Saturday, January 24, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell on Barack Obama the 'Outlier'

City Arts & Lectures
San Francisco, CA
Jan 15th, 2009

Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell says Barack Obama fits his theory of the 'outlier' and discusses the uniqueness of his rise to become the 44th President of the United States of America.

Daily Dharma - Each Presently Arisen State

Tricycle's Daily Dharma:

Each Presently Arisen State

"Let not a person revive the past
Or on the future build his hopes;
For the past has been left behind
And the future has not been reached.
Instead with insight let him see
Each presently arisen state;
Let him know that and be sure of it,
Invincibly, unshakeably.
Today the effort must be made;
Tomorrow Death may come, who knows?
No bargain with Mortality
Can keep him and his hordes away.
But one who dwells thus ardently,
Relentlessly, by day, by night--
It is he, the Peaceful Sage has said,
Who has one fortunate attachment."

~ Lomasakangiyabhaddekaratta Sutta, in The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, trans. by Bhikkhu Bodhi; from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

Dharma Quote - Dualistic Thinking

This weeks Dharma Quote from Snow Lion Publications is a nice passage from Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche on the practice of Vajrakilaya.
Dharma Quote of the Week

Even though supreme awareness is the basic nature of reality, because we do not realize this, as sentient beings we develop dualistic thinking. We start making distinctions between subject and object, near and far, and so forth, and then we cling to those as real. The twelve links of interdependence arise, and, beginning with ignorance, we develop the notions of "me" and "mine," and all sorts of deluded thinking. The great master Chandrakirti taught that you begin by clinging to the ego, then you cling to "what is mine," then to "what is other," such that there is an ongoing state of delusion. Due to clinging, our habitual patterns become stronger and stronger, and all our conceptions become regimented and solid.

In order to dispel ignorance and dualistic thinking, Vajrakilaya arises in a wrathful form. The wrath of Vajrakilaya is not the wrath of anger or jealousy; it is the wrath that destroys anger and jealousy. It is not like being angry with enemies and being attached to friends. This wrath is totally based upon great compassion. Directed toward duality, ego-clinging, grasping, and ignorance, Vajrakilaya's anger demolishes the causes of delusion throughout the six realms. Since it is based on immeasurable loving-kindness and immeasurable compassion, it is known as the phurba of immeasurable compassion.

To apply this phurba in a practical way, rather than becoming angry toward external situations, we begin by feeling great compassion for sentient beings. Then we start working with our own emotions to demolish ignorance, attachment, anger, jealousy, pride, fear, and doubts. We remove these emotions according to the way we interact with the world. At the same time, we expand our compassion for all beings in the six realms.

~ From The Dark Red Amulet: Oral Instructions on the Practice of Vajrakilaya by Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche, published by Snow Lion Publications.

New Criterion - Guarding the Boundaries (on Relativism)

The New Criterion posted this cool article, Guarding the Boundaries, about the metaphysical downside of relativism. Daniels is concerned that the absence of boundaries defining the good and the beautiful might, by definition, eliminate any real, agreed upon sense that there is anything good or beautiful.

This is an almost integrally argued stance - that beyond relativistic acceptance of all perspectives there needs to be some form of higher sense of what is good and beautiful, perhaps at an archetypal level (not the Jungian sense of the, but in the Platonic sense).

I think this is an important idea for artists and writers to be wrestling with, and perhaps defending in their work.

Guarding the boundaries

by Anthony Daniels

On the moral consequences of relativism (from "The Dictatorship of Relativism.")

Since I’ve received no education in philosophy whatever, it is no doubt very rash of me to make a broad generalization concerning the subject, but I shall risk it nonetheless: that in the whole history of philosophy not a single important philosophical problem has ever been solved beyond all possible dispute.

I know that the late Sir Karl Popper claimed to have solved the problem of induction not merely to his own satisfaction, but also to the satisfaction of all rational men; alas, I do not think that all rational men have reciprocated by agreeing with him. Pace Popper, the philosophy of science is not now at an end, any more than is mental, political, or moral philosophy.

Unless I am much mistaken, the metaphysical foundations of aesthetic and moral judgment have not been established with anything like the certainty with which, say, the circulation of the blood has been established. I know that it is fashionable to state that all scientific knowledge is provisional, and itself rests upon metaphysically uncertain foundations. Perhaps in the abstract this is correct; yet I do not think anyone seriously expects a future researcher to discover that the blood does not in fact circulate. Evidently, there are degrees even of scientific tentativeness.

If every moral judgment is metaphysically uncertain, unsupported by any philosophical lender of last resort, it appears to some people that the only answer to the question of how people ought to behave is a complete relativism, possibly backed up by some version of John Stuart Mill’s principle that everything is permissible that does not harm another person.

This conclusion is strengthened by the observation, first made by Herodotus, I believe, that what men have thought good (or for that matter beautiful) has been infinitely various, or nearly so; and since there is no reason to believe that any group of men has become either better or more intelligent than men in Herodotus’s day, our judgment of what we consider good (or beautiful) is arbitrary, or aleatory, that is to say contingent upon such matters as when and where we are born, into what social class, with what mental apparatus, etc.

Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so; and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What we think and see in matters of moral and aesthetic judgment is to a large extent determined by our circumstances; for neither goodness nor beauty is out there in the world awaiting discovery, like the planet Pluto, by men armed with telescopes and mathematical equations.

Now let us, for the sake of argument, grant that this is so: that we can not place any moral or aesthetic judgment on firm, which is to say indubitable, metaphysical foundations; and that as a matter of observable fact men have formed very different judgments about the good and beautiful over the ages and in different regions of the world. Does it follow that the only resort left to us is a kind of multiculturalism in which each ego is an entire culture of its own?

I do not think so. Men can no more avoid making moral and aesthetic judgments than they can avoid eating: It is built into their very nature to make such judgments. Accordingly, there is no human society that has no concept of the good or of the beautiful, even if it is only pre-philosophical, which is to say implicit rather than explicit. Of course, what societies believe to be good or beautiful may vary, as their diet does; but judgment is as inescapable as nutrition. Even the popular desire to make no judgment is based on a judgment, that it is wrong to make a judgment. I remember a patient of mine who told me proudly, with the unmistakable smile of the anointed, that her greatest virtue was that she was non-judgmental; more recently, in response to an article I wrote, I received an email which denounced me as a judgmental illegitimate.

Now men, as I suppose I don’t have to tell you, live in societies, unless they are anchorites in the Syrian desert subsisting on honey and locusts (and even then they usually came from societies, the general rule being no societies, no anchorites in the Syrian desert). In order to rub along, more or less, men must put limits or boundaries upon their own behavior; and it certainly helps them to do so if those limits or boundaries are backed by some kind of moral principle, though the articulation between boundary and principle may be loose or contentious.

What is new about the current relativism, it seems to me, is not that it contends the positioning of boundaries, for such positioning has, I think, always been contentious: It is always possible, after all, to argue that any given boundary contributes more to the misery than to the happiness of man. Rather, the current relativism contests the very need for boundaries itself, or at any rate has the effect, once it filters down from the intelligentsia into the general population, of destroying the appreciation of the need for boundaries. And if no boundaries are needed, then any attempt to impose them is without legitimacy. Only what comes from the self is legitimate.

Read the whole article.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The End of Publicly Funded Education

I have no idea what is happening in your state, but here in Arizona, public education is screwed. When Janet Napolitano was Governor, she was able to protect education funding to a certain extent against the Republican legislature and its never-sated desire to cut education funding.

Now that Republican Jan Brewer has taken over for Napolitano (who is now Home Land Security Czar, or whatever the hell they call that position), the GOP dominated legislature has a Governor who will rubber-stamp anything they can pass. And they are thrilled at the prospect of gutting education.

