Saturday, December 04, 2010

Gail Hochachka - A Closer Look at Integral Theory

This is a cool article (Gail Hochachka is a major player in the Integral world) from a cool blog, Zero Integral - check it out.

A Closer Look at Integral Theory

Adapted from the Drishti Centre for Integral Action website:

A Closer Look at Integral Theory

By Gail Hochachka

Integral is the farthest reach of inter-disciplinary to date. It links "divergent" disciplines (such as the natural sciences, economics, politics, culture, psychology, and spirituality), including both the exterior (objective) aspects of life with the interior invisible (subjective and inter-subjective) aspects of individuals and cultures. In doing so, the integral approach provides a more comprehensive framework for analyzing problems and for crafting elegant solutions that more appropriately reflect the complexity of life. This makes the integral approach useful for understanding, and working with, the current eco-social issues prevalent in communities throughout the world.

What follows is an overview of three key tenets of integral theory, with a final note on how these are brought together in an integral approach to social change and sustainable development.

The integral approach reveals the interior side of life

The integral approach weaves together the internal and external components of reality. Alongside an understanding of the nature and complexity of interconnected systems, there is also recognition of interior dynamics (psychological, cultural and spiritual) in the system. An integral approach, therefore, retains the existing practices that focus on the "exterior" components of life, such as biological systems, economic initiatives, social organizing, governance and sustainability, and also works with the interior components, such as worldviews, values, and awareness. These interior parts of society inform our opinions and decision-making, essentially guiding the ways we make meaning of our surroundings and interactions.

With an understanding of interiority, it becomes easier to identify the underlying values, needs, worldviews and motivations that arise when engaged in the work of social change. This enables a more effective working dynamic between and among individuals and communities, as well as more psychologically sophisticated way of collaborating with colleagues, staff, employees and project coordinators.
The integral approach recognizes and includes the individual and collective domains Integral theory recognizes both individual and the collective, interior and exterior domains of reality, or the four quadrants. These are depicted in diagram 3 and include:
  • Behavior and physiology (individual, exterior, such as physical health, actions, land-use practices.
  • Self and experience (individual, interior), such as awareness, values, and mental models.
  • Systems (collective, exterior) like economic systems, political systems, judicial systems, and ecosystems; and
  • Culture (collective, interior) like social norms, shared beliefs and worldviews, and traditions.
Why is this important? Well, firstly, each quadrant has its own methodologies, validity claims, and perspectives--all of which are important to understand and include in social change work. For example, the UL quadrant of self and experience has unique methodologies of reflection, phenomenology, and developmental psychology. The UR quadrant, on the other hand, has unique methodologies of the life sciences, like physics, chemistry, biology, as well as the behavioral sciences. The LR quadrant is where we find methodologies relating to the systems sciences, like ecology, political science, and economics. The LL quadrant we find methodologies relating to the socio-cultural domain, such as social psychology, cultural studies, anthropology, and participatory methodologies. Each of these domains influence the global issues we seek to address. Each cannot be reduced to the other, and each must be engaged based on their own particular validity claims and methodologies. (That is, we cannot be assessing the validity of systems in the LR quadrant with the validity claims from psychology, or vice versa.)

However, this does not mean everyone must become an interdisciplinary expert.
Read the whole article.

TEDxWoodsHole - Dan Ariely - Temptations and Self-Control

Nice talk. Dan Ariely is the author of the New York Times Bestseller Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions and of The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Ways We Defy Logic at Work and at Home. Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University.
Temptations and Self-Control
One of the challenges of human life is what's good for us in the long term often doesn't seem good for us right now. Dieting, for example, is not so much fun now, but good for the future; the same goes for saving money or submitting to preventive medical tests. When we face such tradeoffs, we often focus on the short term rather than our long-terms goals, and in the process we get ourselves into trouble. But wait! There is hope. By understanding where we fall short, there are methods we can use to overcome our natural (and less than desirable) inclinations.

Using simple experiments, Dan Ariely studies how people actually act in the marketplace, as opposed to how they should or would perform if they were completely rational. His interests span a wide range of daily behaviors and his experiments are consistently interesting, amusing, and informative, demonstrating profound ideas that fly in the face of common wisdom.

The Dalai Lama on Seeking Refuge

Teachings on the
Practice of Guru Yoga

by the Dalai Lama
translated by Thupten Jinpa


Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

What is meant by going for refuge is that you are seeking refuge from some fear. All the objects [Buddha, lama, guru, etc.] in front of you are what is known as the causal refuge, because they serve as the cause for bringing about the resultant refuge within you. You should entrust yourself to these objects from the depth of your heart, and you should see the objects as protectors. The resultant state of your own future realizations, becoming an arya being and attaining buddhahood--which depends on your own actualization of the path--is called the resultant refuge. Someone in difficulty seeking the assistance of a high official is analogous to someone seeking refuge in the causal refuge.

But depending upon others' protection forever is not a courageous way of life; therefore, one has to try to achieve a state where one is no longer dependent upon such a refuge, and this is likened to taking refuge in the resultant buddha, dharma, and sangha. That is the process of taking refuge by a person of high faculty and courage. This practice should be done not for the sake of oneself alone but rather for the sake of all other sentient beings. When you cultivate such an aspiration focused toward the achievement of the omniscient state, it is very much like the generation of the bodhichitta mind.

