Saturday, February 04, 2012

Freedom from Craving: Buddhist Practice and Recovery with Kevin Griffin

Kevin Griffin, author of One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps (Rodale Press 2004) and A Burning Desire: Dharma God and the Path of Recovery (Hay House 2009) will be in Tucson in March for an evening lecture and a one-day retreat hosted by Tucson Shambhala Meditation Center & Tucson Sarpashana.

Freedom from Craving: Buddhist Practice and Recovery with Kevin Griffin

Fri March 23rd: 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
Sat March 24th: 9:30 AM - 5:30 PM

 Price: $50 (No one will be turned away for lack of funds)

St. Francis In The Foothills - 4625 E. River Road * Tucson, Arizona 85718

Tucson Shambhala Meditation Group & Tucson Sarpashana are pleased to announce Kevin Griffin will be teaching in Tucson at St. Francis in the Foothills

The Buddha said craving is the cause of suffering. Craving may manifest in compulsive behaviors, habitual thought and emotional patterns and/or addiction to substances. Buddhists practice to let go of craving; recovery programs work with the deepest forms of craving - our addictions. How can these traditions work together?

Join us for a public talk Friday evening, March 23, and for a daylong retreat Saturday, March 24, combining traditional Buddhist meditation practices and recovery work.  All paths - Buddhist and recovery - are welcome; newcomers and those new to meditation are very welcome!

Friday, March 23, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. ($10 suggested donation)
Saturday, March 24, 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. ($40 suggested donation)
No one will be turned away for lack of funds.  We will also be practicing the principle of dana (the practice of cultivating generosity) for Kevin’s gift of teaching.

Event Location: St. Francis in the Foothills • 4625 E. River Road (River and Swan) • Tucson, AZ 85718

There will be a lunch break on Saturday.  While there are some restaurants in the vicinity of St. Francis, the break will not be long and bringing your lunch is encouraged.

Pre-registration is encouraged.  You may register from the event webpage [located here] on the Tucson Shambhala Website.

For more information or to ask questions regarding the event, please send email to tucson.shambhala@gmail.

Kevin Griffin is the author of One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps (Rodale Press 2004) and A Burning Desire: Dharma God and the Path of Recovery (Hay House 2009). A longtime Buddhist practitioner and 12 Step participant, he is a leader in the mindful recovery movement and one of the founders of the Buddhist Recovery Network. Kevin has trained with the leading Western Vipassana teachers, among them Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, and Ajahn Amaro. His teacher training was as a Community Dharma Leader at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, CA.

Click Here to Register

Perspectives on Alain De Botton's "Religion for Atheists"

To begin, here is a podcast of De Botton in conversation with RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor. They discuss De Botton's book, Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religions.

Religion for Atheists

26th Jan 2012

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

RSA Thursday

Has the endless debate between believers and non-believers finally hit a brick wall? Are secularists in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater when they reject religion and its trappings, or is it possible for non-believers to find consolation and beauty in ritual and tradition too?

Renowned philosopher Alain de Botton argues that despite the falsity of supernatural claims of religion, they still have very important things to teach the secular world.

Rather than mocking or deriding religions, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from them - because they're packed with good ideas on how to live and arrange our societies. De Botton proposes that we should look to the religious tradition for insights into how to build a sense of community, make our relationships last, get more out of art, overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy, and much more.

Chair: Matthew Taylor, chief executive, RSA.
* * * * * * * 
In response to the above conversation, Jonathan Rowson offers a criticism of De Botton's thesis. This also comes from the RSA - and Rowson also includes my all-time favorite parable from The West Wing.

Religion for Atheists: What is the ‘it’ that De Botton doesn’t seem to ‘get’ ?

February 2, 2012 by
I have been a big fan of Alain De Botton for a number of years, and have enjoyed many of his books. As an undergraduate I was excited by the very title ‘How Proust can Change your Life‘, before I had even heard of ‘Prooost’, and I remember a diagram on the improbability of a couple meeting on an aeroplane, I think in ‘Essays in Love‘, that made me ponder the idea of fate more deeply than I ever had before. I am also a fan of The School of Life, which he inspired, and broadly support his considerable efforts to make philosophy, non-academically conceived, more engaging, accessible, and, frankly, enjoyable.

I believe Status Anxiety was by far his most powerful contribution. He gave name and form to a pervasive felt sense that constantly eats away at people, and elucidated the individual craving for ‘love from the world’ which pervades almost every aspect of modern life. (On a personal level, I related to the idea as a chess Grandmaster because the chess rating system functions as such a tangible status metric).

I didn’t get much out of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work although it was such a beautifully designed and produced book that I kept expecting to, and enjoyed travelling hopefully. And now I am struggling a bit with Religion for Atheists, which he spoke about at the RSA last week.

Richard Holloway, one of the wisest thinkers in the country, seemed to value the book, which gave me pause, especially because he felt it would be most appreciated by “uneasy believers” who would “welcome it like a well of water in a dry place.” In other words De Botton’s reappraisal of religion is thought to be deep and sophisticated enough to revitalise moribund traditions, by reminding them that the true sources of their value are not, and never have been, wedded to doctrine. (Karen Armstrong makes a similar point in The Case for God).

So what’s the problem? Why do I feel, as I recently tweeted, that De Botton doesn’t ‘get it’? As Emma recently wrote, and Cognitive Media beautifully illustrated ”Without a properly articulated framework of values, his arguments for why atheists should grab a bit of religion just don’t stand up.” But that’s just part of the story. Something deeper is bugging me.

I felt a similar dissatisfaction when he interviewed Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (about eight and a half minutes in) and it was related to De Botton’s somewhat promiscuous attitude to ideas. In essence he argues that the value in not subscribing to any particular tradition is that an individual can freely ‘pick and mix’ from all the available ideas and thereby come upon those ideas that suit their needs and interests at a given point in time.

