Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kathryn Schulz - Being Wrong

Another excellent offer from RSA - Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz.

Being Wrong

04 Oct 2010

Kathryn Schulz visits the RSA to present a tribute to human creativity and the way we generate and revise our beliefs about ourselves and the world.

The Dalai Lama - Visualization of Buddha and other Masters

by H.H. the Dalai Lama,
translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa,
edited by Christine Cox

Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

Although we did not have the fortune to see Buddha Shakyamuni himself in person, we do have the great fortune of having access to his own precious teachings, which is actually superior to seeing him in person. The same is the case with masters like Nagarjuna and his immediate disciples. If we make the necessary effort, and undertake the practice and study, we can fully enjoy a benefit equal to that of having met them in person.

...So visualize in space, in front of you, all the exalted masters, including Buddha Shakyamuni, Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, eighty mahasiddhas, the Nyingma masters, Atisha, the Kadampa masters, the five great masters of the Sakya tradition, the lineages of Lamdre practice, the great masters of the Kagyu lineage, such as Marpa, Milarepa, and also the great masters of the Gelugpa lineage, Lama Tsongkhapa, and all of their followers.

Around you also are the protectors who have taken the oath in the presence of Buddha Shakyamuni to safeguard and protect the precious doctrine of Buddha. Visualize as well the harmful spirits--actually an embodiment of your own delusions--from which you are being protected by the guardians. Also visualize various emanations of the buddhas actively working for the benefit of all living beings. Surrounding you are all sentient beings...undergoing the sufferings of their individual realms of existence. Now generate a strong force of compassion directed towards all these sentient beings, particularly your enemies.

Having created this mental image, question yourself as to how all these objects of refuge, the buddhas and the masters of the past, achieved such a high state of realization and reached a state where they can provide protection to all living beings. You will find that it is because of their having made effort in the practice of dharma in general and, in particular, the practice of bodhicitta*. Think as follows: "I shall, from today, follow in the footsteps of these great masters, and take the initiative of generating bodhicitta."

* The aspiration to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all beings.

--from The Path to Bliss by H.H. the Dalai Lama, translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa, edited by Christine Cox, published by Snow Lion Publications

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Dr. Martin Rossman - Coping With Stress - Imaginative Solutions for Stress Relief

Another cool video from UCTelevision - this talk looks at using active imagination or guided imagery to reduce stress, reduce pain, and stimulate healing.
Stress is ubiquitous and on the rise. How we learn to manage it can have profound effects on our health and well being. This series explains how our bodies experience stress and demonstrates effective strategies to help you thrive in a fast-paced world. On this edition, Dr. Martin Rossman explores guided imagery which uses the imagination to reduce stress, relieve pain, change lifestyle habits, and stimulate healing responses in your body. Series: UCSF Mini Medical School for the Public [3/2008]

Friday, October 15, 2010

Neural responses indicate our willingness to help

Our brains respond differently to the suffering of someone from our in-group (empathy circuits) than from someone outside, or from an out-group (reward circuits). We are more likely to help the person from our own group.

It's easy to read this as proof of our ethnocentrism, but I want to know where the subjects were situated developmentally. Considering that these were soccer fans in the study, probably European, and that the "victims" of suffering were soccer players, I suspect that the study is measuring responses from the kinship and ego drive stages of development.

I wonder what the outcome would be if the situation were different, say 33 Chilean miners trapped in a mine for more than two months. One billion people around the world watched the rescue - and most those people would be considered out-group members (there not Chilean or miners).

I also suspect that as we development into greater levels of complexity and compassion, we become less attached to any specific in-group, which we generally refer to as a worldcentric perspective,

Neural responses indicate our willingness to help

Posted On: October 7, 2010 - 4:40pm

Witnessing a person from our own group or an outsider suffer pain causes neural responses in two very different regions of the brain. And, the specific region activated reveals whether or not we will help the person in need. Researchers at the University of Zurich studied the brain responses of soccer fans and now have neurobiological evidence for why we are most willing to help members of our own group.

Our reactions to shocking news clips on television demonstrate that human beings can remain remarkably cool in the face of other peoples' suffering. And yet, we are also ready to sacrifice ourselves for others, even if no tangible reward awaits. Why such a difference? Social psychology has proven that our propensity to help is modulated by social factors. Little, however, was known about the underlying neural processes and how they are influenced by group affiliation. Now, research in neuroscience at the University of Zurich has documented that the brain regions activated when witnessing people suffer vary according to whether those suffering are perceived as group members. "And most importantly, the differences in neural responses indicate whether the observer will help the suffering person later on," as neuroscientist Grit Hein confirmed.

Grit Hein, Tania Singer (now director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences) and social psychologist C. Daniel Batson (University of Kansas, USA) measured the neural responses of soccer fans: Test subjects watched either a member of their own group (ingroup) or someone from a rival team (outgroup) be subjected to painful shocks through electrodes attached to the back of their hands. The test subjects could then decide whether or not to help an ingroup or outgroup member by receiving a portion of the pain themselves. Helping had a high cost as it was inherently linked to personal physical pain. Test persons also had the option to simply watch the other person receive the shocks or to distract themselves from the unpleasant scene by watching a soccer video.

The scientific journal Neuron has published the revealing results of the study: Should a person from an ingroup suffer pain, brain regions associated with empathy for others' pain are activated. A greater degree of activation in these regions correlates with a greater willingness to help. If, however, test subjects saw a member of an outgroup subjected to pain, brain regions motivated by reward were activated. A high degree of reward-related activation corresponds to a negative perception of the person belonging to the rival team, and the willingness to help decreases as brain activation rises.

