Saturday, February 21, 2009

Living Dialogues - Coleman Barks: The Soul of Rumi

Coleman Barks is the foremost translator of the poetry of Rumi - this is great series of podcasts in discussion with Barks from Living Dialogues.

Coleman Barks: Poet, Author

Living Dialogues episode 3: Coleman Barks: The Soul of Rumi
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Living Dialogues episode 53: Coleman Barks: The Soul of Rumi – Part 2

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Living Dialogues episode 54: Coleman Barks: The Soul of Rumi – Part 3

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Born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and educated at the University of North Carolina and the University of California at Berkeley, Barks taught poetry and creative writing at the University of Georgia for thirty years. He is the author of numerous Rumi translations and has been a student of Sufism since 1977. His work with Rumi was the subject of an hour-long segment in Bill Moyers’ Language of Life series on PBS, and he is a featured poet and translator in Bill Moyers' poetry special, "Fooling with Words."

Coleman Barks' versions of Rumi have proved to be remarkably popular making Rumi into one of America's best selling poets. Many consider that this unprecedented interest in the poetry of Rumi is primarily due to Barks' translations, including “The Soul of Rumi” and “Rumi: The Book of Love”, and the anthology "The Essential Rumi". A selection of the Rumi translations appears in the prestigious 7th edition of the edition of the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces.

Coleman Barks is also a poet in his own right. He says of his writings. “I like translating Rumi and writing my own poems. But in one I have to disappear- with Rumi. In the other I have to get in the way- get my personality and my delights and my shame into the poems.”

"Rumi was without boundaries. He would say that love is the religion and the universe is the book, that experience as we're living it is the sacred text that we study, so that puts us all in the same God club."

One of the greatest pieces of good luck that has happened recently in American poetry is Coleman Barks' agreement to translate poem after poem of Rumi. Coleman's exquisite sensitivity to the flavor and turns of ordinary American speech has produced marvelous lines, full of flavor and Sufi humor, as well as the intimacy that is carried inside American speech at its best." -Robert Bly

Mindfulness, Love, and Relationships: Sylvia Boorstein’s “We Are All Wayfarers”

Shambhala Sun is posting a series of articles from the authors/speakers appearing at their upcoming Love and Relationships: What the Buddhists Teachprogram in NYC, which I wish I could attend. The first one up is from Sylvia Boorstein, a frequent writer in their pages.

Mindfulness, Love, and Relationships: Sylvia Boorstein’s “We Are All Wayfarers”

As we gear up for this year’s “Love and Relationships: What the Buddhists Teach” program in NYC, we thought we’d present to you some of the great teachings on the subject, from the authors who’ll be there . First up is Sylvia Boorstein’s “We Are All Wayfarers.”

By Sylvia Boorstein

It’s very easy to get annoyed, particularly with our loved ones. I’ve been married to someone for fifty-three years and in a close relationship with him for fifty-six. Sometimes that person makes a stupid remark that hurts my feelings, doesn’t know he did it, and barrels right on.

Well, I might take umbrage. I feel bad. I radiate back that I’m feeling bad. Still the other person doesn’t notice that I feel bad, doesn’t even notice that anything happened, just keeps on saying what he’s saying or doing what he’s doing. So, I think to myself, I’m just not going to say anything back. As a matter of fact, I’ll just go out to my study now. And I go in there and get a little more aggravated, because he still hasn’t figured it out. So I decide I’m not going to cook that special dish the other person likes [laughter].

But perhaps at some point I see that the mind is hatching revenge. It may take me a little while to catch on to this fact, but if I am paying attention, I eventually see the truth of this moment. The truth is I’m plotting revenge. That’s unwise, unskillful action, because it’s compounding my distress. I didn’t feel good to begin with and now I have the added difficulty of a vengeful mind, which hurts even more. If I allow myself, I can see that he actually loves me and simply said a ridiculous thing because he wasn’t paying attention. All of that other stuff is just editorial chatter I’ve saved up as proof that he doesn’t love me. I’ve manufactured a fable and then frightened myself with it.

The ninth branch of the eightfold path is relationship, and its path is metta, loving-kindness practice. Loving-kindness is really mindfulness, telling the truth about what’s really going on. One way we can practice it is to say on the in-breath, “May I meet this moment fully,” and on the out-breath, “May I meet it as a friend.” Try that, and see how it feels. When we meet the moment fully, in relationship, as a friend, we combine mindfulness and loving-kindness. We stop plotting our fable, our story about who did what to whom.

Buddhism is very optimistic about the human capacity for love, about the potential of what we can do with love. We can develop a love that is steadfast and universal. We develop it not because we force ourselves to love so fully. Rather, we discover that loving unconditionally is the greatest source of joy, and that we are the loser for any hesitation or interruption in that love, such as “I would really love you if you would just do your share of the cooking, if you would just do this, if you would just do that.” Whenever we hesitate like that, we lose.

Buddhism tells us that in spite of all the circumstances we face, we could have a steadfast love for all beings. For most people who come to study dharma, this kind of love begins to feel right to them. It seems right to them when they realize that this world only becomes problematic when we hesitate to love.

There’s a phrase that I’m very fond of that comes from the late Nyanaponika Thera, a wonderful German-born mindfulness teacher who went to Sri Lanka and was ordained as a monk. Thera spoke of a “love that embraces all human beings, knowing well that we are all wayfarers through this round of existence and that we all experience the same laws of suffering.”

This is such a moving phrase, because if I can see that the person who has irritated me has, like me, very simple wants, then I can embrace the moment fully and as a friend. This person irritating me really just wants to get through this life without too much suffering. This person, like all people, suffers in the same ways I do: Things don’t happen the way they want. Things that are dear to them don’t last. Things keep changing. They are “wayfarers through this round of existence,” and they suffer just like I do.

There’s a line from the Buddha that may seem discouraging of relationships. The Buddha says that everything that is dear to us causes pain. I didn’t like that when I first read it at the beginning of my practice, but after a while I realized that it’s simply an expression of the truth. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have relationships. It doesn’t mean not to have things dear to you. It just means that in this life of change, we will lose everything that’s dear to us, unless that which is dear loses us first. Everything will change. It won’t be what it was, or it will no longer be what we wanted, or we’ll stop loving it and then we’ll feel bad about it, or we’ll love it so very much and something will happen to it, and then it won’t be available to us, and on and on and on. This life is full of getting used to losses. The only adequate response is to love fully and realize we have a precious short life.

The teaching that everything dear to us causes pain has helped me to be more clear that I’m eager to use relationship as a practice. It helps me remember not to mortgage away any of my days by having a grudge or a grievance or making myself distant. That would simply cause a rupture in that steadfast, universal love that is so joyful.

  • To join Sylvia — as well as John Tarrant, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, and Polly Young-Eisendrath — at Shambhala Sun and the Omega Institute’s “Mindfulness, Love, and Relationships: What the Buddhists Teach” program (April 3-5 in NYC), just click here.

