Saturday, January 05, 2013

Jung on Film [Full 1957 Interview]


Jung on Film [Full 1957 Interview]

This compelling film represents a rare record of an original genius. In Jung on Film, the pioneering psychologist tells us about his collaboration with Sigmund Freud, about the insights he gained from listening to his patients' dreams, and about the fascinating turns his own life has taken. Dr. Richard I. Evans, a Presidential Medal of Freedom nominee, interviews Jung, giving us a unique understanding of Jung's many complex theories, while depicting Jung as a sensitive and highly personable human being.

Documentary - Culture in Decline: Consumption-Vanity Disorder

Yes. Scary. True. Brought to you by Top Documentary Films. Word of Warning: This series on our "culture in decline" is produced and created by Peter Joseph, the person behind the highly popular, but very over-rated Zeitgeist film(s) - the first one was filled with fringe conspiracy theories (including the "government orchestrated" 9/11 meme), but the more recent two films have avoided that terrain in favor of proposing a change model for a society gone more than slightly mad.
Culture in Decline” is a 30 min., Bi-Monthly Web-Series created and hosted by Peter Joseph. As with all of Peter Joseph's video work, it is part of a Free Distribution Media Project that allows open, non-profit distribution of his film media across the world. The Series' central viewing medium is YouTube, via the “Culture in Decline” Official Channel. The first episode of the first season called “What Democracy?”premiered on July 29th 2012, going viral with over 70,000 views in the first 10 days.

“Culture in Decline” is a satirical yet serious expression that challenges various cultural phenomena existing today which most of society seem to take for granted. Nothing is considered sacred in this Series except for a detached benchmark of fundamental logic and reason - forcing the viewer to step out of the box of “Normality” and to consider our societal practices without traditional baggage and biases. Common themes include Politics, Economics, Education, Security, Religion, Vanity, Governance, Media, Labor, Technology and other issues centric to our daily lives.
Here is the 30-minute third episode.

Culture in Decline: Consumption-Vanity Disorder

Culture In Decline: Episode #3 covers a new epidemic disease rapidly spreading across the world: Consumption-Vanity Disorder. Other episodes: 1. What Democracy? and 2. Economics 101.

The last thing that fish would ever notice in its habitat is the water. Likewise the most obvious and powerful realities of our human culture seemed also be the most unrecognized.

And it is only when we take pause, often at the risk of social alienation, to question the foundational principles and ideas to which our lives are oriented, a dark truth about our supposed “normality” becomes more clear.

Today we live in an ocean with enormous waves of status obsession, materialism, vanity, ego and consumerism. Our very lives had become defined not by our productive thoughts, social contributions and good will, but by superficial, delusional set of associations with the very fabric of our society that now radiates cheap romanticism, connected to vain competition, conspicuous consumption and neurotic addictions often related to physical beauty, status and superficial wealth.

In effect it is social conformity masquerading as individualism, with the virtues of balance, intelligence, peace, public health and true creativity left to rot on the sidelines. The cultural water we inhabit today runs deep with heavy pollution. It starts in our formative years when to be smart and achieving is to be a nerd or a geek.
Watch the full documentary now

Cracking Up: Books and Authors on Sanity - To the Best of Our Knowledge

This week on To the Best of Our KnowledgeKevin DuttonSusannah CahalanOliver Sacks, and Daniel Smith are guests and interviewees, discussing sanity and their most recent books on the subject. For what it's worth, Oliver Sacks' Hallucinations is one of my favorite books of 2012.

Top Image: "Cracking Up," by snikstencilstuff (at deviantART)

This week's books:

(Oliver Sacks)

Cracking Up

Cracking Up Image: Visual Artist Frank Bonilla via: flickr
Interviewer(s): Jim Fleming, Steve Paulson, Anne Strainchamps
Guest(s): Kevin Dutton, Susannah Cahalan, Oliver Sacks, Daniel SmithProducer(s): Doug Gordon 
"The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they're okay, then it's you."-- Rita Mae Brown 

Listen - DownloadKevin Dutton talks about his book, "The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success." 
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Listen - DownloadSusannah Cahalan talks about her book, "Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness." 
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Listen - DownloadDaniel Smith talks about his book, "Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety." 
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Listen - DownloadNeurologist Oliver Sacks talks about his new book, "Hallucinations." 
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INCIDENTAL MUSIC:Lose YourselfPower, Seduction, CriesFyt (It'll End In Tears (Remastered), This Mortal Coil)Things Were Going So WellEnchanted, Karma (Karma, Delerium)

Friday, January 04, 2013

Court Rules Woman Technically Not Raped Due to an Arcane Law (1872)

This is so effed up it's almost impossible to comprehend. In a situation such as this there needs to be some mechanism through which the judges can throw out the old and outdated law and rule on the facts of the case.

This may be one of those rare instances where justice might be outside the legal system.

Court Rules Woman Technically Not Raped Because of Marital Status

Posted Jan 4, 2013

A California appeals court has decided that an 18-year-old woman technically wasn’t raped by a man who had sex with her while she was asleep because he was pretending to be her boyfriend. But if he had been her husband? The court acknowledged the outcome would have been different.

Wait, what?!

Here’s the reason: a ridiculous and arcane law from 1872 that says it would be considered rape only if the woman had been married and the man had been impersonating her husband.

“A man enters the dark bedroom of an unmarried woman after seeing her boyfriend leave late at night, and has sexual intercourse with the woman while pretending to be the boyfriend,” the court decision read. “Has the man committed rape? Because of historical anomalies in the law and the statutory definition of rape, the answer is no, even though, if the woman had been married and the man had impersonated her husband, the answer would be yes.”

Yeah, that’s all kinds of messed up.

And because it’s unclear whether the court convicted Julio Morales for having sex with a sleeping woman (which would be considered rape), or for deceiving her into thinking he was her boyfriend (which is not considered rape because the woman is not married), the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles overturned the conviction of Morales and ruled he must be retried.

“Today’s news is such bullshit that it’s hard to process even with that in mind,” Jezebel’s Katie J.M. Baker writes Friday. “Sleeping with someone while they are sleeping is rape. Tricking someone into sleeping with you is also rape, to say the least of what that is. The definition of rape should depend on the act itself, not on the identity of the person you are impersonating. Maybe that didn’t go without saying in the Victorian Era, but it sure should now.”


—Posted by Tracy Bloom.

Karen Thompson Walker: What Fear Can Teach Us

From TED Talks, this is an interesting talk on how fear can generate creativity and engage the imagination in solving problems or imagining different outcomes.

Karen Thompson Walker: What Fear Can Teach Us

Imagine you're a shipwrecked sailor adrift in the enormous Pacific. You can choose one of three directions and save yourself and your shipmates -- but each choice comes with a fearful consequence too. How do you choose? In telling the story of the whaleship Essex, novelist Karen Thompson Walker shows how fear propels imagination, as it forces us to imagine the possible futures and how to cope with them.

Fiction writer Karen Thompson Walker explores the connection between fear and the imagination.

"Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery" by Rupert Sheldrake

Rupert Sheldrake's new book, Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery  (The Science Delusion in England, where this review was published) is reviewed for Philosophy Now by John Greenbank, who is not buying Sheldrake's "lively heresies."

The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake

John Greenbank is unconvinced by Rupert Sheldrake’s lively heresies.

Rupert Sheldrake has been a distinguished biochemist and cell biologist, but his latest book, The Science Delusion, is disturbingly eccentric. Fluently superficial, it combines a disorderly collage of scientific fact and opinion with an intrusive yet disjunctive metaphysical programme.

