Saturday, November 15, 2008

New Poem: Seasons


November and still too warm to sleep.
Nights and days seem out of season
with the rest of the world. No clouds

or rain, a slight breeze some days
if the Gods are smiling, but the summer
seems not to have left us yet.

Sweat is the reality. Blue skies
blend one into the next, bored
with their own consistency.

No leaves changing color, no
trees shedding leaves. Just cactus,
just mesquite, just ocotillo.

The desert is a strange place
in the dark months. No darkness.
Rattlesnakes a little less active,

coyotes coming out earlier, ravens
as always, in pairs, watching the silly
humans, gathering their scraps.

I miss seasons, at least the normal
changes the rest of the world knows.
Here only pale shades of green,

some wind, a lessening of the light
as evening settles, but no snow, no fog,
nothing that says winter is near.

New Poem: Awakening


I awake with lotus petals on my tongue,
sage in my hair, my breath
coming and going in waves.

She sleeps beside me, oblivious,
dreaming her quiet dreams
of a mother who loved her

enough, stroked her head
and offered kind words. Dreams
can be such cruel knives.

I touch her hand to be sure
I am here, I am awake, not lost
still in the world, ten thousand things

swirling in my eyes, spinning
their webs. And yes, lotus petals
on my tongue, my body naked

in the cool night air. I've wanted
this moment for years, for
lifetimes, kneeling before my altar

and reciting mantras, seeking
that space where I am not.
Why now, at 3 am, that magic

hour of night? Something has opened
its eyes, exhaled into my lungs,
left me sitting, looking at darkness.

I want to wake her, yet I knew
my own mother's weaknesses,
the wanting of her touch, so I watch

her sleep and wonder how I found
her, how this miracle was conjured.
It all swirls around the room,

the scent of sage, distant howls
of coyotes, the gentle whisper
of two bodies breathing.

Bono's Letter to Obama

Interesting, posted at Jim Wallis's blog.

God's Politics

Obama’s Harmony of Intellect and Intuition

by Bono 11-07-2008

Mr. President, Barack,

Every room I have ever been in with you was a much easier room for your presence.

It’s rare to meet a person like you, where intellect and intuition make such a perfect rhyme.

Your intuition tells you that the well-being of the American people, spiritually as well as physically, is connected with America’s role in the world. I know you know that the prosperity of your fellow Americans, though hard fought, is less fulfilling knowing there is so much more that can be done to alleviate poverty and suffering in the developing world. You know that less than 1 percent of government income as a contribution from the world’s richest economy to the world’s poorest is not a fair tithe — even in times like these — which is why you have promised to double foreign assistance. As with our own personal sojourn, so it is with country and community -– we discover who we are in service to others.

I know your intellect — fashioned in the halls of Harvard and on the floor of the United States Senate — has weighed up the evidence on how effective American tax dollars are, when converted into smart, targeted, focused aid. Putting children into school where they can think freely of freedom. Giving farmers on the parched land seed varieties that double the size of their crop yields. Giving mothers 20 cent immunizations to protect their newborns from the deadly viruses that they pass on through childbirth. I know your intellect has taken in the data and seen the analysis on the transformative power of effective aid in places where the United States flag is currently not one smiled at. I know you know how much cheaper it is to make friends of potential enemies than to defend yourself at a later date. I know you know all this stuff.

My prayer for you is that your instinct and intellect stay in harmony in the difficult months and triumphant years ahead.

Bono is lead singer of U2 and co-founder of The ONE Campaign.

Review: Integral Life Practice, part 1: the body

Kurt Barstow reviews the Body Module of the ILP Kit from Ken Wilber and pals. He's a bit more favorable than I am, but then I am a trainer so it all seems basic to me.

Integral Life Practice, part 1: the body

by Kurt Barstow

Integral Life Practice Starter Kit
If you were to invent a spirituality for the 21st century, one that would reflect our current evolutionary position, that was able to draw upon what is universal to all the great wisdom traditions, that was conversant with the contributions of modern developmental psychology, and that had a place for everyone, what would it look like? It would probably look something very much like Integral Spirituality. The outcome of the contributions of many thinkers but as a synthetic unity largely the brain child of the philosopher Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality is so named because it attempts to provide a complete picture, or as nearly complete as we can have it right now, of consciousness and of psycho-spiritual development. This is something that could only take place now because it is only at this moment that we have the information learned from both the contemplative traditions of religion (especially eastern) and modern psychology that allow us to chart out a developmental map of both individual human and cultural experience that lays out the progressive unfolding from matter to spirit. You have to imagine something that, while “resting on the shoulders of giants” is also so current and so chic that it could appeal to the entertainment industry. I will say more about this in a later article, but for now wish to stick with the history of Integral Spirituality itself.

What is truly remarkable about Wilber is not even so much his extraordinary ability to synthesize the world’s spiritual, ethical, philosophical, epistemological, and psychological thought into a coherent developmental scheme or his ability to be equally at home discussing Eastern spiritual and Western philosophical and psychological traditions as it is his humility and accessibility. What could have been just another moment in academic or intellectual history, because of Wilber, has turned into an institution, The Integral Institute, which is not only a living embodiment of intellectual and spiritual exchange among the various wisdom traditions with an ambitious program to make integral theory relevant to a complete array of activities or domains (from medicine and business to education and ecology), but also has the mission of making Integral Spirituality available to regular people like you and me. This radical accessibility (try to imagine Kant or Hegel with a popular radio show), which is of course appropriate to spirituality and a test of its applicability, takes several forms, from workshops and professional teaching seminars to three websites (The Integral Institute, Integral Naked, and The Integral Spiritual Center) and a weekly eNewsletter. Membership provides one with monthly DVDs and CDs as well as access to the websites, which include clips from various seminars; interviews that delve into sports, popular culture, science, politics, and spirituality; art; and musical performances. But at the heart of all this, and what can make it really relevant to your own life is Integral Life Practice, for which the Institute offers an Integral Life Practice Starter Kit. It is this that I will talk about in the next four articles, highlighting the four major modules of Integral Life Practice: Body, Mind, Spirit, and Shadow.


