Saturday, April 07, 2012

Open Culture - David Lynch’s New ‘Crazy Clown Time’ Video: Intense Psychotic Backyard Craziness (NSFW)

WOW, one has to wonder what David Lynch would be like if he didn't meditate every day. His subjectivity must be a scary place . . . or at least the glimpses of it that he shares with us are eerie and freaky. His album, from which this video comes, is Crazy Clown Time.

David Lynch’s New ‘Crazy Clown Time’ Video: Intense Psychotic Backyard Craziness (NSFW)

April 3rd, 2012

What could be more wholesome and all-American than a backyard barbecue? Unless, of course, the backyard in question belongs to David Lynch.

Lynch has long-since established himself as a sort of anti-Norman Rockwell. This week, with the release of a new video to go with his debut music album, Crazy Clown Time, Lynch stays true to form. As he explained to Entertainment Weekly when the video was still in production, “A ‘Crazy Clown Time’ should have an intense psychotic backyard craziness, fueled by beer.” Yesterday Lynch offered further explanation when he sent a message on Twitter announcing the release: “Be the 1st on your block to see the Advancement of the Race which Conway Twitty spoke so clearly.”

The video lasts seven minutes and might be considered NSFW, depending on your office’s policy on nudity, demonic wailing and depictions of people pouring lighter fluid on their spiked mohawk hairdo and setting it afire.

Related Content:
David Lynch’s Surreal Commercials
David Lynch’s Eraserhead Remade in Clay

NPR - How Homo Sapiens Became 'Masters Of The Planet'

This was an interesting segment from yesterday's Talk of the Nation Science Friday. Paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall discusses human origins in this interview supporting his new book, Masters of the Planet; The Search for Our Human Origins. It's an informative discussion.

One nit to pick - a woman asks about the paleo diet craze and whether he has thought about its accuracy. Rather than address the real issue (eating unnatural processed foods) that paleo attempts to "cure," he makes a more abstract comment about how primates, including humans, are generalists in what we can eat, i.e., omnivores, which is true.

But there is an overwhelming pile of evidence now that the closer to nature we eat, the healthier we are. This means no processed foods (or as little as humanly possible - some days a protein bar or shake is better than not eating), but eating fresh, grass-fed meats, free-range eggs, fruits and vegetables, and nuts - and if we eat grains at all they should be whole grains (wild rice, quinoa, whole oats, etc).

OK, I now step down from my soapbox and return you to the regularly scheduled post.

How Homo Sapiens Became 'Masters Of The Planet'

April 6, 2012

The first Homo sapiens appeared on the planet some 200,000 years ago. But even though they looked fully human, they didn't act fully human until they began creating symbolic art, some 100,000 years later. Paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall discusses those human origins in his book Masters of the Planet.

This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're broadcasting from the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. That's the one with the big, blue whale hanging from the ceiling. And besides the oceans, one of the main themes of the museum is human origins. Where did we all come from? And it may not be what you think.

For example, did you know that homo sapiens, you and me, first appeared on Earth about 200,000 years ago? Those early humans would have looked almost exactly like us, but they didn't act fully human at that time or think like we do, and even though we are, and we were, are the same species.
So what happened? What is it that clicked to make us the language-speaking, artistic, world-dominating species we are today? My next guest talks our beginnings in his new book "Masters of the Planet: The Search for our Human Origins." Ian Tattersall is also curator of the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins here at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

IAN TATTERSALL: Thank you, Ira.

FLATOW: Tell us, you know, tell us why - I was really shocked that we are still the same homo sapiens. Well, how does that work?

TATTERSALL: Well, species normally have quite a substantial longevity. I mean, 200,000 years is not a long time for a species to be in existence. But the earliest evidence we have of people who look just like us comes from sites in Africa that date to about 200,000 years ago.

FLATOW: And so what does it mean that they were not fully human that we would think of today?

TATTERSALL: Interestingly enough the archeological record that goes along with these early fossils that we can recognize as homo sapiens is pretty much the same as the fossil record that was left by the - the archeological record that was left by their contemporaries. Two hundred thousand years ago, there were several different kinds of hominid in the world, and in fact there had been several different kinds of hominid living simultaneously in the world really all the way back to the very beginning of the human family, something like seven million years ago.

The human family tree, it turns out, has been very bushy. Every couple of years, I've had to redo my family tree of the human group, and I think I'm up to 23 species now that most people would agree are recognizable. And three or four of them at least have been in simultaneous occupation in the world at any one time.

FLATOW: And so why did one succeed while the other 22 did not?

TATTERSALL: I think it has to do with the fact that, at some point in its existence, Homo sapiens became an insuperable competitor. It became very intolerant of competition and able to sort of enforce that intolerance. And that involves a major behavioral change. And I think it was a change, basically, in cognition - the change in the way in which human beings process information about the world in their minds.

FLATOW: And what was that? What was the advantage that they got?

TATTERSALL: I think...

FLATOW: Was it a brain - the brain changed different, or what happened?

TATTERSALL: It wasn't simply a matter of brain size. Thirty thousand years ago, there were Neanderthals still existing in the world, a separate species of human that came into existence about the same time as Homo sapiens, but separately. We were - we evolved in Africa. The Neanderthals evolved in Europe, and they had brains just as big as ours. But they didn't behave in the same way that we behave today, and they behaved more like the early Homo sapiens that we find in Africa and...

FLATOW: How do you figure out how a human who lived 150,000 years ago thought or behaved? How do you know that?

TATTERSALL: Well, that's the key question, of course. And all we have to judge from - if we can't judge from raw brain size, what we can judge from is the archeological leavings of these early hominids. The material evidence they left of their behavior, which is mostly in the form of stone artifacts and of campsites and so forth, which give us some idea of the complexity of what they were doing. And the Neanderthals were great stone craftsmen. No question about it.
But they were kind of stereotyped, in a way, in which they made tools. They didn't make tools with a kind of creativity and the inventiveness that was characteristics of the human beings who came along later.

FLATOW: We've heard so many times that, you know, if a Neanderthal were next to you on the subway, you wouldn't know the difference. Is that true, or is that folk - urban folklore?

TATTERSALL: To an extent. I think I would recognize a Neanderthal...
TATTERSALL: ...if it was next to me in the subway.

FLATOW: And you have every day, on the - right.