Measuring neural responses also proves to be a more accurate prediction tool than questionnaires when trying to determine how willing people are to help people outside of their group affiliation. "After all, who is going to admit they'd help a friend in need but let an outsider suffer?" observed Grit Hein.

Ringu Tulku - Making Our Emotions the Material of Practice

Traversing the Path of the Buddha
by Ringu Tulku
edited and translated by Rosemarie Fuchs


Dharma Quote of the Week

Following the Vajrayana teachings, we do not give up or reject anything; rather we make use of whatever is there. We look at our negative emotions and accept them for what they are. Then we relax in this state of acceptance. Using the emotion itself, it is transformed or transmuted into the positive, into its true face.

When, for instance, strong anger or desire arises, a Vajrayana practitioner is not afraid of it. Instead he or she would follow advice along the following lines: Have the courage to expose yourself to your emotions. Do not reject or suppress them, but do not follow them either. Just look your emotion directly in the eye and then try to relax within the very emotion itself. There is no confrontation involved. You don't do anything. Remaining detached, you are neither carried away by emotion nor do you reject it as something negative. Then, you can look at your emotions almost casually and be rather amused.

When our usual habit of magnifying our feelings and our fascination resulting from that are gone, there will be no negativity and no fuel. We can relax within them. What we are trying to do, therefore, is to skillfully and subtly deal with our emotions. This is largely equivalent to the ability of exerting discipline.

--from Daring Steps: Traversing the Path of the Buddha by Ringu Tulku, edited and translated by Rosemarie Fuchs, published by Snow Lion Publications

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We Make Major Decisions with the Same Brain Circuits Used for Grocery Shopping

Well, now, that explains soooooo much. Seriously, though - it's a major revelation that there are no specific neural circuits for moral decision making.

Major moral decisions use general-purpose brain circuits to manage uncertainty

Humans and other animals use this circuitry to make basic decisions about things like food, discounting the involvement of a specific 'moral sense'

By Steve Bradt, Harvard Staff Writer

Friday, August 27, 2010

Harvard researchers have found that humans can make difficult moral decisions using the same brain circuits as those used in more mundane choices related to money and food.

These circuits, also found in other animals, put together two critical pieces of information: How good or bad are the things that might happen? What are the odds that they will happen, depending on one’s choice? The results suggest that complex moral decisions need not rely on a specific “moral sense.”

Graduate student Amitai Shenhav and assistant professor of psychology Joshua D. Greene of present the findings this week in the journal Neuron.

“It seems that our capacity for complex, life-and-death decisions depends on brain structures that originally evolved for making more basic, self-interested decisions about things like obtaining calories,” says Shenhav, a doctoral student in psychology at Harvard. “Many of the brain regions we find to be active in major moral decisions have been shown to perform similar functions when people and animals make commonplace decisions about ordinary goods such as money and food.”

Some researchers have argued that moral judgments are produced by a “moral faculty” in the brain, but Shenhav and Greene’s work indicates that at least some moral decisions rely on general mechanisms also used by the brain in evaluating other kinds of choices.

“Research in neuroeconomics has identified distinct brain structures responsible for tracking the probability of various outcomes, the magnitude of various outcomes, and for integrating these two kinds of information into a decision,” says Greene. “Our work shows that the parts of the brain people use for this last task — combining assessments of outcome probability and magnitude into a final decision — closely coincide with the brain regions we use daily when deciding how to spend money or choose foods.”

Using real-time brain imaging, Shenhav and Greene presented 34 subjects with hypothetical choices between saving one life with certainty or saving several lives, but with no guarantee that this latter effort will succeed. The experiment systematically varied the number of lives at risk and the odds of success.

The authors found that a brain region called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex tracked the “expected moral value” of the uncertain option, integrating information about the number of lives to be saved and the probability of saving them. Other brain regions separately tracked outcome magnitude and outcome probability.

The work advances our understanding of how people make decisions affecting the lives of others. Many of the most consequential such decisions are made by policymakers: In some cases, a single choice can impact thousands of lives.

“For example, how did President Truman decide to deploy nuclear weapons against Japan in 1945, ending World War II, but at an enormous cost?” asks Greene. “Our results suggest that such decisions employ the same basic mechanisms our brains use when we evaluate whether it’s worth spending a few hundred dollars for an extended warranty on a new car.”

Truman’s historic decision shows parallels to ones made by ordinary people every day. It involved trade-offs among outcomes of different magnitude: How many lives would be lost? How many saved? Second, Truman’s decision was made under uncertainty. He could, at best, assign probabilities to possible outcomes.

Likewise, ordinary decision-makers must compare the relative sizes of costs and benefits, as when a car buyer balances the cost of a warranty against the cost of repairs. The consumer doesn’t know at the outset whether she will have to pay for expensive repairs down the road.

“Truman, like ordinary decision-makers, had to put information about probability and magnitude together to reach a decision,” Shenhav says. “And like the car buyer, Truman likely relied on his ventromedial prefrontal cortex to evaluate his options.”

Shenhav and Greene’s research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Van Tongeren & Green - Combating Meaninglessness: On the Automatic Defense of Meaning

Cool article - free for registration until October 15 (today). It seems that when people's sense of meaning is challenged, they will find other ways to generate self-esteem (reporting religious feelings, perceived immortality, reduced need for others) through a process called "fluid compensation."

Their "Meaning Maintenance Model" is composed of four interchangeable domains: self-esteem, closure and certainty, affiliation, and symbolic immortality. These are ways that we generate and re-establish meaningfulness in our subjective experience.

Or to put it more clearly, humans seek (or re-establish) meaning in "positive conceptualizations of the self, resolving personal uncertainty and situational ambiguity, nurturing close relationships, and linking themselves to larger, longer lasting entities (e.g., a nation or religion) or striving for personal significance (e.g., publishing a groundbreaking manuscript) that may “live on” after they die."