Not good, as the Tucson Weekly reports:
Republican leaders followed through on their promise to focus on the state's budget crisis last week, offering a plan to trim state spending by nearly $4.9 billion over the next 18 months.

Sen. Russell Pearce and Rep. John Kavanagh, who chair the Senate and House appropriations committees, unveiled a range of options that included cuts of up to nearly a billion dollars to K-12 education, $489 million to universities, $665 million to health-care programs and $310 million to welfare agencies.

The proposals reflect the state's dire economic straits as forecasters project a shortfall of $1.6 billion in the current fiscal year, and $3 billion in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

University of Arizona President Robert Shelton said the proposed university cuts would "cripple" higher education.

"The severity of the cuts proposed would only serve to prolong the recession, damage the economy further and threaten the state's future workforce," Shelton said. "The state needs to protect its universities, not dismantle them, if it has any hope for building an economy for the future."

Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Al Melvin, a freshman Republican representing the Catalina foothills and Oro Valley, said his priorities included permanent cutbacks in state programs and the elimination of a $250 million property tax that was set to kick back in this year after a three-year suspension.

"From our point of view, there will be no new taxes," Melvin said. "There will be no borrowing. There will be cuts."

The University of Arizona is facing up to a 50% reduction in faculty:

The message they delivered that education is front and center to the state's future ``is going to carry a lot more weight than just my saying it,'' University of Arizona President Robert Shelton said.

Shelton said that the $103 million reduction in state support for the University of Arizona that the JLBC proposed for the remaining five months of the current budget year is equal to some 2,000 jobs, or half of the total jobs funded by the state.

Cuts to the university will have an impact on producing skilled workers for Arizona employers, and thus on the economic future of the state, Shelton said.

``If the JLBC proposal were to be accepted,'' he said, ``it would force massive layoffs, it would force the closure of departments and indeed whole colleges.''

Shelton added that it would reduce class sections and enlarge classes, delay graduation, costing students more in tuition and fees, and trigger a departure of valuable faculty and research grants.

The JLBC's report proposing the budget cuts is ``vindictive, hurtful and is more than just reducing the budget. It's punishing particularly higher education,'' said Regent Dennis DeConcini, a retired U.S. senator.

This is simply the continuation of ongoing efforts to cut public for education, especially in Arizona. While there might be some concessions made for K-12 education, my sense is that things will only get worse for higher education.

Organizations like Family Security Matters and conservative activist and author David Horowitz are opposed to the "liberal" academic atmosphere at most of America's Universities. Their GOP brothers and sisters in state government are seemingly in agreement, and one way they can limit the reach of the "liberal" academics is to make a university education too expensive for most people to purchase.

In Arizona, at least, with one of the worst public education systems in the country (we rank #50 on some lists), the end result of destroying the education system is an uneducated work force - and this in a state trying to attract high tech industries (Tucson has a plethora of call centers, but few high tech industries other than Raytheon, the military contractor).

I think what we are seeing is the beginning of the end of publicly funded education (Arizona is now calling higher education "publically assisted") at the university level. I think that within a few years, public colleges will be on their own, dependent on higher tuition rates and some other form of funding (perhaps industry will fund departments to create future employees?).

However it plays out, I think out culture will be the worse for the loss. An uneducated population is exactly what the GOP wants - study after study have shown lower education correlates with more conservative political views.

Fitness Myths Busted!

A good article from Yahoo News that busts some of the most common fitness myths, courtesy of Self Magazine.

Fitness Myths Busted!

By Lucy Danziger, SELF Editor-in-Chief - Posted on Tue, Jan 20, 2009, 5:26 pm PST

Shoehorning your workout into a few days a week is challenging enough—don't make it tougher by buying into those nagging exercise misconceptions that may divert your attention from pursuing your better body goals.

SELF went to the pros to poke holes in these popular fitness myths that pervade gyms, pools and exercise classes. Arm yourself with the facts to keep you slim, strong and even smarter.

MYTH: Muscle turns into fat
REALITY: Muscle and fat are two completely different tissues that have different functions, so it's physiologically impossible to turn one into the other. If you stop exercising, your muscles atrophy, so you lose the tone you worked so hard to create. And if you eat more calories than you burn, you'll gain fat.

MYTH: You need to exercise 30 minutes straight to get fit.
REALITY: Three 10-minute cardio stints offer the same healthy payback as a single 30-minute one. If you are trying to peel off pounds, of course, the more you do, the faster you'll succeed. But don't feel guilty if all you can squeeze in is a few minutes here and a few minutes there—it all adds up.

Short on time? Ratchet up the intensity of your workout: Go hard for 30 seconds on the elliptical or jog for a minute in the middle of your walk to maintain your fitness level and your habit. And remember, anything you do—whether it's a brisk 5-minute walk or carrying heavy groceries to your car—for any period of time, provides some benefit.

MYTH: Overweight people have a sluggish metabolism.
REALITY: Though some folks do have metabolic disorders that slow their metabolism, fewer than 10 percent of overweight people suffer from them. In fact, the more you weigh, the more calories you'll burn during exercise at the same relative workload as a slimmer person. If you notice the scale climbing higher, worry about your activity level, not your metabolism. Try this fat-burning workout to really see results.

MYTH: Lifting heavy weights make women bulk up.
REALITY: Women don’t have enough of the muscle-building hormone testosterone to get bulky, even using heavy weights. The truth is, some people will gain muscle faster than they lose fat, so they may look bigger until they shed some of the flab and reveal the slim, toned muscles underneath. Shape sleek muscles with this workout from The Biggest Loser's Jillian Michaels.

MYTH: You can’t lose any weight by swimming.
REALITY: OK, it’s true that long-distance swimmers who navigate colder waters tend to retain body fat for insulation. But ask anyone who laps it up while training for a triathlon: You will sizzle off pounds in the pool, since swimming burns 450 to 700 calories an hour! One reason you might not shed flab doing freestyle? If you throw in the towel and cut your workout short. Keep it going with this full-body water workout from gold medalist Amanda Beard.

MYTH: Stretching before exercise prevents injuries and enhances performance.
REALITY: Researchers are still scratching their head over this one, since studies have yet to show conclusively that limbering up has any effect on staving off strains and other injuries. But they do know that stretching regularly can make bending, reaching, twisting and lifting easier. Best move: Save your stretching for post-exercise, when muscles are warm.

MYTH: You burn more calories exercising in chilly weather.
REALITY: If you shiver through a long run in the frigid winter air simply to experience the extra calorie burn, you might want to come in from the cold: You do torch a few extra calories during the first few minutes, but once you get warmed up, the caloric expenditure is the same whether you’re exercising in Siberia or the Sahara. Try a treadmill circuit workout with a great playlist to keep you going!

MYTH: When your body gets used to an exercise, you'll burn fewer calories doing it.
REALITY: Unless you've adjusted the intensity, you'll burn as much jogging or cycling today as you did last week, last month, even last year. Experts say that this principle only applies to exercises that we're naturally inefficient at, such as using the elliptical machine: After five to six sessions, you'll be smoother in your movements and expend fewer calories—but the difference is only about 2 to 5 percent.

MYTH: The calorie readout on machines is accurate.
REALITY: If only! Research has shown that some types of machines can be off by as much as 70 percent. The culprit? Contraptions such as the elliptical machine haven’t been around long enough for exercise scientists to develop the appropriate calorie-burn equations. On the upside, stationary bikes and treadmills, the grandfathers of the gym, generally give a fairly precise reading, particularly if you enter your age and weight.

