Saturday, February 06, 2010

Peter Russell - Primacy of Consciousness

I'm pretty sure I have posted this before, but this time I have more info on the video - a description of what Russell is about here.

Below the videos I have posted Russell's argument (from a largely Buddhist perspective) on why the mental realm is more "real" than the physical. Again, this is an anthropocentric view in my opinion.

At some point we might want to adopt the perspective of the universe to assess the importance of human existence and consciousness, rather than making human consciousness the source of the universe . . . . just saying.

If you want to know more about Russell's views, see his book, From Science to God.

The Primacy of Consciousness

DVD of Lecture given at Physics of Consciousness Conference

Virginia Beach, NC, Nov 2004


Peter Russell explores the reasons why consciousness may be the fundamental essence of the Universe.

Many have made such claims from metaphysical perspectives, but the possibility has always been ignored by the scientific community. In this talk, he discusses the problems the materialist scientific worldview has with consciousness and proposes an alternative worldview which, rather than contradicting science, makes new sense of much of modern physics. He presents a reasoned argument that shows how they are pointing towards the one thing science has always avoided considering—the primary nature of consciousness. (Length: 1hr 9 mins)

  • What is consciousness?
  • How could consciousness arise from matter?
  • Paradigm shifts in science.
  • The materialist metaparadigm.
  • A new metaparadigm
  • Consciousness is in everything.
  • Everything is in consciousness.
  • Matter is a mental construct.
  • Relativity and light's point of view.
  • Light lies beyond space, time and matter.
  • Photons and the quantum of action.
  • Parallels between light and consciousness.
  • Consciousness as the fundamental reality.
  • The mystical experience of consciousness.
  • Who am I? What is the self?
  • The meeting of science and spirit.

Part one:

Part two:

Part three:

Part four:

Part five:

Part six:

Part seven:

Here is Russell's essay explaining in more detail his arguments from the video.

The Primacy of Consciousness

(Chapter contributed to The Re-Enchantment of the Cosmos by Ervin Laszlo)

Summary: An argument as to why the ultimate nature of reality is mental not material.

Ervin Laszlo has proposed that the virtual energy field known as the quantum vacuum, or zero-point field, corresponds to what Indian teachings have called Akasha. the source of everything that exists, and in which the memory of the cosmos is encoded. I would like to take his reasoning a step further and suggest that the nature of this ultimate source is consciousness itself, nothing more and nothing less.

Again we find this idea is not new. In the Upanishads, Brahman, the source of the cosmos (literally, "that from which everything grows"), is held to be to Atman ("that which shines"), the essence of consciousness. And in the opening lines of The Dhammapada, the Buddha declares that "All phenomena are preceded by mind, made by mind, and ruled by mind".

Such a view, though widespread in many metaphysical systems, is completely foreign to the current scientific worldview. The world we see is so obviously material in nature; any suggestion that it might have more in common with mind is quickly rejected as having "no basis in reality". However, when we consider this alternative worldview more closely, it turns out that it is not in conflict with any of the findings of modern science—only with its presuppositions. Furthermore, it leads to a picture of the cosmos that is even more enchanted.

All in the Mind

The key to this alternative view is the fact that all our experiences—all our perceptions, sensations, dreams, thoughts and feelings—are forms appearing in consciousness. It doesn't always seem that way. When I see a tree it seems as if I am seeing the tree directly. But science tells us something completely different is happening. Light entering the eye triggers chemical reactions in the retina, these produce electro-chemical impulses which travel along nerve fibers to the brain. The brain analyses the data it receives, and then creates its own picture of what is out there. I then have the experience of seeing a tree. But what I am actually experiencing is not the tree itself, only the image that appears in the mind. This is true of everything I experience. Everything we know, perceive, and imagine, every color, sound, sensation, every thought and every feeling, is a form appearing in the mind. It is all an in-forming of consciousness.

The idea that we never experience the physical world directly has intrigued many philosophers. Most notable was the eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanual Kant, who drew a clear distinction between the form appearing in the mind—what he called the phenomenon (a Greek word meaning "that which appears to be")—and the world that gives rise to this perception, which he called the noumenon (meaning “that which is apprehended"). All we know, Kant insisted, is the phenomenon. The noumenon, the “thing-in-itself,” remains forever beyond our knowing.

Unlike some of his predecessors, Kant was not suggesting that this reality is the only reality. Irish theologian Bishop Berkeley had likewise argued that we know only our perceptions. He then concluded that nothing exists apart from our perceptions, which forced him into the difficult position of having to explain what happened to the world when no one was perceiving it. Kant held that there is an underlying reality, but we never know it directly. All we can ever know of it is the form that appears in the mind—our mental model of what is "out there".

It is sometimes said that our model of reality is an illusion, but that is misleading. It may all be an appearance in the mind, but it is nonetheless real—the only reality we ever know. The illusion comes when we confuse the reality we experience with the physical reality, the thing-in-itself. The Vedantic philosophers of ancient India spoke of this confusion as maya. Often translated as “illusion” (a false perception of the world), maya is better interpreted as “delusion” (a false belief about the world). We suffer a delusion when we believe the images in our minds are the external world. We deceive ourselves when we think that the tree we see is the tree itself.

The tree itself is a physical object, constructed from physical matter—molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles. But from what is the image in the mind constructed? Clearly it is not constructed from physical matter. A perceptual image is composed of the same "stuff" as our dreams, thoughts, and feelings, and we would not say that these are created from physical atoms or molecules. (There might or might not be a corresponding physical activity in the brain, but what I am concerned with here is the substance of the image itself.) So what is the mental substance from which all our experiences are formed?

The English language does not have a good word for this mental essence. In Sanskrit, the word chitta, often translated as consciousness, carries the meaning of mental substance, and is sometimes translated as "mindstuff". It is that which takes on the mental forms of images, sounds, sensations, thoughts, and feelings. They are made of "mindstuff" rather than "matterstuff".

Mindstuff, or chitta, has the potential to take on the form of every possible experience—everything that I, or anyone else, could possibly experience in life; every experience of every being, on this planet, or any other sentient being, anywhere in the cosmos. In this respect consciousness has infinite potential. In the words of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, "Consciousness is the field of all possibilities".

This aspect of consciousness can be likened to the light from a film projector. The projector shines light onto a screen, modifying the light so as to produce one of an infinity of possible images. These images are like the perceptions, sensations, dreams, memories, thoughts, and feelings that we experience—the forms arising in consciousness. The light itself, without which no images would be possible, corresponds to this ability of consciousness to take on form.

We know all the images on a movie screen are composed of light, but we are not usually aware of the light itself; our attention is caught up in the images that appear and the stories they tell. In much the same way, we know we are conscious, but we are usually aware only of the many different perceptions, thoughts, and feelings that appear in the mind. We are seldom aware of consciousness itself.

All phenomena are projections in the mind.

—The Third Karmapa

No Matter?