TATTERSALL: But, you know, we have considerable experience here in making reconstructions of ancient hominids - reconstructing how they looked in life. And it's very true, that when you sculpt a face onto a skull, you layer on the underlying tissues, the muscles and so forth and then the superficial tissues, and you've got this bold creature with no hair on its head or on its face. The look is very distinctive. It looks very, very different from Homo sapiens. Then when you put the wig on, it's much harder to tell apart.

So that, in fact, we can make this kind of reconstruction and show it in a way in which it stands out from the rest. But if it sat next to you on the subway, you might not have too much of a notion.

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow, and this is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR. If you'd like to ask a question, you can step up to the microphones we have there. We'd be very happy to talk with Ian Tattersall whose new book is "Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins." And on the cover, you show three different hands. What are you trying to illustrate with that three different hands?

TATTERSALL: Well, the cover came as a bit of a surprise to me. As a matter of fact...

FLATOW: I hate it when that happens.

TATTERSALL: But I think it's a very dramatic cover. In fact, what it shows is the hand of, I think, a gibbon or a siamang, and a hand of a chimpanzee, and the hand of a modern human. You can see the hand proportions are very different. And what you have there is two higher primates, two apes with very long, slender hands. So they're very good for grasping branches in the trees. And you'll notice that our own hand is much, much shorter. In fact, it's much broader, The axis of the hand is across, rather than long. And that is what makes it possible for us to manipulate items in the precise way in which we can do and make those stone tools that our predecessors made.

FLATOW: You write that one important factor that is totally unique to hominids and is paradoxical is the possession of complex culture, especially as it's expressed in technology. Can you explain a little bit more about that?

TATTERSALL: Yeah. Obviously, culture is in the strictest sense is not confined to human beings. Chimpanzees, for example, in different parts of Africa pass along, from one generation to another - they pass along particular ways of doing things. But no other creature has a culture of the depth and the richness that human beings have. And human beings have taken culture to a whole new level. And we have come - biologically, we've come a very long way in a very short time.

And I think it's culture that has allowed us to do that because having culture as a buffer against the environment that's allowed different kinds of hominid to spread out over the world and occupy some very marginal environments, which they very often have had to abandoned. There's been this history of fragmenting of the human population which is exactly the circumstances under which you'd expect a lot of evolutionary change to happen.

FLATOW: You also write in your book, that one of the great modifying - or catalysts for change, has been climate change over the years. Can you tell us about that?

TATTERSALL: Yes, indeed. The last several million years have been a time of increasingly unsettled climates. The climate has gotten cold and warm on a larger timescale, as well on smaller timescales too, changing the environment. Any hominid groups staying in the same place would successively encounter lots and lots of different environments and it's ability to accommodate to environmental change which is one of the ingredients for our success in the world. But you have this effect of climate change and fragmentation of populations - human populations couldn't remain in one place forever.

If an ice sheet comes and covers the place where you're living, you're not going to be staying there. You're going to be moving somewhere else more congenial. It's this effect of environmental, climatic and environment change on populations that really has provided the circumstances under which evolutionary innovations could be fixed in populations.

FLATOW: After the break, lots more on human origins with my guest Ian Tattersall, author of the new book "Masters of the Planet." Stay with us.
FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow, and this is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.
Welcome back. We're here at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, talking about the new book "Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins" with my guest Ian Tattersall. He's also curator of the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins here at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Yes, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: You have to excuse the simplicity of my question, but it's coming from a sixth-grade student of mine who asked me once: If we evolved from primates, how come there's no evidence of that evolution in primates currently?

TATTERSALL: Well, you know, currently, we're looking at one slice in time. So there's just a sampling of a particular time point.

FLATOW: Can I just interrupt for a second?


FLATOW: Point of reference is everybody thinks we came from monkeys.


FLATOW: Could you clear that up for us? Did we come from monkeys?

TATTERSALL: No. We are not descended from monkeys. But monkeys and we are descended from the same common ancestor.

FLATOW: Thank you. I just want to get that out of the way.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'll let him know.

TATTERSALL: And the reason why, I think, for example, people say, well, why aren't chimpanzees - if it's such a good idea to get a big brain and to become human-like, why aren't chimpanzees doing the same thing? And I think, quite frankly, that the chimpanzees are already too committed to a particular kind of quadrupedal locomotion on the ground to become upright. Our ancestor was a much more generalized ancestor. It seems that upright walking was the original adaptation of the hominid group - of the general hominid group.

And I suspect that hominids didn't start walking upright on the ground at a time when the forest cover in Africa was shrinking, simply because it was a good idea to do that. I think they've probably - the hominid ancestors probably already moved around in the trees, holding their trunks upright so that when they came down to the ground they would have been most comfortable moving upright. And clearly, that's not true for a chimpanzee today. A chimpanzee, if he wants to move over the ground, effectively, drops to all fours and moves off quadrupedally.

FLATOW: Let's go to a question in the audience. Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hi. I was reading an article a while ago that was talking about whether humans will no longer have to evolve because we don't need to adjust to nature anymore because we are adjusting nature ourselves. I was wondering, what's your take on that?

TATTERSALL: Well, I think, first of all, that the human ability to accommodate to the environment culturally meant we could go to many more different areas of the world than we would otherwise have been able to do. And therefore, we're more subject to fragmentation of our population by environmental change. That's one thing. And we evolved in this kind of, sort of, unsettled environmental picture. And human beings for the - or human precursors for the - virtually all of hominid history, have been thinly spread over the landscape.

They have lived in very small densities, in very small groups, moving over large swaths of territory, which again, gives you good circumstances for isolation and evolutionary innovation. Since 10,000 years ago when our species became sedentary, settled down, first started living in villages, then towns and now in urban settings, our population has become huge. Our population is seven billion and increasing, and we're packed, cheek by jowl, over the surface of the Earth.

And these are circumstances in which you could not imagine that significant new genetic innovations could become fixed. Population, the size of ours, is simply - has simply too much genetic inertia to change. So I think as long as demographic circumstances remain the same as they are today, Homo sapiens is going nowhere.

FLATOW: Well, what is the mechanism that's preventing that exactly? You say we're bunched together. There are too many people together. Why is the - why does that stop evolution?

TATTERSALL: It's extremely difficult to get the fixation of any genetic novelty arising in a very, very big population. To get the fixation of genetic novelties which arise spontaneously in populations, you really need to have a small unstable gene pool that can react to this kind of circumstance.