Precision Nutrition - Research Review: Is More Really Better? Comparing 1 Set to 3 Sets for Building Strength & Muscle Mass

The smart folks at Precision Nutrition take a look at a recent study on weight training volume. The results are interesting, though it must be noted that they used untrained individuals, so this may have NO carryover for the average gym rat looking for the definite answer.

For what it's worth, this will have no impact on my own training, but it might impact how I work with newbies at the gym.

Research Review: Is More Really Better? Comparing 1 Set to 3 Sets for Building Strength & Muscle Mass

One method of wasting time at the gym

Ever wonder if you’re wasting your time at the gym?

If you routinely debate other gym members about the effectiveness of government spending on economic recovery during your workout –- then yes, you’re wasting your time (and probably theirs, unless they’re federal auditors). But flagrant time wasting isn’t what I’m talking about –- I’m talking about wasted sets. I want to know:

What is the minimum number of sets I need to do to see gains in strength and muscle mass?

Since I haven’t done a “training” review in this column, I thought I’d jump right into a controversial subject. Most of you have probably heard of a strength training technique called high intensity training, or HIT (not to be confused with high intensity interval training, aka HIIT, which is a cardiovascular training technique). The basic method of HIT is to train with very low volume but to take each set to absolute fatigue or “failure”. While not the norm for HIT, in the most extreme cases this method utilizes only 1 set per exercise, and that’s what I’m going to look at in this research review.

Many studies have looked at single versus multiple sets, but none of them kept as many training variables constant as this one did. This study made sure that 6 out of 7 training variables stayed the same: exercise selection, exercise order, frequency (how many times/week), load (aka intensity), repetition, and rest. Only the loading volume –- i.e. the number of sets –- changed. This way, researchers could truly compare the difference between 1 set and 3 sets.

Rønnestad BR, Egeland W, Kvamme NH, Refsnes PE, Kadi F, Raastad T. Dissimilar effects of one- and three-set strength training on strength and muscle mass gains in upper and lower body in untrained subjects. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2007 Feb;21(1):157-63.


This experiment used 24 untrained men who were, on average, 26.5 years old. “Untrained” was specific to strength training and was defined as training fewer than 3 times per month. The fact that these guys were untrained is very important and it likely impacts the outcome of the study — more on that later.

Generally, most training studies have untrained participants. There are two common reasons for this. First, it’s a lot easier to find participants that are untrained –- they are a larger part of the population. (Unfortunately.) Second, people who are trained are much less willing to change their existing training to do what the study prescribes. Most trained individuals have gotten comfortable with a certain type of training program, and they don’t like to try something different that might limit their progress or what they might perceive as inferior.

All the study participants did 3 workouts a week over 11 weeks. The number of repetitions (reps) changed over the 11 weeks.

Weeks 1-2: 10 reps/set
Weeks 3-4: 8 reps/set
Weeks 5-11: 7 reps/set

(That’s what the authors reported, but I calculate 10 weeks total (2wks@10 reps, 2wks@8 reps and 6wks@7 reps.) Either way there was a progression of fewer reps and increasing load over the course of the training.

In order to compare 1 set versus multiple sets, each participant was randomly assigned to one of two groups: the 1L-3UB (1 lower body set – 3 upper body sets) or the inverse 3L-1UB (3 lower body sets – 1 upper body set) group. Here’s a chart of what the two groups had to do:

Exercises 1L-3UB set breakdown 3L-1UB set breakdown
Leg press 1 set 3 sets
Leg extension 1 set 3 sets
Leg curl 1 set 3 sets
Seated chest press 3 sets 1 set
Seated rowing 3 sets 1 set
Latissimus pull down 3 sets 1 set
Biceps curl 3 sets 1 set
Shoulder press 3 sets 1 set

The idea behind this design is that each group would have equal load volume -– meaning if you multiply the number of reps, sets, and load for each exercise and total them, they would be equal between groups.

For example: Leg press 10 reps x 1 set x 100 kg (load) = 1000 kg

You can think of it as the total weight moved during an exercise session. Since most people can move more weight with their legs than their upper body, the study was designed with more upper body exercises to allow for equal load volume while having the same number of sets and reps. This worked fairly well: 1L-3UB had a total training load volume of 9,201 kg while 3L-1UB had a total training volume of 9,676 kg for the first weeks. There was no difference in load volume for the final weeks.

Many of you might be wondering: why not just have one group do 1 set of everything and one group do 3 sets of everything –- isn’t that how people train? But having a design of that nature -– equal sets for every exercise -– would result in huge differences in volume and load volume. The results would be confounded, or muddled up, by the effects of sets and volume. Although it’s a subtle difference, sets and volume are different. Thus, to figure out the importance of sets, volume (specifically load volume) had to be the same.


Researchers measured several things:

  • 1 repetition maximums (1RM) on all exercises
  • Muscle cross-sectional area (a measure of hypertrophy, aka muscle size increase)
  • Lean body mass
  • Fat mass

Both lean and fat mass were measured by DEXA (dual x-ray absorptiometry).

Here are the results.

  1. All participants increased the percent of 1RM of both upper body and lower body exercises over training (0 week compared to 11 week). In other words, they got stronger overall.
  2. 3L-1UB group had greater lower body gains in 1RM compared to 1L-3UB. 3L-1UB lower body 1RM increased 41% compared to 21% in the 1L-3UB group.
  3. No differences in 1RM gains in upper body exercises between groups.
  4. A bigger increase in thigh (knee extensor & flexor) muscle cross section area in the 3L-1UB group compared to 1L-3UB group.
  5. Participants gained lean body mass (about a 6% change) and lost fat (about a 10% change).
  6. No difference in overall lean body mass or fat mass between groups, though only 5 participants in each group underwent these tests.

It seems that 3 sets of lower body exercises (3L-1UB) is better than 1 set of lower body (1L-3UB) with more muscle and more strength gains in the 3L-1UB group. But the same thing didn’t happen with 3 sets of upper body exercise compared to 1 set. In that case there was no difference in muscle hypertrophy or in strength between 1L-3UB and 3L-1UB.

Based on this study it seems that multiple sets are “better” for lower body exercises, but more sets aren’t better for upper body exercises. Weird. Isn’t a muscle a muscle? Wouldn’t one muscle respond the same way as another, regardless of where that muscle is?

The authors propose a few explanations for this:

1. “Daily life training effects”

Since you use your leg muscles more regularly than your upper body, your legs are trained. All the walking, standing and climbing stairs that the “untrained” participants did every day may have led to a level of training in the leg muscles that changed how the lower body responded to exercise. Thus, the researchers argue, trained individuals/muscles respond more positively to more sets. Fair enough. While I buy that trained muscle does better with more volume, I don’t know how much I believe that modern daily life challenges anyone in a “trained” state.

The next two explanations consider the role of hormonal receptors and hormones in upper and lower body muscle.