Despite an ascetic tradition that attempts to discount the body, it is obviously a central fact of our existence and something that needs to be reckoned with in our spiritual practice. As the contemporary mystic Andrew Harvey so eloquently puts it in his book The Direct Path: Creating a Personal Journey to the Divine Using the World’s Spiritual Traditions (Broadway Books, 2000): Celebrating the sacredness of the body leads “to an inward transformation that over time comes to reflect itself in every thought, action, and choice and to heal the false divisions between ‘body’ and ‘soul,’ ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual,’ ‘self’ and ‘other,’ Being conscious of the sacredness of the body slowly turns the whole of life into an experience of feast and celebration; every walk or meal or deep sleep or joy at a flower or beautiful face becomes a form of praise and prayer. Being conscious of the holiness of the bodies of other human and sentient beings makes you instinctively more sensitive and protective of them in every way and breeds what Buddha called a ‘loving harmlessness’ in the core of your being. To see, know, and feel through understanding the sacredness of your own body the sacredness of the entire creation--from the smallest dancing flea to the gray whale and the Himalayas--awakens a holy passion for God in all forms of life, and a practical resolution to do everything in your power to protect and guard nature from humanity’s greed and ignorance.” In the Christian tradition, the body is a temple. In the Buddhist tradition, Enlightenment happens through the body (“This very body, the Buddha”). In Hinduism, the asanas of yoga are preparation for meditation and awakening. And from Taoism stems Chi Gong and Tai Chi. Our embodiment is a major vehicle of our spirituality and this is pointed to in some way in virtually all the spiritual traditions.

The modular system of Integral Life Practices

Integral Life Practice is designed to be modular (hence it allows you to mix and match specific practices); customizable (hence you are given choices and options suitable to your schedule, preferences, and needs); scalable (hence adaptable to the time you have, down to 1-minute modules); distilled (hence boiling down the essence of traditional practices); and synergistic (hence you are working in different but complementary areas at the same time). So in creating an Integral Practice you may choose the body discipline in which you want to work. I, for example, have primarily a yoga practice with a more minor Qi Gong practice. I have also used the workouts unique to Integral Practice discussed below and consider my massage practice to be in this category. But a body practice could just as well be biking, swimming, or traditional western exercises. In the DVDs that come with the Integral Life Starter Kit you will be introduced to two further options: the 3-Body Workout and F.I.T weight training.

Social Neuroscience: Integrating Biological and Psychological Explanations of Social Behavior

A review of an important new book. There needs to be more recognition by the neuroscience community that brains do not exist in a vacuum -- they are culturally and socially embedded entities that reflect that reality in their function.

Social Neuroscience: Integrating Biological and Psychological Explanations of Social Behavior

Harmon-Jones, Eddie and Winkielman, Piotr (Eds.)
Guilford Press: London, 2008
ISBN 159385644X (pb)

Order this book

Reviewed by Adolfo López-Paredes
INSISOC - University of Valladolid

Cover of book That neuroscience can benefit Economics or Political Science has been firstly introduced by Camerer et al (2005), Singer and Fehr (2005), Fehr and Camerer (2007) and Hibbing and Smith (2007). They have showed the way social scientists in general and the social simulation community in particular can benefit by combining the biological approach with social behavior. The new methods used in neuroscience provide the opportunity to understand the mechanisms that underlie social behavior, combining social and biological approaches.

Social Neuroscience emerges as a new field of research that editors of the reviewed volume define as "an integrative field that examines how nervous (central and peripheral), endocrine and immune systems are involved in sociocultural processes". This volume is composed of a brief introduction to social neuroscience from editors (chapter 1), and 21 papers that have been grouped in five subsections: emotion processes; motivation processes; attitudes and social cognition; person perception, stereotyping and prejudice; and interpersonal relationships. Although the book is not about neuroscience methods, most of them are well represented (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Event-related brain potential methods, etc.) and the beginner receives a general overview of them that will be necessary to understand experiments. For those interested in planning and design of laboratory experiments beyond the choice of methods, it is convenient to remark the Iacobini's advise on ecological validity of laboratory tasks performed by subjects.

Authors were encouraged by editors to specify the theoretical contributions adopting the social neuroscience approach, and most papers fit this goal, although it happens that interesting results (for social scientists) from experimental sessions are not summarized in the conclusions subsection.

Contributing authors recognize that social neuroscience is at an early stage of development, and that there is a long way to run and many opportunities will emerge for social sciences research. Notwithstanding, in this volume, some issues that should be useful for social scientist are models of perception-motivational-control-regulatory processes and biological-social mechanisms that can be overlapped to explain complex human decisions. In this sense, the relevance of context (papers from Lieberman and Iacobini); rewards (by Knutson and Wimmer) and social bonds (by Carter) as motivational processes; and studies on empathy (by Decety), processes related to emotions (Jennifer Beer, Heberlein and Adolphs, Norris and Cacioppo, Van Honk and Schutter, Oschner, Harmon-Jones) and social encoding (by Ito et al) are some of those that a priori can result exciting for JASSS readers.

The main purpose of this review is to identify and outline those issues that could succeed to extend previous research in social simulation and open the window to explore classical problems. To be clear in such exposition, in the next paragraphs each contributing paper is summarized explaining the main conclusions (social and biological) for the JASSS reader. Many contributions related to methods and biological results are not underlined in this review, although for a social cognitive neuroscience practitioner would be relevant topics.

Jennifer Beer focuses on understanding the ways in which emotion and social cognition interact. She studies the role of orbitofrontal cortex in emotion-cognition interactions for social adjustment. After a careful review of previous research, she explains undertaken experiments to monitor emotional influences on decision making. Heberlein and Adolphs review the evidence for simulation-based models of emotion recognition and the role played by amygdale, insula (a section of cortex) and right somatosensory cortex. There is evidence that, to recognize emotions in others, observers must simulate aspects of the specific emotion in the person being observed. They conclude the minimum components to produce a complete model of the neural processes underlying emotion recognition, and some considerations that make difficult at this stage to finish that model. Kudielka, Hellhammer and Kirschbaum focus on describing the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and reviewing the literature on recent related research (more than 4000 sessions in the last decade) to study the hormone cortisol in the lab. Authors describe the impact of some variables as gender, age, social support, social hierarchy and genetic factors to identify the sources of intra-interindividual differences in the net hormone output, as well as the time course of hormone secretion.