FLATOW: Thank you for that question. Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I was wondering if you could talk about how technology is being applied in your field, and maybe how you're using at the museum - to keep things modern, talking about a very old topic.

TATTERSALL: Well, the world is constantly changing, and this is true of paleoanthropology too. The human fossil record is expanding enormously. There are new discoveries that's being announced practically every week. There are new techniques of looking at all data that are becoming available online. So this is a very exciting thing to be involved in, and the problem is more a problem of keeping up with the change rather than thinking of ways to reflect that change.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Talking with Ian Tattersall, author of "Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins." What are some of the big gaps that you think we need to fill in? Or are there gaps in our history that...

TATTERSALL: Well, I think with every new fossil that's found, the probability decreases that anybody will come up with a new fossil, will force everybody to rewrite the textbooks. They used to be obligatory. Every time a new fossil - a human fossil was announced, that the journalist would say, oh, this is going to...

FLATOW: Rewrite the textbooks.

TATTERSALL: ...rewrite the textbooks, yeah. Now, we have a really good human fossil record, and we, I think, are perceiving the general outlines as this sort of very bushy experimental tree. What's really interesting, though, is what we can do with that data we have.

A couple of years ago, I would never have been able to imagine that people would be in a position to reconstitute the diet of the Neanderthals from the little phytoliths, the little grains of mineral material that are gained from plants that are imbedded in the calculus that forms on the Neanderthal teeth. Who would've imagine this? A dentist's nightmare has sort of become a really good source of information about what our relatives did and ate in the past. This kind of thing is happening all the time. And so I'm not seeing huge gaps to be filled, but what I'm saying is a story that is being fleshed out enormously and in ways that are really impossible to anticipate.

FLATOW: Do you think - people always talk about, you know, as we get better technology, maybe we'll be able to reconstruct the DNA of something...


FLATOW: ...either, you know, the DNA of a wooly mammoth or maybe the Neanderthal.


FLATOW: Do you think that's going to be possible some time?

TATTERSALL: Well, hopefully, it won't be possible in my lifetime. I think it would raise too many ethical questions. Homo sapiens has had a very bad, you know, history in the way in which it has dealt with its close relatives in the fossil and the living records. I mean, Neanderthals are gone now. We're working on the chimpanzees and the orangutans and the gorillas, and after that, that was - it will be the monkeys. I...

FLATOW: You mean losing them all.

TATTERSALL: Losing them. Well...

FLATOW: Losing them, yeah.

TATTERSALL: ...we really are. And my gosh, if we recreated the Neanderthal by some miracle, what would we do with it?
TATTERSALL: You know, it would raise some really extraordinary ethical issues that we haven't even began to grapple with.

FLATOW: Yeah. Question in the audience?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: The word paleo has been a big word on book covers these years, "The Paleo Diets," et cetera, where these folks discussed that the best way for humans to eat is to eat pre-agricultural, in other words no grains, no rice, go back to the meats, go back to the protein and the fruits and the vegetables and the tubers, et cetera. Are you familiar with these books and them discussing how early people ate and how, our digestive system involved and how we should eat? Have you given that any thoughts?

TATTERSALL: Yeah. There's always, you know, there's the Neanderthal diet, "The Caveman Diet," the recommendation that you should eat this and that and the other, but what is quite extraordinary about our hominid family in general is how generalist we are. It's very interesting that there are some chimpanzee groups that live in an environments that are not too different from the kind of environment that our very early bipedal relatives lived in, and they live in a very, very different way. Chimpanzees coming out of the forest into tree-savanna surroundings eat exactly the same things that their relatives in the forest did.

Our precursors coming out of the forest started exploiting a much wider range of foodstuffs from very early on, including, apparently, animal carcasses, at least regionally. And what this tells me is that we are incredibly generalist in terms of what we eat. So I can't imagine what you would describe a natural diet as being.

FLATOW: And in your book you say that tapeworms can actually tell us something about our past diets. How does that work?

TATTERSALL: You know, the tapeworm question is a very interesting one. We - and the idea is that we had to acquire the tapeworm from somewhere, and apparently the tapeworm that infects the human beings is related to a carnivore tapeworm. And probably, the easiest way of transmitting tapeworm cysts or whatever would have been for human beings at a very early stage to be feeding on the same carcasses that had been attacked by carnivores, again pointing towards a propensity for carnivory in early stage.

FLATOW: Do you find yourself still having to defend the idea of human evolution?

TATTERSALL: I think less often than I might fear. We have had very - we've had exhibitions on human evolution looked at by millions of people every year. We have brought original human fossils in to display to the general public to give people an idea of the richness of the record that we're dealing with, and we have run into really rather little objection from the quarter that you're suggesting.

FLATOW: Yeah. Yeah. I'm Ira Flatow, and this is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR. Let's go to the, yes, the mic there.

BETH ANN FREED: Hi, Beth Ann Freed(ph). Back to the food, I've heard few things recently about how cooking has affected our evolution and how we - I mean, I work with teeth and I see that our teeth aren't good for much but cooked food. Talking about all of these human ancestral cousins, how many of us had fire? And talking about the generalist nature of diet, which came first, being a generalists or cooking, and how did those come together?

TATTERSALL: You know, that's an excellent question. I think the generalist tendency probably came first because we know our ancestors of three and a half, 4 million years were, presumably now, pursuing a generalist diet. The cooking argument is a very compelling one though, but it's entirely circumstantial. We know that about 2 million years ago, human or hominid brain sizes began to expand. For the first two or 3 million, maybe 4 million years of hominid evolution, brain size relative to body size had flatlined and remained basically in the ape range. And then suddenly, about 2 million years ago, the curve turned sharply upwards, and the human brain sizes, on average, start getting bigger very fast.

Now, there's a penalty to developing a big brain. We may think we have big brains, and so it's got to be a good idea, but, actually, a big brain is a very costly organ to have. Our brains are about 2 percent of our body weight, but they can use up to 25 percent of all the energy...

FLATOW: No kidding.

TATTERSALL: ...that we consume. And so there is a cost to be paid. And there is an argument that you could not have started to increase brain size without increasing the quality of the diet, and the most obvious way to increase the quality of the diet is actually to use cooking to make the nutrients in the diet much more available than they are in the raw state, and this is a very compelling argument. The only problem is that we have no physical evidence...

FLATOW: It's just a theory.

TATTERSALL: support it.

FLATOW: Yeah. It's a theory about how you can get more...