--from The Union of Bliss and Emptiness: Teachings on the Practice of Guru Yoga by the Dalai Lama, translated by Thupten Jinpa, published by Snow Lion Publications

The Union of Bliss and Emptiness • 5O% off • for this week only
(Good through December 10th).

Friday, December 03, 2010

Current Research on the Human Experience of Spirituality Following the Ingestion of Psilocybin Mushrooms: An Annotated Bibliography

Excellent resource for those who are interested in this quickly advancing area of research.

Jade, R. (2010, November 23). Current Research on the Human Experience of Spirituality Following the Ingestion of ‘Magic’ Psilocybin Mushrooms: An Annotated Bibliography for Social Workers and Other Health Care Professionals. Available at SSRN:

Rose Jade
Rose Jade, Attorney

November 23, 2010


Brief review of the current scientific research on the therapeutic effects of psilocybin and psilocin on humans, reported rates of use of psilocybin in the United States, the types of social and legal discrimination and stigma surrounding the illegal possession and use of psilocybin, and providing internet-based resources for clinicians. Provides list of questionnaires and other research tools used to assess psilocybin-induced spiritual and mystical experiences.

One-Click Download

Chogyal Namkhai Norbu - Dharma practice in lucid dreams


by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu
ed. & intro. by Michael Katz


Dharma Quote of the Week

Many of the methods of practicing Dharma that are learned during waking can, upon development of dream awareness, be applied in the dream condition. In fact, one may develop these practices more easily and speedily within the Dream State if one has the capacity to dream lucidly. There are even some books that say that if a person applies a practice within a dream, the practice is nine times more effective than when it is applied during the waking hours.

The dream condition is unreal. When we discover this for ourselves within the dream, the immense power of this realization can eliminate obstacles related to conditioned vision. For this reason, dream practice is very important for liberating us from habits. We need this powerful assistance in particular because the emotional attachments, conditioning, and ego enhancement which compose our normal life have been strengthened over our many, many years.

In a real sense, all the visions that we see in our lifetime are like the images of a dream. If we examine them well, the big dream of life and the smaller dreams of one night are not very different. If we truly see the essential nature of both, we will find that there really is no difference between them. If we can finally liberate ourselves from the chains of emotions, attachments, and ego by this realization, we have the possibility of ultimately becoming enlightened.

--from Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, ed. & intro. by Michael Katz, published by Snow Lion Publications

Dream Yoga • Now at 5O% off
(Good through December 10th).

The Brain in Your Heart

Cool - more proof that mind and consciousness are not confined to the brain. The article makes reference to polyvagal theory, which has been widely documented and accepted in trauma work, but seems to have been largely ignored outside of that field.

From Scientific American.

Psychology beyond the Brain

What scientists are discovering by measuring the beating of the heart

Image: David Marchal

The brain has long enjoyed a privileged status as psychology’s favorite body organ. This is, of course, unsurprising given that the brain instantiates virtually all mental operations, from understanding language, to learning that fire is dangerous, to recalling the name of one’s kindergarten teacher, to categorizing fruits and vegetables, to predicting the future. Arguing for the importance of the brain in psychology is like arguing for the importance of money in economics.

More surprising, however, is the role of the entire body in psychology and the capacity for body parts inside and out to influence and regulate the most intimate operations of emotional and social life. The stomach’s gastric activity , for example, corresponds to how intensely people experience feelings such as happiness and disgust. The hands’ manipulation of objects that vary in temperature and texture influences judgments of how “warm” or “rough” people are. And the ovaries and testes’ production of progesterone and testosterone shapes behavior ranging from financial risk-taking to shopping preferences.

Psychology’s recognition of the body’s influence on the mind coincides with a recent focus on the role of the heart in our social psychology. It turns out that the heart is not only critical for survival, but also for how people related to one another. In particular, heart rate variability (HRV), variation in the heart’s beat-to-beat interval, plays a key role in social behaviors ranging from decision-making, regulating one’s emotions, coping with stress, and even academic engagement. Decreased HRV appears to be related to depression and autism and may be linked to thinking about information deliberately. Increased HRV, on the other hand, is associated with greater social skills such as recognizing other people’s emotions and helps people cope with socially stressful situations, such as thinking about giving a public speech or being evaluated by someone of another race. This diverse array of findings reflects a burgeoning interest across clinical psychology, neuroscience, social psychology, and developmental psychology in studying the role of the heart in social life.

A key moment for the field came in 1995, when Stephen Porges, currently a professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, put forth Polyvagal Theory, a theory that emphasized the role of the heart in social behavior. The theory states that the vagus nerve, a nerve likely found only in mammals, provides input to the heart to guide behavior as complex as forming relationships with other people as well as disengaging from others. A distinguishing feature of Polyvagal theory is that it places importance not on heart rate per se, but rather on the variability of the heart rate, previously thought to be an uninteresting variable or mere noise.

Since 1995, a broad spectrum of research emerged in support of Polyvagal theory and has demonstrated the importance of the heart in social functioning. In 2001, Porges and his colleagues monitored infants when they engaged in a social interaction with the experimenter (cooing, talking, and smiling at them) and when they encountered the experimenter simply making a still face—a frozen expression—toward them. Infants’ HRV not only increased during the social interaction, but also increases in HRV predicted positive engagement (greater attention and active participation by the infants) during this interaction. In adults as well, HRV appears to be associated with success in regulating one’s emotions during social interaction, extraversion, and general positive mood.

