Saturday, October 24, 2009

H+ -Ghost in the Shell: Why Our Brains Will Never Live in the Matrix

I am not a fan of transhumanist ideas about uploading consciousness into cyber networks - it seems to me a monumental failure to grasp the embedded nature of consciousness. It does not exist in a vacuum, but rather, as the sum of our physical, psychological, cultural, and social context and experience - to think you upload consciousness into a computer fails to grasp that removed from its context it would cease to exist.

Seems cool to see someone else, writing for a transhumanist magazine, also suggest that it is not possible to upload consciousness into "the matrix."

Ghost in the Shell: Why Our Brains Will Never Live in the Matrix

Written By: Athena Andreadis
Date Published: October 19, 2009

When surveying the goals of transhumanists, I found it striking how heavily many of them favor conventional engineering. This seems inefficient and inelegant, since such engineering reproduces slowly, clumsily and imperfectly, what biological systems have fine-tuned for eons, from nanobots (enzymes and miRNAs) to virtual reality (lucid dreaming). Recently, I was reading an article about memory chips. (See Resources) In it, the primary researcher makes two statements that fall in the “not even wrong” category: “Brain cells are nothing but leaky bags of salt solution,” and “I don’t need a grand theory of the mind to fix what is essentially a signal-processing problem.”

And it came to me in a flash that many transhumanists are uncomfortable with biology and would rather bypass it altogether for two reasons, each exemplified by these sentences. The first is that biological systems are squishy — they exude blood, sweat and tears, which are deemed proper only for women and weaklings. The second is that, unlike silicon systems, biological software is inseparable from hardware. And therein lies the major stumbling block to personal immortality.

The quest to restore damaged cognitive functions with electronic parts begins with a small dish of living rat brains [above], located inside a lab at the University of Southern California. Photo credit: John B. Carnett
The analogy du siècle equates the human brain with a computer -- a vast, complex one performing dizzying feats of parallel processing, but still a computer. However, that is incorrect for several crucial reasons that bear directly upon mind portability. A human is not born as a tabula rasa, but with a brain that’s already wired and functioning as a mind. Furthermore, the brain forms as the embryo develops. It cannot be inserted after the fact, like an engine in a car chassis or software programs in an empty computer box.

Theoretically speaking, how could we manage to live forever while remaining recognizably ourselves to us? One way is to ensure that the brain remains fully functional indefinitely. Another is to move the brain into a new and/or indestructible "container,” whether carbon, silicon, metal or a combination thereof. Not surprisingly, these notions have received extensive play in science fiction, from the messianic angst of The Matrix to Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs trilogy.

The MatrixTo give you the punch line up front, the first alternative may eventually become feasible but the second one is intrinsically impossible. Recall that a particular mind is an emergent property (an artifact, if you prefer the term) of its specific brain –- nothing more, but also nothing less. Unless the transfer of a mind retains the brain, there will be no continuity of consciousness. Regardless of what the post-transfer identity may think, the original mind with its associated brain and body will still die –- and be aware of the death process. Furthermore, the newly minted person/ality will start diverging from the original the moment it gains consciousness. This is an excellent way to leave a detailed memorial or a clone-like descendant, but not to become immortal.

What I just mentioned essentially takes care of all versions of mind uploading, if by uploading we mean recreation of an individual brain by physical transfer rather than a simulation that passes Searle’s Chinese room test. However, even if we ever attain the infinite technical and financial resources required to scan a brain/mind 1) non-destructively and 2) at a resolution that will indeed recreate the original, several additional obstacles still loom.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - Photo courtesy of:
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - Photo courtesy of:
The act of placing a brain into another biological body, à la Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, could arise as the endpoint extension of appropriating blood, sperm, ova, wombs or other organs in a heavily stratified society. Besides being de facto murder of the original occupant, it would also require that the incoming brain be completely intact, and be able to rewire for all physical and mental functions. After electrochemical activity ceases in the brain, neuronal integrity deteriorates in a matter of seconds. The slightest delay in preserving the tissue seriously skews in vitro research results, which tells you how well this method would work in maintaining details of the original’s personality.

To recreate a brain/mind in silico, whether a cyborg body or a computer frame, is equally problematic. Large portions of the brain process and interpret signals from the body and the environment. Without a body, these functions will flail around and can result in the brain... well, losing its mind. Without corrective “pingbacks” from the environment that are filtered by the body, the brain can easily misjudge to the point of hallucination, as seen in phenomena like phantom limb pain or fibromyalgia. Additionally, processing at light speed will probably result in madness, as everything will appear to happen simultaneously or will change order arbitrarily.

Finally, without context we may lose the ability for empathy, as is shown in Bacigalupi’s disturbing story People of Sand and Slag. Empathy is as instrumental to high-order intelligence as it is to survival: without it, we are at best idiot savants, at worst psychotic killers. Of course, someone can argue that the entire universe can be recreated in VR. At that point, we’re in god territory… except that even if some of us manage to live the perfect Second Life, there’s still the danger of someone unplugging the computer or deleting the noomorphs. So there go the Star Trek transporters, there go the Battlestar Galactica Cylon resurrection tanks.

Let’s now discuss the possible: in situ replacement. Many people argue that replacing brain cells is not a threat to identity because we change cells rapidly and routinely during our lives -- and that, in fact, this is imperative if we're to remain capable of learning throughout our lifespan.

SynapsesIt's true that our somatic cells recycle, each type on a slightly different timetable, but there are two prominent exceptions. The germ cells are one, which is why both genders — not just women — are progressively likelier to have children with congenital problems as they age. Our neurons are another. We’re born with as many of these as we’re ever going to have and we lose them steadily during our life. There is a tiny bit of novel neurogenesis in the olfactory system, but the rest of our 100 billion microprocessors neither multiply nor divide. What changes are the neuronal processes (axons and dendrites) and their contacts with each other and with other cells (synapses).