TATTERSALL: Yeah. It's a theory and it's a very beguiling theory, and it could even be true, but we don't have the physical evidence that we would want to substantiate it. In fact, there are people who argue that regular cooking came in quite late. We only begin to find campfires routinely as part of human occupation sites about 400,000 years ago. There is one instance in - from Israel reported of a succession of hearths dating from about 800,000 years ago, but it's an outlier until about 400,000 years ago. So between 2 million years ago when brains started to expand and 400,000 years ago, there's not a lot of really compelling evidence that people were cooking. Inferentially, it's a great story, but we're still looking for the hard evidence.

FLATOW: But in science, a theory is not good enough. You need to have the evidence for it.

TATTERSALL: Well, you know, in science, you know, we make a big thing out of science dealing with testable hypotheses and information, and yet there's a lot that we believe in science that we can't directly test. All we ask is that it be - that what we believe is consistent with what we can't test. And in that perspective, the circumstantial argument for cooking, it still retains a certain amount of attraction.

FLATOW: Yeah. Ian Tattersall, thank you very much for taking time to be with us today.

TATTERSALL: It's been a pleasure.

FLATOW: Author of "Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins." You can see the - you can hear the rest of our conversation with Ian Tattersall in our podcast.

Tami Simon Speaks with Dr. Peter Levine and Dr. Maggie Phillips - Free From Pain

Dr. Peter Levine is probably best known as the creator of Somatic Experiencing, a body-based method of healing physical and emotional trauma. He is author of Waking the Tiger (published in 22 languages), and more recently In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness, as well as several other books and audio programs. He created the Foundation for Human Enrichment, based in Boulder, Colorado, which now has a membership of 5,000 Somatic Experiencing® training practitioners worldwide. 

Maggie Phillips, PhD, is a psychologist specializing in pain and the author of Healing the Divided Self, Finding the Energy to Heal, and Reversing Chronic Pain. She is the director of the California Institute of Clinical Hypnosis.

Freedom from Pain

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tami Simon speaks with Dr. Peter Levine and Dr. Maggie Phillips. Dr. Phillips is the director of the California Institute of Clinical Hypnosis and is author of Finding the Energy to Heal and Reversing Chronic Pain. Dr. Levine is the developer of the groundbreaking Somatic Experiencing® approach to healing trauma. With Sounds True, they have coauthored a book and accompanying CD called Freedom from Pain. In this episode, Tami speaks with Maggie and Peter about the prevalence of chronic pain today, how physical pain may relate to past trauma, and the stages that pain sufferers commonly experience. They also offer inspiring real-world examples and insights about the keys for solving “the puzzle of pain.” (59 minutes)


Here is the info on the book/CD  on which this conversation is based.

Freedom from Pain

Discover Your Body's Power to Overcome Physical Pain

Peter A. Levine

Maggie Phillips

Softcover Book/CD: US $12.03
US $17.95  33% OFF
Available April 6, 2012


Freedom from Pain - Peter A. Levine , Maggie PhillipsIf you are suffering chronic pain—even after years of surgery, rehabilitation, and medication—only one question matters: How do I find lasting relief? With Freedom from Pain, two pioneers in the field of pain and trauma recovery address a crucial missing factor essential to long-term healing: addressing the unresolved emotional trauma held within the body.

Informed by their founding work in the Somatic Experiencing® process and unique insights gleaned from decades of clinical success, Drs. Levine and Phillips will show you how to:
  • Calm the body’s overreactive “fight” response to pain
  • Release the fear, frustration, and depression intensified by prior traumas, and build inner resilience and self-regulation
  • Relieve pain caused by the aftermath of injuries, surgical procedures, joint and muscle conditions, migraines, and other challenges
Whether you’re seeking to begin a self-care strategy or amplify your current treatment program, Freedom from Pain will provide you with proven tools to help you experience long-term relief.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The First Big Love: Exploring the Neurobiology of Parent-Child Bonding

This is a nice talk on the bonding and attachment process with Thomas Insel (director of National Institute of Mental Health) and Myron Hofer, a leader in mother-child bonding and the long-term impact of attachments.

As a bonus, I am including an event from 2010 at the Center on Children and Families at Brookings and the Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality at Stanford University on early experience and childhood development.

Thomas Insel & Myron Hofer - The First Big Love: Exploring the Neurobiology of Parent-Child Bonding

Uploaded by on Mar 14, 2012
Thomas Insel, Myron Hofer, The Rockefeller University: Research on the biology of parent-child attachment has yielded intriguing findings--for example, the complex role that the hormone oxytocin plays in activating feelings of trust and emotional commitment. The winter 2011 Parents & Science program featured THOMAS INSEL, a leading behavioral neurobiologist who heads the National Institute of Mental Health, and MYRON HOFER, a psychobiologist who has pioneered the study of the infant-mother relationship and its long-term impact.

The Impact of Early Experience on Childhood Brain Development

On April 13, 2010, the Center on Children and Families at Brookings and the Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality at Stanford University sponsored an event that focused on the science of early brain development and the role that chronic stress early in life plays in the arrested development of children raised in risky situations. The policy implications of these and similar findings were discussed.

Speakers were Ron Haskins, Senior Fellow at Brookings; Jack P. Shonkoff, Director, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University; Gary Evans, Professor, Cornell University; Nathan A. Fox, Professor, University of Maryland; and the Honorable Ruth Kagi, Representative, 32nd District, Washington State Legislature. (Each segment is also available separately.) 

Open Culture - Rock Among the Ruins: Pink Floyd Live in Pompeii (1972)

For Pink Floyd fans, this 90-minute documentary of their live recording at Pompeii in 1972 is a true treat. This is the most recent director's cut of the film, so there is added material not previously included in the several prior versions. Thanks to Open Culture for finding this gem.

Rock Among the Ruins: Pink Floyd Live in Pompeii (1972)

Tourism and historical research aside, most ruins aren’t particularly useful, least of all for their original purposes. Yet Pink Floyd fans know of one instance when a ruin made a comeback, if a brief and specialized one, that could make you forget all about the ash and pumice that buried it nearly 2000 years before. In October 1971, the band set up their gear in the middle of the Ampitheatre of Pompeii and blasted three songs out into the antiquity surrounding them: “Echoes,” “A Saucerful of Secrets,” and “One of These Days.” They played not to a live audience, but to an array of studio-quality recording equipment designed to faithfully capture every layer of their sound for theatrical reproduction. You can see and hear all the then-highest-of-the-high-tech musical equipment used to produce then-thoroughly modern rock music in this nearly alien-looking geometric setting of time-worn stone and encroaching grass in Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, now free to watch on YouTube.

