Saturday, December 03, 2011

Philosophy Bites - Jonathan Glover on Systems of Belief

Interesting segment from the Philosophy Bites podcast. Below is an article from his website on a related topic.
Sun, 9 October 2011

Beliefs are important. Wars are fought over conflicting belief systems. Philosophers ask 'What is it reasonable to believe?' Can philosophers, then, give us any insights into what is going on when belief systems clash? Jonathan Glover discusses this issue with Nigel Warburton in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast.

Philosophy Bites is made in association with the Institute of Philosophy.

Direct download: Jonathan_Glover_on_Systems_of_Belief.mp3

This is from his website - one of many articles at the link, so scroll down for this one.


Probably most people who spend a lot of time thinking about philosophy do so because of the deep interest of the questions and the intellectual challenge their difficulty poses. But the conventional wisdom that these questions have little practical relevance is mistaken. In recent times, philosophical argument has been applied to many ethical issues: to questions about human rights and the just society, to medical ethics, to the ethics of war, to the genetic choices now becoming possible, to our treatment of animals and to environmental issues.
But there is also a case for the practical relevance of parts of philosophy other than ethics. The world is full of rival systems of political or religious belief, and these ideological conflicts sometimes lead to war or other violence.
Philosophers, at least since Socrates, have debated the relative merits of different reasons for believing something true. Yet, so far, philosophers have contributed little to the dialogue between rival believers that is surely the preferred alternative to violence. It would be a sad comment on the long history since Socrates if philosophy had nothing to contribute to the alleviation of ideological conflicts.
One merit (among obvious others) of a society where where rival beliefs are argued with rather than persecuted is that it creates the possibility of rational discussion making this kind of contribution.
The Royal Irish Academy generously invited me to choose the topic for a one-day conference and to give the opening lecture. This gave me an opportunity to develop some thoughts on how it might be possible for philosophical discussion of the contrasts between well-founded and poorly-founded beliefs to help to reduce ideological conflict.
The Politics and Psychology of a New World Order

Bedlam: The History of Bethlem Hospital

Cool and interesting - and sad - piece of history. This is an episode from the History Channel, posted for us by Top Documentary Films.
Bedlam: The History of Bethlem Hospital (2010)

The Bethlem Royal Hospital in London became infamous in the 1600′s in regards to the inhumane and cruel treatment of its patients as revealed by psychiatric historians.

Bedlam: The History of Bethlem Hospital reveals why Bedlam came to stand for the very idea of madness itself.

It was satirized for centuries as both a human zoo and a university of madness and for 100 years was one of London’s leading tourist attractions, as Madame Tussauds is today.

Britain’s leading psychiatric historians discuss Bedlam and its inhabitants as we reveal the incredible history of one of U.K’s most notorious institutions.

Watch the full documentary now

The Dalai Lama - Setting an Intention


Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

"When serving society or others in general, it is very important to set a proper motivation at the start of each day. When we wake up each morning, we reflect, 'Today I am not going to come under the power of either attachment or hostility. Today I am going to be of benefit and help to others.' Thus we consciously set the tone for the entire day so that we go through it within the context of a pure, altruistic motivation and attitude."

--H.H. the Dalai Lama, excerpted from The Gelug/Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra, published by Snow Lion Publications

--from Dalai Lama Heart of Wisdom Calendar 2012 (June)

Friday, December 02, 2011

RSA - Creating Healthy Cities

From The RSA.

First a little background:
Albina Ruiz started worrying about health and environmental problems caused by garbage in Peru when she was an industrial engineer student. Twenty years ago, she came up with an idea for local enterprises to collect and process garbage: charging affordable fees, reducing waste volume in municipal landfills and generating more income by separating recyclables, spinning off additional microenterprises to produce compost and other marketable by-products. After 15 years of promoting her concept while working as a consultant to cities, industrial firms and various international development projects, she founded Ciudad Saludable in 2001.

  • Establishing waste management systems that are more dependable and less expensive than those provided by municipal governments, Ciudad Saludable has organized over 1,500 waste collectors, creating employment and improving health and living conditions for over 6 million people living in rural and poor urban regions in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela and India.
  • Ciudad Saludable was instrumental in the creation of the first law in Peru (as well as Latin America) to regulate the activities of waste recyclers.
  • Ciudad Saludable has also established two other organizations: Peru Waste Innovation, a consulting firm specializing in solid waste management; and Healthy Cities International (New York), which is in charge of replicating Ciudad Saludable’s model around the world.

Here is the post from RSA.

Creating Healthy Cities

22nd Nov 2011

Listen to the audio (full recording including audience Q&A)

Please right-click link and choose "Save Link As..." to download audio file onto your computer.

RSA Albert Medal Event

Albina Ruiz, founder of Ciudad Saludable (The Healthy City Project) is awarded the 2011 RSA Albert Medal for for outstanding contribution to environmental management and micro enterprise.