2. Variations in androgen receptors

Upper body muscles have more androgen receptors than lower body muscles. Thus, the researchers suggest, lower body muscles are more sensitive to sets than upper body muscles, because lower body muscles have relatively fewer androgen receptors.

Hmm, I don’t know about this one. The authors are proposing that the muscles that would be most sensitive to androgenic hormones are the least responsive to multiple sets. How are these two variables connected? Could you argue that the upper body is closer to the brain and therefore has greater neural drive and is more effective at muscle recruitment, thus less responsive to multiple sets? I guess, but I don’t think there’s any connection between the two. Just because something is true it doesn’t mean it has any bearing on the experiment. I don’t believe this possibility explains the difference between groups.

3. Hormonal response

The last possibility is that 3 sets of lower body exercise causes a bigger hormonal response than 1 set and these hormones “spill over” to the upper body. 3 sets of lower body work might release more anabolic hormones than 1 set of lower body, and more than 3 sets of upper body. I lean toward this possibility as the most likely. 3 sets of lower body exercise would increase the amount of anabolic hormones (growth hormone and testosterone), which would lead to increases in upper body strength and hypertrophy. So, the similarity between 1 set and 3 sets in the upper body exercises is not because of the upper body exercises but because of the lower body sets.

While this might be true it doesn’t address one problem: that the upper body gains are not the same magnitude as the lower body gains. If the lack of difference between 1 set and 3 sets is hormonal you would still expect proportionally the same gains as seen in the lower body.


If everything else is kept equal 3 sets are better than 1 set for hypertrophy and strength when training the lower body, even in untrained individuals. But for some reason, in untrained individuals 1 set seems to be just as effective as 3 sets for upper body training –- at least for the first 11 weeks.

So if you’re untrained and have a limited amount of time, you can get away with 1 set for your upper body exercises, but you should use 3 sets for your lower body exercises.

Friday, February 20, 2009 - Christopher Moore: Fool

I LOVE Christopher Moore. Coyote Blue is one of my all-time favorite fun-reads.
Christopher Moore reimagines Shakespeare's King Lear, focusing on the character of the Fool.

Meet Lear's Fool, Pocket, and his less-than-masterful apprentice, Drool, as well as the king, his daughters, their husbands, and their associates in an unexpectedly illuminating and fun interpretation of a classic work.

Psychology Today - Seven Questions for Judith Beck

Fun article, and very informative stuff on cognitive behavioral therapy.

Seven Questions for Judith Beck

Internationally renowned cognitive therapist Judith Beck shares her thoughts on the Seven Questions. Considering she wrote the book on Cognitive Therapy, sharing thoughts is a pretty big deal.

Judith S. Beck (Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, 1983) is Director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research, past president of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy and Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the daughter of Aaron T. Beck, M.D., the influential founder of Cognitive Therapy.

(If I had an eighth question, I'd ask if she ever gets tired of being mentioned as "the daughter of..." She has a noteworthy track record of her own without the mention of her famous father. Some kids who follow their prominent parent's footsteps bristle when lineage is mentioned - names like Dylan and Bush come to mind. But here I go, thinking about psychodynamics. If she ever did have a problem with it, I'm sure it was resolved through thought stopping or systematic desensitization long ago.)

If you are a cognitive therapist, chances are you've read Judith Beck's Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. If you've been a client in cognitive therapy your therapist probably read it. The bestselling text is a graduate school standard that has been translated into 18 languages. Through the miracle of Youtube, you can see her cognitive therapy in action here. Recently, Dr. Beck has applied her considerable CT knowledge to the world of diet and weight loss. Her New York Times bestselling The Beck Diet Solution was recently joined by The Complete Beck Diet for Life in a popular new approach to wellness. The cognitive component to weight loss is a crucial element, apparently. According to Beck:

...dieters needed a complete program for weight loss, that incorporates a psychological approach (e.g., what to do when you're feeling discouraged, disappointed, or deprived), dieting skills, an enjoyable eating plan, and techniques for keeping motivated for life. Most people think that just following a diet will be enough. I had previously thought that just learning essential skills was enough. But now it's apparent-you need both.

This quote comes straight from her blog right here on PT named Thinking Thin. I actually invited her to participate before I knew we were blolleagues. Welcome, Dr. Beck! PT is proud to count you as a member.

Dr. Beck generously donated her time to the Seven Questions project. CBT is often misrepresented as an aloof, technical business transaction, but Dr. Beck's responses show that warmth and empathy are central elements of any therapy. She even chides therapists for not being personable and collaborative enough in session (Q3). Enjoy this response from a highly respected therapist and author who happens to have a famous last name.

Seven Questions for Judith Beck:

1. How would you respond to a new client who asks: "What should I talk about?"

Clients don't usually ask me that question, because as a cognitive therapist, I spend a little time early in the first session describing cognitive therapy and how treatment usually proceeds. (Then I make sure the process of therapy makes sense to them and feels right.) I say something such as: "Toward the beginning of every session, I'm going to ask you what problem or problems you want my help in solving. I'll also ask you whether there's anything else that's important to you that you want to discuss. That's what we call ‘setting the agenda.' How does that sound to you?"

Read the whole article.

Here is the video of her talking about CBT and using it.

WSJ - The 10,000 Year Explosion By Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending

A review of the new book, The 10,000 Year Explosion, by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending from the Wall Street Journal.

It's nonsense that human beings have not changed at all in the last 40,000-50,000 years, as Stephen J Gould had said. Maybe the changes are not obvious, but the evolution of the brain and the corresponding evolution of consciousness was been extraordinary.

Last-Minute Changes

Scientific orthodoxy says that human evolution stopped a long time ago. Did it?

The debate over the validity of evolutionary theory may be real enough when it comes to religious belief and cultural outlook. But it has nothing to do with science. No evidence seriously contradicts the idea that the plant and animal species found on Earth today are descended from common ancestors that existed long ago. Indeed, the evidence for natural selection is infinitely stronger than it was when Charles Darwin proposed it 150 years ago, mainly because later discoveries in the field of genetics supplied the biological mechanisms to explain the patterns that Darwin and his contemporaries were observing.

But scientists do disagree over the pace and time-span of human evolution. Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending begin "The 10,000 Year Explosion" with a remark from the paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, who said that "there's been no biological change in humans for 40,000 or 50,000 years." They also cite the evolutionist Ernst Mayr, who agrees that "man's evolution towards manness suddenly came to a halt" in the same epoch. Such claims capture the consensus in anthropology, too, which dates the emergence of "behaviorally modern humans" -- beings who acted much more like us than like their predecessors -- to about 45,000 years ago.

But is the timeline right? Did human evolution really stop? If not, our sense of who we are -- and how we got this way -- may be radically altered. Messrs. Cochran and Harpending, both scientists themselves, dismiss the standard view. Far from ending, they say, evolution has accelerated since humans left Africa 40,000 years ago and headed for Europe and Asia.