Although we may not know the external world directly, we can draw conclusions from our experience as to what it might be like. This, in essence, has been the focus of our scientific endeavors. Scientists have sought to understand the functioning of the world around us, and draw conclusions about its true nature.

To the surprise of many, the world "out there" has turned out to be quite unlike our experience of it. Consider our experience of the color green. In the physical world there is light of a certain frequency, but the light itself is not green. Nor are the electrical impulses that are transmitted from the eye to the brain. No color exists there. The green we see is a quality appearing in the mind in response to this frequency of light. It exists only as a subjective experience in the mind.

The same is true of sound. I hear the music of a violin, but the sound I hear is a quality appearing in the mind. There is no sound as such in the external world, just vibrating air molecules. The smell of a rose does not exist without an experiencing mind, just molecules of a certain shape.

The same is also true of the solidness we experience in matter. Our experience of the world is certainly one of solidness, so we assume that the "thing in itself" must be equally solid. For two thousand years it was believed that atoms were tiny solid balls—a model clearly drawn from everyday experience. Then, as physicists discovered that atoms were composed of more elementary, subatomic particles (electrons, protons, neutrons, and suchlike) the model shifted to one of a central nucleus surrounded by orbiting electrons—again, a model based on experience.

An atom may be small, a mere billionth of an inch across, but subatomic particles are a hundred thousand times smaller still. Imagine the nucleus of an atom magnified to the size of a golf ball. The whole atom would then be the size of a football stadium, and the electrons would be like peas flying round the stands. As the early twentieth-century British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington put it, “Matter is mostly ghostly empty space.” To be more precise, it is 99.9999999% empty space.

With the development of quantum theory, physicists have found that even subatomic particles are far from solid. In fact, they are nothing like matter as we know it. They cannot be pinned down and measured precisely. Much of the time they seem more like waves than particles. They are like fuzzy clouds of potential existence, with no definite location. Whatever matter is, it has little, if any, substance.

Our notion of matter as a solid substance is, like the color green, a quality appearing in consciousness. It is a model of what is "out there", but as with almost every other model, quite unlike what is actually out there.

Even the notion of mass is questionable. In his General Theory of Relativity, Albert Einstein showed that mass and acceleration are indistinguishable. A person in an elevator feels lighter when the elevator accelerates downwards, and heavier when it decelerates to a halt. This is no illusion, scales would also show your weight to have changed. What we experience as mass is the resistance of the ground beneath our feet to our otherwise free fall towards the center of the Earth. According to Einstein, we are being continually decelerated, and interpret that as mass. An astronaut in orbit experiences no mass—until, that is, he bumps into the wall of the spacecraft and experiences a temporary deceleration.

Whatever matter is, it is not made of matter.

—Prof. Hans-Peter Dürr

Spacetime and Action

Einstein's work also revealed that space and time are not absolutes. They vary according to the motion of the observer. If you are moving rapidly past me, and we both measure the distance and time between two events—a car traveling from one end of a street to another, say—then you will observe the car to have traveled less distance in less time than I observe. Conversely, from your point of view, I am moving rapidly past you, and in your frame of reference I will observe less space and time than you do. Weird? Yes. And almost impossible for us to conceive of. Yet numerous experiments have shown it to be true. It is our common sense notions of space and time that are wrong. Once again they are constructs in the mind, and do not perfectly model what is out there.

Kant foresaw this a hundred years before Einstein. He concluded that space and time are the dimensional framework in which the mind constructs its experience. They are built into the perceiving process, and we cannot but think in terms of space and time. But they are not aspects of the objective reality. That reality, according to Einstein, is something else, what he called "spacetime". When observed, spacetime appears as a certain amount of space and a certain amount of time. But how much is perceived as space and how much is perceived as time is not fixed; they depend upon the motion of the observer.

If space, time, and matter have no absolute objective status, what about energy? Physicists have a hard time saying exactly what energy is. It is defined as the potential to do work, that is, to create change. Energy comes in many different forms: potential energy, kinetic energy, chemical energy, electrical energy, heat energy, radiation energy. But we never measure energy as such, only the changes that we attribute to energy.

Energy if often said to be a fundamental quality of the cosmos. But that too turns out to be a mistake. According the Special Theory of Relativity, energy and mass are interchangeable, related by Einstein's famous equation, E=mc2. Observers traveling at different speeds will differ in their measurements of how much energy an object has.

Quantum theory offers further clues as to the nature of energy. The quantum is commonly called a quantum of energy, the smallest possible unit of energy. But that is not strictly correct. The quantum is actually a quantum of action.

What is action? It is another physical quantity like distance, velocity, momentum, force, and others that we meet in physics, but it is not usually given much attention in our basic math or physics

The amount of action in a quantum is exceedingly small, about 0.00000000000000000000000000662618 erg.secs (or 6.62618 x 10 erg.secs in mathematical shorthand)—but it is always exactly the same amount. It as one of the few absolutes in existence, and more fundamental than space, time, matter, or energy. The Zero-Point Field is not therefore a potential energy field—despite the fact it is often referred to as such. It is a potential quantum field, a field of potential action.

A photon is a single quantum of light, but the energy associated with a photon varies enormously. A gamma-ray photon, for example, packs trillions of times more energy than a radio-wave photon. But each and every photon, each and every quantum, is an identical unit of action.

When the photon is absorbed—by the retina of the eye, say—it manifests as a certain amount of energy, measured by the amount of change it is capable of creating. This change is what is conveyed to the brain and then interpreted as color. The amount of change, or energy, is dependent upon the frequency, which is why we say different colors correspond to different frequencies of light.

What is frequency? Again it is another model taken from experience and then imagined to apply to the photon. It is most unlikely that a photon has frequency as we think of it. Indeed, even the idea of a photon is another example of how we have projected our experience on to the external world. We experience particles so imagine light might be a particle. We also have the experience of waves, so imagine light as a wave. Sometimes light seems to fit one description, other times another. It is much more likely that light is neither wave nor particle. For reasons of space, I will not go into the details of the argument here, but the interested reader can find more in my book From Science to God.

To summarize the argument so far: Our whole experience is a construction in the mind, a form appearing in consciousness. These mental forms are composed not of physical substance but of"mindstuff". We imagine that the world out there is like the forms that appear in consciousness, but it turns out, that in nearly every aspect, the external is not at all like the images created in the mind. What appear to us as fundamental dimensions and attributes of the physical world—space, time, matter and energy—are but the fundamental dimensions and attributes of the forms appearing in consciousness.

Matter is derived from mind, not mind from matter.

—The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation

Two Aspects or One?

In Chapter Four, Ervin introduces panpsychism: the hypothesis that consciousness is not unique to human beings, or higher animals, or even creatures with nervous systems. It is in everything. As he is at pains to point out, this is not to imply that simpler systems have thoughts or feelings, or any of the other mental functions that we associate with consciousness, only that the capacity for consciousness is there in some form, however faint. Even a lowly bacterium has a glimmer of the inner light, maybe a billionth of the inner light we know, but not nothing at all.