A number of recent findings converge on the role of heart rate variability in adaptive social functioning as well. One study by Bethany Kok and Barbara Frederickson, psychologists at the University of North Carolina, asked 52 adults to report how often they experienced positive emotions like happiness, awe, and gratitude and how socially connected they felt in their social interactions every day for a period of nine weeks. The researchers also measured the HRV of each individual at the beginning and end of the study by measuring heart rate during a two-minute session of normal breathing. HRV at the beginning of the study predicted how quickly people developed positive feelings and experiences of social connectedness throughout the nine-week period. In addition, experiences of social connectedness predicted increases in HRV at the end of the study, demonstrating a reciprocal relationship between heart rate and having satisfying social experiences.

Although high heart rate variability seems to have largely positive effects on people’s emotional state and their ability to adapt to their social environment, the story may soon become more complicated. For example, in unpublished research, Katrina Koslov and Wendy Berry Mendes at Harvard University have recently found that people’s capacity to alter—and in a sense regulate—HRV predicts theirsocial skills. In three studies, Koslov and Mendes measured this capacity to alter HRV during a task involving tracking the location of shapes on a computer screen (completely unrelated to anything social), and demonstrated that people’s capacity to alter HRV during this task subsequently predicted both their ability to judge others’ emotions accurately and their sensitivity to social feedback (how much they responded positively to positive feedback and negatively to negative feedback). These findings suggest that although high HRV at rest may be adaptive for social engagement, the capacity to modulate HRV also promotes social sensitivity.

Writers from Ovid to Stevie Wonder have used the heart as a convenient metaphor to convey emotional responses toward others. Emerging research suggests, however, that this metaphor is an oversimplification. The heart has complex interactions with how we treat and evaluate others, how we cope with social stress, and how we manage our emotions, and research has only begun to explore the relationship between cardiovascular processes and social life. Although philosopher Blaise Pascal noted, “The heart has reasons that reason cannot know,” it is clear that psychological research is beginning to illuminate this mystery.

Are you a scientist? Have you recently read a peer-reviewed paper that you want to write about? Then contact Mind Matters co-editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize–winning journalist at the Boston Globe, where he edits the Sunday Ideas section. He can be reached at garethideas AT

Why gratitude isn’t for wimps

Turns out that cultivating a lifestyle of gratitude is harder than simply wanting to do it - via Futurity, a news outlet for university research.

Why gratitude isn’t for wimps

Psychologist Robert Emmons says his 10 strategies can help anyone cultivate a more grateful approach to life. But he warns that the exercises are not for the "intellectually lethargic." And he stresses that gratitude is incompatible with feelings of victimhood or entitlement, or with the inability to recognize one's shortcomings or to admit one is not self-sufficient. "Far from being a warm, fuzzy sentiment, gratitude is morally and intellectually demanding," he says. "It requires contemplation, reflection and discipline. It can be hard and painful work."

UC DAVIS (US) — A research team studying the positive effects of daily gratitude says it can change people’s lives—but it takes mental toughness and discipline

The payoff, however, can be significant.

Compared with those who dwell on daily hassles, people who take time instead to record their reasons for giving thanks exercise more regularly, complain of fewer illness symptoms, and feel better about their lives overall. They also feel more loving, forgiving, joyful, enthusiastic, and optimistic about their futures, while their family and friends report that they seem happier and are more pleasant to be around.

“Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives,” Robert Emmons writes in his book Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. The book outlines 10 strategies for cultivating a feeling of thanksgiving throughout the year.

Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, and Michael McCullough, a psychology professor at the University of Miami, are gathering a large body of novel scientific data on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and well-being.

“Scientists are latecomers to the concept of gratitude,” Emmons says. “Religions and philosophies have long embraced gratitude as an indispensable manifestation of virtue, and an integral component of health, wholeness, and well-being.”

Gratitude was unexplored terrain for psychologists when Emmons began studying it in 1998. His first research subjects were students in his health psychology class at UC Davis.

Then, the professor assigned some students to write down five things they were thankful for each day and others to record five complaints. Three weeks later, the grateful students reported measurable improvements in psychological, physical and social well-being compared with their complaining classmates.

Since then, Emmons has conducted variations of the experiment in dozens of other study populations, including organ transplant recipients, adults with chronic neuromuscular disease, and healthy fifth-graders.

“We always find the same thing,” he says. “People who keep gratitude journals improve their quality of life.”

Emmons says his 10 strategies can help anyone cultivate a more grateful approach to life. But he warns that the exercises are not for the “intellectually lethargic.” And he stresses that gratitude is incompatible with feelings of victimhood or entitlement, or with the inability to recognize one’s shortcomings or to admit one is not self-sufficient.

“Far from being a warm, fuzzy sentiment, gratitude is morally and intellectually demanding,” he says. “It requires contemplation, reflection, and discipline. It can be hard and painful work.”