Evolution proceeds by changing the frequency of genetic variants, known as "alleles." In the case of natural selection, alleles that enable their bearers to leave behind more offspring will become more common in the next generation. Messrs. Cochran and Harpending claim that the rate of change in the human genome has been increasing in recent millennia, to the point of turmoil. Literally hundreds or thousands of alleles, they say, are under selection, meaning that our social and physical environments are favoring them over other -- usually older -- alleles. These "new" variants are sweeping the globe and becoming more common.

[book review]

The 10,000 Year Explosion
By Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending
(Basic, 288 pages, $27)

But genomes don't just speed up their evolution willy-nilly. So what happened, the authors ask, to keep human evolution going in the "recent" past? Two crucial events, they contend, had to do with food production. As humans learned the techniques of agriculture, they abandoned their diffuse hunter-gatherer ways and established cities and governments. The resulting population density made humans ripe for infectious diseases like smallpox and malaria. Alleles that helped protect against disease proved useful and won out.

The domestication of cattle for milk production also led to genetic change. Among people of northern European descent, lactose intolerance -- the inability to digest milk in adulthood -- is unusual today. But it was universal before a genetic mutation arose about 8,000 years ago that made lactose tolerance continue beyond childhood. Since you can get milk over and over from a cow, but can get meat from it only once, you can harvest a lot more calories over time for the same effort if you are lactose tolerant. Humans who had this attribute would have displaced those who didn't, all else being equal. (If your opponent has guns and you don't, drinking milk won't save you.)

To make their case for evolution having continued longer than is usually claimed, Messrs. Cochran and Harpending remind us that dramatic changes in human culture appeared about 40,000 years ago, resulting in painting, sculpture, and better tools and weapons. A sudden change in the human genome, they suggest, made for more creative, inventive brains. But how could such a change come about? The authors propose that the humans of 40,000 years ago occasionally mated with Neanderthals living in Europe, before the Neanderthals became extinct. The result was an "introgression" of Neanderthal alleles into the human lineage. Some of those alleles may have improved brain function enough to give their bearers an advantage in the struggle for survival, thus becoming common.

In their final chapter, Messrs. Cochran and Harpending venture into recorded history by observing two interesting facts about Ashkenazi Jews (those who lived in Europe after leaving the Middle East): They are disproportionately found among intellectual high-achievers -- Nobel Prize winners, world chess champions, people who score well on IQ tests -- and they are victims of rare genetic diseases, like Gaucher's and Tay-Sachs. The authors hypothesize that these two facts are connected by natural selection.

Just as sickle-cell anemia results from having two copies of an allele that protects you against malaria if you have just one, perhaps each Ashkenazi disease occurs when you have two copies of an allele that brings about something useful when you have just one. That useful thing, according to Messrs. Cochran and Harpending, is higher cognitive ability. They argue that the rare diseases are unfortunate side-effects of natural selection for intelligence, which Messrs. Cochran and Harpending think happened during the Middle Ages in Europe, when Jews rarely intermarried with other Europeans.

"The 10,000 Year Explosion" is important and fascinating but not without flaw. Messrs. Cochran and Harpending do not stop often enough to acknowledge and rebut the critics of their ideas. And though the authors cite historical sources and scientific articles in support of their thesis, they too often write in a speculative voice, qualifying claims with "possible," "likely," "might" and "probably." This voice is inevitable in any discussion of events tens of thousands of years ago. But it leads to another problem: The authors don't say enough about the developments in genetic science that allow them to make inferences about humanity's distant past. Readers will wonder, for instance, exactly how it is possible to recognize ancient Neanderthal DNA in our modern genomes. Despite all this, the provocative ideas in "The 10,000 Year Explosion" must be taken seriously by anyone who wants to understand human origins and humanity's future.

Mr. Chabris is a psychology professor at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.

Duncan Campbell and George Lakoff - The Evolutionary Challenge of the 21st Century for the Political Mind

George Lakoff has been a polarizing figure. His work on the neuroscience of politics made him a darling of the liberals - for a while - until he pissed them off, too. He is more famous among academics for his brief but fiery feud with Steven Pinker.

I like him most for his work on embodied mind:

When Lakoff claims the mind is "embodied", he is arguing that almost all of human cognition, up through the most abstract reasoning, depends on and makes use of such concrete and "low-level" facilities as the sensorimotor system and the emotions. Therefore embodiment is a rejection not only of dualism vis-a-vis mind and matter, but also of claims that human reason can be basically understood without reference to the underlying "implementation details".

Lakoff offers three complementary but distinct sorts of arguments in favor of embodiment. First, using evidence from neuroscience and neural network simulations, he argues that certain concepts, such as color and spatial relation concepts (e.g. "red" or "over"; see also qualia), can be almost entirely understood through the examination of how processes of perception or motor control work.

Second, based on cognitive linguistics' analysis of figurative language, he argues that the reasoning we use for such abstract topics as warfare, economics, or morality is somehow rooted in the reasoning we use for such mundane topics as spatial relationships. (See conceptual metaphor.)

Finally, based on research in cognitive psychology and some investigations in the philosophy of language, he argues that very few of the categories used by humans are actually of the black-and-white type amenable to analysis in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. On the contrary, most categories are supposed to be much more complicated and messy, just like our bodies.

"We are neural beings," Lakoff states, "Our brains take their input from the rest of our bodies. What our bodies are like and how they function in the world thus structures the very concepts we can use to think. We cannot think just anything — only what our embodied brains permit."[2]

In the following three interview segments, he talks with Duncan Campbell of Living Dialogues about politics in America and the 2008 presidential campaign.

Duncan Campbell and George Lakoff

The Evolutionary Challenge of the 21st Century for the Political Mind

George Lakoff

Duncan Campbell, visionary conversationalist and host of the internationally acclaimed Living Dialogues program and George Lakoff, founder of the progressive think tank the Rockridge Institute engage in a very timely and stimulating dialogue on the evolutionary challenge of the 21st century.

The matters George and I dialogue about have universal implications to any country and political system, even though we are here focused on examples from the upcoming “tipping (or toppling) point” 2008 election in the United States. You will find it interesting no matter which country you live in because the archetypal structure of the human brain, as we know, is something we share across the globe and that really is the point of these programs.

We are all called to go beyond the initial adolescent “breaking away” from the oppressive rule of Mother Church and Father Sovereign in the 18th Century European Enlightenment through the celebration of “Reason”, which used the printing press and widespread “democratized” dissemination of knowledge as a path to empowering the “middle class” and “the people”. We need now to make a more subtle leap of consciousness in the 21st Century. In our present latter stage adolescent polarization we are stuck in rationalized secular and religious “identity” ideologies and estranged from our early heritage of empathy, with an over-emphasis on expressing our identity through exclusivism and dominance rather than cooperation and co-creative collaboration. Instead we are called to move into a nurturing, mature politics based on self-confident, not self-assertive, transpartisan dialogue.