Rather than swearing by what the machine says, use the calorie readout to monitor your progress. If the tally climbs during the same workout for the same duration, you’re working harder and getting fitter. An online calorie calculator can give you a sense of which activities burn the most.

Score more tips on making your workout more effective and fun at Find ways to fit in more workouts on the Fresh Fitness Tips blog.

Mind Out Of Balance, Body Out Of Balance

I have both generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder, and unless I concentrate I have pretty bad balance (weight training has made having bad balance less of an issue, but only because I don't fall when I lose my balance). Turns out the two things might be related.

The upside of this study is that more anxious kids might be tested for balance issues and given somatic exercises to help them become more balanced before prescribing drugs.

Mind Out Of Balance, Body Out Of Balance

ScienceDaily (Jan. 22, 2009) — Many of the 40 million American adults who suffer from anxiety disorders also have problems with balance. As increasing numbers of children are diagnosed with anxiety, Tel Aviv University researchers have discovered that the link between balance and anxiety can be assessed at an early age and that something can be done about it before it becomes a problem.

Dr. Orit Bart at Tel Aviv University’s School of Health Professions, and her colleagues, have found that a simple course of physical treatment for balance problems can also resolve anxiety issues in children. Her work offers new hope for normal social and emotional development for children with both disorders.

Establishing the Connection

Anxiety has a significant impact on children’s personal and academic well-being. While not all kids with anxiety have balance problems, all those with balance problems do exhibit symptoms of anxiety, pointing to a link between the two conditions.

“This is a breakthrough in the field of occupational therapy,” says Dr. Bart.

Her study — done in collaboration with TAU researchers Yair Bar-Haim, Einat Weizman, Moran Levin, Avi Sadeh, and Matti Mintz, and to be published in Research in Developmental Disabilities — investigated the anxiety-balance connection in young children for the first time. Dr. Bart tracked children between the ages of five and seven who had been diagnosed with both problems to see how treatment would affect each disorder.

After a 12-week intervention of sensory-motor intervention, the children in Dr. Bart’s study improved their balance skills. The therapy also reduced the children’s anxiety to normal levels, she reports. As their balance and anxiety issues improved, the children’s self-esteem also increased.

Treating the Mind Through the Body

“You can’t treat children with anxiety in a cognitive way because of their immaturity and lack of operational thinking. Working with the body may be the answer,” Dr. Bart explains. The treatment therefore focused on letting the children use equipment to experience their environment and move in space. Dr. Bart found that by working with their bodies, children could work through their emotional problems, including anxiety.

Dr. Bart is now working on expanding the initial results through a larger study with more control groups. The goal is to explore the exact nature of the relationship between balance and anxiety in children, and to focus the results on more specific treatment types.

“Young children who have anxiety should first be assessed for balance issues to see if that is the source of the problem,” says Dr. Bart. “We can now treat these children because we have a better understanding of the relation between these disorders.”

Adapted from materials provided by Tel Aviv University.

Brain Mind Lecture 6 - Limbic System: Hallucinations, PTSD

The sixth and final Brain Mind Lecture from Rhawn Joseph, PhD. Here is the fifth of the six segments of the Brain Mind lectures. Parts one, two, three, four, and five.
Brain Mind Lecture 6: Limbic System, Introductory Overview: Amygdala, Hypothalamus, Hippocampus, Hallucinations, Memory, Emotion, Sexuality, Amnesia, Flashbacks, PTSD.

The video constitutes one of six Brain Mind Introductory Lectures, posted on youtube, each providing an introductory overview of the functional organization of the brain. To reduce confusion, all CT images have been reversed so damage on the left appears on the left, and right sided damage appear on the right. For a detailed presentation I recommend one of the best neuroscience texts of all time: the 2nd edition of Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, Clinical Neuroscience, by Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.

Arthur Rimbaud Was a Bad, Bad Boy

And we are the better for his efforts at a complete disorienting of the senses, his senses, by whatever means necessary. Edmund White has written a new book looking at the l'enfant terrible of poetry.

Teenage dirtbag

He smashed the china, soiled the sheets, sunbathed nude and was either drunk or stoned - Arthur Rimbaud was an impossible house guest, but he liberated the true poet in his lover Verlaine, writes Edmund White

Arthur Rimbaud, one of the most revolutionary poets of 19th-century France, grew up in a small town, Charleville, in the north-east corner of the country near the Belgian border. As a child he'd been obedient to his strict mother (his father was a soldier who'd vanished after rapidly siring four children) and he'd been the best student in the region, excelling in the classics and French. But Rimbaud's real interest was poetry. He haunted the local bookstore and read all the latest poetry coming out of Paris. So attracted was Rimbaud to the capital that he ran away from home, arrived in Paris on 30 August 1870 - and was instantly arrested for not paying the correct fare on his train ticket. He was put in prison, and only his favourite teacher from back home was able to get him out. Despite this ignominious beginning, Rimbaud - who was 16 going on 17 - made several other attempts to reach the capital, even though the Prussians had invaded and Paris had declared itself a commune between 26 March and 30 May 1871.

The penniless and friendless Rimbaud could never survive for long away from home during these chaotic times. But in the early autumn in 1871 he fired off a letter to Paul Verlaine, his favourite poet. Without waiting for a response, Rimbaud sent off a few more poems to Verlaine two days later. Then came the fateful response from Paris: "Come, dear great soul, we call you, we await you." Verlaine enclosed the train fare.

Verlaine was a homicidal alcoholic. He was also an extremely gentle, sensitive poet with a distinctive tone and a remarkable musicality. These two aspects of his character had set up a pitched battle over his anguished destiny; he would always be susceptible to one impulse or the other. Like Rimbaud, Verlaine had been a brilliant student in classical languages and written dazzling verses in Latin. But there the resemblance ended. Verlaine was a lazy, always dirty boy who barely squeaked by in most of his classes. Whereas Rimbaud was striking if strange in his looks, Verlaine was indisputably ugly, resembling the popular idea of Socrates while possessing none of the philosopher's equanimity. His skull was too large, his face pushed in, his eyes oblique, his pug nose too small and tipped up. He'd lost most of his hair at an early age and compensated for it by growing sparse, wispy whiskers. The mother of Verlaine's best friend said after meeting him, "My God, your friend made me think of an orangutan escaped from the zoo!"

Whereas Rimbaud seems to have shown no erotic interest in his own sex before meeting Verlaine, the older poet was notorious at school for groping his classmates. After high school, Verlaine enrolled as a law student in Paris but seldom attended classes. He spent most of his time reading poetry old and new and getting drunk on absinthe.

Verlaine drank so much that he soon succumbed to a special form of crazy and violent alcoholism called absinthisme. Eventually he withdrew from law school and began working a boondoggle his parents had found for him at the city hall, where he showed up at 10 in the morning, took a two-hour sodden lunch, lurched back to the office for an hour or two of shuffling papers, and was ready for aperitifs at the Café de Gaz by five. Notwithstanding his habits, Verlaine remained intensely interested in the arts in general and in poetry in particular. He became the art critic for one journal and defended Baudelaire in print, announcing - in the spirit of Art for Art's Sake - that "the goal of poetry is the Beautiful and the Beautiful alone without any reference to the Useful, the True or the Just". By the mid-1860s Verlaine was one of the 37 Parnassians in good standing and published from time to time in their poetry journal. His work was largely ignored by the general public, but was acclaimed over the next few years by fellow poets such as Stéphane Mallarmé and Victor Hugo. Curiously, Verlaine, who would be known in his life as a brutal husband and an impious wretch, as a writer became celebrated as the greatest Catholic poet in the French language (for his collection Wisdom), and as an ardent defender of married bliss (The Good Song). Verlaine was full of contradictions - by turns wildly exalted and deeply depressed, leading one friend to remark that he was both a clown and an undertaker.