When their sense of meaningfulness is challenged, they go toward one of those four areas to re-establish meaning.

Combating Meaninglessness: On the Automatic Defense of Meaning

Daryl R. Van Tongeren Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA,

Jeffrey D. Green Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA


Research has found that a substantial portion of human cognition occurs beyond conscious awareness to satisfy the superordinate goal of maintaining meaning. Three experiments used a newly developed method to examine the features of meaning and how individuals automatically defend against threats to meaning. In Experiment 1, individuals who subliminally processed meaninglessness-related words, relative to those in a control group, reported being more religious and having more meaningful lives. Experiment 2 extended these results, as individuals whose meaning was threatened bolstered alternative domains of meaning (termed fluid compensation) by reporting higher self-esteem, need for closure, symbolic immortality, and a reduced need to belong. Experiment 3 ruled out an alternative explanation and clarified the effects of threatened meaning on one’s need to belong. These findings elucidate the processes of meaning maintenance in sustaining psychological equanimity. Implications for the automatic defense of meaning are discussed.

This was actually a very interesting study - here is the introduction:
You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.
~Tyler Durden, Fight Club
Humans demonstrate a remarkable penchant for constructing meaning. Few would disagree that a life without meaning would be unpleasant, not to mention difficult to navigate. If words had no connotation, money had no value, or relationships were devoid of significant exchanges, the world would be an unbearable and unmanageable place to exist. Is the existential revelation by Tyler Durden, an anarchist soap entrepreneur who arranged clandestine meetings for men to pummel one another, correct? Regardless of the epistemic veracity of the claim, individuals are likely to react against this statement that disrupts their long-standing assumption that their lives are meaningful.

Meaning has been defined in different ways and at different levels. Some argue that it is the cosmic specialness one adopts to manage existential concerns (Landau, Greenberg, Solomon, Pyszczynski, & Martens, 2006), whereas others define it more broadly as predicted or expected relationships or properties such as water being wet or money possessing purchasing power (Baumeister, 1991; Baumeister & Vohs, 2002; Heine, Proulx, & Vohs, 2006). To be sure, meaning is a central feature of social life (Baumeister, 1991), and human life is saturated with various meanings. The function of meaning has been posited by some researchers to be a penultimate motivation aimed at allaying the existential terror associated with an awareness of one’s own mortality (Landau et al., 2006), whereas others have asserted meaning to be the primary source of motivation that coheres subservient social processes into a singular drive (Heine et al., 2006).

Because meaning constitutes a central role in social cognitive processes, we propose that individuals automatically engage in defensive maneuvers aimed at restoring meaning when disrupted. The current research explores the automatic defense against threats to meaning: In three experiments, we explore how individuals ardently combat the threat of meaninglessness.

The Meaning Maintenance Model
The meaning maintenance model (MMM; Heine et al., 2006) posits that the creation and maintenance of meaning is a primary social motivation. According to the MMM, one’s meaning system is composed of four interchangeable domains: self-esteem, closure and certainty, affiliation, and symbolic immortality. That is, individuals find meaning in positive conceptualizations of the self, resolving personal uncertainty and situational ambiguity, nurturing close relationships, and linking themselves to larger, longer lasting entities (e.g., a nation or religion) or striving for personal significance (e.g., publishing a groundbreaking manuscript) that may “live on” after they die. Despite some criticisms of the MMM (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, & Maxfield, 2006), the model provides a fecund theoretical approach for investigating the human desire to preserve meaning (cf. Proulx & Heine, 2006).

The MMM posits that disruptions to one domain of meaning elicit a domain-general bolstering of the alternative sources of meaning in an attempt to preserve meaning and regain psychological equanimity, a process termed fluid compensation. The MMM is hydraulic in nature, asserting that decrements in one meaning domain lead to increments in other, sometimes unrelated, sources of meaning. Such theorizing is consistent with previous work suggesting that various selfprotective mechanisms such as social comparison and selfesteem are easily substitutable (Tesser, Martin, & Cornell, 1996) because they serve a unitary goal. Initial tests of the recent fluid compensation hypothesis have demonstrated that implicit change detection (e.g., unease resulting from a slight change in the environment) elicits greater bolstering of moral schemas (Proulx & Heine, 2008): The subtle switching of experimenters midtask prompted participants to set higher bond for a moral transgressor (i.e., prostitute). Similarly, individuals who read absurdist literature (e.g., Kafka, 1915/1996) subsequently reaffirmed meaning, including reporting a greater preference for structure (Proulx, Heine, & Vohs, in press).

These meaning maintenance findings suggest that threats to meaning are common, encompass disruptions of assumed associations as well as larger existential threats, and elicit defensive reactions. The current investigation extends previous MMM research by directly examining implicitly processed threats to meaning on each hypothesized source of meaning (i.e., self-esteem, closure, belongingness, and symbolic immortality) and illustrates how vigorously individuals defend meaning.

Meaningfulness and the Pursuit of Meaning
Individuals are motivated to maintain meaningful conceptualizations of themselves and the world (Heine et al., 2006). Although meaning seems to be of chief importance in determining one’s psychological equanimity, disruptions to one’s meaning system can be common. Discovering that Santa no longer exists would likely elicit defense (e.g., denial) by a surprised child (e.g., “Santa does exist—I saw him at the mall!”) or a reconfiguring of his or her constellation of meanings (e.g., “My family must really love me, because they work hard to maintain my belief in jolly Saint Nick.”). Because meaning is an essential element in structuring and organizing one’s social world, individuals likely react defensively to threats against meaning in an attempt to sustain meaning. According to the MMM, fluid compensation is the primary mechanism in the preservation of meaning.

