Saturday, November 17, 2012

Elisha Goldstein - One Minute to a Stress-Less Brain

Psychologist Elisha Goldstein offers a quick meditation practice to reduce stress and calm the mind - it's easy and can be done anywhere. Goldstein is the author of The Now Effect: How a Mindful Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life and A Mindful Dialogue: A Path Toward Working with Stress, Pain and Difficult Emotions (Kindle only), and co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook.

One Minute to a Stress-Less Brain 

Psychologist; Author, 'The Now Effect'; Co-author, 'A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook' 

Over the course of the recent election many of us have been inundated with a barrage of data that may have added on to the stress we're already feeling in everyday life. Our brains are designed to handle an increasing amount of complex information, and as more information becomes available, our brains adapt. It may adopt a continuous partial attention, and we can't help but live in shallow noisy waters and lack a sense of awareness and depth of what is the most skillful response to daily stress.

The problem is, this is a recipe for an ongoing stress cycle.

Recent neuroscience and personal stories are indicating that we can not only reverse this stress cycle but may even be able to create a stronger and healthier brain. This is real and powerful. We can train our brains to automatically reconnect to what matters, break free from the limiting stories in our minds, incline our minds toward the good in life and even learn how to relate to our difficult feelings differently to realize an emotional freedom from the confines of our habitual thoughts and reactions.

This is what I call changing the way we think before we think, and this is The Now Effect.

I'm going to introduce to a short and simple one-minute practice that will start to train your brain to access that space of awareness where choice, possibility and opportunity lie.

This is what I call the "BE" practice.

Note: First, see if you can set any judgments aside of whether this practice will or will not "work" for you. Engage this just with the goal of being aware of your experience.

Breathe -- Take a few deep breaths and as you breathe in, know that you're breathing in, and as you breathe out know that you breathing out. The instructions are very simple. You can even say to yourself, "in" as you're breathing in and "out" as you're breathing out. This is meant to pop you out of auto-pilot and steady your mind.

Expand -- This is the process of expanding your attention throughout the body and just feeling the body as it is. You may feel warmth or coolness, achiness, itchiness, tension, tightness, heaviness, lightness or a whole host of sensations. Or perhaps you notice no sensation at all in other areas. When you're here also be aware of how emotions are being expressed in the body. Stress may be tension in the chest or shoulders, calm may be looseness in the back or face. Whatever you notice, just practice allowing to be as it is without needing "to do" anything about it.

That's it! It may sound too simple to be impactful, but again, set your judgments aside, treat this as an experiment and let your experience be your teacher.

Where can you practice?

When you're at work, it's easy for your mind to wander off onto various engaging websites or apps. When you notice this you can just "Breathe" and "Expand" attention to the body grounding to the present moment and in that new-found space of awareness turn to what really matters, such as the project you're trying to get done.

Maybe you're about to fire off an angry text to your partner in all caps after coming home to a sink of dishes; instead of taking that impulsive action this may be a good time to just "BE" and then make a conscious choice of what to do next.

Maybe you find your mind telling you stories about all the work you have to do and how you'll never get it done in time; use the "BE" practice.

Or maybe you're driving to work a few minutes late and someone pulls in front of you, slowing you down; "BE" and then respond from a more collected place.

Set the intention to practice being, breathing and expanding into the body in mini moments throughout the day. The way the brain changes is through intentional practice and repetition just like walking, talking, reading, and riding a bike and this is no different.

To help you remember you might consider posting signs in your environment that say "Just BE," knowing that means to engage in the "BE" practice. Or maybe put a note in your digital calendar to pop up a couple times in the day as a reminder.

The benefits are enormous -- it just takes intention and practice.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom that we can all benefit from.

Tami Simon with Jeff Foster - The Deepest Acceptance

Sounds True founder and CEO spoke with Jeff Foster in this recent podcast about his new book and audio course, The Deepest Acceptance: Radical Awakening in Ordinary Life. For those not familiar with Foster, here is a little background from his own website:
Jeff Foster studied Astrophysics at Cambridge University. In his mid-twenties, after a long period of depression and illness, he became addicted to the idea of ‘spiritual enlightenment’ and embarked on an intensive spiritual quest for the ultimate truth of existence.

The spiritual search came crashing down with the clear recognition of the non-dual nature of everything, and the discovery of the extraordinary in the ordinary. In the clarity of this seeing, life became what it always was: intimate, open, loving and spontaneous, and Jeff was left with a deep understanding of the root illusion behind all human suffering, and a love of the present moment.
Enjoy the podcast.

The Deepest Acceptance

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tami Simon speaks with Jeff Foster, voted in 2012 by The Watkins Review as one of the world’s 100 most spiritually influential people living today. With Sounds True, Jeff has released a new book, The Deepest Acceptance: Radical Awakening in Ordinary Life, and an accompanying audio program inviting us to discover the ocean of who we are: an awareness that has already allowed every wave of emotion and experience to arrive. In this episode, Jeff explains that we are acceptance, how to work with practical concerns such as financial fears, and the power of being with someone who is suffering—with an absolutely open embrace. Jeff also talks about his own path of awakening, including deep depression and some of his most important discoveries. (90 minutes)


Friday, November 16, 2012

Generation WE: The Movement Begins . . . (or began)

This video was quite moving . . . I actually got goosebumps. I found it at KarmaTube - "a project of ServiceSpace, an all-volunteer run organization. Our aim is to enable individuals to contribute in meaningful ways to the world around them. Together, we hope to "be the change we wish to see in the world." This isn't a new movement - it started with the 2008 election cycle. So I wonder how active they still are - if they are?