I was an undergraduate student of biological sciences at Cambridge at the same time as Sheldrake, and I remember his commenting on Peter Medawar’s review of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s book The Phenomenon of Man (1959) and laughing at the idea of Teilhard ‘vibrating’ with the universe. Medawar’s review had been merciless: “Teilhard habitually and systematically cheats with words. His work, he has assured us, is to be read, not as a metaphysical system, but ‘purely and simply as a scientific treatise’ executed with ‘remorseless’ or ‘inescapable’ logic; yet he uses in metaphor words like energy, tension, force, impetus and dimension as if they retained the weight and thrust of their specific scientific usages.” Nevertheless, The Phenomenon of Man made a deep impression, I think, and it is Sheldrake’s own understanding of science that is now deluded. Although science has progressively revealed the workings of nature by direct engagement with it, Sheldrake wishes to free it from what he believes are its materialist intellectual shackles – and to make it “more exciting and engaging.” 
Anti-Science Science

Some decades ago, the scientific establishment – in the person of an Editor of Nature, John Maddox – pounced on Sheldrake’s first book, A New Science of Life (1981), declaring it scientific heresy. Indeed it was, for in rejecting conventional understanding it broke faith with the community of scientific thinkers. Such perceived treachery is deemed punishable behaviour: heretics are never to be treated lightly. Sheldrake was indeed duly punished by a closing of ranks, the denial of official recognition for his views, and a block on funding for further research even in orthodox fields of science.

So who are the intended readers for this new book? The back cover of The Science Delusion (in America it’s called Science Set Free) lists some ‘amazing possibilities for scientific investigation’. For examples: the universe may be alive, and nature may have a purpose; the so-called ‘laws of nature’ may themselves be evolving, and matter and energy in the universe increasing; our minds may exist outside our brains, and our memories may not be brain-based but activated when we ‘tune in’ to the past; our children may inherit physical characteristics that parents have acquired since their own births; and whilst ‘energetic causation’ is from the past towards the future, ‘mental causation’ may work backwards from the future. Although these ideas are posed as open questions, they are intended to raise doubts. Sheldrake hopes thereby to gain the reader’s confidence before proceeding to cast doubt on the whole enterprise of science. A tone of derision appears early on in The Science Delusion when Sheldrake objects that an article written for the Wall Street Journal by Ricky Gervais “portrays scientists as open-minded seekers of truth.” So, Gervais the entertainer, turned spokesman for science, is mocked about science by a scientist turned entertainer.

Sheldrake introduces his pet interests – telepathy, the survival of memory after death, the purpose of nature and evolution, the consciousness of matter – saying that all are dogmatically denied by the establishment. In lining up the alleged dogma and serially berating his orthodox colleagues, he claims to be motivated by a “spirit of radical scepticism.” However, this spirit is manifested through a sleight-of-hand, where, for example, the alleged ‘dogma’ that matter is unconscious is turned into the question ‘Is matter unconscious?’

Scientific uncertainty is portrayed as unreliability or contradiction; yet Sheldrake’s own claim that laws may vary across the universe is based merely on the evidence of historical variation in measured constants. He dismisses the intellectual struggle of cosmologists to understand the universe as “a new, extravagant form of Platonism” (p.97), telling us that physical laws are but habits of the universe. He is convinced that “regularities of nature do not depend on an eternal mind-like realm beyond space and time [my italics] but on a kind of memory inherent in nature.” (p,85)

Sheldrake also claims that “the very idea of a law of nature is anthropocentric.” Yes, but isn’t that because science itself is anthropocentric? And then he writes, “Some philosophers of science… argue that [scientific laws] are generalisations based on experience.” (Again, my italics.) So (Sheldrake argues), since materialistic science does not depend for it’s truth on any judgement as to an absolute ground of experience, it must be wrong; but scientific curiosity is not in any need of metaphysical support or external validation. Scientists see their work as simply a mode of human activity, with its own rules and standards.

‘Teleology’ is the study of purposes or design in nature, and here scientists need to especially be on their guard. But Sheldrake shows little caution. For example, he asks the unanswerable question “Do morphogenetic fields really exert a causal influence, drawing organisms towards their goals?” He also believes that a purely evolutionary (natural selection) explanation of eyes “does not explain the purposiveness of living organisms: it presupposes it.” (p.131) However, science cannot propose a creative agent, for that is beyond its scope. 
Resonating with the Universe

Sheldrake’s foundational metaphysical belief is ‘morphic resonance’. The idea of morphic resonance rests on a fallacy of thought, that of the ‘stolen concept’, which error is further compounded through the associated fallacy of the ‘argument from ignorance’ (or ‘wishful thinking’), before the idea is finally illicitly objectified by ‘false reification’. Thus, disillusioned by what he sees as the mechanistic neutrality of current science, Sheldrake makes an irrational conceptual leap to an alternative outlook by stealing the concepts ‘morphic’ and ‘resonance’ from their legitimate backgrounds, in biology and physics respectively. Because morphogenesis (the shaping of an organism’s form by cellular biochemistry) has not identified any substance responsible for co-ordinating the overall form – for instance, a vital fluid or a life force (élan vital) – Sheldrake invents one, which he calls a ‘morphogenetic field’. This field supposedly constrains the results of development so that an organism grows into the right shape. This cannot even be called a hypothesis, but is merely an argument from our incomplete knowledge of the processes of biology. And the proposal that morphic fields are “fields of probability, like quantum fields” is simply meaningless. (As an alternative to morphogenetic fields, might we not consider the universe connected together by an infinitesimally thin, perfectly elastic and infinitely extensible thread, through which energies and biological information can flow instantaneously?)

Whilst the exact status of scientific descriptors (facts, concepts and theories) are always under the legitimate scrutiny of philosophers, any acceptance of a new physical force, field, or sphere of action, must come from within a scientific community after appropriate investigation. But such is Sheldrake’s mistrust of what he understands as materialism that consciousness – a term used liberally and without definition – presents an insoluble problem. He sees it as unrelated to the material, so a dualism is implied. But to accept mind/matter dualism is to recognise two distinct realities, and science has no procedures for handling or analysing such a separation. So, again we encounter bad thinking, with faith in consciousness treated as a reason to believe in it, and then that concept being illegitimately made into a thing so that ‘mind’ can float free. Sheldrake castigates the whole area of cognitive psychology as just more materialism, ignoring the brilliant representational work of British neuroscientist David Marr.

An attempt is made to escape from materialism through panpsychism – a modification of materialism in which consciousness is an inherent property of all matter, and is not presumed to arise at any particular level of material complexity; when matter is assembled into brains, for example. Sheldrake warms to panpsychism, as to him the material world seems to imply evidence of both purpose and mind, and he mistakenly turns to Alfred North Whitehead. His discussion of Whitehead’s Process and Reality left me with “a feeling of suffocation, a gasping and flailing around for sense” – as Medawar said of Teilhard de Chardin.

Whitehead is invoked by Sheldrake to underpin his own references to quantum theory. Sheldrake tells us that “Even the smallest possible processes, like quantum events, are both physical and mental” (p.121) and “the wave theory of matter destroyed the old idea of material bodies as essentially spatial” (p.120) The abstractions of quantum physics are presented as familiar: for example, “Thus the mass of an electron, for example, arises through its interaction with the Higgs field, and this interaction depends on special Higgs particles, called Higgs bosons, which are hypothetical.” From this understanding of the quantum world he confidently jumps to statements about free will. 
Messing with Biology

After the euphoria of genome studies at the turn of the millennium, the promise of increased power for politicians and fame and fortune for ambitious scientists dwindled to a reluctant acceptance of a ‘missing hereditability problem’: a one-for-one matching of genes with human characteristics has not yet shown up. This problem is somewhat exultantly reported by Sheldrake, who, instead of pausing for thought as to the precise scientific implications of this situation, abandons all faith in such a quest. It may very well be possible to make a representational analysis for gene action like the one David Marr made for cognitive capacity, but Sheldrake no longer believes in progress in molecular biology. For example, he abandons reason in explaining biological continuity during insect metamorphosis (when, for example, a caterpillar turns into a butterfly), saying that “almost all the caterpillar tissues are dissolved before the new structures of the adult develop. Most of the nervous system is dissolved as well.” (My italics.) The implication here seems to be that all identity is lost, leaving us with the problem of explaining what determines the adult. (Sheldrake’s interest here is not the physical transformation, but how behaviour learned by a caterpillar is transferred to the adult.)

