Saturday, February 18, 2012

Jonathan Rowson - The Six Habits of Highly Empathic People

Jonathan Rowson posted this cool article on how to be or become more empathic - it's actually a brief summary of a recent talk at the RSA by Roman Krznaric:
Drawing on his new book, 'The Wonderbox: Curious Histories of How to Live', cultural thinker Roman Krznaric reveals how empathy - the art of stepping into the shoes of another person and seeing the world from their perspective - can not only enrich your own life but also help create social change by helping us challenge prejudices and overcome social divides.

Drawing on everything from the empathy experiments of George Orwell to developments in industrial design, from the struggle against slavery in the eighteenth century to the Middle East crisis today, Roman explores six different ways we can expand our empathic potential.

As soon as the audio is available, I will share it here.

The Six Habits of Highly Empathic People

February 16, 2012 by
At lunchtime I chaired an event with Roman Krznaric that will soon be available to download from our website. In light of the event’s intriguing title, and my current oppressive workload, I wanted just to list the six habits (from scribbles of shifting slides, so not verbatim), and add a little thoughtlet on each of them.

1) Develop curiosity about strangers
Who are all these people? Roman mentioned that people inclined towards empathy typically look for things that bring people together, rather than those that separate them. The next time you see a stranger who looks like a radically different creature, consider the abundance of things you must have in common, by virtue of being human, but also allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised by the differences.

2) Move beyond limiting assumptions
As my mother in law once told me: When we assume, we make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.

3) Play ‘extreme sports’ i.e. take time to experience the lives of others.
As my mother in law once told me: When we assume, we make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’. Roman gave examples of people who had taken extreme measures to learn what it might feel like to be others. Once recent example, close to my heart, is what it feels like to be diabetic.

Another, not mentioned by Roman, was the eighties film ‘Soul Man‘ in which a white student takes tanning pills in order to become eligible for a scholarship reserved for Black students to get into Harvard Law School. There is a great scene near the end, when the whole charade has blown up in which the (Black) professor says: “You have learnt something I could never teach you. You have learnt what it is like to be Black.” To which the chastened student says: “No sir, I don’t really know what it’s like. If I didn’t like it, I could always get out.” To which the professor says: “You have learnt a great deal more than I thought.” I watched that scene over and over when I was about 12 and it made a big impression on me.

4) Cultivate the art of conversation
It’s not completely straightforward to talk to people you don’t know, but I agree that there is an ‘art’ to it…a way of creating a shared adventure without being too intrusive. As with most forms of expertise, practice is no doubt important- the more we do it, the easier it becomes.

5) Inspire Mass Action and Social Change
Roman seemed to be saying that empathy is no mere afterthought, but something that should be at the heart of our social, economic and political decisions. One example he used was climate change, where empathy with those more immediately and directly effected was urgently needed.

6) Be Ambitiously Imaginative.
I forget the heart of this point, but I think it was about not limiting yourself to cultivating empathy in safe and predictable ways e.g. with neighbours or colleagues, but rather to challenge yourself and try to do it with people who are radically different and whom you may not particularly like.

It was a great talk, and well worth a listen when it becomes available.

Metanexus - The Evolution of Personality

From Metanexus, this article is adapted from Raymond Neubauer's new book, Evolution and the Emergent Self: The Rise of Complexity and Behavioral Versatility in Nature. Neubauer looks at chimpanzees, dolphins, corvids (mainly ravens and crows), and elephants for the ways that their differing evolutionary histories have produced some similar cognitive and behavioral skills.

The Evolution of Personality

In my book, Evolution and the Emergent Self, I examine four animal groups with high relative brain size (high brain weight in comparison to body weight), and find that they have a variety of qualities in common even though they have very different evolutionary histories and live in different environments: chimpanzees, dolphins, corvids (mainly ravens and crows), and elephants. There is a remarkable convergence of behavior: They all have long-term relationships and complex societies with "politics" in which two or more individuals may form alliances against others. They appear to consider what others are thinking and can form flexible plans of deception. Hunting can involve different roles for different members that are coordinated with each other. They have complex communication with the possibility of understanding syntax in learned instructions.

Each of these species has a long period of juvenile dependency that allows for a slowly maturing nervous system that is capable of flexibility and innovation into the adult years. The variability of learning creates individual differences between members of a species and local cultural differences between groups. There is insight learning that finds quick solutions to novel problems faster than we would expect from trial and error alone.

At one level, we can simply say a more complex nervous system leads to more complex behavior. But I go further and suggest that there is an emergent self that seeks to express itself in more complex communication and social relationships, and values others of its kind more fully as individuals than do species with smaller relative brain size. We see this in long-term relationships, in what looks like mourning at the death of a conspecific, in helping behavior toward non-relatives, and in forming higher order coalitions in society. Evidence of mirror self-recognition in all four groups fits this picture of an emergent self that views itself and others with greater objectivity.

This emergent self also expresses itself in intricate manipulation of its environment. Each species has high dexterity, but the appendage employed varies widely due to their different evolutionary origins, from a hand to a beak, a trunk, or a flipper. What is constant is a large brain that is expressing itself.

This large brain also appears capable of abstraction. Each of these species is skilled at mimicry, and it could be argued that this involves a concept of the other that serves as a model. It suggests that there is a mental representation of some part of the model, such as its voice or movements, that the individual is trying to match. There also appear to be mental representations in tool making. The termite fishing sticks of chimpanzees and the leaf tools of the New Caledonian crows are made to standardized sizes that suggest preset concepts of length and width. They may then be carried long distances where they are just the right dimensions for the task at hand. This suggests a mental representation of both tool form and the goal of its use.

An emergent self sees with greater objectivity, and it can mix and match categories with high flexibility. It can combine tools in novel ways and formulate new alliances in social life. It seems to view itself with greater objectivity, as evidenced by mirror self-recognition. I suggest a physical basis for this greater objectivity in the hierarchical arrangement of circuits in a large brain. We now know that the brain is modular, with specific areas devoted to specific functions like facial recognition or short-term memory. Animals with high brain-body ratios have more modules that can be devoted to functions beyond just physiological control. A hierarchical arrangement of these modules may lead to higher derivatives from the raw data, resulting in higher levels of objectivity.