This is not a religious position, but you might call it De Botton’s ‘Life stance’  which is an increasingly popular term used to describe people’s spiritual position, or perspective on how the way they live their lives relates to matters of fundamental concern. (‘a properly articulated framework of values’, even).

My concern for this position is that it doesn’t acknowledge the positional nature of depth, of the need to stick with something even when you don’t like it and it’s not working for you.

De Botton is surely right that you can experience depth in a variety of settings without religious commitment- there is depth in art, architecture, music, literature etc. But I wonder if the kinds of existential challenges we face can be adequately dealt with in this relatively piecemeal fashion. For instance, why read the Bible for insight into human experience when you could read Shakespeare? Why pray to an unknowable God when you could just enjoy the aesthetic power of the sunset?

I think there is an answer, and it relates to a  story I came upon from a less revered but much enjoyed cultural resource, the WestWing:
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.”

A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

“Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

“Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole.

Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’

The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’”

The idea that ‘I have been here before’ and ‘I know the way out’ is what I mean by positional depth in this context. In the context of a shared tradition we recognise similar human needs that are culturally embedded and socially constituted, in a way we cannot by a personal pick and mix approach.

The integrity of a religious tradition is that it places obstacles in your path that you are obliged to overcome on that path if you want to grow, and cannot eschew by casually rejecting the path and going on to another. I don’t quite feel I have nailed it, but I think this might be the ‘it’ that De Botton doesn’t seem to ‘get’.
* * * * * * *
Finally, here is an article from The Guardian (UK), the article is based on an interview.

Alain de Botton: a life in writing

'The nirvana would be if the questions raised by Oprah Winfrey would be answered by the faculty at Harvard', Friday 20 January 2012 

Alain de Botton
De Botton: 'Is the purpose of rocket science to ask questions about rockets?' 
Photograph: Eamonn McCabe
"My dad was a slightly stricter version of Richard Dawkins," says Alain de Botton. "The worldview was that there are idiots out there who believe in Santa Claus and fairies and magic and elves and we're not joining that nonsense." In his new book, Religion for Atheists, he recalls his father reducing his sister Miel to tears by "trying to dislodge her modestly held notion that a reclusive god might dwell somewhere in the universe. She was eight at the time." It's one of few passages in his unremittingly mellifluous and genteel oeuvre that sticks out with something like anger.

Before the interview, his publicists warned that De Botton didn't want to talk about Gilbert de Botton, Egyptian-born secular Jew and multimillionaire banker. He was especially keen not to discuss his father's business dealings and the repeated suggestion that his literary career was bankrolled with daddy's money.

But asking about De Botton's father is irresistible because Religion for Atheists is, he readily concedes, an oedipal book. "I'm rebelling," he says. "I'm trying to find my way back to the babies that have been thrown out with the bathwater." He's elsewhere described his father as "a cruel tyrant as a domestic figure, hugely overbearing". He was also surely crushingly impressive – the former head of Rothschild Bank who established Global Asset Management in 1983 with £1m capital and sold it to UBS in 1999 for £420m, a collector of late Picassos, the austere figure depicted in portraits by both Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon and an atheist who thrived without religion's crutch.

"He was extreme. I think it was a generational thing." And yet Gilbert, who died in 2000, now lies beneath a Hebrew headstone in a Jewish cemetery in Willesden, north-west London because, as his son writes pointedly, "he had, intriguingly, omitted to make more secular arrangements".

Disappointingly, Alain doesn't explore in book or interview what intrigued him about that omission.

Instead, he connects his father's militant atheism to the affliction that he reckons made Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens so caustic in their bestselling attacks on religion. "I've got a generational theory about this. Particularly if you're a man over 55 or so, perhaps something bad happened to you at the hands of religion – you came across a corrupt priest, you were bored at school, your parents forced it down your throat. Few of the younger generation feel that way. By the time I came around – I'm 42 – religion was a joke.

"I don't think I would have written this book if I'd grown up in Saudi Arabia as a woman. It's a European book in the sense that we're living in a society where religion is on the back foot. It rarely intruded on my life."

This isn't quite true. In his mid 20s, De Botton had a crisis of faithlessness when exposed to Bach's cantatas, Bellini's Madonnas and Zen architecture. What was the crisis about? "It was guilt about my father. I was disturbed by the intensity of the feeling. Bach was moving, but not just because of music but because this guy was talking in a tremulous voice about death. Secular culture tells us to respect Bach, but it doesn't tell us that we're going to be moved. I felt like I might go to the other side."

He didn't. Rather, in Religion for Atheists, he writes as a non-believer cherry-picking the world's religions. "I guess my insight was: 'What is there here that's useful, that we can steal?'" 
Read the whole article.

There's more to read at The Guardian on De Botton.

Research - Being ignored hurts, even by a stranger

This research summary (a press release from the Association for Psychological Science) looks at how humans need to feel included - even something as simple as eye contact from a stranger can help meet that need, or when it is absent, make us feel less connected.

If we can feel that bad when strangers do not acknowledge us, imagine then how bad it feels when our partners or friends ignore us.

Imagine even more so how much damage is done when we grow up families where we are ignored, dismissed, and otherwise not validated. A LOT of the people I see in counseling have grown up in families like this, and the damage to the sense of self is tremendous.

(Medical Xpress) -- Feeling like you’re part of the gang is crucial to the human experience. All people get stressed out when we’re left out. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that a feeling of inclusion can come from something as simple as eye contact from a stranger.

Psychologists already know that humans have to feel connected to each other to be happy. A knitting circle, a church choir, or a friendly neighbor can all feed that need for connection. Eric D. Wesselmann of Purdue University wanted to know just how small a cue could help someone feel connected. He cowrote the study with Florencia D. Cardoso of the Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata in Argentina, Samantha Slater of Ohio University, and Kipling D. Williams of Purdue. “Some of my coauthors have found, for example, that people have reported that they felt bothered sometimes even when a stranger hasn’t acknowledged them,” Wesselmann says. He and his authors came up with an experiment to test that.