In the autumn of 1869 he met a 16-year-old girl, Mathilde Mauté de Fleurville, to give her full (and probably invented) poetic name. She was prettily chubby in the approved fashion of the day, and painfully innocent. She saw Verlaine two or three times at a literary salon and a musical evening before he noticed her. By the time they spoke she was used to his ugliness and greeted him with a friendly smile, and he was charmed by her freshness and kindness. She noticed how gentle and radiant he became around her. As she later recalled, "At that moment he ceased to be ugly, and I thought of that pretty fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, where love transforms the Beast into Prince Charming."

Quite sensibly, Mathilde's father did not want his daughter even to consider the suit of a much older man. He urged her to wait two years, but she was smitten. By carefully regulating his excesses, Verlaine managed to woo and win Mathilde. They lived with her parents in Montmartre and soon enough had a little boy. But this paradise of sobriety and domesticity was interrupted when Rimbaud arrived.

On 24 September 1871, Rimbaud took the train from Charleville to Paris - less than a month before his 17th birthday. All he had with him were his manuscripts ("The Drunken Boat" taking pride of place) and a change of clothes. No one was there to greet him at the station in Paris. Verlaine kept running back and forth between the Gare du Nord and the nearby Gare de L'Est, accompanied by a young comic poet named Charles Cros. At last Verlaine and Cros gave up and went back to Montmartre and Mathilde's parents' house, a 15-minute walk away. There in the small cosseted salon they found the young, belligerent poet with his sunburned face and large hands, his piercing blue eyes, unsmiling mouth, uttering monosyllables in his heavy Ardennes accent.

Twelve years later Verlaine would recall, "The man was tall, well built, almost athletic, with the perfectly oval face of an angel in exile, with unruly light chestnut hair and eyes of a disquieting blue." Elsewhere Verlaine wrote: "He had a real baby's head, plump and fresh on top of a big bony body with the awkwardness of an adolescent who has grown too quickly."

Mathilde and her mother snobbishly ascribed the brutishness to countrified naivety. They were able to put the boy up for the moment only because Monsieur Mauté was away on a hunting party. When Monsieur Mauté returned, young Rimbaud would have to be hidden away as someone unsuitable for respectable company.

Rimbaud was an impossible guest. He took to nude sunbathing just outside the house. He turned his room into a squalid den. He mutilated an heirloom crucifix. He was proud of the lice infesting his long mane and even pretended he was encouraging the vermin to jump on to passers-by. Verlaine was delighted with Rimbaud's antisocial antics, which recalled to him his own younger excesses before his marriage. Verlaine introduced Rimbaud to his friends in the cafés where they congregated regularly. After the first encounter, one of Verlaine's friends, Léon Valade, wrote the next day to an absent member, "You missed a great deal by not being there. A most daring poet not yet 18 was introduced by Paul Verlaine, his inventor and in fact his John the Baptist. Big hands, big feet, a wholly babyish face like a child of 13, deep blue eyes! Such is this boy, whose character is more antisocial than timid and whose imagination combines great powers with unheard-of corruption and who has fascinated and terrified all our friends."

The modern reader can't help but smile at the readiness of Parisians of that epoch to be "terrified" by "unheard-of corruption". In fact, these poets would soon form the core group of the Decadents (a "school" that took its name from a line by Verlaine: "I am the Empire at the end of its decadence"). Valade concluded by calling Rimbaud "Satan in the midst of the doctors", as opposed to Christ among the rabbis at the temple. When one of the Goncourt brothers shook Rimbaud's hand, he claimed he felt as if he were touching the most notorious murderer of the day.

When Monsieur Mauté was due to return, Charles Cros took the youngster in briefly - until Rimbaud used as toilet paper a magazine in which Cros had just published some poems. Next the Parnassian poet Théodore de Banville offered to take in the young poet and lodge him in the maid's room above his apartment at 10, rue de Buci - just a few steps from the heart of Left Bank Paris, St Germain-de-Prés. His first night in Banville's maid's room, he stood in the illuminated window stark naked and threw down his lice-laden clothes into the street. Within a week Banville had asked the miscreant to leave, but only after Rimbaud had smashed the china in his room, soiled the bed sheets with his muddy boots and sold some of the furniture.

Within a few short weeks after his arrival he was no longer being described as an angel or a devil but as an obnoxious boor. The only person who couldn't see his faults - or who delighted in them - was Verlaine. In the 14 months since he'd married, Verlaine had written no new poetry, though he had successfully curbed the excesses of his drinking. Now Rimbaud was encouraging him to live like a savage and stay drunk - and to write like the seer he was destined to be. Moreover, Rimbaud represented Verlaine's sexual ideal, a dominant adolescent who appeared to be always available erotically. Soon enough Verlaine had given up his respectable clothes and returned to his slouch hat and dirty muffler, and although he and Rimbaud lived like beggars and Rimbaud was constantly being moved from one guest room to another, together the two managed to spend considerable sums of money. Rimbaud was so belligerent that the two lovers found their circle shrinking - especially since they made no secret of their "vice". They collaborated on a sonnet celebrating the asshole ("Sonnet du trou du cul") - Verlaine wrote the first eight lines and Rimbaud the last six.

Rimbaud became still more difficult in November, when, according to a childhood friend, he tried hashish for the first time. Between hash and absinthe he was well under way in his long, immense and systematic disordering of all the senses, a project he was deliberately cultivating in the name of art.

On 21 October 1871, Verlaine's son Georges was born. The birth seemed only to enrage Verlaine all the more. Mathilde later claimed that Verlaine threatened her life every day between October 1871 and January 1872. One day in January, after Mathilde refused to give Verlaine money for drink, he seized the three-month-old Georges and flung him against the wall. And then he started to choke his wife.

Until now, Mathilde had been successfully concealing her husband's brutality from her parents, even though they were all living under the same roof. But now they could see for themselves the marks on their daughter's throat and, in a flood of tears, she confessed all the horrors visited on her since Rimbaud's arrival four months earlier. Perhaps already foreseeing a separation (divorce would not become legal until 1884), Monsieur Mauté asked a doctor to examine the bruises and to sign a document attesting to what she had suffered. Mauté also decided that the couple must be separated and sent Mathilde and the baby off to a hiding place in Périgueux, where his family lived.

Verlaine decided he needed time to salvage his marriage. He begged Rimbaud to leave town and return to his mother in the Ardennes. Rimbaud saw himself as an archangel descended to earth to liberate Verlaine from his bourgeois temptations as a human being and the tendencies towards prettiness in his poetry. It was Rimbaud who made Verlaine reread the technically brilliant poems of Musset and Leconte de Lisle. It was Rimbaud who convinced him to write in 10-syllable lines (instead of the flowing, automatically eloquent 12 syllables of French tradition or the eight syllables of ballads). And it was Rimbaud who tried to banish human anecdotes, realistic sketches and sentimental portraits from Verlaine's work.

Something of the tenor of their relationship can be deduced from "Vagabonds", one of the prose poems included in Illuminations. In it, Verlaine, "the pitiful brother" (but a paragraph later "the satanic doctor"), complains that Rimbaud's peculiar blend of bad luck and innocence has isolated them and led them into poverty and exile. The "poor brother", with his mouth rotten and his eyes starting out of his head, wakes up every night shouting reproaches - his "dream of idiotic grief" - which prompts the offended, misunderstood Rimbaud to think: "Actually in all innocence I had undertaken to return him to his original state of Child of the Sun - and we kept wandering, nourished only by spring water and dry biscuit, as I urgently tried to find the place and the formula."