[>] Click here to listen to Part 1 of the Dialogue

In Part 2 of our dialogue, George and I recap how our political choices are influenced by the imprint of our early socialization in our families of origin, and the subsequent acculturation we receive in our education (or lack of it) and in our communities. As George describes it, our early neurological imprints from our family lead us to think of political parties as a “family” (an idea often reaffirmed by the language of politicians themselves). The Republican Party in the U.S. he sees as associated with the “strict father” parent and the Democratic Party associated with the “nurturing parents” archetype (belittled and caricatured by the Republicans, abetted by a compliant and somewhat cowed media, as the “Mommy” or “nanny” party, falsely represented as supposedly taxing the “hard-working” middle class and doling out monies and welfare to the undeserving poor.)

Because of these neurological imprints – manipulated by negative and misleading ads, including outright deliberate deception – many voters do not vote their economic interests based on “the issues” (as one would expect from a Maslow hierarchy of external needs psychological model, based on “kitchen table” issues of food, shelter, and jobs). Instead, many voters are emotionally triggered and duped by fabricated wedge distractions into voting based on fear, anxiety, and compliance with authority – often against their own interests and that of their children and grandchildren – in order to reaffirm their ”identity” within a group.

The final section is devoted to the dominant “narratives” that are at play between Obama and McCain, what they represent in the collective American psyche, and how they relate to the evolutionary challenge and initiation beyond adolescent group mind we are all confronted with. Will this election be a Tipping Point and a leap forward, or a Toppling Point in a great fall backward.

[>] Click here to listen to Part 2 of the Dialogue

In Part 3 of the dialogue -- recorded September 12, 2008 after the Democratic and Republican Party Conventions -- George and I update and expand considerably on the “narrative” themes of the campaign, why the Republicans say that the campaign is not about “issues” but about “personalities”, and how that approach derived from a corporate marketing strategy begun by Nixon and firmly established as Republican precedent by Reagan. Understanding the modes of manipulation of these “framings” – unconscious to the ordinary voter and not illuminated by the media – is a key to understanding the election as it proceeds, including the formal debates between the candidates. The collective psyche of the U.S., like that of the planet, is at a critical evolutionary turning point. As observed by C. G. Jung, if we bring the elements at work in the unconscious to awareness, as we do in participating in these kinds of dialogues, then we open the possibility of fulfilling our higher purpose and destiny, rather than enduring an unconscious fate.

[>] Click here to listen to Part 3 of the Dialogue

Martine Rothblatt - From Mind Loading to Mind Cloning – Gene to Meme to Beme: A Perspective on the Nature of Humanity

Here is one of the most interesting articles from the recent series of articles on transhumanism at The Global Spiral. I seriously disagree with the fundamental premise, especially as the increasingly accepted notion of embodied cognition seems to disallow any kind of transfer of human consciousness (which is by definition embedded in its environment) into machines.
From Mind Loading to Mind Cloning – Gene to Meme to Beme: A Perspective on the Nature of Humanity


A central concern of the pro/anti transhumanist debate is whether to restrict our human bodies to a biological form or to expand our personal existence onto non-biological platforms. The anti-transhumanist position is that we are our DNA-birthed bodies. I suggest that cybernetics may very well offer a means for expanding the human being.

In Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s essay “Cybernetics Is An Antihumanism: Advanced Technologies and the Rebellion Against the Human Condition”, Dupuy misstates the cybernetics premise. Dupuy suggests that cybernetics in its quest for control is something anti-human. Alternatively, I suggest that cybernetics is simply an extension of life, much like a modern primate digging stick or insectoid behavioral pattern all of which quests for control over the environment. Failure to exert control over one's environment is tantamount to extinction, for no environment provides all the requisites for life at all times without manipulation. Even bacteria control their environment by movement through it and linking together metabolic excretions. To control is not only to be human, it is to survive.

Image copyright Adam Scott Miller 2008, all rights reserved

The goal of cybernetic personal existence would be to continue human development rather than to artificially arrest it at the 20th century level, after it has developed for countless millennia. For all practical purposes, in the distant future, it is inevitable that the earth will be lost to a cosmic catastrophe of some sort, as that is the fate of all heavenly bodies in the universe. Those, such as Pickering, who oppose cybernetic personal existence, condemn humans to astrophysical excision, whereas proponents of cybernetic personal existence provide a potential vehicle for sustaining the human species. Voltaire was correct when he said that the perfect is the enemy of the good, but he did not mean that we shouldn't strive to improve ourselves. To the contrary, Voltaire meant that we ought not stop trying to improve ourselves simply because we cannot be perfect. The same point goes for humanity. We are far from perfect. Cybernetic existence will not make us perfect. But it could make us better, and that is and always has been a worthy cause.

Here I would like to turn to Katherine Hayles’ “Wrestling with Transhumanism” wherein she neglects the fact that transhumanists are actually the most socially connected culture on earth because transhumanists want to use technology to overcome the anomie-inducing isolation and desperation of spatio-temporal distance. The very goal of the transhumanist project is realization of the connective consciousness of all humanity, the noosphere (as suggested by Teilhard de Chardin), which is the epitome of social awareness. Our human tribal sense of community is frustrated by physical separation in buildings, economic separation in classes, and social separation in cultures. Is this utopian? Ted Peters in his paper “Transhumanism and the Posthuman Future: Will Technological Progress Get Us There?” seems to think so.

However Peters mistakes extrapolations for explanations. The transhumanists are no more utopian or naive than were the socio-technological pioneers of the 19th century who believed in and fought for universal education, railroads, and public health. Our antecedents in the 1800s dreamed of a day when everyone would have a quality education, when transportation would not involve degradation, and when horrifying epidemics did not sweep away our loved ones. It was that lofty — even utopian — goal that invigorated society to introduce compulsory education, the transcontinental railroad, and sanitation. We are still far from the utopian goal, but what sane person could contest the benefits that the utopian vision has created in its wake? It is the same situation with transhumanists. Of course transhumanists realize that fungible bodies are off in the future, but if that dream can motivate us to relieve the suffering of those stricken by paralysis or other bodily dysfunctions, then it is a dream well worth propagating. Utopia is not so much a place as a direction, a good direction. Transhumanists are taking us in that good direction, and cannot be fairly criticized for telling us all that we can do better that we are doing now.