The study was carried out with the cooperation of people on campus at Purdue University. A research assistant walked along a well-populated path, picked a subject, and either met that person’s eyes, met their eyes and smiled, or looked in the direction of the person’s eyes, but past them—past an ear, for example, “looking at them as if they were air,” Wesselmann says. When the assistant had passed the person, he or she gave a thumbs-up behind the back to indicate that another experimenter should stop that person. The second experimenter asked, “Within the last minute, how disconnected do you feel from others?”

People who had gotten eye contact from the research assistant, with or without a smile, felt less disconnected than people who had been looked at as if they weren’t there.

“These are people that you don’t know, just walking by you, but them looking at you or giving you the air gaze—looking through you—seemed to have at least momentary effect,” Wesselmann says. Other research has found that even being ostracized by a group you want nothing to do with, like the Ku Klux Klan, can make people feel left out, so it’s not surprising that being pointedly ignored can have the same effect. “What we find so interesting about this is that now we can further speak to the power of human social connection,” Wesselmann says. “It seems to be a very strong phenomenon.”

Provided by the Association for Psychological Science

Friday, February 03, 2012

Joseph Gelfer - 2012: Between Critical and Visionary Thinking

Noted and recommended . . . via Reality Sandwich. There is additional info and linkage related to the book at the RS site.

2012: Between Critical and Visionary Thinking

My new book 2012: Decoding the Countercultural Apocalypse is the first interdisciplinary collection of scholarly analyses of the 2012 phenomenon. The book kicks off with an introduction from Michael Coe, who some argue started off the whole story in his 1966 book The Maya. It then goes on to chart what we know from the context of the Maya (Robert K. Sitler and Mark Van Stone), the cultural roots of esoteric and stigmatized 2012 thought (John. W. Hoopes and Pete Lentini), how 2012 employs pseudoscience (Kristine Larsen), a reading of Roland Emmerich’s 2012 (Andrea Austin), and an exploration of psy-trance as a vehicle for 2012 (Graham St John). The book concludes with a chapter from John Major Jenkins who writes about how he finds his work to be misrepresented by academic critics. My own contribution to the book looks at how 2012 is imagined down under, within the context of Australia and New Zealand.
The big question, of course, is why do we need yet another book about 2012? For me, it is about creating a space in 2012 discourse that is representative of what I perceive to be the truth. This is not as easy as it sounds, as for years I have found approaches to 2012 either too flaky or too skeptical. I never feel as if I belong in any particular camp when discussing 2012. Further still, I am continually surprised at the responses I receive to my position: for example, at the Atheist Society where I expected my “critical thinking” talk to be warmly accepted, I was publicly called a “parasite” for not denouncing the whole 2012 phenomenon as a dangerous cult; at the “new age” MindBodySpirit Festival, where I expected the same talk to be met with some hostility, a woman came up to me and said she wished I could be cloned so everyone could hear my balanced message.
And it is balance that is the elusive element, and the key to balance is honesty. What I find missing in most popular 2012 books is honesty, or, to be more accurate, honesty about the type of statements that are being made. For example, it bothers me greatly that various 2012 writers have used and abused indigenous cultures on their 2012 journey. Numerous indigenous “prophecies” cited in 2012 books are simply not true: they are either made up or gross misrepresentations of a genuine prophecy. Similarly, one finds all manner of statements in 2012 books about solar and astronomical activity that is allegedly supported by NASA, when in fact NASA has spent a good deal of effort refuting pseudoscientific claims about such things.
That’s not to say that there are not interesting and important things to be learned through such statements, simply that they have to be appropriately framed. Such statements are speculative, metaphorical or poetic. But they are not facts, and they are not research, and to present them as such exposes the author either as inept or dishonest. This becomes even trickier to navigate when different categories of statement are made on the same pages. One might read of an individual who believes they are a reincarnation of some Mesoamerican deity who will usher in a new world order, and then a few paragraphs later about some practical strategy for making the world a better place: When critics point to the problematic nature of the former statement, apologists point to the very reasonable nature of the latter statement. And so the game of categorical cat and mouse continues, which ultimately does no justice to the real value of visionary thinking.
Equally, there is dishonesty amongst the 2012 writings that seek solely to debunk. This Richard Dawkins-type worldview rightly exposes the false nature of the “facts” that are presented in popular 2012 writings, but completely misses the fact that there are different forms of meaning in operation. It is entirely possible, for example, to reject the fanciful facts surrounding 2012 while taking very seriously the existential ultimate concerns that underpin many people’s interest in 2012. And of course, it is entirely possible to see those fanciful facts not as verifiable in any traditional sense, but as creative endeavors mobilized in a process of meaning-making in this wild ride that is life. To miss that “fact” ultimately does no justice to the real value of critical thinking.
So it was my aim with 2012: Decoding the Countercultural Apocalypse to strike some balance between visionary and critical thinking. From the outside, this may appear significantly weighted towards critical thinking. Certainly, there are one or two chapters that operate in debunking mode. Equally, there are several chapters that are simply seeking to read 2012 as a cultural artifact. There are also one or two chapters that are supportive of the way 2012 is engaged by some constituencies.
No doubt there are plenty of people involved with both Reality Sandwich and the academy who believe they have the visionary/critical balance right; however, I simply do not see much evidence. To reiterate, I have found approaches to 2012 either too flaky or too skeptical. On my journey to 2012 I have found the task of keeping visionary and critical thinking in productive tension a difficult but necessary task, and I believe it is only through this process that we will manifest the kind of change that most of us wish to see.