Meaningfulness is important for one’s psychological equanimity and existential security; however, the pursuit of meaning may be particularly unsettling in times of threat. Previous research has distinguished between the presence of meaning and the search for meaning (Steger, Frazier, Oishi, & Kaler, 2006). We propose that, following threats to meaning, the presence of meaning is indicative of a solid meaning constellation (as well as a result of successful fluid compensation), whereas searching for meaning suggests, to some degree, a lack of certainty about one’s meaningfulness or a state of longing for meaning. Because certainty is an important feature of meaning, disruptions to meaning should elicit defensive bolstering of one’s meaningfulness but may likely decrease the uncertain search for meaning—as such, pursuing meaning would not be as effective a compensatory strategy as simply claiming that one’s life is filled with meaning. Insofar as preserving a sense of meaning is an important social motivation, the search for meaning, which implies a lack of meaningfulness, is unsettling in the wake of threats of meaninglessness. Thus, strategies that affirm certainty and meaningfulness are likely to be employed over those that permit uncertainty and the search of meaning.

Fluid Compensation as a Self-Defensive Process
The preservation of meaning is one of many self-defensive processes and is situated among a host of motivations aimed at protecting the integrity of the self. Social behavior has been posited to arise from motivations aimed at protecting the self, such as allaying existential anxiety related to death (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 1997), procuring and maintaining self-esteem (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, Arndt, & Schimel, 2004), reducing personal uncertainty (McGregor, Zanna, Holmes, & Spencer, 2001), and avoiding interpersonal and existential isolation (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Pinel, Long, Landau, Alexander, & Pyszczynski, 2006). Thus, motives stemming from self-protection have been cogently argued as wellsprings for social behavior.

Taken together, self-defensive processes, such as fluid compensation, serve integral functions to preserve one’s psychological equanimity, and such mechanisms may be interchangeable (Tesser et al., 1996). In concert with the MMM, we assume the same for meaning (cf. Proulx et al., in press). The goal of fluid compensation is to restore a sense of meaningfulness (Heine et al., 2006), which is accomplished by bolstering domains of meaning following a threat or disruption. However, we may not always be consciously aware of those stimuli that disrupt our meaning. The extent to which humans engage in nonconscious meaning maintenance not only underscores the importance of meaning in social cognitive processes but also emphasizes the flexibility and applicability of self-defensive processes in protecting the integrity of one’s meaning system, even when threats go unnoticed.

The Automatic Defense of Meaning
Research on automatic processing in social cognition is widespread (e.g., Bargh & Chartrand, 1999) and has been catalogued into unified theories (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995; Greenwald et al., 2002), spurred the creation of diverse methodologies aimed at uncovering nonconscious processes (Greenwald, McGee, & Schwartz, 1998), and catalyzed the investigation of existential concerns (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 1999). The nonconscious processing of one’s social world has considerable effects on preferences (Zajonc, 1980), mental processes (Bargh & Ferguson, 2000), and behavior (Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996). Previous research has established the efficacy of subtle construct activation in producing reliable effects (Draine & Greenwald, 1988; Greenwald, Klinger, & Schuh, 1995), most pertinently when threats of death are presented outside of conscious awareness (through subliminal priming; Arndt, Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1997) or naturally made salient without conscious recognition (such as proximity to a funeral home; Jonas, Schimel, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2002). Thus, individual behavior and cognition are affected by stimuli in the environment of which individuals are not aware, including stimuli that affect one’s sense of meaning.

One direct route to test whether individuals engage in an automatic defense of meaning is to employ an implicit, or nonconscious, priming technique. Though priming frequently leads to assimilative activation via “spreading of the nodes” (Greenwald et al., 2002), a growing compilation of research has demonstrated that defensive reactions may be elicited by nonconsciously processed threats (e.g., Arndt, Cook, & Routledge, 2004; Arndt et al., 1997; Heine et al., 2006; Proulx et al., in press; Proulx & Heine, 2008; Pyszczynski et al., 1997, 1999). Notably, recent research has demonstrated that threats to moral identity elicit moral behavior as an avenue toward regaining a moral self-concept (Sachdeva, Iliev, & Medin, 2009). In addition, research has suggested that motivational factors affect automatic social behavior (Cesario, Plaks, & Higgins, 2006).

Similarly, because individuals are motivated to maintain meaning (Heine et al., 2006; Yalom, 1980), we find it likely that threats to meaning will evoke reactionary compensation (i.e., fluid compensation) rather than simple assimilative effects, as was the case for moral reaffirmation following threats to morality. Consistent with this notion, Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski (2004) argued that the importance of a particular psychological construct is directly related to the defense it elicits; thus, strong reactions following threats to meaning suggest a primary role of meaning in the life of an individual. According to the MMM, threats to meaning should produce behaviors aimed at restoring equilibrium through bolstering relevant sources of meaning. That is, meaning threats should prompt individuals to reaffirm meaning in primary domains of meaning rather than report decrements in meaning.

Furthermore, according to the MMM, the four primary wellsprings of meaning are self-esteem, closure, affiliation, and symbolic immortality. The current research employs a nonconscious priming methodology to put the claims of the MMM to empirical scrutiny and extends previous theorizing on the nature of meaning by identifying those sources of meaning that are bolstered (as a result of fluid compensation) following threats of meaninglessness. In addition, the present research disentangles the presence of meaning and the search for meaning by suggesting that the former is indicative of successful fluid compensation after meaning is disrupted whereas the latter is ineffectual in restoring psychological equanimity following threats to meaning.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rajat Kumar Pradhan - Subject-Object Duality and States of Consciousness: A Quantum Mechanical Approach

I'm not a huge quantum consciousness enthusiast - I think there are some possibilities there, but I also think that we are not able to measure anything at this point. But speculation is fun, too.

