the way the McCain campaign has treated him, Obama treats McCain with respect. And I respect that. But I have little respect for someone like McCain, who appears incapable of even acknowledging a talented, intelligent, formidable upstart even when he is standing a few feet from him.

Once again, look at this through the lens of foreign policy. Obama showed that he is someone who can listen and engage, even when he disagrees. Someone who knows that serious people should be taken seriously and not be snickered at or painted as caricatures, even if you think they are fundamentally wrong. Someone who knows that your opponents deserve respect, and that looking them in the eye and acknowledging their presence shows strength and confidence, not weakness.

One commenter on Digg noted that not only was it Obama who crossed the stage after the debate to shake McCain's hand, but he returned with Michelle Obama when Cindy McCain joined her husband onstage. That's what you would call class.

McCain and the Republicans can pretend they won the debate because McCain kept repeating that Obama "didn't understand" the issues and treated Obama like uneducated, "uppity" hired help. But with the way McCain acted during the debate, it was clear that John McCain clearly doesn't understand how to act like a president. And Barack Obama does.

Nick Nilsson - Swiss Ball Get-Ups With Barbell, Dumbells & Kettlebells

A cool exercise that will kick your butt and give you some serious full-body strength. Give it a try and see how it feels.
Swiss Ball Get-Ups With Barbell, Dumbells, and Kettlebells

By Nick Nilsson

You may have heard of an exercise knows as the Turkish Get-Up. It's a simple exercise. Basically, you start from lying on the floor and holding a dumbell up at arms length. Now, keeping that dumbell at arms length, you get up to a standing position.

This is a great exercise for developing real-world strength. If you can get up holding that dumbell up, you develop great core strength.

This exercise is very similar in concept but instead of starting lying on the floor, you instead start lying on a Swiss Ball.

I've found this version of the exercise to more strongly target the abs while not being quite as difficult to master in terms of technique. It's a tough one but an excellent one for developing that real-world strength I mentioned above.

So first, get a Swiss ball and a fairly light dumbell - you don't need much for this one. Lie back on the ball and hold the one dumbell at arms-length directly up. Your feet should be fairly wide apart, knees very bent (you'll see why in a second).

Now crunch forward, keeping the dumbell at arms-length.

Now you see why your knees were bent! Because you need them bent to move to the bottom squat position to begin standing up. Bring your other arm forward for counterbalance and keep that dumbell directly overhead at arms-length.

Now stand all the way up!

Now you're going to start sitting back down on the ball. If the ball moved at all, use your free hand to feel for where it is and help roll it back into position.

Once you're seated, get yourself back into the bottom of the crunch position.

That's it! You've done one rep. And you've kept that arm straight the whole time! Once your shoulder gets tired on that side (or your core on that side is fatigued), switch the dumbell to the other hand and go again. I'll include more pics below.

There are two other variations of this exercise you can do. One is with your arm bent in the top dumbell curl position, making it into a curl squat get-up. The other is to use a kettlebell instead of a dumbell.

I'll demonstrate both of those in another video and with more pics below.

Note, when I'm using the kettlebell, instead of letting the bell part hang down, I'm actually balancing the bell part up - it's not necessary to do this, you can let it hang down...I just wanted the challenge!

Go to the site to check out some cool videos of the exercises.

Dumb Little Man - Seven Questions That Will Prevent Regret

Alex Shalman offers this guest post over at the always cool Dumb Little Man blog.

Seven Questions That Will Prevent Regret

Written on 9/26/2008 by Alex Shalman. Alex is an avid reader and is constantly learning how to improve his life. You can catch him at Practical Personal Development . Photo Credit: superfem

RegretOne of the most fundamental and most difficult things that many of us have to do is to make a decision. It only takes a yes, or a no, to change the entire course of our lives. I've recently had to make a decision that put my relationship with my family, my girlfriend, and myself on the line -- there were some questions I had to ask myself.
"I would much rather have regrets about not doing what people said, than regretting not doing what my heart led me to and wondering what life had been like if I'd just been myself." ~Brittany Renée
I recently made a decision to move to Israel for a year of learning about Judaism. My family is not very religious, and you can say they're 'afraid' that I will be. Their fears aren't rational, but they're real, so their consequences on their emotions and stress levels are real as well.

They used a few justifications as to why I should stay:

  • I won't be able to get to Dental School interviews from over there.
  • My girlfriend won't wait 9 months, and won't like the new me.
  • They assume I will completely change, and not be myself after the trip.
  • I'm upsetting my parents too much.
As you can tell, these fears are in my life as challenges so that I can over come them and be stronger than I was before. As Brittany Renée says, I'd rather follow my heart than someone else's. Despite that quote, I'd still rather not live my life with regret and so I used a little exercise that helps me to eliminate all thoughts of regret from my life.
Go read the rest of the post to get the seven questions.

NYRB - Fabrication & Bucky Fuller

A review from the New York Review of Books of new books about Buckminster Fuller.

Volume 55, Number 15 · October 9, 2008

Fabrication & Bucky Fuller

By Martin Filler

Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling
an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, July 20–October 20, 2008.
Catalog of the exhibition by Barry Bergdoll and Peter Christensen
Museum of Modern Art, 248 pp., $45.00

Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe
an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, June 26–September 21, 2008.
Catalog of the exhibition edited by K. Michael Hays and Dana Miller
Whitney Museum of American Art/Yale University Press, 258 pp., $50.00 (paper)

Topologies: The Urban Utopia in France, 1960–1970
by Larry Busbea
MIT Press, 229 pp., $24.95


One of the most persistent yet elusive dreams of the Modern Movement in architecture has been prefabrication: industrially made structures that can be assembled at a building site. Although prefabrication has a long history—the ancient Romans shipped pre-cut stone columns, pediments, and other architectural elements to their colonies in North Africa, where the numbered parts were reassembled into temples—the idea took on a new impetus with the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution. Nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century exponents of prefabrication were certain it would supplant age-old traditions of individualized design and handcrafted construction. The building art would be revolutionized by freeing designers and construction workers from repetitive tasks, and democratized by making high-style architecture more affordable.

However, in the century and a half since the first comprehensive masterpiece of modern architectural prefabrication—Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace of 1850–1851 in London, which combined modular planning, interchangeable parts, and fast construction—entirely ready-made buildings have been scarce at best, although prefabricated components are now used in virtually all construction. The major impediment has been a matter of economics. The financial benefits of prefabrication have never been as large as its advocates predicted, for although some labor costs can be reduced by machine manufacturing, on-site assembly of any building still depends to some extent on the handwork of skilled craftsmen.