For more information, check out Generation WE.

Video from KarmaTube

Generation WE: The Movement Begins...

"We, the youth of the United States, believe our birthright has been betrayed," declares the Millennial Generation, the largest generation in American history, to date. They inherit a country in decline and a broken political system. Still, America's young people declares a manifesto of hope - to restore the American dream.

  • Learn more about how the Millenials are emerging as a powerful political and social force.
  • Think American youth have inherited their parents' politics?  Guess again. Understand the change underway.
  • Be a responsible member of society: study the issues and vote in every election.

Generation We - the Millennials - has arrived. They have emerged as a powerful political and social force. Their huge numbers and progressive attitudes are already changing America. And the world.

The book is free to download as a PDF.

Bookforum Omnivore - State of the Human Species

From Bookforum's Omnivore, here is an interesting collection of links on human beings, our history, and our long-time neighbors, the neanderthals.


Ajahn Sumedho - Developing an Attitude Towards Meditation

This nice article by Ajahn Sumedho comes from Buddhism Now. When we sit down to meditate with an intention - to attain a certain form of awareness, or to have a blissful peak experience, or even to change our emotional state - then we are doing meditation as work. Sumedho suggests that the goal of Buddhist meditation is to see things as they are, with an awakened attention.

Developing an attitude towards meditation, by Ajahn Sumedho

When one composes one’s mind and looks inwards, there is a sense of coming to one point. If we are not caught in the thinking process, we can be aware of the here and now, the body, the breath, mental states, moods; we can allow everything to be what it is.

Ajahn Sumedho Buddhist Summer School 2001.

The attitude of many people in meditation is that there is always a need to change something. There might be an attempt to attain a particular state or some kind of blissful experience they have had before, or even if they haven’t had anything like that, they might hope that if they continue to practise, they will. When we practise meditation with this idea of getting something, then even the idea of practice, even the word ‘meditation’, can bring up this conditioned reaction of: ‘There’s something I’ve got to do. If I’m in a bad mood I should get rid of that mood. I’ve got to concentrate my mind.’ If the mind’s scattered and we’re all over the place, ‘I should make it one-pointed; I’ve got to concentrate.’ And so we make meditation into hard work and there is a great deal of failure in it because we’re trying to control everything through these ideas. But this is an impossibility.

The idea of going off to a cave somewhere to meditate, or of being alone, is very attractive because as you settle into solitude, you do experience a level of tranquillity through lack of sensory stimulation. It is a kind of sensory deprivation. But that kind of tranquillity is easily disturbed. When the sensory impingements start pounding away at you again, you can get into, ‘Let me go to my cave.’ You can begin to hate people. You see them always as a threat. ‘Here they come again. They’re going to disrupt my samadhi.’ So, this couldn’t possibly be the way to liberation.

The other extreme is to think that you should not go off to the cave and should not practise meditation. Sometimes you hear people say that one need only be natural and let everything happen. This is true if you can do it, but if you don’t even know what is natural yet, it’s difficult to trust yourself.

The word ‘meditation’ covers many different kinds of mental experiences. The goal of Buddhist meditation is to see things as they are; it is a state of awakened attention. This is a very simple thing to do; it isn’t complicated or difficult or something that takes years to achieve. It is so easy that you don’t even notice it. When you say, ‘You’ve got to practise meditation,’ you conceive it as something you have to attain—you have to subdue your defilements, control your emotions and develop virtues in order to attain some kind of ideal state of mind. It sounds very remote and far from what we can expect in our lives as human beings.

Then you might have these images of what meditators do. Perhaps you think of yogis sitting in remote places, on mountain tops or in caves. Even the Buddha-image can convey this sense of remoteness and separation if you don’t understand how to use that particular icon.

So, in developing an attitude towards meditation, towards formal practice or daily life practice, we might separate the two. In formal practice or controlled retreats everything is organised, we all go by the routine, by the structure. Then, when we get up from that, we might feel that that is not meditation, and we leave it. Then we can refer to ‘daily life meditation’, and that seems hopeless. If we compare daily life with a very controlled meditation retreat they are very different. You can’t however live your life in that controlled structure as an ongoing experience. Geshe Tashi [Tsering] made the point very well in his talk last night that this is a real challenge. How do you develop this attention, this awakened-ness in the flow of life? That doesn’t remove the option of going on retreat or diminish the value of retreats in any way, but it is a way of looking at meditation as awakened-ness and awareness, mindfulness, so that it actually is something you develop throughout your daily life in whatever way you have to live it, in whatever conditions. There is a sense of allowing things to be. In this present moment you can allow your body to be in whatever way it is right now, as well as your emotional state or mental state. You can be just the observer. Right now the mood is like this, I feel like this. Just observe it; just be aware of it. Is there confusion, indifference, happiness, sadness, doubt or uncertainty? Whatever is present, allow it to be what it is.