The current scientific paradigm assumes the exact opposite—that matter itself is completely insentient, it is completely devoid of the capacity for experience. Consciousness only comes into existence with the evolution of complex nervous systems. The problem with this view—David Chalmers', "hard problem"—is explaining how conscious experience could ever emerge from insentient matter. Why doesn't all that neural processing go on "in the dark?"

Ervin argues that the only tenable answer, anathema as it may be to the current scientific worldview, is that the capacity for inner experience does not suddenly appear, as if by magic, once a particular level of complexity has arisen. The potential for inner experience has been there all along.

Panpsychism is usually taken to imply that there are dual aspects to everything. There is the physical aspect, that which we can observe from the outside, and there is a mental aspect, the experiences known from the inside. For a long time I went along with this dual aspect view. But recently I have begun to question it. I have not questioned whether or not there is a mental aspect, which is the question that most people raise. I have come to question whether there is, after all, a physical aspect. I realize this is radical to many, but let me briefly go over the reasons behind this suggestion and the implications.

Every time we try to pin down the physical aspect we come away empty-handed. Every idea we have had of the physical has proven to be wrong, and the notion of materiality seems to be evaporating before our eyes. But our belief in the material world is so deeply engrained—and so powerfully reinforced by our experience—that we cling to our assumption that there must be some physical essence. Like the medieval astronomers who never questioned their assumption that the Earth was the center of the universe, we never question our assumption that the external world is physical in nature. Indeed it was quite startling to me when I realized that the answer might be staring us straight in the face. Maybe there really is nothing there. No "thing" that is. No physical aspect. Maybe there is only a mental aspect to everything.

We would then have to think of the Akashic Field as a field that is entirely mental in nature. Its essence is the essence of mind. It's hard to imagine, I know. In fact all we can imagine are the forms arising in our minds. We cannot imagine consciousness itself. It is the imaginer, that in which images arise. It is probably best not even to try to imagine what a mental field is like, for we would surely be as wrong as when we try to imagine quanta, or spacetime.

All we can say about it is that it is not a uniform field. It must contain distinctions of some kind, for it is these variations that are the origin of our perception of the world. If there were no variations in the field, there would be nothing to observe, nothing to experience.

These variations in the field are the "objects" of our perception. But they are not objects in the sense of a material object. They only become material objects in the mind of the observer. There then appears to be a material "thing" out there. We then assume that the physicality we experience, which seems so intrinsic to the world we know, must also be an intrinsic aspect of the external world.

Even though there may be no physical basis to the external world, the laws of physics still hold true. The only thing that changes is our assumption of what we are measuring. We are not measuring physical particles or such, but perturbations in the Akashic mind-field. The laws of "physics" become the laws governing the unfolding of a mental field, reflections of how perturbations in this field interact.

What we call an elementary particle would correspond to an elementary variation in the field. We might better call it an elementary entity rather than particle. Elementary entities are organized into atoms, molecules, cells and suchlike, just as in the current paradigm. The difference is that we no longer have to think of consciousness sensing matter (with all the difficulties that involves of how the physical influences the mental), consciousness is now sensing consciousness directly.

Interaction might now be thought of as perception—the perception of one region in the mind-field by another. In the current view every interaction is mediated by a quantum of action (an inter-action). In this alternative view, the smallest item would be a unit of perception, a unit of experience. It would be a quantum of consciousness, a quantum of chitta.

In the physical world of our experience we have discovered action to be a fundamental quality. In this alternative view, that still is true. Consciousness acts as it takes form. A quantum of action is a quantum of experience, a quantum of chitta.

We can now begin to understand why the material world appears to be devoid of consciousness. The qualities that appear in the mind—the color, sound, smell, substance, or whatever—become objects of perception, "the material world". But there is no sign of consciousness itself in the images of matter that appear in the mind. Just as when we watch a movie, the picture on the screen may be composed of light, but there is no evidence in the unfolding story that this is the case. The forms that arise in the mind give no hint in themselves that they are all manifestations of mindstuff. They appear to be other than consciousness. And so we assume that the stuff of the world "out there"—the matterstuff—is insentient.

Physics is the study of the structure of consciousness.
The "stuff" of the world is mindstuff.

—Sir Arthur Eddington

The Hard Question Revisited

The hard question of how insentient matter could ever give rise to conscious experience is now turned inside-out. There is no insentient matter—apart from that appearing in the mind. The question now becomes: How does mind take on all these qualities that we experience, including that of matter?

That question is best answered by direct awareness; by turning the light of consciousness in upon itself, and observing the nature of mind first-hand. Those who have chosen this path are the great mystics, yogis, seers, saints, rishis, and roshis who are found dotted throughout human history.

Despite the differences in time and culture, they have come to remarkably similar conclusions. These conclusions do not, however, make much sense to the contemporary Western mind. In most cases they seem to be so a odds with the current scientific worldview that they are rejected out of hand—and with them any credibility there may be for spirituality in general.

Consider, for instance, the statement by Baba Muktananda that "You are the entire universe. You are in all, and all is in you. Sun, moon, and stars revolve within you." Most people would be puzzled, if not confused. It clearly goes against the contemporary worldview in which I am a small point at the center of my universe, around which everything else revolves. Muktananda appears to be saying the exact opposite. Possibly, we might surmise, a mind deranged by too much meditation.

However, if we see it in terms of an intimate personal acquaintance with the arising of mental phenomena, and hence of our whole world, it makes much more sense. Every experience, every thing we ever know, is taking place within us.

Likewise, when we read such peoples' accounts of creation, we are likely to interpret them in terms of how the physical world was created. In a sense they are. But they are talking of the physical world as it appears in the mind—how that is being continually created.

The Ashtavakra Gita, a highly venerated Indian text, says: "The Universe produced phenomenally in me, is pervaded by me. . . From me the world is born, in me it exists, in me it dissolves." Hardly comprehensible, until we consider it from the point of view of consciousness.

"In the beginning was Logos." Often translated as "The Word", logos also means "thought, or essence." In the beginning was the mental essence, chitta.

"Be still and know that I am God" is not necessarily an injunction to stop moving around and recognize that the person speaking is the creator of the entire cosmos; it is much more likely an encouragement to still the mind—in the words of the great yogi Patanjali, "let the manifesting of chitta die down"—and discover through direct knowing, that "I", that ever-present, never-changing, innermost essence of your own mind, is the essence of everything.

It is in this that I find a personal reenchantment of the cosmos. If our own essence is divine, and the essence of consciousness is to be found in everything, everywhere, then everything is divine. Panpsychism becomes pantheism. It doesn't matter whether we call it Universal Mind, Allah, God, Jehovah, the Great Spirit, or the Quantum Vacuum Field, we are all of that same essence.

This raises my level of awe for the world in which I live, or seem to live. When I consider that—despite all appearances to the contrary—this world is, in the final analysis, of the same essence as my own being, I am filled with wonder. Every thing is enchanted anew.