Read the whole review.

Satire: Mormon LDS Church to Consider Allowing Masturbation

Some good satire from Unconfirmed Sources.

Mormon LDS Church to Consider Allowing Masturbation

by Nick Fun LDS leaders met secretly on the top floor of this building to discuss masturbation.
LDS leaders met secretly on the top floor of this building to discuss masturbation.

LDS Church leaders gathered in secrecy last night to explore the option of allowing young men the right to masturbate to satisfy their youthful urges.

Masturbation has always been forbidden in the church and church leaders have encouraged young men to simply wait for nocturnal emissions to clean out their "little factories". However, many young Mormons seem to be masturbating regardless of the church's policy. LDC Church President Henry B. Eyring admits that he masturbated once when he was a teenager.

"It was simply a youthful experimentation", Eyring explained. "I didn't enjoy it, I didn't ejaculate and I would never do it again".

Church leaders drafted a strict masturbation policy for the teenage boys:

*Parents must be fully supportive of the boy's desire to masturbate.
*Masturbation would be limited to no more than once a month.
*Pornography will not be allowed, however, Victoria's Secrets catalogs and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition would be allowed under tight restriction after the age of 17.
*Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES would any homosexual, prurient or deviant thought be allowed.
*Masturbation must stop after the young man has married a woman.

"We want to make sure these kids don't grow up and vote 'NO' on California's Proposition 8", Eyring explained. Voting no on Proposition 8 would have allowed gays the right to marry in California.

Eyring and other church leaders explained that the church has learned to grow with the times and that masturbation is immoral and will lead to eternal damnation only if done to excess.

Eyring said there would be no church policy regarding girls masturbating because, as he stated, "I don't think girls do that. From what I understand, they don't have penises!"

Jerome Kagan - The Meaning of Psychological Abnormality

The Dana Foundation posted this great article by Jerome Kagan, Ph.D., emeritus professor of psychology at Harvard University
[He] was co-director of the Harvard Mind/Brain/Behavior Interfaculty Initiative. He is a pioneer in the study of the cognitive and emotional development of a child during the first decade of life, focusing on the origins of temperament, and is author or co-author of more than 20 books, including the classic Galen’s Prophecy: Temperament in Human Nature (Basic Books 1995).
This a great article on the prevalence -- or lack thereof -- of childhood mental illness. Kagan believes it has much more to do with how kids are being raised these days. I tend to agree, with some reservations.

The Meaning of Psychological Abnormality

By Jerome Kagan About Jerome Kagan November 10, 2008

Widespread diagnoses of childhood disorders trouble scientists such as Dr. Jerome Kagan, who argues here that social conditions, not biology, are often to blame. Kagan elucidates possible reasons for the increase, citing, among other explanations, pressures on parents to raise flawless children. He concludes by proposing ways to avoid misdiagnoses in the future.
The recent increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism, bipolar illness, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), widely reported in the media, has created worry both among the public and among health officials. It is important, therefore, to ask whether this troubling trend reflects a true rise in mental illness or is the result of changes in the definition of childhood psychiatric disorders. The latter explanation is likely because the concept of psychopathology is ambiguous, and physicians have considerable latitude when they classify a child as mentally ill. Because a diagnosis of ADHD, bipolar disorder, or autism allows parents to obtain special educational and therapeutic resources that would not be forthcoming if the child is called mentally retarded, incorrigible, or uninterested in academic progress, doctors are motivated to please the distraught parents who want to help their child.
Psychiatrists diagnose a mental disorder when a set of behaviors or emotions is infrequent (usually possessed by less than 10 percent of the population); when the child or family is distressed by the symptoms; or when the symptoms interfere with the child’s adaptation to his or her society. Often distress and poor adaptation occur together. But because both the frequency of a symptom and its adaptive qualities change with history and across cultures, the prevalence of many mental illnesses also changes. For example, most children living in the American colonies during the 17th century were not required to maintain attention on an intellectual task for five or six hours a day—and there was no concept of ADHD. Social phobia also was less common because youths knew almost everyone in their village or small town. Although a Puritan child who resisted most parental requests would be classified as deviant and in need of help, psychiatrists today would not have classified a 6-year-old who resisted most parental requests as having oppositional disorder if neither the parents nor the child was concerned with the latter’s autonomous behavior and the child performed relatively well in school.

Changing Social Challenges

Each historical era within a society poses special adaptive challenges for its members, and traits that would be regarded as maladaptive and possible signs of a disorder in one era might be more adaptive in another. For example, adolescents who wore sexually provocative clothing and rejected the existence of God would have been both rare and a source of parental worry in 17th-century Massachusetts, but today these traits would not be regarded as signs of pathology.
In addition to changing definitions of pathology, three other factors are contributing to the apparent epidemic of childhood psychopathology in economically developed societies.
First, the contemporary American economy requires every child to complete high school with adequate language and mathematical skills, and preferably go on to receive a college degree, in order to obtain a job with some financial security. These were not requirements in the 18th century; Benjamin Franklin did not have the advantage of a high school education. The pragmatic requirement for academic accomplishment generates worry in parents who are concerned about their child’s future. Hence, they become anxious if they believe their preschool child shows signs of future academic difficulty.
Second, the availability of technologies that detect serious biological problems in the unborn child enables parents to make the legal choice of aborting these embryos. Because many do so, the proportion of severely abnormal children today is smaller than it was a century ago. Hence, a child with an obvious abnormality, such as Down syndrome, has become more conspicuous, leaving parents more vulnerable to a blend of anxiety, shame, and guilt if they sire a child with observable symptoms that are stigmatizing. It is not surprising, therefore, that many parents, especially those not considering abortion, are eager to take advantage of diagnostic techniques that might reveal a potential problem; if there is one, therapeutic interventions might then be implemented early in development.
The American ethic of egalitarianism, which obligates each individual to award dignity and respect to all citizens independent of their values or practices, is a third factor contributing to the increase in diagnoses with a genetic cause. This moral imperative makes it more difficult to blame parental neglect or ineffective socialization practices as contributors to aggressive behavior or poor academic performance and easy to award power to genes for which no one is responsible. Such an attitude frees parents of excessive guilt for the undesired symptoms and protects them from community criticism. The availability of technologies that assess genomes, along with the media’s advocacy of biological determinism, has persuaded many Americans that genes must be exceedingly potent, even though no scientist has found any particular gene, or cluster of genes, that is a consistent correlate of poor attention skills, hyperactivity, aggressive behavior, academic failure, chronic disobedience, or excessive shyness, independent of the child’s social class, ethnicity, cultural background, gender, and history of experiences.1