Discussing the perception of objects, Sheldrake finds it impossible to accept a ‘representational’ understanding that fits our subjective sensation of seeing or sensing directly, although we all represent the physical world in our sensation of it. This is so surprising because it is plainly impossible for the eye actively to see (by itself, as it were): instead there must be a mechanistic pathway that allows photons of light impinging on the retina to thereby influence the brain and so our perceptions. To argue otherwise is to be obtuse in the extreme – both illogical and unobservant – but this is what Sheldrake does.

In criticising Francis Crick for his materialist interpretation of human behaviour, Sheldrake quotes Carl Sagan – “Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.” (Although in the next chapter this exact quote is dismissed as a materialist slogan!) Sheldrake wants to replace material traits or structures by ‘patterns of goal-directed activity’. But his discussions of this are unpersuasive because such capacities would be much more in evidence if true: secrets would be insecure, insider-dealing could be transmitted to others to be carried out by proxy, lottery numbers would be forecast, and the winnings spread widely.

Sheldrake’s core ideas depend on what might be called ‘paranormal’ activity. But experimental support for the paranormal is unreliable, for it is subject to the contamination of expectation – a self-invalidation akin to ‘leading the witness’. Freeman Dyson is cuttingly specific about this: “Recently Rupert Sheldrake did some interesting experiments on ESP in dogs. Dogs are much better than humans for such experiments. Dogs are dumb, they are not interested in the outcome of the experiment, and they do not cheat. Unfortunately Rupert Sheldrake is not a dog. He is human, and his essential role in his experiments makes his results questionable.” (Scientific American, 13/05/11.) Much that is used as evidence in this area reminds me of films where someone says “Something’s not right! Let’s get out of here!” Time and again we are presented with disingenuous arguments resting on dubiously-applied quantum concepts like ‘wave function’ and ‘multi-dimensional space’, that appear as if they’re being used like mantras to induce a state of belief in his ideas. 
Senses of Science

There are several credible theories of science. In the 1950s, Willard Quine switched the attention of the philosophy of science from items of sense data to full systems of belief. In the present context, what we hold to be true about reality – our temporary metaphysical beliefs – should fill out our best scientific theories. Radically new ideas should be accommodated within a receptive conceptual framework. The very notion of a scientific system suggests that answers about the world are to be found not by expanding the terms of reference, but by seeing things from a different angle, or by bringing new ideas into conformity with the established beliefs.

Another, contrasting, individual strode onto the science scene in the 1960s with his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn says, “There is, I think, no theory-independent way to reconstruct phrases like ‘really there’.” That is, all notions of what is really there depend upon their place within what Kuhn called a paradigm, which is an accepted basic way of understanding the world. In practice, Kuhn says, different paradigms can be accommodated within the same subject, as long as these paradigms operate at different levels of detail. Perhaps Sheldrake would like to have discovered a new paradigm to operate alongside those already accepted by science. He wants to raise science to a new level that somehow recognises within its discipline a vibrancy in all living things that transcends their mere assemblies of atoms and molecules. As he finally despairs: “The bottom has dropped out of the atom, and a zoo of evanescent particles seems unlikely to explain the shape of an orchid flower, or the leaping of a salmon, or the flight of a flock of starlings.” But Sheldrake has himself lost the sense of science being a disinterested pursuit of curiosity. Instead he has a creed, and an agenda. Thus a scientist fascinated by a problem cannot investigate freely, but is hampered by ‘the mechanistic tradition’. The reader is encouraged to anticipate a revelation that processes are at work apparently requiring the redefinition of terms – ‘energetic’, the ‘laws of nature’, ‘acquired’ characteristics, ‘mental causation’ etc. But what Sheldrake can’t accept is that, across all fields of science, the world continues to be amenable to a purely materialist interpretation.

It is clear that Sheldrake must have a theory for everything, but I find ‘morphic fields’, ‘morphic resonance’, and ‘perceptual fields’ both absurd and irrelevant – fabrications superimposed on experience as spurious explanations. The Science Delusion itself is a preposterous confection. It may unsettle some general readers and turn others away from science, but for the scientifically-initiated it is simply incoherent. A truer (although totally subversive) title would be The Phenomenon of Science and the Delusion of Man. As an antidote for the perplexed reader, I can only recommend Kuhn’s 1969 Postscript to the Second Edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

© John Greenbank 2012

~ John Greenbank graduated in Natural Sciences and English from Clare College, Cambridge, and in Mathematics from the Open University. He was a Science Subject Officer with Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations in Cambridge. He is currently developing a range of modern shortwave crystal radio designs for amateur construction.

Sounds True - Pema Chödrön: Just Be Curious

This nice segment of Pema Chödrön from Sounds True's Producer Pick. Being able to approach life - whether it's our pain, wounds, or hopes - with a curious and even playful perspective is one of the surest ways to find more happiness.

Pema Chödrön: Just Be Curious

The magic of Pema Chödrön—and what makes her such an exceptional teacher—is how she can take a subject that could be heady or conceptual and teach it in a way that makes it sink directly into the heart of her listener. Sounds True producer Mitchell Clute says that this selection from Pema’s audio program Coming Closer to Ourselves is a perfect example. Here Pema talks about Tibetan Buddhism’s five skandhas—the mental and physical characteristics that create and sustain the ego—and offers a simple lesson. If we start by being playfully curious, she teaches, we can find the gaps in our own preconceptions and thoughts—and by following that thread of curiosity, we can let go of our attachments and discover who we truly are.
More from Pema Chödrön
Pema Chödrön - Coming Closer to Ourselves - Making Everything the Path of Awakening
How to use curiosity and compassion to befriend your most challenging emotions.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Authors@Google Presents: Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb stopped by the Google offices a couple of weeks ago (December 12, 2012) to talk about his most recent book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Taleb is also the author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (2007) and Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2005).

Authors@Google Presents: Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Posted on Jan 2, 2013
Authors@Google is proud to present Nassim N. Taleb, author of Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan, talking about his new book, Antifragile.

Alex Huth - First map of the human brain reveals grid-like structure between neurons

Very interesting. This comes from IEET (Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technology).

First map of the human brain reveals grid-like structure between neurons

Alex Huth

By gallantlabucb
Posted: Dec 31, 2012

"Alex Huth, first author of our new paper, talks about how visual information about thousands of objects and actions are represented across human visual cortex. For more information, please visit our web site, The Gallant Lab at UC Berkeley, or get the paper:"

Huth, A.G., S. Nishimoto, A.T. Vu & J.L. Gallant (2012). A continuous semantic space describes representation of thousands of object and action categories across the human brain. Neuron, December 20 2012. 
The paper is available online as a Google doc by following the link above - as are other research papers from the Gallant Lab.

Internal Family Systems Therapy: The Technique that Silicon Valley Geeks are Using to Hack the Voices Inside Their Heads

io9 ran an article (back in June, 2012) about how Richard Schwartz's Internal Family Systems Therapy model is being used in Silicon Valley to hack the voices in the heads of technology geeks. One of the books Dvorsky mentions is Self-Therapy: A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating Wholeness and Healing Your Inner Child Using IFS, A New, Cutting-Edge Psychotherapy, by Jay Earley, who certainly knows the model inside and out. This article (and the book) serves as a nice introduction to IFS for those who have never heard of it before.