Brains as well as genes can store information, and I suggest information content may be the defining quality that distinguishes two paradigm strategies of life. Organisms of high information content in genes or brains take longer to develop for the basic reason that complex things take longer to build than simple things. They have versatility of response built into the individual and can deal with a variety of fluctuations in the environment. They have many of the characteristics of species known in ecology as K- selected: small litters with slow development of the young, allowing a long period for learning, and fairly steady population numbers since individuals have a variety of skills to cope with change.

Organisms of lower information content in genes or brains tend to develop more quickly and are known in ecology as r-selected, opportunistic species. There is less parental investment per individual, but more are produced. They have shorter, less flexible programs, and many individuals may be sacrificed to find the combinations best suited to match new conditions. These individuals can quickly take over an environment so that populations go through characteristic “boom and bust” cycles.

Humans rely on an extreme form of a strategy found repeatedly in nature—the accumulation of information to increase the versatility of response to a changing environment. Programs are encoded not only in genes and brains, but in languages, books, and computers. Our current dominance on the planet, both for good and for ill, testifies to the power of information for mastery over nature. In this sense, human culture is not an anomaly, but an extension of K-selected strategies found repeatedly in nature. It might even be suggested that a species like us is inevitable if the evolutionary process is given enough time to run. All of nature is not laboring toward greater complexity because short programs with quick development are an alternative way of dealing with change. But it may not be too far-fetched to suggest that given the right conditions and enough time, a species like us is in the cards, and the seeds of consciousness are planted within the evolutionary process.

Adapted from Evolution and the Emergent Self by Raymond L. Neubauer. Copyright (c) 2012 Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

Multi-Sensory and Sensorimotor Foundation of Bodily Self-Consciousness – An Interdisciplinary Approach

Cool and geeky neuroscience paper on body-consciousness. The authors review behavioral, brain imaging, and clinical evidence about three aspects of bodily self-consciousness: self-location, first-person perspective, and self-identification.

Multi-sensory and sensorimotor foundation of bodily self-consciousness – an interdisciplinary approach

  • 1 Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 2 Rehabilitation Engineering Laboratory, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 3 Department of Neurology, University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland

Scientific investigations on the nature of the self have so far focused on high-level mechanisms. Recent evidence, however, suggests that low-level bottom-up mechanisms of multi-sensory integration play a fundamental role in encoding specific components of bodily self-consciousness, such as self-location and first-person perspective (Blanke and Metzinger, 2009). Self-location and first-person perspective are abnormal in neurological patients suffering from out-of-body experiences (Blanke et al., 2004), and can be manipulated experimentally in healthy subjects by imposing multi-sensory conflicts (Lenggenhager et al., 2009). Activity of the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) reflects experimentally induced changes in self-location and first-person perspective (Ionta et al., 2011), and dysfunctions in TPJ are causally associated with out-of-body experiences (Blanke et al., 2002). We argue that TPJ is one of the key areas for multi-sensory integration of bodily self-consciousness, that its levels of activity reflect the experience of the conscious “I” as embodied and localized within bodily space, and that these mechanisms can be systematically investigated using state of the art technologies such as robotics, virtual reality, and non-invasive neuroimaging.

Citation: Ionta, S., Gassert, R. & Blanke, O. (2011) Multi-sensory and sensorimotor foundation of bodily self-consciousness – an interdisciplinary approach. Frontiers in Perception Science, 2:383. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00383

Bodily Self

Some of the most important brain systems of humans are dedicated to the maintenance of the balance between the self and the external environment, by processing and integrating many different bodily sensory inputs (visual, auditory, vestibular, somatosensory, motor, visceral, etc.), and providing an online representation of the body in the world (Damasio, 1999; Gallagher, 2005; Jeannerod, 2006; Blanke and Metzinger, 2009). In this view, the body representation in the brain is a complex crossroad where multi-sensory information is compounded in order to build the basis for bodily self-consciousness (Haggard et al., 2003; Jeannerod, 2007; Metzinger, 2008). Many behavioral studies over the last two decades have used techniques imposing multi-sensory conflict as a means to manipulate some components of self-consciousness. For example, the “rubber hand illusion” paradigm showed that by manipulating local aspects of body perception, it is possible to induce an illusory sense of ownership of a fake hand (e.g., Botvinick and Cohen, 1998; Pavani et al., 2000; Ehrsson et al., 2004; Tsakiris and Haggard, 2005; Tsakiris et al., 2007; Aimola Davies et al., 2010). In particular, if participants observe a rubber hand being stroked synchronously with their own (hidden) hand, they tend to report self-attribution of the rubber hand, as if it was their own hand. This illusory self-attribution is often accompanied by a “proprioceptive drift” toward the location of the rubber hand. Specifically, participants report a change in where they feel their real hand to be located (review in Tsakiris, 2010). Similarly, if a participant holds one palm against that of someone else and simultaneously strokes the dorsal side of both her/his own and the other’s index finger, an illusory feeling of numbness for the other person’s finger can be perceived: the so-called “numbness” illusion (Dieguez et al., 2009). Furthermore, it has recently been shown that illusory self-attribution is not limited to the hands, but extends to other body parts including the face (Sforza et al., 2010). For example, the experience of having one’s own face touched whilst simultaneously (the spatial and temporal sense) seeing the same action applied to the face of another, elicits the so-called “enfacement” illusion: that is an illusory sense of face ownership is induced and the other’s facial features are incorporated into the participant’s face (Sforza et al., 2010). All of these findings on illusory self-attribution support the idea that low-level multi-sensory processes can influence bodily self-consciousness. However, the self and bodily self-consciousness is globally associated with the body, rather than with multiple different body parts (Lenggenhager et al., 2007; Metzinger, 2008; Blanke and Metzinger, 2009). Recent behavioral studies showed that, beyond local aspects of body perception and self-attribution (rubber hand illusion, numbness illusion, face illusion), multi-sensory conflicts can also be used to manipulate more global aspects of body perception (Ehrsson, 2007; Lenggenhager et al., 2007, 2009; Petkova and Ehrsson, 2008; Aspell et al., 2009, 2010). These studies showed that it is possible to investigate more global aspects of bodily self-consciousness and described several different components thereof, such as self-location, first-person perspective, and self-identification.
 Read the whole article.