Read the rest of this article.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Create a Charter for Compassion

I'm late coming to this, but The Charter for Compassion is a great idea that I think deserves more attention, despite what PZ Myers might think (I swear the New Atheists are sometimes more fundamentalist than the religions they reject to completely -- doing the baby with the bathwater type thing).

Help us create a Charter for Compassion

People of all nations, all faiths, all backgrounds, are invited to contribute.

By recognizing that the Golden Rule is fundamental to all world religions, the Charter for Compassion can inspire people to think differently about religion. This Charter is being created in a collaborative project by people from all over the world. It will be completed in 2009. Use this site to offer language you'd like to see included. Or inspire others by sharing your own story of compassion.

The Charter for Compassion

The Charter for Compassion is a collaborative effort to build a peaceful and harmonious global community. Bringing together the voices of people from all religions, the Charter seeks to remind the world that while all faiths are not the same, they all share the core principle of compassion and the Golden Rule. The Charter will change the tenor of the conversation around religion. It will be a clarion call to the world.

Over the next months this site will be open for the world to contribute to Charter for Compassion. Using innovative group decision-making software, people of all faiths, from all across the globe, will contribute their words and stories on a website designed specifically for the Charter. A Council of Sages, made up of religious thinkers and leaders, will craft the world’s words into the final version of the Charter. The document will not only speak to the core ideas of compassion but will also address the actions all segments of society can take to bring these ideas into the world more fully. The Charter for Compassion will then be signed by religious leaders of all faiths at a large launch event, followed by a series of other events to publicize and promote the Charter around the world.

“The Charter will show that the voice of negativity and violence so often associated with religion is the minority and that the voice of compassion is the majority”

The Charter for Compassion will not be a new organization. There are hundreds of existing organizations around the world already working tirelessly in the name of compassion and interfaith dialogue. Our goal is to highlight these groups in effort to raise the profile of their work.

The Charter will show that the voice of negativity and violence so often associated with religion is the minority and that the voice of compassion is the majority. Through the participation of the grassroots, people around the world will expect more out of religious leaders and one another. In doing so, the Charter will shift conceptions of religion for all people.

Here's more:

Karen Armstrong

“I say that religion isn’t about believing things. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.”

Karen Armstrong is one of the most provocative, original thinkers on the role of religion in the modern world. Armstrong is a former Roman Catholic nun who left a British convent to pursue a degree in modern literature at Oxford. In 1982 she wrote a book about her seven years in the convent, Through the Narrow Gate, that angered and challenged Catholics worldwide; her recent book The Spiral Staircase discusses her subsequent spiritual awakening after leaving the convent, when she began to develop her iconoclastic take on the great monotheistic religions.

She has written more than 20 books around the ideas of what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common, and around their effect on world events, including the magisterial A History of God and Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World. Her latest book is The Bible: A Biography. Her meditations on personal faith and religion (she calls herself a freelance monotheist) spark discussion — especially her take on fundamentalism, which she sees in a historical context, as an outgrowth of modern culture.

In the post-9/11 world, she is a powerful voice for ecumenical understanding.

In 2008, Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize. Watch her wish below:

Popping a Water Balloon in Zero Gravity

I heard them talk about this on Science Friday while I was driving home from work. It looks as cool as I hoped it might.
About ten years ago, two scientists had a little extra time on board NASA's low gravity aircraft and came up with the idea of popping water balloons. Mechanical engineers Seth Lichter, of Northwestern University, and Mark Weislogel, of Portland State University, use the floating water balls to explain some basic principles of physics.

What did you think of the video? Footage courtesy of NASA and Mark Weislogel. Music by SYNTHAR. Produced by Flora Lichtman.

The Problem of Consciousness - A Talk with Alva Noë

This week's Edge features Alva Noë talking about the problem of consciousness. I like Noë for the simple reason that he is not a reductionist like so many other philosophers and neuroscientists - he recognizes that consciousness transcends and includes the brain, but is not defined purely by brain activity.

Perhaps because he is a philosopher, rather than a scientist, he is open to this possibility. Whatever the reason, we need more thinking like this (even though I don't agree with all of his points).
The Problem of Consciousness - A Talk with Alva Noë

The problem of consciousness is understanding how this world is there for us. It shows up in our senses. It shows up in our thoughts. Our feelings and interests and concerns are directed to and embrace this world around us. We think, we feel, the world shows up for us. To me that's the problem of consciousness. That is a real problem that needs to be studied, and it's a special problem.

A useful analogy is life. What is life? We can point to all sorts of chemical processes, metabolic processes, reproductive processes that are present where there is life. But we ask, where is the life? You don't say life is a thing inside the organism. The life is this process that the organism is participating in, a process that involves an environmental niche and dynamic selectivity. If you want to find the life, look to the dynamic of the animal's engagement with its world. The life is there. The life is not inside the animal. The life is the way the animal is in the world.

ALVA NOË is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. He works principally on the philosophy of mind and cognitive science, with special interest in the theory of perception, and is also interested in the philosophy of art, the history of analytic philosophy, Phenomenology, and Wittgenstein.