I also highly recommend the original book by Richard Schwartz, Internal Family Systems Therapy, for someone who wants to see more of the clinical side of the model.

Thanks to my friend Charlotte at Facebook for the heads up on this article.

The Technique that Silicon Valley Geeks are Using to Hack the Voices Inside Their Heads

BY George Dvorsky
June 20, 2012

Self-help schemes come and go, but a new framework has attracted the attention of a number of Silicon Valley techies — especially computer scientists and programmers. Called Internal Family Systems (IFS), it's an integrated approach to individual psychotherapy that breaks conscious thoughts into individual, manageable parts that can be reprogrammed. And given its systematic methodology, it's no surprise that geeks have quickly latched on. But is there anything to this notion, or is it just another self-help fad?

To better understand how it works, and to get a sense as to why it's so appealing to such a niche group of thinkers, we spoke to Divia Eden, a practitioner and facilitator of the IFS system.

Developed by the psychologist Richard. C. Schwartz, the Internal Family Systems Model works by categorizing the competing voices in our head into relatively discrete subpersonalities — each with its own perspectives, tendencies, and quirks. Inspired by the Family Therapy model, which is used by psychotherapists to facilitate healthier inter-family relationships, IFS helps a person understand how his or her individual collection of subpersonalities are organized — and how they can better work together to create a well-adjusted, consistent self.

A fundamental understanding of IFS is that every subpersonality has a positive intent for the person — even if it might not seem that way. The system suggests that every single voice inside your head that's telling you to do or not do something is still looking out for your best interests. Your job, as the overarching self, is to get these voices harmonized — without internal conflict and hostility — so that you can live in peace and take the appropriate course of action.

"IFS works because it provides a systematic framework for looking inside your head with curiosity and compassion," Eden tells io9. "Looking at it from a meta perspective, it's simply the best set of questions I've found for diffusing internal tensions and conflict." It's one thing to ask a person to be kind or compassionate to his or her own self, she notes, but this approach helps to untangle and direct a person's thoughts in a powerful way.

Managers, exiles, and firefighters

Subpersonalities, also called parts, can have either "extreme roles" or healthy roles. IFS tends to focus on parts in extreme roles because they, like the needy and cantankerous members of a family, are in need of transformation through therapy. IFS divides these "loud" parts into three types: managers, exiles, and firefighters.

Managers are the voices that take preemptive roles to protect you. They're the parts of your inner dialogue that are working to prevent you from being hurt by people — and they also try to prevent traumatic feelings and experiences from creeping to the surface.

Your exiled thoughts are those parts of you that are in pain, shame, fear, or trauma. Managers and firefighters tend to exile these parts from working consciousness to prevent the pain from coming to the surface.

And firefighters are those parts that emerge when exiles break out and demand attention. They try to distract a person's attention from the hurt or shame experienced by the exile. It's your firefighter thoughts that are the ones that get you to engage in impulsive behaviors — like overeating, drinking too much alcohol, taking drugs, fighting, or having inappropriate sex. It can even manifest as overworking or over-medicating.

It's through therapy or active introspective that a person learns to recognize these inner thoughts and categorize them as such. The rest is facilitation, whether it be self-directed, or with a counsellor.

Debugging the brain

Like many other people who come into contact with IFS, Eden was skeptical at first. She thought it just sounded weird. It was recommended to her by a number of computer programmers, including physicist and computer scientist Steve Omohundro; and as someone with a computer background herself, she trusted their judgement. After looking into it a bit further, she started to find tremendous value in it.

"It definitely clicked with me right away," she says, "it seemed to be describing something that really resonated with how my mind worked that I had not heard before."

After reading Jay Earley's book, Self Therapy, she started to organize meet-ups, do facilitations with friends, and apply the approach to all facets of her life, including her relationships. "I would get really surprising answers from myself," she says, "it's provided me with insights worth paying attention to."

Like a software engineer debugging a troublesome program, Eden started to identify the patterns that were causing her the most problems. When she became emotionally triggered by something, she took pause and thought more carefully about the conflicting interests in her consciousness. She started to see the benefits of IFS and began to apply it to her relationship problems — and it worked. Eden, who is recently married, credits IFS for laying the foundation for a more honest and emotionally intimate relationship.

Her husband, Will, a recent convert to IFS, has also experienced positive results. One issue in particular that troubled him was his sense of shame around his tendency to stutter. Will says that IFS provided him with a enhanced visual sense of what was going on in his head — he could actually visualize and compartmentalize all the parts of his mind that were feeding into his feelings of shame. He subsequently dealt with it internally, and hasn't looked back.

Others who have engaged in IFS have had similar experiences. A colleague of Eden's, who was formally trained as a life coach under a different modality, decided to give IFS a shot. She started to get quicker results from her clients, so she's made the switch in her practice.

Eden also tells the story of her friend, Adam. He initially met IFS with extreme skepticism, but wanted to give it a try. He felt awful whenever he had to talk to strangers. By working with Eden, he was able to reframe his thoughts and trace them all the way back to kindergarten. He was able to access a particular part of his mind that wanted him to avoid taking social risks (i.e. a manager thought), and by virtue of that, was able to make an immediate change.

Effectiveness for geeks

When asked why so many computer scientists and programmers find value in IFS, Eden suggests that the framework appeals to those who are highly systemizing and analytical thinkers. "Part of its appeal," she says, "is that it's low on the woo-woo factor." There's no supernatural, New Age, or mystical aspect to it, claims Eden, and that's something this demographic finds particularly appealing and non-threatening.

But not everyone is convinced by the powers of IFS. Critics, like Clan Denari, complain that the system is too basic, that our "pushy" internal thoughts are more than just managers, exiles, and firefighters. The general complaint from some psychotherapists is that the system is too rigid. As Denari notes:

Such a cast is too simplistic to describe most real multiple systems, for a few reasons. First, many plurals have [parts] that do none of these things; in some cases, the Insider has almost no interaction with Outside issues at all. Second, the way [facilitators define] their so arbitrary as to be meaningless. From a biological point of view, there's very little difference between an addiction to a substance, an obsession with an idea, and a compulsion to cut oneself; and clearly any of those can spark or be sparked by depression.

Clearly, not everyone's buying in. But Eden, like many other IFS converts, sticks with it because it works for them. "Other psychological frameworks seem to be trying to fit people into general categories rather than their thoughts," she says. "I like that this didn't seem to make any assumptions about how my mind works — it considers you as a person, along with your individuality and uniqueness."

Looking to the future, Eden hopes to continue to apply IFS to her own internal states, and as a way to keep her marriage going strong. "It has definitely become a lifestyle thing for us," she says.

Image via Rolff. Inset images via Divia Eden and TFoxFoto.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

On Being - Opening to Our Lives: Jon Kabat-Zinn's Science of Mindfulness

This is a cool episode of the On Being podcast, hosted by Krista Tippett talking with guest Jon Kabat-Zinn about opening to our lives. Kabat-Zinn is the author of Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness, among other books.

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  • Opening to Our Lives: Jon Kabat-Zinn's Science of MindfulnessOn Being with Krista Tippett
“It doesn’t actually take any more time to say good-bye or hug you know, your children or whatever it is in the morning when you’re on your way to work. But the mind says, ‘I don’t have any time for this.’ But actually that’s all you have time for, is this because there’s nothing else than this…So when your four year-old can’t decide which dress she wants to wear, that’s not a problem for you, unless you make it a problem for you. That’s just the way four year-olds are. And the more we can sort of learn these lessons the more we will not be in some sense running towards our death, but in a sense opening to our lives.”
Scientist and author Jon Kabat-Zinn has changed Western medicine through his work on meditation and stress. He’s clinically demonstrated the benefits of ancient traditions of mindfulness and meditation. And he’s adapted these for people who are healthy or living with chronic illness, for Olympic athletes and corporate cultures.