Teaser image by Abode of Chaos, courtesy of Creative Commons license. 

B. Alan Wallace, PhD - Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic

This is a cool excerpt from B. Alan Wallace's new book, Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplation - this was posted at Noetic Now, February, 2012, from the Institute of Noetic Sciences.

Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic

“Among scientists and Buddhists, there are many who are willing to question their most deeply rooted assumptions in terms of both beliefs and valid methods of inquiry.” — Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic

The establishment of the Church Scientific [a term coined by biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–95), one of the founders of the journal Nature] in the late nineteenth century was an attempt to replace Christianity and all other religions with a new, all-encompassing vision of reality. With the many advances of science since the sixteenth century, the role of God in nature was replaced by a series of scientific discoveries, first in the fields of physics and astronomy, then in geology, and finally in biology. Only those areas that could not be explained scientifically were left to theology and a “God of the gaps.” At the start of the twenty-first century, many believed that there was simply no need for God or religion of any kind to explain the whole of the natural world.

The historical development that has resulted in this triumph of the scientific worldview began with the first great scientific revolution in the physical sciences, launched by Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. The second great revolution took place in the biological sciences, ignited by Darwin and Wallace’s theory of natural selection. Only after these two great scientific developments was a science of the mind initiated in the late nineteenth century. In light of this historical evolution of science, it was inevitable that the Church Scientific would come to insist that all mental phenomena emerge solely from biological processes, that all of life emerged from inorganic physical processes, and that the universe as a whole inexplicably emerged from a mindless, lifeless singularity at the dawn of time.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the methods and theories of physics were well established as the dominant paradigm for the natural sciences as a whole. So it was only “natural” for biologists to conclude that life originally formed from the inorganic stuff that is the domain of physics. And by the time the mind sciences began to develop, psychologists, behaviorists, and cognitive neuroscientists naturally concluded that the mind is formed from the organic matter that is the domain of biology. In the scientific worldview, the universe began with the emergence of lifeless, unconscious configurations of matter and energy; over the course of billions of years, these gave rise to living organisms, which gradually evolved into conscious, sentient beings. Although many fundamental questions remain concerning the origins of life and of consciousness, scientists take a “matter-of-the-gaps” approach, assuming that any future discoveries will necessarily take place within their familiar, materialistic framework. Anything else is unthinkable.
 Read the whole article/excerpt.

2012 Online Consciousness Conference

If it's February, it must be time for the annual Online Conference Conference. There is a ton of good stuff - as always - including an invited talk from Bernard Baars, originator of Global Workspace Theory.

The papers can be found here.

Consciousness Online Program - 2012

The fourth online consciousness conference is scheduled to take place February 17-March 2, 2012. This years’ contributed papers (not commentaries) can be found here: [link]. Feel free to read them before the conference begins but don’t forget to come back February 17th to join in the discussion!

Invited Talk
Bernard Baars, The Neuroscience Institute
Global Workspace Theory: Six Necessary Conditions for Consciousness

Special Session on Attention, Awareness, and Expectation organized by the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behavior
  1. Floris P. de Lange, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior
    Shaping perception by attention and expectation
  2. Jacqueline Gottlieb, Columbia University
    Decision mechanisms for attention
  3. Marisa Carrasco, NYU
    Attention Alters Perception
Special Session on Action Consciousness organized by Myrto Mylopoulos, The Graduate Center CUNY

  1. Élisabeth Pacherie, Institut Jean Nicod
    Time to Act: The Dynamics of Agency
  2. Chris Frith, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging
    Explaining Delusions of Control: The Comparator Model 20 Years On
Special Session on the Developmental Conditions of Self Consciousness organized by James Dow, Hendrix College
  1. Radu J. Bogdan, Tulane University
    Self-Consciousness: Executive Design, Sociocultural Grounds
      Kyle Ferguson Gradiate Center, CUNY
      Robert Lurz, Brooklyn College, CUNY 
  2. Peter Carruthers, University of Maryland Evolving Self-Consciousness
      Joel Smith, University of Manchester
      JeeLoo Liu, California State University, Fullerton
Contributed Sessions
  1. Katalin Balog, Rutgers University Newark Psychology, Neuroscience, and the Consciousness Dilemma
    Bénédicte Veillet, University of Michigan-Flint
    Elizabeth Schechter, Washington University St. Louis 
  2. Wesley Buckwalter, The Graduate Center, CUNY & Mark Phelan, Lawrence University Does the S&M Robot Feel Guilty?
    Justin Sytsma, East Tennessee State University 
  3. Glenn Carruthers, Macquarie University and Elizabeth Schier, Macquarie University & Berlin School of Mind Brain Dissolving the Hard Problem of Consciousness
    Janet Levin, University of Southern California
    Ellen Fridland, Berlin School of Mind and Brain & Humboldt University of Berlin
    Jennifer Matey, Florida International University 
  4. Pete Mandik, William Paterson University Conscious-State Anti-Realism
    Alex Kiefer, The Gratuate Center, CUNY
    Daniel Kostic, Berlin School of Mind and Brain 
  5. Barbara Montero, The Graduate Center, CUNY Must Physicalism Entail the Supervienence of the Mental on the Physical?
    Robert Howell, Southern Methodist University
    Gene Witmer, University of Florida
    Frank Jackson, Australia National University & Princeton University 
  6. Adrienne Prettyman, University of Toronto Empty Thoughts: An Explanatory Problem for Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness
    Richard Brown, LaGuardia College, CUNY 
  7. John Schwenkler, Mount St. Mary’s University Vision, Self-Location, and the Phenomenology of the ’Point of View’
    Kranti Saran, Harvard & Jawaharlal Nehru University
    James Stazicker, NYU
    John Campbell, UC Berkeley 
  8. Miguel Sebastian, University of Barcelona Experiential Awareness: Do You Prefer It to Me?