The coyote is a complex symbol of our own occupation of the land

Interesting review of a new book - Stephen DeStefano: Coyote at the Kitchen Door: Living with Wildlife in Suburbia - from ROROTOKO.

This topic is a serious issue here in Tucson, where urban development knows no bounds - no need to build higher when you can just spread out into the desert. So we end up with coyotes and bobcats, and the occasional mountain lion, in our yards and walking down our streets. A few years ago, several mountain lions were killed and/or relocated to another area. They did nothing wrong - we had invaded their land, not them in ours.

The coyote is a complex symbol of our own occupation of the land


In a nutshell

Coyote at the Kitchen Door: Living with Wildlife in Suburbia is about what the relatively recent phenomenon of wide-scale urban and suburban development means to the landscape, to wildlife, to people, and to our planet in general. Based on my personal and professional experiences, the book is simultaneously a memoir, a textbook, and a personal philosophy.

As a professional wildlife biologist, I have worked on a variety of wild animals in natural settings throughout North America and in a few other places around the world. It is only recently that I have developed a focus on those animals that live among us in our towns and neighborhoods. Society’s response to these animal neighbors has been as varied as the range of human emotions: admiration, fear, love, hate.

Perhaps no other species triggers a wider array of emotions and behaviors from people than the North American coyote. Before European settlement, the coyote was restricted to the central prairies and plains of western North America. But as the continent was settled and changes, such as the extirpation of wolves, took place, the way was opened for coyotes to disperse. Coyotes now occupy every state in the U. S., except Hawaii, and they are one of the most successful species in North America.

Each of the book’s 12 chapters is divided into three separate but interrelated parts. I chose to include a variety of approaches in the discussion of the topic of urbanization—or sprawl, as it has been called. The chapter opens with a narrative that describes experiences I have had with wildlife away from suburbia. These introductory passages serve a few purposes: to provide a contrast between wild and built environments, to explore the similarities that may exist between the two, and to simply take the reader away from urban/suburban settings for a while to experience nature in the wild.

The main portion of each chapter then explores and describes issues related to urban/suburban living: cities and towns as ecosystems, the growth of human population and resource use, the impacts to and responses of wildlife, and human-wildlife relationships, as well as traffic, noise, and artificial lights. Each chapter ends with the life and times of a female coyote as she navigates both wild and human environments.

In each section I strive to explain the interrelatedness of wildlife, humans, and the environment, and what that might mean to our collective futures.

The wide angle

In much of the world, cities are expanding and growing to astronomical sizes. Along with the growth of cities comes the spread of suburbs. Suburban areas now dominate the perimeter of most cities and extend out into rural areas. Farmland, ranchland, forests, and deserts in private ownership are being “parcelized”—tracts are subdivided into smaller and smaller parcels for single family homes, shopping centers, and the like. This process of urban and suburban sprawl affects the landscape, wildlife habitat and populations, and human society.

Wildlife responds to human development of the landscape in different ways. It depends on the species. Some large carnivores, for example, decline and disappear with increasing development. Others, notably ecological generalists, non-native species, and species that can exploit human environments, can do quite well in urban and suburban areas. Among the latter are birds such as robins, starlings, house sparrows, house finches, crows, blue jays, and cardinals. And there are mammals too—house mice, opossums, squirrels, deer, raccoons, skunks, and coyotes. Similar processes are at work for other taxa (amphibians, reptiles, and even invertebrates).

In Coyote at the Kitchen Door I address the issue of urbanization and sprawl, and both the impact it has on wildlife and the response of wildlife to these rapid changes in the landscape. Although I try to cover issues related to urban areas, as well as rural country and even wilderness, I focus on suburbia because that is where much of the interface between wildlife and people takes place.

Of interest are those species whose populations diminish in the face of increasing development, but perhaps more compelling, from a human perspective, are those animals that actually exploit human resources (food, water, shelter) and flourish within our neighborhoods. And the North American coyote is perhaps the master of adaptation in the face of continued human domination of the landscape.

While cities and towns throughout North America represent wonderful places to live, their unbridled growth threatens wildlife habitat, open space, biodiversity, and the resources upon which we depend. Many such dichotomies are evident in our relationship to nature. The case of the coyote embodies one: an incredible, adaptable, beautiful animal that many people admire, and at the same time a predator that many people fear, capable of threatening livestock, family pets, and even humans.

Coyote at the Kitchen Door tells the story of urbanization from my own perspective as a wildlife biologist—while I weave in the book the biology and life history of the coyote, through following a female coyote’s travels and life among humans.

A close-up

The preface provides a perspective for the book, as well as an explanation of the structure of each chapter, so that might be the appropriate place to start browsing.

The prologue (subtitled “Suburban Beginnings”) also helps set the stage for much of the writing. There I describe my first job as a biologist, working on the sub-arctic tundra of Cape Churchill, Manitoba and encountering a wide array of wildlife, including polar bears. Later in the prologue I introduce the coyote, and what the species means to our society and what it represents in terms of how we now view nature, and how nature continues to infiltrate our lives, independent and indifferent to our wants and desires.

The prologue also introduces the idea of the dichotomies that proliferate when the worlds of humans and wildlife merge. Although we tend to think of human and wildlife realms as separate, they are indeed one world; we share one planet.

I have been fortunate enough to experience the mysteries and beauties of nature in different biomes in the world, and I portray these in the introductory vignettes at the beginning of each chapter. These should give the reader a feel for that aspect of the writing. Although these opening narratives are connected in some way to the chapter, they could be considered stand-alone pieces.

To me, all of the issues discussed in the book come down to our collective philosophies, feelings, and actions toward the land. Because our lives are so busy, our time is filled with so many gadgets, and we have grown accustomed to so many conveniences, I think it is easy to forget, or at least take for granted, the reliance we have on the land. So the last chapter, “A Suburban Land Ethic,” embodies probably the book’s most important message.

My ideas regarding the land come from Aldo Leopold’s writings, particularly Leopold’s essay “The Land Ethic” (in A Sand County Almanac). I think it is worth repeating today what Leopold advocated several decades ago.


The coyote is an important icon or symbol to our society, and to the societies in North America that came before us. For example, our relationship with predators like coyotes can be seen as emblematic or representative of our relationship will all of nature. This, in turn, leads to the theme of the dichotomies that we face in life and in nature, which appear often in the book: We cherish and fear nature; we preserve it yet exploit it; we try to live our lives sustainably and yet with such a profusion of consumer goods and services that we strain the ecological systems upon which we depend.

At times, my writing may have gotten almost too personal. I hope this will not be seen as self-indulgent but rather as an attempt to put our continuing struggle to understand our place in nature on personal terms. The issues I write about are not restricted to those who might call themselves environmentalists or conservationists—they are rather both a challenge and an opportunity for everyone in our society.