Friday, February 17, 2012

New Book from Allan N. Schore: The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy

In the world of Interpersonal Neurobiology, a new book from Allan Schore is bigger than the original members of Van Halen making a new album (which they have done, by the way). Alongside Daniel Siegel, there is no one more highly regarded in that field than Schore. His new book is The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy (April, 2012), and it joins his four previous books, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development (1994), Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self/Affect Regulation and the Repair of the Self (2003, two-volume set), and Reader's Guide to Affect Regulation and Neurobiology (February 29, 2012).

I have requested a review copy of the newest book and will offer a review when it comes.

Schore combines an incredible understanding of neuroscience with attachment theory, intersubjectivity theory (see Robert Stolorow and George Atwood: Contexts of Being: The Intersubjective Foundations of Psychological Life, 2002), and Self Psychology (a la Heinz Kohut). For anyone interested in a psychodynamic or psychoanalytic approach to therapy, he is required reading in my opinion.

From his personal website (which has a page with many free PDFs of his papers/book chapters), here is a brief bio statement (there's more at his site):
Dr. Allan Schore is on the clinical faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and at the UCLA Center for Culture, Brain, and Development. He is author of three seminal volumes, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self, Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self and Affect Regulation and the Repair of the Self, as well as numerous articles and chapters. His Regulation Theory, grounded in developmental neuroscience and developmental psychoanalysis, focuses on the origin, psychopathogenesis, and psychotherapeutic treatment of the early forming subjective implicit self. His contributions appear in multiple disciplines, including developmental neuroscience, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, developmental psychology, attachment theory, trauma studies, behavioral biology, clinical psychology, and clinical social work. His groundbreaking integration of neuroscience with attachment theory has lead to his description as "the American Bowlby" and with psychoanalysis as "the world's leading expert in neuropsychoanalysis."
Here is the marketing material from Norton's site announcing the book. The email I received says the book is officially publishing on April 2, but is available now directly from Norton at 20% off the list price ($45). Please enter promotion code SCHORE during checkout for the discount. This special offer ends March 31st. Sounds like a good deal.

The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy

Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology

Allan N. Schore (Author, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine)

  • Not Yet Published: Preorder Now
  • Our Retail Price: $45.00

Overview | Contents 

The latest work from a pioneer in the study of the development of the self.

Focusing on the hottest topics in psychotherapy—attachment, developmental neuroscience, trauma, the developing brain—this book provides a window into the ideas of one of the best-known writers on these topics. Following Allan Schore’s very successful books on affect regulation and dysregulation, also published by Norton, this is the third volume of the trilogy. It offers a representative collection of essential expansions and elaborations of regulation theory, all written since 2005.

As in the first two volumes of this series, each chapter represents a further development of the theory at a particular point in time, presented in chronological order. Some of the earlier chapters have been re-edited: those more recent contain a good deal of new material that has not been previously published.

The first part of the book, Affect Regulation Therapy and Clinical Neuropsychoanalysis, contains chapters on the art of the craft, offering interpersonal neurobiological models of the change mechanism in the treatment of all patients, but especially in patients with a history of early relational trauma. These chapters contain contributions on “modern attachment theory” and its focus on the essential nonverbal, unconscious affective mechanisms that lie beneath the words of the patient and therapist; on clinical neuropsychoanalytic models of working with relational trauma and pathological dissociation: and on the use of affect regulation therapy (ART) in the emotionally stressful, heightened affective moments of clinical enactments.

The chapters in the second part of the book on Developmental Affective Neuroscience and Developmental Neuropsychiatry address the science that underlies regulation theory’s clinical models of development and psychopathogenesis. Although most mental health practitioners are actively involved in child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapeutic treatment, a major theme of the latter chapters is that the field now needs to more seriously attend to the problem of early intervention and prevention.
Here is the Table of Contents:


    1. Modern Attachment Theory: The Central Role of Affect Regulation in Development and Treatment (With Judith Schore)

    2. Relational Trauma and the Developing Right Brain: An Interface of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology and Neuroscience

    3. Right Brain Affect Regulation: An Essential Mechanism of Development, Trauma, Dissociation, and Psychotherapy

    4. The Right Brain Implicit Self Lies at the Core of Psychoanalysis

    5. Therapeutic Enactments: Working in Right Brain Windows of Affect Tolerance


    6. Attachment, Affect Regulation, and the Developing Right Brain: Linking Developmental Neuroscience to Pediatrics

    7. How Elephants are Opening Doors: Developmental Neuroethology, Attachment and Social Context (With Gay Bradshaw)

    8. Attachment Trauma and the Developing Right Brain: Origins of Pathological Dissociation

    9. Relational Trauma and the Developing Right Brain: The Neurobiology of Broken Attachment Bonds

    10. Is Borderline Personality Disorder a Particularly Right Hemispheric Disorder? A Study of P3A Using Single Trial Analysis (With Russell Meares and Dmitry Melkonian)

    11. Bowby’s Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness: Recent Studies on the Interpersonal Neurobiology of Attachment and Emotional Development

Fred Luskin on Overcoming the Pain of Intimacy

A cool post from the GreaterGood blog, created by the good folks at UC Berkeley. Fred Luskin is the author of Forgive for Good (2001) and Forgive for Love: The Missing Ingredient for a Healthy and Lasting Relationship (2009), as well as directing the Stanford University Forgiveness Project.
Fred Luskin on Overcoming the Pain of Intimacy
By Fred Luskin

February 11, 2012 

The director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects explores how to cope with the pain of a fight with someone we love.

This month, we feature videos of a Greater Good presentation by Fred Luskin, the director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects. In this excerpt from his talk, Dr. Luskin explores how to cope with the pain of a fight, and still see the good in the people we love.

One of the things that made me a forgiveness teacher was this couple that I worked with a long time ago. I remember the wife telling the husband that he had to stop acting a certain way because it reminded her of her father. And she had had a bad relationship with her father.