Pink Floyd’s chosen venue, the oldest standing Roman ampitheatre of them all, suits their project sonically as well as aesthetically. Had the band invited an audience, the old place probably could, with a touch of restoration, have handled it with aplomb. An article from CSO Security and Risk cites its bathroom design and placement, its queue separation, its anxiety-reducing openness, its simple stairway scheme, its lack of corners and bottleneck points, and the wide road leading to it as qualities from which today’s stadium designers can still learn. Just last May, the surviving members of Pink Floyd happened to get back together on stage; should they launch a reunion tour, they might consider starting at the ampitheatre they introduced to so many young fans before history teachers could.

You’ll find embedded above the 2003 director’s cut of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, the latest of several versions of the film. It includes not just the band’s Pompeii performance, but additional songs shot in Paris, recording and interviewing sessions at Abbey Road, and a number of clips of exploding volcanoes and Earth from space. The non-concert material further explores themes naturally raised by placing music from 1971 into a venue from 70 BC.  Considering any creation’s place in history and the danger of fetishizing the man-made, the band members talk about how to avoid becoming “slaves to all our equipment,” how not to one day find themselves “a relic of the past,” and whether or not rock would survive a vast societal collapse. Some of this feels like a more intelligent version of the rock-documentary sensibility that This is Spinal Tap would so thoroughly lambast almost a decade later. We all had a good laugh when that film’s hapless fictional rock group ordered up an all-too-miniature replica of Stonehenge for their live show. You may also chuckle at the grandness of Pink Floyd’s use of the Ampitheatre of Pompeii, but it also presents you with questions worth thinking about.

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

Sebastian Seung and the Human Connectome Project

Sebastian Seung has a new book out, Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, that documents current research into "mapping out our neural connections in our brains might be the key to understanding the basis of things like personality, memory, perception and ideas, as well as illnesses that happen in the brain, like autism and schizophrenia."

 Seung gave a TED Talk at Oxford in 2010:

Sebastian Seung: I am my connectome

Sebastian Seung is mapping a massively ambitious new model of the brain that focuses on the connections between each neuron. He calls it our "connectome," and it's as individual as our genome -- and understanding it could open a new way to understand our brains and our minds. Seung is a leader in the new field of connectomics, currently the hottest space in neuroscience, which studies, in once-impossible detail, the wiring of the brain.
Over the last month or so, Seung and the Human Connectome Project have been getting a lot of press. Below are four of the more prominent articles.

 A map of neurons of the mouse retina, reconstructed automatically by artificial intelligence from electron microscopic images.
A. Zlateski based on data from K. Briggman, M. Helmstaedter, and W. Denk/MIT/Seung
A map of neurons of the mouse retina, reconstructed automatically by artificial intelligence from electron microscopic images.

February 29, 2012

Our brains are filled with billions of neurons, entangled like a dense canopy of tropical forest branches. When we think of a concept or a memory — or have a perception or feeling — our brain's neurons quickly fire and talk to each other across connections called synapses.

How these neurons interact with each other — and what the wiring is like between them — is key to understanding our identity, says Sebastian Seung, a professor of computational neuroscience at MIT.

Seung's new book, Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, explains how mapping out our neural connections in our brains might be the key to understanding the basis of things like personality, memory, perception and ideas, as well as illnesses that happen in the brain, like autism and schizophrenia.

"These kinds of disorders have been a puzzle for a long time," says Seung. "We can look at other brain diseases, like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, and see clear evidence that there is something wrong in the brain."

But with schizophrenia and autism, there's no clear abnormality during autopsy dissections, says Seung.

"We believe these are brain disorders because of lots of indirect evidence, but we can't look at the brain directly and see something is wrong," he says. "So the hypothesis is that the neurons are healthy, but they are simply connected together or organized in an abnormal way."

One current theory, says Seung, is that there's a connection between the wiring that develops between neurons during early infancy and developmental disorders like schizophrenia and autism.

"In autism, the development of the brain is hypothesized to go awry sometime before age 2, maybe in the womb," he says. "In schizophrenia, no one knows for sure when the development is going off course. We know that schizophrenia tends to emerge in early adulthood, so many people believe that something abnormal is happening during adolescence. Or it could be that something is happening much earlier and it's not revealed until you become an adult."

What scientists do know, he says, is that the wiring of the brain in the first three years is critical for development. Infants born with cataracts in poor countries that don't have the resources to restore their eyesight remain blind even after surgery is performed on them later in life.

"No matter how much they practice seeing, they can never really see," says Seung. "They recover some visual function, but they are still blind by comparison to you and me. And one hypothesis is that the brain didn't wire up properly when they were babies, so by the time they become adults, there's no way for the brain to learn how to see properly."

At birth, he says, you are born with all of the neurons you will ever have in life, except for neurons that exist in two specific areas of the brain: the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, which is thought to help new memories form, and the olfactory bulb, which is involved in your sense of smell.

"The obvious hypothesis [is] that these two areas need to be highly plastic and need to learn more than other regions, and that's why new neurons have to be created — to give these regions more potential for learning," says Seung. "But we don't really have any proof of that hypothesis."

But not everything is set in stone from birth. The complex synaptic connections that allow neurons to communicate with one another develop after babies have left the womb.

"As far as we know, this is happening throughout your life," he says. "Part of the reason that we are lifelong learners — that no matter how old you get, you can still learn something new — may be due to the fact that synapse creation and elimination are both continuing into adulthood."
Connectomes: Reverse-Engineering The Brain
Only one organism has had its full connectome — or neural map — mapped out by neuroscientists. It's a tiny worm no bigger than a millimeter, but it took scientists more than a dozen years to map out its 7,000 neural connections. They started out by using the world's most powerful knife and slicing the worm into slices a thousand times thinner than a human hair. They then put each slice in an electron microscope and created a 3-D image of the worm's nervous system. That's when the true labor started, says Seung.

"That's when [neuroscientists had to] go through all these images and trace out the paths taken by all of the branches of the neurons and find the synapses, and compile all that information to create the connectome," he says.

Each of the worm's 300 neurons had between 20 and 30 connections. In comparison, humans have 10,000 connections of neurons — and billions of neurons. And scientists still aren't sure what the various pathways in a worm's nervous system mean.