These tiny processes make and unmake us as individuals.

Read the rest of this long and interesting article.

WZEN - Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei - Dharma Talk: Furong's "Workings of the Iron Ox"

A nice Zen podcast for your weekend morning.

Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei - Dharma Talk: Furong's "Workings of the Iron Ox"

Through practice, we learn to cultivate the patience and perserverance we need to truly transform our lives. In this talk, Shugen Sensei teaches that the road ahead may be long and difficult, but the journey itself is fulfilling.

This talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei – The Blue Cliff Record, Case 38, “Furong’s Workings of the Iron Ox.”, was given at Zen Mountain Monastery in August 2005. To purchase this or other talks, visit the monastery store at . © Dharma Communications

Get MP3 (13 MB | 50:43 min) [Play]

Reflections on 21st Century Dharma

Very cool - found this at Shambhala Times.
21st Century Dharma

Curious about trends in Buddhism from the perspective of a new generation of community organizers and dharma teachers? Tune into a recent conversation between the ID Project and Buddhist Geeks:

Download [Play] Reflections on 21st Century Dharma with Ethan Nichtern, Julia May Jonas and The Buddhist Geeks, Courtesy of The ID Project:

A Chance to Meditate on Broadway…

ABC Carpet and Home

On November 6 & 7, The ID Project will turn Broadway into a meditation hall. They are holding a 24 hour Meditation Marathon in the storefront windows of ABC Carpet & Home in Manhattan.

The event will raise funds for the The ID Project to develop a community center, develop its activism projects (eco-activism and prison projects) in the coming year, and develop its podcast into a radio show. Learn more about The ID Project.

Friday, October 23, 2009

New Poem - Untitled #461

untitled #461

colorless, a quiet rustle of leaves
night heavier than grief
so little known between breaths

I used to pray, kneeling
now the trees answer all queries
mourning is so little comfort

I hated her, fresh from the womb
never wanted this body, this breath
making meaning in shadows

embracing this foreign flesh

New Poem - A Note for Blue

A Note for Blue

Blue dresses like angels
wings spread to catch the wind

Blue sings sweet as a harp
voice floating on waves of light

Blue isn't like other girls
they walk arm in arm to class

Blue lives in the closet
colors with crayons on the walls

Blue only drinks rain drops
knows the meaning of darkness

Blue once whispered to me
"I'm only a reflection"

Roshi Joan Halifax: National Teachings on Contemplative End-of-Life Care for November, 2009

Cool - Roshi is coming to Tucson!

November 11, 2009, 9AM-4PM, Durham, NC
Cultivating the Inner Life Through Service: Contemplative Practices for Healthcare Professionals and Caregivers
Duke Integrative Medicine, Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life and
Project Compassion; to register: 866 313 0959 or visit (under ‘classes, events & training’)

November 13, 2009, 8:30AM-4PM, Tucson, AZ.
Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death
Casa de Luz Foundation;
to register: or Carol Clark, (520) 544-9890.

November 20-21; San Diego, CA.
Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion for Self and Others
San Diego Hospice, The Institute for Palliative Medicine;
to register: Michelle Suavengco, 4311 Third Ave. San Diego, CA 92103

November 23, 8AM-4:30PM, Albany, OR.
Being with Dying: An Introduction to Contemplative End-of-Life Care
Samaritan Albany General Hospital; to register: Shirley Richey SAGH, 541-812-4141,

TED Talks - Ian Goldin: Navigating our global future

Excellent new talk from the folks at TED. I'd like to believe that he is correct, but I doubt it - not 2030, but maybe 2100, assuming we don't self destruct before then. Still, it's nice to hear a hopeful message.
Ian Goldin: Economist, development visionary

As globalization and technological advances bring us hurtling towards a new integrated future, Ian Goldin warns that not all people may benefit equally. But, he says, if we can recognize this danger, we might yet realize the possibility of improved life for everyone.

Ian Goldin is director of the 21st Century School at Oxford. Through the school's program of research, collaboration and education, he's powering new, cross-disciplinary thinking about global problems from the near and far future.

Why you should listen to him:

Take a look at Ian Goldin's jam-packed CV and you'll see why he was appointed the first Director of Oxford University's new think tank-cum-research center, the 21st Century School: Goldin battled apartheid in his native South Africa, supported freedom movements in Chile and Nicaragua, worked as an agriculture consultant around the globe in the '80s, served as a development adviser to Nelson Mandela and, as the VP of the World Bank, led collaborations with the UN on global development strategy.

At the 21st Century School, with a diverse brigade of top researchers from the hard and social sciences, he plans to bring fresh thinking to bear on the big, looming issues of the next 100 years: climate change, disruptive technological advancements, aging, bio-ethics, infectious disease, poverty, political conflict.

Shambhala Sun - John Tarrant on “Placebo, chronic fatigue and dormitive principles”

As always, I love John Tarrant. Here, he gets his "science geek" on.

John Tarrant on “Placebo, chronic fatigue and dormitive principles”


Buddhism is a technology of the mind as well as a religion and I’m familiar with the idea that the mind has untapped powers, since anyone who meditates starts noticing this, and I do a lot of meditation.

I’m getting used to the thought that many things that seem as if they belonged in the realm of the body are also influenced by the mind. Placebo studies indicate that even surgery can be a placebo. In medical school the faculty will sometimes say to students that they should use a drug a lot when it first comes out while people still believe in it. There is a Zen koan that goes “The whole world is medicine” and the joke is that it could go, “The whole world is placebo.”

People always ask, “Well if you give a sugar pill to someone and say ‘This will help,’ aren’t you lying?” And the correct response seems to be, “No, it actually will help, at least as well as and possibly better than other drugs.” People who do poverty medicine in places like Haiti have told me that they end up giving out sugar pills because that is all they have and the fevers do come down and the patients do live. At Duke Integrative Medicine placebo is now being called “activated healing response.” Steve Silberman did a great article in Wired on the way placebo interferes with drug company trials.