A friend who read the book thought that I may be too optimistic regarding our ability to understand our place in nature, formulate a land ethic, preserve open space and wildlife habitat, and live a more sustainable life. In the face of so many global crises, such as depleting oil reserves, climate change, an exponentially growing human population, and unending wars, it may be difficult to maintain a level of optimism. However, I have continually been amazed and impressed at the resourcefulness and ingenuity of people to seek and implement solutions. It is with that hope that I ended Coyote at the Kitchen Door.


© 2010 Stephen DeStefano - Stephen DeStefano is a Research Wildlife Biologist with the U. S. Geological Survey’s Cooperative Research Unit Program, and a Professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He has B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Wildlife Biology from the Universities of Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Idaho, respectively, and has served with Cooperative Research Units at Oregon State University and the University of Arizona. Stephen has worked on a variety of wildlife species and issues, including endangered species, forest wildlife, urban/suburban wildlife, and human-wildlife interactions. He is a board member of the Urban Wildlife Working Group of The Wildlife Society (TWS) of North America, a Fellow of TWS, and has several awards for research, service, and publications. He has produced over 100 academic papers and reports and co-authored two scientific books. Coyote at the Kitchen Door is his first book for the general reader.

Shinzen Young at Google Tech Talks – Divide and Conquer, Untangle and Be Free

I stole this very cool video from ~C4Chaos. A nice Saturday morning dharma teaching.

Presented by Shinzen Young.

The purpose of this talk is threefold: (1) to describe how senior adepts use mindfulness to reduce suffering and gain insight into selfhood and emotions. (2) To point out how the method they use in many ways parallels what scientists do when confronted with a complex and inscrutable system in nature. (3) To discuss how this fundamental parallelism between the two endeavors can become the basis for a productive collaboration in the future.

Bio: Shinzen Young became fascinated with Asian culture while a teenager in Los Angeles. Later he enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Buddhist Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Eventually, he went to Asia and did extensive training in each of the three major Buddhist meditative traditions: Vajrayana, Zen, and Vipassana. Upon returning to the United States, his intellectual interests shifted to the burgeoning dialogue between Eastern internal science and Western technological science. In recognition of his original contributions to that dialogue, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology has awarded him an honorary doctorate. Shinzen's innovative techniques for pain management derived from two sources: The first is his personal experience dealing with discomfort during intense periods of meditation in Asia, and during shamanic ceremonies with tribal cultures. The second is some three decades of experience in coaching people through a wide spectrum of chronic and acute pain challenges. Shinzen leads meditation retreats in the mindfulness tradition throughout North America, and has helped establish several centers and programs.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Thoughts on a Post-Wilberian Integral Theory - Part 1 - Wilber's Integral Theory Is Less than Integral

I could be wrong, but it is my sense that Ken Wilber's integral theory is no longer evolving and has become institutionalized through the Integral Institute. That's too bad, in my opinion, because his version of integral theory, again in my opinion, has yet to become fully integral.

Let me qualify that a bit - I think integral theory is highly useful, but I feel that there are some blind spots due to it being the model of a single man. I think there are some areas we need to add to the AQAL model, things that have been excluded or ignored.

We should take a few steps backward before I offer a few thoughts on where integral theory should be moving in the future. Consider this part one of at least two parts. I'm not sure how coherent this is going to be, since I am going to make up as I go along, based on an intuition more than any logical argument.

[Please note as well that more than likely many of the contributors at Frank Visser's Integral World have probably already made some or all of these points, so please excuse my repetition.]

Thoughts on a Post-Wilberian Integral Theory - Part 1
Wilber's Integral Theory Is Less than Integral

If you look back through the development of Wilber's integral theory, it becomes clear - as one would expect with any theory developed by an individual - that Wilber has some biases that influenced what was included in his model. This is to be expected - everyone has biases both conscious and unconscious based on the interaction between their genetic-neurological foundations and the cultural experience that has shaped their perspective. Wilber may claim to be aperspectival in his views, but he does seem to have a distinct perspective, and one with biases. By the way, the word aperspectival comes from Jean Gebser, and this is how it is defined in that model:
the word "aperspectival" conveys our attempt to deal with wholeness. It is a definition which differentiates a perception of reality that is neither perspectivally restricted to only one sector nor merely unperspectivally evocative of a vague sense of reality.
Anyway, I contend that Wilber has some biases, both intellectual and political that have shaped his version of integral theory and left it less than integral.

For example, Piaget's cognitive developmental model is privileged over other possible approaches in the foundation of basic Wilber's model (which combines Piaget's cognitive stages with Jean Gebser's worldviews and Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga).

The Problems with Piaget's Structural Stages as a Foundation for Integral Development

In reading Wilber one would never guess that Jean Piaget's model has been challenged effectively in a variety of ways, including his reliance on logic as separate from language. His version of structuralism, in the words of Jerome Bruner, was destroyed by the very sensibility it made possible.
It is not unfair to say that he falls with structuralism-despite the powerful influence his structuralist views have had on our conception ofthe child's mind. and, indeed, ofmind in general. But again, structuralism brought about the sensibility that destroyed it. In linguistics, where it was born, it had an astonishingly illuminating effect-as in Saussure's insistence upon the semiotic interdependence of all elements of language within the system of language as a whole. But transposed to the human condition in the broad, it had glaring deficiencies, deficiencies that could not be suspected until the very idea of structure was applied. There was no place for use and intention, only for an analysis of the products of mind taken in the abstract. So there was no place for human dilemmas, for tragic plights, for local knowledge encapsulated in bias. Piaget's very program) his "genetic epistemology," was insufficiently human: to trace the history of mathematics and science in the growth of the child's mind. (Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, p. 147)
Poststructuralism gets some play in the integral model, but only as part of the relativism of the pre-integral "green" stage. On the other hand, it is poststructuralism that reveals the weaknesses of the structural model.
In direct contrast to the structuralist claim of an independent signifier superior to the signified, post-structuralism generally views the signifier and signified as inseparable but not united; meaning itself inheres to the play of difference.[1]
What poststructuralism suggests (and other models do as well), is that meaning at any stage - including the four stages of Piaget's model - is inter-subjective rather than intra-subjective. Meaning at all stages (including infancy and early childhood - see Gopnik below) is constructed by the individual interacting with the people and objects in its environment. In essence, as I argue below, self is constructed not only by the emergence of pre-programmed stages (as Wilber argues) but by the fusion between the individual organism and the culture.

An alternate learning model to Piaget's - that accepts and builds on Piaget, but adds culture to the mix - was offered by Lev Vygotsky. Here is a summary of his criticisms of Piaget (as well as areas of commonality):
Vygotsky specified many of Piaget's contributions to support his contention that Piaget revolutionized the study of children's thought and language. Piaget's studies gave detailed pictures of children's thinking. Piaget asserted that development occurs in distinct, measurable, and observable stages. He focused on what children have, not what they lack. Piaget found that the difference between adults' and children's thinking is qualitative, not quantitative.