Albina Ruiz is founder and chief architect of a system of self-reliant, community-run micro businesses that are dedicated to processing urban waste and promoting cleaner and healthier cities across the globe.

Albina will give a lecture highlighting the innovative work of her organization Ciudad Saludable, describing how it grew from its small Peruvian origins into a global non-profit movement. Ciudad Saludable has its own postgraduate university programme and a dedicated foundation geared towards replicating their successful model in other cities worldwide.

Recounting her own experiences of setting up and driving forward this global social enterprise, Albina’s story will strike a chord with many of the RSA’s Fellows who are working in the same field, and will provide inspiration for the RSA’s nascent Enterprise programme.

Chaired by Julian Thompson, director of enterprise, RSA.

First awarded in 1864, the Albert medal was created as a memorial to Prince Albert, who had been President of the Society for 18 years. It was originally given 'for distinguished merit in promoting Arts, Manufactures and Commerce'. Today, it acknowledges those at the forefront of driving social innovation in action.

Authors@Google: Jeffrey Sachs, "The Price of Civilization"

Interesting talk from Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is author of The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity.

"The Price of Civilization"

As he has done in dozens of countries around the world in the midst of economic crises, Sachs turns his unique diagnostic skills to what ails the American economy. He finds that both political parties—and many leading economists—have missed the big picture, offering shortsighted solutions such as stimulus spending or tax cuts to address complex economic problems that require deeper solutions. Sachs argues that we have profoundly underestimated globalization's long-term effects on our country, which create deep and largely unmet challenges with regard to jobs, incomes, poverty, and the environment. America's single biggest economic failure, Sachs argues, is its inability to come to grips with the new global economic realities.

Yet Sachs goes deeper than an economic diagnosis. By taking a broad, holistic approach—looking at domestic politics, geopolitics, social psychology, and the natural environment as well—Sachs reveals the larger fissures underlying our country's current crisis. He shows how Washington has consistently failed to address America's economic needs. He describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. He also looks at the crisis in our culture, in which an overstimulated and consumption-driven populace in a ferocious quest for wealth now suffers shortfalls of social trust, honesty, and compassion.

Finally, Sachs offers a plan to turn the crisis around. He argues persuasively that the problem is not America's abiding values, which remain generous and pragmatic, but the ease with which political spin and consumerism run circles around those values. He bids the reader to reclaim the virtues of good citizenship and mindfulness toward the economy and one another. Most important, he bids each of us to accept the price of civilization, so that together we can restore America to its great promise.

Dharma Quote of the Week: Bruce Norman on Meditating with an Attitude

by Bruce Newman

Dharma Quote of the Week

We all have a certain style for doing things--how we drive, how we cook, how we dress. Some of us are shy or cautious, others assertive or flamboyant. We've refined that style over the years based on how successful it is, but it's not usually something of which we're completely aware. As long as it gets the job done, as long as we get the appropriate feedback from others, our style goes unnoticed, and when questioned we'll say, "That's just the way I am."

When we begin meditation, it is inevitable that we will meditate with the same style with which we do everything else, because it's who we think we are. Furthermore, this style has proven to be reasonably successful in our other activities. However, in this case, it is not at all appropriate. If there is any style, there is a hidden agenda and an implicit judgment of the various phenomena of meditation. There is not the true detachment or choiceless awareness of real meditation. Our style contains our unacknowledged attitudes toward meditation.

...What's the problem in meditating with an attitude? First, a large amount of energy goes into maintaining the attitude. To make this clearer, if we are trying to be aware of our breathing, 100 percent of our attention should be on our breathing. If we're thinking, "I'm a shy person and I'm a little afraid of what's going on here," even if we're not consciously aware of that thought, it will be taking our energy away from the breathing and keeping it tied up in the world of ego. Consequently, this energy is not available for our practice. And your evaluation of your practice and progress will be based on your agenda rather than on the Buddha's teaching.

Of course, no one is a perfect meditator. It's not like we have to wait until we have a perfect attitude before we begin. If that were the case, we would never start..With time, the purity of your attitude will grow...refining one's approach is a lifetime's work and is at the same time the practice itself.(p.72)

--from A Beginner's Guide to Tibetan Buddhism by Bruce Newman, published by Snow Lion Publications

A Beginner's Guide • Now at 5O% off!
(Good until December 9th).

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Road Map to Resilience: Ways to Bolster Resilience and Well-being

In this Webinar, Dr. Donald Meichenbaum and Dr. Lisa Firestone examine six realms within which we can increase resilience (Physical, Interpersonal, Emotional, Thinking, Behavioral, and Spiritual domains). If he had included environment, too, it would approach an integral model. My own model does include both environmental and organizational aspects to increasing resilience.

Posted on YouTube by PsychAlive.