Alva Noë's Edge Bio Page


[ALVA NOË:] The central thing that I think about is our nature, our human-animal nature, our being in this world. What is a person? What is a human being? What is consciousness? There is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm at the moment about these questions.

They are usually framed as questions about the brain, about how the brain makes consciousness happen, how the brain constitutes who we are, what we are, what we want—our behavior. The thing I find so striking is that, at the present time, we actually can't give any satisfactory explanations about the nature of human experience in terms of the functioning of the brain.

What explains this is really quite simple. You are not your brain. You have a brain, yes. But you are a living being that is connected to an environment; you are embodied, and dynamically interacting with the world. We can't explain consciousness in terms of the brain alone because consciousness doesn't happen in the brain alone.

Go to the page to read the rest and watch the video.

Robert Thurman Interviewed - Mind & Reality Symposium

Good interview.
For two days in February of 2006, twenty-four remarkable scholars crossed departmental lines to convene in Columbia University's historic Low Rotunda for a lively discussion on mind, body, and human consciousness at, MIND & REALITY: A MULTIDISCIPLINARY SYMPOSIUM ON CONSCIOUSNESS This video is part of series from that event.

The speaker in this video is Robert A.F. Thurman.
Professor Thurman is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, President of Tibet House North America (a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Tibetan civilization), and President of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies (a non-profit affiliated with the Center for Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and dedicated to the publication of translations of important texts from the Tibetan Tanjur).

Professor Thurman is the translator of many Buddhist philosophical treatises and sutras, and the author of numerous books including the national bestseller, Inner Revolution: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Real Happiness; Anger (the fifth book from a series on the "seven deadly sins"); and most recently, The Jewel Tree of Tibet: The Enlightenment Engine of Tibetan Buddhism.

Thurman's other writings and lectures have examined Asian history (particularly the history of the monastic institution in the Asian civilization) and critical philosophy, with a focus on the dialogue between the material and inner sciences of the world's religious traditions. In 1997, Time magazine chose Robert Thurman as one of its twenty-five most influential Americans.

Jay Garfield on Ethics

Good lecture.
For two days in February of 2006, twenty-four remarkable scholars crossed departmental lines to convene in Columbia University's historic Low Rotunda for a lively discussion on mind, body, and human consciousness at, MIND & REALITY: A MULTIDISCIPLINARY SYMPOSIUM ON CONSCIOUSNESS. This video is part of series from that event.

The speaker in this video is Jay Garfield.
Garfield teaches and pursues research in the philosophy of mind, foundations of cognitive science, logic, philosophy of language, Buddhist philosophy, cross-cultural hermeneutics, theoretical and applied ethics and epistemology. He is director of the logic program and teaches at Smith College.

Jay is also director of the Five College Logic Program and the Five College Tibetan Studies in India Program, an exchange program between the Five Colleges and the Tibetan universities in India and so most Januaries takes groups of students to study Buddhist philosophy at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in India. Jay is also a member of the Graduate Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Melbourne.

Jay's most recent book is Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation (Oxford University Press 2002). He and Geshe Ngawang Samten have translated Tsong Khapa's commentary on Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika (Ocean of Reasoning). Jay is currently working on projects on the development of the theory of mind in children with particular attention to the role of pretense in that process; the impact of teaching philosophy in primary schools on the development of citizenship values; the law of noncontradiction; and the history of Buddhist idealism in India and Tibet (especially the impact of Sthiramati.

Smart DNA: Programming the Molecule of Life for Work and Play

Scientific American takes a look at the possibilities of programming DNA. While there are many possibilities that can be beneficial to humans, there might also be some issues where we begin to "select" who we are at the molecular level. Some serious ethics issues will arise. For now, however, there seem to be some great health uses.

Smart DNA: Programming the Molecule of Life for Work and Play

Logic gates made of DNA could one day operate in your bloodstream, collectively making medical decisions and taking action. For now, they play a mean game of in vitro tic-tac-toe

By Joanne Macdonald, Darko Stefanovic and Milan N. Stojanovic

Tic-tac-toe-playing-computer consisting of DNA strands in solution demonstrates the potential of molecular logic gates. Jean-Francois Podevin

Key Concepts

  • DNA molecules can act as elementary logic gates analogous to the silicon-based gates of ordinary computers. Short strands of DNA serve as the gates’ inputs and outputs.
  • Ultimately, such gates could serve as dissolved “doctors”—sensing molecules such as markers on cells and jointly choosing how to respond.
  • Automata built from these DNA gates demonstrate the system’s computational abilities by playing an unbeatable game of tic-tac-toe.

From a modern chemist’s perspective, the structure of DNA in our genes is rather mundane. The molecule has a well-known importance for life, but chemists often see only a uniform double helix with almost no functional behavior on its own. It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that this molecule is the basis of a truly rich and strange research area that bridges synthetic chemistry, enzymology, structural nanotechnology and computer science.

Using this new science, we have constructed molecular versions of logic gates that can operate in water solution. Our goal in building these DNA-based computing modules is to develop nanoscopic machines that could exist in living organisms, sensing conditions and making decisions based on what they sense, then responding with actions such as releasing medicine or killing specific cells.

We have demonstrated some of the abilities of our DNA gates by building automata that play perfect games of tic-tac-toe. The human player adds solutions of DNA strands to signal his or her moves, and the DNA computer responds by lighting up the square it has chosen to take next. Any mistake by the human player will be punished with defeat. Although game playing is a long way from our ultimate goals, it is a good test of how readily the elementary molecular computing modules can be combined in plug-and-play fashion to perform complicated functions, just as the silicon-based gates in modern computers can be wired up to form the complex logic circuits that carry out everything that computers do for us today.

Dissolved Doctors
Near the end of 1997 two of us (Stojanovic and Stefanovic) decided to combine our individual skills in chemistry and computer science and work on a project together. As friends from elementary school in Belgrade, Serbia, we happened to be having dinner, and, encouraged by some wine, we considered several topics, including bioinformatics and various existing ways of using DNA to perform computations. We decided to develop a new method to employ molecules to compute and make decisions on their own.