In all honesty, I suspect that I do not really understand much of this (maybe I need more dark-chocolate covered espresso beans), but I enjoyed trying to as I read it. If anyone reads it, and gets it, please leave me a note in the comments.

Source: NeuroQuantology, Vol 8, No 3 (2010)

Rajat Kumar Pradhan


A phenomenological approach using the states of spin-like observables is developed to understand the nature of consciousness and the totality of experience. The three states of consciousness are taken to form the triplet of eigenstates of a spin-one entity and are derived as the triplet resulting from the composition of two spins by treating the subject and the object as interacting two-state, spin-half systems with external and internal projections. The state of deep sleep is analysed in the light of this phenomenological approach and a novel understanding of the status of the individual consciousness in this state is obtained. The resulting fourth state i.e. the singlet state, is interpreted to correspond to the superconscious state of intuitive experience and is justified by invoking the concept of the universal consciousness as the underlying source of all individual states of experience. It is proposed that the individual experiences result from the operations of four individualizing observables which project out the individual from the universal. The one-to-one correspondence between the individual and the universal states of experience is brought out and their identity in the fourth state is established by showing that all individualizing quantum numbers become zero in this state leaving no trace of any individuality.

Full Text: PDF

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche - Letting Go of Labels and Seeing the World Anew

Excellent post from Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche on the problem we have with labeling everything - it's simply another way of creating attachment in my experience, but he also sees it as part of our struggle with duality.

Letting Go of Labels and Seeing the World Anew

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
Posted: October 13, 2010

Editor's Note: The Rebel Buddha North American Tour, featuring Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and other leading voices in Western Buddhism, kicks off on November 14 in New York, N.Y. at the Cooper Union's Great Hall. The tour will continue on to Halifax, Toronto and Boulder and will conclude in Seattle.

A lot of our suffering in life comes from our conceptual mind and its habit of trying to categorize and put labels on our experience. Usually our labels have nothing to do with reality, or with the actual things we are labeling. Things in themselves, as they are, are beyond all concepts; but our confused mind creates all these labels and wants to attach them to things. Because of this labeling mind, we have friends and enemies, black and white, gay and straight, good and bad. In society, people put more weight on this label or that one, and so we experience segregation and discrimination. In Buddhism, we call this duality -- our mind's tendency to divide up the world into pairs of opposites. This is the root of so much of our suffering.

This is one of the important things we need to come to terms with on the spiritual path: seeing how the conceptual mind labels everything, and how much trouble this gets us into. Think of how often you've had a conversation where you assumed someone was judging you in a critical way. Perhaps you built up a whole storyline about what she thought of you. For 24 hours, you carried this storyline around in your mind, and it tortured you. Then the next day, when you went back and talked to her again, you realized she hadn't been thinking of you that way at all. Your suffering was self-created by the labeling mind. Sometimes we bring this kind of suffering on ourselves, and sometimes we cause suffering for others by projecting our labels onto them.

We cannot just do away with the conceptual, labeling mind. We have to work with it. Labels are necessary, but only to a certain degree. Without them we could not even ask for a pen or a piece of paper, or for directions to get from point A to point B; we would not have any words to communicate our thoughts and ideas. But so often we go beyond that basic level and add unnecessary complexities to the situation.

When we go overboard with labeling and projecting, it makes us crazy. Look at what happens when there is a big election and the talking heads come on TV and start speculating about the results. They keep talking about their projections 24 hours a day -- taking polls, making up stories, and applying labels -- until everyone in America is confused and up in arms. And quite often their expert projections are just plain wrong.

When we get carried away in our own conceptual labeling process, we're like the talking heads on the TV news. We talk ourselves into believing a storyline that leads us further and further away from the truth. After 9/11, who could get on an airplane without looking at the other passengers and scrutinizing them? We size up each person according to our concepts, and then we label them. This one looks trustworthy, but that one definitely looks fishy. We keep our eye on him throughout the whole flight, and watch him anxiously if he goes toward the front of the plane to use the restroom. Because of our labels and projections, we can't relax.

If our labeling is actually helping us get closer to the truth, then we should pursue it full-steam. But if it's taking us further away from the truth, then it can only lead to suffering. There's our problem. At the same time, there's our solution. When we learn to watch the mind and stop labeling everything and everyone automatically, we start to see things differently. Instead of a divided and fearful world, we see a world that's fundamentally whole and unbiased. Then we can start to relax and enjoy ourselves, maybe a little more each day. And it's not just us freeing ourselves when we let go of our labels. We're also freeing other people from the boxes we've put them in. Then we can meet each other on airplanes, in the street, or wherever, as who we really are -- possibly for the first time.

Robert Wright & Frans de Waal: The Evolution of Morality

Good stuff - I am a fan of Wright's perspective on the evolution of the idea of God, and what that shows about our conceptualization of morality. I'm an even bigger fan of de Waal's work with empathy and how it works to provide social cohesion.

I can't share the video here, so follow the link below to watch the video.
Robert Wright and primatologist Frans de Waal discuss whether or not we need God to explain moral behavior, or if phenomena like empathy can arise from natural selection, as well as the roles religion and community play in structuring and implementing the principles by which societies function.

RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms

A new and excellent RSA Animate, this time it is illustrating the ideas of Ken Robinson on education and the need for change. He is deeply opposed to over-medicating our children and diagnosing them with ADHD - the issue is closely tied to the rise in standardized testing, to over-stimulation in the culture, and the squashing of creativity in schools.