Dartington, Totnes, 2012 

Try looking inwards with this attitude of observing whatever is present. It can be something very precise, like anger, or something very sharp. A lot of our emotions, however, are nebulous, kind of amorphous, wandering things. So now put yourself in this position of the Buddha, Buddho, the knower—not the judge—and just look. Just notice what kind of mood or feeling you are in.

When we start really noticing, really listening or paying attention, sustaining an awareness on just this mood or mental state (and we’re not used to doing this), then we may become aware of bodily tensions or feelings of bewilderment, of not knowing quite what we’re supposed to be doing, what we’re supposed to find. Now, be aware of this as a mental object. What we are doing is putting ourselves increasingly in this position of Buddha, the Buddho. Then your emotional state is seen in an objective way; it is like this. ‘What am I supposed to be doing?’—This can be seen as a mental object.

Another suggestion is to relax into the present. You have this idea of what you have to do, and you put yourself into a state of tension through too much effort. It’s not a matter of trying too hard or not trying at all, but of just the right amount of attention needed to just listen, to just be open to this present moment in a relaxed way. If we force it, if we try too hard, then we tend to contract; we don’t relax. Then again, if I say ‘relax’, you might take that as meaning ‘lax’, so then you just fall asleep—those who are sitting on the floor decide to lie down, then they go to sleep. Or one could take ‘relax’ as an attitude of just letting go, an attitude of not having to do anything or get anything. This is not a kind of ­gaining situation. You are not here to get something or achieve something, so it’s not like a worldly thing. You are not here to get your samadhi or prove something. What accompanies that might well be the fear that you won’t be able to do it, ‘Maybe I’m one of those people that will never get enlightened.’ Another one we all sometimes revert to is, ‘I don’t expect to get enlightened in this lifetime. I just don’t have what it takes.’ Well, don’t believe that one either.

Ajahn Chah used to call meditation a holiday for the heart. We have a tendency to think that meditation is something we’ve got to achieve, another thing we‘ve got to do and get, but Ajahn Chah would put it in terms of a holiday. Try that, try seeing meditation in that way.

More articles by Ajahn Sumedho here 

[The above is from a talk given by him on 31 July 2001 at the Buddhist Publishing Group, Buddhist Summer School, England.]

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Documentary - The Invisible War (1 in 3 Military Women Raped)

I saw this film, The Invisible War, when it first aired on PBS Frontline - it is moving, infuriating, and painful. The fact that 1 in 3 women in the military will be sexually assaulted by their peers and superiors is simply incomprehensible to me. Even worse, many survivors are the ones investigated and often discharged as "mentally ill."
In 2011, there were 3,191 reports of sexual assaults ranging from wrongful touching to rape — but even Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says he believes that because it is such an underreported crime, there were actually as many as 19,000 such attacks.
Only 8% of these rapes go to trial, which probably explains (along with the blame-the-victim approach) why the reports have gone down since that 2011 stat was recorded.

According to another article:
more than one-fifth of all active-duty female soldiers have been sexually assaulted, leaving women who have been raped in the military with a higher rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than that of men in combat.
I tend to believe the 1 in 3 stat because I know how often rape goes unreported.

The Invisible War

From Oscar®- and Emmy®-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated; Twist of Faith) comes The Invisible War, a groundbreaking investigative documentary about one of America's most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military. The film paints a startling picture of the extent of the problem-today, a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. The Department of Defense estimates there were a staggering 19,000 violent sex crimes in the military in 2010. The Invisible War exposes the epidemic, breaking open one of the most under-reported stories of our generation, to the nation and the world.
Another summary:
The Invisible War is a groundbreaking investigative documentary about one of our country’s most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape within our US military. Today, a female soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire with the number of assaults in the last decade alone in the hundreds of thousands. Focusing on the powerfully emotional stories of several young women, the film reveals the systemic cover up of the crimes against them and follows their struggles to rebuild their lives and fight for justice. The Invisible War features hard-hitting interviews with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress that reveal the perfect storm conditions that exist for rape in the military, its history of cover-up, and what can be done to bring about much needed change. — (C) Official Site

Alva Noë - An American Family

Philosopher Alva Noë posted this article a couple of days ago at the NPR 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog in response to the presidential election. He identifies a deeper issue than demographics, the economy, or most of the other talking points we hear from the pundits - a shift in our sense of community.

According to Noë [in reference to the "You didn't build that" speech that the GOP tried to twist into the message that Obama was anti-success], Obama's point was "not just that we are all in this together, the point is that the fact that we are all in this together makes us what we are."

An American Family

by Alva Noë
November 12, 2012

A sea of self-motivated individuals or a web of interdependent talents? Both, of course.

A sea of self-motivated individuals or a web of interdependent talents? Both, of course. Jewel Samad AFP/Getty Images
... we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.
... our destiny is shared ...
... this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among these are love and charity and duty and patriotism.
The President delivered these words last week after securing re-election. They offer, I think, a clear and an honest statement of the central value at stake in this past election, and beyond.

One of the abiding myths that shapes our understanding of ourselves is the idea that each of us is a kind of island and that we are only truly responsible for that which flows from our inner selves without any external influence.

We need to be done with this myth.