In this week’s On Being podcast, Jon Kabat-Zinn offers wise perspective on inhabiting the ordinary and extreme stresses of our lives. Technology may function 24/7, he points out, but our minds and bodies do not. He has practical and spiritual tools accessible to everyone — for slowing down time and “opening to our lives.”
And, for this week’s show, our host Krista Tippett recommends reading:

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Writings SelectedComing to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness
by Jon Kabat-Zinn
There are a couple of minutes in this podcast in which we hear Jon Kabat-Zinn conduct an introductory meditative experience for employees at Google. This spiritual technology is immediately effective and at the same time an engagement for a lifetime. It is about “coming to our senses” in the fullest sense of that phrase. This book explores these ways of living in more depth.

Only Known Footage of the Legendary Bluesman Lead Belly (1935 and 1945)

Open Culture offers up this wonderful treat for fans of the original blues music and one of its legendary, larger-than-life figures, Lead Belly.

Essential Recordings from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

Listen "Where Did You Sleep Last Night"
Listen "Goodnight Irene"

Watch the Only Known Footage of the Legendary Bluesman Lead Belly (1935 and 1945)

January 2nd, 2013

Huddie Ledbetter, better known by his nickname “Lead Belly,” was one of the greatest blues musicians of all time. His songs have been covered by hundreds of artists, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Led Zeppelin. Lead Belly is also famous for what his biography at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes as “the mythic outline of his life”:
Born circa 1885 in rural northwest Louisiana, Lead Belly rambled across the Deep South from the age of 16. While working in the fields, he absorbed a vast repertoire of songs and styles. He mastered primordial blues, spirituals, reels, cowboy songs, folk ballads and prison hollers. In 1917, Lead Belly served as Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “lead boy”–i.e., his guide, companion and protégé–on the streets of Dallas. A man possessed with a hot temper and enormous strength, Lead Belly spent his share of time in Southern prisons. Convicted on charges of murder (1917) and attempted murder (1930), Lead Belly literally sang his way to freedom, receiving pardons from the governors of Texas and Louisiana. The second of his releases was largely obtained through the intervention of John and Alan Lomax, who first heard Lead Belly at Angola State Prison while recording indigenous Southern musicians for the library of Congress.
In 1935 the March of Time newsreel company told the story of Lead Belly’s discovery by John Lomax in the short film above. Although the scripted film will strike modern viewers as dubious in some respects (March of Time founder Henry Luce described the series as “fakery in allegiance to the truth”), the newsreel is nevertheless a fascinating document of Lead Belly, who was about 50 years old at the time, along with Lomax and Lead Belly’s wife, Martha Promise. At one point Lead Belly sings his classic song,“Goodnight, Irene.” According to Sharon R. Sherman in Documenting Ourselves: Film, Video, and Culture, the 1935 Lead Belly newsreel is the earliest celluloid document of American folklore. Lead Belly did work for Lomax after his second release from prison, as the newsreel says, following him back to the East Coast and serving as his chauffeur. In New York Lead Belly played in Harlem and also came into contact with leftist folk singers like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Lead Belly became known as the “King of the Twelve-String Guitar.”

Three Songs by Leadbelly, the only other film known to exist of the great bluesman, was made ten years after the newsreel. It was photographed by Blanding Sloan and assisted by Wah Mong Chang and edited two decades later by Pete Seeger. It begins with scenes of the graveyard in Mooringsport, Louisiana, where Lead Belly was buried after his death in 1949, accompanied by an instrumental version (with humming) of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” Lead Belly actually performed six songs for the film, but only three could be salvaged. Seeger is quoted by Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell in The Life and Legend of Leadbelly as describing Sloan’s film as “pretty amateurish”:
I think that he recorded Leadbelly in a studio the day before, then he played the record back while Leadbelly moved his hands and lips in synch with the record. He’d taken a few seconds from one direction and a few seconds from another direction, which is the only reason I was able to edit it. I spent three weeks with a Moveiola, up in my barn, snipping one frame off here and one frame off there and juggliing things around. I was able to synch up three songs: “Grey Goose,” “Take This Hammer,” and “Pick a Bale of Cotton.”

Related content:

MAPS - Treating PTSD with MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy

This is an interesting video presentation from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies on using MDMA (ecstasy) for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

MAPS: Treating PTSD with MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a devastating illness. Could MDMA-assisted psychotherapy offer hope? Learn more and find out how you can help by watching this motion graphic.

Motion graphics by Daniel Raphael

Music by Homunculus Rex

Narration by Loring Greene

Ecstasy Ingredient Green-Lighted for Controversial PTSD Study
December 7, 2012
By: Ryan McBride
Fierce Biotech: Fierce Biotech, a biotechnology industry publication, reports on scientific research into the effects of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for PTSD, highlighting the new therapy as a promising alternative to traditional treatments. 
Originally appearing here
Keeping an open mind could advance treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. A pure form of the club drug Ecstasy has emerged as a key component of a controversial and experimental study now enrolling patients with PTSD, which has afflicted thousands of U.S. soldiers after their harrowing experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, Reuters reports. 
South Carolina psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer is spearheading the multiyear study, which closely monitors PTSD patients under treatment with the active Ecstasy ingredient called MDMA as well as talk therapy. The FDA and DEA have approved his studies, he told Reuters. As the news service reports, his previous research found that two months after being treated with the drug, 80% of patients’ PTSD symptoms fell below the threshold of a positive diagnosis for the mental condition. And the benefits held up for 74% of the patients three and half years after treatment. 
Mithoefer is among a growing number of investigators who have embraced the potential benefits of ingredients from street drugs for patients suffering from mental conditions with few treatment options. Across the Atlantic, Imperial College London’s Prof. David Nutt has scored funding to test an active “magic” mushroom compound to combat depression. Nutt’s outspoken support for researching alternative therapies—specifically a comment about Ecstasy—cost him his big job as chairman of an advisory council on drugs to the U.K. government. So they’re up against a sticky stigma attached to the research. 
Both PTSD and depression have crippling symptoms, and some sufferers respond poorly to existing therapies. In the case of PTSD, according to the VA website, available treatments include talk therapy and a class of antidepressants called SSRIs. In fact, one VA doc told Reuters that the government medical system for veterans might not touch Ecstasy with a “10-foot pole because of the type of drug it is.” Others seem encouraged by the previous results of Mithoefer’s research. 
“It’s a potentially important, new application of use for a set of compounds that have not been available for clinical research for decades now,” Roland Griffiths, a professor in the psychiatry and neuroscience departments at Johns Hopkins University, told the news service. “PTSD is an awful, awful disease. … I don’t think we should stick our heads in the sand.”

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Iain McGilchrist: Why Things Are Not What They Seem and the Courage to Think Differently

Iain McGilchrist was a Research Fellow in neuroimaging at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. He has published articles and research papers in a wide range of publications on topics in literature, medicine, and psychiatry. At the Creative Innovation 2012 conference, he discusses the ideas in his latest book, The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World - how the bi-hemispheric structure of the brain influences our understanding of the world.

Melbourne, November, 2012.

Iain McGilchrist: Why Things Are Not What They Seem and the Courage to Think Differently

Iain was a Research Fellow in neuroimaging at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. He has published original articles and research papers in a wide range of publications on topics in literature, medicine and psychiatry. His latest book, The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, published by Yale in November 2009, explores the way in which the bihemispheric structure of the brain influences our understanding of the world.