Here are Emmons’ evidence-based prescriptions for becoming more grateful:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. Write down and record what you are grateful for, and then when you need to reaffirm your good lot in life, look back on the journal.
  • Remember the bad. If you do not remind yourself of what it was like to be sick, unemployed, or heartbroken, you will be less likely to appreciate health, your job, or your relationship.
  • Ask yourself three questions every evening. Fill in the blanks with the name of a person (or persons) in your life. What have I received from ___? What have I given to ___? What troubles and difficulty have I caused ___?
  • Learn prayers of gratitude. One Emmons suggests in his book from the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh: Waking up this morning, I see the blue sky. I join my hands in thanks; for the many wonders of life; for having 24 brand-new hours before me.
  • Appreciate your senses. One approach: Practice breathing exercises.
  • Use visual reminders. For example, Emmons has a refrigerator magnet in his home bearing this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery … today is a gift.”
  • Make a vow to practice gratitude. “Swearing a vow to perform a behavior actually does increase the likelihood that the action will be executed,” the psychologist notes.
  • Watch your language: It influences how you think about the world.
  • Go through the motions. Research shows that emotions can follow behavior.
  • Be creative. Look for new situations and opportunities in which to feel grateful, especially when things are not going well.

Though he practices these techniques, Emmons acknowledges that maintaining an attitude of thanksgiving is hard work even for him.

“Most psychologists study what they’re bad at,” he says.

However, his long study of the subject has convinced him that Cicero had it right centuries ago. The Roman philosopher ranked gratitude as the chief virtue, parent of all the others.

The work is supported by the John Templeton Foundation.

More news from UC Davis:

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Authors@Google: Steve Lehto on the Turbine Driven Car

Damn. If it worked then, why not do it now? Lehto's book is Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation.

Too bad they filmed this in such a way that we can't see the picture/powerpoint the audience saw.
In 1964, Chrysler gave the world a glimpse of the future. They built a fleet of turbine cars--automobiles with jet engines--and loaned them out to members of the public. The fleet logged over a million miles; the exercise was a raging success.

These turbine engines would run on any flammable liquid--tequila, heating oil, Chanel #5, diesel, alcohol, kerosene. If the cars had been mass produced, we might have cars today that do not require petroleum-derived fuels. The engine was also much simpler than the piston engine--it contained one-fifth the number of moving parts and required much less maintenance. The cars had no radiators or fan belts and never needed oil changes.

Yet Chrysler crushed and burned most of the cars two years later; the jet car's brief glory was over. Where did it all go wrong? Controversy still follows the program, and questions about how and why it was killed have never been satisfactorily answered.

Steve Lehto has interviewed all the surviving members of the turbine car program--from the metallurgist who created the exotic metals for the interior of the engine to the test driver who drove it at Chrysler's proving grounds for days on end. Lehto takes these first-hand accounts and weaves them into a great story about the coolest car Detroit ever produced. - John Perkins: A Call to Action

Good talk by John Perkins - Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and The Secret History of the American Empire: The Truth About Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and How to Change the World - on how the collective crises we face as a species should bring us together to generate change.
For the first time in history every human being faces the same crisis, including climate change, diminishing resources, and economic turmoil. Because of the internet and cell phones, we all know that the old approaches have failed.

John Perkins spent three decades as an Economic Hit Man, business executive, author, and lecturer. He lived and worked in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and North America. Then he made a decision: he would use these experiences to make the planet a better place for his daughter's generation.

Today he teaches about the importance of rising to higher levels of consciousness, to waking up - in both spiritual and physical realms - and is a champion for environmental and social causes. He has lectured at universities on four continents, including Harvard, Wharton, and Princeton.

New Research Suggests Attention as Analyzer, Consciousness as Synthesizer

I am sometimes frustrated with the materialist/reductionist aspect of neuroscience research. On the other hand, some of what they are discovering about brain function is both important in understanding how we function as human beings, and it also points to subjective skill-sets we can develop in contemplative experience.

In a study from a team including Chrisof Koch, they have found the neuroimaging points to a functional dissociation in the brain: attention as analyzer and consciousness as synthesizer. I am not sure on a first read what the implications of this might be, but I am very intrigued.

Van Boxtel JJ, Tsuchiya N and Koch C (2010). Consciousness and Attention: On sufficiency and necessity. Front. Psychology doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00217

Here is the abstract.

Consciousness and Attention: On sufficiency and necessity

  • 1Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, USA
  • 2Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, USA
  • 3 Brain Science Institute, Tamagawa University, Japan
  • 4Division of Engineering and Applied Science, California Institute of Technology, USA
  • 5Brain and Cognitive Engineering, Korea University, Korea (South)

Recent research has slowly corroded a belief that selective attention and consciousness are so tightly entangled that they cannot be individually examined. In this review, we summarize psychophysical and neurophysiological evidence for a dissociation between top-down attention and consciousness. The evidence includes recent findings that show subjects can attend to perceptually invisible objects. More contentious is the finding that subjects can become conscious of an isolated object, or the gist of the scene in the near absence of top-down attention; we critically re-examine the possibility of ‘complete’ absence of top-down attention. We also cover the recent flurry of studies that utilized independent manipulation of attention and consciousness. These studies have shown paradoxical effects of attention, including examples where top-down attention and consciousness have opposing effects, leading us to strengthen and revise our previous views. Neuroimaging studies with EEG, MEG and fMRI are uncovering the distinct neuronal correlates of selective attention and consciousness in dissociative paradigms. These findings point to a functional dissociation: attention as analyzer and consciousness as synthesizer. Separating the effects of selective visual attention from those of visual consciousness is of paramount importance to untangle the neural substrates of consciousness from those for attention.