So she was telling him to stop, because he said something critical of her. And it wasn’t enough for her to just respond to his criticism. She wanted to stop him because it brought up childhood wounding, and she had mentioned to him many times that her father was unkind.

 Image: Brian Jackson

Now, what I saw on her part was phenomenal insensitivity. On her part. Not his. Because she was blaming him for her not having healed. From my point of view, she owed him an apology along with the request to stop his criticism. Like, “Honey, I’m really sorry. I had this painful childhood that I haven’t gotten over so I’m extra raw and sensitive, I’m asking for your help.” But she didn’t put it that way. Instead she said, “I’m triggered, and you need to stop.”

Of course, he had a responsibility. He could have been her friend as well, and said, “Hey, I know how hard this is on you.”

But she wasn’t being his friend at all. In our psychotherapeutic world, we tend to see her point of view as more normative than his. But I don’t think it is normative. I think when we carry our wounds with us, and we don’t apologize, or at least make amends for them, we’re committing a form of violence. A very low level violence, but we’re still committing a form of violence.

All of forgiveness work is about us, not them. And all of forgiveness work is to widen our hearts. It’s not to change somebody else. It’s to recognize that part of the problem is that we bring to our relationships a Grinch heart – a heart that’s a couple of sizes too small, that makes us more demanding than is necessary, that makes us insensitive to the flaws of the people we have chosen to love.

What makes an intimate relationship so important and special is that you’re willing to endure their bad qualities too. That’s the space we offer people. It’s not like when you enter into an intimate relationship you’re going to be able to say, “Well, I’ll take this stuff that they bring that’s pleasant but I’m still going to disregard what’s not so pleasant.” That’s not intimacy.

Intimacy does involve taking what’s pleasant, but that’s no big deal. Most of us are willing to take what’s pleasant from people. It’s a rare person who will choose to take what’s unpleasant from another person. It doesn’t mean we have to be abused or mistreated, but in an intimate relationship we’re going to get the full person.

So the question is: Are you willing to put up with your partner’s bad qualities? If you’re not, leave. But the bad qualities are the test of the relationship; your commitment is to their bad qualities. You don’t have to commit to their good stuff. You just do that, that’s pleasant. If somebody wants to cook me dinner, how much of a commitment does it take to show up? Right? Or having my laundry done. I can deal with that. I can show up for that any time you want.

But, if they’re defensive in a fight, for example, that’s when your commitment comes in. That’s where the choice comes in. They’re going to be defensive; that’s who they are. Maybe you can help them, maybe you can’t. They’re going to bring their issues all the time. But are you willing to forgive the fact that they bring these particular issues?

Because one thing is for sure: You are going to be with somebody who brings issues. When you choose a partner, you’re just choosing which issues you’re willing to negotiate with.

That’s a much more mature perspective, one that is grounded in a kind of existential forgiveness: I forgive the fact that my partner is flawed. I forgive the fact that they had childhoods, which wounded them, and I forgive the fact that they had experiences that may require my forbearance to serve them. That’s what a relationship is.
 Read the whole article.

In the News - New Breeding Program Aimed At Keeping Moderate Republicans From Going Extinct

There is more truth to this than satire, unfortunately, and it could just as easily be said of moderate Democrats, as well. Both parties have moved to their extremes, to the point that moderates are becoming extinct. It's frustrating to watch this because it means very little gets done in Washington, and certainly none of the hard problems.

Of course, this is from The Onion: America's Finest News Source.

New Breeding Program Aimed At Keeping Moderate Republicans From Going Extinct

February 13, 2012 | ISSUE 48•07
A rare moderate Republican is safely tranquilized before being brought to his breeding pen.
WASHINGTON—Saying the now critically endangered species of politician is at high risk for complete extinction within the next 10 years, Beltway-area conservationists announced plans Monday for a new captive breeding program designed to save moderate Republicans.

According to members of the Initiative to Protect the Political Middle (IPPM), centrist Republicans, who once freely roamed the nation calling for both economic deregulation and a return to Reagan-era tax rates on the wealthy, are in dire need of protection, having lost large portions of their natural terrain to the highly territorial Evangelical and Tea Party breeds.

"Our new program is designed to isolate the few remaining specimens of moderate Republicans, mate them in captivity, and then safely release these rare and precious creatures back into the electorate," said IPPM’s Cynthia Rollins, who traces the decline of the species to changes in the political climate and rampant, predatory fanaticism. "Within our safe, enclosed habitats, these middle-of-the-road Republican Party members can freely support increased funding for public education and even gay rights without being threatened by the far-right subgenus."

A mated pair of centrist GOP politicians in captivity.

Working within a narrow three-election-cycle window to reverse the decline before extinction becomes imminent, political conservationists told reporters they have already begun the arduous process of tracking down members of the elusive breed of sensible, non-reactionary public officeholders, which a generation ago was one of the most plentiful GOP species in existence.

IPPM officials also said that while there is no guarantee they will ever be able to restore the moderate-Republican population to its once-teeming levels, "every effort must be made" to forcibly breed the species and at least keep it alive in the Midwest and Northeast, where its chances for survival remain highest.

"Last week we shot Gov. Mitch Daniels with a tranquilizer dart from a blind we'd set up near the Indiana Capitol, and we plan on mating him very soon with a senator we trapped up in Maine," said IPPM reproductive expert Gabriel Burke, adding that forced breeding of centrist Republicans in captivity is a humane, carefully regulated procedure designed to simulate mating in the wild. "While captive specimens tend to be wary around each other at first, once they sense they're both opponents of labor unions yet also willing to make tough compromises on collective bargaining rights, the sexual ritual begins almost instantly."

Added Burke, "In fact, one of our specimens, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, has already been mated with five or six other regional lawmakers in the past week alone."

Though hopes for the captive breeding program remain high, many leading political conservationists note the number of optimal habitats for moderate, freethinking Republicans across the country has shrunk drastically, with studies showing the species may never again be able to recover in areas where it has been totally eradicated, such as the South and the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives.

As they continue to search for nonextremist conservatives with the vaguest ability to compromise on social issues like abortion in cases of rape and incest, IPPM officials acknowledged they may be fighting a race against time.