A vast body of research reveals that the brains of birds and mammals, including humans, have evolved to enable us to apply two equally necessary, but mutually incompatible, types of attention to the world. One is sharply focused, but narrow, certain already of what it will find; the other is broad, open, and receptive to whatever it may find, without preconception. So difficult is it to combine these types of attention in one brain that they have been sequestered to the two distinct cerebral hemispheres. It is the left hemisphere that provides instrumental attention, enabling us to get and manipulate, by focusing sharply on narrowly conceived detail.

It is the right hemisphere that provides what one might call relational attention, enabling us to see the whole picture, to form social bonds, to inhabit and belong to the world we see, rather than simply being detached from it and using it.

Over time there is a tendency for the view of the left hemisphere to entrench itself: it is simpler, more explicit, ignores what does not fit its paradigm and makes us powerful manipulators. But the price is a baffled incredulity when the world does not seem to work the way it would predict. The costs include widespread despoliation of the planet, empty consumerism, a belief in theory at the expense of experience and an unwarranted optimism as we shuffle like a sleepwalker towards the abyss.

Nadia Rosenthal: How Will Our Bodies Keep Up With Technology? And What Will that Mean for Society?

In this talk at the Creative Innovation 2012 conference, Professor Nadia Rosenthal discusses the impact of modern technology and environmental stresses on human biology. Nadia Rosenthal obtained her PhD in 1981 from Harvard Medical School and trained as a postdoctoral fellow at NIH, then directed a biomedical research laboratory at Harvard Medical School, and served for a decade at the New England Journal of Medicine as editor of the Molecular Medicine series. Rosenthal is currently serving as Director of the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute, based at Monash University.

Professor Rosenthal’s research focuses on muscle and cardiac developmental genetics and the role of growth factors and stem cells in tissue regeneration, with over 160 primary research articles and prominent reviews in high impact international journals, including general reviews for Scientific American. She has attracted sponsored research funding from major pharmaceutical companies including Amgen, Genzyme and Novartis for her translational studies.

November 2012.

Nadia Rosenthal - How Will Our Bodies Keep Up With Technology?

Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite Books of 2012 - From Hallucinations and Psychopaths to Better Angels and the Age of Insight

Here are my favorite books from this past year, with the publisher blurb to give you the overview of the book. These are in no particular order. Many of these books appeared in this blog in the form of reviews written for other publications.

To be clear, I am not claiming these are the best books of the year, but rather, that these are the books I enjoyed reading or challenged my thinking in some ways. And as you might guess, the list is heavy with neuroscience and psychology books, but also one work of fiction and three books of poetry. There were some excellent books this year - please share some of your favorites in the comments.

[UPDATE] Somehow, when I did this list last night, I managed to forget one of the best and one of my favorite books from the list, which is now at the top. Thanks to Christian for reminding me of this book. (Technically, it came out in 2011, but I did not read it until 2012 when a friend gifted me with it - Thanks Tom!)

Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

  • Selected by the New York Times Book Review as one of the best books of 2011
  • A Globe and Mail Best Books of the Year 2011 Title
  • One of The Economist’s 2011 Books of the Year
  • One of The Wall Steet Journal's Best Nonfiction Books of the Year 2011
  • Winner of the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest

Daniel Kahneman, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his seminal work in psychology that challenged the rational model of judgment and decision making, is one of our most important thinkers. His ideas have had a profound and widely regarded impact on many fields—including economics, medicine, and politics—but until now, he has never brought together his many years of research and thinking in one book.

In the highly anticipated Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities—and also the faults and biases—of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior. The impact of loss aversion and overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the challenges of properly framing risks at work and at home, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning the next vacation—each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems work together to shape our judgments and decisions.

Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives—and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble. Thinking, Fast and Slow will transform the way you think about thinking.

* * * * *

The Social Conquest of Earth, E.O. Wilson 
From the most celebrated heir to Darwin comes a groundbreaking book on evolution, the summa work of Edward O. Wilson's legendary career.

Where did we come from? What are we? Where are we going? In a generational work of clarity and passion, one of our greatest living scientists directly addresses these three fundamental questions of religion, philosophy, and science while “overturning the famous theory that evolution naturally encourages creatures to put family first” (Discover magazine). Refashioning the story of human evolution in a work that is certain to generate headlines, Wilson draws on his remarkable knowledge of biology and social behavior to show that group selection, not kin selection, is the primary driving force of human evolution. He proves that history makes no sense without prehistory, and prehistory makes no sense without biology. Demonstrating that the sources of morality, religion, and the creative arts are fundamentally biological in nature, Wilson presents us with the clearest explanation ever produced as to the origin of the human condition and why it resulted in our domination of the Earth’s biosphere.

* * * * *

Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon 
From the National Book Award–winning author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression comes a monumental new work, a decade in the writing, about family. In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.

Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.

All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Drawing on forty thousand pages of interview transcripts with more than three hundred families, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges. Whether considering prenatal screening for genetic disorders, cochlear implants for the deaf, or gender reassignment surgery for transgender people, Solomon narrates a universal struggle toward compassion. Many families grow closer through caring for a challenging child; most discover supportive communities of others similarly affected; some are inspired to become advocates and activists, celebrating the very conditions they once feared. Woven into their courageous and affirming stories is Solomon’s journey to accepting his own identity, which culminated in his midlife decision, influenced by this research, to become a parent.

Elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance—all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.

* * * * *

Hallucinations, Oliver Sacks 
Have you ever seen something that wasn’t really there? Heard someone call your name in an empty house? Sensed someone following you and turned around to find nothing?

Hallucinations don’t belong wholly to the insane. Much more commonly, they are linked to sensory deprivation, intoxication, illness, or injury. People with migraines may see shimmering arcs of light or tiny, Lilliputian figures of animals and people. People with failing eyesight, paradoxically, may become immersed in a hallucinatory visual world. Hallucinations can be brought on by a simple fever or even the act of waking or falling asleep, when people have visions ranging from luminous blobs of color to beautifully detailed faces or terrifying ogres. Those who are bereaved may receive comforting “visits” from the departed. In some conditions, hallucinations can lead to religious epiphanies or even the feeling of leaving one’s own body.

Humans have always sought such life-changing visions, and for thousands of years have used hallucinogenic compounds to achieve them. As a young doctor in California in the 1960s, Oliver Sacks had both a personal and a professional interest in psychedelics. These, along with his early migraine experiences, launched a lifelong investigation into the varieties of hallucinatory experience.

Here, with his usual elegance, curiosity, and compassion, Dr. Sacks weaves together stories of his patients and of his own mind-altering experiences to illuminate what hallucinations tell us about the organization and structure of our brains, how they have influenced every culture’s folklore and art, and why the potential for hallucination is present in us all, a vital part of the human condition.

* * * * *

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, David Eagleman 
If the conscious mind--the part you consider to be you--is just the tip of the iceberg, what is the rest doing?

In this sparkling and provocative book, renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman navigates the depths of the subconscious brain to illuminate its surprising mysteries. Why can your foot move halfway to the brake pedal before you become consciously aware of danger ahead? Is there a true Mel Gibson? How is your brain like a conflicted democracy engaged in civil war? What do Odysseus and the subprime mortgage meltdown have in common? Why are people whose names begin with J more like to marry other people whose names begin with J? And why is it so difficult to keep a secret?

Taking in brain damage, plane spotting, dating, drugs, beauty, infidelity, synesthesia, criminal law, artificial intelligence, and visual illusions, Incognito is a thrilling subsurface exploration of the mind and all its contradictions.

* * * * *

The Wisdom of Psychopaths, Kevin Dutton 
In this engrossing journey into the lives of psychopaths and their infamously crafty behaviors, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, Dutton demonstrates that the brilliant neurosurgeon who lacks empathy has more in common with a Ted Bundy who kills for pleasure than we may wish to admit, and that a mugger in a dimly lit parking lot may well, in fact, have the same nerveless poise as a titan of industry.