Vygotsky examined Piaget's emphasis on the effects of egocentrism. According to Vygotsky's interpretation of Piaget, egocentric speech reflects that the child is in the preoperational developmental stage. Children develop egocentric speech and then social speech. He observed that logic appears late in the developmental cycle. This led Piaget to conclude that egocentric thought is the genetic connection between inner speech and the logic stage. Piaget theorized that egocentrism decreases at school age because it does not fulfill a function. Egocentric speech has no future. It diminishes with the disappearance of egocentrism.

Vygotsky pointed out what he thought were Piaget's erroneous theoretical and methodological assumptions. Piaget combined psychology and philosophy even though he tried to avoid theorizing. He overlooked the role of the child's activity with relation to thought processes. Observing merely the individual is not thorough enough to understand children's development. Piaget's theory assumes that development is unidirectional with all children reaching each stage at approximately at the same age. By examining the world and society, much more data are gathered. According to Vygotsky, Piaget did not succeed in keeping his works within the bounds of factual science.

Vygotsky thought that many of Piaget's theories lacked the necessary scientific facts. Furthermore, Piaget's analysis of facts was influenced by his theory, Vygotsky contended. This caused Piaget to relate egocentrism to all other traits, without objectively analyzing the facts. Specifically, Vygotsky disagreed with Piaget's inference that egocentric thought is impervious to experience. Vygotsky also disagreed with Piaget's assumption that development could not be impeded or accelerated through instruction.

Vygotsky was also critical of Piaget's assumption that developmental growth was independent of experience and based on a universal characteristic. Vygotsky asserted that development is complex and is effected by social and cultural contexts. Biological and cultural development are interrelated and do not develop in isolation. Vygotsky believed that intellectual development was continually evolving without an end point.

Another conflict between Vygotsky and Piaget was the latter's explanation of development as the notion that concepts should not be taught until children are in the appropriate developmental stage. This conflicts with Vygotsky's zone of proximal development (ZPD) and developmental theories. Vygotsky noted that instruction that is oriented toward development is ineffective concerning the child's overall development.
In Piaget's model, children are essentially passive in their development, with structures of development emerging at the appointed time. But this is far out of line with what we currently know about how children actively construct their world. Again, Bruner on Piaget:
Even from within the Piagetian fold, the research of Kohlberg, Colby, and others points to the raggedness and irregularity of the so-called stages of moral development. Particularity, localness, context, historical opportunity, all play so large a role that it is embarrassing to have them outside Piaget's system rather than within. But they cannot fit within. Any more than "local expertise" with no overspill into "general intelligence" can be fitted into the Piagetian system of the stages of intellectual development. (Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, p. 147)
What is also missing is an accurate assessment of the skills very young children possess.

We know much more about early development now that when Piaget was writing, so it is not fair to expect him to have known these things. But we have known them in the time Wilber has been writing.

The most current developmental research builds on work Jerome Bruner did in the 1960s. Alison Gopnik and her associates (Gopnik et al, 2004) have shown that children begin constructing causal maps of the world at a very young age, counter to what Piaget thought.
Traditionally, psychologists thought there was little causal knowledge in childhood—in particular, Piaget (1929, 1930) argued that preschoolers were precausal. In the past 2 decades, however, there has been an explosion of research on causal knowledge in young children. By the age of 5, children understand some of the basic causal principles of everyday physics (Bullock, Gelman, & Baillargeon, 1982; Leslie & Keeble, 1987; Oakes & Cohen, 1990; Spelke, Breinlinger, Macomber, & Jacobson, 1992), biology (Gelman & Wellman, 1991; Inagaki & Hatano, 1993; Kalish, 1996), and psychology (Flavell, Green, & Flavell, 1995; Gopnik & Wellman, 1994; Perner, 1991). Children as young as 2 years old can make causal predictions, provide causal explanations, and understand counterfactual causal claims (Harris, German, & Mills, 1996; Hickling & Wellman, 2001; Sobel & Gopnik, 2003; Wellman, Hickling, & Schult, 1997). Moreover, children’s causal knowledge changes over time (see, e.g., Bartsch & Wellman, 1995; Gopnik & Meltzoff, 1997) and changes in light of new evidence (Slaughter & Gopnik, 1996; Slaughter, Jaakkola, & Carey, 1999). This suggests that children are actually learning about the causal structure of the world.

Much of this work has taken place in the context of the theory theory: the idea that children have intuitive theories of the world, analogous to scientific theories, and that these theories change in ways that are similar to scientific theory change (Carey, 1985; Gopnik, 1988; Gopnik & Meltzoff, 1997; Keil, 1989; Perner, 1991; Wellman, 1990). Causal knowledge plays a central role in theories both in science (Cartwright, 1989; Salmon, 1984) and in everyday life (Gopnik & Wellman, 1994; Gopnik & Glymour, 2002).
Further, Vygotsky has argued, convincingly, that language is a key element in development, and also that intelligence is merely a tool for integrating cultural information, which is how he defined learning. Here is Jerome Bruner summarizing Vygotsky's overall project:
For him, the mind grows neither naturally nor unassisted. It is determined neither by its history nor by the logical constraints of its present operations. Intelligence, for him, is readiness to use culturally transmitted knowledge and procedures as prostheses of mind. But much depends upon the availability and the distribution of those prosthetic devices within a culture. (Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, p. 141)
One wonders why Vygotsky gets no mention in Wilber's Integral Psychology (2000)?
I have a theory.

Politics in Integral Theory

Vygotsky was a Marxist and his politics are a foundational part of his theory of knowledge and learning. He was poststructuralist before structuralism had run its course. But if you look closely at Wilber's integral theory, Wilber - like Don Beck in his Spiral Dynamics model (1996) - often sides with the neo-conservative leaders and views, especially George W. Bush and Tony Blair (see "Integral Ideology: An Ideological Genealogy of Integral Theory and Practice" by Richard Carlson, posted at Integral World). Michael Bauwens (of the outstanding P2P blog and wiki) has also been a critic of the conservative nature of Wilber and Beck.
What is the crucial problem of society today? Does the destruction of the ecosphere, does the increasing inequality between and within nations, does the turbulence of the international order derive: 1) from the unrestrained neoliberal order which creates a world market without a global regulatory framework; 2) from a group of extremist postmodern academics on U.S. campuses. Incredibly, Don Beck and Ken Wilber choose the second option, and are echoing in their writing almost word for word the interpretations of American neoconservatives, down to their hatred of political correctness and their justifications of an 'enligthened' American empire. Don Beck justifies Putin, thinks of Bush as a 'great leader'; while Ken Wilber hails Tony Blair as the ultimate representative of integral leadership, associating himself (and hailing) with the worst contemporary spiritual abusers: first Da Free John, now Andrew Cohen. Now, there is nothing wrong by itself in being a neoconservative (that is, until you go about invading other countries on false pretenses), but it becomes manipulative when you start cloaking that particular political vision under a false scientific cloak, feeling yourself a superior being in 'consciousness'. Doesn't sound much different from the scientific justifications of a Leninist vanguard party, and we all know where that led us. An interesting study done by the group of Chris Cowan and his partner, actually shows an interesting finding. The group of people who most strongly react against 'green' and its values, and are most likely to devise a concept like the Mean Green Meme, are not yellow second tiers thinkers, as is often implied by Wilber and Beck, but in fact people who identify with blue and orange values. This finding is entirely consistent with the neoconservative (blue-orange) ideology, and therefore, not surprising at all. (see this article)
If Bauwens and Carlson are correct - and I believe they are (although Wilber has become less willing to propose any clear political answers of late, see Integral "Third-Way" Politics, 2008) - it is no wonder that a politically conservative Wilber did not include an avowed Marxist like Vygitsky in his theory (bias is often unconscious, so this is not surprising).