"The most difficult task we have is preserving members of this disappearing breed before the desperate need for votes forces them to begin parroting borderline racist anti-immigration ideologies and accusing their opponents of being socialists," tracker Phil Gandelman said. "We thought we had captured and tagged a truly exemplary specimen a few weeks ago, but when we studied the creature more closely, we realized it was just John McCain."

"The poor little guy was so far gone we had to put him out of his misery," Gandelman added.

Representatives for the IPPM said they hope their current effort will prove more successful than past attempt to propagate moderates by crossbreeding highly liberal and extreme conservative politicians, which ended in tragedy when Vermont senator Bernie Sanders was physically mauled and torn apart by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS)

Zoë Brân - The Role of a Shaman in Contemporary Western Society

I spent several years studying shamanism when I was an undergrad and grad student (and for a while after that) - most of what I studied (aside from one shaman living in New Mexico, and some near recent work with the Huichol in Mexico) was historic accounts, with very little on how traditional shamanic practitioners are navigating the world today.

This article from Resurgence Magazine provides that perspective. Zoë Brân is a shamanic practitioner, teacher and writer. Her practice specializes in creativity and all aspects of personal development, including preparation for death. Zoë teaches courses and has a private shamanic practice in London.

Bringing Heaven to Earth

Zoë Brân describes the role of a shaman in contemporary Western society.

Shamans seem to be increasingly visible these days: in mainstream newspapers, on the shelves of conventional booksellers, in children’s TV shows, and even on Radio 4. Shortly before the recent royal wedding The Sun newspaper got in touch and asked me to perform a “Shamanic Sun Dance” to celebrate the event. I declined. However, despite, or maybe because of, increasing media attention it’s not always easy to discover what shamanism really is and what it can offer us in the 21st century.

Ask any passer-by on any street to describe shamanism, and the result will probably be a blank stare. Most people are surprised to learn that shamanism is not a religion but the oldest spiritual and problem-solving technology on the planet. Even more surprising is the discovery that it’s the precursor to most major world religions, including the Judaeo-Christian and Buddhist traditions, and that it has been practised on every inhabited continent on Earth for at least 40,000 years and possibly very much longer. Historically, shamanism was a significant survival tool of prehistoric humans. Our hunter-gatherer forebears decorated the stone walls of caves and cliffs around the world with carved and painted images drawn directly from shamanic experience. We no longer live in caves or in very small communities whose members are all known to us. Most of us live far longer, healthier lives than our ancient ancestors, but the part of us that is capable of fearing the dark and asking for help from things unseen hasn’t changed in almost a quarter of a million years. What made the uncertain lives of prehistoric people easier still works today because, although the world may have changed, fundamentally we have not.

Ask what a shaman is, and the question may evoke a few words about Native American ‘medicine men’ or perhaps the words ‘witch doctor’. In fact, what a shaman is and does is simply explained. In the Siberian Tungus language from which it originates, shaman means ‘the one who sees’ or ‘the one who knows’ and refers to a person capable of making a ‘journey’ to the world of spirit while in an altered state of consciousness in order to meet and work with personal spirit helpers and teachers. What the shaman ‘sees’ and what she or he ‘knows’ during this experience of meeting with spirit is that there is no separation between anything that is: no separation between me writing and you reading these words, between a dog and cat, between life and death, between this apparently material reality and the non-material realities of the spirit worlds. This idea of ‘oneness’ is common currency in contemporary culture and is increasingly given credence by certain quantum physicists working with sub-atomic theory, though of course it is a predominantly physical rather than spiritual oneness that such scientists are attempting to describe. However, where most of us can only think about the notion of ‘oneness’, shamans actually live it through the experience of the shamanic ‘journey’ and direct, personal interaction with spirit.

Described as a ‘breakthrough in plane’, in physiological terms the journey begins as the shaman redirects the primary cognitive process from the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain to the right, through the corpus callosum – that is, from the structuring, organising hemisphere to the visualising, sensing one. In the overwhelming majority of traditions around the world this ‘breakthrough’ will be assisted by the use of percussive sound, such as drumming, rattling or clapping. Although hallucinogens such as ayahuasca are widely advertised in the West as a means to help alter consciousness, in fact fewer than 15% of traditional shamans use plants in this way. Metaphysically, the journey begins when the shaman’s consciousness shifts from the here and now and enters worlds visible only to him or her.
Read the whole article.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

E. Pustoshkin & A. Khlopushin - States of Consciousness Theory

I found this old article co-authored by my Facebook friend, Eugene Pustoshkin at a site called, which appears to have gone inactive in 2010. Too bad - there is a lot of nice material there and it would be cool if it were still aggregating newer research into altered states of consciousness. That area of research has literary exploded in the past three years or so.

There is a definite Wilber-integral slant to this piece, but it is interesting and well-written.

States of Consciousness Theory

In this section the reader is offered an introduction to contemporary theory of consciousness and its altered states.  At first the reader is going to get acquainted with a possible perspective on the basic term consciousness; then the reader can read about concepts of states of consciousness and altered states of consciousenss (ASC). The section concludes with a discussion on relationship between two groups of phenomena—states of consciousness and structures of consciousness.


Nescience about a Man is, perhaps, the strongest nescience of the contemporary science.
Vasily Nalimov (2007, p. 209)

Consciousness is that which is available to the one who reads this page right now, in the present moment. According to most scientists today, consciousness is an essential characteristic of human existence. Perspectives on consciousness are multiple (Seager, 2007; Frith, Rees, 2007); and A. R. Luria includes the problem of consciousness into the list of the most difficult interdisciplinary psychological problems which is being studied not only by psychology but also by philosophy, sociology, psychosemantics, neuroscience, psychiatry, and other disciplines (Luria, 1979).
Fig. 1.  The brain is a material basis for consciousness. Image source (Creative Commons).
First of all, in the today's science consciousness refers to the capacity of subjective experiencing of the world  (Farthing, 1992), while self-consciousness is thought of as the capacity to be aware of oneself as a subject as well as of the system of relationships that emerges around this subject (Chesnokova, 1977). At any rate, the term consciousness is multifaceted; and it can refer to a wide range of phenomena. If we are to use V. V. Nalimov's terminology, consciousness can be seen as a fuzzy term which contains a polyphony of meanings that are being brought forth and cognized probabilistically rather than as something to which can be concretely pointed out (Nalimov, 2007).