Provisional PDF of the full article is open access. Here is the introduction to get your interest.
Although often used in everyday speech and in the scholarly literature, “selective attention” and “consciousness” lack clear definitions. Partly because of this deficit there exists a lively debate on the relationship between the two. For clarity, we start with stating our usage of the terms “attention” and “consciousness”. We use the term “attention” to imply selective attention, rather than the processes that control the overall level of arousal and alertness. We focus on top-down, goal-directed endogenous attention and not on bottom-up, saliency-driven exogenous attention (Itti & Koch, 2001). We do so because top-down attention and consciousness can be independently manipulated without changing the visual inputs (e.g. van Boxtel, Tsuchiya, & Koch, 2010), while bottom-up attention, almost by definition, needs to be manipulated by changing the physical properties of a cueing stimulus, such as its visual features or its spatio-temporal relationship with a target stimulus. Thus it is difficult to disentangle bottom-up attention from consciousness (but see (Chica, Lasaponara, Lupianez, Doricchi, & Bartolomeo)). By consciousness, we refer to the content of consciousness (sometimes also referred to as awareness), and not to states or levels of consciousness (e.g., wakefulness, dreamless sleep or coma). Furthermore, we restrict this review to visual attention and visual consciousness, as the psychology and the neurophysiology of vision is much better understood than those of other modalities.

It is generally acknowledged that attention and perceptual consciousness share an intimate relationship. When an observer pays attention to an object, he or she becomes conscious of its various attributes; when attention shifts away, the object seems to fade from consciousness. Because of this tight relationship some scholars posit that these two processes are inextricably entangled, if not identical (Chun & Wolfe, 2000; De Brigard & Prinz, 2010; Jackendoff, 1996; Mack & Rock, 1998; Merikle & Joordens, 1997; Mole, 2008; O'Regan & Noe, 69 2001; Posner, 1994; Prinz, 2010; Velmans, 1996). Others, however, hold the position that attention and consciousness are distinct phenomena, with distinct functions and neuronal mechanisms that can be dissociated through clever experimentation (Baars, 2005; Bachmann, 2006; Block, 2005; Dehaene, Changeux, Naccache, Sackur, & Sergent, 2006; Hardcastle, 1997; Iwasaki, 1993; Kentridge, Heywood, & Weiskrantz, 2004; Koch, 2004; Koch & Tsuchiya, 2007; Lamme, 2003; Naccache, Blandin, & Dehaene, 2002; Tsuchiya & Koch, 2008a, 2008b; Woodman & Luck, 2003; Wundt, 1874).

Recently, there has been a growing interest in the relationship between attention and consciousness. Many studies have shown a dissociation between attention and consciousness using psychophysics and neurophysiological measurements such as EEG, MEG and fMRI. This review gives an update of our previous overviews (Koch & Tsuchiya, 2007; Tsuchiya & Koch, 2008a, 2008b). In the first half, we closely examine the question of the necessity and sufficiency of attention for conscious perception. In the second half, we review experiments published after our previous reviews. These studies contrast the effects of attention and consciousness for a given percept by independently manipulating the two. Some studies successfully dissociate attention and consciousness, while some even show opposing effects of attention and consciousness.

As consciousness is notoriously difficult to define, we here use an operational definition. We will equate consciousness for an object or event, say a stationary grating, with stimulus visibility. As long as the subject can see the grating, he or she is conscious of the grating or of one or more of its attributes (location, orientation, contrast). Other operational definitions involve subjective confidence or wagering procedures (e.g., Persaud, McLeod, & Cowey, 2007; Wilimzig, Tsuchiya, Fahle, Einhauser, & Koch, 2008).

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

NPR - Smithsonian Under Fire For Gay Portraiture Exhibit

Some days, people can really be annoying. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with portraits of gay people? One of the images (follow the link to see them) was removed because it "offends religion"? Silliness at best, censorship in reality. Catholic League President Bill Donohue quite often acts like a tool.

December 1, 2010

The Smithsonian Institution is under fire for an exhibition called Hide/Seek that is being touted as the "first major exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture."

There are some very famous artists represented in the show: Andy Warhol, Walt Whitman and Jasper Johns, among many others. But the work that so far has been the most controversial is a provocative video from 1987 by the late artist David Wojnarowicz called A Fire In My Belly.

Martin Sullivan, director of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, says the artist created the piece as a response to the "agony and suffering" of his partner who at the time was dying of AIDS. Using "vivid colors, and some fairly grotesque scenes, it's more a meditation on the fragility of the human flesh," Sullivan says.

If it's wrong for the government to take the taxpayers' money to promote religion, why is it OK to take taxpayers' money to assault religion?

But included in that meditation is a crucifix — a cross bearing the body of Christ — crawling with ants. The image, according to Catholic League President Bill Donohue, is offensive. He calls the video "hate speech" and says that "the Smithsonian would never have their little ants crawling all over an image of Muhammad."

Donohue says he complained to members of Congress and the Smithsonian's Board of Regents. "My principle is very simple," he says, "If it's wrong for the government to take the taxpayers' money to promote religion, why is it OK to take taxpayers' money to assault religion?"

Donohue admits he has not seen the exhibition Hide/Seek, but he did see the video images of the ants on the crucifix online.

Donohue's concerns echo those of others who've complained to the National Portrait Gallery, says Sullivan. So Sullivan decided to remove A Fire In My Belly from the show.

"The concern that people of the Christian faith were apparently telling us — 'You wouldn't do this to a Muslim image' — was distracting to the larger and more important themes of the show, which is why we did the exhibition in the first place," Sullivan explains.