This RSA Animate is based on Robinson's Edge lecture.
Another inspiring RSAnimate taken from a speech given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education expert and recipient of the RSA Benjamin Franklin award.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

First International Conference on Other-Centered Approaches: New Directions in Buddhist Psychology

This looks cool - posted on behalf of Caroline Brazier, who is both an organizer and a presenter. Contact her at More here.
First International Conference on Other-Centered Approaches: New Directions in Buddhist Psychology

Jodo Shinshu Center
Berkeley, California
February 18 - 20, 2011

True wisdom means the freedom from self-centeredness, for self-centeredness distorts reality.
— D.T. Suzuki

Western psychology has long been dominated by the notion of self: self-esteem, self-entitlement, self-gratification, self-awareness, and self-knowledge. Yet our spiritual and psychological well-being is not measured by self-concern, but by a directional shift of attention which involves understanding, appreciation, and compassion for others.

This ground-breaking conference, rooted in Buddhist psychology, will present other-centered approaches, which offer fresh, new tools to address challenges in the field of mental health, education, religion, human relations, chaplaincy, and more.

Explore Other-Centeredness —Resources for Personal Renewal and Professional Innovation.

February 18 - 20, 2011
Standard Registration Fee: $215
Early Registration Fee $185 Due by Nov. 18, 2010

For more information or to register, please click here.

Presented by:
The Institute of Buddhist Studies, CA
Amida Trust UK
Amida USA
ToDo Institute, VT
Buddhist Churches of America & the Center for Buddhist Education

RSA Report - Connected Communities: How social networks power and sustain the Big Society

Another cool research report from The RSA - this time of connected communities, which is the necessary future of human relational experience, in my opinion.

Connected Communities

Report: Connected Communities: How social networks power and sustain the Big Society

By Jonathan Rowson, Steve Broome and Alasdair Jones

Traditional approaches to community regeneration which define communities in solely geographic terms have severe limitations. They often failed to deliver on key social capital improvements such as improving trust between residents or fostering a greater sense of belonging.

In this report we argue for a new approach to community regeneration, based on an understanding of the importance of social networks, such an approach has the potential to bring about significant improvements in efforts to combat isolation and to support the development of resilient and empowered communities.

Download Connected Communities: How social networks power and sustain the Big Society (PDF, 1.5MB)

Key points

  • Traditional approaches to community regeneration which define communities in solely geographic terms have severe limitations.
  • These traditional approaches have failed to deliver on key social capital improvements such as improving trust between residents or fostering a greater sense of belonging.
  • We argue for a new approach to community regeneration, based on an understanding of the importance of social networks.
  • This approach utilises the powerful diagnostic power of social network analysis; an approach which helps respondents as well as public sector workers to understand communities as a complex series of relationships.
  • Such an approach has the potential to bring about significant improvements in efforts to combat isolation and to support the development of resilient and empowered communities.
  • Efforts to build the ‘Big Society’, such as training for community organisers or initiatives aimed at increasing the membership of community groups, should draw heavily on social network analysis. If they fail to do so they risk replicating existing inequalities within communities.
  • While we believe social networks offer a powerful tool that may well enable communities to solve problems and shape circumstances more effectively, no social network can provide a substitute for capital investment, or form the rationale for significantly withdrawing support and funding from areas where entrenched disadvantage is acute.

The research

The Connected Communities project at the RSA has produced a report based on the first year of its work. This report is based on an analysis of academic literature on social networks, specifically the striking importance of social networks in determining our behaviour and wellbeing. It is also based on an extensive research project undertaken in New Cross Gate in southeast London, and in Knowle West, Bristol.

We undertook door-to-door surveys in New Cross Gate to understand local social networks, together with in-depth interviews of key hubs in the network. We constructed a network map of some 1,400 nodes (local people and institutions) as an indicative blueprint for how the community works. In Knowle West, we interviewed local key connectors and influencers and surveyed users of the Knowle West Media Centre.

Find out more information on the Connected Communities project.
Here is a little piece from the last link above that explains the nature of this project:

What is the Connected Communities project?

The Connected Communities projected is multi-faceted comprising several interrelated research projects, through which we aim to gain a better understanding of the conditions under which a new civic collectivism, or social productivity, may emerge - one that is organic, spontaneous, and bottom-up.

Connected Communities is an action research programme that employs social network analysis as a means to understand, plan for and foster the kind of communities that residents want to live in.

The project, which currently focuses primarily on New Cross Gate and to a lesser extent on Knowle West and Peterborough, involves producing social and organisational network maps (such as the image above right) of the local areas concerned by surveying and interviewing local people. Drawing on these responses, our maps and research are then used to inform bespoke community development strategies that are directed towards regenerating neighbourhoods in inclusive, efficient, locally-owned and embedded ways.

This work is being done up by a joint Research Team of Fellows and staff.

Further information

Find out more about

Mailing list

To join our mailing list, please email your full contact details to Connected Communities. Subscribers will receive monthly updates on the Connected Communities programme, including news of our research projects and related events.

Lisa Firestone - Silence the Inner Voice That's Stressing You Out

If you scroll down the sidebar to my posts on subpersonalities, you'll notice I have had my own issues with the inner critic - this recent article from Lisa Firestone at Psychology Today's Compassion Matters blog also looks at the inner voice so many of us have, and that often makes our life more challenging than it need be.

Much of this is good, but I have some issues about how she plans to "fully rid oneself of the critical inner voice," a foolish plan at best - the critic goes nowhere, but we can learn to make it an ally.
A real solution to those self-critical thoughts that cause stress.

Millions of Americans struggle with unhealthy levels of stress. Stress isn’t just destructive to our mental health but to our physical health as well. It weakens our immune systems and contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and other illnesses. These facts are important, but reading about them, or even relaying them, admittedly makes me feel a little, well... stressed. Too often reflecting on our stress just makes us feel worse. So rather than scare you straight when it comes to stress, I thought I would offer a real solution to those nagging (at times terrorizing) thoughts that lead to stress.