So I’m interested in an article by Hillary Johnson in the New York Times today on chronic fatigue syndrome which goes the other way. Here is a case where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was sure something was in the mind but it is actually in the body. People originally got sick from chronic fatigue in what looked like an epidemic at Lake Tahoe in 1984. The CDC decided that the symptoms didn’t make sense and that it was some mental condition. One of the reasons for this conclusion was that the blood work turned up no consistent indicators. The CDC has been attributing chronic fatigue to childhood trauma and sexual abuse.

Molière has a character say that opium puts patients to sleep because it contains a dormitive principle. Gregory Bateson borrowed this term to refer to tautological explanations and explanations that were just made up to stop us having to think further about something. Child abuse as a diagnosis in this case was a dormitive principle of our time, it put the symptoms in the It’s-too-hard-and-it’s-your-fault-anyway basket.

I saw many of these cases and they certainly didn’t look like a mass hysteria. My ex-wife and friend Roberta Goldfarb, a psychologist, came down with the disease and it didn’t seem to be psychological. For example if you have depression your symptoms abate as the day goes on and if you work out you feel a little better. People with chronic fatigue get more tired as the day progresses and when they exercise they deplete their energy rather than restoring it. Meditation did help a bit and some other complementary methods such as acupuncture seemed to mitigate symptoms also, but working this out was like pattern recognition in a fog.

The New York Times article cites new research that chronic fatigue syndrome is actually a retrovirus.

This makes sense of my experience. About ten years ago revised blood work indicated that Roberta had Epstein-Barr virus. This didn’t make sense as a complete diagnosis since everyone has been exposed to EB and most people get over it but it did point to a direction for treatment.

An internal medicine physician in Santa Rosa, who believed his patients rather than the CDC, decided chronic fatigue must be a real disease and put Roberta on the new anti-viral drugs being used for AIDS. There was an immediate and large change for the better.

Is there a moral to this story? I’m glad you asked; yes there is.

In Zen there are stories—rather a lot of them actually—in which a teacher says, “If you say ‘Yes’ I will hit you and if you say ‘No’ I will hit you.” If you say it’s in the body you are wrong. If you say it’s in the mind you are wrong.

Mind and body have a very fluid interface and in medicine as in other aspects of life, certainty is the hardest thing to come by. Explanations rush in to fill a vacuum. Placebos are effective and doctors often think that they are not because they don’t always make sense. And on the other hand conditions that can’t be explained are not necessarily only in the mind. Often the path of greatest courage is to refuse to explain something that makes no sense, to keep it in the domain of not knowing, a domain in which it can go on moving toward understanding. Another Zen saying goes, not knowing is the most intimate.

Adbusters - The Long Road to Revolution

Great article from Adbusters - real media for real people.

Main Point: The world is not equivalent to our knowledge of it - and thinking that it is (concrete operations thinking in developmental speak) is a profound error that leads us to believe that we can create a revolution (singular cataclysmic change event) - a new paradigm, as the New Age folk like to talk about - when there has rarely ever been a social revolution in the same sense that we have had scientific and artistic revolutions.

Cool quote:
Revolutionary action is any collective action that rejects, and therefore confronts, some form of power or domination and, in doing so, reconstitutes social relations. Revolutionary action does not necessarily have to be so grandiose that it aims only to topple governments. Something so small as attempting to create autonomous communities in the face of opposing power would, for instance, be revolutionary acts.
The article . . .

The Long Road to Revolution

Slow Revolution

The term “revolution” has been so relentlessly cheapened in common usage that it can mean almost anything. We have revolutions practically every week: banking revolutions, cybernetic revolutions, medical revolutions and an Internet revolution every time someone invents a clever new piece of software.

The commonplace definition of revolution has always implied something in the nature of a paradigm shift, a clear break, a fundamental rupture in the nature of social reality, after which everything works differently and prior categorizations no longer apply. It is this understanding of the concept that makes it possible for people to claim that the modern world is essentially derived from two revolutions: the French and the Industrial. The fact that the two have almost nothing in common, other than seeming to mark a break with what came before, rarely deters people from the theory. Political philosopher Ellen Meiksins Woods notes that we have fallen into the odd habit of discussing “modernity” as if it involved a combination of English laissez-faire economics and French republican-style government. We do this despite the fact that the two have really nothing to do with either revolution. The Industrial Revolution happened under an antiquated, largely medieval constitution and 19th century France was anything but laissez-faire.

The fact that the Russian Revolution appeals to the “developing world” is because it’s the one example in which both sorts of revolution did actually seem to coincide: a seizure of national power that then led to rapid industrialization. As a result, almost every 20th century government in the South that was determined to play economic catch-up with the industrial powers felt compelled to claim that it was a “revolutionary regime.”

If there is one logical error that underlies this system of thought, it rests on imagining that social or even technological change can take the same form as what Thomas Kuhn has called “the structure of scientific revolutions.” Kuhn is referring to events like the shift from a Newtonian to an Einsteinian universe, which was an instance when an intellectual breakthrough suddenly changed reality. But applying this structure to anything other than true scientific revolutions is to imply that the world really is equivalent to our knowledge of it and the moment we change the principles upon which our knowledge is based, reality changes too. This is the sort of erroneous logic that developmental psychologists say we’re supposed to overcome in early childhood. It seems few of us ever really do.