Yet this is not a small oversight - Vygotsky is a major figure in the history of developmental psychology.

Other Developmental Models

With the emergence of constructivist psychology, and with it a recognition of the centrality of narrative and culture in the creation of a self, much of Vygotsky's previously dismissed work is being reevaluated.

For example, one of Vygotsky's intellectual heirs is the Russian-American psychologist, and founder of Head Start, Urie Bronfenbrenner. Brofenbrenner was one of the leading figures in the field of developmental psychology. His major contribution was his Ecological Systems Theory.

This is a summary of Ecological Systems Theory from Wikipedia:

Ecological Systems Theory, also called Development in Context or Human Ecology theory, specifies four types of nested environmental systems, with bi-directional influences within and between the systems.

The four systems:

  • Microsystem: Immediate environments (family, school, peer group, neighborhood, and childcare environments)
  • Mesosystem: A system comprising connections between immediate environments (i.e., a child’s home and school)
  • Exosystem: External environmental settings which only indirectly affect development (such as parent's workplace)
  • Macrosystem: The larger cultural context (Eastern vs. Western culture, national economy, political culture, subculture)

Later, a fifth system was added:

  • Chronosystem: The patterning of environmental events and transitions over the course of life.

The person's own biology may be considered part of the microsystem; thus the theory has recently sometimes been called "Bio-Ecological Systems Theory."

Per this theoretical construction, each system contains roles, norms and rules which may shape psychological development. For example, an inner-city family faces many challenges which an affluent family in a gated community does not, and vice versa. The inner-city family is more likely to experience environmental hardships, such as teratogens and crime. On the other hand the sheltered family is more likely to lack the nurturing support of extended family.[1]

Since its publication in 1979, Bronfenbrenner's major statement of this theory, The Ecology of Human Development [2] has had widespread influence on the way psychologists and others approach the study of human beings and their environments. As a result of his groundbreaking work in "human ecology", these environments — from the family to economic and political structures — have come to be viewed as part of the life course from childhood through adulthood.

Bronfenbrenner has identified Soviet developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky and German-born psychologist Kurt Lewin as important influences on his theory.

Bronfenbrenner's work provides one of the foundational elements of the Ecological counseling Perspective, as espoused by Bob Conyne, Ellen Cook, and the University of Cincinnati Counseling Program.
If you look at integral theory and its maps, you might assume that integral theory is as inclusive as Brofenbrenner's model, and it does pay lip service to many of these ideas.

However, the emphasis in Wilber's integral psychology is nearly always on intrapersonal experience and rarely on inter-personal experience such as Ecological Systems Theory contends, or as the newer Cultural Psychology (see Ciaran Benson's The Cultural Psychology of Self: Place, morality and art in human worlds for one of the best introductions to the model).

In integral theory, mind and culture influence each other, but in cultural psychology (CP) culture and mind are inseparable - there is no mind without culture and no culture without minds. In the CP model, mind and self are the result of the interaction between genetic and neurological elements and the social-culture as a whole, including also environment, and is located in time and space.
I want to suggest that self is a locative system with both evolutionary and cultural antecedents.

We cannot imagine being nowhere. We can visualise ourselves being lost, but that is to be somewhere unfamiliar to us, possibly without the means of getting back to a place we know. Where and when, place and time, are the conditions of existence. Being nowhere is quite simply a contradiction in terms. Without being placed or located I would not be, and where I find myself implaced influences not just the fact of my being but also its nature. Where, when and who are mutually constitutive. Lives, selves, identities are threaded across times and places. Who you are is a function of where you are, of where you have been and of where you hope to arrive. There cannot be a ‘here’ without a ‘you’ or an ‘I’ or a ‘now’. Self, acts of self-location and locations are inextricably linked and mutually constructive.

‘Self’ functions primarily as a locative system, a means of reference and orientation in worlds of space–time (perceptual worlds) and in worlds of meaning and place–time (cultural worlds). This understanding of self as an ongoing, living process of constant auto-referred locating recognises the centrality both of the body and of social relations. The antecedents of bodily location are well understood in evolutionary terms, whereas those of personal location among other persons are best understood culturally. (Ciaran, p. 3-4)
This is a very different view of the self than one finds in Wilber's Integral Psychology, which seems largely due to his reliance on Piaget and his structuralist system. Many of the other developmental stage models he incorporates are all based to a large degree on Piaget, including Kohlberg and Gilligan (moral stages), Loevinger and Cook-Greuter (ego development), Fowler (stages of faith), Jürgen Habermas (his reworking of historical materialism), and so on.

But if Piaget was wrong about a lot of things (and Vygotsky's zone of proximal development is one clear example where Piaget clearly underestimated child learning in that he relied on looking at a child on its own, not with a teacher/mentor as is most often the case), and if his stages do not hold up under the latest research by Gopnik and others, then much of Wilber's model is also in question.

This is a good stopping point for now. I want to look at Wilber's model of spirituality in the next post, which is distinctly intrapersonal and intrapsychic, and not at all interpersonal or interpsychic. I will likely also look at some different conceptions of how the "self" develops that Wilber's model does not include.

Beck, D & Cowan, C. (1996) Spiral Dynamics New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

Benson, C. (2001) The Cultural Psychology of Self: Place, morality and art in human worlds. Routledge: New York.

Bruner, J. (1986) Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gopnik, A, Glymour, C, Sobel, D, Schulz, L & Kushnir, T. (2004) A Theory of Causal Learning in Children: Causal Maps and Bayes Nets. Psychological Review. Vol. 111, No. 1, 3–32; DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.111.1.3.

Wilber, K. (2000) Integral Psychology. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.

MDMA Treatment Trials for PTSD

About time - we have known for decades that MDMA (ecstasy) is effective in treating and resolving a variety of trauma induced dysfunctions, but the ludicrous laws labeling MDMA as a scheduled narcotic (and it is not a narcotic, nor is LSD or marijuana, which are also listed in the same way) have prevented research since the early 1980s.

As happy as I am to see this kind of research resuming, I have some concerns.

