Saturday, February 23, 2013

Trevor Malkinson - Rhizomatic for the People: Notes on Networks and Decentralization

This forest of aspens is actually a single organism, a rhizome.

I first came across the idea of the rhizome in Sam Mickey's article in Integral Theory in Action (SUNY Press, 2010), "Rhizomatic Contributions to Integral Ecology in Deleuze and Guattari." [The book is a collection of papers from the first bi-annual Integral Theory Conference held in 2008]. From there I discovered A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980) by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. I blogged about Deleuze and Guattari back in 2010.

A Thousand Plateaus is book two in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia series, which began with Anti-Oedipus (1972), where the first introduced and began developing their rhizomatic theory.

From Wikipedia, here is a brief definition of rhizomes:
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari use the term "rhizome" and "rhizomatic" to describe theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation. In A Thousand Plateaus, they oppose it to an arborescent conception of knowledge, which works with dualist categories and binary choices. A rhizome works with planar and trans-species connections, while an arborescent model works with vertical and linear connections. Their use of the "orchid and the wasp" is taken from the biological concept of mutualism, in which two different species interact together to form a multiplicity (i.e. a unity that is multiple in itself). Horizontal gene transfer would also be a good illustration.

As a model for culture, the rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the original source of "things" and looks towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those "things." A rhizome, on the other hand, is characterized by "ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles." The rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a "rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo." The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and propagation. In this model, culture spreads like the surface of a body of water, spreading towards available spaces or trickling downwards towards new spaces through fissures and gaps, eroding what is in its way. The surface can be interrupted and moved, but these disturbances leave no trace, as the water is charged with pressure and potential to always seek its equilibrium, and thereby establish smooth space.[1]

Principles of the rhizome

Deleuze and Guattari introduce A Thousand Plateaus by outlining the concept of the rhizome (quoted from A Thousand Plateaus):
1 and 2: Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be
3. Principle of multiplicity: only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, "multiplicity" that it ceases to have any relation to the One
4. Principle of asignifying rupture: a rhizome may be broken, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines
5 and 6: Principles of cartography and decalcomania: a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model; it is a "map and not a tracing"
There is a lot to like about this theory - and in many ways it overturns a lot of the basic tenets of integral theory - a model that is completely hierarchical, chronological, and highly organized. Rhizomes reject hierarchies and they resist chronology and organization.

Rhizomes are decentralized, organized by connections and associations and not by systems, and they seek a unification that is inherently multiple.

This passage from Ellen E. Berry and Carol Siegel is taken from their article, "Rhizomes, Newness, and the Condition of Our Postmodernity: Editorial and a Dialogue," which appeared in the journal
rhizomes.01 (fall 2000).


[7] exists to suggest ways out of this all-too-common paralysis of our critical imaginations by providing sites for the emergence of new thinking, the not-yet-conceived. We see speculative impulses and experimental strategies as vital components of the political agenda of contemporary cultural studies: Today more than ever we require acts of radical imagination and psychic mobility as preludes to the invention of historically new modes of relationship.

[8] Although we cannot (and would not wish to) predict the nature of the strange attractions that might migrate to Rhizomes, we are particularly interested in soliciting the following:
[9] creative and critical practices that generate alternative thinking by deliberately pursuing those alternatives embedded in any idea or system, particularly what a system omits or deems unworthy of serious scrutiny. Such thinking prevents any system from promoting itself as definitive and leaves it open to other ways of knowing and being. 
[10] creative and critical practices that encourage us to unite ideas that seem most disparate or incompatible, thereby deliberately dislocating us from the known. 
[11] creative and critical practices that train us actively to desire multiple differences rather than simply tolerating them or projecting them as objects of analysis. Such practices would be unpredictable, performative, and incomplete. By "hailing" us in ways that permit entry into relation with the other even as we forego full comprehension of him/her, they thereby will also extend our empathetic and ethical capacities.
With that background, here is the beginning of an essay by Trevor Malkinson from Beams and Struts, the finest integral blog on the web.