The mere mention of the word stress is enough to make our heads spin with thoughts of to-do lists, meetings, schedules, social calendars, kids, work, money. Whatever the trigger mechanism is, it’s always there to distract us from any potential sense of calm. When we allow our negative thoughts to take over, we spend precious energy handling the symptoms of stress instead of solving the problem or dealing with what’s really making us feel such pressure or worry.

These negative thoughts tell us when to worry and what to worry about, but never do they offer us a real solution to our problems. If we were to challenge these negative thoughts, we would soon realize that not only is this destructive thought process amplifying our stress levels but it is actually causing us much of our anxiety in the first place.

For example, many of us feel concern when we have more things we need to do or want to do than we believe we can get done. Very often, however, we are placing too much pressure on ourselves and setting our expectations too high. In effect we are setting ourselves up, and literally scheduling ourselves out, to get stressed. When we set our standards too high, we often set ourselves up to later become a target for our critical inner voice. We start to have self-critical thoughts like: What is wrong with you? You never give 100 percent to anything. Can’t you just get one thing right? You’re such a failure!

Even when times are tough or the pressure being placed on us is external, we can seek out an inner sense of calm by quieting those inner voices that exacerbate the problem. This is not meant to undermine the fact we all have real concerns about our lives. We all struggle at some point with our careers, our families and our futures. Every one of us has concerns at one time or another about keeping a job, falling in love or raising our kids. However, what we actually feel about these things is usually never as bad as what our critical inner voice is telling us to feel about these things.

For example, when we lose a job, we may have thoughts like: What are you going to do now? You can’t do anything. How humiliating!

When we go through a break up with a partner, we may hear voices such as: See? No one could ever love you. You’re going to wind up alone.

Even an event as simple as forgetting to mail a letter can get our self-attacks going: You’re so irresponsible. How are you ever going to get anything done?

These thoughts impair us in our actions and lead us to feel demoralized and even more stressed out. We can interrupt this cycle by becoming more aware of the thoughts that are propelling our feelings of worry. For example, a friend of mine noticed she was waking up in a bad mood every morning. Feeling overwhelmed and rushed, her morning mood was slowly infiltrating her whole day. Snapping at people, overdosing on caffeine and rubbing her head to the point of almost literally tearing her hair out, she knew something had to change.

To understand her 7 a.m. stress, I suggested my friend write down all the thoughts she was having before she went to bed. When my friend did this, she noticed her head was full of vicious self-attacks. Her negative thoughts surfaced every night when she finally took a rest from pushing herself through her day. My friend recounted her thoughts to me: What did you actually accomplish today? You’re no closer to your goals then you were yesterday. Everyone hates you. You snap at everybody. Are you even doing a good job? What’s so important about what you do anyway. You never make time for anyone. You’re so selfish. You’d better work harder tomorrow.

When my friend told me her attacks, I was appalled. “No wonder you’ve been feeling under pressure in the morning. You’re tearing yourself apart right before you go to bed.” As soon as my friend realized this pattern, she started to feel compassion for herself and noticed herself feeling relieved of her morning anxiety.

To fully rid oneself of the critical inner voice, one must not only identify the negative thoughts but stand up to them. Putting our voices in the second person can help us make this initial separation. Try to write down your critical thoughts, first as “I” statements, then as “you” statements. If you have thoughts of feeling stupid, write down “You are so stupid.” Next, stand up to this internal enemy by writing down responses to your critical thoughts with the more realistic perspective of a compassionate friend. For example, you could write, “I am not stupid. Anyone can make a mistake. I have a lot of areas in which I am intelligent and confident.” The intention here is not to build yourself up, but to gain a more realistic view of yourself.

Finally, think about what the actions are that could counter your critical inner voices. When my friend had an attack that she was snapping at people, it didn’t help that she was acting on her self-critical thoughts by getting moody and lashing out at co-workers. Avoid actions that will lead you to feel worse. If eating three slices of pizza relieves you after a stressful day only to leave you later stressing over your weight, it’s best not to use that behavior as a coping mechanism. Remember the critical inner voice is tricky and can sound soothing or friendly as it lures you into self-destructive behaviors. Have that second glass of wine. Just stay home and relax on your own. Later on that voice will punish you with thoughts like: There you go having another drink. You can’t stick to anything. What a loner. You’ll never meet anyone.

The voice can also tell us that we are being victimized. When we have thoughts like, Why is everyone walking all over you? No one else does anything around here, we put ourselves in a powerless position and blame others for the pressure we’ve put ourselves under.

Dealing with stress means taking our own side without feeling like a victim. It means empowering ourselves against our inner critic and not allowing that critic to dictate our lifestyle. That critic will put up a fuss when we act against it and cause us anxiety over the changes we make in our lives. However, the more we persevere and the longer these negative voices in our heads are quieted, the better able we are to live in the moment without worrying about the past or the future. We can then deal with everything in our lives one moment, one step, one deep breath and one thought at a time.

To learn more about the critical inner voice, where it comes from and how to overcome it, join me for the webinar “Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice” this October 19 from 11 am to 12 pm PST. Learn more or register here.

We can NEVER rid ourselves of the inner critic - it is a part of our inner psychic community. Dr. Firestone is correct than we should not let is bully us and create more stress in our lives, but I completely disagree with her adversarial approach to the critic.

Each and every one of our parts serves - or served - a purpose in our psyche's - the problem is that we have often outgrown their original value. The critic generally sought to protect us from parental criticism (and then later that of teachers and peers), and in that sense it was useful - it criticized us faster and better than anyone else could, saving us from the shame of external criticism.