The human element that can never be eliminated from the construction process was addressed by Buster Keaton in his two-reel film One Week of 1920, a prescient satire on prefabrication that must have bemused as well as amused audiences at a time when growing numbers of Americans were buying factory-made houses from mail-order catalogs. Rather than celebrating this modern innovation, Keaton—the peerless master of intricately choreographed and perfectly timed sight gags—imagined practically every catastrophe that could occur after the pieces for a ready-to-assemble dream house were delivered.

A captivating clip from One Week is among the many highlights of the Museum of Modern Art's thought-provoking exhibition "Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling," which overlapped this summer with the Whitney Museum of American Art's "Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe," a retrospective on the engineer and inventor who designed several prototypes for prefabricated housing.

It says a great deal about the overestimated potential and unfulfilled promise of prefabrication that so many of the projects displayed in both shows were never carried out. Evanescent visions of the future are symptomatic of troubled times like ours and they also were common during the Sixties, when many felt that modern architecture had subsided into academic convention. In 1960, the Museum of Modern Art's "Visionary Architecture" show, curated by Arthur Drexler, caused a sensation by displaying works like Fuller's Dome Over Manhattan project, a two-mile-wide transparent canopy that would have enclosed the island's midsection and made skyscrapers look like taxidermy specimens under a bell jar. In a review of that startling MoMA survey, Time magazine reassured its readers that such proposals "are not the work of crackpots but of reputable men."

Ulrich Conrads and Hans-G. Sperlich's Phantastische Architektur of 1960 abounded with illustrations of built, unbuilt, and unbuildable schemes by a host of nineteenth- and twentieth-century visionaries outside the mainstream Modernist canon, including Fuller, whose geodesic domes were depicted.[1] The revolutionary fervor that fueled the early Modern Movement had cooled by the early Sixties. But new, alternative versions of modernism found a plausible prehistory in Visionary Architects: Boullée, Ledoux, Lequeu of 1968, the catalog for an eye-opening exhibition of little-known eighteenth-century French renderings of hypothetical monuments on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art just as les événements de mai played out in Paris.

Read the whole review.

Scientific American - Media Bias: Going beyond Fair and Balanced

Fox News claims to be fair and balanced; other news outlets often make similar claims to a lack of bias. Yet most conservatives think the media is too liberal and most liberals think the media is too conservative. Is there any through to either of these perceptions?
Media Bias: Going beyond Fair and Balanced

Despite popular accounts, researchers found that Barack Obama got more negative press coverage than John McCain did in the early summer

By Vivian B. Martin

LIBERAL MEDIA?: Researchers aim to put more rigor into studies of media bias.

Editor's Note: This story will be published in the November 2008 issue of Scientific American.

Nothing ratchets up the perennial debate over media bias like a presidential election. But as Tim Groeling, a political scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, observes, public discussions about media bias are often just “food fights,” with pundits and partisans throwing around anecdotes.

Groeling is hoping to advance scientific (and public) knowledge beyond this mush with research he used to demonstrate selection bias in television networks’ decision to run or withhold the results of presidential approval polls. For an article appearing in Presidential Studies Quarterly this December, Groeling designed a method to deal with a problem that often besets research on the media: people can identify all the news that journalists saw fit to print, but it’s more difficult to determine what they chose to ignore.

To counter the problem of the “unobserved population,” Groeling collected two different data sets: in-house presidential approval polling by ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX News and the networks’ broadcasts of such polls on evening news shows from January 1997 to February 2008. Groeling found that, with varying degrees of statistical significance, CBS, NBC and ABC showed what Groeling calls a pro-Democrat bias. For instance, CBS was 35 percent less likely to report a five-point drop in approval for Bill Clinton than a similar rise in approval and was 33 percent more likely to report a five-point drop than a rise for George W. Bush. Meanwhile FOX News showed a statistically significant pro-Republican bias in the most controlled of the three models Groeling tested: its Special Report program was 67 percent less likely to report a rise in approval for Clinton than a decrease and 36 percent more likely to report the increase rather than the decrease for Bush.

Groeling’s work is one of the few studies to quantify partisan bias in the media, a subject notoriously difficult for social scientists to research and discuss. These scientists work with theories such as the socalled hostile media effect to predict that ardent supporters of a cause will view media as slanted for the other side, and they have conducted hundreds of studies that have revealed imbalances in the ways journalists frame news on topics ranging from AIDS to the war in Iraq. But there is not a cohesive literature on media bias.

Read the rest of the article.

Well, we all knew there was nothing fair and balanced about Faux News.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Daily Dharma - Flesh and Spirit

Today's Daily Dharma from Tricycle is a great basic definition of the Buddhist worldview.

Flesh and Spirit

The Buddhist challenge to conventional Western notions of spirituality illuminates the way we set flesh and spirit at war with each other. In Buddhism there is no original sin. Although noticing how we express our sexuality can certainly lead to an awareness of right conduct, the flesh is not regarded as representing a corruption or punishment of any kind, nor as an obstacle to the attainment of enlightenment. The root of human suffering is not sin, but our confusion about ego. We suffer because we believe in the existence of an individual self. This belief splits the world into "I" and "other."

~ Stephen Butterfield, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Vol. I, #4

What Happens When You Put 300 Experts on Psychedelics in the Same Room?

Alternet reports on the Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference in New York and finds a more mature psychedelic movement.
What Happens When You Put 300 Experts on Psychedelics in the Same Room?

By Steven Wishnia, AlterNet. Posted September 25, 2008.

The waves of mass psychedelic utopianism have come and gone, the hippie movement of the late '60s and its electronic terpsichorean echo in the rave scene of the '90s. But there's a small but devoted community of scientists, spiritual seekers, artists and grown-up hedonists exploring the value of these drugs.

The "Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics" conference, held in New York Sept. 19-21, sought to present an older and wiser psychedelic movement, focusing on medicine, art, spirituality, and culture. It drew around 300 people, a mix of academic and hippie types, with the white button-down shirts slightly outnumbering the dreadlocks and the NASA T-shirts.

Psychedelics are "the most powerful psychiatric medicine ever devised," says psychotherapist Neal Goldsmith, who curated the speakers. But because the way they work as medicine -- when used in the proper setting -- is by generating mystical experiences, "science has to expand." Solid research, he adds, could change government policy, which classifies psychedelics as dangerous drugs with no accepted medical use.