The larger issue of transhumanism concerns human transformation rather than what Don Ihde refers to as a superhuman fantasy in his paper “Of Which Human Are We Post?” Ihde ignores the fact that we are continually transforming, from the time we domesticated wolves into dogs and ragweeds into crops, to the times we inoculate ourselves with xenoviral fragments to protect against influenza. The difference between transhumanists and many detractors is that transhumanists are out of the closet, whereas the detractors seem to be in a type of denial. The transhumanists simply see the projection of technological trends which are augmenting and enhancing humans, while the detractors largely ignore historical trends, deny current trends, and decry many aspects of the future that do not immediately benefit them. Far from hunting for paradise, the transhumanists are simply following an age-old curve of development that goes back millions of years in human history. Ihde's view of the world seems to be lost in a romantic fantasy of nostalgia for times we would probably not have survived. In an earlier generation transhumanists would have been called progressives; anti-transhumanists would be known as reactionaries, royalists or racists. The differentiating question is as simple as this: are we to abandon individual humans, as well as human societies, to the random fate of disease and disaster? The transhumanists say “no!”, and will relentlessly aim to enhance humans and their environment until “life is fair” (because we made it so). The anti-transhumanists say “yes”, and will lift a finger to save individuals or groups only so long as there is no cognizable consequence to the kind of human body and human society with which they are familiar.

In a nutshell, for the transhumanist, alleviating suffering and avoiding extinction trumps the comfort of sameness. To the anti-transhumanist, maintenance of the status quo trumps ending pain and even human survival. Better evolve than dissolve, says the transhumanist. Nay, better dissolve than evolve, retorts the anti-transhumanist.

Mind Cloning

Returning to the concept of cybernetics, Andrew Pickering, in his paper “Brain, Selves and Spirituality in History of Cybernetics” criticizes transhumanism in regards to a goal of cybernetic immortality and perfection by trying to purify and excise humans. With this said, I turn my attention to the concept of copying the mind onto non-biological platforms. I do this not to provide fodder for unsubstantiated science-fiction, utopian thinking, but to invite those who shudder at the idea of the human not remaining an exclusively biological animal destined to die to consider a possible future post human being which could at some point in the future overcome the multiple apartheid structures of the agri-industrial world with a seamless presence in virtuality within which the mind or minds could exist.

The phrase “mind cloning” conjures weird and perplexing images. Does it mean stamping out an army of people who think the same? Also, how could a mind be cloned? We can visualize identical twins as a proxy for body cloning, but no two people have ever had the same mind. And why would any one want to clone minds? Who would want someone else running around with all of our most private thoughts?

In order to explore a world full of mind clones that is now a key R&D project of dozens of government agencies and private companies, I will briefly address the why, how, and when of mind cloning, and propose a sensible framework for its social acceptance.

Let’s start with the term “mind cloning.” It means copying the essence of a person’s consciousness. We need the wiggle room of “essence” for two reasons. First, there is no such thing as a perfect copy of anything. At least at the sub-atomic level, things change too quickly to permit any kind of a perfect copy. Even cloned sheep, for example, are not exact copies. One reason for this is that not all of the genetic information of a sheep (or a person) is in their nucleus, the part of a cell used in the cloning process. There are additional strands of genetic information floating in the cytoplasm of each cell, such as “mitochondrial DNA”, which is not susceptible to cloning using the techniques now employed. Nevertheless, a cloned sheep is certainly a copy of the essence of its mother.

The second reason we need the wiggle room of “essence” is that consciousness is not an objective quantity, like a sheep. Consciousness is subjective, or personal, to its possessor. This means there is only one of each consciousness, by definition of it being a subjective quantity. However, a person who had all of another’s mannerisms, personality traits, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values would surely be the essence of the other’s consciousness. The mind clone would know they were the same, but different, as its original – in much the same way we realize that we are the same, but different, as we were ten years younger.

With today’s technology the copy of one’s conscious essence would reside in a computer system. This means that mind cloning results in software that thinks of itself as a human being when running on an appropriate computer. With future technology it will be possible to download the software mind of a conscious computer into the brain of a fresh body. Such bodies (including brains) could be grown from stem cells the way skin grafts are today, or perhaps be built as hybrid nano-biotech hybrids the way artificial joints are today. Until this future arrives the mind clones would live in virtuality, such as future stages of, and rely upon the web for their social interaction.

It’s not hard for any web-savvy person to imagine how mind clones will be created. Consider first that there are finite numbers of human mannerisms, personality types, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values. The number of different combinations of these human attributes is astronomical, far greater than the number of people. And then add in recollections that are unique to each of us -- clearly, there is no problem arriving at billions of unique consciousnesses from a few finite sets of human attributes.

Let’s zoom in on these attributes. Imagine a website that permits you to create an avatar by selecting its human attributes in the way you might order sushi. A click for a certain shy grin, a click on a 1-to-10 scale for introversion, clicks for one’s beliefs about God, charity and love, and so on. As you click away, your uploaded image animates increasingly similar to you, much like a police sketch artist’s rendering takes on an increasing likeness. Spend enough time at a well designed website, and a sort of cyber-twin or digital reflection of you will arise. This is mind loading. It is a necessary, but not sufficient, step toward mind cloning.

The mind loaded version of you is a vast set of look-up tables or database preferences. It lacks the wiring of your brain, the multiple subtle inter-relationships of your thoughts, the worldly knowledge you have but can’t click, the neuro-hormonal connections that trigger sensations, the curiosity, cautiousness and conceptualizing that moves you from moment-to-moment based upon decades of living life. It’s the best puppet ever made, but it is still just a cyber-puppet.

Now, there are many smart people out there trying to digitize the brain. They are using brain scanning technology to see which parts of the brain light-up, and how they light-up, when we feel awe, brave, cuddly, dread, ecstatic, fearful, God, hatred, isolated, joyful, kind, loving, morose, neglected, outraged, pretty, quixotic, rowdy, sad, trusting, understanding, vapid, wonderment, xenophobic, yearning and zesty. For every feeling some unique set of nerves light up. There are many ways for neurons to light up with awe, or bravery, or cuddliness – but a finite number of ways. As with personality types and mannerisms, there are a finite number of ways to feel human, but an uncountable number of combinations of these ways.

Each feeling amounts to a mental filter that focuses our thoughts moment to moment in a manner consistent with the feeling. Each feeling is a sub-routine, an overlaid program on top of a larger program. If I’m sad, things seem sad, and I see the glass as half-empty not half-full. The feelings are usually temporary, and in time our macro-program reboots to its default settings. But sometimes feelings persist, and the macro-program cannot recover. Many feelings trigger sensations across our bodies via neuro-hormonal connections, or, vice-versa, sensations trigger feelings. These sensations are select sets of nerves being pinged toward positive or negative polarity. The brain interprets these along a range of ecstasy to agony, and we find ourselves thinking that we feel the brain’s interpretation.

Ultimately, feelings are nerves being more or less activated in a plethora of possible combinations. This sort of thing is tailor-made for digitization. Software circuits can be divided into hundreds of feeling elements, scaled from positive to negative, and grouped into emotional bundles. Hence, it is just a matter of time before hackers start selling awe, bravery and cuddliness modules. The mind loads will feel the emotions with ever-more authenticity to human feelings as the software engineers get ever-smarter about which neuron pools are associated in which way with which emotions.

In time mind cloning software will watch a human emote (uploaded digital video, perhaps with some biofeedback such as galvanic skin response), and auto-tune its feelings modules to match those of the human. As this is done, the mind load will morph into a mind clone. A puppet that feels is a puppet no more. Software that fears for its life, and that quests for more life, is alive.