Rhizomatic for the People - Notes on Networks and Decentralization

Written by Trevor Malkinson

“Today we see networks everywhere we look- military organizations, social movements, business formations, migration patterns, communication systems, physiological structures, linguistic relations, neural transmitters, and even personal relationships". - Hardt and Negri, Multitdue - War and Democracy in the Age of Empire



January 13, 2013

For several weeks there was a rich discussion happening on the comment thread of the article Eight Perspectives On Integral Trans-Partisan Politics. In that mix Jeremy Johnson and I were voicing support for a decentralized, local oriented way of life as an important way forward politically, economically and culturally. In his entry for the original article Jeremy writes:

It [integral trans-politics] argues for a political philosophy where the elite of society rule from the top-down. But everything that is going on today – with networks of social communication, experimental peer-to-peer economic systems, and decentralization of social power – suggests that human culture is undergoing revolutionary changes.

Later in a comment he added, "I think in the young generations of today, they will be developing wholly new economic and sociological structures. And I think these will be decentralized, rhizomatic, and built upon new ways of thinking and organizing society". Later on in a comment of my own I wrote, "I agree with Jeremy that a more localized decentralized form is what is generally emerging". In response to this Kaine DeBoer, also author of 1/8 of the perspectives in the original post, responded:

Trevor & Jeremy re: decentralization & localization -- I have heard these sentiments echoed elsewhere. But what evidence is there that there's a larger shift towards localization? Especially here in the United States, are we even capable of it at this point? Population density when combined with available, fertile land. Manufacturing infrastructure is either in decay or is simply non-existent...

This is a fair question, and in this post I want to offer a round-up of resources that I think show that these shifts are here and happening, and also why they might be important. What follows are a potpourri of lines of flight, a mashup sketch of what I see as the shapes of a future rapidly emerging.

Update - February 11, 2013

Since I started working on this piece a few weeks ago, a steady stream of new articles have come out on this topic, and there's also been a big public debate about the importance or non-importance of decentralization and peer networks between Stephen Johnson and Evgeny Morozov. I had already used Johnson's work in a section below, and I've been trying to keep track of all the new developments while writing this piece. I've come to realized that this article is only ever going to be a slice in time look at a dynamically unfolding topic, and moreover that I'm only going to be able to get to the networks and decentralization component. The first seven sections below were written in January. The final two I've just begun working on now, and I better click publish soon before something else happens! As I said in the article announcing the closing of Beams, a rhizome is always a middle, and it's high time I absorb this wisdom in this case, as I'll never be able to contain or capture the whole of this topic. So onwards into the essay. I'll speak to the debate between Johnson and Morozov in the concluding section.
Read the whole essay.

Documentary - Obey (Based on Chris Hedges' book “Death of the Liberal Class"

Chris Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class was an excellent, though disheartening look at the rise of the corporate state, with "unfettered capitalism, the national security state, globalization, and staggering income inequalities" over the past several decades, but especially in the last 15 to 20 years.

This documentary, Obey, is based on the book.


This is a film based on the book “Death of the Liberal Class” by journalist and Pulitzer prize winner, Chris Hedges.

It charts the rise of the Corporate State, and examines the future of obedience in a world of unfettered capitalism, globalization, staggering inequality and environmental change.

The film predominantly focuses on US corporate capitalism, but it is my hope that the viewer can recognize the relevance of what is being expressed with regards to domestic political and corporate activity.

It was made completely of clips found on the web.

We’re not only dreamers but also doers. We believe in actions not in violence; we believe in collaboration not in segregation. Numbers, figures, and hash-tags are labels to help us organize this chaotic world. Stories, however, give meaning to our lives and unite us to the shared visions.

Watch the full documentary now - 52 min

Virginia Hughes - Opening the Black Box of Neurogenesis

Virginia Hughes writes for the Phenomena blog series at National Geographic. In this excellent, though too brief ( I want more!) article, she examines the once unthinkable notion of neurogenesis - that brains can make new neurons throughout their lifespan. Now, more than 20 years after the discovery of neurogenesis, we know that "running and antidepressants can ramp up neurogenesis, for example, while stress, social isolation, sleep deprivation and aging can shut it down."