More On The Exhibit:

At least one critic has accused the Smithsonian of caving in to pressure from Catholics and from two Republican members of Congress. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia called the exhibition "an outrageous use of taxpayer money." A spokesperson for incoming House Speaker John Boehner told The Hill newspaper that "Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January."

Political football? You bet, says Lee Rosenbaum, who writes about the arts for The Wall Street Journal. In her blog, CultureGrrl, she says a show like this could be too controversial for a federal institution.

"Most of its artists are down the middle of the fairway: big-name American artists like Eakins, Bellows, Hartley, O'Keeffe even," says Rosenbaum. "The problem is that it's such an easy target when they're looking for cuts, when they're looking for differences with the administration, to look at a federal institution — which the National Portrait Gallery is — and try to make that into a big issue."

A spokesperson for the Smithsonian says that since the show opened on Oct. 30, the National Portrait Gallery has received only one complaint from a visitor.

Sullivan says the rest of the exhibition will remain open until mid-February.

TED Talks - William Ury: The walk from "no" to "yes"

This talk was recommended by someone of the Spiral Dynamics list-serve. Synopsis and Biography:
William Ury, author of "Getting to Yes," offers an elegant, simple (but not easy) way to create agreement in even the most difficult situations -- from family conflict to, perhaps, the Middle East.

William L. Ury co-founded Harvard's Program on Negotiation and is currently a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Negotiation Project. He is the author of The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No & Still Get to Yes, and co-author (with Roger Fisher) of Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, translated into 30+ languages. He is also author of the award-winning Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People and Getting To Peace (released in paperback under the title The Third Side).

Over the last 30 years, Ury has served as a negotiation adviser and mediator in conflicts ranging from corporate mergers to wildcat strikes in a Kentucky coal mine to ethnic wars in the Middle East, the Balkans, and the former Soviet Union. With former president Jimmy Carter, he co- founded the International Negotiation Network, a non-governmental body seeking to end civil wars around the world. During the 1980s, he helped the US and Soviet governments create nuclear crisis centers designed to avert an accidental nuclear war. In that capacity, he served as a consultant to the Crisis Management Center at the White House. More recently, Ury has served as a third party in helping to end a civil war in Aceh, Indonesia, and helping to prevent one in Venezuela.

Ury has taught negotiation to tens of thousands of corporate executives, labor leaders, diplomats and military officers around the world. He helps organizations try to reach mutually profitable agreements with customers, suppliers, unions, and joint-venture partners.

Some links

Scientific American - Brain Imaging Studies Show Different Cultures Have Different Brains

Score one for the social constructionist models of human minds, consciousness, and identity. It appears from this study that one's culture shapes the composition of one's brain, which will obviously shape the unique perception of self and awareness.

Brain Imaging Studies Show Different Cultures Have Different Brains

The emerging field of cultural neuroscience reveals fascinating differences in brain function between cultures and environments. Christie Nicholson reports

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Did you know that our brain function is entirely different when we think about our own honesty versus when we think about another’s honesty? That’s if the “we” is American. For Chinese people their brains look identical when considering either.

These sorts of studies fall into so-called cultural neuroscience: the study of how our environment shapes our brain function.

Following up on the cultural differences between Asians and Americans, one study published in Neuroimage found that when faced with the same image, people’s neural responses are totally different. Scientists found that when American subjects viewed a silhouette in a dominant posture (standing up, arms crossed) their brain’s reward circuitry sparked. Not so for Japanese subjects. For the Japanese, their reward circuitry fired when they saw a submissive silhouette (head down, arms at sides). This physiological response matches a well-known behavioral difference: Americans favor and encourage dominant behavior. Japanese culture reinforces submissive culture.

This study, and many others, is referenced in a recent article in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor.

One might think, well, these studies add nothing revolutionary and are simply revealing the wiring behind already well-known behavior. Then again isn’t it a good thing for science to understand the wiring behind a light bulb instead of just observing that it goes on when someone walks into a room?

—Christie Nicholson

Stuart Kauffman - The Quantum Mechanics Of Open Quantum Systems

Geeky science philosophizing - on Decoherence - from Stuart Kauffman at NPR's 13.7: Cosmos and Culture blog.

The current best accepted approach to the emergence of the classical world from the quantum world requires a fundamental shift from considering closed quantum systems that cannot lose phase information to open quantum systems in a quantum environment that can lose phase information to the environment.

This loss of phase information is known as DECOHERENCE.

To gain an intuitive understanding of decoherence, return to the water waves passing through the two gaps in the sea wall and propagating toward the beach. Imagine that a “decoherence” process was able to “lose” information about where the peaks and troughs of the propagating waves were to regions outside the local system. As this occurred, the “decoherent” waves, upon hitting the beach, would not “know” where peaks and peaks summed to higher peaks and peaks and troughs cancelled.

In a mathematically similar way, the phase information in the Schrodinger wave equation for an open quantum system can be lost into the environment. As this phase information is lost from the open quantum system to the environment, the capacity of the open quantum system to exhibit constructive and destructive interference can decay, so the capacity to exhibit this hallmark of quantum behavior decays. A. Leggett has studied decohrence extensively and shows that the classical world can be approached ever more closely and classicity can be “achieved for all practical purposes, FAPP.”

Decoherence is well established experimentally and hinders quantum computation.

I will now describe some of what is or appears to be known about decoherence.

* * *

Decoherence takes an interval of time. A femtosecond, 10 to the - 15 seconds, is a typical time scale.