Here I introduce the concept of what I refer to the “beme”. The word “beme” is an adaptation of the linguist’s word “morpheme”, which means the smallest unit of meaning. A beme is the smallest unit of being, or existence. Being is usually defined as a state of existing, or as somebody’s essential nature or character. Hence, a beme is the smallest unit of someone’s essential nature or character.

Bemes are similar to “memes”, units of cultural transmission that behave like genes and were first explicated in 1976 by Richard Dawkins1. Memes span a broader field than the linguistic-bound morphemes, and are studied more for their transmissibility characteristics than for their inherent meaning. By analogy, a beme is a unit of existence, nature or character that can behaves like a gene. Hence, a beme can produce behaviors like a gene can produce proteins. Also, a beme can be replicated or combined or mutated either within a being (as occurs with genes) or in an offspring (as also occurs with genes).

“Bemes” might be thought of as specific kinds of “memes”, although not all small units of existence are also units of cultural transmission. In any event, the growing public familiarity with the concept of memes is helpful in gaining understanding of the new concept of bemes. The following table shows these similarities amongst genes, memes and bemes:














Mitosis & (A)sexual reproduction

Talking, Media & Education

Digitization of beingness



Multiple meanings



Extinct species v. dominant species

Discarded images v. prevalent images

Lost thoughts v. prevalent thoughts

Humans are defined in large part by our thoughts rather than our genes. The concept of a beme, in this regard, could be mightier than the gene.

Humanity, Transhumanity, Genes and Bemes

Now, focusing on the question of our humanity, is it our genes or our bemes that are responsible for our uniqueness? Do we reproduce through our genes or our bemes? As is indicated in the above table, these questions cannot clearly be answered one way or the other. Our genes are of course responsible for the common features of our bodies, but our human essence lies in our minds not our bodies. Those who have lost their limbs are no less human; those who have lost their minds lose their human rights as well.

Our genes are also responsible for the layout of the brains that give rise to our minds, and consequently for many if not most of our basic behaviors as well. However, these genetically-determined bemes can as well be isolated from the genes, digitally coded, and separately reproduced. And there are many more bemes that arise solely as a result of our experiences in life. These bemes cannot be expressed in genes, but they too can be abstracted, digitally coded, and separately reproduced.

The central thesis of this essay is that in an Information Age the beme is mightier than the gene. This means that transmissible units of character or existence are more important than genetic information. For example, most people’s love-mate is a person with whom they share no genetic commonality outside of that which is in the general gene pool of their community. However, a lasting interpersonal relationship is only possible if the two partners share a strong appreciation for each other’s bemes, their characters, their natures, and their ideational units of existence. To say the “beme is mightier than the gene” is to disagree that “blood is thicker than water.” Most people’s strongest relationship — that with their spouse, or with a best friend, is not a blood relationship.

On the other hand, bemes are not like mere water. A person builds up his or her bemes over time, and evolves them as appears most conducive to an enjoyable life. That which we have spent time developing, like a relationship, is more valuable, and reliable, than that which just appears and claims affinity based solely upon flesh. Perhaps a better phrase is “minds are deeper than matter.”


1. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 1976. Though Dawkins defined the meme as "a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation," memetics, the study of memes, contains a variety of definitions of meme. They share in common the concept of genetic-like properties to cultural phenomena.

Different definitions of the meme generally agree, very roughly, that a meme consists of some sort of a self-propagating unit of cultural evolution having a resemblance to the gene (the unit of genetics). Dawkins introduced the term after writing that evolution depended not on the particular chemical basis of genetics, but only on the existence of a self-replicating unit of transmission—in the case of biological evolution, the gene. For Dawkins, the meme exemplifies another self-replicating unit, and most importantly, one which he thought would prove useful in explaining human behavior and cultural evolution.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Publisher's Weekly Reviews "The 12-Step Buddhist"

Darren Littlejohn has written a great book offering a Buddhist approach to addiction recovery, and it has now been given a good review in Publisher's Weekly, the bible of new publications for booksellers.
The 12-Step Buddhist: Enhance Recovery from Any Addiction

Darren Littlejohn. Atria/Beyond Words, $19 paper (320p)
ISBN 9781582702230

According to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost 10 percent of people aged 12 or older needed treatment for drug or alcohol problems in 2006. That astonishing number suggests a need for books such as this, written by recovering drug and alcohol addict Littlejohn, who is also a student of Buddhism. The author, who has also studied psychology and research methods, has most definitely been there. Using the Buddhist idea of attachment as a key insight into addiction, Littlejohn correlates the 12 steps of recovery programs with Buddhist ideas and practices, drawing from both Zen and Tibetan traditions. This approach can especially benefit those who may have trouble with more conventional understandings of a Judeo-Christian God as a Higher Power, since 12-step programs depend on acceptance of such a power. Some of Littlejohn’s practical exercises—certain Tibetan visualizations, for example—can be abstruse, and an appended glossary could provide more help with Buddhism, issues that more rigorous editing could have addressed. But the author has guts and clarity; this book is a welcome beacon on the troubling ocean of addiction. (Mar.) - Beyond Instinct & Intellect: Modern Psychoanalysis

Very interesting discussion about the possible future of psychoanalysis.
George Hagman, author of Aesthetic Experience: Beauty, Creativity, Donna Orange, author of Emotional Understanding, and Thinking for Clinicians, debate the future of psychoanalysis.

They ask whether or not a cross-disciplinary approach is possible in approaching psychotherapy.

Shambhala Sun - Two Sciences of Mind (Francisco Varela)

Francisco Varela was one of the pioneers in the study of subjective consciousness. His work seeks to counter some of the reductionist, objective views of consciousness as the mere by-product of electro-chemical activity in the brain by including the first-person perspective as a viable avenue for the scientific study of consciousness.

He became a Buddhist in the early 1970s and studied with Chogyam Trungpa. He also happens to have been a founding member of Ken Wilber's Integral Institute.

This is from Wikipedia:
Varela was a proponent of the embodied philosophy which argues that human cognition and consciousness can only be understood in terms of the enactive structures in which they arise, namely the body (understood both as a biological system and as personally, phenomenogically experienced) and the physical world with which the body interacts. He introduced into neuroscience the concepts of neurophenomenology, based on the phenomenological writings of Edmund Husserl and of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and on "first person science," in which observers examine their conscious experience using scientifically verifiable methods.
I highly recommend his books, The View from Within: First-person Approaches to the Study of Consciousness and The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience.

Barry Boyce, an editor at Shambhala Sun, offers a great article on the relationship between The Dalai Lama and Varela.

Two Sciences of Mind

In Francisco Varela, the Dalai Lama found a kindred spirit. Together — along with some of the greatest names of both neuroscience and modern Buddhism — they laid the groundwork for a scientific revolution.