What was this place and formula Rimbaud was so eager to discover? It undoubtedly had to do with a utopian future that would exclude the deadening effects of conventionality and would usher in a whole new era of love. Again and again he refers to "the new harmony", "the new love" and "the new men". He calls for a "departure" towards "the new affection". Historically, we have entered an era, Rimbaud tells us, that is one of both murderous and pitiless assassins, and of hashish-smokers - le temps des Assassins. (The original "assassins" were a fierce Muslim band of hashish-smokers and bandits who flourished from the eighth to the 14th centuries.) Rimbaud could certainly be as pitiless as a real assassin. He once had Verlaine play a "game" in which Verlaine would stretch out his hand on the table and Rimbaud would stab at his spread fingers. Verlaine thought the point of the game was to show that he wouldn't flinch, that he trusted Rimbaud. But Rimbaud quite simply stabbed him in the wrist.

By the beginning of March 1872, just six months after his arrival in Paris and into Verlaine's life, Rimbaud was heading home to his mother. He knew that he would be back with the older man as soon as Verlaine had straightened out his marriage. Verlaine also knew that the retreat was only temporary. Eventually Mathilde returned to Paris with their son, and for a while everything seemed back on an even keel. Verlaine was even looking for a job again. But soon he was writing Rimbaud passionate letters, asking for instructions about how they would live together.

• Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel by Edmund White is published by Atlantic Books (£16.99). To order a copy for £15.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0870 836 0875 or go to

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Love, Sex, and Non-attachment

A good article at Wildmind Buddhist Meditation on sexuality, relationships, and Buddhism.

Love, sex, and non-attachment

Sunada (January 22, 2009)


Is it possible to be in a committed sexual relationship and follow the Buddha’s teaching on non-attachment? Does loving someone deeply by definition mean we’re attached to them? Sunada doesn’t see these ideas as contradictory, and explores what an enlightened relationship might look like.

This year, my husband David and I will mark 27 years of being happily married. Am I attached to him? You bet I am. If he were to die tomorrow, of course I would be devastated. And am I completely unselfish in my regard for him? If I were honest, I’d have to say no. After all, what if he were to come home one day and say, “Sunada, I met a new woman and we love each other very much.” A completely other-regarding response would be, “I’m happy for you!” No, I couldn’t possibly imagine saying that.

My understanding of attachment is that it’s not about what we have or don’t have, but what our expectations of them are.

So does that make me a bad, overly-attached Buddhist? I would argue no.

Read the whole article.

In What Do You Have Faith?

Belief or Doubt?

"Doubt is most often the source of our powerlessness. To doubt is to be faithless, to be without hope or belief. When we doubt, our self-talk sound like this: 'I don't think I can. I don't think I will.' …To doubt is to have faith in the worst possible outcome. It is to believe in the perverseness of the universe, that even if I do well, something I don't know about will get in the way, sabotage me, or get me in the end."

~ Blaine Lee

Brain Mind Lecture 5 - Temporal Lobe, Schizophrenia, Hallucination

Here is the fifth of the six segments of the Brain Mind lectures. Parts one, two, three, and four.
Brain Mind Lecture 5: The Temporal Lobes, and Introductory Overview: Schizophrenia, Memory, Aphasia, Amnesia, Hallucinations, Depression, by Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.

The video constitutes one of six Brain Mind Introductory Lectures, posted on youtube, each providing an introductory overview of the functional organization of the brain. To reduce confusion, all CT images have been reversed so damage on the left appears on the left, and right sided damage appear on the right. For a detailed presentation I recommend one of the best neuroscience texts of all time: the 2nd edition of Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, Clinical Neuroscience, by Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.

These are introductory lectures providing an overview of the functional organization of the brain.

"Hobbit" Skull Study: Species Not Human

It's now mostly confirmed that the "hobbit" skeleton found a few years back in Indonesia is a unique species.
"Hobbit" Skull Study: Species Not Human

Newswise — In a an analysis of the size, shape and asymmetry of the cranium of Homo floresiensis, Karen Baab, Ph.D., a researcher in the Department of Anatomical Scienes at Stony Brook University, and colleagues conclude that the fossil, found in Indonesia in 2003 and known as the “Hobbit,” is not human. They used 3-D shape analysis to study the LB1 skull of the hobbit and found the shape of the skull to be consistent with a scaled down human ancestor but not modern humans. Their findings, reported in the current online edition of the Journal of Human Evolution, add to the evidence that the hobbit is a new species.

The question as to whether the hobbit was human or another species remains controversial. Some scientists claim the hobbit was a diminutive human that suffered from some type of disease that causes microcephaly, which results in abnormal growth of the brain and causes the cranium to be much smaller than the normal human cranium. But Dr. Baab and co-author Kieran McNulty, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, believe their findings counter the microcephaly theory.

“A skull can provide researchers with a lot of important information about a fossil species, particularly regarding their evolutionary relationships to other fossil species,” explains Dr. Baab. “The overall shape of the LB1 skull, particularly the part that surrounds the brain (neurocranium) looks similar to fossils more than 1.5 million years older from Africa and Eurasia, rather than modern humans, even though Homo floresiensis is documented from 17,000 to 95,000 years ago.”

To carry out the study, Dr. Baab and colleagues collected 3D landmark data on the LB1 skull and a large sample of fossils representing other extinct hominin species, as well as a comparative sample of modern humans and apes. They performed several analyses of different regions of the skulls. Taken together, these analyses indicated that the LB1 skull shape is that of a scaled down Homo fossil not a scaled down modern human.

The results of the analysis of the asymmetry of the skulls, which refers to differences between the right and left sides of the skull, refutes the suggestion that the LB1 skull was that of a modern human with a diagnosis of microcephaly. In modern humans, a high degree of asymmetry may indicate that the individual was diseased. At least one scientific study on the asymmetry of LB1 supported the argument that this individual had microcephaly. Conversely, Dr. Baab and colleagues found the degree of asymmetry of the LB1 skull was not unexpectedly high and therefore not supportive of the diagnosis of microcephaly.

“The degree of asymmetry in LB1 was within the range of apes and was very similar to that seen in other fossil skulls,” says Dr. Baab. “We suggest that the degree of asymmetry is within expectations for this population of hominins, particular given that the conditions of the cave in Indonesia in which the skull was preserved may have contributed to asymmetry.”

Dr. Baab recognizes that the controversy as to the evolutionary origins of Homo floresiensis will continue, perhaps without an answer. However, all the evidence that she and colleagues illustrate in their article “Size, shape, and asymmetry in fossil hominins: The status of the LB1cranium based on 3D morphometric analyses,” suggest that Homo floresiensis was most likely the diminutive descendant of a species of archaic Homo.

The results of this study are also in line with what other researchers in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University have found regarding the rest of the hobbit skeleton. Drs. William Jungers and Susan Larson have documented a range of primitive features in both the upper and lower limbs of Homo floresiensis, highlighting the many ways that these hominins were unlike modern humans.

Two Articles on Dysfunctional Brains

Two very good articles on the brain appeared in the last couple of days - one on schizophrenia and one on delusional brains.

Altered Brain Activity In Schizophrenia May Direct Focus On Self

ScienceDaily (Jan. 20, 2009) — Schizophrenia may blur the boundary between internal and external realities by overactivating a brain system that is involved in self-reflection, and thus causing an exaggerated focus on self, a new MIT and Harvard brain imaging study has found.

The traditional view of schizophrenia is that the disturbed thoughts, perceptions and emotions that characterize the disease are caused by disconnections among the brain regions that control these different functions.