The most promising current medical research, said Rick Doblin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, is in coupling MDMA (Ecstasy) with intensive psychotherapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. Preliminary studies, he said, have had "very encouraging results" with patients who did not respond to talk therapy and conventional medications.

The group hopes to win FDA approval within 10 years. But pharmaceutical companies aren't interested -- the MDMA molecule is in the public domain, the number of pills used in the therapy is unprofitably low, and the drug is controversial. So the model for developing it, Doblin said, will probably be along the lines of Planned Parenthood's support for RU486.

The lines between the disciplines often blurred. Purdue University pharmacologist John Nichols called himself a "reductionist scientist," but said it's fantastic that 1/10 of a milligram of a drug can stay in the brain for four hours and permanently change someone's worldview. Artist Alex Grey showed slides of his tripping-inspired paintings and videos of iridescent, morphing eyes, fish, and worms, presenting them as signals from a "visionary culture" that seeks to redeem the world, with a "group soul" supplanting a culture that spends $38 billion a second on war. Artists, said animator Isaiah Saxon, can fill the role of the shaman in an industrial society that has no other space for it.

Spirituality is a key point for many users. Gabrielle, a 32-year-old mother of two, says tripping makes her lose her ego and become a part of something greater. "Nature wants us to understand we're all equal," she says, recalling an ayahuasca experience in a California forest where she saw screens of intricate fine colored strings and watched the redwoods rejoice when the life-giving fog rolled in. When you realize your part in the universe, says Craig Reuter, 25, you become aware of how responsible you are for your actions, because "everything you do ripples out like drops of water in a giant pond of existence." Sue, a 45-year-old teacher, says psychedelics help her become introspective, to focus on right-brain imagery instead of the language/verbal domain.

Canadian psychoanalyst Dan Merkur listed five ways in which cultures have used psychedelics for spiritual transformation: the "mass religious revival" of the hippies; the training of religious specialists, such as shamen; group ritual use, such as indigenous ayahuasca and peyote ceremonies; initiation rites, such as the use of ibogaine by the Bwiti of Gabon; and their more recent Western use in therapy. Some former heroin users have reported success in using ibogaine to treat their addiction.

Sasha and Ann Shulgin, the authors of "PIHKAL (Phenylethylamines I Have Known and Loved)" and "TIHKAL (Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved)" are cult figures in the psychedelic world. Sasha Shulgin, a white-bearded chemist, develops psychedelics in his lab. Ann, his wife, joins him in taking them, and their books catalog the drugs' effects. They deflected the crowd's adulation with dry humor, saying that while tripping can be great for feeling like one being during sex, they don't see the same images.

"I'm not a regular drug user," Sasha answered when asked what his favorite chemical was. "Except for red wine," his wife interjected.

Ann Shulgin, a lay therapist, cautioned that taking MDMA more than four times a year undermines the drug's magic. Though it's a wonderful drug for therapy, she said, it's selfish and wasteful for therapists to take it during a session. "You have to pay attention to the patient's insight," she explained.

Read the rest of the article.

Authors@Google: Ethan Nichtern

Very cool.
The Authors@Google program was pleased to welcome Ethan Nichtern to Google's New York office to discuss his book, "One City: A Declaration of Interdependence".

Ethan Nichtern is the acclaimed author of "One City: A Declaration of Interdependence", and the founding director of the Interdependence Project , a nonprofit created to bring meditation principles to the arts, activism, environmental concerns, and responsible consumption. A teacher of Buddhist meditation and philosophy for the past six years, he currently teaches at New School University and lectures regularly at Brown, Wesleyan, and New York universities.

This event took place on September 3, 2008.

Scientific American Mind - Neural Light Show: Scientists Use Genetics to Map and Control Brain Functions

A very cool article on using new brain scan technology to see how the mind operates at the deepest levels (brain circuits and genes). It's important to keep clear that consciousness is the reducible to brain areas lighting up, but it is still quite interesting.

We are beginning to see the objective manifestation of subjective states, which can only help us to make more sense of the complexity that is consciousness.

Neural Light Show: Scientists Use Genetics to Map and Control Brain Functions

A clever combination of optics and genetics is allowing neuroscientists to identify and control brain circuits with unprecedented precision

By Gero Miesenböck

GUIDING LIGHT: New methods that employ light to reveal and control neural activity are enabling researchers to study individual circuits in animals—work that should also lead to a better understanding of how the human brain functions. Alfred T. Kamajian

Key Concepts

  • Neuroscientists have traditionally studied the function of the brain by stimulating and recording the activity of single nerve cells with elec­trodes. But this method is indirect, making analyses of specific neurons very difficult.
  • The emerging field of optogenetics, which combines genetic engineering with light to observe and control groups of neurons, is allowing researchers to scrutinize individual neural circuits—an approach that will revolutionize the study of brain function.

In 1937 the great neuroscientist Sir Charles Scott Sherrington of the University of Oxford laid out what would become a classic description of the brain at work. He imagined points of light signaling the activity of nerve cells and their connections. During deep sleep, he proposed, only a few remote parts of the brain would twinkle, giving the organ the appearance of a starry night sky. But at awakening, “it is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance,” Sherrington reflected. “Swiftly the head-mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns.”

Although Sherrington probably did not realize it at the time, his poetic metaphor contained an important scientific idea: that of the brain revealing its inner workings optically. Understanding how neurons work together to generate thoughts and behavior remains one of the most difficult open problems in all of biology, largely because scientists generally cannot see whole neural circuits in action. The standard approach of probing one or two neurons with electrodes reveals only tiny fragments of a much bigger puzzle, with too many pieces missing to guess the full picture. But if one could watch neurons communicate, one might be able to deduce how brain circuits are laid out and how they function. This alluring notion has inspired neuroscientists to attempt to realize Sherrington’s vision.

Their efforts have given rise to a nascent field called optogenetics, which combines genetic engineering with optics to study specific cell types. Already investigators have succeeded in visualizing the functions of various groups of neurons. Furthermore, the approach has enabled them to actually control the neurons remotely—simply by toggling a light switch. These achievements raise the prospect that optogenetics might one day lay open the brain’s circuitry to neuroscientists and perhaps even help physicians to treat certain medical disorders.