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Authors@Google: Rich DeMillo - Abelard to Apple (The Future of Higher Education)

Rich DeMillo believes the current higher education system is obsolete and needs to be changed - drastically - to bring it into the 21st century. He offers Apple's iTunes U and MIT's OpenCourseWare as examples of where higher education needs to look for a model of reform. His book is Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities.

Abelard to Apple
The vast majority of American college students attend two thousand or so private and public institutions that might be described as the Middle--reputable educational institutions, but not considered equal to the elite and entrenched upper echelon of the Ivy League and other prestigious schools. Richard DeMillo has a warning for these colleges and universities in the Middle: If you do not change, you are heading for irrelevance and marginalization. In Abelard to Apple, DeMillo argues that these institutions, clinging precariously to a centuries-old model of higher education, are ignoring the social, historical, and economic forces at work in today's world. In the age of iTunes, open source software, and for-profit online universities, there are new rules for higher education. DeMillo, who has spent years in both academia andin industry, explains how higher education arrived at its current parlous state and offers a road map for the twenty-first century. He describes the evolving model for higher education, from European universities based on a medieval model to American land-grant colleges to Apple's iTunes U and MIT's OpenCourseWare. He offers ten rules to help colleges reinvent themselves (including "Don't romanticize your weaknesses") and argues for a focus on teaching undergraduates. DeMillo's message--for colleges and universities, students, alumni, parents, employers, and politicians--is that any college or university can change course if it defines a compelling value proposition (one not based in "institutional envy" of Harvard and Berkeley) and imagines an institution that delivers it. 

Documentary - Reality and the Extended Mind

I'm not quite sure what to make of this video - my gut tells me that this is another misrepresentation of real science. There is a lot of validity to the extended mind philosophy, but I am not convinced that it leads to believing that awareness/consciousness (of the human variety) is foundational in our universe - but Buddhism has claimed our minds are extensions of the Universe for 2500 years or more.
Our culture is on the verge of an astonishing breakthrough; that awareness is the true currency of reality and that our minds are an extension of the cosmos.

This non-profit documentary is loosely based on a much more in-depth book, Reality and the Extended Mind. This book embarks on a journey through research from a range of scientific fields that now indicate the necessity of a radical new understanding of consciousness and reality. This landmark book will be published through the International Consciousness Research Laboratories Press (ICRL) this year (2012).

For more information subscribe to my newsletter at Adrian D Nelson.
Here is more information from Nelson's website:
-Adrian D. Nelson is a philosopher, journalist, author and documentary filmmaker and from Nottingham, England. His professional interests are in consciousness, its origins and its apparently extended characteristics. He is a member of the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE), the International Consciousness Research Laboratories (ICRL) and the PEAR Tree. As an author, he explores the sociological and philosophical implications of modern scientific research within these areas.-                                                                                                                                                              
Adrian’s book Reality and the Extended Mind will soon be released.                                                                                                     
Does all consciousness share a single origin? What is the nature of reality?

In this book we embark on a journey through  modern scientific research from a range of fields that calls for a radical new understanding of consciousness and reality. We will investigate the far-reaching implications of this research to our understanding of reality and to our selves as developing social beings.

This is an area often misunderstood and misrepresented. This book explores the emergence of a new paradigm of consciousness in an open-minded yet rational manner, allowing the reader to grasp the concepts and implications.

Our culture is on the verge of an astonishing breakthrough; that awareness is the true currency of reality and that our minds are an extension of the cosmos.

Here is the introduction to the short documentary from Top Documentary Films.

Reality and the Extended Mind

Reality and the Extended MindFrom the author: The inspiration came from many years of personal research into a range of scientific fields including consciousness and psi research, psychology, biology, cosmology, quantum physics and philosophy of mind.

This documentary focuses on experiments exploring what is known by researchers as psi phenomena. These are anomalous extended properties of consciousness that have been measured under experimental conditions by highly qualified scientists.

Their existence signal far-reaching implications to our understanding of both consciousness and reality itself.

The Reality and the Extended Mind documentary is loosely based on a highly researched and in-depth book by the same title.

Watch the full documentary now (playlist – 34 minutes)

Bookforum - Social contract theory for Occupiers

Another collection of links related to the #Occupy movement from the folks at Bookforum.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Kenneth Folk - Enlightenment for the Rest of Us

Enlightenment for the Rest of Us

This video is from last year's Buddhist Geeks conference - Kenneth Folk talks here about enlightenment (or its pursuit) by people who have lives and families. You can read the transcript at the site if you's prefer not to watch/listen.

Enlightenment for the Rest of Us

The following video took place at the Buddhist Geeks Conference in 2011, and was part of a series of live talks, each 20 minutes in length.

Talk Description: Drawing from Buddhism, neuroscience, and personal experience, Kenneth Folk explains that enlightenment is a natural aspect of human development that is available to everyone.

Open Culture - 30 Renowned Writers Speaking About God & Reason

This is very cool - and of course it comes from Open Culture, the curators of cool on the web. Some of the writers featured include Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Iain Banks, Roddy Doyle, and no collection would be complete without Christopher Hitchens.

Enjoy - this is frequently fascinating.

As an added bonus, in the summary below, there are links to a two part video of 100 academics, mostly scientists, talking about their perspectives on God and reason.

30 Renowned Writers Speaking About God & Reason

January 30th, 2012

This past summer, Jonathan Pararajasingham, a neurosurgeon in London, created a montage of 100 renowned academics, mostly all scientists, talking about their thoughts on the existence of God. (Find it in two parts here and here.) Now’s he back with a new video, 30 Renowned Writers Speaking About God. It runs 25 minutes, and it offers as much a critique of orthodox religious belief as it does a literary tribute to humanism and rationalism. Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Salman Rushdie (who kindly tweeted us this weekend), Margaret Atwood, Philip Roth — they all make an appearance. The full list of writers appears below the jump.