Road Map to Resilience: Ways to Bolster Resilience and Well-being

NPR - 'Dangerous Method': Shocking Therapy For A Hysteric

I am so looking forward to seeing this film - Cronenberg is one of my favorite directors, and I have actually read the Collected Works of Carl G Jung, so you could say I am a fan of his theories.

The New York Times gave this film a MUCH better recommendation (a Critics' Pick) and a glowing review.

Watch Clips

Here is an interview with Cronenberg about this film:

'Dangerous' minds? Psychoanalyst Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) applies the talking cure to Sabina (Keira Knightley) a young woman diagnosed with what was then called hysteria.

'Dangerous' minds? Psychoanalyst Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) applies the talking cure to Sabina (Keira Knightley) a young woman diagnosed with what was then called hysteria.

A Dangerous Method
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 99 minutes
Rated R; for sexual content and brief language
With: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen

November 22, 2011
In a clash of dueling methodologies, A Dangerous Method depicts the struggle between the coolly intellectual and the messily instinctual. There's also some stuff in there about Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

Based on the correspondence of the two psychoanalytic pioneers, the movie began as a book, then became a play by Christopher Hampton, who's best known for writing another perilous work, Dangerous Liaisons. (That script was also based on letters, but fictional ones.) On the other side of the argument is director David Cronenberg, the horror-flick veteran whose most lurid movies could hardly be further removed from Hampton's tidily literary manner.

The two men's styles sync better than might be expected in this smart if somewhat timid drama; Hampton's approach mostly dominates, his tasteful style reinforced by the upscale historical setting and Howard Shore's conventional score. Yet there are flashes of Cronenbergian anarchy that prevent the movie from settling too comfortably into the period upholstery.

The story turns on Sabina Spielrein, a Russian Jewish teenager who arrives at a Swiss asylum in 1904 with a serious case of what was then termed hysteria. As overplayed by Keira Knightley, she's a whirlwind of tics, grimaces, outbursts and contortions. Her problems might seem physical, but Jung (Michael Fassbender) decides to apply the "talking cure" developed by Freud (Viggo Mortensen).

Not so long before, Freud had shocked the world — or at least educated Europe — by suggesting that many psychological issues were fundamentally sexual. That insight is a key that quickly unlocks Spielrein's psyche; she's a masochist whose erotic proclivities were shaped by the beatings her father began administering when she was 4.

Jung doesn't simply diagnose Spielrein. He enters into her obsession, whipping her before they have sex — an approach that defies the teachings of Freud, who insists that doctors keep a distance from their patients. It also violates Jung's wedding vows to the oft-pregnant Emma (Sarah Gadon), whose inherited wealth funds the family's lavish standard of living.

Later, Jung and Freud actually meet, and the two go on a speaking tour of North America — an oddly truncated episode that seems to have been included in the movie for the sake of a single shipboard conversation. Jung also briefly treats one of Freud's wayward proteges, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), who has decided to "never repress anything." Jung disapproves, although his relationship with Spielrein is closer to Gross' lifestyle than to Freud's.

Jung and Freud begin to pull apart, which A Dangerous Method treats partially as a symptom of the gap between Jews and Protestants at the time. Jung's growing interest in the sort of mystical stuff now called "New Age" is mentioned but not really explored. A note at the film's end explains what happened to the principal characters. Spielrein, who became a psychiatrist, might have lived a "normal" life, if not for the Nazis.

Fassbender and Mortensen play their roles coolly and simply, which further emphasizes Knightley's antics. As if the actress weren't conspicuous enough, she uses a Streep-like Russian accent while her colleagues employ the usual Masterpiece Theater diction. The contrast is distracting, though not fatal.

This movie isn't simply work-for-hire for Cronenberg; it treats issues that have long been prominent in his films. Still, the clinical style doesn't play to the director's strengths. A Dangerous Method didn't have to be another Naked Lunch, but Freud plus Jung plus Cronenburg should have equaled something a little more dissonant and troubling.

Can Science Join Nondual Consciousness to Transform World?

Another lecture from the Science and Nonduality Conference hosted by

Kurt Johnson, Ph.D. has worked with Brother Wayne Teasdale, who coined the term "InterSpirituality" - visioning all the world's spiritual traditions evolving together toward an ultimate shared Consciousness and Heart - and has been involved in a variety of integral spirituality endeavors. He is co-founder of the InterSpiritual Multiplex, a directory and guide to InterSpirituality worldwide.

This is a very viable alternative to the CWS that Joe Perez has been endorsing through his affiliation with the disgraced integral teacher, Marc Gafni.

Can Science Join Nondual Consciousness to Transform World from Science and Nonduality on

Can Science Ever Join Nondual Consciousness in Transforming the World?

Kurt Johnson, PhD, Founder of InterSpiritual Dialogue

Positing that evolution (in hindsight, evidencing directionality) has continued since the Big Bang‚ 14 billion years of material evolution, on earth 4 billion years of life evolution and 6 million years of evolving consciousness in hominids suggests thresholds of evolution (particularly regarding acquired skills) arise and are met or not. Currently, some critical thresholds challenge the entire species while others challenge those reporting the nondual consciousness experience itself.