But this study, appearing Jan. 19 in the advance online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that schizophrenia also involves an excess of connectivity between the so-called default brain regions, which are involved in self-reflection and become active when we are thinking about nothing in particular, or thinking about ourselves.

“People normally suppress this default system when they perform challenging tasks, but we found that patients with schizophrenia don’t do this,” said John D. Gabrieli, a professor in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT and one of the study’s 13 authors. “We think this could help to explain the cognitive and psychological symptoms of schizophrenia.”

Gabrieli added that he hopes the research might lead to ways of predicting or monitoring individual patients’ response to treatments for this mental illness, which occurs in about 1 percent of the population.

Schizophrenia has a strong genetic component, and first-degree relatives of patients (who share half their genes) are 10 times more likely to develop the disease than the general population. The identities of these genes and how they affect the brain are largely unknown.

The researchers thus studied three carefully matched groups of 13 subjects each: schizophrenia patients, nonpsychotic first-degree relatives of patients and healthy controls. They selected patients who were recently diagnosed, so that differences in prior treatment or psychotic episodes would not bias the results.

Read the whole study.

* * * * *

The delusional brain

Category: NeurosciencePsychiatry
Posted on: January 20, 2009 12:52 PM, by Mo

Delusions are pathological beliefs which persist despite clear evidence that they are actually false. They can vary widely in content, but are always characterized by the absolute certainty with which they are held. Such beliefs reflect an abnormality of thought processes; they are often bizarre and completely unrelated to conventional cultural or religious belief systems, or to the level of intelligence of the person suffering from them.

The delusions experienced by psychiatric patients are sometimes categorized according to their theme. For example, schizophrenics often suffer from delusions of control (the belief that an external force is controlling their thoughts or actions), delusions of grandeur (the belief that they are a famous rock star or historical figure) or delusions of persecution (the belief that they are being followed, attacked or conspired against).

Although often associated with psychiatric disorders, delusions can also occur as a symptom of neurodegenerative disorders, and improved diagnostic methods have led to an increase in the identification of brain damage in patients who suffer from them. To date, however, there has not been an all-encompassing theory of how the brain generates delusions. Now though, Orrin Devinsky, a professor of neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry at New York University, proposes that delusions are generated by a combination of right hemisphere damage and left hemisphere hyperactivity.

Read the whole article.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Brain Mind Lecture 4 - Parietal Lobes, Body Image, Phantom Limbs

Here is the fourth installment in the Brain Mind lectures by Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D. Parts one, two, and three.
Brain Mind Lecture 4 - Parietal Lobes: Body Image, Phantom Limbs, Phantom Limb Pain, Apraxia, Agnosia, Language, by Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.

The video constitutes one of six Brain Mind Introductory Lectures, posted on youtube, each providing an introductory overview of the functional organization of the brain. To reduce confusion, all CT images have been reversed so damage on the left appears on the left, and right sided damage appear on the right. For a detailed presentation I recommend one of the best neuroscience texts of all time: the 2nd edition of Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, Clinical Neuroscience, by Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.

Powell's Books - Q&A with Jonah Lehrer

Powell's Books conducts an interesting - though far too brief - interview with Jonah Lehrer.

Jonah Lehrer

Describe your latest project.
How We Decide is about what happens inside your brain when you make up your mind. It's about the new neuroscience of decision-making, and why knowing what your cortex is doing when you're picking out a breakfast cereal, or a mutual fund, or making some crucial life-or-death decision is so important. But the book isn't just a summary of recent research. I discuss some ingenious experiments in this book, but let's face it: the lab is a startlingly artificial place. And so, wherever possible, I tried to explore these scientific ideas in the context of the real world. Instead of just writing about hyperbolic discounting and the feebleness of the prefrontal cortex, I spent time with a debt counselor in the Bronx. When I became interested in the anatomy of insight — where do our good ideas come from? — I interviewed a pilot whose epiphany in the cockpit saved hundreds of lives. That's when you really begin to appreciate the power of this new science, when you can use its ideas to explain all sorts of important phenomena, from the risky behavior of teenagers to the amorality of psychopaths to the reason athletes choke under pressure.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
John Dewey, the great American philosopher. If you can struggle through his prose, which can be unbelievably tedious, his ideas remain incredibly relevant and alive. I'd begin with Experience and Education.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken." That's Jane Austen, from Emma.

How do you relax?
A beer and Sportscenter. Or a good novel, a cup of tea, and a spot of sunshine on the couch, which given the arrangement of my apartment, normally occurs at about 3:30 in the afternoon.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
For some reason, most of my pilgrimages end up being literary. Most recently, I was down in Camden, NJ, to see the Walt Whitman House. But my favorite pilgrimage involved lying down in Wordsworth's bed in his charming cottage in the Lake District.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
Do slippers count as shoes? If so, my slippers are my favorite because they're slippers, and not really shoes.

What is your idea of absolute happiness?
Did I mention that moment when the sun comes through the window and lands on my couch?

Why do you write?
Because writing is how I think through ideas.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
Five Books I Pretend to Have Read from Beginning to End

In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust (I confess to skipping over a few of the lengthier digressions in the later volumes)

The Principles of Neural Science, edited by Eric Kandel, et. al.

Any book by John Dewey (I know, I know, what a hypocrite)

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

÷ ÷ ÷

Jonah Lehrer is editor-at-large for Seed magazine and the author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist (2007) and How We Decide (February 2009). A graduate of Columbia University and a Rhodes Scholar, Lehrer has worked in the lab of Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel and has written for the New Yorker, Wired, Boston Globe, Washington Post, and Nature, and writes a highly regarded blog, The Frontal Cortex. Lehrer also commentates for NPR's Radio Lab.

Integral Life - Rupert Sheldrake's Theory of Morphogenesis

Another great post from the Ken Wilber publishing empire, this time on Rupert Sheldrake's Theory of Morphogenesis. Sheldrake has been an enigma in the science world for many years, and more recently have moved into a realm many scientists reject completely, variations of extra-sensory perception.

I found it deeply amusing, and somewhat disturbing, that Nature suggested Sheldrake's first book (A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation) be burned. This is from the Wikipedia entry for Sheldrake:

The book was discussed in a variety of scientific and religious publications, receiving mixed reviews.[3] Then in September 1981, Nature published an editorial written by John Maddox, the journal's senior editor, entitled "A book for burning?" In it, Maddox said:

Sheldrake's argument is an exercise in pseudo-science. Many readers will be left with the impression that Sheldrake has succeeded in finding a place for magic within scientific discussion – and this, indeed, may have been a part of the objective of writing such a book.[2]

Maddox's comments raised what Anthony Freeman called "a storm of controversy".[3] In a subsequent issue, Nature published several letters which took issue with Maddox's position on Sheldrake,[11][12][13][14] while the New Scientist inquired whether Nature had abandoned the scientific method for "trial by editorial".[15]

Here is the Sheldrake article from Integral Life.

Sheldrake's Theory of Morphogenesis

In this excerpt from The Collected Works of Ken Wilber: Volume 4, Ken Wilber offers a brief overview of the work of Rupert Sheldrake, who is perhaps best known for his theory of morphogenetic fields and formative causation.


by Ken Wilber
Excerpted from The Collected Works of Ken Wilber: Volume 4

Perhaps the most persistent problem in developmental biology concerns morphogenesis, or the coming into being of form, because the actual form of an organism—its pattern, its shape, its spatiotemporal order—cannot be predicted or even accounted for in terms of its constituent material parts. To give the simplest example: a protein is a long chain of molecules that, based on the properties of the molecules themselves, could easily fold into any number of energetically equivalent forms, and yet, in living systems, they are always found folded in only one way. That is, one form is always selected from numerous equivalent possibilities, and yet, on the basis of mass and energy considerations, no one form should be preferable to any other. The same puzzle is found, a fortiori, in larger and more complex organic systems. No known physical laws can account for the form these systems take. So what does account for it?