"We're still far away from understanding the worm," says Seung. He says that scientists would like to eventually map a 1-millimeter cube of a human brain or a mouse brain, which contains 100,000 neurons and a billion connections.

"The imaging of all of those slices of brain can be automated and made much more reliable," he says. "And now we have computers that are getting better at seeing."

So far, though, neuroscientists have only mapped the neural connections of a piece of a mouse retina, which is very thin.

"What we know in the retina is a catalog of the types of neurons," he says. "The next challenge is to figure out what are the rules of connection between these types of neurons. And that's where we still don't know a whole lot."

Mapping more of these connections, he says, will tell us a lot about brain function and possible pathways that can be treated.

"I don't want to promise too much, and my goal right now is simply to see what is wrong," he says. "That's not in itself a cure. But obviously it's a step toward finding better treatments. The analogy I make is the study of infectious diseases before the microscope. You could see the symptoms, but you couldn't see the microbes — the bacteria that caused disease. We're in an analogous stage with mental disorders. We see the symptoms, but we don't have a clear thing we can look at in the brain and say, 'This is what's wrong.' "

Sebastian Seung is a professor of computational neuroscience at MIT and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Kris Krug/Poptech/Courtesy of the author
Sebastian Seung is a professor of computational neuroscience at MIT 
and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Interview Highlights

On connectomes

"A connectome is a map between neurons inside a nervous system. You can imagine it as being like the map that you see in the back of the pages of in-flight magazines. Imagine that every city in that map is replaced by a neuron and every airline route between cities is replaced by a connection."

On the Jennifer Aniston neuron
"Sometimes people with seizures don't respond well to medications, and the only way for them to respond is for surgeons to remove the part of the brain from which the seizures originate. So [a computational neuroscientist] got permission to also record the signals of single neurons inside human subjects before doing the operating. So what the experimenters did was they showed the people pictures of celebrities and places and other kinds of objects, and they found that the neurons in the areas that they recorded from, which is in the medial temporal lobe ... responded highly selectively. They would respond to only a few pictures out of a large collection of many pictures. And in particular, there was one neuron in one person that responded only to pictures of Jennifer Aniston — not to Halle Berry, not to Julia Roberts, and one great finding said that this neuron did not respond to pictures of Jennifer Aniston with Brad Pitt. ... It would be overstating the case to say this neuron only responds to Jennifer Aniston because the experimenters didn't have time to show the person all possible celebrities. But it seems safe to say that this neuron responds to only a small fraction of celebrities."

A diffusion spectrum image shows the brain wiring in a healthy human adult.
A diffusion spectrum image shows the brain wiring in a healthy human adult.

On neural networks

"Your brain is this vast network of neurons, communicating through signals. And as far as neuroscientists can tell, these signals that are passed around the network are reflecting the processing of all of our mental processes — your thoughts, your feelings, your perceptions and so on."

On regenerative neurons

"If you have brain damage, and lots of neurons are killed, those neurons won't grow back except in [the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, which is thought to help new memories form, and the olfactory bulb, which is involved in sense of smell]. So you could view it from a very pessimistic viewpoint. On the other hand, it's entirely possible that medical advances in the future will somehow activate regenerative powers in the brain. If these regenerative powers exist in [those] two areas, why not awaken them in other areas of the brain? So there's also an optimistic kind of spin on this."
 This article comes from Scientific American (follow the link in the title to see the whole article).

The Age of Connectome: Q&A with Sebastian Seung

In 1949, a Canadian psychologist named Donald Hebb penned the following revolutionary words in his pioneering work, The Organization of Behavior:
“Let us assume that the persistence or repetition of a reverberatory activity (or ‘trace’) tends to induce lasting cellular changes that add to its stability… When an axon of cell A is near enough to excite a cell B and repeatedly or persistently takes part in firing it, some growth process or metabolic change takes place in one or both cells such that A’s efficiency, as one of the cells firing B, is increased.”
Or, to put it more bluntly: “Cells that fire together, wire together.”

Hebb’s ideas have influenced many a modern neuroscientist, notably in the area of brain mapping.  To date, most brain mapping efforts have been on more of a macroscale: identifying which parts of the brain are affiliated with specific functions, for example, or staining single neurons to track them in the mass of brain tissue, or looking at thicker “wiring” that connects different parts of the brain. Ideally, neuroscientists would like to trace the actual “wiring” of the brain: the dendrites and axons that form the synaptic connections between neurons.

All the cool kids call this the “connectome.” So does MIT’s Sebastian Seung, — in fact, he has a new book out (his first) called Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. Jen-Luc Piquant devoured it and pronounces it a terrific read. She now has Seung’s TED talk on a never-ending loop playing in her pixelated brain. Such a fangirl.

I heard Seung speak a few years ago at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, and was thoroughly riveted; I wasn’t the least surprised when he was tapped for TED. He came to neuroscience by way of condensed matter physics theory, working on artificial neural networks (ANNs).
 This article comes from CNN (follow the link in the title to see the whole article).

Mapping out a new era in brain research

The Human Connectome Project is giving neuroscientists a new perspective on the connections in the brain and how they communicate with each other.<br/><br/>Copyright Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, UCLA and Randy Buckner, PhD. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, MGH. <a href='' target='_blank'></a><br/><br/> 
The Human Connectome Project is giving neuroscientists a new perspective on the connections in the brain and how they communicate with each other.

Copyright Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, UCLA and Randy Buckner, PhD. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, MGH.

  • Emerging field of "Connectomics" aims to uncover the complex secrets of the brain
  • Human Connectome Project shedding new light on connectivity and function
  • New advances could pave the way for treatments of brain disorders like autism
(CNN) -- The complex architecture of the human brain and how its billions of nerve cells communicate has baffled the greatest minds for centuries.

But now, new technology is allowing neuroscientists to map the brain's connections in ever-greater detail.

The creation of a map, or "connectome" as it has been dubbed, is raising hopes that brain disorders like autism and schizophrenia will be better understood in the future, perhaps cured.

The Human Connectome Project (HCP), a U.S. government-funded scheme, recently began trials on healthy volunteers with a state-of-the-art diffusion-imaging scanner.

Built by German engineering company Siemens, it works by tracking the passage of water molecules through nerve fibers, giving a more accurate picture of the brain's structure and its neuronal pathways, scientists say.