This conference suggests several pivotal questions, all involving Skill Levels:

1 - What kind of nonduality will we do here?
2 - What kind of science will we do here?
3 - What is the future of transpersonal skill?

Concomitant are numerous planetary pathologies, in scientific terms ‘critically unresolved adaptive zones challenging our species’ such as resource and identity-based competition, pollution leading to global climate instability, lack of a stable species eco-profile (an intelligent species undiscerning between wants and needs), etc. This characterization suggests many critical elements. Must more reductionist scientists have nondual experiences? Will more nondual experiences be sustained from states‚ to permanent traits? Can paradigm-shifting syntheses (Integral, Spiral Dynamics) mainstream? Can the nondual community generate a skillful collective capable of leading by example? If monolithic conventional science can participate.

Dr. Kurt Johnson has worked in science and spirituality for over 40 years. As a Christian monk he founded (with Br. Wayne Teasdale) InterSpiritual Dialogue ( for discussion of contemplative experience across traditions. He also works with The Contemplative Alliance ( and Integral communities ( In 2005 Kurt began giving “Satsang” associated with Pamela Wilson. In science Kurt’s PhD is in evolution, ecology, systematics and comparative biology. Associated with the American Museum of Natural History (30 yrs.) he published 200+ articles on evolution and ecology, the bestselling book Nabokov’s Blues (2000), and (as a co-author) the 2011 Harvard DNA sequence study vindicating Vladimir Nabokov’s views of evolution.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bakari Akil II, Ph.D. - Change the Story!

Here is another older article that has been hanging around in my tabs for a while - this one looks at role theory and the narrative we construct about who we are as people.
The way you define your life affects your circumstance.

I am a huge Seth Godin fan, and recently he penned a blog post titled, The facts. He wrote:

"The story wins the day every time… Your position on just about everything, including, yes, your salary, your stock options, your credit card debt and your mortgage are almost certainly based on the story you tell yourself, not some universal fact from the universal fact database. ---Not just you, everybody."

Godin is correct. All day we are in unceasing conversations with ourselves. We tell ourselves who we are, what we should do, how we should respond and what our mission is. This intrapersonal communication governs our lives to a huge extent and affects our overall well-being. When things are good and especially when they are great the internal dialogue is most likely positive and helps move us forward. But what about when things aren't going according to plan?

What happens when we look into the mirror that is our lives and we are wholly unsatisfied? It is in these times that we need to re-evaluate the internal conversations and monitor what we are saying.

In a recent article I discussed Role Theory, which is one of my favorite topics. Role Theory asserts that there are a multitude of 'characters' that exist in our world. Some of these roles we are born into (e.g., family relationships) and others we willingly accept (marriage, jobs, friendships). Others are foisted upon us, such as stereotypes, or we are pressured into, such as competing with neighbors (commonly referred to as "Keeping up with the Joneses/Kardashians"). Regardless of the type, social norms often dictate that we accept these roles and conform to certain standards of behavior that define them.

This is great when you're 'Winning!' However, what do you do when your thought process and roles are crushing your well being?

Read the whole article.

Alva Noë - Addiction Is Not A Disease Of The Brain

This article by Alva Noë was posted a couple of months ago at NPR's 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog, but I had not got around to sharing it yet. Noë is making an argument, with which I agree, that addiction is not simply about brain chemicals but, rather, it is a whole person issue. He followed this article with another one in which he looked at Gene M. Heyman's 2009 book on addiction - I've included that one as well.
circa 1870:  Anatomical drawing of a man's brain and cerebral nerves.

Addiction has been moralized, medicalized, politicized, and criminalized. And, of course, many of us are addicts, have been addicts or have been close to addicts. Addiction runs very hot as a theme.

Part of what makes addiction so compelling is that it forms a kind of conceptual/political crossroads for thinking about human nature. After all, to make sense of addiction we need to make sense of what it is to be an agent who acts, with values, in the face of consequences, under pressure, with compulsion, out of need and desire. One needs a whole philosophy to understand addiction.

Today I want to respond to readers who were outraged by my willingness even to question whether addiction is a disease of the brain.

Let us first ask: what makes something — a substance or an activity — addictive? Is there a property shared by all the things to which we can get addicted?

Unlikely. Addictive substances such as alcohol, heroin and nicotine are chemically distinct. Moreover, activities such as gambling, eating, sex — activities that are widely believed to be addictive — have no ingredients.

And yet it is remarkable — as Gene Heyman notes in his excellent book on addiction — that there are only 20 or so distinct activities and substances that produce addiction. There must be something in virtue of which these things, and these things alone, give rise to the distinctive pattern of use and abuse in the face of the medical, personal and legal perils that we know can stem from addiction.