We know that MDMA damages serotonin systems in the brain unless precautions are taken. In none of the studies I have seen that are underway has there been any mention of the risks or of any measures to prevent the damage (citalopram, vitamin C, and alpha lipoic acid (1) administered prior to the MDMA injection and a few hours post-usage inhibit the damage to the serotonin systems). Researchers MUST include efforts to prevent damage as part of the studies.

Treating Agony with Ecstasy

First FDA-approved Trial Evaluating the Street Drug's Therapeutic Applications

This article was written by David Jay Brown of Discover.

Post-traumatic stress disorder-PTSD-can linger years after someone has experienced or witnessed something extremely upsetting. It may be accompanied by panic attacks, flashbacks, and nightmares, and it can be fiendishly difficult to treat. But experimental types of treatment could soon lend a hand.

In a pilot study, South Carolina psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer is targeting PTSD with a controversial drug: methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy. He gave MDMA, along with psychotherapy, to 21 participants who had developed treatment-resistant PTSD as a result of experiences with crime or war.

Only 15 percent of the MDMA-treated subjects continued to experience PTSD afterward, as opposed to 85 percent of the subjects who received psychotherapy with a placebo. Mithoefer considers the findings especially notable given that 20 of the 21 participants had previously failed to obtain relief from FDA-approved treatments.

"The next step is to find out if this can be replicated elsewhere," he says. The study, sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, was the first FDA-approved trial evaluating MDMA’s therapeutic applications. Additional clinical tests examining MDMA-based treatments for PTSD are under way in Switzerland and Israel.

Other potential PTSD drugs also show promise. Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City report that one or two treatments with a compound called RU38486 can disrupt traumatic memories in rats without affecting normal memories. And investigators at Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University in Israel find that an injection of the steroid cortisol immediately following a trauma reduces PTSD-like effects in mice. Both of these therapies are slated for human clinical trials.

(1) Aguirre N, Barrionuevo M, Ramirez MJ, Del Rio J, Lasheras B. 1999. “Alpha-lipoic acid prevents 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)- induced neurotoxicity” Neuroreport

Stewart and O'Reilly: Taking on Fox News, on Fox News

Interesting article about an interesting exchange (which is not surprising consider Jon Stewart's considerable intelligence). Here is the video:

Part One:

Part two:

Stewart and O'Reilly: Taking on Fox News, on Fox News

Last night we saw one of the best debates about media and politics in general, and Fox News in particular, that I've seen on TV in a while. That it was conducted by a professional talk-TV bloviator (Bill O'Reilly) and a late-night comedian (Jon Stewart) is nothing that should make anyone in the rest of the media feel especially good. (I'll embed a video when and if we can get Fox News' clips to play nicely with WordPress; in the meantime, you can see part of it at Fox News, or part one and part two at YouTube.)

Jon Stewart went on The O'Reilly Factor last night to talk about Stewart's critique of Fox News. The stances he and Bill O'Reilly took were not especially surprising: Stewart, that Fox takes political disagreements and blows them up into a "panic attack," O'Reilly, that Fox is fair and balanced (excepting its many opinion show, like his) and that Stewart's Daily Show caters to President Obama's amen chorus.

(Update: One of O'Reilly's jabs, by the way, that TDS's audience are stoned slackers, was not just a lazy shot but runs up against surveys that have shown it has one of TV's best-informed news audiences. For his part, Stewart has smacked The Factor regularly, most recently for O'Reilly's championing privacy while making sleazy ambush videos.)

There is, predictably, plenty of focus the morning after on who "won" the exchange. But what was refreshing—not unlike Obama's question-time session with Republicans last week—was that the exchange was spirited but decent, with at least some honest effort to treat complex issues as, well, complex.

O'Reilly kicked off by asking Stewart how he thought President Obama is doing. What I love about how Stewart answers questions like this is that, for a media professional, he answers like someone who has never been coached by a media trainer. You're supposed to answer questions like this directly, forcefully, succinctly, in bullet points. Instead, Stewart, the comedian, kicked off a serious answer by saying that the question "doesn't lend itself to an easy answer."

One thing Stewart likes about Obama is that he is "engaging the regulatory mechanism of government." One thing he doesn't like, is that Obama has ceded too much power to Congress, meaning that instead of setting an agenda and forcefully selling it to the public, he has settled for "lobbyist gruel." Instead of giving Obama a report card—B+ for regulation, D- for health care, whatever—Stewart gave an answer about ideas. And O'Reilly, who probably agrees with him on very little politically, acknowledged that they were both intriguing points. (Especially, though he didn't say this, compared with what people usually give on The Factor or most other political talk shows.)

Then O'Reilly asked Stewart to justify the Daily Show's criticism of Fox News. What did he think of the PPP poll finding that Fox is the most trusted news channel? Stewart didn't say that it's because Fox has a slavish audience of partisan crazies. Instead, he argued--correctly, I think--that both politics and style, as well as simple messaging competence, are responsible for Fox's success: "Fox News is the most passionate and sells the clearest narrative of any news organization if that's--are you still referring to it in that manner?"

This led to the old argument over whether Fox is "fair and balanced" or a conservative news outlet. "Here's the brilliance of Fox News," Stewart said: "What you have been able to do--you and [Roger] Ailes--have been able to mainstream conservative talk radio."

As on the Daily Show, Stewart went beyond simply talking bias--or painting Fox's politics as extreme--to instead make a functional critique about how Fox works: "Here's what Fox has done, through their cyclonic perpetual emotion machine that is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they've taken reasonable concerns about this president and this economy and turned it into a full-fledged panic attack about the next coming of Chairman Mao."

O'Reilly argued back that shows like The Factor are, as is plain to anyone who watches them for a few seconds, clearly and identifiably opinion shows. I think that's true as far as it goes, though Stewart made a reasonable counter-case that TV doesn't work like a newspaper with a marked opinion page: a lot of news delivery goes on through the "opinion" shows, and vice-versa.

One thing I would have liked to see Stewart address more directly is how specifically he believes Fox's news operation feeds its opinion shows attack lines. The Daily Show has done this before, especially in a detailed takedown of how Fox News injects controversies like the schoolkids-singing-about-Obama videos into the news cycle, providing fodder for its "opinutainment" hosts, which in turn elevates them as "news" ("Some people are saying that...") to which the news shows must—of course!—pay more attention.

Stewart didn't do that here, though it's possible the case was too convoluted to make in the time available—or that he did make it, and it ended up on the cutting room floor. That, by the way, is not to suggest dirty pool on The Factor's part, necessarily: The Daily Show, like pretty much all taped interview shows, edits interviews. But it is true that this is the single criticism of Fox News that the network is invested in not taking hold. That said, Stewart and O'Reilly did at least get into the question of whether Fox's opinion shows and news shows can really be separated.

This being The O'Reilly Factor, the interview (a second part airs tonight) was followed up with a guest to praise O'Reilly's handling of the interview. But Dennis Miller spread the kudos evenly: "The two state-of-the-art shows for information and entertainment in America right now are your show and Jon's show." I wouldn't go that far, but for one night, the Factor deserved some praise.