Many works studying consciousness begin with a linguistic analysis of the term, with comparisons of entries in various dictionaries (Velmans, 1997); and sometimes when some authors confront the plenitude of meanings of the term  they  conclude that it is impossible to define consciousness and sometimes that the concept of consciousness per se is useless. Such an approach is most likely caused  by a naive view on the relationship between the sign and the reality to which this sign points (so-called "reflection paradigm" or "naive realism" which is still widespread in modernism-oriented academic circles and which results from the assumption that language directly and concretely reflects reality).

The use of reflection paradigm and attempts to define the subject of investigation as something concrete or specific when applied to such a complex phenomenon as consciousness seems not to be feasible and looks anachronistic. Any dictionary is simply a cross section of meanings which is transformed by the collective minds of its authors; a dictionary is a secondary interpretation of primary data whence in relation to such a fundamental phenomenon as consciousness one needs to closely combine those with the primary realities (otherwise on the very first stage of investigation one could get lost in language games and so-called "constant deferring of meaning"). In terms of consciousness the primary reality refers to the foundational fact brought forth by R. Descartes: cogito ergo sum—which literally means "consciousness therefore exist." Perhaps, the multidimensional term consciousness (which, for instance, has an analogue in the Russian language as the word soznanie [сознание]) emerged in human language in the process of evolution as an adaptive realization of the fact of existence of subjectivity and the fact that this subjectivity can cognize itself.

From the point of view of integral semiotics (Wilber, 2006), consciousness is a complex signifier that comes with a diapason of signifieds, with each signified having its particular flavor of meaning but, nonetheless, being in a more or less intimate relationship with the referent which generates these very signifieds and inevitably includes the "phenomenological given" of subjectivity's existence, the primary intuition of "consciousness therefore exist"  (but, as further development of science shows, it does not limit itself only to phenomenological data). In other words, while consciousness as a word has a polyphony of sounding, all flavors of this term, most likely, are based on a certain aspect of its complex referent, that is on a certain reality which lies behind words.

Thus, consciousness can be perceived, first of all, as a space of open subjectivity which is available to us in our own immediate experience and which makes this experience possible. At the same time, according to the integral theory of consciousness which is being developed by K. Wilber (Wilber, 2000) and his colleagues, qualitative characteristics of consciousness—and of our notions of consciousness—have always been formed under the influence of sociocultural factors (education, language and cultural norms, social system's structure)  and are mediated and modulated by the material substrate (the brain, the nervous system, the organism).

States of Consciousness

Those who have studied consciousness for long time tend to become aware of the self-evidence of the fact that consciousness and its qualitative characteristics demonstrate dynamics. One example of such a dynamics is that the human being regularly goes through the cycle of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep in his or her own experience. Another example of the states of consciousness dynamics which is well-known in clinical psychology and psychiatry could be the tendency of persons who suffer from severe endogenous depressions to experience, within the depressive episode, the state of profound melancholy, dispiritedness, and loss of life meaning in the morning that sometimes gets somewhat better by the evening (while outside of depressive episodes life of such people can be quite adaptive and their state of consciousness can be pretty favorable).

The phenomenon of consciousness dynamics and of what state of consciousness we exhibit plays an important role in all spheres of life, from education to sports. Many people engaging in sports, perhaps, have experienced moments and episodes of the so-called "flow state," in which they showed excellency and were able to set a series of breakthroughs and personal records. Furthermore, it seems that the capacity to operate the state of one's own consciousness, in addition to the trained technique, is an essential quality of champions (see Murphy, White, 1995).  Another example of the states of consciousness phenomenon which is familiar to many people is the state of profound concentration and focus that emerges at work when one is performing a particular professional task.

It is necessary to note that states of consciousness (including altered states of consciousness) represent a wider concept and phenomenon than  phenomenal states of joy, interest, hate, fear and so on. In other words, a person can directly observe—through introspection—mainly that which is referred to by the term phenomenal states (a term that comes from phenomenology which points to the multiple directly-experienced states of joy, happiness, hate, and other feelings and emotions which we can witness during the day) rather than states of consciousness per se.

This relates to the fact that, according to C. T. Tart, a state of consciousness is an overall pattern of subjective (psychological) functioning (Tart, 1972). When compared to phenomenal states the dynamics of states of consciousness—or qualitative shifts of the overall pattern of subjective functioning—is a phenomenon which is harder to observe through direct phenomenology. One rather observes the products of shifts in the state of consciousness in the form of phenomenal states.

This is why from the point of view of the subject or individual the awareness of the fact that the state of consciousness has shifted tends to emerge (if it emerges at all) as a result of cognitive deduction when one observes the change of phenomenal states' qualities which are open to direct phenomenological observation. That is, from the subject's point of view, in order to "see" the shift in the state of consciousness one needs to step back from his or her phenomenological method and objectify his or her own phenomenal states so as to get the understanding that a discrete leap into a different state of consciousness was made. This, for instance, sometimes happens when one becomes aware of oneself in a dream. Wilber describes this as follows:

States of consciousness are in one sense experienced by subjects—the dream state, for example—but usually what is actually experienced is some specific, if different or altered, phenomenal state. The individual then compares many similar phenomenal states and concludes they all belong to a broad state of consciousness (such as dreaming, or intoxication, or some such) (Wilber, 2000).

Altered states of consciousness

Thus, one feature of our consciousness is experiencing of some general dynamic patterns of phenomenal states organizing (i.e.,  "states of consciousness"). This could be understood better if one takes into account the types of states of consciousness that exist:

First, there are normal or ordinary states of consciousness which are familiar to every human being from their birth. The list of such states includes three broad or natural states of consciousness (waking, dreaming, and deep sleep). Every human being experiences all of them daily in the cycle of waking/sleeping (Hobson, 2007).

Second, there are altered states of consciousness (ASC), or qualitative shifts in subjective experience or psychological functioning of the particular, generalized for the subject, norms of which the person can be aware or which can be noticed by outer observers (a classical definition of A. Ludwig [Ludwig, 1966]).