I think Star Trek: "to boldly go where no one has gone before." Yes, but not alone. We go forth as members of a ship's crew, representing a vast civilization, and dependent on a web of technology that requires the existence of uncountably many people, ideas, inventions and institutions.

In this election President Obama took clear aim at the myth:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business — you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.
Truer words have never been spoken.

Indeed, it was a telling failure of Romney's campaign, back in July, to have chosen just these words of the president to distort and criticize. The Romney campaign said:
Mitt Romney understands that we have to celebrate people who start enterprises and employ other people rather than devalue them. Success is not the result of government, it is the result of hard-working people who take risks, create dreams, and build lives for themselves and for their families.
The point, of course, is that Obama was not devaluing success, or denying that successful business people build their own businesses. He was calling attention to the conditions that make it possible for them to do this. That's not to attack successful people, it is to acknowledge, and then to celebrate, the fact that each of us is situated in a community and that our situation enables us to act and to achieve success, in very much the way that a race track allows a driver to test his limits.

Obama took clear aim at the myth. The point is not just that we are all in this together. The point is that the fact that we are all in this together makes us what we are.

The hand-wringing among Republicans has given rise to lots of talk about changing demographics, sensitivity to women and the like. But Romney's failure ran deeper, I think. He played on the myth, but without defending it, and certainly without offering an alternative. He failed to engage what may be the defining issue for our time.

Effects of Empathic Paraphrasing – Extrinsic Emotion Regulation in Social Conflict

From Frontiers in Emotion Science, this interesting study confirms what seems kind of obvious to anyone who worked with non-violent communication and been in imago therapy - when we respond to someone with empathy, in this case through paraphrasing a stressful incident the person has just related in way that let's him or her know we got it, the person feels better about the incident just related. The full paper is free for download at the link below.

Effects of empathic paraphrasing – extrinsic emotion regulation in social conflict

  • 1Cluster of Excellence “Languages of Emotion,” Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany
  • 2Dahlem Institute for Neuroimaging of Emotion, Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany
  • 3Department of Psychiatry, Charité University Medicine Berlin, Campus Benjamin Franklin, Berlin, Germany
In the present study, we investigated the effects of empathic paraphrasing as an extrinsic emotion regulation technique in social conflict. We hypothesized that negative emotions elicited by social conflict can be regulated extrinsically in a conversation by a listener following the narrator’s perspective and verbally expressing cognitive empathy. Twenty participants were interviewed on an ongoing or recently self-experienced social conflict. The interviewer utilized 10 standardized open questions inviting participants to describe their perception of the conflict. After each of the 10 descriptions, the interviewer responded by either paraphrasing or taking notes (control condition). Valence ratings pertaining to the current emotional state were assessed during the interview along with psychophysiological and voice recordings. Participants reported feeling less negative after hearing the interviewer paraphrase what they had said. In addition, we found a lower sound intensity of participants’ voices when answering to questions following a paraphrase. At the physiological level, skin conductance response, as well as heart rate, were higher during paraphrasing than during taking notes, while blood volume pulse amplitude was lower during paraphrasing, indicating higher autonomic arousal. The results show that demonstrating cognitive empathy through paraphrasing can extrinsically regulate negative emotion on a short-term basis. Paraphrasing led to enhanced autonomic activation in recipients, while at the same time influencing emotional valence in the direction of feeling better. A possible explanation for these results is that being treated in an empathic manner may stimulate a more intense emotion processing helping to transform and resolve the conflict.

Full Citation: 
Seehausen M, Kazzer P, Bajbouj M and Prehn K. (2012). Effects of empathic paraphrasing – extrinsic emotion regulation in social conflict. Front. Psychology, 3:482. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00482

Elke Weber - Our Energy Efficiency Paradox: Psychological Barriers to 'No-Brainer' Solutions

From New York University's (NYU) Educating for Sustainability series, this talk is by Elke Weber, professor of psychology at Columbia University's Earth Institute Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (and Co-Director of the Center for the Decision Sciences).

In this talk, Weber examines:
  1. human causes of, consequences of, and responses (adaptation and mitigation) to climate change
  2. the links between these aspects of climate change and cognitive, affective, motivational, interpersonal, and organizational responses and processes
Hers is a deeper understanding of why climate change is resisted and why we are unable to make necessary decisions (and take actions) when it seems like a "no-brainer."

In her public lecture, "Our Energy Efficiency Paradox: Psychological Barriers to 'No-Brainer' Solutions," Elke U. Weber, the Jerome A. Chazen Professor of International Business at Columbia Business School and a professor of psychology at Columbia University's Earth Institute Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, will place the psychological dimension of climate change within the broader context of human dimensions of climate change. She will address (a) human causes of, consequences of, and responses (adaptation and mitigation) to climate change and (b) the links between these aspects of climate change and cognitive, affective, motivational, interpersonal, and organizational responses and processes.

Weber is an expert on behavioral models of decision-making under risk and uncertainty, investigating psychologically and neurally plausible ways to model individual differences in risk taking and discounting, specifically in risky financial situations and environmental decisions.