Enchanting the Loom
Attempts to turn Sherrington’s vision into reality began in earnest in the 1970s. Like digital computers, nervous systems run on electricity; neurons encode information in electrical signals, or action potentials. These impulses, which typically involve voltages less than a tenth of those of a single AA battery, induce a nerve cell to release neurotransmitter molecules that then activate or inhibit connected cells in a circuit. In an effort to make these electrical signals visible, Lawrence B. Cohen of Yale University tested a large number of fluorescent dyes for their ability to respond to voltage changes with changes in color or intensity. He found that some dyes indeed had voltage-sensitive optical properties. By staining neurons with these dyes, Cohen could observe their activity under a microscope.

Dyes can also reveal neural firing by reacting not to voltage changes but to the flow of specific charged atoms, or ions. When a neuron generates an action potential, membrane channels open and admit calcium ions into the cell. This calcium influx stimulates the release of neurotransmitters. In 1980 Roger Y. Tsien, now at the University of California, San Diego, began to synthesize dyes that could indicate shifts in calcium concentration by changing how brightly they fluoresced. These optical reporters have proved extraordinarily valuable, opening new windows on information processing in single neurons and small networks.

Synthetic dyes suffer from a serious drawback, however. Neural tissue is composed of many different cell types. Estimates suggest that the brain of a mouse, for example, houses many hundreds of types of neurons plus numerous kinds of support cells. Because interactions between specific types of neurons form the basis of neural information processing, someone who wants to understand how a particular circuit works must be able to identify and monitor the individual players and pinpoint when they turn on (fire an action potential) and off. But because synthetic dyes stain all cell types indiscriminately, it is generally impossible to trace the optical signals back to specific types of cells.

Genes and Photons
Optogenetics emerged from the realization that genetic manipulation might be the key to solving this problem of indiscriminate staining. An individual’s cells all contain the same genes, but what makes two cells different from each other is that different mixes of genes get turned on or off in them. Neurons that release the neurotransmitter dopamine when they fire, for instance, need the enzymatic machinery for making and packaging dopamine. The genes encoding the protein components of this machinery are thus switched on in dopamine-producing (dopaminergic) neurons but stay off in other, nondopaminergic neurons.

In theory, if a biological switch that turned a dopamine-making gene on was linked to a gene encoding a dye and if the switch-and-dye unit were engineered into the cells of an animal, the animal would make the dye only in dopaminergic cells. If researchers could peer into the brains of these creatures (as is indeed possible), they could see dopaminergic cells functioning in virtual isolation from other cell types. Furthermore, they could observe these cells in the intact, living brain. Synthetic dyes cannot perform this type of magic, because their production is not controlled by genetic switches that flip to on exclusively in certain kinds of cells. The trick works only when a dye is encoded by a gene—that is, when the dye is a protein.

The first demonstrations that genetically encoded dyes could report on neural activity came a decade ago, from teams led independently by Tsien, Ehud Y. Isacoff of the University of California, Berkeley, and me, with James E. Rothman, now at Yale University. In all cases, the gene for the dye was borrowed from a luminescent marine organism, typically a jellyfish that makes the so-called green fluorescent protein. We tweaked the gene so that its protein product could detect and reveal the changes in voltage or calcium that underlie signaling within a cell, as well as the release of neurotransmitters that enable signaling between cells.

Armed with these genetically encoded activity sensors, we and others bred animals in which the genes encoding the sensors would turn on only in precisely defined sets of neurons. Many favorite organisms of geneticists—including worms, zebra fish and mice—have now been analyzed in this way, but fruit flies have proved particularly willing to spill their secrets under the combined assault of optics and genetics. Their brains are compact and visible through a microscope, so entire circuits can be seen in a single field of view. Furthermore, flies are easily modified genetically, and a century of research has identified many of the genetic on-off switches necessary for targeting specific groups of neurons. Indeed, it was in flies that Minna Ng, Robert D. Roorda and I, all of us then at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, recorded the first images of information flow between defined sets of neurons in an intact brain. We have since discovered new circuit layouts and new operating principles. For example, last year we found neurons in the fly’s scent-processing circuitry that appear to inject “background noise” into the system. We speculate that the added buzz amplifies faint inputs, thus heightening the animal’s sensitivity to smells—all the better for finding food.

The sensors provided us with a powerful tool for observing communication among neurons. But back in the late 1990s we still had a problem. Most experiments probing the function of the nervous system are rather indirect. Investigators stimulate a response in the brain by exposing an animal to an image, a tone or a scent, and they try to work out the resulting signaling pathway by inserting electrodes at downstream sites and measuring the electrical signals picked up at these positions. Unfortunately, sensory inputs undergo extensive reformatting as they travel. Consequently, knowing exactly which signals underlie responses recorded at some distance from the eye, ear or nose becomes harder the farther one moves from these organs. And, of course, for the many circuits in the brain that are not devoted to sensory processing but rather to movement, thought or emotion, the approach fails outright: there is no direct way of activating these circuits with sensory stimuli.

Read the rest of the article.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Zen Habits - Steve Pavlina Interview: On Motivation, Handling Email, Daily Routines, How He Got Started, and Much More

Nice interview by Leo at Zen Habits of Steve Pavlina: On Motivation, Handling Email, Daily Routines, How He Got Started, and Much More. Pavlina is the Uber-blogger in the personal growth niche.

Blogging God Steve Pavlina Interview: On Motivation, Handling Email, Daily Routines, How He Got Started, and Much More

One of the biggest and earliest blogging successes, especially in the field of personal development, was uber-blogger Steve Pavlina. Today I’m thrilled to share with you my interview with Steve on a variety of topics we’re both interested in — from motivation to passion to daily routines to staying positive and more.

Steve has just published a book that I’m sure will be an instant best-seller: Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth. Give it a look — Steve’s writings on personal development never fail to be insightful and interesting.

In this interview, Steve has been very generous in sharing a pretty deep look into his personal life and philosophy. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I have!

Leo: What are the 4-5 most important things in your life — the things you love to do and are passionate about?