Decoherence is a dissipative process, phase information is LOST from the open quantum system to the environment, thus during decohrence, the Schrodinger equation cannot propagate unitarily.

Since decoherences takes an interval of time, where a femotsecond is very long on the Planck time scale of 10 to the - 43 seconds, and the unitary Schrodinger equation does not hold, we can expect new physics in the open quantum system in its environment.

One example of such new physics is seen in the Quantum Anti Zeno Effect, established experimentally with supercooled sodium ions. The essential result is that decay from one to another quantum state is here FASTER THAN EXPONENTIAL. Recall that familiar radioactive decay is a Markovian process and also a Poisson process, giving rise to the familiar exponential decay of a set of radioactive nuclei and the familiar half life of radioactive decay. The critical result of the Quantum AntiZeno Effect is that the behavior is no longer Markovian or Poisson. It is new physics.

Seth Lloyd, a quantum physicist from MIT, informs me that during decoherence superpositions of solutions of the Schrodinger equation DECOHERE VERY RAPIDLY, LEAVING PURE STATES PROPAGATING. This loss of propagating superpositions of the Schrodinger equation in a closed quantum system is new physics. Schrodinger’s cat is no longer a superposition of both dead and alive. Other physicists agree with Lloyd. What is left propagating are “pure states”, not superpositions. This is new physics compared to closed quantum systems where superpositions propagate too.

Decoherence can have effects on chemical reactions, speeding or slowing them. This too is new physics.

The study of decoherence in chemistry is just beginning with early work on coherent electron transfer in proteins in the presence of decoherence.

Decoherence broadens absorption and emission bands in the spectra of chemicals.

Decoherence may well alter the behavior of molecules, for example, if some or all heavy nuclei decohere FAPP, altering rotational and vibrational bond behaviors.

While decoherence is well established, there are also several lines of evidence that open quantum systems that are partially decoherent or classical FAPP can partially or fully RECOHERE, in the limit to fully coherent quantum behavior.

If recoherence can occur, passage from quantum to classical FAPP is reversible!

Several theoretical papers by Paz and colleagues and Briegel show how a quantum entangled system can decohere to classicity and, in “Sudden Death and Revival”, return to fully quantum coherent behavior. This has now been demonstrated experimentally, Science News, November 20, 2010.

In a fundamental theorem by Shor (84) concerning quantum computer error correction, Shor shows that it is possible to measure some entangled quibits, detect that some qubits are decohering, INJECT INFORMATION into the now OPEN quantum system, and correct the decohering qubits to fill coherece. This theorem has spawned efforts at devising quantum error correction processes.

The behavior of chlorophyll wrapped by its antenna protein MAY be the first experimental indication of recoherence.

The expected time scale of decoherence for chlorophyll is on the order of a femtosecond. When measured about a year ago, the stunning results for this system at 77K was that chlorophyll remained coherent for at least 7000 femtoseconds. This is creating a large new effort in quantum biology.

Similar effects have been found with other light harvesting biological molecules wrapped by their analogues of the antenna protein. Mutations to the proteins tend to destroy the long lived coherence, suggesting strongly that natural selection has acted on the antenna proteins.

Now we confront two possibilities. Either the antenna protein, laden with chromophores which absorb and emit photons, PREVENTS DECOHERENCE of chlorophyll, or THE ANTENNA PROTEIN PROMOTES RECOHERENCE. My own guess is the latter, for it is hard to imagine how the antenna protein could entirely prevent decoherence of chlorophyll.

One wants to guess that the photons emitted and absorbed by the chromophores are injecting information, Shor Theorem-like, into the chlorophyll molecule and inducing recoherence. Perhaps this is achieved by the light emitted by the chromophores and absorbed by the chlorophyll molecule being in the center of the broadened absorption and emission bands of chlorophyll. Clearly this is open to experimental test.

I broach in the next blog post the Poised Realm which may mediate between Res Potentia and Res Extensia.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dacher Keltner - The Emotional Benefits of Touch

This is a great article from YES! Magazine on the psychological, physical, and emotional benefits of touch. We know that infants can wither and even die without touch (failure to thrive), but that need does not end as we grow up.

Touch, compassionate touch, is necessary for human health - both physical and emotional. We are interpersonal beings, and part of that communal need involves loving physical contact. Touch generates oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone," that relieves stress and calms the mind.

Next time you feel stressed, lonely, angry, or sad, cuddle up with someone you love and just be together. If that is not available, get a pet - petting our animals also releases oxytocin.

Hands-on Research: The Science of Touch

How everyday forms of touch can bring us emotional balance and better health.


Hugging Mama, Photo by Oleg Sidorenko

A pat on the back, a caress of the arm—these are everyday, incidental gestures that we usually take for granted, thanks to our amazingly dexterous hands.

But after years spent immersed in the science of touch, I can tell you that they are far more profound than we usually realize: They are our primary language of compassion, and a primary means for spreading compassion.

In recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.

In my own lab, in a study led by my former student Matt Hertenstein (now a professor at DePauw University), we asked whether humans can clearly communicate compassion through touch.

Here’s what we did: We built a barrier in our lab that separated two strangers from each other. One person stuck his or her arm through the barrier and waited. The other person was given a list of emotions, and he or she had to try to convey each emotion through a one-second touch to the stranger’s forearm. The person whose arm was being touched had to guess the emotion.