The Educating for Sustainability series, which brings environmental scholars and leaders to NYU for public lectures, is cosponsored by the Sustainability Task Force and the Environmental Studies program.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Animation: Suckablood Comes for Children Who Still Suck Their Thumbs

Creepy. This is definitely not for young children - too likely to induce nightmares and scare the shit out of them. But for adults this is a fun and well-done short animated horror film.

Children who suck their thumbs get a terrifying visitor in the short horror film Suckablood

Lauren Davis

Parents tell their children all sorts of terrifying tales to break them of unwanted habits. When the monstrous mother of the young protagonist of Ben Tillett & Jake Cuddihy's Suckblood can't beat the thumbsucking habit out of her, she calls upon the vile creature who murders children who can't keep their fingers out of their mouths. Now the little girl must spend a terrified night without sucking her thumb for comfort.

This short is part of the Bloody Cuts anthology series of short horror films. This one has a dark fairytale feel and a gorgeous gothic sensibility to match. The tale even comes with its own grisly moral. Sweet dreams, thumbsuckers.

[via GeekTyrant]

Documentary - Symbolism in Logos

Interesting . . . . We are inundated by corporate logos in nearly every waking moment of every day. The documentary begins with a discussion of the two most ubiquitous logos, Apple and Starbucks. The film was produced by Red Ice Productions.

Symbolism in Logos

Symbolism in LogosDuring the 20th century, urban environments got taken over by corporate logos. Studies have reported that an average person is exposed to about a hundreds of logos a day.

Few people however ponder on the symbolic meaning of these marketing tools and their occult origins.

Think about where you encounter logos on an average day: they are on household items, on cars, on clothes, in tv ads, on billboards, on insignia, and all over sporting events.

Logos are one of the results of extensive studies (funded by the Rockefeller’s “Chicago School”) in cognitive sciences, psychology and biology.

Those studies constitute the core of “marketing”, a heavily funded field which keeps its findings totally secret from the general public. Why are the findings secret?

The show begins with discussing the symbolism of two major corporations, Starbucks and Apple. What is really being said in logos?

This documentary was filmed in Bath and Bristol, England featuring special guests such as Michael Tsarion, Neil Hague, Ralph Ellis, Leo Rutherford, Neil Kramer, Dan Tatman and Peter Taylor. The crew also interviews a priest, university students, teachers and of course a couple random pub interviews.

Watch the full documentary now

The Mind Report - New From has a new podcast, The Mind Report, hosted by philosopher Joshua Knobe of Yale University. The first talk is cool, so this is a show I will be checking in on regularly.

The Mind Report: Joshua Knobe (Yale University) and David G. Rand (Harvard University)

On the premiere of The Mind Report, Joshua talks to Dave about his research on whether people are innately selfish or cooperative. It seems intuitive that thoughtful people would be kinder—but is this so? What's the psychology behind being nice or mean to a stranger? Joshua and Dave analyze whether cooperation is part of human nature or mediated by culture. Could Americans teach cynical Romanians to be more cooperative? Finally, they consider the true source of our values.

Here is a list of Rand's research interests, many of the papers are available as PDFs.

Publications by Topic 
  1. Experiments on social behaviors and beliefs
  2. Evolutionary game theory / complex systems models
  3. Crowdsourcing behavioral experiments using online labor markets
  4. Science of science
  5. Behavioral genetics
  6. Commentaries / popular press

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Secession Petitions Filed on Behalf of Citizens in 30 States (So Far)

Wow, some people seriously cannot stand living in a country with a black man as president. Or maybe it's that he supports caring for each other as citizens and acknowledging that we are interdependent both personally and economically.

According to Huffington Post, citizens in 30 states (or more) have filed petitions to secede from the union. The threshold for White House response is 25,000 signatures in 30 days. As of now, Texas already has 80,000 signatures.
Here's a list of states where residents have filed secession petitions in recent days: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
This number is way up from 20 states reported earlier today by CBS. Not at all surprised to see Arizona on the list - we think we are Texas's little brother.

Residents In More Than 30 States File Secession Petitions


Residents in more than 30 states have filed secession petitions with the "We the People" program on the White House website.

Petitions to strip citizenship of individuals signing onto petitions to secede and exile them have also been submitted.

A threshold of 25,000 signatures must be met within 30 days for petitions to be reviewed. The Obama administration explains, "If a petition meets the signature threshold, it will be reviewed by the Administration and we will issue a response."

Micah H. (no last name provided) of Arlington, Texas filed a petition that had nearly 60,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning. It reads:
The US continues to suffer economic difficulties stemming from the federal government's neglect to reform domestic and foreign spending. The citizens of the US suffer from blatant abuses of their rights such as the NDAA, the TSA, etc. Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union, and to do so would protect it's citizens' standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government.
Unfortunately for Micah H. and Peter Morrison -- a Texas GOP official who called for an "amicable divorce" from the United States last week -- secession is not in the cards for the Lone Star State.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) sought to distance himself from the petition on Monday. The Dallas Morning News reported that the Republican governor's press secretary wrote in an email, "Gov. Perry believes in the greatness of our Union and nothing should be done to change it. But he also shares the frustrations many Americans have with our federal government."

Dan Siegel - The Emerging Mind: How Relationships and the Embodied Brain Shape Who We Are

Renowned academic, author, and director of the Mindsight Institute Dan Siegel, visits the RSA to reveal an extremely rare thing - a working definition of the mind. This video is essentially a 25 minute highlight of Dr. Siegel's RSA talk.