What do gambling, sex, heroin and cocaine — and the other things that can addict us — have in common?

One strategy is to look not to the substances and activities themselves, but to the effects that they produce in addicts. And here neuroscience has delivered important insights.

If you feed an electrical wire through a rat's skull and onto to a short dopamine release circuit that connects the VTA (ventral tegmental area) and the nucleus accumbens, and if you attach that wire to a lever-press, the rat will self-stimulate — press the lever to produce the increase in dopamine — and it will do so basically foreover, forgoing food, sex, water and exercise. Addiction, it would seem, is produced by direct action on the brain!

(See here for a useful Wikipedia review of this literature.)

And indeed, there is now a substantial body of evidence supporting the claim that all drugs or activities of abuse (as we can call them), have precisely this kind of effect on this dopamine neurochemical circuit.

When the American Society of Addiction Medicine recently declared addiction to be a brain disease their conclusion was based on findings like this. Addiction is an effect brought about in a neurochemical circuit in the brain. If true, this is important, for it means that if you want to treat addiction, you need to find ways to act on this neural substrate.

All the rest — the actual gambling or drug taking, the highs and lows, the stealing, lying and covering up, the indifference to work and incompetence in the workplace, the self-loathing and anxiety about getting high, or getting discovered, or about trying to stop, and the loss of friends and family, the life stories and personal and social pressures — all these are merely symptoms of the underlying neurological disease.

But not so fast. Consider:

All addictive drugs and activities elevate the dopamine release system. Such activation, we may say, is a necessary condition of addiction. But it is very doubtful that it is sufficient. Neuroscientists refer to the system in question as the "reward-reinforcement pathway" precisely because all rewarding activities, including nonaddictive ones like reading the comics on sunday morning or fixing the leaky pipe in the basement, modulate its activity. Elevated activity in the reward-reinforcement pathway is a normal concomitant of healthy, nonaddictive, engaged life.

Neuroscientists like to say that addictive drugs and activities, but not the nonaddictive ones, "highjack" the reward-reinforcement pathway, they don't merely activate it. This is the real upshot of the rat example. The rat preferred lever-pressing to everything; it dis-valued everything in comparison with lever-pressing. And not because of the intrinsic value of lever-pressing, but because of the link artificially established between the lever-pressing and the dopamine release.

If this is right, then we haven't discovered, in the reward reinforcement system, a neurochemical signature of addiction. We haven't discovered the place where addiction happens in the brain. After all, the so-called highjacking of the reward system is not itself a neurochemical process; it is a process whereby neurochemical events get entrained within in a larger pattern of action and decision making.

Is addiction a disease of the brain? That's a bit like saying that eating is a phenomenon of the stomach. The stomach is an important part of the story. But don't forget the mouth, the intestines, the blood, and don't forget the hunger, and also the whole socially-sustained practice of producing, shopping for and cooking food.

And so with addiction. The neural events in VTA clearly belong to the underlying mechanisms of addiction. They are necessary, but not sufficient; they are only part of the story.

Remember: normally there is a dynamic quality to our actions and preferences, just as there is with those of rats. We enjoy exercising, but we soon get tired or bored. But rest, too, soon loses its appeal. We eat, and then we are sated. And then we are ready for the tread mill again. And so on. Things have gradually changing and complementary values. In addiction, this dynamic goes rigid. The addicts goal assumes a fixed value, and the value of everything shrinks to zero, and with terrible costs.

Our strategy was to look for systematic effects that all and only the addictive drugs and activities have on addicts. And we've found what we were looking for. The effects are behavioral and experiential. The things that addict us all produce a very distinctive breakdown in the organization of our preferences, actions and choices.

Is addiction a disease of the brain? This strikes me as a dubious falsification of what is, really, a phenomenon that can only be understood in terms of the life, choices, needs and understanding of the whole person.

Here is the second article:

A Chinese chef demonstrates his cooking skills to visitors during the 12th Asian International Exhibition of Food and Drink, Hotel, Restaurant & Foodservice Equipment Supplies & Services (HOFEX) at the Hong Kong Exhibition Center in 2007.

"Shall I have Chinese food tonight, or Italian?

I like Chinese more, but I had it last night, and I find that I enjoy it less if I have it two nights in a row. And anyway, I guess I'm kind of in the mood for Italian."

This imagined interior dialog brings out an interesting fact about values, preferences and choices. I may prefer one thing to another (Chinese food to Italian), but the current value of my preferences fluctuates dynamically as a response to my actions and past choices. If I eat Chinese food every night, the value to me of those meals will gradually reduce to zero.

This is a general truth about life and choice. Exercise is wonderful, until you get tired; rest is wonderful, until you get bored, and then restless. In a good life — if I can be permitted such a phrase — there is a kind of interplay and balance in the dynamic of shifting values, preferences and choices. What we like and want affects what we do; what we do in turn affects what we like and want.