Steve Pavlina: Here are some of the things I’m most passionate about:

  1. Learning – I love new experiences. Never having tried something is reason enough for me to want to dive in and experience it. Sometimes this means learning from books, blogs, audio programs, or workshops. Other times it involves personal experimentation. Usually I do a mix of both. I especially love being a total beginner in a field that’s new to me because I learn rapidly at that stage. I have a wide variety of interests, and I’m curious about everything. For example, I trained in martial arts (Tae Kwon Do and Kempo), learned to juggle, tried polyphasic sleep for 5-1/2 months, became a raw foodist, and did lots of other fascinating things.
  2. Connecting – I love connecting with people all over the world, especially people who are very growth-oriented. I usually prefer to bypass small talk and have fun, lively, and/or deep discussions. I love talking to people until I can look in their eyes and see a part of myself looking back at me. I believe that we’re all cells in the larger body of humanity and that no one is truly separate from anyone else.
  3. Expressing Ideas – I love creatively expressing ideas through writing, blogging, speaking, podcasting, and more. The specific media I use isn’t important. I just enjoy the artistry of turning intangible ideas into some form of tangible expression. To me this feels like I’m sharing a piece of myself with the world.
  4. Helping People Grow – I love when I can help someone achieve a new “aha” breakthrough in their level of awareness. Perhaps the most frequent is when someone tells me one of my articles helped them quit an unfulfilling job to courageously pursue a more fulfilling career. It’s so wonderful to know that the work I’m doing is making a real difference in people’s lives and that I’m not just writing for myself alone. When I first started blogging, I didn’t expect that the feedback I received would affect me so deeply, but it really gets to me on an emotional level. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to make the world a little bit better.
  5. Being Courageous – I love doing things that scare me. I’m not talking about physical risks like crocodile wrestling. I’m referring to the much more pervasive challenge of accepting myself as I am and expressing myself fully. In kindergarten I was the shy kid who played by himself in the sandbox, and I could never look people in the eye when I talked to them. At a young age, I learned that it wasn’t safe for me to express myself. I grew up with a lot of sadness and repressed anger. Later I realized that I’d die with many regrets if I allowed fear to dictate what I would and wouldn’t do. So I made a commitment to live by the mantra, “Whatever I fear, I must face.” If I feel trepidatious about something, I interpret my fear as a flashing green arrow pointing toward a new growth experience. I’ve learned that whenever I turn and face my fears, they gradually dissolve, and with each fear that is overcome, I feel a little more present and alive. So I make a deliberate habit of identifying things that make me feel anxious or fearful, and then I push myself to go out and do them. I’ve come a long way since that shy kindergartener, but there is always more healing to be done.
Read the whole interesting interview.

Daniel Engber - Why Is Every Neuropundit Such a Raging Liberal?

When you read most of the neuroscientists writing about politics and the brain, they seem to have a liberal bias - some admittedly so. Slate looks at the issue a little more critically.

Republicans Are From Mars, Democrats Are From VenusWhy is every neuropundit such a raging liberal?

Doctor attaching electrodes.

The Democrats, we hear, have begun to lose their heads. As election polls lurched in favor of John McCain during the past few weeks, the notion of a liberal freakout became a right-wing talking point: Michael Gerson called the Obama campaign "rootless, reactive and panicky"; Carly Fiorina announced that "the Democratic Party is in a full-throated panic over Sarah Palin"; Rush Limbaugh put the left in "a full-fledged panic mode." Funny, then, that the neuropundits should have reached the opposite conclusion: According to a study of political psychology published last Thursday in Science, conservatives tend to be the jumpier lot.

The researchers called 46 political partisans into their laboratory at the University of Nebraska, affixed electrodes to their fingertips and eyelids, and measured sweat output and eye blinks in response to a series of startling stimuli. (Subjects were forced to endure images of bloody faces and maggot-infested wounds, as well as sudden blasts of white noise.) The results: Social conservatives—those who supported the death penalty, the Patriot Act, prayer in school, and the like—sweated more, and blinked more intensely, than the liberals.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. In an appendix, the authors declare "that our results do not suggest that one type of physiological response to threat is more normal or 'better' than another. … Political opponents may simply experience the world differently and this situation may be why intensely political people tend to talk past each other." So they're not calling out conservatives for being sweaty, blinky, fraidy-cats; they're merely providing a dispassionate, scientific analysis of partisan politics. Why is our country so sharply divided into red and blue? Could it have something to do with those confounded "neural activity patterns," hard-wired into our brains from birth?

That's the soft sell, at least, when it comes to political brain science. Among the neuropundits, though, the nature/nurture question stands in for a more pressing, and more partisan, concern. For the past five years, the left-wing researchers who dominate the field have sought to explain—in purely rational terms, of course—the failures of Democratic politics and the rise of political conservatism. Sometimes the work is cast as behavioral economics: Why do working-class Americans vote against their economic interests? But the agenda can be quite explicit: How come those damn Republicans keep winning elections? And what can we do about it?

The theoretical basis for this work emerged in 2003, when psychologist John T. Jost and three colleagues published a review of more than 50 years worth of data on the personality traits of right-wing ideologues. In "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition" (PDF), they concluded that the red-state mind-set stems from a set of "psychological needs," including a deep anxiety about death, lack of self-esteem, and intolerance of ambiguity. As a result, conservatives are "less integratively complex" than liberals, more obedient by disposition, and inclined to cling to what they know. "For a variety of psychological reasons, then, right-wing populism may have a more consistent appeal than left-wing populism," explained one of the authors, a professor of public policy at University of California-Berkeley.

Four years and one failed Kerry campaign later, a scientist named David Amodio got together with Jost to flesh out the theory with actual recordings from the human brain. They used scalp electrodes to monitor the neural activity of liberals and conservatives who were engaged in a simple button-pressing task and discovered some significant differences between the two groups. First, the authors said, the conservatives tended to make more mistakes on the task. (Subjects had to press the space bar whenever they saw the letter M flash on a screen but hold back their response when a W turned up instead.) Second, the liberal brain scans revealed "stronger conflict-related anterior cingulate activity, suggesting greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern." That is to say, liberals were less prone to error and better able to process complex, conflicting information. (Click here for Slate's William Saletan's critique of the Amodio paper.)

Last week I went to hear Jost and Amodio speak about the conservative brain at a New York University event dedicated to "The Neuroscience of Elections and Human Decision-Making." This felt less like a science seminar than a special-interest meet-up for Obama supporters. Amodio finished his presentation with a series of speculations about how voter psychology would affect the upcoming election: The McCain campaign, he said, could win over swing voters by blurring or stretching the truth; Obama might continue to make "qualified, informed statements" that appeal only to his base.

When someone in the audience pointed out that the researchers themselves appeared to be highly partisan observers, Amodio barked, "Big deal!" He explained that scientists do tend to be liberal, but that's on account of their predilection for the truth and tolerance for uncertainty. (They're also more creative than most other people, he added, which reinforces their bias to the left.)