Barry Boyce tells the story in this Shambhala Sun feature.

By Barry Boyce

In 1979, two cognitive scientists, Francisco Varela and Eleanor Rosch, and a computer scientist named Newcomb Greenleaf — all freshly minted Buddhists — organized what was to be a groundbreaking conference at The Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Recently established by Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the Institute was designed to be a place where meditation traditions and Western scholarship would meet on common ground.

The conference, entitled “Comparative Approaches to Cognition: Western and Buddhist,” would be an exciting convergence of East and West. While some participants remember it as stimulating in new and different ways, Rosch describes it as combative, an intellectual melee just short of chair-throwing. As she tells it, “We thought naively that the things we were discovering about mind through Buddhism were so meaningful and right-on that our colleagues would immediately want to sit down and discuss how this deep understanding of the mind fit into the various sciences. Wonderful things would happen. Instead, they looked at the thick reader we compiled, largely from Buddhist sources, and said, ‘What is this?’ When Francisco and the rest of us gave talks, they would say, ‘Huh?’ When the meditation sessions on the schedule failed to immediately provide the ‘information’ that they needed to ‘understand’ what we’d been saying, they reacted, ‘We’re at a conference and you’re asking us to sit here and do nothing?’ When it came time to discuss, they simply revolted. Clearly, we hadn’t gone where they were.” The Buddhism-science dialogue was off to a difficult start.

Francisco Varela

Francisco Varela

Francisco Varela, the conference’s leading light, was a walking Buddhism-science dialogue. As an undergraduate student in biology in his native Chile in the early sixties, he had burst into the office of professor Humberto Maturana and blurted out that he wanted to study “the role of mind in the universe.” Maturana, always a free-thinker, replied, “My boy, you’ve come to the right place.” The professor became his mentor and allowed him to explore notions about mind and body incorporating ideas from French phenomenology. Varela went on to Harvard and proved he had no fear of detail by earning his Ph.D. for a study of information processing in insect retinas. He was sure his career would take off in Salvador Allende’s new Chile, but not long after he returned home, the political tides turned, and he had to flee Colonel Augusto Pinochet’s military regime with only $100 in his pocket.

Varela ended up back in the United States, and in 1974, at a point when he felt cast adrift, he encountered an old friend he had met while living in Boston, Jeremy Hayward, a physicist who was a student of Trungpa Rinpoche. Hayward arranged for Varela and Trungpa to meet, and when Varela let on that he was struggling to find what exactly to do, Trungpa Rinpoche offered to teach him how to “do nothing,” quite a feat for someone with a mind as active as Varela’s.

He took to meditation with a vengeance. He saw it as the means for inquiring into his favorite subject, “mind in the universe.” While behaviorism had long since thrown out subjective investigation as so much twaddle, Varela was determined, according to Eleanor Rosch, “to reinstate first-person experience as a source of scientific knowledge, and open scientific inquiry to methods such as meditation.”

When Rosch met Varela in the late seventies at one of Trungpa’s programs, she had just started practicing Buddhism. She had made some pioneering discoveries in the emerging field of cognitive psychology and, like Varela, she saw meditation as the ultimate research tool, the one she had been looking for all her life. The Naropa meeting whetted their appetites, but it left them wanting something more - and better.

Meanwhile, the man whose name is now listed as Tenzin Gyatso at the top of the roster in every Mind and Life meeting was quietly having discussions with scientists every chance he got. His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama grew up in a place of extremely advanced learning that was nevertheless unblessed by the hand of Western science and technology. Yet every book, every vehicle, every machine, every device that came to him from the West while he was growing up became an object of intense curiosity, something to tear apart and put back together. The world of mechanisms was meeting the world of meditation.

When the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 at age twenty-four, he quickly saw how much the Western scientific ethos dominated affairs in the larger world. He had some catching up to do. He was determined to learn more and test what he knew, having just passed the difficult examinations for the Geshe Lharampa degree, the equivalent of a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy.

Before the Dalai Lama became a celebrity and a Nobel Prize winner, he was a humble monk leading a country that didn’t have a seat at the United Nations. People didn’t defer to him the way they do now. Nevertheless, he was able to develop friendships with a number of prominent European scientists, who were quite kind to him and genuinely enjoyed his company as an interlocutor. One of the first was Carl von Weizsäcker, brother of the one-time president of West Germany and assistant to the quantum physics luminary Werner Heisenberg. For days at a time, von Weizsäcker would sit with the Dalai Lama tutoring him on quantum physics and its philosophical implications. His Holiness also had the good fortune to befriend the physicist David Bohm, who had spent a great deal of time with Krishnamurti. His Holiness carried on a decades-long conversation with Bohm that, in his words, “fueled my thinking about the ways Buddhist methods of inquiry may relate to those used in modern science.” He also developed a close relationship with Sir Karl Popper, the most prominent philosopher of science. He learned from Popper’s teachings how the logic of science relied on abstraction, usually in mathematical form, and instrumentation (microscopes, telescopes, etc.). By contrast, the logic of Buddhism relied on natural language and examples drawn from unmediated personal experience.

Not all of the Dalai Lama’s interactions with science were so positive. In 1979, while Varela was wrestling with the crowd at Naropa, the Dalai Lama faced a hostile clutch of scientists at a conference in Russia, where one of them felt he was postulating the existence of a soul. If this dialogue was going to get off the ground, someone clearly had to draw up better terms of engagement.

Read the rest of the article.

Duncan Campbell and Stanislav Grof - When the Impossible Happens: The Evolution of Psychology Beyond its Cradle

Another cool discussion from Duncan Campbell at Living Dialogues, this time with one of the pioneers of transpersonal psychology, Stan Grof.

Duncan Campbell and Stanislav Grof

When the Impossible Happens - The Evolution of Psychology Beyond its Cradle

Psychiatrist, consciousness researcher and one of the founders and chief theoreticians of Transpersonal Psychology, visionary Stanislav Grof engage in dialogue in this episode with Duncan Campbell.

We’re beginning to pay attention to consciousness itself and its origin, and realizing in many, many different ways as we join with many, many different pioneers that consciousness is not some accidental byproduct of the physical mass of the brain -- but, quite the contrary, consciousness is the very stuff and substance of existence itself. And so, in that larger perspective, what we’re really about is I think an initiatic crisis of the species, of the human being itself -- needing to go beyond the old conventional, narrowly reductive and “monisticly” materialistic scientific models of what we understand reality to be. Although not yet penetrated into the general mainstream culture, quantum physics and discoveries in the biological and other sciences in the last 80 years have already greatly changed and expanding our models of reality. In his “opening the veil” on the psyche in the West in the late 19th and early part of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud was a pioneer then, but his attempt to put his insights into the “hard science” mold of the day kept them confined in the box of the personal biography, with a somewhat mechanistic model of his categories of id, ego and superego. Where we have gone since and where we go next on this amazing journey is the subject of this dialogue

[>] Click here to listen to the Dialogue.