Opening the Black Box of Neurogenesis

by Virginia Hughes
February 7, 2013

Mice lacking a protein called DKK1 develop more new neurons (right) compared with controls (left).

Every science writer loves a good challenge to dogma. I wish I had been in the working world in the spring of 1992, when one such intellectual overhaul happened in neuroscience. The dogma: Neurons, unlike most of the body’s cells, can’t be replenished. You’re born with just 100 billion of them and you better use them wisely. The challenge: Samuel Weiss and Brent Reynolds reported in Science that brain tissue taken from adult mice could be chemically coaxed into making new neurons.

“It left us speechless,” Weiss told the New York Times. Everybody else was pretty stunned, too. Over the next six years, other researchers confirmed that this so-called neurogenesis happens in the adult hippocampus of many animals, including tree shrews, marmosets, Old World monkeys and people. Today, more than two decades since the splashy Science report, adult neurogenesis is a bona fide subfield, with hundreds of labs studying it around the world.

But after all this time, researchers still don’t really know what it’s for. Studies have uncovered a wide variety of environmental stimuli — what you might think of as inputs — that affect neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus, a part of the hippocampus. Running and antidepressants can ramp up neurogenesis, for example, while stress, social isolation, sleep deprivation and aging can shut it down. Scientists have also looked at the outputs of neurogenesis, showing that a boost of new neurons may be important for exploratory behavior and certain kinds of learning, such as navigating a new space. But how do the inputs lead to the outputs?

“I like to think of the dentate as an association machine,” says Sam Pleasure, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. All day long, he says, we’re walking around the world trying to associate various sensations and emotions — big dog with fangs, small screaming toddler, perilous traffic intersection — so that we can remember them later. “All these stimuli are happening and converge on this circuit, and they somehow affect how new neurons are recruited into the circuit, and that ends up coming out as the ability to form new memories.” But how it all works on the molecular level is a black box.

Two papers published today in Cell Stem Cell open that box a little bit. They identify molecular inhibitors — what Pleasure calls “wet blankets” — that turn off neurogenesis in certain contexts.

Both studies concern a famous biological network, called Wnt, that’s crucial for the development of the nervous system, including setting up the dentate gyrus. In 2005, researchers showed that Wnt signals also drive neurogenesis in adulthood. Networks like Wnt are super-complicated, though, and controlled by dozens of molecular interactions.

In one of the new reports, scientists from Johns Hopkins University focused on a protein called ‘secreted frizzled-related protein 3′, or SFRP3, which litters the dentate gyrus. The protein can bind to Wnt outside of the cell and thus block Wnt signaling. The study found that mice lacking SFRP3 have increased neurogenesis. But more exciting, the study showed that when normal mice exercise (voluntary running on a wheel), the level of SFRP3 in their brains goes down and neurogenesis goes up. In other words, SFRP3 is a neurogenesis wet blanket that can be pulled off with exercise.

Over-expressing DKK1 creates two-headed tadpoles. (Glinka et al., Nature 1998)

The second study focused on a protein called Dickkopf-1, or DKK1, which has an interesting history. In the first description of it, in 1998, a German team led by Christof Niehrs showed that in tadpoles, over-expressing DKK1 leads to multiple heads, whereas knocking it out leads to no head at all. (These findings explain its name: In German, dick means fat and kopf means head.) Over the next decade, researchers showed that DKK1 is also a Wnt inhibitor and that, like SFRP3, its expression throws a brake on neurogenesis.

The new work uncovers a piece of the DKK1 mechanism that could have big clinical implications for Alzheimer’s and other disorders that involve age-related dementia. Niehrs and collaborators showed that in mice, DKK1 expression increases with age, leading to a decrease in neurogenesis. Mice engineered to lack DKK1 in neural stem cells, meanwhile, show some amazing behaviors in old age. At 18 months old, normal mice are well into senescence and all that comes with it, including memory loss and anxiety. But old DKK1 mutants perform tasks of working memory and memory consolidation just as well as younger mice, and have abnormally low anxiety to boot.