Aside from the mechanistic approach, which purports to explain the problem by ignoring it, there have been three major attempts to account for morphogenesis. One is the vitalist approach, pioneered at the turn of the century by Driesch (1914). This theory, influenced in part by Aristotelean ideas, maintains that each organic system possesses a characteristic vital force that, as entelechy, guides and shapes the form of the organism. This theory, admirable as a first attempt, suffered mostly from its vagueness, and consequently was replaced in the 1920s by various forms of organismic theory, influenced largely by the works of Whitehead, Smuts, and the Gestalt psychologists. “Vital force” was replaced by the more sophisticated and precise concept of the “morphogenetic field,” which is said to guide the actual form or pattern of the organism’ material and energetic components, much as a magnetic field will guide and shape iron filings placed within it. Thus, as is well known, if on removes a section of a growing embryo, the embryo will regenerate the section. It does so, according to this theory, because the morphogenetic field of the embryo drives it to replenish, not merely its lost matter, but its lost form. That is, the embryo has, in addition to its material-energetic laws (governed by the standard laws of physics), a holistic drive to reform the whole (a drive to “closure” governed by the morphogenetic field, which itself is not governed or explained by physical laws).

The theory of morphogenetic fields was pioneered by Waddington (1975) largely under the (then unacknowledged) influence of Whitehead. But Waddington wavered on the exact nature of the morphogenetic field; in fact, he hinted that it could probably be explained on the mere basis of physico-chemical properties. Rene Thorn (1975), in his famous catastrophe theory, took up Waddington’s ideas and gave them a powerful and impressive reformulation in terms of topographical mathematics. Despite the undeniable contribution of Thorn, however, his theory attempts only to describe morphogenesis, not explain it, and thus the how and the why of these fields remained untouched.

Goodwin (1979), on the other hand (and this is the third of the major approaches), takes the Platonic view that these fields are actually archetypal and timeless forms that are forever or transcendentally given but only become actualized in the course of historical development or evolution. This at least gives a possible explanation of the existence and purpose of these fields, but it has the awkward side-effect of implying that, since all forms are timelessly given, there is no actual creativity or genuine novelty anywhere in the universe. It seems, in fact, a subtle form -of determinism.

Enter Rupert Sheldrake (1981) and his theory of formative causation. Sheldrake accepts wholeheartedly the theory of morphogenetic fields, but unlike Waddington and Thorn, he wishes to explain these fields (not just describe them), and unlike Goodwin, he believes that these fields themselves can develop. They are not timelessly given but rather are themselves effected and molded by past morphogenetic fields. The idea, simply, is that once a particular form comes into existence, it will have a causal effect on all subsequent, similar forms; and thus the more a particular form has been replicated, the more likely it will be replblted in the future. This causal influence of one form on another Sheldrake 1’l\lIs “formative causation” (similar to Aristotle’s formal causation), and the actual means of this causation Sheldrake calls “morphic resonance.”

To return to the example of protein folding: According to Sheldrake, t he first time in evolution that a particular protein was generated, it could potentially have folded into any number of energetically equivalent forms, but by chance it settled into one form. However, the next lime this protein was generated, anywhere in the world, it would, according to Sheldrake, have a significantly elevated tendency or probabilityof settling into this same form, simply by virtue of morphic resonance and formative causation from the morphogenetic field of the first protein. As more and more proteins eventually adopted similar forms, this set up a very powerful formative causation that, in effect, forced all subsequent (and similar) proteins to take on the same form. An original contingency has become, via repetition, a virtual necessity. The morphogenetic field of this protein now governs the form of the protein, but it is not a field that is given from the beginning. Far from being an archetypal law, it is rather more like a habit, or cosmic memory. Indeed, for Sheldrake, all of the laws (or formal regularities) of the world have been built up, over successive generations, by morphic resonance and formative causation. Put succinctly, the probability that a given form will occur in the present is a function of the number of times a similar form has occurred in the past. That probability field is exactly the basis of the morphogenetic field. (This view is, as far as it goes, apparently similar to that of Peirce, who held that natural laws are actually habits built by probabilities, and not immutable givens.)

However, what makes Sheldrake’s theory so radical is that formative causation postulated to act in a nonlocal fashion; that is, it operates instantaneously across space and time. Once a particular form has been learned by a system, it will be more easily learned by a similar system anywhere else in the world, without any spatiotemporal contact. And, in fact, Sheldrake points out that there is already a fair amount of circumstantial evidence supporting this. For example, it is well known that it is extremely difficult to crystallize complex organic compounds for the first time, but once it has been done in any laboratory, it is more easily (more rapidly) done in others. It has also been shown that once rats learn to negotiate a particular maze in one part of the world; rats elsewhere learn that maze more rapidly. And this, according to Sheldrake, is because of nonlocal morphic resonance and formative causation.

This is obviously a bold and innovative hypothesis. Fortunately, Sheldrake has carefully explained just how this hypothesis can be empirically tested (one can, for instance, set up protein crystallization experiment around the world). Further, these experiments would allow us to distinguish, for example, between Goodwin’s theory and Sheldrake’s: If t form of each subsequent generation of the protein is crystallized mo easily, without any cross-contact, that would rebuff Goodwin’s proposition that these forms are changelessly given from the start, and support Sheldrake’s hypothesis of cumulative conditioning and formative causation. We must await, then, the results of these experiments.

In the meantime, however, we might speculate on the implications and nature of the hypothesis itself. I for one agree entirely on the existence of morphogenetic fields. In addition to the evidence of developmental biologists, there is much corroborative evidence from the fields of developmental psychology and sociology (a morphogenetic field is, in fact, a homolog of what psychologists and anthropologists would call “structure,” which is defined, not by its components, but by its overall form or pattern, and this holistic pattern governs its constituent components). Certain theoretical objections, however, might be raised against Sheldrake’s contentions that (1) these fields are entirely abstract, without any energy of any sort; (2) these fields are nonlocal in character; and (3) there are no archetypal or changeless forms involved in evolution itself. To take them in order:

1) To say that morphogenetic fields are entirely formal or abstract, that they are without any type of mass or energy, but that they somehow influence, indeed govern, mass and energy, raises that ancient and intractable dualism: How can nonmatter affect matter? This looks suspiciously like a new ghost in the old machine, no matter that these ghosts are said causally to interact. I am not a priori against this dualism, but somehow it just doesn’t compel. And this is reinforced by the fact that most of the analogies that Sheldrake uses are based on energetic fields: the magnet and its fields of force, for example. Even the idea of morphic resonance is taken from sonic fields (two strings vibrating at the same pitch).

It is therefore possible—I would say probable—that morphogenetic fields are not completely formal but rather possess some sort of very subtle energy, and it is the influence of these subtler energies on the denser ones that constitutes the formative capacity of morphogenetic fields. This idea also fits with the more traditional view that, for example, the biological morphic field is composed of a subtle energy (“bio-energy” or “prana”), and it is the subtlety of this energy that imposes—and thus appears as the form of the grosser energies. This view at least obviates the dualism. Sheldrake himself says that form cannot exist without energy, and energy cannot exist without form. It is therefore difficult to see how formative causation could act without a correlative energetic causation.