The Chinese food example comes from Gene M. Heyman's 2009 book on addiction; Heyman makes an interesting observation in this connection. It isn't only the case that our choices and actions bring about dynamic fluctuation in the values we place on things; it is further the case that there are always different ways of framing the choice problems that we face.

So consider the dining example again and notice that there are two different ways I might reason about the question what should I eat? According to the first way, I say to myself: what do I want to eat now? Chinese, or Italian? If I take this local approach, I am likely to tend, over time, to alternate nightly between Chinese and Italian cuisine (perhaps, given my antecedent preference for Chinese food, with a slight tendency to eat Chinese more often).

But there is also a global approach available to me. Instead of thinking of the choice I face on a meal-by-meal basis as a choice about what to eat right now given what I want right now, I might ask myself: how can I get the most out of my meals by planning a series of meals? And if take up this global perspective, I am likely to be led to a very different conclusion about what to do. After all, from this perspective it may become immediately clear that the way to get the most out of my meals is by eating fewer Chinese than Italian meals, not because I like Chinese less, but because I like it more, and because I realize that I can enhance my pleasure in the Chinese food I do eat by eating it less often. The local perspective leads me to eat approximately equal amounts of Chinese and Italian food; the global perspective leads me to eat more Italian than Chinese. And even though I like Chinese food more, by eating it less, I maximize my overall eating pleasure.

There's a lot to be said for the global perspective. It's smart. It's rational. And, as Heyman lays out convincingly, it may lead to an outcome which is better over all (that is, I get more pleasure from what I eat). Of course, the local perspective is much easier to take up. On the local perspective, we simply respond perceptually to the options before us here and now. What do I want to eat, now? Taking up the global perspective requires discipline; we need step back and think about the best course of action. We need to abstract away from present impulse.

Whatever we say about the relative merits of local versus global perspectives, the critical thing is this: values are dynamic and the choices we make affect not only what we do but the pleasure we take in what we do.

When Heyman says that addiction is a disorder of choice — this is the title of his book, Addiction: A Disorder of Choice — he does not mean that addicts are weak willed or that they make dumb choices. This is not a blame-the-victim book. He means something different, something subtle. His point: the distinctive hallmark of addiction is the fact that in addiction the normal interplay we've just been contemplating between choice, value and preference breaks down.

And this is because addictive substances are, in Heyman's phrase, behaviorially toxic. They neutralize the value of everything else. Work, sex, food, friendship, children — looked at locally, nothing outweighs the value the addict places on his desired substance. If I take up the local perspective on whether I should consume my drug or go to sleep, or exercise, or make love, the drug will win out every time. Addictive behavior is the natural outcome of taking up the local perspective in the presence of behavioral toxicity.

Of course the more I use my drug, the more I come to tolerate its effects, and so the less pleasure an episode of drug use can afford me. This suggests that if I were to take up the global perspective, it would lead me in the direction of abstinence. After all, from the global perspective I'd realize that by using the drug less, the pleasure of using drugs would go up; abstaining from drug use would also enhance the pleasures of non-drug activities. From the global perspective it becomes clear that I'd be a happier drug user to the extent that I minimized my use of drugs.

Why doesn't the addict take up this global perspective? And why doesn't this give him or her a route to abstinence? Why can't the addict manage this? This is an interesting and important question. And it is, of course, tantamount to the question: Why is the addict addicted? What is it to be addicted?

And now we come to the main upshot of Heyman's discussion, an upshot which is as provocative as it is, in a way, modest. The idea is this: if we are to understand addiction, we must view it precisely in this setting where wants, values, preferences and choices are in play. Addiction is in this sense a disorder of choice.

To say this is not to deny that addiction is a disease, although it is to put pressure on what we mean by disease. Nor is it to deny that addiction has critical neurological aspects. Indeed, as we discussed last week, it is doubtless that the mechanism whereby addictive substances produce their behaviorally toxic effects are in part neurological. What Heyman's proposal does rule out, though, is the idea that we can understand addiction apart from the setting of a person's dynamic life as an agent. And for this reason, I believe, it rules out the now familiar reductive dogma that addiction is a disease of the brain.

Here is a remarkable yet rarely remarked fact about addiction. Only a very small portion of drug users are drug addicts. About 15 percent of people who drink develop alcoholism; about 10 percent of those who experiment with drugs become drug addicts. (See Heyman's book for the references.)

Why is this? What governs these outcomes?

Genetic and neurological factors may play an important role. But perhaps there are other choice-related factors that play a role as well. Here's a possibility: as Heyman informs us, the majority of addicts are single; moreover, no one is better positioned and more motivated to resist the addict's problem than his or her spouse. Having a spouse raises the costs of addiction and may be a factor, a choice-pertinent factor, in predisposing someone to avoid the trap of addiction.