We planned to borrow an approach from electrical engineering and create a set of molecular modules, or primitives, that would perform elementary computing operations. In electrical engineering the computing primitives are called logic gates, with intuitive names such as AND, OR and NOT. These gates receive incoming electrical signals that represent the 0s and 1s of binary code and perform logic operations to produce outgoing electrical signals. For instance, an AND gate produces an output 1 only if its two incoming inputs are both 1. Modern-day computers have hundreds of millions of such logic gates connected into very complex circuits, like elaborate structures built out of just a few kinds of Lego blocks. Similarly, we hoped that our molecular modules could be mixed together into increasingly complex computing devices.

We did not aim, however, to compete with silicon-based computers. Instead, because Stojanovic had just finished a brief stint with a pharmaceutical company, we settled on developing a system that could be useful for making “smart” therapeutic agents, such as drugs that could sense and analyze conditions in a patient and respond appropriately with no human intervention after being injected. For example, one such smart agent might monitor glucose levels in the blood and decide when to release insulin. Thus, our molecular logic gates had to be biocompatible.

Such molecular modules could have innumerable functions. For instance, in diseases such as leukemia, numerous subpopulations of white blood cells in the immune system display characteristic markers on their cell surfaces, depending on the cells’ lineage and their stage of development. Present-day therapies using antibodies eliminate large numbers of these subpopulations at once, because they target only one of the surface markers. Such indiscriminate attacks can suppress the patient’s immune system by wiping out too many healthy cells, leading to serious complications and even death. Molecular modules capable of working together to sense and analyze multiple markers—including performing logical operations such as “markers A and either B or C are present, but D is absent”—might be able to select the specific subpopulations of cells that are diseased and growing out of control and then eliminate only those cells.

Go read the whole article.

#@!* What makes language 'foul'?

An interesting article from Jan Freeman at The Boston Globe. I've always been amused that certain syllables or collections of syllables can be deemed offensive, while other are not. Language is a curious thing when one considers it from a distance.

Context, in this Supreme Court case, is everything, except when Roberts and Scalia are considering language. Pure silliness. Key point:
This is pretty simple-minded reasoning for such smart guys. If the association with the literal sense is what makes words dirty, as the FCC contends, then why aren't sex, copulate, dung, and defecate dirty words?
Or, I would add, crap, pee, urine, and so many other words -- and the euphemisms for sex are many and creative. Anyway, read it for yourself.


What makes language 'foul'?

By Jan Freeman November 9, 2008

LAST TUESDAY, WHILE you were standing in line at the polls or tweaking your interactive electoral map, the Supreme Court took an hour to debate whether the F-word and the S-word are always and irredeemably dirty. The Federal Communications Commission was there to argue the case for its "Bono rule." The FCC used to tolerate "fleeting expletives" like Bono's F-word exclamation at the 2003 Golden Globe awards, saying they were not literal and thus not "indecent."

After Bono - and Nicole Richie and Cher, who sneaked past the censors during live awards shows on Fox TV - the FCC decided it wanted to penalize broadcasters even for fleeting and figurative transgressions. So now it is claiming that the F-word and the S-word always remind listeners of sex and excrement, no matter how metaphorical or meaningless the context.

A federal appeals court has already rejected the FCC's argument, citing taboo utterances by President Bush and Vice President Cheney as evidence that such uses don't necessarily carry the words' literal senses.

But Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia weren't persuaded. They seemed eager to agree with Gregory Garre, the US solicitor general, who said that "even the non-literal use of a word like the F-word, because of the core meaning of that word as one of the most vulgar, graphic, and explicit words for sexual activity . . . inevitably conjures up a coarse sexual image."

Scalia chimed in: "Which is, indeed, why it's used."

And Roberts, addressing Fox TV's lawyer Carter Phillips, endorsed the FCC's theory when he answered his own question - "Why do you think the F-word has shocking value or emphasis or force?" - with "Because it is associated with sexual or excretory activity."

This is pretty simple-minded reasoning for such smart guys. If the association with the literal sense is what makes words dirty, as the FCC contends, then why aren't sex, copulate, dung, and defecate dirty words?

Conversely, a word can be taboo without having a taboo source. Bloody turned bawdy in mid-18th century England, and it retains enough shock value that two years ago an Australian Tourist Board ad slogan - "Where the bloody hell are you?" - was banned in Britain. (Yes, people will tell you bloody is a reference to God's blood, Our Lady's blood, or menstrual blood. Ask them for the evidence.)

In fact, Phillips had the right answer: The F-word, he said, shocks for "the same reason the S-word does; it's because in some circles it is inappropriate." Words acquire taboo connotations the same way they get other senses: By our collective agreement.

"We as a society have invested ourselves in treating these words as taboo," Chris Potts, a linguist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told the Wall Street Journal. "It sounds very circular, but the underlying logic is that because it is taboo it should remain taboo."

Scalia got a laugh by joking that sex is the reason we don't "use 'golly waddles' instead of the F-word." But "golly waddles" could easily be taboo, since golly is a replacement for "God." On my bookshelf is a 1942 novel, set in rural Ohio, in which a boy is punished for using an expression his grandmother calls "vile" and "blasphemous"; the expression is "by gosh."

But most of us, like Scalia, have long since forgotten that gosh is ungodly. It's a common fate of dysphemisms, notes Harvard's Steven Pinker, commenting on the FCC case in the current issue of The Atlantic. "Over time, taboo words relinquish their literal meanings and retain only a coloring of emotion, and then just an ability to arouse attention," he writes. "This progression explains why many speakers are unaware that sucker . . . originally referred to fellatio, or that a jerk was a masturbator."

The F-word, however, seems likely to retain its awful magic for a while yet. Roberts gave us his measure of its power when he conceded that kids - the object of all this judicial concern - can evaluate words in context. "They know . . . it's one thing to use the [F-word] in, say, 'Saving Private Ryan,' when your arm gets blown off. It's another thing to do it when you are standing up at an awards ceremony." It's the Roberts Rule: You can swear on daytime TV as long as you suffer grievous bodily harm.