Contrary to the outdated bio sketch below, Dan Siegel's most recent books are Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation (2010), The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind (2012), and The Developing Mind, Second Edition: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are (2012).

RSA Keynote

What is the mind? From where and what does the mind emerge? Can our minds be made more resilient? What is ‘interpersonal neurobiology’?

Astonishingly, over ninety-five percent of mental health professionals from around the world have never received even a single lecture defining what the mind is. Bestselling author of both academic textbooks and works of popular science, and currently the clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, Daniel Siegel visits the RSA to explore a working definition of the mind.

11th Jul 2012

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

Dan Siegel: The Emerging Mind from The RSA on

Dan Siegel serves as the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, an educational organization that focuses on how the development of insight, compassion and empathy in individuals, families and communities can be enhanced by examining the interface of human relationships and basic biological processes.

An award-winning educator, Dr. Siegel is currently an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine where he is a Co-Investigator at the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development and is Co-Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center.

He received his medical degree from Harvard University and completed his postgraduate medical education at UCLA with training in pediatrics and child, adolescent and adult psychiatry. He served as a National Institute of Mental Health Research Fellow at UCLA, studying family interactions with an emphasis on how attachment experiences influence emotions, behavior, autobiographical memory and narrative.

Dr. Siegel is the author of the internationally acclaimed text, The Developing Mind: Toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience (1999). He serves as the Founding Editor for the Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology. His book with Mary Hartzell, M.Ed., Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive (2003) explores the application of this newly emerging view of the mind, the brain, and human relationships. His latest book is The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being (2007).

Academic ‘Dream Team’ Helped Obama Get Re-Elected

It seems Obama was a man with a plan this time around - and he hired some of the smartest people in the country to help shape his message, train his field workers, and advise him on how to respond to the lies and misrepresentations the GOP and its wealthy backers threw at him. It seems to have worked - and I am surprised this is not already old hat in politics, although I'm sure the political consultants didn't want to cede any power to the behavioral scientists.

Academic ‘Dream Team’ Helped Obama’s Effort

DOOR TO DOOR Ricky Hall, an Obama volunteer, in Charlotte, N.C., last week. (Chris Keane/Reuters)

Published: November 12, 2012

Late last year Matthew Barzun, an official with the Obama campaign, called Craig Fox, a psychologist in Los Angeles, and invited him to a political planning meeting in Chicago, according to two people who attended the session.

“He said, ‘Bring the whole group; let’s hear what you have to say,’ ” recalled Dr. Fox, a behavioral economist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

So began an effort by a team of social scientists to help their favored candidate in the 2012 presidential election. Some members of the team had consulted with the Obama campaign in the 2008 cycle, but the meeting in January signaled a different direction.

“The culture of the campaign had changed,” Dr. Fox said. “Before then I felt like we had to sell ourselves; this time there was a real hunger for our ideas.”

This election season the Obama campaign won a reputation for drawing on the tools of social science. The book “Victory Lab,” by Sasha Issenberg, and news reports have portrayed an operation that ran its own experiment and, among other efforts, consulted with the Analyst Institute, a Washington voter research group established in 2007 by union officials and their allies to help Democratic candidates.
Less well known is that the Obama campaign also had a panel of unpaid academic advisers. The group — which calls itself the “consortium of behavioral scientists,” or COBS — provided ideas on how to counter false rumors, like one that President Obama is a Muslim. It suggested how to characterize the Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, in advertisements. It also delivered research-based advice on how to mobilize voters.

“In the way it used research, this was a campaign like no other,” said Todd Rogers, a psychologist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former director of the Analyst Institute. “It’s a big change for a culture that historically has relied on consultants, experts and gurulike intuition.”
When asked about the outside psychologists, the Obama campaign would neither confirm nor deny a relationship with them. “This campaign was built on the energy, enthusiasm and ingenuity of thousands of grass-roots supporters and our staff in the states and in Chicago,” said Adam Fetcher, a campaign spokesman. “Throughout the campaign we saw an outpouring of individuals across the country who lent a wide variety of ideas and input to our efforts to get the president re-elected.”
For their part, consortium members said they did nothing more than pass on research-based ideas, in e-mails and conference calls. They said they could talk only in general terms about the research, because they had signed nondisclosure agreements with the campaign.

In addition to Dr. Fox, the consortium included Susan T. Fiske of Princeton University; Samuel L. Popkin of the University of California, San Diego; Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University; Richard H. Thaler, a professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago’s business school; and Michael Morris, a psychologist at Columbia.
“A kind of dream team, in my opinion,” Dr. Fox said.

He said that the ideas the team proposed were “little things that can make a difference” in people’s behavior.

For example, Dr. Fiske’s research has shown that when deciding on a candidate, people generally focus on two elements: competence and warmth. “A candidate wants to make sure to score high on both dimensions,” Dr. Fiske said in an interview. “You can’t just run on the idea that everyone wants to have a beer with you; some people care a whole lot about competence.”

Mr. Romney was recognized as a competent businessman, polling found. But he was often portrayed in opposition ads as distant, unable to relate to the problems of ordinary people.