It may even help the addict break free from addiction. For there is a second remarkable but rarely noticed fact about addiction (again, see the book for the details). Despite the oft-chanted dogma that addiction is a chronic incurable disease of the brain — "once an addict always an addict" — the best data available clearly demonstrates that more than 75 percent of hardcore drug addicts will eventually cease to take drugs and that they will do so without having received treatment. How can this be? What could explain this? And what determines who breaks free from the trap of addiction and who fails to do so?

If Heyman is right, we might hope to find the answer to these questions by turning our attention not to the nervous system of the addict, to his or her internal life, but rather to the pattern of needs, options, values, preferences and pressures that structure the person's ongoing life in a community with others.

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Discovering a Timeless Spaciousness in Psychotherapy

Here is another post from the Science and Nonduality Conference hosted by I think that intersubjectivity theory attempts to create this kind of open space in the therapy dyad, but does not use the same terminology. The Empathic Ground by Judith Blackstone attempts to discuss a space similar to that described in this talk.

Discovering a Timeless Spaciousness in Psychotherapy from Science and Nonduality on

Discovering a Timeless Spaciousness in Psychotherapy: John Prendergast, PhD & Kaisa Puhakka (NDWPI)

Most clients entering psychotherapy, as well as most psychotherapists, identify with a narrative that binds themselves in time and space. This presentation will explore how this binding narrative may deconstruct in the field of open presence, leaving both client and therapist resting in what subjectively feels like a timeless spaciousness. Themes that will be explored include:

1) That the experience of timelessness corresponds with spacious awareness.

2) How discovery of our timeless and spacious nature arises spontaneously out of nondual awareness, that it is not a technique. Presence evokes itself.

3) That timeless awareness is always available regardless of the content of a session and that certain moments of non-directional silence can lend themselves as experiential portals to contact this awareness.

4) That refined attunement to or resonance with present experience is a portal.

5) That investigation of the truth of any belief and the resting in not-knowing is a portal.

6) That time and the timeless are ultimately undivided or nondual.

7) The different motives and capacities that clients bring to therapy in contrast to what students may bring to their spiritual teachers.

John Prendergast Ph.D.
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology, California Institute of Integral Studies
Senior Editor of The Sacred Mirror and Listening from the Heart of Silence

John J. Prendergast, Ph.D, is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at CIIS, and the senior editor of (with P. Fenner and S. Krystal) and contributor to The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy (2003) and (with K. Bradford) Listening from the Heart of Silence (2007). He has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael and runs several self-inquiry groups. His primary teachers have been Jean Klein and Adyashanti.

Kaisa Puhakka Ph.D.
Clinical Psychology Professor, CIIS

Kaisa Puhakka, Ph.D., is on the core faculty at California Institute of Integral Studies teaching psychotherapy and its integration with Buddhist practice. She also works with clients and supervises interns at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and in private practice. Co-author of Transpersonal knowing: Exploring the horizon of consciousness, Kaisa has published some fifty articles and book chapters in East-West philosophy and psychotherapy. The urgency of awakening has fueled her journey since her late teens when she left her native Finland for the U.S., and her ongoing inquiry draws from Zen practice, Dzogchen texts, and Krishnamurti among other sources.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

TEDxAmsterdam - Barry Schwartz

Barry Schwartz spoke at TEDx Amsterdam this year on the nature of ideas - in part illustrating the ways in which bad ideas, unlike bad technology, persist far longer than they are useful.

Schwartz is the author of, most recently, Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing.

TEDxAmsterdam - Professor Barry Schwartz spoke for the first time at TED 5 years ago. According to him, more choice don't give us more freedom, but more stress and disatisfaction. This story was an instant succes. Millions of people watched it. Just like his second talk at TED about the overwhelming numbers of rules that stop us from thinking for ourselves. Aldith Hunkar interviews him at TEDx Amsterdam 2011.

Professor Barry Schartz - TEDx Talk: Ideas Technology
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Virtual Selves by J. David Velleman

I have never been a part of the Second Life world, or any other virtual world where one creates an avatar. A few months ago, or maybe longer, I read an article on Dialogical Self Theory that looked at avatars in Second Life as a virtual form of an I-position (a part or subpersonality). I think that looking at the idea in practice would be an interesting research project.

This article takes that idea in a different direction, suggesting that there is less difference than we might think between a virtual avatar and the physical avatar we inhabit in meat-space.

Below are the the first few paragraphs - the paper can be downloaded as a PDF by following the title link.
Virtual Selves

J. David Velleman

New York University - Department of Philosophy
October 7, 2011

An avatar in Second Life is a fictional body with which the user performs fictional actions. The user's real body is the avatar with which he performs real actions. The difference between the two is less than we might have thought.
Second Life

On most recent mornings, there have been over 30,000 computer users logged on to a virtual world called Second Life. Their computer screens show scenes of a nonexistent world, peopled by humanlike figures. Each user views the world from a point of view slightly above and behind one of those figures, who is his avatar in the world and whose movements and utterances he controls through his computer keyboard and mouse. The other figures on his screen are being controlled by other users, all of whom witness one another’s avatars doing and saying whatever their owners make them do and say. Through their avatars, these users converse, buy and sell things, and have all sorts of other humanlike interactions. (You’d be surprised.)