Phillips, the Fox lawyer, suggested that all the hoop-de-do was overkill, that audiences and advertisers can enforce community standards without the feds. Pinker agrees: "In a free society, these annoyances are naturally regulated in the marketplace of people's reactions." I think they're probably right, though I'm a bad witness: I saw three reruns of "Sex and the City" on basic cable before I noticed that the cussing was missing. But then, I'm one of those wimpy viewers who would rather hear 100 obscenities than see a person's arm blown off.
Read Steven Pinker's article from the Atlantic - Freedom’s Curse.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Letting Go, Letting in Light: Being with Dying - Joan Halifax Roshi Talks about Life and Her New Book

A great article/interview from Wild River Review. Joan Halifax Roshi has been one of my favorite writers for years. If you haven't already, read The Fruitful Darkness.

Letting Go, Letting in Light, Being with Dying

Joan Halifax Roshi Talks about Life and Her Groundbreaking Book

" Old age, sickness and death do not have to be equated with suffering; we can live and practice in such a way that dying is a natural rite of passage, a completion of our life, and even the ultimate liberation.”

Being with Dying, by Joan Halifax, Shambhala Publications, 2008

Joan Halifax Roshi by Gary Block

"My field is dying,” says Joan Halifax Roshi, with a smile. “How we die and how we live can't be separated because factors and policies surrounding death affect the well-being of us all.”

Halifax, Head Abbess and Founder of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and director of the Project on Being with the Dying, should know. “You could say I've been on a death trip for the past thirty years,” she adds. “Although, I'm a specialist in death, I'm also an incredible generalist.”

One might wonder how Halifax became a generalist on “a death trip.” But her journey from anthropologist to Zen master and expert on working with the end stage of life has everything to do with her quest to understand what makes us human.

With a PhD in Medical Anthropology and forty years of fieldwork in countries as varied as Africa, Mexico, Tibet and Canada, Halifax breaks new ground in her book, Being with Dying showing how the universal stages of caregiving, dying, and death, are a celebration of life.

“We should remember that only ten percent of people die quickly and painlessly,” she says. “For the rest of us, whether we are on a conscious death trip or not, we will share this process with the people we love, and they will do this with us.”

WRR: Your new book, Being with Dying, draws on thirty years of work in end of life care. What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing it?

Joan Halifax: I learned once again that writing a book is a difficult and revealing practice. Every word is a process of truth telling. One has to live with these words in the future; so being careful and self-honest is essential. One thing I do feel is that I am more at ease around the truth of mortality than I had supposed. I think being older has contributed to that, but the book certainly helped because I had to think deeply about the process of dying during the years it took to write it.

WRR: When you were four years old, you contracted a virus, which left you blind until you were six. How did it change your view of the world?

Joan Halifax: I call it my own catastrophe - where according to John Kabat-Zinn catastrophe means everything we experience including thoughts, fantasies, material possessions, illness, health, anything to do with our bodies. For me it was blindness and paralysis. I was blind until age six and was not well socialized, so I became an introvert with a personality; a one-on-one, or a one-in-a-thousand being. Since I could not see and spent much time alone, I had to learn to see beyond seeing, with my imagination. And because I was so young, my blindness was a non-tragic, but interesting time in my life.

Read the whole interview.

In The Know: Should The Government Stop Dumping Money Into A Giant Hole?

A bit of economic satire from The Onion News Network.

In The Know: Should The Government Stop Dumping Money Into A Giant Hole?

Marilyn Hamilton - Leadership Development: Accelerating the Development of Post-Conventional Leaders

A great article that was presented at the first ever integral conference this summer in the Bay Area. Thanks to Integral Praxis for the heads up.

Leadership Development: Accelerating the Development of Post-Conventional Leaders

© Marilyn Hamilton, PhD CGA - All rights reserved

October 7, 2008

Integral Theory in Action Conference

At the first bi-annual Integral Theory in Action (ITIA) Conference at John F. Kennedy University (JFKU) in August 2008, I had the honour and pleasure of presenting a paper on my 12 years of Learning and Leadership research and a preview poster presentation of my forthcoming book Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive. The paper will be published shortly and the book is imminent as well. In the book, I allocate more than one chapter to explore the importance of leadership to the wellbeing of cities.

In an Integral City, I assume “that effective city leadership requires an understanding of dynamic human development, integrated with healthy workplaces, education and healthcare systems. Effective city leaders are interested and invest in leadership of themselves, other individuals, organizations and communities at the appropriate level of complexity. Effective leaders lead from about a half a level ahead of the current level of development, offering a vision that is a stretch but attainable (Hamilton, 2008).”


This article is a report on a key theme of the ITIA Conference. I review five presentations on leadership development research, that confirm many of my propositions about the quality and criteria needed to grow leaders for an Integral City. (Using the Spiral Dynamics (SDi) (Beck & Cowan, 1996) levels of complexity, I describe these leaders as Level 8 leaders with capacities that these five papers reference as Level 5 or post-conventional leaders, using the summary levels derived from the work of Bill Torbert and Robert Kegan.)

The five presentations are intertwined because they ground, use and/or apply findings from each other’s work. (It should be noted that each of these papers is available in full format from the ITIA website on a CD bibliography and/or audio DVD.)

The first review of the presentation by Bill Torbert and his associates at Boston College, has influenced the second paper by Gauthier and Fowler from JFKU, which has in turn contributed to the third paper which outlines the development of conventional leaders by Stagen Consulting. The fourth paper describes the original work of Bill Joiner (and Stephen Josephs) on Leadership Agility and the fifth is research at the organizational level by John Schmidt and Cynthia McEwen that examines many of the leadership insights from the first four studies with a particular focus on the field of sustainability.