When it comes to countering rumors, psychologists have found that the best strategy is not to deny the charge (“I am not a flip-flopper”) but to affirm a competing notion. “The denial works in the short term; but in the long term people remember only the association, like ‘Obama and Muslim,’ ” said Dr. Fox, of the persistent false rumor.

The president’s team affirmed that he is a Christian.

At least some of the consortium’s proposals seemed to have found their way into daily operations. Campaign volunteers who knocked on doors last week in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada did not merely remind people to vote and arrange for rides to the polls. Rather, they worked from a script, using subtle motivational techniques that research has shown can prompt people to take action.

“We used the scripts more as a guide,” said Sarah Weinstein, 18, a Columbia freshman who traveled with a group to Cleveland the weekend before the election. “The actual language we used was invested in the individual person.”

Simply identifying a person as a voter, as many volunteers did — “Mr. Jones, we know you have voted in the past” — acts as a subtle prompt to future voting, said Dr. Cialdini, a foundational figure in the science of persuasion. “People want to be congruent with what they have committed to in the past, especially if that commitment is public,” he said.

Many volunteers also asked would-be voters if they would sign an informal commitment to vote, a card with the president’s picture on it. This small, voluntary agreement amplifies the likelihood that the person will follow through, research has found.

In a now classic experiment, a pair of Stanford psychologists asked people if they would display in a home window a small card proclaiming the importance of safe driving. Those who agreed to this small favor were later much more likely to agree to a much larger favor, to post a large “Drive Carefully” sign on their lawn — “something no one would agree to do otherwise,” Dr. Cialdini said.
Obama volunteers also asked people if they had a plan to vote and if not, to make one, specifying a time, according to Stephen Shaw, a retired cancer researcher who knocked on doors in Nevada and Virginia in the days before the election. “One thing we’d say is that we know that when people have a plan, voting goes more smoothly,” he said.

Recent research has shown that making even a simple plan increases the likelihood that a person will follow through, Dr. Rogers, of Harvard, said.

Another technique some volunteers said they used was to inform supporters that others in their neighborhood were planning to vote. Again, recent research shows that this kind of message is much more likely to prompt people to vote than traditional campaign literature that emphasizes the negative — that many neighbors did not vote and thus lost an opportunity to make a difference.

This kind of approach trades on a human instinct to conform to social norms, psychologists say. In another well-known experiment, Dr. Cialdini and two colleagues tested how effective different messages were in getting hotel guests to reuse towels. The message “the majority of guests reuse their towels” prompted a 29 percent increase in reuse, compared with the usual message about helping the environment. The message “the majority of guests in this room reuse their towels” resulted in a 41 percent increase, he said.

Salespeople have known the value of such approaches for a generation, and political campaigns have also used them before this election. Social scientists began offering their services to Democrats back in 2004, when President George W. Bush’s campaign was attacking the Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry, as a flip-flopper and making the label stick.

Dr. Fox and others got an audience with someone in the Kerry campaign, but the meeting didn’t lead to any active consulting, he said. The group circulated a paper outlining its members’ expertise and proposals and in 2006 got a meeting with some senators, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and Harry M. Reid.

Consortium members said they knew of no such informal advisory panel on the Republican side. Efforts to contact the Romney campaign were unsuccessful.

The researchers said they weren’t told which of their ideas were put to use, or how. But sometimes they got hints. Dr. Fiske, the Princeton psychologist, said she received a generic, mass-market e-mail from the Obama campaign before the election. 

“It said, ‘People do things when they make plans to do them; what’s your plan?’ ” Dr. Fiske said. “How about that?”

Monday, November 12, 2012

David DeSteno on the Psychology of Compassion and Resilience

Maria Popova posted this video and brief commentary at her always interesting blog, Brain Pickings. In this short talk (under 20 minutes), David DeSteno, author of Out of Character: Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us, speaks about the science of compassion and resilience, and offers some ideas for supporting the brain mechanisms that make these skills possible.

David DeSteno on the Psychology of Compassion and Resilience


How to use the intricate balance of altruism and self-interest to our collective advantage.

Last week, I journeyed to this year’s PopTech conference, where one of the most compelling talks came from psychologist David DeSteno, director of Northeastern University’s Social Emotions Lab and author of the fascinating Out of Character: Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us, one of last year’s 11 finest psychology books. DeSteno examines the science of compassion and resilience, and explores emerging ideas for leveraging the mechanisms of the mind that enable them:

The distress we see someone experiencing — the compassion we feel for them — isn’t determined by the objective facts on the ground; it’s determined by who’s looking. … It’s not the severity or the objective facts of a disaster that motivate us to feel compassion and to help — it’s whether or not we see ourselves in the victims.

Is There an Evolutionary Advantage to Depression?

From The Atlantic, Brian Gabriel reports on a new study from Dr. Andrew Miller and Dr. Charles Raison, physicians at Emory University and the University of Arizona, respectively - a paper titled, The evolutionary significance of depression in pathogen host defense. They examine the link between genes that influence susceptibility to depression and are also involved in strengthening the immune system.

The Evolutionary Advantage of Depression

By Brian Gabriel

Genes influencing depression also bolstered our ancestors' immune systems -- an understanding that's informing experimental therapies. 