In fact, the world is not obligated to conform to our expectations and insofar as “reality” refers to anything, it refers to precisely that which can never be entirely encompassed by our imaginative constructions. Totalities, in particular, are always creatures of the imagination. Nations, societies, ideologies, closed systems – none of these really exist. Our belief in such things may be an undeniable social force, but reality is infinitely messier than that. For one thing, the habit of thought that defines the world as a totalizing system (in which every element takes on significance only in relation to the other elements) tends almost invariably to lead to a view of revolutions as cataclysmic ruptures. How, after all, could one totalizing system be replaced by an entirely new one other than by some cataclysmic event? Thus, we interpret human history as a series of revolutions: the Neolithic Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the Information Revolution, et cetera, and the political dream becomes to somehow take control of the process. We strive to get to the point at which we can cause a rupture of revolutionary magnitude – a momentous breakthrough that will occur as the direct result of collective will. “The Revolution,” properly speaking.

It’s not surprising that when radical thinkers find themselves incapable of causing a rupture in their own political reality, they quickly try to identify examples of revolutions happening elsewhere. This phenomenon has grown to such a point that French philosopher Paul Virilio theorizes that rupture is our permanent state of being.

I’m not making an appeal for the flat rejection of imaginary totalities (assuming that such a rejection is even possible, which it probably isn’t); imaginary totalities are likely a necessary tool of human thought. Rather I ask that we bear in mind that these totalities are just that: tools of thought. For instance, there’s great value in being able to ask ourselves, “After the revolution, how will we organize mass transportation?” or, “Who will fund scientific research?” or even, “Do you think there will be fashion magazines once the revolution comes?” Our present understanding of the concept is a useful mental hinge, but we must also recognize that unless we are willing to massacre hundreds of thousands of people, the “revolution” will almost certainly not be the clean break with the past that our current definition implies.

So what will it be?

Read the whole article.

Jonah Lehrer - Small, Fury, and Smart

Cool article from Nature by Jonah Lehrer. Deric Bownds uploaded the article - and a big THANKS to him for that!

It appears that mice can be genetically engineered to be smarter, but at a cost. This should serve as a warning to all the transhumanists who think the human brain and body can be engineered to be bigger, better, smarter.
Ten years ago, Joe Tsien eased a brown mouse, tail first, into a pool of opaque water. The animal squirmed at first; mice don’t generally like getting wet. But once released, it paddled in a wide circle, orienting itself by the array of coloured shapes hung above the pool. Within seconds, the mouse headed straight for the safety of a small platform hidden just beneath the water’s surface.

Most mice require at least six sessions before they can remember the location of the platform in a Morris water maze. But this animal needed just three.

Tsien, based at Princeton University in New Jersey at the time, named his creation Doogie after the teenage genius in the television programme Doogie Howser, MD. The work was one of the earliest examples of neuroscientists using genetic engineering to generate cognitively enhanced animals in a bid to understand memory and learning.

“There’s something magical about taking a mind and making it work better,” says Alcino Silva, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles, and one of the pioneers in the field of enhanced cognition.

Researchers have now created or identified at least 33 mutant mouse strains that, like Doogie, have enhanced cognitive abilities. The animals tend to learn faster, remember events longer and solve complex mazes better than ordinary mice. And because the molecular pathways used in the brain to form long-term memories are almost identical in humans and rodents, the hope is that the work will inform research into treatments for a wide variety of learning and memory problems, from dyslexia to dementia.
Sounds promising, eh? But what might the risks be?
Little is known about the side effects and tradeoffs of both the current usage or the drugs in development, but initial clues offered by smart mice raise concerns. The Hras strain developed in Silva’s lab might be good at learning, but its fear response for a relatively benign stimulus would be counterproductive for a wild mouse. Its enhanced memory is both a blessing and a burden. Silva cites other strains of smart mice that excel at solving complex exercises, such as the Morris water maze, but that struggle with simpler mazes. “It’s as if they remember too much,” he says — possibly taking in irrelevant information such as the position of windows or lights but missing the big clues.

Farah sees a parallel between these mice and one of the few case studies of an individual with profoundly enhanced memory. In the early 1920s, the Russian neurologist Alexander Luria began studying the learning skills of a newspaper reporter called Solomon Shereshevsky, who had been referred to the doctor by his editor. Shereshevsky had such a perfect memory that he often struggled to forget irrelevant details. After a single read of Dante’s Divine Comedy, he was able to recite the complete poem by heart. Although this flawless memory occasionally helped Shereshevsky at work — he never needed to take notes — Luria also documented the profound disadvantages of such a capacious memory. Shereshevsky, for instance, was almost entirely unable to grasp metaphors, as his mind was so fixated on particulars. When he tried to read poetry, for example, “the obstacles to his understanding were overwhelming”, Luria wrote in his book The Mind of a Mnemonist. “Each expression gave rise to a remembered image; this, in turn, would conflict with another image that had been evoked.”
Read the whole fascinating article.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pat Buchanan's Ode to White, Christian, Racist Americans

Is Buchanan racist? I don't think so, at least not the KKK sort of racism that so many people think of. More accurately, he ethnocentric, not trusting anyone who is not like him. Interestingly, as a Catholic, he is among those feared (hated?) by the white, working class, racist evangelicals he champions in his recent article at WorldNetDaily.

Moreover, the alienation and radicalization of white America began long before Obama arrived. He acknowledged as much when he explained Middle Pennsylvanians to puzzled progressives in that closed-door meeting in San Francisco.

Referring to the white working-class voters in the industrial towns decimated by job losses, Obama said: "They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Yet, we had seen these folks before. They were Perotistas in 1992, opposed NAFTA in 1993 and blocked the Bush-Kennedy McCain amnesty in 2007.

In their lifetimes, they have seen their Christian faith purged from schools their taxes paid for, and mocked in movies and on TV. They have seen their factories shuttered in the thousands and their jobs outsourced in the millions to Mexico and China. They have seen trillions of tax dollars go for Great Society programs, but have seen no Great Society, only rising crime, illegitimacy, drug use and dropout rates.

They watch on cable TV as illegal aliens walk into their country, are rewarded with free educations and health care and take jobs at lower pay than American families can live on – then carry Mexican flags in American cities and demand U.S. citizenship.