According to L. I. Spivak and D. L. Spivak (1996) ASC can typologically divided into the following groups:
  1. Artificially induced: induced by psychoactive substances (for instance, psychedelics) or procedures (for instance, sensory deprivation).
  2. Psychotechnologically mediated: religious ceremonies, Schultz's autogenic training, Grof's holotropic therapy.
  3. Spontaneously occurring in the conditions that are ordinary for a person (in the situations of significant  exertion,  during listening to music, in sports play), or in non-ordinary but natural situations (for instance, during normal child bearing [Spivak et al., 1998]), or in non-ordinary and extreme situations  (for instance, professional athletes' peak experiences [Murphy, White, 1995], near-death experiences of various etiologies [Van Lommel et al., 2001] and so on).
Wilber offers a similar systematics; on the basis of extensive literature review he subdivides ASC on exogenous states (for instance, induced by psychoactive substances) and endogenous states (for instance, such trained states as meditative states that emerge when practicing Yoga, Buddhist meditation, Christian contemplative prayer, etc.). He establishes a separate category for peak experiences—or heightened, deep, spiritual experiences that can emerge both in natural or ordinary states of consciousness and in ASC (Wilber, 2006). This the general conclusion is that ASC can be stimulated by various triggers; and these states may or may not be related to pathology (Hobson, 2007). Also, these states often emerge spontaneously and randomly (Wilber, 2000).

It is the abrupt quality of how the process of altering of state of consciousness occurs (which often goes hand by hand with the phenomenon of "discontinuous memory" [Spivak, 1988]) that allowed C. T. Tart to speak about the discreteness of states of consciousness (and, hence, the introduction of the term discrete state of consciousness [Tart, 1975]). For example, the state of dreaming is such a discrete state in which one tends to be unaware of the dreaming quality of experience. However, as V. V. Nalimov (1982) has pointed out in his theoretical research, any discreteness (discontinuity) dialectically involves continuity; and when the state of dreaming is integrated into the continuum of consciousness the subject gets access to lucid dreaming in which he or she becomes aware that he sleeps and witnesses a dream (Wilber, 2000; LaBerge, 1985). It seems that this supports the J. A. Hobson's proposal  that, according to his neurophysiological states of consciousness model, lucid dreaming essentially means integration of certain components of REM-sleep and the waking state (in terms of neurophysiological correlates of subjective states of waking and dreaming) (Hobson, 2007).

States and Structures of Consciousness

Wilber has pointed out a general feature of altered states of consciousness: when they occur they rarely go through a series of developmental stages or structures. The list of exceptions includes trained states of consciousness which tend to follow a particular pattern of unfolding—from grosser phenomena to subtler states-stages (Wilber, 2006). (When speaking about the concepts of "stages" or "levels" or "waves," Wilber refers to various stages of development of structures of consciousness studied by such scientists as J. Piaget, A. Maslow, S. Cook-Greuter, C. Graves, E. Erikson.)

Thus, states of consciousness are dimensions of human experience that are available, to a different degree, to any individual at any stage of development (either in the form of shifts of natural states of consciousness in the process the waking/sleep cycle  or in the form of various spontaneous or artificially induced ASC or in the form of trained states). Simply put, both a person at the pre-operational stage of Piaget's cognitive  development and a person at the formal-operational stage are capable of waking, dreaming, and sleeping.
Understanding of relationship between states and stages plays an important role in the consciousness studies. An integration of states research with stages research can generate a more comprehensive and multidimensional panoramic view of consciousness, for it seems that consciousness is capable to "operate at multiple discrete levels, and these levels have a hierarchical structure" (Zelazo et al., 2007, p. 409). Wilber especially emphasizes the fact that interpreting of any experience brought forth by ASC would tend to be performed by an individual on the basis of his or her developmental level (whether it is a pre-conventional, conventional or post-conventional structure-stage of development) (for further discussion of this issue the reader is referred to Wilber, 2006; specifically to the sections on the notion of Wilber-Combs lattice). Thus, investigation of relationship between states and levels of consciousness can be considered one of the prospective directions of research in the field of consciousness studies for the coming years.

E. Pustoshkin, A. Khlopushin, 2010,

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Bookforum Omnivore - On the Role of Religion

Bookforum's Omnivore collects a whole mess of links having to do with religion in contemporary culture. One of the interesting articles is from on stripping Buddhism of its superstitions.

Mark Vernon - Physics as Metaphysics

Big Questions Online posted this article by Mark Vernon, journalist, writer, and former Anglican priest. His books include The Meaning of Friendship, Plato's Podcasts: The Ancients' Guide to Modern Living, and After Atheism: Science, Religion, and the Meaning of Life. He blogs at

In this piece he looks at the quantum physics and the human quest for meaning. He concludes, "They are distinct enterprises. We gain from both. But throwing them together in a spiritual mash-up creates a spiritual mess."

 I agree.
Is there a quantum spirituality? 
Photo: US Dept. of Energy - Researcher Matthew Pelt tries to connect the quantum dots
Thursday, January 6, 2011

The notion that physics might have metaphysical meaning for human beings is as old as physics itself. The ancient Greeks did natural philosophy not only to learn about the cosmos but also to learn about how to live. In the medieval period, Aristotelian cosmology became tightly knitted to Scholastic theology, causing all sorts of problems for Galileo when he sought to challenge it. And then in the early modern period, Newton’s discoveries led again to a reassessment of what it is to be human.

No less a figure than Einstein invoked the notion of what he called “cosmic religion.” It would need to ask questions such as whether the universe is friendly towards us, the father of the new physics mused. And the new physics of the 20th century has certainly sparked a welter of speculation as to whether the meaning of life is written in the stars. Are the laws of nature transcendent, like God? Does the fine-tuning of various fundamental constants suggest that the universe is right for life, for us? Is consciousness as basic a feature of things as quarks and photons?

One of the best-known of the spiritualities that draw on the new physics was penned by physicist Fritjof Capra. In his 1975 popular classic The Tao of Physics, Capra relates a vision he had in the summer of 1969, as he stared out to sea from the beach of Santa Cruz. “I suddenly became aware of my whole environment as being engaged in a gigantic cosmic dance,” he recalls.