Dutton argues that there are indeed “functional psychopaths” among us—different from their murderous counterparts—who use their detached, unflinching, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society, and that shockingly, in some fields, the more “psychopathic” people are, the more likely they are to succeed. Dutton deconstructs this often misunderstood diagnosis through bold on-the-ground reporting and original scientific research as he mingles with the criminally insane in a high-security ward, shares a drink with one of the world’s most successful con artists, and undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation to discover firsthand exactly how it feels to see through the eyes of a psychopath.

As Dutton develops his theory that we all possess psychopathic tendencies, he puts forward the argument that society as a whole is more psychopathic than ever: after all, psychopaths tend to be fearless, confident, charming, ruthless, and focused—qualities that are tailor-made for success in the twenty-first century. Provocative at every turn, The Wisdom of Psychopaths is a riveting adventure that reveals that it’s our much-maligned dark side that often conceals the trump cards of success.

* * * * *

Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your BehaviorLeonard Mlodinow
Leonard Mlodinow, the best-selling author of The Drunkard’s Walk and coauthor of The Grand Design (with Stephen Hawking), gives us a startling and eye-opening examination of how the unconscious mind shapes our experience of the world and how, for instance, we often misperceive our relationships with family, friends, and business associates, misunderstand the reasons for our investment decisions, and misremember important events.

Your preference in politicians, the amount you tip your waiter—all judgments and perceptions reflect the workings of our mind on two levels: the conscious, of which we are aware, and the unconscious, which is hidden from us. The latter has long been the subject of speculation, but over the past two decades researchers have developed remarkable new tools for probing the hidden, or subliminal, workings of the mind. The result of this explosion of research is a new science of the unconscious and a sea change in our understanding of how the subliminal mind affects the way we live.

Employing his trademark wit and lucid, accessible explanations of the most obscure scientific subjects, Leonard Mlodinow takes us on a tour of this research, unraveling the complexities of the subliminal self and increasing our understanding of how the human mind works and how we interact with friends, strangers, spouses, and coworkers. In the process he changes our view of ourselves and the world around us.

* * * * *

The Ravenous Brain, Daniel Bor 
Consciousness is our gateway to experience: it enables us to recognize Van Gogh’s starry skies, be enraptured by Beethoven’s Fifth, and stand in awe of a snowcapped mountain. Yet consciousness is subjective, personal, and famously difficult to examine: philosophers have for centuries declared this mental entity so mysterious as to be impenetrable to science.

In The Ravenous Brain, neuroscientist Daniel Bor departs sharply from this historical view, and builds on the latest research to propose a new model for how consciousness works. Bor argues that this brain-based faculty evolved as an accelerated knowledge gathering tool. Consciousness is effectively an idea factory—that choice mental space dedicated to innovation, a key component of which is the discovery of deep structures within the contents of our awareness.

This model explains our brains’ ravenous appetite for information—and in particular, its constant search for patterns. Why, for instance, after all our physical needs have been met, do we recreationally solve crossword or Sudoku puzzles? Such behavior may appear biologically wasteful, but, according to Bor, this search for structure can yield immense evolutionary benefits—it led our ancestors to discover fire and farming, pushed modern society to forge ahead in science and technology, and guides each one of us to understand and control the world around us. But the sheer innovative power of human consciousness carries with it the heavy cost of mental fragility. Bor discusses the medical implications of his theory of consciousness, and what it means for the origins and treatment of psychiatric ailments, including attention-deficit disorder, schizophrenia, manic depression, and autism. All mental illnesses, he argues, can be reformulated as disorders of consciousness—a perspective that opens up new avenues of treatment for alleviating mental suffering.

A controversial view of consciousness, The Ravenous Brain links cognition to creativity in an ingenious solution to one of science’s biggest mysteries.
* * * * *

Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul, Giulio Tononi 
From one of the most original and influential neuroscientists at work today, here is an exploration of consciousness unlike any other—as told by Galileo, who opened the way for the objectivity of science and is now intent on making subjective experience a part of science as well.

Galileo’s journey has three parts, each with a different guide. In the first, accompanied by a scientist who resembles Francis Crick, he learns why certain parts of the brain are important and not others, and why consciousness fades with sleep. In the second part, when his companion seems to be named Alturi (Galileo is hard of hearing; his companion’s name is actually Alan Turing), he sees how the facts assembled in the first part can be unified and understood through a scientific theory—a theory that links consciousness to the notion of integrated information (also known as phi). In the third part, accompanied by a bearded man who can only be Charles Darwin, he meditates on how consciousness is an evolving, developing, ever-deepening awareness of ourselves in history and culture—that it is everything we have and everything we are.

Not since Gödel, Escher, Bach has there been a book that interweaves science, art, and the imagination with such originality. This beautiful and arresting narrative will transform the way we think of ourselves and the world.

* * * * *

The Self Illusion, Bruce Hood 
Most of us believe that we are an independent, coherent self--an individual inside our head who thinks, watches, wonders, dreams, and makes plans for the future. This sense of our self may seem incredibly real but a wealth of recent scientific evidence reveals that it is not what it seems--it is all an illusion.

In The Self Illusion, Bruce Hood reveals how the self emerges during childhood and how the architecture of the developing brain enables us to become social animals dependent on each other. Humans spend proportionally the greatest amount of time in childhood compared to any other animal. It's not only to learn from others, Hood notes, but also to learn to become like others. We learn to become our self. Even as adults we are continually developing and elaborating this story, learning to become different selves in different situations--the work self, the home self, the parent self. Moreover, Hood shows that this already fluid process--the construction of self--has dramatically changed in recent years. Social networking activities--such as blogging, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter--are fast becoming socialization on steroids. The speed and ease at which we can form alliances and relationships are outstripping the same selection processes that shaped our self prior to the internet era. Things will never be the same again in the online social world. Hood offers our first glimpse into this unchartered territory.

Who we are is, in short, a story of our self--a narrative that our brain creates. Like the science fiction movie, we are living in a matrix that is our mind. But Hood concludes that though the self is an illusion, it is an illusion we must continue to embrace to live happily in human society.

* * * * *

The Ego Trick, Julian Baggini 
Are you still the person who lived fifteen, ten or five years ago? Fifteen, ten or five minutes ago? Can you plan for your retirement if the you of thirty years hence is in some sense a different person? What and who is the real you? Does it remain constant over time and place, or is it something much more fragmented and fluid? Is it known to you, or are you as much a mystery to yourself as others are to you? 
With his usual wit, infectious curiosity and bracing scepticism, Julian Baggini sets out to answer these fundamental and unsettling questions. His fascinating quest draws on the history of philosophy, but also anthropology, sociology, psychology and neurology; he talks to theologians, priests, allegedly reincarnated Lamas, and delves into real-life cases of lost memory, personality disorders and personal transformation; and, candidly and engagingly, he describes his own experiences. After reading The Ego Trick, you will never see yourself in the same way again.

* * * * *

The Emotional Life of Your Brain, Richard Davidson 
This long-awaited book by a pioneer in brain research offers a new model of our emotions- their origins, their power, and their malleability.

For more than thirty years, Richard Davidson has been at the forefront of brain research. Now he gives us an entirely new model for understanding our emotions, as well as practical strategies we can use to change them.

Davidson has discovered that personality is composed of six basic emotional "styles," including resilience, self-awareness, and attention. Our emotional fingerprint results from where on the continuum of each style we fall. He explains the brain chemistry that underlies each style in order to give us a new model of the emotional brain, one that will even go so far as to affect the way we treat conditions like autism and depression. And, finally, he provides strategies we can use to change our own brains and emotions-if that is what we want to do.

Written with bestselling author Sharon Begley, this original and exciting book gives us a new and useful way to look at ourselves, develop a sense of well-being, and live more meaningful lives.