So it is that the most prominent and prolific neuropundits happen to be paid Democratic consultants and professional thinkers on the left. Take psychologist and strategist Drew Westen, who went mass-market with the science of us vs. them in his 2007 book, The Political Brain. There he argues that the Republicans are more skilled at activating the neural emotional circuits of swing voters while Democrats have "an irrational emotional commitment to rationality." (Last Wednesday, Westen told the New York Times that the conservatives are "taking advantage of how our brains work.")

Read the rest of the article.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Discover - Could an Inner Zombie Be Controlling Your Brain?

In more ways than we care to know, we are not in control of the brain and body we live in -- we might be conscious in so many ways, but we often operate like zombies. This Discover article looks at the situation with a little more detail.

The Brain: Could an Inner Zombie Be Controlling Your Brain?

Scientists have found evidence that the self-aware part of our brains isn't always in charge.

by Carl Zimmer


If you had to sum up the past 40 years of research on the mind, you could do worse than to call it the Rise of the Zombies.

We like to see ourselves as being completely conscious of our thought processes, of how we feel, of the decisions we make and our reasons for making them. When we act, it is our conscious selves doing the acting. But starting in the late 1960s, psychologists and neurologists began to find evidence that our self-aware part is not always in charge. Researchers discovered that we are deeply influenced by perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and desires about which we have no awareness. Their research raised the disturbing possibility that much of what we think and do is thought and done by an unconscious part of the brain—an inner zombie.

Some of the earliest evidence for this zombie came from studies of people who had suffered brain injuries. In 1970 British psychologists Elizabeth Warrington and Lawrence Weiskrantz showed a series of words to a group of people with amnesia, who promptly forgot the list. A few minutes later Warrington and Weiskrantz showed them the first three letters of each of the words they had just seen and forgotten and asked the amnesiacs to add some additional letters to make a word. Any word would do. The amnesiacs consistently chose the words they had seen and forgotten; the inner zombie, somewhere beyond awareness, retained memories of the words.

Our inner zombies may also be able to control our bodies. In 1988 a woman known as “patient D. F.” suffered carbon monoxide poisoning and lost the ability to recognize objects and shapes. Her eyes were still relaying information to her brain, but the connections between regions of her brain had been damaged so that she was no longer aware of what was before her. Scientists at the University of Western Ontario set a card on a table in front of D. F. and then held up a disk with a slot in it. They asked D. F. to hold the card at the same angle as the slot. She couldn’t. But when asked to put the card in the slot as if she were mailing a letter, she immediately—and unknowingly—turned the card to the correct angle and slipped it in.

These days a number of powerful new tools can scrutinize the inner zombies in healthy brains. Earlier this year, a team of University of Copenhagen researchers reported rendering 11 healthy people temporarily blind by focusing a beam of magnetism at the back of the subjects’ heads. This interfered with the activity of neurons in a region called the visual cortex. For a few minutes the neurons were deactivated, and the subjects reported that they couldn’t see anything.

At the start of the experiment, the subjects—who could see at this point—sat in front of three lights, each with a button below it. When the center light went on, they had to reach out their hand and press the button next to it. In some trials, the scientists switched off the center light just as the subjects began reaching, and turned on a different one. The subjects therefore had to shift their hand movement to press the correct button.

Less than a tenth of a second after the light switched, though, the scientists zapped the subjects, instantly blinding them. With so little time between the switch of lights and the zap, the subjects still thought the center light was on. Yet a significant number of them moved their hand away from the center button and shifted it to the correct one. Their inner zombie didn’t need any awareness in order to perceive the change and alter the command it sent to the hand.

In the Danish experiment, the subjects were at least aware of their goal, even if they didn’t know how they were achieving it. Other experiments show that our unconscious mind can fully act like a conscious self. Take a recent experiment in which French and English scientists had volunteers play a simple game while undergoing a brain scan. The subjects held a handgrip while watching a computer screen. They were told to squeeze the handgrip whenever they saw a picture of money on the screen. The more they squeezed, the more money they would win.

Some pictures stayed on the screen long enough to be identified. Others raced by. Regardless, the image of a British pound caused the volunteers to squeeze harder than they did at the sight of a penny, even when it appeared so quickly that they were not consciously aware of what kind of money they were seeing. The brain scans allowed the researchers to compare unconscious with conscious responses and showed that a reward-judging region of the brain, the ventral palladium, became active in both cases.

Mounting evidence of our inner zombie at work has led some scientists to downplay the importance of our aware selves. Earlier this year in Time magazine, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker declared that “the intuitive feeling we have that there’s an executive ‘I’ that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion.”

Read the rest of the article.

The Nation - McCain Suspends Democracy

Grandstanding at its worst -- what possible thing can be done with McCain in DC that can't be done without him? This is the 21st century after all, with everything and everyone wired.

What happened to that oh-so-clever slogan of Country First? McCain is putting his political aspirations first, again.

From Katrina vanden Heuvel at The Nation:

Lincoln ran for office in 1864, when there was a good chance he wouldn't have a country to lead. FDR ran for office in the middle of the largest conflict in human history--twice. We can have a debate this Friday.

Instead, McCain is going to "suspend" the democratic process? And this from a man who prides himself on his Commander-in-Chief skills? How is calling quits amid a crisis as severe as 9/11, in human security terms, a measure of his leadership strength?

Bush and McCain, linked again at the hip, are telling this nation which seeks confidence and hope: You have nothing to fear but the end of fear itself. McCain has bailed out from the responsibilities demanded of a Presidential candidate who claims to be a leader. Bush looked like the dog in that never-to-be-forgotten National Lampoon cover with dog, gun pointed at his head. Propped up at single digit ratings delivering a speech, the worst President in our history was sent out there to scare Americans and prop up a man he smeared two election cycles ago.

The people of this nation don't need more showboating, fearmongering and ducking for cover. They need a plan which will treat Main Street with dignity, respect and equity. McCain's desperate sprint to Washington only exposes how the pinstripers in pitchforks are scared. (As CNN's Anderson Cooper reported tonight, McCain has missed more votes than any other senator this year.)

There is blame to go around. The Nation's special forum on the bailout this week lays out ideas about how to extricate this good country from a financial disaster with bipartisan parents. But McCain's low road showboating is nothing but a way to put his political fate ahead of his country's in order to divert and distract attention from his failing campaign. We deserve better.

Comments (9)

Emphasis added.

This should cost McCain the election, but the public is so stupid that many won't see through this bit of dumbass political posturing. Sad, that.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Edward Skidelsky - The Return of Goodness

I suspect there is some serious pre/trans fallacy going on here, but the premise that we need virtues to inform our morality is not without merit -- however, I suggest we look forward as much (or more) as we look backward.