Given the number of emotions being considered, the odds of guessing the right emotion by chance were about 8 percent. But remarkably, participants guessed compassion correctly nearly 60 percent of the time. Gratitude, anger, love, fear—they got those right more than 50 percent of the time as well.

We had various gender combinations in the study, and I feel obligated to disclose two gender differences we found: When a woman tried to communicate anger to a man, he got zero right—he had no idea what she was doing. And when a man tried to communicate compassion to a woman, she didn’t know what was going on!

But obviously, there’s a bigger message here than “men are from Mars and women are from Venus.” Touch provides its own language of compassion, a language that is essential to what it means to be human.

In fact, in other research I’ve found that people can not only identify love, gratitude, and compassion from touches but can differentiate between those kinds of touch, something people haven’t done as well in studies of facial and vocal communication.

“To touch is to give life”

Regrettably, though, some Western cultures are pretty touch-deprived, and this is especially true of the United States.

Ethologists who live in different parts world quickly recognize this. Nonhuman primates spend about 10 to 20 percent of their waking day grooming each other. If you go to various other countries, people spend a lot of time in direct physical contact with one another—much more than we do.

This has been well-documented. One of my favorite examples is a study from the 1960s by pioneering psychologist Sidney Jourard, who studied the conversations of friends in different parts of the world as they sat in a café together. He observed these conversations for the same amount of time in each of the different countries.

What did he find? In England, the two friends touched each other zero times. In the United States, in bursts of enthusiasm, we touched each other twice.

But in France, the number shot up to 110 times per hour. And in Puerto Rico, those friends touched each other 180 times!

Of course, there are plenty of good reasons why people are inclined to keep their hands to themselves, especially in a society as litigious as ours. But other research has revealed what we lose when we hold back too much.

The benefits start from the moment we’re born. A review of research, conducted by Tiffany Field, a leader in the field of touch, found that preterm newborns who received just three 15-minute sessions of touch therapy each day for 5-10 days gained 47 percent more weight than premature infants who’d received standard medical treatment.

Similarly, research by Darlene Francis and Michael Meaney has found that rats whose mothers licked and groomed them a lot when they were infants grow up to be calmer and more resilient to stress, with a stronger immune system. This research sheds light on why, historically, an overwhelming percentage of humans babies in orphanages where caretakers starved them of touch have failed to grow to their expected height or weight, and have shown behavioral problems.

“To touch can be to give life,” said Michelangelo, and he was absolutely right.

From this frontier of touch research, we know thanks to neuroscientist Edmund Rolls that touch activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion.

We also know that touch builds up cooperative relationships—it reinforces reciprocity between our primate relatives, who use grooming to build up cooperative alliances.

There are studies showing that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. Basic warm touch calms cardiovascular stress. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassionate response, and a simple touch can trigger release of oxytocin, aka “the love hormone.”

In a study by Jim Coan and Richard Davidson, participants lying in an fMRI brain scanner, anticipating a painful blast of white noise, showed heightened brain activity in regions associated with threat and stress. But participants whose romantic partner stroked their arm while they waited didn’t show this reaction at all. Touch had turned off the threat switch.

Touch can even have economic effects, promoting trust and generosity. When psychologist Robert Kurzban had participants play the “prisoner’s dilemma” game, in which they could choose either to cooperate or compete with a partner for a limited amount of money, an experimenter gently touched some of the participants as they were starting to play the game—just a quick pat on the back. But it made a big difference: Those who were touched were much more likely to cooperate and share with their partner.

These kinds of benefits can pop up in unexpected places: In a recent study out of my lab, published in the journal Emotion we found that, in general, NBA basketball teams whose players touch each other more win more games.

Touch therapies

Given all these findings, it only makes sense to think up ways to incorporate touch into different form of therapy.

“Touch therapy” or “massage therapy” may sound like some weird Berkeley idea, but it’s got hard science on its side. It’s not just good for our muscles; it’s good for our entire physical and mental health.

Proper uses of touch truly have the potential to transform the practice of medicine—and they’re cost effective to boot. For example, studies show that touching patients with Alzheimer’s disease can have huge effects on getting them to relax, make emotional connections with others, and reduce their symptoms of depression.

Tiffany Field has found that massage therapy reduces pain in pregnant women and alleviates prenatal depression—in the women and their spouses alike. Research here at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health has found that getting eye contact and a pat on the back from a doctor may boost survival rates of patients with complex diseases.

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And educators, take note: A study by French psychologist Nicolas Gueguen has found that when teachers pat students in a friendly way, those students are three times as likely to speak up in class. Another recent study has found that when librarians pat the hand of a student checking out a book, that student says he or she likes the library more—and is more likely to come back.

Touch can even be a therapeutic way to reach some of the most challenging children: Some research by Tiffany Field suggests that children with autism, widely believed to hate being touched, actually love being massaged by a parent or therapist.

This doesn’t mean you should turn around and grope your neighbor or invade the personal space of everyone around you.

But to me, the science of touch convincingly suggests that we’re wired to—we need to—connect with other people on a basic physical level. To deny that is to deprive ourselves of some of life’s greatest joys and deepest comforts.

Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., is the executive editor of Greater Good, the UC Berkeley-based magazine that covers research into the roots of compassion, happiness, and altruism.This article is republished through a special collaboration between Greater Good and YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Dacher is also the author of Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life and a co-editor of The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness.