Saturday, December 11, 2010

George Lakoff - Untellable Truths

Once again, George Lakoff is speaking the truths that got him fired as a consultant to the Democratic National Committee. This article was posted at both the Daily Kos and at Huffington Post, where I found it. I firmly agree with his conclusion about empathy in the public discourse.

To be honest, I have avoided Lakoff's political books - but I think I need to read some of them. we need to a new level of thinking if we are going to change things - part of the problem is that what Lakoff is saying is over the heads of most Democratic strategists. Maybe that's why the Dems are perennial losers.

Kris Broughton at Big Think offers a little background on Lakoff in politics:
Lakoff originally caught my eye in March when I wondered out loud on this blog Where Does Conservative Political Language Come From? A cofounder of the defunct Rockridge Institute, Lakoff has developed a theory about the way the human brain processes political messaging that seems to accurately explain why the GOP is able to have such a great influence on public opinion, even when the messages they and conservative think tanks are promulgating totally contradict facts of the underlying issue, while tendency for the Democrats in general and progressive Democrats in particular to build their messaging on reason and obvious truths produces such lackluster results.
You can read more at the link above - but here is the meat. It's long, but it's good. Oh yeah, they don't list this one in his books, but Philosophy in the Flesh is a masterpiece.

Untellable Truths

George Lakoff

Posted: December 10, 2010

Democrats of all stripes have been so focused on details of policy that they have surrendered public political discourse to conservatives, and with it the key to the nation's future.

Materialist Perspectives

The differences between Democratic progressives and the president over the tax deal the president has made with Republicans is being argued from a materialist perspective. That perspective is real. It matters who gets how much money and how our money is spent.

But what is being ignored is that the answer to material policy questions depends on how Americans understand the issues, that is, on how the issues are realized in the brains of our citizens. Such understanding is what determines political support or lack of it in all its forms, from voting to donations to political pressure to what is said in the media.

What policies are proposed and adopted depend on how Americans understand policy and politics. That understanding depends on communication. And it is in that the Democrats -- both the president and his progressive critics -- have surrendered. The Democrats have left effective communication to the conservatives, who have taken advantage of their superior communications all too well.

From the progressive viewpoint, the president keeps surrendering in advance -- giving in to conservatives before he has to and hence betraying Democratic principles. From the president's perspective he is not surrendering at all; instead he is a pragmatic incrementalist -- getting the best deal he can for the poor and middle class one step at a time.

Progressives differ on the reasons for the president's behavior. Either he has no backbone to stand up for what he believes in, or his actions define his beliefs and he is more conservative than those who voted for him thought.

The progressives' economic policy arguments are sound: continuing reduced tax payments for the wealthy will not work as a serious economic stimulus and will greatly increase the deficit and make the economic picture worse. From a progressive moral perspective, it isn't fair; it increases an economic disparity that is already much too large.

The president's pragmatic incrementalist arguments seem reasonable from his perspective: He got more immediate money for the poor and middle class than he gave to the rich, and the poor and middle class need as much as possible now (pragmatism) and further incremental steps can be taken later (incrementalism).

Those are the materialist arguments among Democrats. I want to shift the frame to the major causal factor that is being ignored on both sides: the role of communication in shaping what Americans understand.

Helping the Other Side

As someone who studies how brains work and how language affects politics, I see things somewhat differently. From my perspective, there is a form of surrender in advance on both sides -- a major communications surrender.

Let's start with an example, the slogan "No tax cuts for millionaires." First, "no." As I have repeatedly pointed out, negating a frame activates the frame in the brains of listeners, as when Christine O'Donnell said "I am not a witch" or Nixon said "I am not a crook." Putting "no" first activates the idea "Tax cuts for millionaires."

Next, "millionaires." Think of the tv show, "So you want to be a millionaire" or the movies "Slumdog Millionaire" and "How to Marry a Millionaire." To most Americans, being a millionaire is a good thing to aspire to.

Then, there is "tax." To progressives, taxes are forms of revenue allowing the government to do what is necessary for Americans as a whole -- unemployment insurance, social security, health care, education, food safety, environmental improvements, infrastructure building and maintenance, and so on.

But the conservative message machine, over the past 30 years, has come to own the word "tax." They have changed its meaning to most Americans. They have been able to make "tax" mean "money the government takes out of the pockets of people who have earned it in order to give it to people who haven't earned it and don't deserve it." Thus, "tax relief" assumes that taxation is an affliction to be cured, and a "tax cut" is a good thing in general. Hence, conservatives make the argument, "No one should have their taxes raised."

The conservative slogan activates the conservative view of taxes. But the progressive slogan "No tax cuts for millionaires" also activates the conservative view of taxes! The progressives are helping the conservatives.

The conservatives have a superior message machine: Dozens of think tanks with communications facilities, framing experts, training institutes, a national roster of speakers, booking agents to books their speakers in the media and civic groups, and owned medias like Fox News and a great deal of talk radio. Their audience will hear, over and over, "No one should have their taxes raised."

There is no comparable progressive message machine. But even if one were to be built, the Democrats might still be using messages that are either ineffective or that help the conservatives. Why?

Language, The Brain, and Politics

When democratic political leaders go to college they tend to study things like political science, economics, law, and public policy. These fields tend to use a scientifically false theory of human reason -- Enlightenment reason. It posits that reason is conscious, that it can fit the world directly, that it is logical (in the sense of mathematical logic), that emotion gets in the way of reason, that reason is there to serve self-interest, and that language is neutral and applies directly to the world.

The brain and cognitive sciences have shown that every part of this is false. Reason is physical, it does not fit the world directly but only through the brain and body, it uses frames and conceptual metaphors (which are neural circuits grounded in the body), it requires emotion, it serves empathic connections and moral values as well as self-interest, and language fits frames in the brain not the external world in any direct way.

Conservatives who are savvy about marketing their ideas are closer to the way people really think than Democrats are, because people who teach marketing tend to be up on how the brain and language work. And over the past three decades they have not just built an effective message machine, but they repeated messages that have changed the brains of a great many Americans.

Democrats can do effective messaging while being sincere and factual. But this takes insight into the nature of unconscious reason and the role of language.

It's Complicated

I am often asked, "Is there a slogan I can use tomorrow that will turn things around?" Certainly there are better things that can be said tomorrow. But things don't turn around so quickly. There is a lot do and to bear in mind over the long haui. Here is a brief list.

• Communication is a long-term effort. Political leaders rarely say anything that isn't already in public discourse. That means that people who are not in office have to start effective communication efforts, including new ways of thinking and talking.

• All politics is moral. Policies are proposed because they are assumed to be right, not wrong. The moral values behind a policy always should be made clear.

• Conservatives and progressives have two different conceptions of morality.

• Democrats need to unite behind a simple set of moral principles and to create an effective language to express them. President Obama in his campaign expressed those principles simply, as the basis of American democracy. (1) Empathy -- Americans care about each other. (2) Responsibility, both personal and social. We have to act on that care. (3) The ethic of excellence. We have to make ourselves better so we can make our families, our communities, our country and the world better. Government has special missions: to protect and empower our citizens to have at least the necessities. I don't know any Democrats who don't believe in these principles. They need to be said out loud and repeated over and over.

• Leaders need a movement to get out in front of. Not a coalition, a movement. We have the simple principles. Those of us outside of government have to organize that unified movement, and not be limited by specific issue areas. The movement is about progressivism, not just about environmentalism, or social justice, or labor, or education, or health, or peace. The general principles govern them all.

• Many people are "bi-conceptual," this is, they have both conservative and progressive moral systems and apply them in different issue areas. These are sometimes called "independents," "swing voters," moderates," "the center," etc. They are the crucial segment of the electorate to address. Each moral system is represented by a circuit in their brains. The more one circuit is activated and strengthened the more the other is weakened. Conservatives have moved them to the right by repeating conservative moral messages 24/7. The Democrats need to activate and strengthen the progressive moral circuitry in their brains. That means using only progressive language and progressive arguments, and not moving to the right or using the right's language. This is the opposite of "moving to the center." There is no ideology of the center, just combinations of progressive and conservative views.

• Don't use conservative language, since it will activate their moral system in the brains of listeners. Don't try to negate their arguments. That will only make their arguments more prominent. Use your own language and your own arguments. Truth squads and wonk rooms are insufficient.

• Remember that in the conservative moral system, the highest moral principle is to preserve, defend, and extend the conservative moral system itself. For example, from their perspective, individual responsibility is moral; social responsibility is not.

• Learn the difference between framing and spin/propaganda. Framing is normal; we think in frames. If you want to formulate a policy that is understandable, the policy must be framed so it came be readily communicated. Framing precedes effective policy. When you use framing to express what you really believe and what the truth is, you are just being an effective communicator. Framing can also be misused for the sake of propaganda. I strongly recommend against it.

• Educate the press and the pollsters to all of these matters.

• Find a part to play in getting an effective communications system going!

For a detailed background, take a look at my book, The Political Mind.

Untellable Truths

The conservative message machine has so dominated political discourse that they have changed the meaning of words and made some truths untellable by political leaders in present discourse. It takes a major communication effort to change that.

Here are just a few examples of presently untellable truths:

• There is a Principle of Conservation of Government: If conservatives succeed in cutting government by the people for the public good, our lives will still be governed, but now by corporations. We will have government by corporations for corporate profit. It will not be a kind government. It will be a cruel government, a government of foreclosures, outsourcing, union busting, outrageous payments for every little thing, and pension eliminations.

• The moral missions of government include the protection and empowerment of citizens. Protection includes health care, social security, safe food, consumer protection, environmental protection, job protection, etc. Empowerment is what makes a decent life possible - roads and infrastructure, communication and energy systems, education, etc. No business can function without them. This has not been discussed adequately. Government serving those moral missions is what makes freedom, fairness, and prosperity possible. Conservatives do not believe in those moral missions of government, and when in power, they subvert the ability of government to carry out those moral missions.

• The moral missions of government impose a distinction between necessities and services. Government has a moral mission to provide necessities: Adequate food, water, housing, transportation, education, infrastructure (roads and bridges, sewers, public buildings), medical care, care for elders, the disabled, environmental protection, food safety, clean air, and so on. Necessities should never be subordinated to private profit. The public should never be put at the mercy of private profit. Public funds for necessities should never be diverted to private profit.

• Services are very different; they start where necessities end. Private service industries exist to provide services -- car rentals, parking lots, hair salons, gardening, painting, plumbing, fast food, auto repair, clothes cleaning, and so on. It is time to stop speaking of government "services" and speak instead of government providing necessities. Similarly, "spending" does not suggest providing necessities. "Spending" suggests services that could just as well be eliminated or provided by private industry. Economists should drop the term "spending" when discussing necessities.

• The market is supposed to be "efficient" at distributing goods and services, and sometimes, with appropriate competition, it is. But the market is most often inefficient at proving necessities, because every dollar that goes to profit is a dollar that does not go to necessities. Health care is a perfect example.

• Public servant pensions have been earned. Public servants have taken lower salaries in return for better benefits later in life. They have earned those pensions through years of hard work at low salaries. Pensions were ways for both corporations and governments to pay lower salaries. Responsible institutions, public and private, took the money saved by committing to pensions and invested it so that the money would be there later. Those corporation and governments that took the money and ran are now going broke. Those institutions (both companies and governments) are now blaming the unions who negotiated deferred earnings in the form of pensions or benefits for the lack of money to pay pensions. But the institutions themselves (e.g., general motors) are to blame for not putting those deferred salary payments aside and investing them safely.

• Education is a public good, not a private good. It benefits all of us to live in a country with educated people. It benefits corporations to have educated employees. It benefits democracy to have educated citizens. But conservatives are only considering education as a means to make money and hence as a private good. This leads them to eliminate the public funding of education, which is a major disaster for all of us, not just those who will either be denied an education or who will be forced into unconscionable debt.

• Huge discrepancies in wealth are a danger to democracy and a cause for major public alarm. The enormous accumulation of wealth at the top of American society means unfair access to scarce resources, a restriction on access to necessities for many, and a grossly unfair distribution of power -- power over the media and political power.

• Tax "cuts," "breaks," and "loopholes" sound good (wouldn't you like one?) even for super-wealthy individuals and corporations. What they really mean is that money is being transferred from poorer people to richer people: The poor and middle are giving money to the rich! Why? Money that would otherwise go to their necessities: food, education, health, housing, safety, and so on is instead going into the pockets of super-wealthy people who don't need it.

• Markets in a democracy have a fundamentally moral as well as economic function. Working people who produce goods and services are necessary for businesses and should be paid in line with profits and productivity. Salary scales in private industry are a matter of public, not just private concern. Middle-class salaries have not gone up in 30 years, while the income of the top 1 percent has zoomed upward astronomically. This is a moral issue.

• Carbon-based fuels -- oil, coal, natural gas -- are deadly. They bring death to people and animals and destruction to nature. We are not paying for their true cost because they are being subsidized: tens of billions of dollars for naval protection of tankers, hundreds of billions for oil leases, hundreds of billions in destruction of nature, as in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska coast. Death comes from the poisoning of air and water through pollution and natural gas frakking. And global warming pollution destroys nature itself -- the ice cap, the creation of violent storms, floods, deserts, the blowing up of hilltops. The salesmen of death -- the oil and coal companies -- are profiting hugely from our payouts to them via subsidies and high prices. And with the money ordinary citizens are giving to them in subsidies, they are corrupting the political process, influencing political leaders not to deal with global warming -- our greatest threat. We are dependent on them for energy, to a large extent because they have politically blocked the development of alternatives for decades.

• What is called "school failure" is actually a failure of citizens to pay for and do what is needed for excellent schools: early childhood education, better training and pay for teachers, a culture of learning in place a culture of entertainment, a poverty-free economy.

• Taxpayers pay for business perks. Because business can deduct the costs of doing business, taxpayers wind up paying a significant percentage of business write-offs -- extravagant offices, business cars and jets, first-class and business-class flights, meetings at expensive lodges and spas, and so on. Businesses regularly rip off taxpayers through tax deductions.

• The economic crisis and the ecological crisis are the same crisis. It has been caused by short-term greed. Thomas Friedman has described it well. The causes of both are the same: Underestimation of risk. Privatization of profit. Socialization of Loss. But that truth lies outside of public discourse.

• Low-paid immigrant workers make the lifestyles of the middle and upper classes possible. Those workers deserve gratitude -- as well as health care, education for their kids, and decent housing.

Notice that it takes a paragraph to tell each of these truths. Each paragraph creates a frame required for the truth to be told. Words are defined in terms of such conceptual frames. Without the frames in common understanding, there are presently no simple commonplace words to express the frames. Such words have to be invented and will only come into common use when these presently untellable truths become commonplace truths. Try to imagine how public understanding would have to be enhanced for expressions like the following to come into normal public discourse:

• greed crisis in place of economic crisis

• blessed immigrants in place of illegal immigrants

• government for profit in place of privatization

• public theft in place of tax breaks

• failing citizens in place of failing schools

• corporate cruelty in place of profit maximization

• deadly coal in place of clean coal

Presidents can have a discourse-changing power if they know how to use it and care to use it. But they cannot do it alone.

If there is a teachable communication moment for President Obama, this is it. Bring back "empathy" -- "the most important thing my mother taught me." Speak of "empathy" for "people who are hurting." Say again how empathy is basis of democracy ("caring for your fellow citizens"), how we have a responsibility to act on that empathy: social as well as personal responsibility. Bring the central role of empathy in democracy to the media. And make it clear that personal responsibility alone is anti-patriotic, the opposite of what America is fundamentally about. That is the first step in telling our most important untellable truths. And it is a necessary step in loosening the conservative grip on public discourse.

For videos of the president speaking about empathy, Google: Obama Empathy Youtube, and Obama Empathy Speeches.

George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of The Political Mind and Don't Think of an Elephant!

Natural Cure for Spiritual Disease, by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

This new ebook (free download) offered over at the Buddhism Now site looks pretty cool.

Natural Cure for Spiritual Disease, by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

Standing Buddha Rock carving

Buddha-Dhamma is as vast as the universe and as concise as a moment’s flash of insight. Many sentient beings have got lost between the two, unable to resolve through direct personal experience the many teachings available today. Fundamental perspectives are required for us to begin sorting out the multiplicity of experiences and concepts. Here, we offer a clear, direct, and practical guide into the essentials of Buddhism, that is, the Dhamma.

While many Buddhists take Dhamma to be “the Buddha’s teaching,” it really means “Natural Truth” or “Natural Law.” Of course, this is what the Buddha taught and demonstrated, but we must be careful to distinguish the teaching from the Truth itself. Thus, to understand Buddhism one must begin with the Dhamma.

This guide examines the three inter-related aspects of Dhamma and pinpoints the key elements in each. Although Dhamma is One, we interact with it in three basic ways: study (pariyatti-dhamma), practice (patipatti-dhamma), and realization (pativedha-dhamma). Dhamma study is finding the right perspective on our human predicament & what we must do about it. Dhamma practice is developing and correctly applying the basic tools needed for spiritual survival. Dhamma realization is the benefits that occur naturally with correct practise. Each aspect can be approached in many ways. Here, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu approaches each in a direct and practical way.

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu © Suan Mokkh

The Natural Cure for Spiritual Disease:
A Guide into Buddhist Science

by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu,
translated by Santikaro Bhikkhu,

Download PDF

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

Robert Wright & Kevin Kelly - Science Saturday: A Theory of Technology

Interesting discussion between two really smart guys from Blogging Heads.

Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants, The Long Now

Robert Wright
The Evolution of God, Nonzero, NAF,

Recorded: November 19 Posted: December 11

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Dalai Lama - I cannot say with one hundred percent certainty that there is a subtle consciousness

Conversations with the Dalai Lama
on Brain Science and Buddhism

edited by Zara Houshmand,
Robert B. Livingston, and B. Alan Wallace


Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

On some occasions, people faint. Even when your breath temporarily stops, during that moment, there is a reduced level of consciousness. Consciousness is most reduced late in the course of dying. Even after all physical functions cease, we believe that the "I," or "self," still exists. Similarly, just at the beginning of life, there must be a subtle form of consciousness to account for the emergence of consciousness in the individual.

We must explore further the point at which consciousness enters into a physical location. At conception, the moment when and the site where consciousness interacts with the fertilized egg is something to be discovered, although there are some reference to this in the texts.... The Buddhist scriptures do deal with it, but I am interested to see what science has to say about this. During this period we believe that without the subtle consciousness, there would be a life beginning without consciousness. If that were the case then no one could ever recollect experiences from their past life. It is also in terms of Buddhist beliefs relating to this topic that Buddhism expounds its theory of cosmology: how the universe began and how it later degenerates.

Based on this metaphysical reasoning and other arguments, and based on the testimony of individuals who are able to recollect their experiences in past lives very vividly, Buddhists make this claim. I am a practitioner, so based on my own limited experiences, and the experiences of my friends, I cannot say with one hundred percent certainty that there is a subtle consciousness.

Scientists don't posit consciousness in the same sense that Buddhists do. At the moment of conception, however, there has to be something that prevents the sperm and egg from simply rotting, and causes it to grow into a human body. When does that occur? Why does that occur?

--from Consciousness at the Crossroads: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Brain Science and Buddhism edited by Zara Houshmand, Robert B. Livingston, and B. Alan Wallace, published by Snow Lion Publications

Consciousness at the Crossroads • 5O% off • for this week only
(Good through December 17th).

Mihailo Antovic - From Oceanic Feeling to Image Schemata: Embodied Mind and the Construction of Identity

Another cool open access article from Social Science Research Network. This is a pretty challenging article if you are not familiar with some of the main concepts, so I am including some of the introduction below the abstract.

Mihailo Antovic
University of Nis; Case Western Reserve University - Department of Cognitive Science

October 10, 2010

IDENTITY ISSUES: LITERARY AND LINGUISTIC LANDSCAPES, V. Lopicic. B. MisicIlic, eds., Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Forthcoming

This paper discusses the notion of identity against some fundamental concepts of modern cognitive semantics. A Freudian perspective is first accepted, according to which individual identity emerges when the child renounces its original oceanic feeling of oneness with the world and begins to understand that there are some boundaries imposed on the ego (where the first other object to be conceived of is, as a rule, that of the mother). The school of cognitive semantics expands on this thesis claiming that early binary discretisation of bodily interaction with the environment results in subsequent conceptualisation of abstract domains. I discuss how these constructs, „image schemata‟, may influence the construction of adult concepts. In particular, the image schemata VERTICALITY, SOURCE-PATH-GOAL and CENTRE-PERIPHERY are analyzed using examples of visual, musical, and linguistic cognition (in Serbian and English). The analysis suggests that early visual experience is of particular importance for the development of concepts, many of which remain entrenched in the two languages, forming a part of native speakers‟ identity.

PDF Download.
Full Citation:
Mihailo, A. (2010, October 10). From Oceanic Feeling to Image Schemata: Embodied Mind and the Construction of Identity. IDENTITY ISSUES: LITERARY AND LINGUISTIC LANDSCAPES,
V. Lopicic. B. MisicIlic, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing: Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

I'm not a huge fan of Freud, in the original, but it seems that a lot of Europeans still are - so I tolerate it or ignore the irrelevant parts. I encourage you to do the same.
The problem of identity is central to human existence. As such, it is the focus of various fields in social sciences and humanities, from philosophy, over theology, to sociology, psychology and literary theory. As identity is typically expressed through the medium of language, the field of linguistics can also offer a contribution to the research of this uniquely human phenomenon.

This paper discusses a possible way in which linguistic semantics can contribute to the study of identity. It relates the Freudian notion of the oceanic feeling with image schemata, a central construct of modern cognitive semantics, which postulates a theory of how humans develop abstract concepts from early bodily interactions. The first section of the paper introduces the oceanic feeling and its possible elaborations in traditional semantics (1). The discussion then moves on to the embodied mind theory and image schemata from cognitive semantics, attempting to link this Freudian construct with more modern efforts in the study of meaning (2). The next section introduces three image schemata proposed by cognitive semanticists (VERTICALITY, SOURCE-PATH-GOAL, CENTRE-PERIPHERY), and illustrates them with some actualisations in the visual, musical, and conceptual domains, in Serbian and English (3). Finally, possible cognitive mechanisms underlying image schemata are set against the common call in literary criticism to "return to the original oneness", i.e. restore the individual's prelinguistic and preconceptual identity. The conclusion is that, if the embodied mind theory is on the right track, this restoration would only be possible if humans were devoid of language (4).

The Loss of Oneness and Semantic Dichotomies
Ideas of "lost oneness" have recurred in human thought for centuries. A typical such image presents human beings as having "descended" from the original blessed state of harmony with the world and "fallen" into consciousness, which results in an unbearable existence and urge to get back to the original, preconscious condition. This fundamental existential split has found numerous iterations: from mysticism in the East to that in the West, from Prometheus' stolen fire to the Biblical Garden of Eden, from archetypal criticism invoking the forlorn Triple Goddess of Complete Being, to more modern literary conceptions, such as T. S. Eliot's dissociated sensibility.

An interesting notion in early 20th century psychology closely related to the idea is found in Freud's well known book Civilization and Its Discontents. Citing a letter by a "friend", later disclosed to be the Nobel prize winner Romain Rolland, Freud talks of an oceanic feeling – that of an "insoluble bond, of being one with the external world as a whole" (Freud, 1929/1962: 12). Meticulous as always, though rigidly intellectualist in his approach and a bit wary of the concept, Freud considers the proposal in the following way:
"Normally, there is nothing of which we are more certain than the feeling of our self, of our own ego. This ego appears to us as something autonomous and unitary, marked off distinctly from everything else. […] Towards the outside, at any rate, the ego seems to maintain clear and sharp lines of demarcation".
Elaborating on the conception of ego development, Freud contends that the first disruption of the oceanic feeling occurs when the child singles out one object from the omnipresent oneness that surrounds it. As a rule, this object is the mother – more precisely, the mother's breast:
"[…] other sources evade him [the infant] from time to time – among them, what he desires most of all, his mother's breast – and only reappear as a result of his screaming for help. In this way there is for the first time set over against the ego "an object" in the form of something that exists "outside" and which is only forced to appear by a special action" (Ibid: 14).
This seems to be the moment at which the very idea of "otherness" appears, as before that moment the child had believed that all the world around it was a constituent part of its own ego. There was nothing else but the "I". The early binary opposition ("I/other") hence disrupts the oceanic feeling. What is to become adult ego starts to emerge and the first gist of future identity appears. In a way, the "fall" starts exactly at this point.
Read the whole interesting article at the link above.

Michel Bauwens - How does the idea of p2p and the commons differ from the socialist tradition?

I've been meaning to post this for at least a week now - Michel Bauwens (P2P Foundation) makes a clear and important distinction between P2P/Commons and socialism - they are not the same things, even if they share some ideas and goals.

I'm sure that anyone firmly embedded in a capitalist/free market worldview would easily equate P2P/Commons thinking with socialism or communism - after all, those are seen as the only other options to capitalism.

How does the idea of p2p and the commons differ from the socialist tradition?

photo of Michel Bauwens
Michel Bauwens
30th November 2010

In the article for the Argentinian national daily “Pagina 12″, journalist Mariano Blejman writes that I equate open hardware with socialism. and this is also the message that is being retweeted.

This is not explicitely my position, so I’d like to take up the occasion to republish an earlier article on how our position is related to the historical movement of socialism.

What is the connection between the historical tradition of socialism/communism and the contemporary emergence of ideas and practices centered around p2p dynamics and the commons?

1. Let’s first tackle our understanding and interpretation of communism.

To me it is basically the idea, probably born at the same time as post-tribal class-based society, that an alternative human arrangement based on equal relationships and without the inheritance of wealth and privilege is possible. It is something that appears again and again in human history as an expression of those that are not privileged in the existing social arrangements.

A prominent example is of course the form of the Christian communities as described in the Act of the Apostles, but it is a recurring theme across history.

More importantly and recently, it became a driving idea of the labour movement that was born at the same time as industrial capitalism, and it would take various ideological and social forms, such as the utopian socialist experiments of the 19th century, the social-democratic labour movement that became dominant in Europe in the 20th century, the anarchist movements that flourished before WWII, etc …

Unfortunately, after the social revolution in Russia and its regression through isolation, it also became the ideology of a new ruling strata, which installed a new type of class society based on a managerial elite using state property, which used communism as an ideology to justify its oppression, much as the hierarchical and feudal Church would use the ideas of Christ to justify its own oppressive rule.

Today, the “idea” of communism is terminally contaminated with that historical experience of social oppression.

2. What about peer to peer?

Peer to peer is born from the generalization of the human experience of voluntary aggregation using the internet.

It is the experience of creating digital commons of knowledge, code and designs, based largely on voluntary contributions, and on making these universally available, has re-introduced the reality of communal shareholding to wide strata of the population.

But is also the particular social expression of the new condition of work under cognitive capitalism, where workers, after the long hiatus of industrial capitalism where they were totally dispossessed of access to productive resources and machinery, could again access a productive resource under their control, through computers, the socialized network that was the internet.

This generalized the experience of social practices that are characterized by open and free input, participatory processes of production, and commons-oriented output.

From the contract between this strong experience of equality and liberty (equaliberty) and the trans-individuality of being connected through affinity, the desire naturally grows to extend this experience to other areas of life.

From this, social movements are emerging that seek to extend the reach of this human experience.

The P2P Foundation, and the P2P Theory that we are trying to develop, is merely one of the expressions of this general trend, but perhaps one of the more ambitious ones since it aims not just to a partial implementation of the new value system and social practice (as the free software or free culture movements would attempt), but to its generalization across the board.

Go read the whole article - there are three more crucial points he makes.

Upaya Dharma Podcasts - Deep Time (All 8 parts)

This is a nice recent series of teachings from Roshi Joan Halifax's Upaya Zen Center - enjoy! [By the way, the descriptions are the same for each episode, so just go with the flow.]

Deep Time Part 1 of 8

Speaker: Zoketsu Norman Fischer
Recorded: Friday Nov 19, 2010

In this short retreat we will practice meditation, and study in detail Dogen’s profound chapter, Being Time (or The Time Being; Uji in Japanese) from his great work Shobogenzo. (Uji can be found online in several translations). Come prepared to meditate deeply on time, life, past, present, and future, and the all-inclusive now. The workshop will include writing exercises and large and small group discussions as ways to make this great teaching personal.

NOTE: Due to editing there are several short segments of silence during this episode.

* * * * *

Deep Time Part 2 of 8

Speaker: Zoketsu Norman Fischer
Recorded: Saturday Nov 20, 2010

In this short retreat we will practice meditation, and study in detail Dogen’s profound chapter, Being Time (or The Time Being; Uji in Japanese) from his great work Shobogenzo. (Uji can be found online in several translations). Come prepared to meditate deeply on time, life, past, present, and future, and the all-inclusive now. The workshop will include writing exercises and large and small group discussions as ways to make this great teaching personal.

Deep Time Part 3 of 8

Speaker: Zoketsu Norman Fischer
Recorded: Saturday Nov 20, 2010

In this short retreat we will practice meditation, and study in detail Dogen’s profound chapter, Being Time (or The Time Being; Uji in Japanese) from his great work Shobogenzo. (Uji can be found online in several translations). Come prepared to meditate deeply on time, life, past, present, and future, and the all-inclusive now. The workshop will include writing exercises and large and small group discussions as ways to make this great teaching personal.

NOTE: Due to editing there are several short segments of silence during this episode.

Deep Time Part 4 of 8

Speaker: Zoketsu Norman Fischer
Recorded: Friday Nov 26, 2010

In this short retreat we will practice meditation, and study in detail Dogen’s profound chapter, Being Time (or The Time Being; Uji in Japanese) from his great work Shobogenzo. (Uji can be found online in several translations). Come prepared to meditate deeply on time, life, past, present, and future, and the all-inclusive now. The workshop will include writing exercises and large and small group discussions as ways to make this great teaching personal.

Deep Time Part 5 of 8

Speaker: Zoketsu Norman Fischer
Recorded: Saturday Nov 20, 2010

In this short retreat we will practice meditation, and study in detail Dogen’s profound chapter, Being Time (or The Time Being; Uji in Japanese) from his great work Shobogenzo. (Uji can be found online in several translations). Come prepared to meditate deeply on time, life, past, present, and future, and the all-inclusive now. The workshop will include writing exercises and large and small group discussions as ways to make this great teaching personal.

NOTE: Due to editing there are several short segments of silence during this episode.

Deep Time Part 6 of 8

Speaker: Zoketsu Norman Fischer
Recorded: Saturday Nov 20, 2010

In this short retreat we will practice meditation, and study in detail Dogen’s profound chapter, Being Time (or The Time Being; Uji in Japanese) from his great work Shobogenzo. (Uji can be found online in several translations). Come prepared to meditate deeply on time, life, past, present, and future, and the all-inclusive now. The workshop will include writing exercises and large and small group discussions as ways to make this great teaching personal.

Deep Time Part 7 of 8

Speaker: Zoketsu Norman Fischer
Recorded: Sunday Nov 21, 2010

In this short retreat we will practice meditation, and study in detail Dogen’s profound chapter, Being Time (or The Time Being; Uji in Japanese) from his great work Shobogenzo. (Uji can be found online in several translations). Come prepared to meditate deeply on time, life, past, present, and future, and the all-inclusive now. The workshop will include writing exercises and large and small group discussions as ways to make this great teaching personal.

Deep Time Part 8 of 8

Speaker: Zoketsu Norman Fischer
Recorded: Sunday Nov 21, 2010

In this short retreat we will practice meditation, and study in detail Dogen’s profound chapter, Being Time (or The Time Being; Uji in Japanese) from his great work Shobogenzo. (Uji can be found online in several translations). Come prepared to meditate deeply on time, life, past, present, and future, and the all-inclusive now. The workshop will include writing exercises and large and small group discussions as ways to make this great teaching personal.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Certain Formulations of Omega-3s Might Help With Depression

This is funny - in a sad sort of way. People had been reporting antidepressant effects with fish oil over the years, so the researchers tried pure DHA for depression, pure EPA for depression - to no effect. So what do they find? EPA/DHA together seems to reduced depressive symptoms.

So why is this funny - and sad? Because the researchers looked at fish oil, which is essentially DHA/EPA in combination - with a bit more DHA than EPA - and figured it much be one or the other substance that produced results. The reality is that fish oil, in its basic natural form seems to be the best combination.

Now, I know how science works. It's much easier to research the effects of a single substance than a whole natural oil. Still, it strikes me as amusing that science always tries to improve on nature.

HealthDay News
by By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter
Updated: Dec 8th 2010

new article illustration

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Omega-3 fatty acids may help alleviate depression but only when a particular type of fatty acid called DHA is used in the right ratio with another fatty acid known as EPA, a new study suggests.

The researchers analyzed the results of some 15 previous controlled clinical trials on the use of omega-3s -- commonly found in oily fish or in fish oil supplements -- to treat depressed people.

They found that when used by itself, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) alone did not seem to offer any benefit. However, DHA combined with a rather high dose of EPA (eicosapentenoic acid) did improve depressive symptoms.

"Preparations with some EPA had some consistent antidepressant effects, while preparations of pure DHA had no antidepressant effects," said lead study author Dr. John Davis, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "I don't think we can prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, but there is now evidence from a number of double-blind studies that suggest mixed DHA/EPA has antidepressant properties, whether by itself or given along with traditional antidepressants."

The study, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was designed as a meta-analysis, in which researchers combine the results of multiple prior studies. The findings were slated for presentation Thursday at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology meeting in Miami.

Davis noted the next step should be to test the anti-depressant effect of the omega-3 fatty acid combination in a large population to establish a dose range.

Robert Sapolsky - This Is Your Brain on Metaphors

Nice article on embodied mind by Robert Sapolsky in the New York Times - this is from a while back, but it's taken me a bit to get to it. The piece seems to echo some of the thinking in George Lakoff's Philosophy in the Flesh : The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought.

This Is Your Brain on Metaphors

Despite rumors to the contrary, there are many ways in which the human brain isn’t all that fancy. Let’s compare it to the nervous system of a fruit fly. Both are made up of cells, of course, with neurons playing particularly important roles. Now one might expect that a neuron from a human will differ dramatically from one from a fly. Maybe the human’s will have especially ornate ways of communicating with other neurons, making use of unique “neurotransmitter” messengers. Maybe compared to the lowly fly neuron, human neurons are bigger, more complex, in some way can run faster and jump higher.

We study hard to get admitted to a top college to get a good job to get into the nursing home of our choice. Gophers don’t do that.

But no. Look at neurons from the two species under a microscope and they look the same. They have the same electrical properties, many of the same neurotransmitters, the same protein channels that allow ions to flow in and out, as well as a remarkably high number of genes in common. Neurons are the same basic building blocks in both species.

So where’s the difference? It’s numbers — humans have roughly one million neurons for each one in a fly. And out of a human’s 100 billion neurons emerge some pretty remarkable things. With enough quantity, you generate quality.

Erin Schell

Neuroscientists understand the structural bases of some of these qualities. Take language, that uniquely human behavior. Underlining it are structures unique to the human brain — regions like “Broca’s area,” which specializes in language production. Then there’s the brain’s “extrapyramidal system,” which is involved in fine motor control. The complexity of the human version allows us to do something that, say, a polar bear, could never accomplish — sufficiently independent movement of digits to play a trill on the piano, for instance. Particularly striking is the human frontal cortex. While occurring in all mammals, the human version is proportionately bigger and denser in its wiring. And what is the frontal cortex good for? Emotional regulation, gratification postponement, executive decision-making, long-term planning. We study hard in high school to get admitted to a top college to get into grad school to get a good job to get into the nursing home of our choice. Gophers don’t do that.

There’s another domain of unique human skills, and neuroscientists are learning a bit about how the brain pulls it off.

Consider the following from J. Ruth Gendler’s wonderful “The Book of Qualities,” a collection of “character sketches” of different qualities, emotions and attributes:

Anxiety is secretive. He does not trust anyone, not even his friends, Worry, Terror, Doubt and Panic … He likes to visit me late at night when I am alone and exhausted. I have never slept with him, but he kissed me on the forehead once, and I had a headache for two years …


Compassion speaks with a slight accent. She was a vulnerable child, miserable in school, cold, shy … In ninth grade she was befriended by Courage. Courage lent Compassion bright sweaters, explained the slang, showed her how to play volleyball.

What is Gendler going on about? We know, and feel pleasure triggered by her unlikely juxtapositions. Despair has stopped listening to music. Anger sharpens kitchen knives at the local supermarket. Beauty wears a gold shawl and sells seven kinds of honey at the flea market. Longing studies archeology.

Symbols, metaphors, analogies, parables, synecdoche, figures of speech: we understand them. We understand that a captain wants more than just hands when he orders all of them on deck. We understand that Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” isn’t really about a cockroach. If we are of a certain theological ilk, we see bread and wine intertwined with body and blood. We grasp that the right piece of cloth can represent a nation and its values, and that setting fire to such a flag is a highly charged act. We can learn that a certain combination of sounds put together by Tchaikovsky represents Napoleon getting his butt kicked just outside Moscow. And that the name “Napoleon,” in this case, represents thousands and thousands of soldiers dying cold and hungry, far from home.

And we even understand that June isn’t literally busting out all over. It would seem that doing this would be hard enough to cause a brainstorm. So where did this facility with symbolism come from? It strikes me that the human brain has evolved a necessary shortcut for doing so, and with some major implications.

A single part of the brain processes both physical and psychic pain.

Consider an animal (including a human) that has started eating some rotten, fetid, disgusting food. As a result, neurons in an area of the brain called the insula will activate. Gustatory disgust. Smell the same awful food, and the insula activates as well. Think about what might count as a disgusting food (say, taking a bite out of a struggling cockroach). Same thing.

Now read in the newspaper about a saintly old widow who had her home foreclosed by a sleazy mortgage company, her medical insurance canceled on flimsy grounds, and got a lousy, exploitative offer at the pawn shop where she tried to hock her kidney dialysis machine. You sit there thinking, those bastards, those people are scum, they’re worse than maggots, they make me want to puke … and your insula activates. Think about something shameful and rotten that you once did … same thing. Not only does the insula “do” sensory disgust; it does moral disgust as well. Because the two are so viscerally similar. When we evolved the capacity to be disgusted by moral failures, we didn’t evolve a new brain region to handle it. Instead, the insula expanded its portfolio.

Or consider pain. Somebody pokes your big left toe with a pin. Spinal reflexes cause you to instantly jerk your foot back just as they would in, say, a frog. Evolutionarily ancient regions activate in the brain as well, telling you about things like the intensity of the pain, or whether it’s a sharp localized pain or a diffuse burning one. But then there’s a fancier, more recently evolved brain region in the frontal cortex called the anterior cingulate that’s involved in the subjective, evaluative response to the pain. A piranha has just bitten you? That’s a disaster. The shoes you bought are a size too small? Well, not as much of a disaster.

Now instead, watch your beloved being poked with the pin. And your anterior cingulate will activate, as if it were you in pain. There’s a neurotransmitter called Substance P that is involved in the nuts and bolts circuitry of pain perception. Administer a drug that blocks the actions of Substance P to people who are clinically depressed, and they often feel better, feel less of the world’s agonies. When humans evolved the ability to be wrenched with feeling the pain of others, where was it going to process it? It got crammed into the anterior cingulate. And thus it “does” both physical and psychic pain.

Another truly interesting domain in which the brain confuses the literal and metaphorical is cleanliness. In a remarkable study, Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto and Katie Liljenquist of Northwestern University demonstrated how the brain has trouble distinguishing between being a dirty scoundrel and being in need of a bath. Volunteers were asked to recall either a moral or immoral act in their past. Afterward, as a token of appreciation, Zhong and Liljenquist offered the volunteers a choice between the gift of a pencil or of a package of antiseptic wipes. And the folks who had just wallowed in their ethical failures were more likely to go for the wipes. In the next study, volunteers were told to recall an immoral act of theirs. Afterward, subjects either did or did not have the opportunity to clean their hands. Those who were able to wash were less likely to respond to a request for help (that the experimenters had set up) that came shortly afterward. Apparently, Lady Macbeth and Pontius Pilate weren’t the only ones to metaphorically absolve their sins by washing their hands.

This potential to manipulate behavior by exploiting the brain’s literal-metaphorical confusions about hygiene and health is also shown in a study by Mark Landau and Daniel Sullivan of the University of Kansas and Jeff Greenberg of the University of Arizona. Subjects either did or didn’t read an article about the health risks of airborne bacteria. All then read a history article that used imagery of a nation as a living organism with statements like, “Following the Civil War, the United States underwent a growth spurt.” Those who read about scary bacteria before thinking about the U.S. as an organism were then more likely to express negative views about immigration.

Another example of how the brain links the literal and the metaphorical comes from a study by Lawrence Williams of the University of Colorado and John Bargh of Yale. Volunteers would meet one of the experimenters, believing that they would be starting the experiment shortly. In reality, the experiment began when the experimenter, seemingly struggling with an armful of folders, asks the volunteer to briefly hold their coffee. As the key experimental manipulation, the coffee was either hot or iced. Subjects then read a description of some individual, and those who had held the warmer cup tended to rate the individual as having a warmer personality, with no change in ratings of other attributes.

Another brilliant study by Bargh and colleagues concerned haptic sensations (I had to look the word up — haptic: related to the sense of touch). Volunteers were asked to evaluate the resumes of supposed job applicants where, as the critical variable, the resume was attached to a clipboard of one of two different weights. Subjects who evaluated the candidate while holding the heavier clipboard tended to judge candidates to be more serious, with the weight of the clipboard having no effect on how congenial the applicant was judged. After all, we say things like “weighty matter” or “gravity of a situation.”

What are we to make of the brain processing literal and metaphorical versions of a concept in the same brain region? Or that our neural circuitry doesn’t cleanly differentiate between the real and the symbolic? What are the consequences of the fact that evolution is a tinkerer and not an inventor, and has duct-taped metaphors and symbols to whichever pre-existing brain areas provided the closest fit?

Jonathan Haidt, of the University of Virginia, has shown how viscera and emotion often drive our decisionmaking, with conscious cognition mopping up afterward, trying to come up with rationalizations for that gut decision. The viscera that can influence moral decisionmaking and the brain’s confusion about the literalness of symbols can have enormous consequences. Part of the emotional contagion of the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda arose from the fact that when militant Hutu propagandists called for the eradication of the Tutsi, they iconically referred to them as “cockroaches.” Get someone to the point where his insula activates at the mention of an entire people, and he’s primed to join the bloodletting.

But if the brain confusing reality and literalness with metaphor and symbol can have adverse consequences, the opposite can occur as well. At one juncture just before the birth of a free South Africa, Nelson Mandela entered secret negotiations with an Afrikaans general with death squad blood all over his hands, a man critical to the peace process because he led a large, well-armed Afrikaans resistance group. They met in Mandela’s house, the general anticipating tense negotiations across a conference table. Instead, Mandela led him to the warm, homey living room, sat beside him on a comfy couch, and spoke to him in Afrikaans. And the resistance melted away.

This neural confusion about the literal versus the metaphorical gives symbols enormous power, including the power to make peace. The political scientist and game theorist Robert Axelrod of the University of Michigan has emphasized this point in thinking about conflict resolution. For example, in a world of sheer rationality where the brain didn’t confuse reality with symbols, bringing peace to Israel and Palestine would revolve around things like water rights, placement of borders, and the extent of militarization allowed to Palestinian police. Instead, argues Axelrod, “mutual symbolic concessions” of no material benefit will ultimately make all the difference. He quotes a Hamas leader who says that for the process of peace to go forward, Israel must apologize for the forced Palestinians exile in 1948. And he quotes a senior Israeli official saying that for progress to be made, Palestinians need to first acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and to get their anti-Semitic garbage out of their textbooks.

Hope for true peace in the Middle East didn’t come with the news of a trade agreement being signed. It was when President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan attended the funeral of the murdered Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. That same hope came to the Northern Irish, not when ex-Unionist demagogues and ex-I.R.A. gunmen served in a government together, but when those officials publicly commiserated about each other’s family misfortunes, or exchanged anniversary gifts. And famously, for South Africans, it came not with successful negotiations about land reapportionment, but when black South Africa embraced rugby and Afrikaans rugby jocks sang the A.N.C. national anthem.

Nelson Mandela was wrong when he advised, “Don’t talk to their minds; talk to their hearts.” He meant talk to their insulas and cingulate cortices and all those other confused brain regions, because that confusion could help make for a better world.

(Robert Sapolsky’s essay is the subject of this week’s forum discussion among the humanists and scientists at On the Human, a project of the National Humanities Center.)

Robert Sapolsky
Robert Sapolsky is John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biology, Neurology and Neurosurgery at Stanford University, and is a research associate at the Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya. He writes frequently on issues related to biology and behavior. His books include “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” “A Primate’s Memoir,” and “Monkeyluv.”

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche - Cultivating Memory and Joyful Effort

by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche,
edited by Mark Dahlby


Cultivating Memory and Joyful Effort
[This] foundational practice is engaged upon awaking in the morning. It further cultivates strong intention and also strengthens the capacity to remember the events of the night.

Begin by reviewing the night. The Tibetan term for this preparation is literally "remembering." Did you dream? Were you aware that you were in a dream? If you dreamt but did not attain lucidity, you should reflect, "I dreamt but did not recognize the dream as a dream. But it was a dream." Resolve that next time you enter a dream you will become aware of its true nature while still in the dream.

If you find it difficult to remember dreams, it can be helpful, throughout the day and particularly before sleep, to generate a strong intention to remember dreams. You can also record dreams in a notepad or with a tape recorder, as this will reinforce the habit of treating your dreams as something valuable. The very act of preparing the notebook or recorder at night serves to support the intention to recall the dream upon waking. It is not difficult for anyone to remember dreams once the intention to do so is generated and sustained, even over just a few days.

If you did have a lucid dream, feel joy at the accomplishment. Develop happiness relative to the practice and resolve to continue to develop the lucidity the following night. Keep building intention, using both successes and failures as occasions to develop ever stronger intent to accomplish the practice. And know that even your intention is a dream.

--from The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, published by Snow Lion Publications

The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep • Now at 5O% off
(Good through December 17th).

Tags: , , , , , , , , - Teresa E. Steele: The Evolution of Human Diet

Cool - Teresa Steele is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropoplogy at the University of California, Davis. Steele's research focuses on the emergence of the earliest people who were behaviorally, culturally, and anatomically modern.
Human Evolution: Investigating Our Origins

Science is always evolving. New discoveries shape our current understanding of human evolutionary milestones such as bipedalism, the use of tools, dietary adaptation, changing body shapes and sizes, and life historys.

Join us to reflect on the roots of humanity as we explore key early hominin adaptations and their evolution through time. Speakers include: Zeray Alemseged, Adrienne Zihlman, Tanya Smith and Teresa Steele.

[NOTE: Only Steele is in this segment.]