And, before we close, let me say this. Whenever we post videos like these, we get the question. Why the occasional focus on atheism/rationalism/humanism? And the simple answer comes down to this: If you cover writers, academics and scientists, the thinking skews in that direction. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are in shorter supply. But if someone pulls them together and makes a montage, we’ll likely feature it too. H/T

Note: As you may have noticed, we have been experiencing intermittent outages over the past couple of days. Our host, Dreamhost, has been stumbling more than we’d like. So we’re figuring out alternatives and hopefully making a move soon. Our apologies for the inconvenience!

1. Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Science Fiction Writer
2. Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Laureate in Literature
3. Professor Isaac Asimov, Author and Biochemist
4. Arthur Miller, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright
5. Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate in Literature
6. Gore Vidal, Award-Winning Novelist and Political Activist
7. Douglas Adams, Best-Selling Science Fiction Writer
8. Professor Germaine Greer, Writer and Feminist
9. Iain Banks, Best-Selling Fiction Writer
10. José Saramago, Nobel Laureate in Literature
11. Sir Terry Pratchett, NYT Best-Selling Novelist
12. Ken Follett, NYT Best-Selling Author
13. Ian McEwan, Man Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
14. Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate (1999-2009)
15. Professor Martin Amis, Award-Winning Novelist
16. Michel Houellebecq, Goncourt Prize-Winning French Novelist
17. Philip Roth, Man Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
18. Margaret Atwood, Booker Prize-Winning Author and Poet
19. Sir Salman Rushdie, Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
20. Norman MacCaig, Renowned Scottish Poet
21. Phillip Pullman, Best-Selling British Author
22. Dr Matt Ridley, Award-Winning Science Writer
23. Harold Pinter, Nobel Laureate in Literature
24. Howard Brenton, Award-Winning English Playwright
25. Tariq Ali, Award-Winning Writer and Filmmaker
26. Theodore Dalrymple, English Writer and Psychiatrist
27. Roddy Doyle, Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
28. Redmond O’Hanlon FRSL, British Writer and Scholar
29. Diana Athill, Award-Winning Author and Literary Editor
30. Christopher Hitchens, Best-Selling Author, Award-Winning Columnist

Stuart Kauffman - On The Inadequacy Of The Empiricist Tradition In Western Philosophy

This post from Stuart Kauffman comes from NPR's 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog. Here is a possible thesis: "Without being and doing, no knowing could have emerged in evolution. The empiricist tradition misses this central issue, thus is deeply inadequate."
I find myself beginning to realize that the philosophy that I studied, from Descartes to Hume to Kant to Russell to logical positivism and the early Wittgenstein, and perhaps the late Wittgenstein of the Investigations, is seriously inadequate.

It starts with Descartes who conceived of his task to be a lone mind who would doubt all that could be doubted to find that which could not be doubted about what that single mind can know about the world. The emphasis is on "knowing."

Then we come to Hume of the Scottish Enlightenment, essaying to understand "Human Understanding." How can we know the world? By sense impressions, welded together in "bundles," in which the "self," or "I," itself disappears as just a bundle of perceptions: roughly, "all I am aware of is a jumble of sequential awareness," I am aware of no 'I'."
 Kant seeks the conditions of knowing in the inner conditions of the mind, categories of perception such as space and time. He considers the phenomenal world we can know and behind it the noumenal world we can never know.

Russell brings us sense data such as "red here" and the tone, "A flat now," then sense data statements, "For Kauffman, 'red here' is true," and hopes that his recently developed predicate calculus working on sense data statements will allow philosophers to build a maximally reliable way of knowing the world, constructed out of sense data statements linked by logic, including quantifiers such as "there exists" and "for all."

To early Wittgenstein's famous "Tractatus": "The world is the collection of true facts" about that world.

On to logical positivism: "Only those statements (about the world) are meaningful which are empirically verifiable," which, ironically drove Western philosophy, yet whose founding statement just noted is not itself empirically verifiable.

The "empiricist tradition" sought and seeks to elucidate how we know the world.

What is wrong?

In the beginning, 5 billion years ago, no life existed on the forming planet. Either life started here or arrived from elsewhere. Let's assume the former. As a concrete working hypothesis let's take collectively autocatalytic sets of polymers like peptide sets, RNA sets, or DNA sets, all realized experimentally, in some bounding membrane like a liposome. For example Gonen Ashkenazi has a 9 peptide (small protein) collectively autocatalytic set reproducing happily in his Ben Gurion University lab.

So what?

So existing as a self reproducing system in a universe that is non-ergodic, (not repeating) above the level of atoms, where most complex things will never exist, is the first condition of life. "Knowing" is not yet a condition.

But that protocell typically lived in an environment with toxic and food molecules. By hook or crook, say by semipermiable membranes, the protocell "discriminated" poison from food and admitted only the latter, thanks to natural selection on evolving protocells.

We now have the rudiments of agency and knowing. The protocell evolved to do something, i.e., discriminate and admit food and block poison. This discrimination required rudimentary "knowing" and hence "semantics", without invoking consciousness.

What the empiricist tradition entirely misses is living existence and agency. Without the existence of the protocell, there is no evolutionary point in knowing. Without agency there is no use in knowing. Suppose, per contra, that the protocell could discriminate poison from food, but could not selectively block the first and admit the second. It would fail natural selection's harsh sieve.

Without being and doing, no knowing could have emerged in evolution. The empiricist tradition misses this central issue, thus is deeply inadequate.

In summary of this first point: Without being and agency, knowing is both pointless and would not arise in evolution.

Not only do we not know what will happen, we often do not even know what can happen.