To start with, I would like to offer a summary of the life conditions that describe the context for developing leaders capable of serving an Integral City. Gauthier and Fowler (Gauthier & Fowler, 2008) argue that the leadership development field is impacted by both “enhancing forces and constraining forces”. Enhancing forces are visible from the emergence of: the talent competition across all sectors creating demand for capable leaders; the adoption by many business schools of the UN Global Compact’s principles for responsible management education; civil society and its influence; social entrepreneur networks; collaborative and multi-sector partnerships for leadership development; cross-generational and international leadership networks; virtual education; ‘cultural creative’ and of ‘post-conventional’ leaders, in Gen X and younger cohorts; partnering paradigms with women as catalysts; and spiritual practice and creativity in wellbeing domains.

Although the authors were considering mostly organizational scale change (rather than city scale change), the constraining forces to effective leadership development programs that they identified also apply to cities: distraction by short-term performance goals; time pressures; quantitative metrics; limited integration of existing leadership programs; limited numbers of qualified change practitioners/educators; prohibitive expense of generative leadership development programs; little focus on the development of collective leadership or collective intelligence; and the domination mindset common to older men.

On a larger scale of human systems, they noted the “increasing fragmentation of society and growing individualism and materialism with a growing fundamentalism in some societies”.

Read the whole article.

Neuron - Theoretical Neuroscience Rising

The journal Neuron has a rare open-source article on the growing influence of theoretical neuroscience.

Theoretical Neuroscience Rising

L.F. Abbott1,

1 Department of Neuroscience and Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY 10032, USA


Theoretical neuroscience has experienced explosive growth over the past 20 years. In addition to bringing new researchers into the field with backgrounds in physics, mathematics, computer science, and engineering, theoretical approaches have helped to introduce new ideas and shape directions of neuroscience research. This review presents some of the developments that have occurred and the lessons they have taught us.

Main Text


Twenty years ago, when Neuron got its start, theoretical neuroscience was experiencing a start of its own. Of course, there were important theoretical contributions to neuroscience long before 1988, most notably: the development of what we now call the integrate-and-fire model by Lapicque in 1907; the modeling of the action potential by Hodgkin and Huxley, a brilliant theoretical offshoot of their experimental work; the development of dendritic and axonal cable theory by Wilfred Rall; and the broad insights of David Marr. Nevertheless, over the past 20 years, theoretical neuroscience has changed from a field practiced by a few multitalented experimentalists and dedicated theorists (Jack Cowan, Steven Grossberg, John Rinzel, and Terry Sejnowski being early examples) sparsely scattered around the world to an integral component of virtually every scientific meeting and major department. Something has changed. How did this happen, and what impact has it had?

Two developments in the mid-1980s set the stage for the rapid expansion of theoretical neuroscience. One was the popularization of the backpropagation algorithm for training artificial neural networks (Rumelhart and McClelland, 1986). This greatly expanded the range of tasks that artificial neural networks could perform and led to a number of people entering neural network research. Around the same time, Amit, Gutfreund, and Sompolinsky (Amit et al., 1985) showed how a memory model proposed by Hopfield, 1982 could be analyzed using methods of statistical physics originally designed for spin glasses. The sheer beauty of this calculation drew a large batch of physicists into the field. These new immigrants entered with high confidence-to-knowledge ratios that, hopefully, have been reduced through large growth in the denominators and more modest adjustments of the numerators.

What has a theoretical component brought to the field of neuroscience? Neuroscience has always had models (how would it be possible to contemplate experimental results in such complex systems without a model in one's head?), but prior to the invasion of the theorists, these were often word models. There are several advantages of expressing a model in equations rather than words. Equations force a model to be precise, complete, and self-consistent, and they allow its full implications to be worked out. It is not difficult to find word models in the conclusions sections of older neuroscience papers that sound reasonable but, when expressed as mathematical models, turn out to be inconsistent and unworkable. Mathematical formulation of a model forces it to be self-consistent and, although self-consistency is not necessarily truth, self-inconsistency is certainly falsehood.

A skillful theoretician can formulate, explore, and often reject models at a pace that no experimental program can match.This is a major role of theory--to generate and vet ideas prior to full experimental testing. Having active theoretical contributors in the field allows us collectively to contemplate a vastly greater number of solutions to the many problems we face in neuroscience. Both theorists and experimentalists generate and test ideas, but due to the more rapid turnover time in mathematical and computational compared to experimental analyses, theorists can act as initial filters of ideas prior to experimental investigation. In this regard, it is the theorist's job to develop, test, frequently reject, and sometimes promote new ideas.

Theoretical neuroscience is sometimes criticized for not making enough predictions. This is part of a pre-versus-post debate about the field that has nothing to do with synapses. Although there are notable examples of predictions made by theorists and later verified by experimentalists in neuroscience, examples of postdictions are far more numerous and often more interesting. To apply prediction as the ultimate test of a theory is a distortion of history. Many of the most celebrated moments in quantitative science--the gravitational basis of the shape of planetary orbits, the quantum basis of the spectrum of the hydrogen atom, and the relativistic origin of the precession of the orbit of Mercury--involved postdictions of known and well-characterized phenomena. In neuroscience especially, experimentalists have gotten a big head start. There is nothing wrong with a model that postdicts previously known phenomena. The key test of the value of a theory is not necessarily whether it predicts something new, but whether it makes postdictions that generalize to other systems and provide valuable new ways of thinking.

The development of a theoretical component to neuroscience research has had significant educational impact across the biological sciences. The Sloan-Swartz initiative, for example, has supported almost 80 researchers who successfully transitioned from other fields to faculty positions in neuroscience. Jim Bower and Christof Koch set up the computational neuroscience course at Woods Hole, a summer course that is still educating people with backgrounds in both the biological and physical sciences and that has been copied in courses around the world. Biology used to be a refuge for students fleeing mathematics, but now many life sciences students have a solid knowledge of basic mathematics and computer programming, and those that don't at least feel guilty about it. A number of developments have led to this shift, the rise of theoretical neuroscience certainly being one of them.

The following sections provide a sparse sampling of theoretical developments that have occurred over the past 20 years and discuss some of the things they have taught us. The presentation is idiosyncratic, with some developments presented in a different context than when they first appeared and perhaps from what their creators intended, and many important achievements ignored entirely. The focus is on lessons learned from a subset of the theoretical advances over the past 20 years.

Read the whole article.