His use of the metaphor of dance stemmed from his knowledge of particle physics, which views matter as a flux of possibilities across fields of energy. Capra draws on one of the most familiar features of quantum physics: the wave-particle duality of light. If you look at it one way, light behaves like a wave. If you look at it another way, it is a particle. The suggestion is that we, as observers, are deeply implicated in the nature of things.

Further, as nothing can be both a wave and a particle, it looks as if the fundamental nature of things lies behind what the Templeton Prize-winning physicist Bernard d’Espagnat has called a “veiled reality.” This conclusion seems to offer a way of synthesizing the activities of science and religion. As Capra continues: “Physicists explore levels of matter, mystics levels of mind. What their explorations have in common is that these levels, in both cases, lie beyond ordinary sense perception.”

Such ideas are very influential, and similar moves have been made by other figures seeking new kinds of spirituality, like the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and, more recently, the Episcopal priest Matthew Fox. You can get a feel for it from this remark by Teilhard: “The history of the living world can be summarized as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always something more to be seen.”

Thus, today, it’s quite common to hear people reflecting that we’re all somehow connected, just like entangled quantum particles that remain linked even when they’re on opposites sides of the universe. Alternatively, there’s the growing spread of what has been called the Universe Story. It tells of the emergence of energy from the Big Bang, that formed the fundamental particles, that coalesced into the elements, that became the building block of the stars, that formed alongside planets, that are nurseries for life, which itself became consciousness, and then self-aware: in us, the universe can contemplate itself.

But does this quantum spirituality add up? A number of critiques can be pressed upon it.

For one thing, the science is itself in a state of flux. The Big Bang, out of which this extraordinary experiment in emergence supposedly came, is itself now widely questioned by physicists. Some prefer a “mega-verse” that continuously gives rise to new universes in a process called “eternal inflation.” Others are asking whether there’s actually a multiverse: our universe is just the one out of the billions that is right for life, and so the fine-tuning is a delusion. Others again, are developing models of a pulsating universe, which expands over the eons to such an extent that it “forgets” its size, and so begins all over again.

Quantum spiritualities can accommodate such developments in science — though a skeptic might observe that they are so nebulous, they could accommodate just about anything. Then again, Capra himself notes, “Many concepts we hold today will be replaced by a different set of concepts tomorrow.” But he believes the basic link between the scientific and the mystical traditions will be enforced, not diminished.

Another critique is the pick-and-choose nature of this cosmic religiosity. It emerges in a number of ways. For example, the entangled nature of quantum particles is highlighted to celebrate our connectedness. What’s overlooked, though, is the colossally destructive power of quantum particles too — the fissions and fusions that release the energy of nuclear weapons. The quantum world is not just a strange place. It’s a hideously violent place too. Spiritualities are wary of celebrating that.

The pickiness appears in other ways. Some advocates, for example, don’t actually like references to fine-tuning and human consciousness because they perceive it as anthropocentric — what is sometimes referred to as the anthropic principle, that the cosmos was designed for us. The fear is that this is a way of reasserting human dominance in the order of things, by declaring we are at the pinnacle of a hierarchy of being. Ecologically-minded quantum writers seek something different: a spirituality that puts the planet first. They tend to overlook the priority some interpretations of quantum mechanics give to us observers.

The conclusion would seem to be that quantum spiritualities represent an à la carte approach to the science. It’s not the science that’s driving the spirituality. Rather, the science is being mined and filleted for metaphors and analogies that fit a pre-existing sense of things.

In fact, it ever was thus. When Isaac Newton published his theory of gravity, it was not just astronomers that grew excited. Astrologers did too. The theory of gravity said that bodies act upon one another over vast distances. Isn’t this precisely what astrology had long taught — that the alignment of the planets and stars at your birth had a profound and subtle effect upon the body of the newborn? Newton was saying no such thing, of course. But that did not stop quacks running away with his ideas.

So, I don’t think there is such a thing as quantum spirituality. Instead, there’s quantum physics and then there’s the human quest for meaning. They are distinct enterprises. We gain from both. But throwing them together in a spiritual mash-up creates a spiritual mess. Spirituality is not only about the search for rich metaphors. It’s also about the struggle for fine discernment. The bizarre world of quantum physics teaches us that, too: it is extraordinarily hard to interpret the cosmos aright.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Robert Augustus Masters - The Evolution of Intimate Relationship

Integral Life's series called Integral Post features leaders in that community penning an article a month (give or take). One of those leaders is Robert Augustus Masters - and his most recent article is from the Introduction to the reissue of his excellent book, Transformation Through Intimacy: The Journey Toward Awakened Monogamy.

The Evolution of Intimate Relationship

Image: Double Helix by Mark Henson
Robert Augustus Masters shares the introduction to his new book, Transformation Through Intimacy: The Journey Toward Awakened Monogamy, now available for preorder on Amazon.

Intimate relationship has over the last four or five decades evolved so far from its long-established ways—mutating in diverse directions—that its very nature and structuring, once a largely unquestioned given, is clearly up for some deep questioning and reformulating.

Reformulating, revisioning, restructuring, reinventing—how we tend to look at intimate relationship is changing almost as rapidly as intimate relationship itself.

One result of this is that many of us do not have a particularly clear view of intimate relationship and its possibilities. Nonetheless, we have to admit that something is different about intimate relationship now. We look back just two generations, and it seems as if we’re looking back many hundreds of years. Things are shifting that fast.

For a very long time, intimate relationship was viewed and lived, with few exceptions, as an alternative—and not necessarily an equivalent alternative!—to spiritual life. There was the householder, and there was the spiritual seeker, and there wasn’t much overlap between them. As wide as this split was for men, it was even wider for women. Intimate relationship was something you did—or endured—until there was cultural permission to do something “deeper.”

Now there not only is a significant amount of cultural permission—small by conventional standards yet substantial enough to register on societal radar screens—for something “deeper” to happen within intimate relationship, but also an increasing pull toward it. So intimate relationship has, at its leading edge, become less a prelude to spiritual opening and awakening, and more a catalyst or crucible for it.

Read the whole column.