But the empiricist tradition runs into a still deeper problem. In past posts I have discussed Darwinian preadaptations, where we cannot prestate their emergence in evolution. This has led my colleagues, senior mathematician, Giuseppe Longo, his post doctoral fellow, Mael Montevil, both of the Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, and myself to submit a paper also posted on ArXiv, entitled, "No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution of the biosphere."

This article is radical. It claims that no law entails the evolution of the biosophere. The grounds for this include the fact that we cannot prestate the ever newly emerging relevant variables in evolution that selection reveals, therefore the very phase space of evolution changes in ways we cannot know beforehand, so we can write no laws of motion for the evolving biosphere, nor, lacking knowledge of the boundary conditions, could we integrate those laws of motion even were to to have them.

These deep issues mean that often not only do we not know what will happen, as when we flip a fair coin 10,000 times and do not know how many heads will come up, but here know all the possible outcomes, so can construct a probability measure. In evolution we do not even know what can emerge in the Adjacent Possible of the becoming of evolution, so can construct no probability measure for we do not know the sample space of all the possibilities, thus not only do we not know what will happen, we do not even know what can happen.

The empiricist tradition is ignorant of this profound limitation to knowledge "beforehand" as the biosphere "becomes."

Even pragmatism, which seeks to unify knowing and doing, falls prey to this last issue: We often do not even know what can happen. Pragmatism takes no account of this feature of our living world.

Hume famously argued that one cannot deduce "ought" from "is." This is the naturalistic fallacy. But Hume is thinking only of a knowing subject, firmly in the empiricist tradition started by Descartes. Hume ignores agency.

I wrote an entire book, Investigations, attempting to define agency. My try: "A molecular autonomous agent is a self-reproducing system able to do at least one work cycle."

A bacterium swimming up a glucose gradient for food is an agent, reproduces and the rotating flagella is just one of the work cycles the bacterium does. All living cells fulfill the above definition.

But once there is agency, ought enters the universe. If the bacterium is to successfully get food, it "ought" to e.g., swim up the sugar gradient. Without attributing consciousness, one cannot have "actings" without "doing them wisely or poorly," hence ought.

In short, the empiricist tradition, in ignoring agency, wishes to block us from "ought," when we cannot have doing without "ought." The root of the issue is "doing" versus merely "happening," a topic in a near future post.

We need to rethink many problems in philosophy to take account of the issues above.

Upaya Dharma Podcasts - Awakening to Buddha Nature - Whole Series

This is an interesting and informative series from Upaya Zen Center. There are 18 parts, so I am only sharing the first link - the rest of thinks are below.

John Dunne & Beate Stolte: 01-18-12: Awakening to Buddha Nature (Part 1)

Speakers: John Dunne & Beate Stolte
Recorded: Wednesday Jan 18, 2012

Series Description: The continuity between ordinary consciousness and the fully awake state of Buddhahood is called Tathagatagarbha or “Buddha Nature.” What is this “Buddha Nature”, and how can it be actualized in one’s everyday experience? Asking these and other questions, and using various modes of inquiry to do so, we will explore what is essential to the realization of Buddha Nature. We will consider what is already known about this Buddha principle in various traditions, the ways we know, as well as the emotional framework of that knowledge.

During the retreat John Dunne will teach Buddhist Philosophy and the Dharma in his brilliant and humorous way, which makes it easily accessible for western practitioners. This retreat is appropriate for beginners and long-time practitioners. Sensei Beate will lead morning and evening meditation and will give meditation instructions.

John Dunne is an associate professor in the Department of Religion at Emory University, where he is Co-Director of the Encyclopedia of Contemplative Practices and the Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies. He was educated at the Amherst College and Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. from the Committee on the Study of Religion in 1999. 

His work focuses on various aspects of Buddhist philosophy and contemplative practice. In Foundations of Dharmakirti’s Philosophy (2004), he examines the most prominent Buddhist theories of perception, language, inference and justification. His current research includes an inquiry into the notion of “mindfulness” in both classical Buddhist and contemporary contexts, and he is also engaged in a study of Candrakirti’s “Prasannapada”, a major Buddhist philosophical work on the metaphysics of “emptiness” and “selflessness.” His recently published work includes an essay on neuroscience and meditation co-authored with Richard J. Davidson and Antoine Lutz. He frequently serves as a translator for Tibetan scholars, and as a consultant, he appears on the roster of several ongoing scientific studies of Buddhist contemplative practices.

Sensei Beate Genko Stolte is a Zen teacher and the first Dharma successor of Roshi Joan Halifax in the lineage of Taizan Maezumi Roshi. Born in Germany, she has practiced Zen for more than 20 years and was priest-ordained in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (“Zen Mind, Beginners Mind”). She has degrees in business administration and fiscal law. She has lived, practiced, and taught in Zen Buddhist communities in the United States, Switzerland and Germany and visited Japan for Zen Buddhist studies. As a co-founder of a German Buddhist Study Center, she served as president of the board for ten years as well as director.

To access the entire series, please click on the link below:

Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: All 18 Parts


Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: All 18 Parts

Recorded: Sunday Jan 29, 2012

The 18 part series Awakening to Buddha Nature is now published. Also, please note that the Jan 18th dharma talk (episode # 561, titled: Faith and Reason) was an introduction to this series.

You can access the desired part of the series by clicking on its link below:

Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 1
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 2
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 3
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 4
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 5
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 6
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 7
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 8
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 9
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 10
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 11
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 12
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 13
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 14a
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 14b
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 15
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 16
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 17
Awakening to Buddha Nature Series: Part 18

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Salon - So what if America is the most religious nation?

In this article, Salon author Bernard Starr argues that while America may be the most religious nation in the developed world, that is hardly represented in how we treat our citizens. In all fairness, this is more an indictment of our government than our churches - at the local level the churches do a lot to help the weak and the poor, but the Federal Government does very little anymore in this realm, mostly as a result of Republican politics.