"The diffusion image is a map of the water diffusion which we then convert into a marker for the fiber pathways," says Van Wedeen, director of Connectomics at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

"We then reconstruct it through computer algorithms that explain the water diffusion that we have observed."
Finally, The Dana Foundation recently posted their review of a debate between Seung and J. Anthony Movshon, director of the Center for Neural Science at NYU and a Dana Alliance member. Movshoin thinks resources would be better spent elsewhere. The debate was moderated by Carl Zimmer (Discover, The New York Times) and Robert Krulwich (NPR). Follow the title link to see the whole (tto short) review of the debate. This debate was also reviewed by The Beautiful Brain.

The Value of the Connectome: Seung and Movshon Debate

Connectome debate imageFrom left to right: Movshon, Zimmer, Krulwich, and Seung.

Last night’s debate at Columbia University between neuroscientists Sebastian Seung and J. Anthony Movshon was billed as a heavyweight fight. In his welcoming address, in front of a packed house, Stuart Firestein referred to the participants as gladiators and the moderators as referees. And while he ended by saying “Let’s get ready to rumble!” the debate was rather temperate. The event, moderated by Carl Zimmer (Discover, The New York Times) and Robert Krulwich (NPR), was presented by NeuWrite and sponsored by the Dana Foundation.
From The Beautiful Brain:

As eager attendees packed Columbia University’s Havemayer Hall on Monday evening and another three hundred watched a simulcast from a nearby room, two things were immediately clear: there is a hunger for a true debate about the brain, one that moves the conversations usually held behind closed doors at scientific conferences and over late-night beers to the public sphere, and Sebastian Seung is wearing gold sneakers.

Some were desperate to get in.

It was clear from the opening statements at Monday’s debate that Movshon and Seung represent two different schools of thought, but their conversation ended up being less a “brain brawl” and more a respectful airing of differences. Seung believes neuroscience is stuck in a traditional mode of research, where the necessity to publish the next paper and get the next grant corrals scientists into overly-specific, limited fields of view of the whole system they’re studying. As a result, Seung argued, “neuroscientists can be very short-sighted.” Seung’s own plan of attack is one he’s elaborated in his popular TED talk and documented thoroughly (and very accessibly) in his new book, Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. On Monday, he reiterated this philosophy: the best way to understand perception, memory, and the basis of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and autism, Seung believes, is to study the brain at the level of the synapse—to trace all the connections between all the neurons in a brain. By generating a map of the whole system, we may be able to finally see engrams for memories and perceptions, as well as what might be going wrong with these networks in the aforementioned disorders, perhaps due to various problems in the ways neurons are wired up, which Seung calls “connectopathies.”

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Generation Wise - The Buddhist Geeks Conference (2011)

Nice conversation on the evolution of 21st Century dharma from last years' Buddhist Geeks Conference. This year's conference is in Boulder . . . see the box below.

Generation Wise

by  Trudy Goodman, Ethan Nichtern, Vincent Horn, and Diana Winston

The following video took place at the Buddhist Geeks Conference in 2011, and was one of the two organized panels of the event.

Panel Description: A panel exploring how we can support 21st century dharma by harnessing the wisdom of the ages. Panelists include, Trudy Goodman, Vincent Horn, Ethan Nichtern, Diana Winston, and Jack Kornfield.

Sonnabend Lecture: Jon Kabat-Zinn - A More Mindful Society Might Depend on Us

The topic of this talk by Jon Kabat-Zinn (A More Mindful Society Might Depend on Us) is interesting in light of Congressman Tim Ryan's new book, A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit (more on this below).

A mindful nation, or a mindful society, however we want to phrase it, does depend on us - on you, me, and the neighbor down the street who may be an evangelical Christian. But having a religion does not prevent one from learning to be mindful, and with mindfulness comes greater compassion and empathy. Imagine . . . not that there are no countries, or religions, no heaven or no hell . . . rather, imagine a world of mindfulness and compassion.

Am I the change I want to see in the world? Are you?

Sonnabend Lecture (2011) by Jon Kabat-Zinn - A More Mindful Society Might Depend on Us: Embodying Our Beauty and Our Wholeness in Our Lives and in the World 

Uploaded by on Oct 17, 2011
Dr. Kabat-Zinn is founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at UMass Medical Center, which has served as the model for mindfulness-based clinical intervention programs at over 400 medical centers and clinics nationwide and abroad. He drew hundreds of people to Lesley University's Brattle Campus Monday, October 3, 2001, to deliver the Sonnabend Lecture, guiding the packed audience through an exploration of Mindfulness, followed by a meditation exercise. Dr. Kabat-Zinn's visit coincided with the launching of Lesley's new program in Mindfulness Studies.

The bi-annual Sonnabend Lecture invites a distinguished practitioner in the field of human services to work with Lesley's students and faculty, and enrich the academic community.

A week or so ago, Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., wrote about Ryan's new book (of which she saw an advance copy) on her blog at Psychology Today.

A radical proposal to infuse psychology into government

Psychologists often dream of a better world in which our field's discoveries are applied to society's major problems. If Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan has his way, the dream will become reality. Not to overstate the case, but Ryan's proposal that everyone becomes more mindful could help the United States tackle and overcome some of our greatest challenges.
 In his book, A Mindful Nation, Ryan lays out a relatively straightforward plan in which by practicing mindfulness, we as individual citizens can improve our mental and physical health, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce crime, improve our educational systems, and help our military enhance their performance.  A bold proposition? Yes. However, he builds the case starting with a simple first step—that the practice of mindfulness can help each of us can improve our internal awareness of our bodies. Once we've passed step one, we'll be more likely to take steps that will make us more effective and capable citizens, and that will create the momentum for a series of changes in how well we can perform, our physical health, our relations with others, and our interactions with the environment.

To learn the details of Ryan's plan, you need to read the clear and easy-to-follow arguments Ryan provides in the book. You'll also be able to learn about Ryan's visits to the psychology labs of notable researchers in the mindfulness field. Here, I'll summarize the gist of his proposal and share the highlights of my recent phone interview with the Congressman.