This is a clearly conservative viewpoint, but as part of an integral approach to morality it needs to be included in the discussion. The failure of liberals to grasp these ideas is why liberals so seldom seem able to win elections.

Morality and virtues (from whatever source) are important to the average person.
The Return of Goodness

Contemporary liberalism's insistence that morality is a mere matter of rights and obligations empties life of its ethical meaning. We need a return to the virtue ethics of the pre-moderns, and a renewed conception of the good life

Edward Skidelsky

Morality is once again on the lips of politicians and commentators. David Cameron has warned that we are "becoming quite literally a de-moralised society, where nobody will tell the truth any more about what is good and bad." He is echoed by Richard Reeves, new director of Demos, who argued in last month's Prospect that Britain's poor lack not only the material but also the moral resources to better their lot in life.

Behind these comments lies a flickering recognition that our nation's central problems are moral, not economic. But any deeper reflection runs up against a principle entrenched in the liberal mind—that individuals are sovereign in their own sphere, and that only when someone infringes on others may he be rebuked or punished. "Neither one person, nor any number of persons," declared John Stuart Mill, the originator of this principle, "is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it."

Mill's principle has come to shape western public doctrine. It lies behind the social legislation of the 1960s and the anti-discriminatory legislation of the past four decades. Neither left nor right dares reject it openly. Yet in historical terms, it is an anomaly, a departure from the common sense of our species.

The ethical traditions of the pre-modern world focused on those qualities of character making for a good and happy life—the virtues. The exact nature of these virtues was open to dispute. The ancient Greeks singled out courage, temperance, prudence and justice. Christians added faith, hope and charity to the list, and downgraded pride (for the pagans a virtue) to a vice. Other virtues have had a more temporary vogue. The Renaissance favoured boldness, the Puritans thrift and industry. The east has traditions of its own. Confucius stressed filial piety, Lao Tse spontaneity. But all agreed that the virtues—some virtues—must lie at the heart of the moral life.

The virtues, for these pre-modern traditions, are the natural excellences of the species. They are to us what speed is to the leopard or strength to the lion; they are not matters of choice or self-expression. This is not to say that they develop unaided. They require years of training—you cannot possess the virtue of gratitude unless you have first been taught your Ps and Qs. And this training does not end with childhood. Throughout life, the virtues can be encouraged, if not compelled, through legal arrangements designed to minimise temptation. Law is part of morality, and not, as in Friedrich Hayek's metaphor, a set of traffic rules for avoiding collisions. The state is an association of people come together to lead the good life, and not a night watchman or boundary patrolman.

These various pre-modern traditions, eastern and western, represent a style of thinking about ethics that has become almost unintelligible to us. Under the influence of Mill and others, we have come to think of morality as a system of rights and obligations, and the philosophical problem as one of defining these rights and obligations. But where there is no right or obligation, morality is silent. A man who, having fulfilled his obligations to others, settles down with a six-pack to watch porn on television all day may be foolish, disgusting, vulgar and so forth, but he is not strictly speaking immoral. For he is, as the saying goes, "within his rights."

Virtue clearly has no place in morality so conceived, for virtue is what calls forth love and admiration, not what may be demanded. Unlike obligation, virtue is never "fulfilled"; it suffuses the whole of life. This explains much that seems to us bizarre in pre-modern ethical systems. Take the sin of gluttony, analysed by medieval scholastics into the five vices of eating praepropere, nimis, ardenter, laute and studiose (too quickly, too much, too keenly, extravagantly and fussily). This strikes us today as insultingly intrusive. Surely if someone eats quickly or fussily, that is his business. It may be bad for his health, and bad manners, but it has nothing to do with morality.

Or take again the two classical virtues of prudence and temperance. We do not think of these as moral qualities, but as useful skills or habits. And what about courage? We might describe this as a contingently moral quality, in that it can help a person fulfil his obligations to others, but not, surely, as an essentially moral quality. For courage can be exercised in a self-regarding fashion, or indeed wickedly (a "brave, bad man" was how Cromwell was described by his contemporary Lord Clarendon). In fact, of the four classical Greek virtues listed earlier, only justice appears to modern eyes an unambiguously moral quality, for only justice is concerned essentially with rights and obligations. The characteristically modern tendency is, then, to reduce the whole of morality to justice, leaving the rest a matter of sensibility and taste.

But the pre-modern traditions remain alive under the surface. We cannot but admire feats of courage and self-denial; we cannot but feel disgusted by greed and sloth. Nor are such reactions merely snobbish or aesthetic; they are closely connected to the more strictly moral reactions of respect and indignation. Yet our public language forbids us to acknowledge this connection, forcing us to disguise what are at root ethical responses as something altogether different. For instance, hostility to smoking—clearly at heart a moral aversion to intemperance—must masquerade as a concern for public health or the rights of innocent third parties. Hence the stress placed on the (spurious) concept of passive smoking.

But surely, a liberal might respond, there is no real opposition between liberty and virtue. On the contrary, true virtue as opposed to mechanical obedience, flourishes only under liberty. "The human faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative feeling… and even moral preference," writes Mill, "are exercised only in making a choice. He who does anything because it is the custom, makes no choice." This argument has been used to justify every increase in personal liberty over the last 50 years. "Give us more choice," we clamour, "and we will become rounder, more self-directed, happier people." How often was that cry heard in the 1960s, and again (with a more materialistic inflection) in the 1980s?

Yet it hasn't happened like that. Modern Britain, for all its profusion of choice, is hardly a showcase of fully developed personalities. Why not? Mill's error was to think of morality in atomistic terms. His vision—a trimmed-down, Anglicised version of German romanticism—was of a row of suburban gardens, separated by fences, within which little Goethes could air their individuality. But that is a travesty. Morality is embodied in language, and language is social. By enshrining individual choice, liberalism has eroded the public language of morality, leaving nothing but a set of rules for frictionless co-existence. The romantic ideal of self-development has collapsed into mere consumerism. Far from rising upwards, we are sinking slowly downwards.