They see Wall Street banks bailed out as they sweat their next paycheck, then read that bank profits are soaring, and the big bonuses for the brilliant bankers are back. Neither they nor their kids ever benefited from affirmative action, unlike Barack and Michelle Obama.

They see a government in Washington that cannot balance its books, win our wars or protect our borders. The government shovels out trillions to Fortune 500 corporations and banks to rescue the country from a crisis created by the government and Fortune 500 corporations and banks.

America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right.

Problem is that he is right - they are losing their country, but not in the way they think.

Partly, and in their own version of the world, they are losing their country to postmodern, progressive relativists, those bleeding heart liberals they always complain about. This is an easy target, and in a sense, the moral and intellectual climate is shifting toward a more progressive, relativist position (although the shift is only just beginning and will take decades more to be completed). Their leaders offer up liberals (and people of color, like President Obama) as their target in the culture wars, but it is misdirection at best.

Mostly, "their nation" is being lost to corporate greed, money-based politics, and a profoundly disturbing sense of entitlement. Self-interest has devoured and killed compassion. Greed has become the basis of the economy. Everybody thinks they deserve their own reality TV show. Fame has replaced integrity has a cultural value.

Aside from a handful of atheists who have no power whatsoever and are mostly preaching to the converted, there is no war on religion and Christianity. White evangelicals have become their own worst enemy. By demanding that religion - and only their religion - be a central part of American culture and politics, they have alienated many who would defend their right to their faith, but not at the expense of the Constitution.

They are anti-science, anti-education, anti-intellectual. All three of these are the values this nation was built on. While claiming to defend the Constitution, they reject the values of the men who created the document.

And now they have a new group to add to "truthers," "birthers" and "tea baggers" (who are predominantly white, Christian, and working class, though organized by corporate interests), the "Oath Keepers."

Again, from Pat Buchanan:

Comes now, the "Oath Keepers." And who might they be?

Writes Alan Maimon in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Oath Keepers, depending on where one stands, are "either strident defenders of liberty or dangerous peddlers of paranoia."

Formed in March, they are ex-military and police who repledge themselves to defend the Constitution, even if it means disobeying orders. If the U.S. government ordered law enforcement agencies to violate Second Amendment rights by disarming the people, Oath Keepers will not obey.

"The whole point of Oath Keepers is to stop a dictatorship from ever happening here," says founding father Stewart Rhodes, an ex-Army paratrooper and Yale-trained lawyer. "My focus is on the guys with the guns, because they can't do it without them.

"We say if the American people decide it's time for a revolution, we'll fight with you."

When the revolution comes, it won't be the American people who launch it - it will be the corporate string pullers who own America. And if not them, it will be a religious war fought under pretense of Constitutional protection. And because they have become an uneducated underclass, lacking any critical thinking skills, they will be easily manipulated into waging this war by talking heads on cable networks and AM radio.

It will not be about freedom for anyone other than those who launch the rebellion - it will be a war fought for ethnocentric values, a HUGE step backward for what once was a great nation.

Forbes - Is My Mind Mine?

The new arts of neuroimaging may change some laws and rights around personal freedom, but how and what ways?

Is My Mind Mine?

Paul Root Wolpe, 10.09.09, 12:30 PM EDT

How neuroimaging will affect personal freedom.


We all lead an inner life. Our thoughts flow through our heads, some fleeting, some lingering. We think about an upcoming celebration or we remember a moment from years past. We plan, speculate, love, fear, obsess, reason and interpret our lives in an ongoing inner dialogue that characterizes who we are as individuals. The inner dialogue, which exists wholly in our heads, is, in some sense, our single most private possession.

The private nature of the inner workings of our minds is our one impenetrable refuge. No one can see what I am thinking or feel what I am feeling. We take it for granted that the contents of our thoughts are ours alone, that they are safely hidden away in the sanctum of our mind.

At least until now. Neuroscience has, for the first time, demonstrated that there may be ways to directly access human thought--even, perhaps, without the thinker's consent. While the research is still preliminary, the science is advancing at an astonishing rate. While many obstacles need to be overcome and the technology is not yet practicable, the implications for our current state of knowledge are profound.

Using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), scientists can infer all kinds of information by looking at brain activity while subjects perform designated tasks. Early research showed a scan could reveal the orientation of stripes a subject looked at (e.g., horizontal, vertical, diagonal), or whether subjects had been looking at specific objects such as faces, cats, man-made objects, or at nonsense pictures. As the research advanced, scientists began to correlate traits and abilities such as extroversion and introversion, racist ideology and navigational ability with specific activation patterns in the brain.

If research was limited to those kinds of studies, concern might be premature. But more recent studies seem to have taken significant steps toward what most would consider mind-reading. A study in Berlin gave subjects two numbers, and told them to decide privately whether or not they were going to add or subtract them, and then to reveal it after a brief interval. Researchers imaging the brains of the subjects during the interval found that they could predict whether the subject had decided to add or subtract. In other words, they could predict the subjects' intention. A study at Carnegie Mellon showed that researchers could predict the specific pattern of brain activation in a subject when they thought of a specific word, effectively identifying through a brain scan what word the individual was thinking of, even if they had never scanned that word in that individual's brain before. The study crossed undeniably into mind-reading: identifying a specific word in a subject's mind.

As you can imagine, courts, security agencies and the military would love to get their hands on this technology. And the march of neuroscience does not end with "mind-reading." For example, a number of researchers have been working on brain imaging for lie detection, and two companies (Cephos and No Lie MRI) are situating themselves to offer brain imaging lie detection to the general public. Studies of learning disabilities have identified specific areas of the brain used in reading, which suggests that we may be able to flash words in various languages in front of a subject and tell whether or not they can read a particular language and even, perhaps, understand it. Imagine the usefulness of that technology in identifying insurgents.