Now one of the reasons that Sheldrake makes such a sharp distinction between form and energy (or formative causation and energetic causation) is that the two seem to follow (or display) different laws. Sheldrake gives the example of a flower: If you burn a flower to ashes, the mass-and-energy of the flower is conserved, but the form or pattern of the flower is simply destroyed (i.e., energy is conserved, form isn’t). But by Sheldrake’s own theory this is not quite true. The form of the flower, in fact, must be retained in something like cosmic memory if it is to subsequently influence similar forms via morphic resonance and formative causation. A form that was totally destroyed, that ceased to exist absolutely, could not have any effect whatsoever on subsequent form. In other words, Sheldrake’s own theory, which denies the conservation of form, in fact demands some sort of subtle formal conservation, analogous (but not identical) to energetic conservation. Formal conservation seems exactly what formative causation is all about. If this is so, Sheldrake has implicitly hit upon a profound and novel truth.

2) Another reason Sheldrake wishes to sharply separate formative causation and energetic causation is that some of the examples he is considering (e.g., protein crystallization) seem to act across space and time (i.e., nonlocally), and no known type of energetic causation can do so. Fortunately, the experiments Sheldrake has proposed will go a long way in helping decide this issue. My point is simply that, even if these experiments disprove Sheldrake’s nonlocal formative causation, they will not disprove morphogenetic fields themselves, which may just as easily operate in subtle yet still more or less local ways. In fact, most of the known cases of information transfer (i.e., form transfer) definitely occur in space and time, not outside space and time (thus, even in Sheldrake’s favorite analogy of form transfer, that of a telephone or radio, the transmission takes place in space-time). Even if there are occasional nonlocal transfers (as in Bell’s theorem), nonetheless the bulk of information transfers that we know of is local, and we still must explain that. It seems to me that much (not all) of Sheldrake’s nonlocal formative causation might as easily be explained as subtle local formative causation. In other words, Sheldrake might be drastically overstating the case that all formative causation must be nonlocal. Rather, the typical seems to be as follows: each moment bequeaths its energy-mass and form to subsequent moments, which add their own unique (creative) characteristics and then bequeath that whole package (form and content) to the next moment, and so on indefinitely, so that each event would eventually and ultimately be interconnected with all other events, but not necessarily in an instantaneous and nonlocal fashion. This, anyway, seemed to be Whitehead’s view (he believed in prehensive unifications, but they were unifications of actual space-time occasions, which are not instantaneously nonlocal).

3. Sheldrake, in the line of Spencer, Ward, Schelling, Bergson, Dilthey, and so on, keenly understands the importance of historicism or developmentalism in the nature of the world. He is thus suspicious of those theoreticians who tend to see all truths, all forms, all entities as being somehow timelessly implanted in the world from the start. (It should be said that we are not talking about the possibility of a radically timeless and formless Ground of Being or Godhead; we are talking about the nature of created forms, and whether or not they are rigidly unchanging. As for a transcendental Ground of Being, Sheldrake made it quite clear that he believes in such). In particular, Sheldrake was deeply influenced by Bergson’s idea of creative evolution, and Bergson’s critique of those who, once a new form has emerged, deny its genuinely creative import by claiming it was really there all along in potential or hidden form. This would include, of course, Goodwin’s archetypal interpretation of morphogenetic fields. Sheldrake thus takes the stance that perhaps it would be better to see all forms, all entities, as being products of past development, on the one hand, or creative emergence, on the other. But timeless, unchanging categories—that Sheldrake denies.

I would certainly agree on the importance of evolution and creativity, but perhaps Sheldrake goes too far in his disavowal of archetypal givens. For instance, by Sheldrake’s own theory, there are certain categories that must be the case in order for his theory itself to be true, and these a priori categories are in fact archetypal. For example, Sheldrake sees the world as composed of energy and form; he sees energy causing energy and form causing form; he sees development occurring; and he sees creativity as essential. And all of those—energy, form, causation, development, creativity—are seen to be present everywhere, timelessly, from the start. They are therefore archetypal by his own standards, at least for this universe (which is not to say that prior to this universe they were necessary). Even Whitehead, the champion of process reality, believed in the existence of what he called “eternal objects” (shape, color, etc.). In short, there seem to be at least certain deep structures to this cosmos that are everywhere invariant, but its particular surface structures seem everywhere variable (learned, habitual, developmental, etc.). I think Sheldrake’s hypothesis of formative causation is a substantial addition to our possible understanding of how the latter (i.e., the developmental) components might in fact develop, although it tells us nothing about the former or archetypal components.

(Some critics have faulted Sheldrake for not explaining why or how new forms emerge, and while that is an understandable criticism, it is unfair. Sheldrake himself clearly and carefully explains that his theory is only meant to explain how certain forms are replicated once they emerge. He believes in the creative emergence of new forms, but does not purport to explain it. I am simply adding that his theory does not and in fact cannot address the creativity of new forms simply because creativity itself is archetypal, a category his specific theory does not explicitly recognize.)

A small side issue, but one that is sure to be raised: It is often said that the phenomena of black holes—in which all known laws and forms are suspended—proves that no patterns can be archetypal. Perhaps. I myself don’t find that argument very convincing. For we arrive at the properties of a black hole on the basis of calculations generated from present physical laws. If those laws are themselves suspect-due to the existence of black holes-then so are the properties attributed to those black holes by the present physical laws. This amounts to saying that the present physical laws suggest that there are no present physical laws. It’s like writing a book claiming that there is no such thing as writing. I’m perfectly willing to admit that black holes are completely weird phenomena, but I’m not prepared to admit that they axe absolutely without properties (physicists, after all, have managed to explain them in gruesome detail), and those properties-strange as they may be-are simply a subset of the archetypal givens of this universe.

It might seem that, given these reservations, I am not all that impressed with Sheldrake’s efforts. In fact, however, for various reasons I find his hypothesis to be one of the most innovative, careful, and refreshing scientific presentations of the last decade, especially among what is known as “New Age” science (i.e., the attempted synthesis of empirical science and transcendental traditions). For one, it is written in an extremely meticulous and clear fashion. It shares none of the ambiguous and half-baked (or should one say fully baked?) notions that seem to define the typical “new paradigm” confessions, most of which are neither science nor art, but a dodge. Further, Sheldrake does not subscribe to the fashionable notion that physics somehow has a corner on truth; in fact, he shuns exclusively physical approaches and, following Whitehead and Bergson, looks to living or biological systems for more fundamental (or “higher”) truth claims. Unlike Pribram, Zukav, the early Capra, and so on, Sheldrake refuses to see physical interactions as paradigmatic for the universe, and his reasons for this refusal are a classic and eloquent explanation of the inherent limitations of extrapolating from physics and chemistry to the Entire World. Finally, since he claims this as a scientific theory, he does what most New Age scientists fail to do: Along the lines of Sir Karl Popper, he proposes ways, not to prove his theory (anybody can dream up supposed proofs), but to potentially disprove his theory, which helps to define a scientific hypothesis. Despite my interim agnosticism about his conclusion (agnosticism he scientifically shares), I am tempted to say that, in Rupert Sheldrake, we have the emergence of one of the first genuinely “New Age” scientists, and, in the spirit of his own philosophy, this is a creative emergence I happily applaud.


Baldwin, J.M. (1902). Development and Evolution. New York: Macmillan.
Bergson, H. (1911). Creative Evolution. London: Macmillan.
Driesch, H. (1914). History and Theory of Vitalism. London: Macmillan.
Goodwin, B. C. (1979)· “On Morphogenic Fields.” Theoria to Theory 13: 109-14.
Popper, K. (1965). Conjectures rand Refutations. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Sheldrake, R. (1981). A New Science of Life. Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher.
Thorn, R. (1975). Structural Stability and Morphogenesis. Reading, Mass.: Benjamin.
Waddington, C. (1975). The. Evolution of an Evolutionist. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Whitehead, A. N. (1969). Process and Reality. New York: Macmillan.