If you saw the virtual world of Second Life on your computer screen without knowing how the images were generated, you would take yourself to be watching an animated cartoon in which human beings, presumably fictional, were portrayed as doing and saying various things. Once you learned about the mechanics of Second Life, you would interpret the doings onscreen very differently. You would attribute them to unknown but real human beings who own and control the avatars that you see. And indeed, the typical participant in Second Life attributes to himself the actions apparently performed by his avatar. What a participant causes his avatar to do in the virtual environment, he will report as his doing. “I went up to the professor after class . . . ,” he may say, describing an encounter between a student-avatar that he controlled and an instructor-avatar controlled by someone else. In reality, the speaker went nowhere and encountered no one, since he was sitting alone at his computer all along.

These self-attributions can be startling, given the differences between avatars and their owners. A young female avatar may belong to an older man, who may end up remarking, “For last night’s party, I chose a tight dress to show off my figure.” An ablebodied avatar may belong to a quadriplegic, who may then report, “I ran all the way.” The obvious interpretation of such remarks is that they have the status of makebelieve.

According to this interpretation, the animated figures on the speaker’s computer screen are what Kendall Walton (1990) calls props in the context of pretend-play.(2) Such props include the dolls that children rock as if they were babies, the chairs that they drive as if they were cars, and so on. Just as a child might initiate a game of make-believe by pointing to a doll and saying “This is my baby,” the participant in Second Life may be taken as having pointed to his avatar while saying “This is me.”

Frank Heile - Time, Non-Duality and Symbolic vs. Primary Consciousness

Another talk from the Science and NonDuality Conference.

Frank Heile; Physics, Stanford

Time, Non-Duality and Symbolic vs. Primary Consciousness from Science and Nonduality on

Previously I’ve presented evidence that two conscious entities simultaneously exist in the human brain - primary consciousness (based on sensory representational systems) and symbolic consciousness (based on language/symbolic representational systems). Experiments and phenomenon supporting this theory will be presented. The evolutionary development of the God concept and of spirituality is also due to these two conscious entities. The dual state is one where the symbolic consciousness believes it is the only conscious entity in the brain. The non-dual state is one where life is experienced in a unified primary and symbolic consciousness – and it is recognized that the apparent separation into two conscious entities is an illusion. The characteristics of these two consciousnesses show why time is thought to be an illusion by those seeking non-duality enlightenment. The symbolic consciousness uses the auditory and motor system as I/O channels and these are largely sequential and have relatively few parallel channels. However, the primary consciousness predominantly uses the visual and somatosensory systems which are massively parallel input channels. In addition, the symbolic consciousness is not able to live in the present moment since it takes up to about a half second of time for anything to become conscious in the symbolic system (per Libet’s experiments). Thus living in the present moment can only be done by the primary consciousness. On the other hand since the symbolic system is built on top of the sequential sensory and motor systems, it is much better at planning out long term sequences of events. Since non-duality recognizes that the belief that we are our symbolic consciousness is an illusion, in the same way, since the symbolic consciousness can effectively only be aware of the past and future, it makes sense to say that time is also an illusion.

Monday, November 28, 2011

RSA - The Future of Money (with digital money expert Dave Birch)

Very interesting talk. I'm not sure how I feel about the digitalization of money. Much like my distaste for electronic voting, I like to have a hard version of money. It's easy enough to overspend when money has been reduced to plastic cards, so what happens when even the cards are gone?

The Future of Money

24th Nov 2011

Listen to the audio (full recording including audience Q&A)
Please right-click link and choose "Save Link As..." to download audio file onto your computer.

RSA Thursday

Until a couple of years ago, most people would have thought that cash was vanishing, albeit slowly, because of cheques and plastic cards, internet banking and PayPal. But we now know that the technology that will consign cash to the empty jar of history is not any of those, but the mobile phone. Around the world from Kenya to the Philippines, from California to the UK (where Orange has just launched its first Oyster-style tap-and-go phone with Barclaycard) the evidence is compelling.

If we do away with notes and coins as the means of exchange then the cost of transacting in alternative currencies falls. If your currency choice is just a menu on your mobile phone, then why would you choose to get paid in Sterling, or Euros, or gold, or BA Miles or Tesco Clubcard Points?

Join digital money expert Dave Birch at the RSA as he explores the implications of a cashless future.

Speaker: Dave Birch, specialist consultant and media commentator on electronic business issues, and director, Consult Hyperion.

Chair: Diane Coyle, vice-chair, BBC Trust and managing director, Enlightenment Economics.