Experimental Philosophy - Are People Actually Moral Objectivists?

Really interesting article. People are more likely to be objectivists within their own culture (think white Americans) and more likely to be relativists when it come to other cultures (think white Americans looking at Amazonian Indians).

Are People Actually Moral Objectivists?

Metaethicists disagree about a whole lot of stuff—whether moral properties exist and, if so, what the heck they are and how we have knowledge of them; whether one can derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ ; whether moral judgments are the deliverances of affective or purely cognitive faculties; and a whole lot besides.

One particular claim, though, seems to have widespread endorsement—the claim that the folk are objectivists about morality—that ordinary folk view moral issues as having a single correct answer. When ordinary individuals claim, for example, that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were wrong or immoral, they mean that it is wrong or immoral *full stop*. If someone were to disagree with such a claim, then at least one of the persons would have to be wrong.

The claim of folk objectivism is a datum that most metaethical theories try to vindicate or accommodate. But is it true? Are ordinary folks objectivists about morality? John Park (a philosopher at Duke), Joshua Knobe (someone you don’t know) and I have been pursuing this question, and our initial findings suggest that folk objectivism might be rather relative in nature.

For example, we asked subjects to interpret disagreement on the morality of the following action: “Dylan buys an expensive new knife and tests its sharpness by randomly stabbing a passerby on the street.” When asked whether disagreeing Americans could both be correct in their judgments about the morality of this action, the folk were predictably objectivist.

Things began to shift, though, when the disagreeing individuals were depicted as belonging to different cultural groups. When the disagreement was between an American and a member of an Amazonian warrior culture, or a member of an extraterrestrial species called the Pentars, objectivity levels dropped in turn. It seems as though subjects think that there could be objectively correct moral judgments within cultures, but not between them. The greater the disparity of the cultural groups, the more the folk started to embrace a relativistic conception of morality.

So perhaps people aren’t actually objectivists about morality after all. Perhaps they think that moral judgments can only be true or false relative to a particular individual… but then if the individuals turn out to be very similar to each other, they assume that anything that is true relative to one of them will also be true relative to the other.

Here is a link to our (extremely brief) paper. Download Are the Folk Objectivists About Morality.

Susan Albers - Addressing Your Inner Critic

Ah yes, my old friend the Inner Critic (see the sidebar for some posts involving me and my critic, we go waaay back).

In this article, the topic is the critic that always tells you that you weigh too much or too little, or whatever else it might say.

Addressing Your Inner Critic

No Fat Talk Week: How to Quiet Your Inner Critic

We all have it. It's that little critical voice in your head that just won't be quiet. The inner voice questions and nit-picks, gives unfavorable commentary and has the ability to make you feel about the size of a pea.

This inner voice becomes pretty obvious the moment you slip into an outfit and stand in front of the mirror. Suddenly, the voice pipes up out of nowhere. It has a lot to say about the shape of your thighs and your nose.

What does this voice sound like? It has a similar tone to Chelsea Handler, the quick-witted, late night E! comic, who is infamous for celebrity bashing. She targets the usual topics. She pokes at their weight, makes jabs at their wardrobe and critically critiques their choice in romantic partners. While most of her commentary is tongue-in-cheek and just sarcastic in nature, you have to wonder about the poor celebrity on the other end. Chelsea has just said out loud, on TV, what that inner critical voice might be saying in the privacy of their own head (on their worst day!).

If this voice sounds familiar to you, this is a good week to start addressing it. It's national No Fat Talk Week. It begins on October 19th and ends on October 23rd. It is launched by the international sorority Delta Delta Delta (Tri Delta). The purpose is to create public awareness of the damaging effect of fat talk, or talk about weight. Unfortunately, the inner critical voice loves to use the "F" word. This week is your opportunity to finally hush up the critical voice whenever it tries to slip the "f" word into the conversation. See previous blog for 5 Tips to End Fat Talk

Wouldn't it be nice if we all had an Oprah like inner voice that was compassionate, encouraging and accepting? Imagine stepping in front of the mirror and instead of hearing critical comments about your weight or the "f" word immediately jumping into your head, you accept who you are. Sure, Oprah has had weight battles. But, she doesn't judge herself for this or use the "F" word as a weapon toward herself or other people.

How to get there? We can't control when the voice pops up, but what we can take charge of is how we respond to it. Instead of nodding in agreement with the critical inner voice, begin to ask yourself, in a nonjudgmental way, why you feel that way. Notice how Oprah phrases questions toward guests. The questions are nonjudgmental and simply push people to think deeper, particularly about things that would be an easy target for judgment. She begins questions with words like this: "I'm wondering," or, "I'm curious," or, "Help me understand," or, "Explain to me."

What if you already notice the presence of your critical inner voice and want to take it one step further? The good news is that self-affirmations can help. Affirmations are positive self-statements. Yes, it may feel silly and forced. But, they are about rewiring your inner critic. It's as easy as writing down five positive self-statements and repeating them silently to yourself throughout the day. In general, repetition will help turn these thoughts into automatic statements that will bring them to mind effortlessly. You are creating a shield to help defect critical thoughts.

Does this take practice? Yes. But, in the long run you will be on your way to quieting your critical inner voice.

In honor of No Fat Talk Week, try writing out five positive self-statements to combat the inner critic when the "F" word creeps into your inner dialogue. For examples see, or 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food

Then, go to to sign your promise to end Fat Talk this week. They will send you daily challenges throughout this week.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Magpies 'feel grief and hold funerals'

Another reason corvids are way awesome, and maybe as "civilized" as we are.

Magpies 'feel grief and hold funerals'

Magpies feel grief and even hold funeral-type gatherings for their fallen friends and lay grass "wreaths" beside their bodies, an animal behaviour expert has claimed.