* * * * *

The Age of Insight, Eric Kandel 
A brilliant book by Nobel Prize winner Eric R. Kandel, The Age of Insight takes us to Vienna 1900, where leaders in science, medicine, and art began a revolution that changed forever how we think about the human mind—our conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions—and how mind and brain relate to art.

At the turn of the century, Vienna was the cultural capital of Europe. Artists and scientists met in glittering salons, where they freely exchanged ideas that led to revolutionary breakthroughs in psychology, brain science, literature, and art. Kandel takes us into the world of Vienna to trace, in rich and rewarding detail, the ideas and advances made then, and their enduring influence today.

The Vienna School of Medicine led the way with its realization that truth lies hidden beneath the surface. That principle infused Viennese culture and strongly influenced the other pioneers of Vienna 1900. Sigmund Freud shocked the world with his insights into how our everyday unconscious aggressive and erotic desires are repressed and disguised in symbols, dreams, and behavior. Arthur Schnitzler revealed women’s unconscious sexuality in his novels through his innovative use of the interior monologue. Gustav Klimt, Oscar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele created startlingly evocative and honest portraits that expressed unconscious lust, desire, anxiety, and the fear of death.

Kandel tells the story of how these pioneers—Freud, Schnitzler, Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele—inspired by the Vienna School of Medicine, in turn influenced the founders of the Vienna School of Art History to ask pivotal questions such as What does the viewer bring to a work of art? How does the beholder respond to it? These questions prompted new and ongoing discoveries in psychology and brain biology, leading to revelations about how we see and perceive, how we think and feel, and how we respond to and create works of art. Kandel, one of the leading scientific thinkers of our time, places these five innovators in the context of today’s cutting-edge science and gives us a new understanding of the modernist art of Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele, as well as the school of thought of Freud and Schnitzler. Reinvigorating the intellectual enquiry that began in Vienna 1900, The Age of Insight is a wonderfully written, superbly researched, and beautifully illustrated book that also provides a foundation for future work in neuroscience and the humanities. It is an extraordinary book from an international leader in neuroscience and intellectual history.

* * * * *

The Archaeology of Mind, Jaak Panksepp 
A look at the seven emotional systems of the brain by the researcher who discovered them.

What makes us happy? What makes us sad? How do we come to feel a sense of enthusiasm? What fills us with lust, anger, fear, or tenderness? Traditional behavioral and cognitive neuroscience have yet to provide satisfactory answers. The Archaeology of Mind presents an affective neuroscience approach—which takes into consideration basic mental processes, brain functions, and emotional behaviors that all mammals share—to locate the neural mechanisms of emotional expression. It reveals—for the first time—the deep neural sources of our values and basic emotional feelings.

This book elaborates on the seven emotional systems that explain how we live and behave. These systems originate in deep areas of the brain that are remarkably similar across all mammalian species. When they are disrupted, we find the origins of emotional disorders:

- SEEKING: how the brain generates a euphoric and expectant response
- FEAR: how the brain responds to the threat of physical danger and death
- RAGE: sources of irritation and fury in the brain
- LUST: how sexual desire and attachments are elaborated in the brain
- CARE: sources of maternal nurturance
- GRIEF: sources of non-sexual attachments
- PLAY: how the brain generates joyous, rough-and-tumble interactions
- SELF: a hypothesis explaining how affects might be elaborated in the brain

The book offers an evidence-based evolutionary taxonomy of emotions and affects and, as such, a brand-new clinical paradigm for treating psychiatric disorders in clinical practice.

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The next two books here are ones I think are god and should be read, so I included them. However, as I read them I found myself disagreeing quite often, especially with Haidt.

The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt 
Why can’t our political leaders work together as threats loom and problems mount? Why do people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens? In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding.

His starting point is moral intuition—the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do. These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are wrong. Haidt shows us how these intuitions differ across cultures, including the cultures of the political left and right. He blends his own research findings with those of anthropologists, historians, and other psychologists to draw a map of the moral domain, and he explains why conservatives can navigate that map more skillfully than can liberals. He then examines the origins of morality, overturning the view that evolution made us fundamentally selfish creatures. But rather than arguing that we are innately altruistic, he makes a more subtle claim—that we are fundamentally groupish. It is our groupishness, he explains, that leads to our greatest joys, our religious divisions, and our political affiliations. In a stunning final chapter on ideology and civility, Haidt shows what each side is right about, and why we need the insights of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to flourish as a nation.

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The Better Angels of Our NatureSteven Pinker 
A provocative history of violence—from the New York Times bestselling author of The Stuff of Thought and The Blank Slate

Believe it or not, today we may be living in the most peaceful moment in our species' existence. In his gripping and controversial new work, New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows that despite the ceaseless news about war, crime, and terrorism, violence has actually been in decline over long stretches of history. Exploding myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious book continues Pinker's exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly enlightened world.

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To wrap things up, the next three books are poetry. Just because.

Poems 1962-2012, Louise Glück 
It is the astonishment of Louise Glück’s poetry that it resists collection. With each successive book her drive to leave behind what came before has grown more fierce, the force of her gaze fixed on what has yet to be imagined. She invented a form to accommodate this need, the book-length sequence of poems, like a landscape seen from above, a novel with lacunae opening onto the unspeakable. The reiterated yet endlessly transfigured elements in this landscape—Persephone, a copper beech, a mother and father and sister, a garden, a husband and son, a horse, a dog, a field on fire, a mountain—persistently emerge and reappear with the dark energy of the inevitable, shot through with the bright aspect of things new-made.

From the outset (“Come here / Come here, little one”), Gluck’s voice has addressed us with deceptive simplicity, the poems in lines so clear we “do not see the intervening fathoms.”

From within the earth’s
bitter disgrace, coldness and barrenness

my friend the moon rises:
she is beautiful tonight, but when is she not beautiful?

To read these books together is to understand the governing paradox of a life lived in the body and of the work wrested from it, the one fated to die and the other to endure.

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Collected Poems, Jack Gilbert 
Gathered in this volume readers will find more than fifty years of poems by the incomparable Jack Gilbert, from his Yale Younger Poets prize-winning volume to glorious late poems, including a section of previously uncollected work.

There is no one quite like Jack Gilbert in postwar American poetry. After garnering early acclaim with Views of Jeopardy (1962), he escaped to Europe and lived apart from the literary establishment, honing his uniquely fierce, declarative style, with its surprising abundance of feeling. He reappeared in our midst with Monolithos (1982) and then went underground again until The Great Fires (1994), which was eventually followed by Refusing Heaven (2005), a prizewinning volume of surpassing joy and sorrow, and the elegiac The Dance Most of All (2009). Whether his subject is his boyhood in working-class Pittsburgh, the women he has loved throughout his life, or the bittersweet losses we all face, Gilbert is by turns subtle and majestic: he steals up on the odd moment of grace; he rises to crescendos of emotion. At every turn, he illuminates the basic joys of everyday experience.

Now, for the first time, we have all of Jack Gilbert’s work in one essential volume: testament to a stunning career and to his place at the forefront of poetic achievement in our time.

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A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver 
Mornings with the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver

In A THOUSAND MORNINGS, Mary Oliver returns to the imagery that has come to define her life’s work, transporting us to the marshland and coastline of her beloved home, Provincetown, Massachusetts. In these pages, Oliver shares the wonder of dawn, the grace of animals, and the transformative power of attention. Whether studying the leaves of a tree or mourning her adored dog, Percy, she is ever patient in her observations and open to the teachings contained in the smallest of moments.

Our most precious chronicler of physical landscape, Oliver opens our eyes to the nature within, to its wild and its quiet. With startling clarity, humor, and kindness, A THOUSAND MORNINGS explores the mysteries of our daily experience.