Moral language in Britain today bears out this diagnosis. The old idiom of the virtues ("honourable," "gentlemanly," "indecent") has been replaced by the neutralised jargon of the social services ("challenged," "vulnerable," "inappropriate," "disadvantaged"). Such moral language as does survive is crude and bullying. It consists of what the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has called "fragments"—disconnected shards of a once coherent tradition. Words such as "evil," "perverted" and "racist" have lost any exact meaning they once had and now serve simply to mesmerise and coerce. We have become a nation of relativists on the one side and ranters on the other. What has vanished is the cool, exact appraisal of conduct we find in, say, the sermons of Bishop Butler, or the novels of Jane Austen.

Let me give a concrete example. Big Brother is now in its eighth year. It panders to the greed and vanity of its participants and to the voyeurism of its viewers. It encourages scheming, backbiting and infidelity. It brings out the worst in everyone. Yet from a liberal standpoint, there is nothing to be said against it. The participants are there of their own accord and may leave any time they please. They are, to use Mill's words, "doing with their life for their own benefit what they choose to do with it." Who are we to criticise them? Big Brother illustrates, then, the way in which the liberal focus on rights shuts off a whole dimension of moral thought and feeling. On some level we know that it is vile, yet we lack the authority and words to say so. Hence the tone of evasive irony with which we (superior, educated people) greet such phenomena of popular culture.
Read the rest of the post.

Stan Grof - Spiritual Emergencies: Understanding and Treatment of Psychospiritual Crises

Reality Sandwich has a great (though quite long) post by Stan Grof on Psychospiritual Crises (spiritual emergencies). This is a highly neglected aspect of the spiritual path that I am glad to see getting some attention. Stan and Christina have written on this topic in a couple of very good books:
Grof, S. 1988. The Adventure of Self-Discovery. Albany, NY: State University of New York (SUNY) Press.

Grof, S. and Grof, C. (eds.) 1989. Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis. Los Angeles, CA: J. P. Tarcher.

Here is the beginning of the article:

Spiritual Emergencies: Understanding and Treatment of Psychospiritual Crises

Stanislav Grof

One of the most important implications of the research of holotropic states is the realization that many of the conditions, which are currently diagnosed as psychotic and indiscriminately treated by suppressive medication, are actually difficult stages of a radical personality transformation and of spiritual opening. If they are correctly understood and supported, these psychospiritual crises can result in emotional and psychosomatic healing, remarkable psychological transformation, and consciousness evolution (Grof and Grof 1989, 1990).

Episodes of this nature can be found in the life stories of shamans, founders of the great religions of the world, famous spiritual teachers, mystics, and saints. Mystical literature of the world describes these crises as important signposts of the spiritual path and confirms their healing and transformative potential. Mainstream psychiatrists do not differentiate psychospiritual crises, or even episodes of uncomplicated mystical experiences, from serious mental diseases, because of their narrow conceptual framework.

Academic psychiatry, being a subdiscipline of medicine, has a
strong preference for biological interpretations, and uses a model of the psyche limited to postnatal biography and the Freudian individual unconscious. These are serious obstacles in understanding the nature and content of mystical states and the ability to distinguish them from manifestations of mental disease.

The term "spiritual emergency" (psychospiritual crisis), which my wife Christina and I coined for these states alludes to their positive potential. In English, this term is a play on words reflecting the similarity between the word "emergency" (a suddenly appearing acute crisis) and "emergence" (surfacing or rising). It thus suggests both a problem and opportunity to rise to a higher level of psychological functioning and spiritual awareness. We often refer in this context to the Chinese pictogram for crisis that illustrates the basic idea of spiritual emergency. This ideogram is composed of two images, one of which means danger and the other opportunity.

Among the benefits that can result from psychospiritual crises that receive expert support and are allowed to run their natural course are improved psychosomatic health, increased zest for life, a more rewarding life strategy, and an expanded worldview that includes the spiritual dimension. Successful completion and integration of such episodes also involves a substantial reduction of aggression, increase of racial, political, and religious tolerance, ecological awareness, and deep changes in the hierarchy of values and existential priorities. It is not an exaggeration to say that successful completion and integration of psychospiritual crisis can move the individual to a higher level of consciousness evolution.

In recent decades, we have seen rapidly growing interest in spiritual matters that leads to extensive experimentation with ancient, aboriginal, and modern "technologies of the sacred," consciousness-expanding techniques that can mediate spiritual opening. Among them are various shamanic methods, Eastern meditative practices, use of psychedelic substances, effective experiential psychotherapies, and laboratory methods developed by experimental psychiatry. According to public polls, the number of Americans who have had spiritual experiences significantly increased in the second half of the twentieth century and continues to grow. It seems that this has been accompanied by a parallel increase of psychospiritual crises.

More and more people seem to realize that genuine spirituality based on profound personal experience is a vitally important dimension of life. In view of the escalating global crisis brought about by the materialistic orientation of Western technological civilization, it has become obvious that we are paying a great price for having rejected spirituality. We have banned from our life a force that nourishes, empowers, and gives meaning to human existence.

On the individual level, the toll for the loss of spirituality is an impoverished, alienated, and unfulfilling way of life and an increase of emotional and psychosomatic disorders. On the collective level, the absence of spiritual values leads to strategies of existence that threaten the survival of life on our planet, such as plundering of nonrenewable resources, polluting the natural environment, disturbing ecological balance, and using violence as a principal means of international problem-solving.

It is, therefore, in the interest of all of us to find ways of bringing spirituality back into our individual and collective life. This would have to include not only theoretical recognition of spirituality as a vital aspect of existence, but also encouragement and social sanctioning of activities that mediate experiential access to spiritual dimensions of reality. And an important part of this effort would have to be development of an appropriate support system for people undergoing crises of spiritual opening, which would make it possible to utilize the positive potential of these states.

In 1980, Christina founded the Spiritual Emergency Network (SEN), an organization that connects individuals undergoing psychospiritual crises with professionals, who are able and willing to provide assistance based on the new understanding of these states. Filial branches of SEN now exist in many countries of the world.
Go read the whole article.

Among the topics covered:
Triggers of Spiritual Emergency
Diagnosis of Spiritual Emergency
Varieties of Spiritual Crises
1. Shamanic crisis
2. Awakening of Kundalini
3. Episodes of unitive consciousness (Maslow's "peak experiences")
4. Psychological renewal through return to the center (John Perry)
5. Crisis of psychic opening
6. Past-life experiences
7. Communication with spirit guides and "channeling"
8. Near-death experiences (NDEs)
9. Close encounters with UFOs and alien abduction experiences
10. Possession states
11. Alcoholism and drug addiction
Treatment of Psychospiritual Crises
This is an excellent resource for anyone doing therapy or spiritual direction work.