A magpie
A magpie Photo: GETTY

Dr Bekoff, of the University of Colorado, said these rituals prove that magpies, usually seen as an aggressive predator, also have a compassionate side.

The discovery raises the debate about whether emotions are solely a human trait or whether they can be found in all animals.

Previous studies have suggested that gorillas also mourn their dead while rats have empathy and cats form friendships.

Dr Bekoff said he studied four magpies alongside a magpie corpse and recorded their behaviour.

"One approached the corpse, gently pecked at it, just as an elephant would nose the carcase of another elephant, and stepped back. Another magpie did the same thing, " he said.

"Next, one of the magpies flew off, brought back some grass and laid it by the corpse. Another magpie did the same. Then all four stood vigil for a few seconds and one by one flew off."

After publishing an account of the funeral he received emails from people who had seen the same ritual in magpies, ravens and crows.

"We can't know what they were actually thinking or feeling, but reading their action there's no reason not to believe these birds were saying a magpie farewell to their friend," he wrote in the journal Emotion, Space and Society.

Those who see emotions in animals have been accused of anthropomorphism – the attribution of human characteristics to animals.

However, Dr Bekoff said emotions evolved in humans and animals because they improve the chances of survival.

"It's bad biology to argue against the existence of animal emotions," he said.

He also claims to have seen emotions in elephants. While watching a herd in Kenya he noticed an injured cow elephant who was only able to walk slowly.

"Despite her disability the rest of the herd walked for a while, stopped to look around and then waited for her to catch up.

"The only obvious conclusion we could see is the other elephants cared and so they adjusted their behaviour," said Dr Bekoff.

It's Time to Re-Imagine Marriage as an Institution

Interesting article that was posted at AlterNet the other day, originally from the Nation. Looking at the history of other peoples who were denied marriage rights can give us some perspective on the need for same sex marriage, or better, a new vision of committed relationships.

It's Time to Re-Imagine Marriage as an Institution

By Melissa Harris-Lacewell, The Nation. Posted October 19, 2009.

We must do more than simply re-integrate new groups into an old system. We need to seriously consider our assumptions about the system itself.

Feminist author Jessica Valenti's marriage to Andrew Golis of Talking Points Memo was the lead wedding story in the New York Times style section this Sunday. It was odd to see this Full Frontal Feminist not only marry, but also submit to a romantic short story about her union. Indeed the Times seemed intent on portraying Valenti's marriage as a morality tale: tough feminists may talk about social equality, but all girls really want is a good man and note-worthy bustle. For some, Valenti's wedding became a lens for assessing her feminist credentials.

Valenti's story, as written by the Times, is an interesting companion to last week's National Equality March in Washington, DC. The National Equality March was clearly defined by organizers and participants as a demand for equal protection in all matters governed by civil law. It was a demonstration for justice in housing, employment, property, citizenship, and family law, but media nearly exclusively reported the event as a march for same-sex marriage equality.

For Valenti and for the National Equality March participants, as for many in America, marriage is the terrain where the personal is indeed political.

Marriage as the intersection between the personal and political is not new in the United States. In an upcoming book, ‘Til Death or Distance Do Us Part: Love and Marriage in African America, Frances Smith Foster challenges the received wisdom that black families were destroyed during American slavery. She marshals convincing, historical evidence refuting the assumption that enslaved people accepted that their marriages were not "real" because they were not recognized by the state.

Her study of slave marriage does not reveal fragile, transient attachments; rather Foster uncovers a rich legacy of love, struggle, and commitment among enslaved black people. By choosing whom to love, how to love, what to sacrifice, and how long to stay committed, black Americans carved out space for their human selves even as enslavers tried to reduce them to chattel.

In spite of the fact that their marriages were not legally sanctioned, many enslaved people formed lifelong attachments, sacrificed personal security and freedom to maintain their relationships, protected their fidelity despite unthinkable obstacles, and remained deeply attached to their identities as married persons.

Some black men and women chose to remain in slavery or to submit to more brutal enslavers in order to stay married to their chosen partners. Foster's stories of these marriages challenge any idea that marriage is just about health insurance and burial rights. Clearly marriage is rooted in something far more personal and spiritual. To sustain marriage some were willingly to endure slavery.

I'd just finished reading Foster's book when I discovered the story of Keith Bardwell, a white, justice of the peace in Louisiana who makes it a practice to refuse marriage licenses to interracial couples, despite the Supreme Court's 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia. Bardwell explains his resistance to interracial marriage not as racism, but as a protective measure for the potential children of these unions who, according to Bardwell, are not accepted in any racial community.

It is impossible not to laugh aloud about the utter absurdity of defending the tragic mulatto narrative in the age of Tiger Woods, Mariah Carey, Ben Jealous, and Barack Obama. The hilarity is exceeded only by Bardwell's quaint assumption that refusing a marriage license to a heterosexual couple would block their ability to procreate. It is clear that Bardwell is not protecting children; he is protecting a particular understanding of marriage rooted in old American bigotry.

Together Foster's text and Bardwell's policy are reminders that marriage is a complex interplay between private choice and public practice. Marriage is never exclusively about loving attachment and commitment among consenting adults. It is also about state recognition of and ability to confer a specific bundle of privileges on particular individuals and relationships. But these privileges and state recognition are not enough to explain why people desire and chose marriage. The power to love, commit, and consent is more deeply human than that.

Enslaved people desired marriage, performed marriage ceremonies, and understood themselves as married, but without the protection of the state their marriages could be disrupted without their consent. They fought back, resisted, and sacrificed in order to stay married, but without the state they were vulnerable both as persons and as spouses.

To be gay in America today is not the same as being a slave in the 19th century. Despite the civil inequality faced by LGBT communities, little in human history compares to the realities of intergenerational, chattel slavery. But there are important connections between the realities of marriage for the enslaved and for contemporary gay men and lesbians.