Van Gogh, At Eternity's Gate (Wikipedia)

More people die from suicide than from murder and war combined, throughout the world, every year. In the United States, suicide recently surpassed automobile accidents as the leading cause of violence-related death, according to a study appearing in the American Journal of Public Health.
The majority of individuals who commit suicide suffer from depression or another mood disorder. Depression is a devastating illness characterized by persistent sadness and myriad well-known symptoms. Increasingly, researchers are identifying how genes contribute to depression. As we learn more about the human genome, scientists are finding evidence that while depression seems incredibly maladaptive, it was actually adaptive (helpful) to our ancestors.

Recently Dr. Andrew Miller and Dr. Charles Raison, physicians at Emory University and the University of Arizona, respectively, authored a paper "The evolutionary significance of depression in pathogen host defense" in which they proposed that some of the alleles (forms of genes) that increase one's risk for depression also enhance immune responses to infections.
Commenting on their hypothesis, Dr. Miller noted, "Most of the genetic variations that have been linked to depression turn out to affect the function of the immune system." Dr. Charles Raison of the University of Arizona added, "The basic idea is that depression and the genes that promote it were very adaptive for helping people -- especially young children -- not die of infection in the ancestral environment."

As recently as 1900, the top 3 causes of death in the U.S. were via infectious agents: pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea. Infants and young children were especially susceptible as 30.4% of all deaths occurred before the age of 5 years.
Depressive symptoms like social withdrawal, lack of energy, and a loss of interest in once enjoyable activities were actually advantageous to our ancestors.
Thanks to improvements in public health and medicine (improvements like antibiotics), not a single one of the previous 3 leading causes of death are among the top 5 killers in the U.S today. Over the past century, infant mortality has dropped substantially, so that by 1997 only 1.4% of all deaths occurred before the age of 5 years. Although infection is no longer a top killer, infection was the primary cause of death for many of our ancestors.

Today, certain mutated versions of a gene called "NPY" are associated with increased inflammation (an immune process helpful in fighting off infections). Mutated NPY genes likely allowed our ancestors to better fight off infections (especially in childhood), and individuals with the mutated NPY gene were more likely to pass along the mutated NPY gene to offspring.

Interestingly, researchers at the University of Michigan's Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute discovered that individuals with major depressive disorder were more likely to have the mutated NPY gene. The normal NPY gene codes for higher levels of a neurotransmitter known as Neuropeptide Y, which appears to help ward off depression by increasing one's tolerance of stress. So the same mutated NPY gene that likely protected our ancestors against pathogens also increases our chance of developing depression.

Drs. Miller and Raison believe that acute (or severe but short-term) stress can not only lead to depression, but also jump-start the immune system. The physicians note that in the environments in which our ancestors lived, acute stress was often associated with the threat of physical harm or physical wounds. And unlike today, wounds readily led to infection and death. Therefore, Drs. Miller and Raison believe that evolution favored individuals whose immune systems operated under a "smoke-detector principle."

Although smoke detectors often react to false alarms (for me, burnt toast), if you removed the detector's battery and a real fire occurred, the consequences could be severe. Similarly, immune responses to acute stress are typically not necessary -- not every stressful situation results in a wound and infection. However, if our ancestors became wounded even a single time and didn't experience a piqued immune response, they might die from an infection.

It turns out that depression may not be a mere trade-off for a vigorous immune response. Dr. Miller suggests that depressive symptoms like social withdrawal, lack of energy, and a loss of interest in once enjoyable activities were actually advantageous to our ancestors. For example, a loss of energy might ensure that the body can leverage all of its energy to fight an infection. Also, social withdrawal minimizes the likelihood of being exposed to additional infectious agents. In this way, Drs. Miller and Raison note that "depressive symptoms are inextricably intertwined with -- and generated by -- physiological responses to infection that, on average, have been selected as a result of reducing infectious mortality across mammalian evolution."

Recently Dr. Miller and Dr. Raison completed a separate study in which they attempted to treat patients with "difficult to treat" depression with a novel drug infliximab. Infliximab works by disrupting communication between immune cells and consequently reduce inflammation.

While infliximab did not significantly improve depression symptoms in the group being studied as a whole, it did reduce depression symptoms among a subset of study participants who showed elevated levels of inflammation. Inflammation was measured using blood tests for "C-reactive protein" (CRP). The higher the participants' level of CRP, the more likely the participant was to respond positively to infliximab.

As Drs. Miller and Raison suggest, the theory that depression evolved to better resist infectious agents could lead to improvements within the field of immunology and novel treatments for depression. The physicians also suggest that in the future, we may be able to utilize simple biomarkers (like CRP) to predict which individuals will best respond depression treatments that modulate our immune systems (like infliximab).

Drs. Miller and Raison concede that chronic stress has been shown to impair the immune system. However, evolutionary processes may still allow for improved infection responses to acute (or short-term) stressors.

The physicians also noted that inflammatory biomarkers are not elevated in all individuals with depression. Individuals with major depressive disorder and elevated levels of inflammation may represent a unique subset of individuals with depression. Therefore, while immune-modulating therapies may be effective in treating some cases of depression, these therapies may not be effective against all types of depression.