The real challenge is to balance being like Jesus in our caring for the weak and the poor with the fact the government is not always the best way to do this, especially when the federal budget is bloated and debt-ridden.

So what if America is the most religious nation?

if you compare creed and deed, the claim is hollow

America the religious
Polls consistently tell us that America is the most religious nation in the industrialized world. More that 90 percent of our population say they believe in God, and that they pray regularly. The figure may even be higher when adding the majority of Americans who claim to be atheists but pray, one-third of them often, according to a Baylor University survey.

A Rice University study of 275 scientists at 21 “elite” research universities in the United States found that while 61 percent declared themselves atheists or agnostics, 17 percent have attended church services. Whether genuine devotees, just hedging their bets or doing it for the children (as some say), there’s little doubt that America is a religious nation.

But does professing religious beliefs translate into acting in accord with religious principles? Isn’t behavior the true test? In his New Testament epistle, James expressed the Christian view that “faith without works is dead.” Similarly, Judaism calls for “mitzvahs” — good deeds. And Islam requires acts of charity. Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson offered this challenging formula for sincerity: “Go put your creed into your deed.”

How do creed and deed match up? The 2011 report card for religious America.

More people are slipping into poverty in the United States. The Associated Press recently reported that the U.S. poverty rate rose to a new record of 49.9 million — 16 percent of the U.S. population — based on a more comprehensive Census Bureau measure of poverty. That’s a leap over the 46.2 million previously reported, which was called the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on poverty.

The number of working poor continues to increase. Today, nearly 1 out of every 3 families in the United States is considered to be “low income” According to the just released 2010-2011 policy brief of the ”Working Poor Families Project” the number of working poor in the United States is higher than ever before seen and “continues to increase at a staggering pace.”

Statistics from the Coalition for the Homeless reveal that 3.5 million Americans are homeless each year with 730,000 homeless on any given night. Of that number, 100,000 are homeless veterans. And children make up 23 percent of the homeless on any given night. Also, 770,000 homeless children are registered in public education systems.
Keep reading - the statistics are staggeringly bad.

Donna Orange - Beyond Instinct & Intellect: Modern Psychoanalysis

I posted this video a while back, but I just watched it again - Donna Orange has been one of the theorists most closely aligned with Robert Stolorow and his intersubjective systems theory of psychoanalysis (see Working Intersubjectively: Contextualism in Psychoanalytic Practice, with Stolorow and George Atwood).

A major aspect of the new model of psychoanalysis that Orange and Stolorow (and others) work with is the intersubjective relational elements of development and adult relationships, especially as it manifests in the therapeutic alliance. In this perspective, the therapist is no longer a blank slate onto whom the client projects transferences and "hidden drives," but rather, an integral part of the therapeutic dyad, a participant with the client in healing developmental wounds.

Beyond Instinct & Intellect: Modern Psychoanalysis from The New School on

Beyond Instinct & Intellect: Modern Psychoanalysis
George Hagman, author of Aesthetic Experience: Beauty, Creativity, Donna Orange, author of Emotional Understanding, and Thinking for Clinicians, debate the future of psychoanalysis.

They ask whether or not a cross-disciplinary approach is possible in approaching psychotherapy.

George Hagman

George Hagman is the author of Aesthetic Experience: Beauty, Creativity and the Search for the Ideal, and is faculty at National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis. He has published numerous articles. He is the director of Clinical Outpatient Services, Southwest Connecticut Mental Health System.

Dr. Donna Orange

Donna Ornage is Faculty, Training, and Supervising Analyst at Institute for the Specialization of Relational Psychoanalytic Psychology in Rome, as well as faculty and supervising analyst at The Institute for the Study of Subjectivity in New York. She has co-authored two works, Worlds of Experience (2002), and Working Intersubjectively, as well as authored on her own, Emotional Understanding, and Thinking for Clinicians.

Musicians@Google: Joshua Bell & Jeremy Denk

Awesome - Joshua Bell is a fabulous musician. I first became aware of his talent through an experiment he participated in for the Washington Post.
Will one of the nation's greatest violinists be noticed in a D.C. Metro stop during rush hour? Joshua Bell experimented for Gene Weingarten's story in The Washington Post (Video by John W. Poole)

Here is the Google video.

Musicians@Google: Joshua Bell & Jeremy Denk
Musicians Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk visit Google's New York, NY office to performed a few selections from their new album "French Impressions." After the performance, Bell and Denk chat with Google's Eileen Naughton about their collaboration.

On their new album "French Impressions," Grammy-award-winning violinist Joshua Bell and his longtime friend and recital partner, pianist Jeremy Denk offer a passionately nuanced interpretation of works by Saint-Saëns, Ravel and Franck. "French Impressions" boasts a number of milestones: it's Bell's first CD of sonatas since joining Sony Classical in 1996; it is Bell and Denk's first recital album together, and it's the first commercial recording made at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

Joshua Bell has enchanted audiences worldwide with his breathtaking virtuosity and tone of rare beauty. His restless curiosity and multifaceted musical interests have taken him in exciting new directions which have earned him the rare title of "classical music superstar." Often referred to as the poet of the violin, Bell is the recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize and is the newly named Music Director of The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Bell first came to national attention at the age of 14 in a highly acclaimed orchestral debut with Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra. His Carnegie Hall debut and a recording contract further confirmed his presence in the music world. Today he is equally at home as a soloist, chamber musician, orchestra leader and composer who performs his own cadenzas to several of the major concerto repertoire.

American pianist Jeremy Denk has steadily built a reputation as one of today's most compelling and persuasive artists with an unusually broad repertoire. He has appeared as soloist with many major orchestras, including the Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, New World, St. Louis, and San Francisco Symphonies, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke's, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and London Philharmonia.