Today, many same-sex couples in the United States live in a fraught, contingent space of loving attachment, unprotected by state recognition. My fierce commitment to marriage equality derives, in part, from my personal biography as an interracial child, descended from American slaves, and raised in Virginia, beginning less than a decade after the Loving decision. Even though I am heterosexual, marriage equality is personal. I learn from the history of racial and interracial marriage exclusion that the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is wrong.

But, there is more than one lesson to be learned from the parallels between racial and same-sex marital exclusion. Today, black Americans can securely marry one another. And despite the bigotry of officials like Bardwell, they can legally marry opposite-sex partners of a different race. But despite this formal, legal equality, marriage has never been more rare or more insecure among African Americans.

Marriage is now a minority lifestyle among black people. African American women in all socioeconomic categories are the group least likely to marry, most likely to divorce, and most likely to bear and rear children alone. And although marriage has fallen most precipitously among black people, it has declined throughout the United States. Since 1970, marriage rates in the United States have dropped more than 15% overall, and divorce rates have climbed steadily during this same time.

Fewer people who can marry are choosing to do so. More people who do marry are choosing to exit. This is not solely about selfish individuals unwilling to sacrifice for joint commitment. Marriage itself is still bolstered by a troubling cultural mythology, a history of domination, and a contemporary set of gendered expectations that render it both unsatisfying and unstable for many people.

In short, despite the fierce battles for marriage, contemporary heterosexual marriage is a bit of a mess. The current state of straight marriage is a reminder that simply having the right to marry is not sufficient to generate social equality, create economic stability, or ensure personal fulfillment. Marriage is a crucial civil right, but not a panacea. Even as progressives fight for marriage equality for same-sex couples, we need also to reflect on marriage as a social and political institution in itself.

Our work must be not just about marriage equality, it should also be about equal marriages, and about equal rights and security for those who opt out of marriage altogether.

As LGBT communities were organizing for the D.C. event some LGBT activists were expressing concern that an exclusive focus on marriage rights obscures other pressing issues of civil inequality and ignores the contributions of non-traditional families. These critics pushed back against the assimilationist impulse of same-sex marriage advocates in favor of a celebrating the social, cultural, and political contributions of queer individuals and communities. Their arguments sounded quite a bit like the feminist critique of marriage offered by Jessica Valenti, before the NY Times style section got to her.

So what are we to make of marriage? It is both a deeply personal relationship for which people will make almost unthinkable sacrifices, and it is a declining social institution offering little security for most who enter it.

As a black, feminist, marriage-equality advocate I reside at an important intersection in this struggle. This movement must acknowledge the unique history of racial oppression, while still revealing the interconnections of all marriage exclusion. This work must reflect the feminist critique of marriage, while still acknowledging the ancient, cross cultural, human attachment to marriage. This work must be staunchly supportive of same-sex marriage, while rejecting a marriage-normative framework that silences the contributions of queer life.

Typically advocates of marriage equality try to reassure the voting public the same-sex marriage will not change the institution itself. "Don't worry," we say, "allowing gay men and lesbians to marry will not threaten the established norms; it will simply assimilate new groups into old practices."

This is a pragmatic, political strategy, but I hope it is not true. I hope same-sex marriage changes marriage itself. I hope it changes marriage the way that no-fault divorce changed it. I hope it changes marriage the way that allowing women to own their own property and seek their own credit changed marriage. I hope it changes marriage the way laws against spousal abuse and child neglect changed marriage. I hope marriage equality results more equal marriages. I also hope it offers more opportunities for building meaningful adult lives outside of marriage.

I know from personal experience that a bad marriage is enough to rid you of the fear of death. But this experience allows me suspect that a good marriage must be among the most powerful, life-affirming, emotionally fulfilling experiences available to human beings. I support marriage equality not only because it is unfair, in a legal sense, to deny people the privileges of marriage based on their identity; but also because it also seems immoral to forbid some human beings from opting into this emotional experience.

We must do more than simply integrate new groups into an old system. Let's use this moment to re-imagine marriage and marriage-free options for building families, rearing children, crafting communities, and distributing public goods.

Boulder Integral TV - Fr. Richard Rohr – Contemplative Consciousness: The Non-Dual Way (3 Parts) - UPDATED

Well, okay, not so much tv as podcast, but still interesting stuff.

Father Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, speaking at New Wineskins, a Boulder Integral seminar held in October 2009. Father Richard discusses non-dual consciousness and discusses much from his latest book, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See.

Stream above, download in MP3 [Play], or subscribe to our Audio Podcast in iTunes.

Part 1:

Part 2 of Father Richard Rohr discussing non-dual consciousness at the recent New Wineskins seminar at Boulder Integral.

Stream above, download in MP3, or subscribe to our Audio Podcast in iTunes.

Recorded in the Chapel at St. Malo’s retreat center, this is the third part of Father Richard Rohr discussing non-dual consciousness at the recent New Wineskins seminar at Boulder Integral.

Stream above, download in MP3, or subscribe to our Audio Podcast in iTunes.

Caroline Brazier - Other-Centered Therapy (A Buddhist Paradigm)

I'm still working my way through Listening to the Other, and I am enjoying it. Until I can post a proper review, here is a link to something Caroline posted for those interested in her newest book.

Caroline Brazier - Other-Centered Therapy (A Buddhist Paradigm)

It's 12 pages, so it's probably a better sales pitch for what I am sure in an excellent book. If you are interested in the book, check it out at Amazon.

Product Details
Other-Centred Therapy
- Paperback (Nov 25, 2009) by Caroline Brazier
Buy new: $34.95 $25.51

If you are interested in Listening to the Other, check it out as well.

Product Details
Listening to the Other: A Practical Approach to Listening Skills
- Paperback (Jun 25, 2009) by Caroline Brazier
Buy new: $24.95 $18.21
23 Used & new from $14.88