Obviously, this is not healthy for the adult mind - yet it still seeks to protect us from shame.

If we listen to the critic and respect its role in our lives, it can become an ally, a part that helps us avoid mistakes and alerts us when we get off track in our lives. But we must respect is and work with it, not resist it and try to banish it.

There are any number of parts work models that can assist us in this work, or we can do it ourselves through journal dialogues, art and poetry, empty chair work, and so on. Do a little research and you will find some resources.

One last suggestion - when the critic comes up, it can be useful to remind ourselves that we have a critic, but we are not any of the things it says we are - "I have a critic, but I am not its victim."

Greater Good Podcast - Dacher Keltner on the Science of a Meaningful Life

Cool - this podcast is new to me - and apparently new to them, and this is the first of four or five. You can listen to the podcast at their site. I highly recommend the book Keltner co-edited, The Compassionate Instinct.

The Greater Good Podcast

Host Michael Bergeisen interviews leading researchers and thinkers on the roots of compassion, happiness, morality, and more. Provocative, enlightening, and inspiring.

Subscribe to the series via RSS or iTunes

Dacher Keltner on the Science of a Meaningful Life
July 2010 | TRT 30:00

The Greater Good Science Center’s faculty director discusses “the science of a meaningful life”: how to raise compassionate kids, reduce greed and selfishness, and find true happiness.

More on this topic:

Science Codex - Researchers propose new way to classify personality disorders

The DSM-IV-TR lists 10 personality disorders - and while many therapists have learned to "feel" when they are in the presence of a disordered personality (especially a borderline or narcissist), researchers are much less willing to see it that way. Even some therapists do not recognize personality disorders, partly because these Axis II disorders are thought to be largely incurable by many therapists and psychiatrists.

Christopher Hopwood and his team do not believe that there are ten discrete personality disorders (and neither do the DSM-5 committees, where there are already plans to delete some of them). This paper and Hopwood's three-stage model (see below) are a further effort to move them DSM into a dimensional model, reducing the current list of ten PD's down to five, each of which is based on a series of five character traits and their severity.

Researchers propose new way to classify personality disorders

Posted On: October 12, 2010 - 4:40pm

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Research led by a Michigan State University psychologist is playing a key role in the effort to change the way mental health clinicians classify personality disorders.

The study by Christopher Hopwood and colleagues calls for a more scientific and practical method of categorizing personality disorders – a proposal that ultimately could improve treatment, Hopwood said.

"We're proposing a different way of thinking about personality and personality disorders," said Hopwood, MSU assistant professor of psychology and an experienced clinician. "There's widespread agreement among personality disorder researchers that the current way to conceptualize personality disorders is not working."

The study is being cited by the team of experts that currently is developing criteria for the manual used to diagnose personality disorders – the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, slated to come out in 2013.

The study is being considered for inclusion in the DSM-5. The DSM, published by the American Psychiatric Association, is considered the bible of the U.S. mental health industry and is used by insurance companies as the basis for treatment approval and payment. The study also will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Personality Disorders.

The current method of classifying personality disorders, as spelled out in the fourth edition of the DSM, or DSM-IV, breaks personality disorders into 10 categories, Hopwood said. That system is flawed, he said, because it does not take into account severity of personality disorders in an efficient manner and often leads to overlapping diagnoses.

Research led by Michigan State University psychologist
Christopher Hopwood proposes a new way to classify personality disorders.
(Photo Credit: Michigan State University)

"It's just not true that there are 10 types of personalities disorders, and that they're all categorical – that you either have this personality disorder or you don't," Hopwood said. "Scientifically, it's just not true."

Hopwood and colleagues propose a new three-stage strategy for diagnosing personality disorders:

Stage One: Consider a patient's normal personality traits, such as introversion/extroversion. "If a person is depressed and I'm a clinician, it might make a difference if I think they're extroverted depressive rather than introverted depressive," Hopwood said. "It may dictate the type of recommendations I make for them." These normal personality traits also may indicate patient strengths that could help in overcoming psychiatric difficulties; such strengths are not assessed in the current DSM.

Stage Two: Create a numerical score to represent severity of the disorder. "We're arguing that one single score can represent that severity, so clinicians can easily communicate with one another about how severe a patient is," Hopwood said. "That may indicate decisions such as whether this person should be hospitalized or treated with outpatient care."

Stage Three: Condense the list of 10 personality disorder categories to five dimensional ratings. Under this proposal, clinicians would diagnose how many symptoms of each disorder a patient has, rather than whether they have one or more of 10 disorders as in the current system. Hopwood said this is more reliable, valid and specific than the current system. He added that research has not sufficiently supported the validity of several current personality disorders. The proposed dimensional ratings are:

  • Peculiarity. The defining characteristic here is oddness in thought or behavior. This dimension includes the diagnoses of paranoid, schizotypal and schizoid.
  • Withdrawal. This includes avoidant personalities. "This may have to do with not wanting to leave the house," Hopwood said.
  • Fearfulness. This combines disorders with opposite extremes of harm avoidance, such as antisocial (which involves fearlessness) and dependant or avoidant (which involves fearfulness).
  • Unstable. This is similar to the diagnosis of borderline in DSM-IV. The defining characteristic is instability, such as with relationships, identity or emotional experience.
  • Deliberate. This includes obsessive-compulsive disorder and other disorders defined by overly methodical behavior. "It's having a rigid sense of how life should happen – how I should behave and how other people should behave," Hopwood said.

Ultimately, Hopwood said, the proposal could improve both the system for diagnosing personality disorders as well as the outcome. "Presumably, if this leads to better clinical efficiency it could lead to better clinical care, and that's in everybody's interest," he said.