Let's look at the first step-the practice of mindfulness.  The term "mindfulness" precisely conveys its essence: "Mindfulness means being relaxed and aware of what's going on in our own mind. It means calmly paying attention to what we are doing, without being pulled into regrets about the past or fantasies of the future. It's our capacity to fully focus on what we're doing." Sounds easy, doesn't it! However, in our multitasking world, simply slowing down and paying attention to your inner experience rather than your many iGadgets, may seem impossible.  Proponents of mindfulness don't expect you to stop everything you're doing and focus on your inner thoughts all of the time, just for a few minutes at least once a day.  It's not much of a sacrifice considering the value you gain in improved perspective on the tasks facing you in your job, home, and community.

There's plenty of research to support the value of mindfulness.  From eating a healthier diet to getting more enjoyment out of your day, that inner focus can benefit you in a multitude of ways.
Mindfulness is becoming an integral component in cognitive psychotherapy for anxiety, mood, and addictive disorders. The key to mindfulness in psychotherapy is that individuals focus on their total experience, even if that experience includes negative thoughts. Rather than trying to fight the content of those thoughts, in mindfulness therapy, people learn to accept all their thoughts, even the negative ones. The key is to become aware of your inner state in a non-judgmental fashion. If you can accept your negative thoughts, so the theory goes, you will have less emotional distress.

Reducing stress is one of the major advantages of mindfulness in improving physical as well as mental health. I resonated strongly with Ryan's proposal that mindfulness practice could help us reduce our healthcare costs. By thinking about what's going on inside you, Ryan argues, you'll be more likely to seek medical care at the first signs of an illness rather than after it reaches crisis levels. You'll recognize your high blood pressure spikes, your racing heart, and even chest pains that can bode the first sign of a heart attack. What's more, you'll be more likely to take advantage of preventative strategies as well. Your inner focus will help keep you from putting as many unhealthy foods into your body and will motivate you to get out and exercise. By reducing your emotional distress, you'll also reduce the unhealthy levels of stress that can wreak havoc on the major organ systems of your body.  If we could all take these steps, we could reduce our dependence on those expensive and often harmful medications that themselves create more health problems.  This is an area where, clearly, the actions of each of us can improve the future of society as a whole.

Ryan also proposes a radical restructuring of education to bring mindfulness into the classroom.  Because mindfulness requires no great sophistication, children can readily learn its techniques. A mindfulness curriculum, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is already being implemented, promoted by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning in Chicago, among other organizations.  It goes without saying that helping children to focus their attention through mindfulness can improve their classroom performance, ability to learn and—as a side benefit—their relationships with their fellow students. You don't have to be a child to benefit from mindfulness training. Researchers have found that college students who are constantly on social media during lectures have lower grades than those who focus on their instructor (Junco & Cotten, 2012).  

Ryan's proposal that mindfulness can help our environment is also compelling.  Rising gas prices are causing us to pay more attention to our driving habits but if the past is any indication, as soon as gas prices dip again, or as we become habituated to more pain at the pump, it's likely that we'll go back to our gas guzzling ways. Mindfulness practice might help to battle that inclination by getting us to think, for example, about whether we need to take each and every trip we make to the store and how we can more efficiently get to work or school. That's one place to start, and building from there, we can also use mindfulness in a larger sense to become more conscientious about our approach to the environment in general.  Think twice, in other words, before you toss that plastic container into the trash instead of the recycling bin. Or better still, don't use throwaway plastic containers at all!

Applying mindfulness to enhancing the performance of the military, Ryan cites the success of Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT, or M-Fit). Not only can this lower the stress associated with combat exposure, but by training our soldiers in mindfulness, they can perform more effectively in their roles on the battlefield, a "force multiplier." Mindfulness helps improve cognitive functioning, particularly working memory. When you're thinking about what you're doing, your physical performance will be that much more effective.

Ryan devotes a chapter specifically on the science of mindfulness.  Although throughout the book he describes the empirical basis for his proposals, this chapter provides useful additional support. He places considerable weight on a finding from neuroscience known as the "left shift," which is what happens in the brain when we engage mindful thinking.  The increased activation of the brain's left frontal regions is associated with more positive emotional states and could, theoretically, account for the reduced distress we experience when we practice mindfulness.

After having the opportunity to read a pre-release version of the book, I was thrilled to learn that Congressman Ryan was willing to speak to me about his work. I was particularly eager to ask him about his vision of mindfulness as a grass-roots movement. At the end of each chapter in the book, Ryan lays out strategies that individual citizens can implement to bring the mindfulness revolution to work for improving our country, community by community. Ryan feels strongly that it's important for mindfulness to take hold at this level, so that we start the long-term process that can eventually bring about the lasting change he envisions.  I asked him straight out, however, whether he thought that maybe it was time for the mindfulness movement to take hold of our gridlocked federal government. I agree that we as individuals need to take responsibility by adopting the mindful mindset. However, can't Congress jump start the process a little bit (or a lot)? What about mindfulness workshops or—even better—a bipartisan Mindfulness Caucus?  Perhaps if our nation's leaders could model the benefits of mindfulness, ordinary citizens would feel encouraged enough to take action at the local level.

Of course, as Ryan pointed out, "Congress is a reflection of the country; we're elected by the people. If the people are demanding a more mindful, thoughtful long-term approach to our problems they'll demand that our current representatives are more mindful and concerned about the long-term."

Yet, one could still argue (as I did) that with the big money lobbying groups influencing our publicly elected representatives, how can individuals hope to be heard as we make our plea for greater mindfulness?  I pushed pretty hard on this question, but Ryan once again had a well-thought out response. As he pointed out, each one of us can be a "lobbyist," but our voice is particularly likely to be heard when we band together. He cited several cases to support this argument, including a recent anti-collective bargaining referendum in Ohio that failed due to the joint voices of police, fire, teachers, nurses, and public employees.  If lobbyists with 5 or 10 K signatures from a district go to DC and say "My people want this," that can counterbalance the money and the influence of the big-money lobbyists.

It's pretty exciting to read such a well-reasoned argument about how psychology can become the basis of a new social movement. It's also pretty amazing to read a politician's book that uses terms such as "meta-analysis" and cites the Journal of Applied School Psychology.  And my frontal lobes shifted all the way to the left when, in our phone interview, he talked about the amygdala. 

Ryan is definitely onto something.  His goal in writing the book is to get mindfulness to be a topic of conversation: "Once you start seeing this as the solution to the problems you begin the implementation process." For all of our sakes, I hope this process starts soon!

Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.  

Junco, R. (2012). Too much face and not enough books: The relationship between multiple indices of Facebook use and academic performanceComputers in Human Behavior, 28(1), 187-198. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2011.08.026