“For us this was very astonishing,” says lead investigator Ana Martin-Villalba, head of Molecular Neurobiology at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. The findings suggest, she says, that drugs that block DKK1 might work against age-related dementia. (Some DKK1 blockers are already being tested in clinical trials for osteoporosis, but they can’t cross the blood-brain barrier.)

But before going forward in the clinic, Martin-Villalba wants to answer a much more fundamental question: What’s the point of DKK1 in the first place? ”If you don’t have it and you are happier and you have less cognitive decline, why should you have it?” she says. “At the moment I cannot tell you why.”

Pleasure, who wasn’t involved in either study, agrees that many of these ‘why’ questions need to be answered before thinking about neurogenesis therapies. Why does neurogenesis decrease with age? Why does the brain have any brakes on neurogenesis, and why so many different brakes? These mechanistic studies “are filling in small black boxes,” he says, figuring out the messy middle part between inputs and outputs. “We’re nowhere close to finishing the middle, but these are the reasonable steps.”

Not as sexy as knocking down scientific dogma, maybe, but thrilling all the same.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Neil Shubin - The World Within at the RSA

Pioneering paleontologist Neil Shubin - author of The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People - reveals the deep connections between the cosmos and the human body – from today right back to the Big Bang.

Here is the ad copy from Amazon:
From one of our finest and most popular science writers, and the best-selling author of Your Inner Fish, comes the answer to a scientific mystery as big as the world itself: How are the events that formed our solar system billions of years ago embedded inside each of us? 
In Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin delved into the amazing connections between human bodies—our hands, heads, and jaws—and the structures in fish and worms that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. In The Universe Within, with his trademark clarity and exuberance, Shubin takes an even more expansive approach to the question of why we look the way we do. Starting once again with fossils, he turns his gaze skyward, showing us how the entirety of the universe’s fourteen-billion-year history can be seen in our bodies. As he moves from our very molecular composition (a result of stellar events at the origin of our solar system) through the workings of our eyes, Shubin makes clear how the evolution of the cosmos has profoundly marked our own bodies.
Hmmm . . . interesting.

Listen to the podcast of the full event including audience Q&A

"The Mind's Eye" with Galen Strawson, Nicholas Humphrey, and David Malone

Nice panel and an interesting discussion:
For scientists and philosophers the idea of the soul has been out of fashion for two hundred years. But is it on its way back? Can we explain consciousness without it? Who watches the magic show that is experience? Philosopher Galen Strawson, evolutionary psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, and award-winning documentary-maker David Malone investigate the all-seeing I.

The Mind's Eye

Tsultrim Allione - Feeding Your Demons

Tsultrim Allione is a former Tibetan nun and the author of Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict, from which this article is adapted. For those familiar with "parts" work in psychotherapy (working with subpersonalities or ego states), this five step process will look slightly familiar - there is some serious overlap between this ancient Buddhist practice and the contemporary shadow work process of getting to know our parts.

By the way, the paintings in this article, by Andrew Guenther, are quite cool. The article comes from Tricycle Magazine's Wisdom Collection.

Feeding Your Demons

Five steps to transforming your obstacles—your addictions, anxieties, and fears—into tranquility and wisdom, from Tsultrim Allione.

Article by Tsultrim Allione
Artwork by Andrew Guenther 

Wisdom Collection

To access the content within the Wisdom Collection, join Tricycle as a Supporting or Sustaining Member.

Social Group III, 2007, acrylic and oil stick on canvas, 60 x 50 inches

DEMONS are not bloodthirsty ghouls waiting for us in dark places; they are within us, the forces that we find inside ourselves, the core of which is ego-clinging. Demons are our obsessions and fears, feelings of insecurity, chronic illnesses, or common problems like depression, anxiety, and addiction. Feeding our demons rather than fighting them may seem to contradict the conventional approach of attacking and attempting to eliminate that which assails us, but it turns out to be a remarkable alternative and an effective path to liberation from all dichotomies.

In my own process of learning and applying the practice of Chöd, which was originated by the eleventh-century Tibetan yogini Machig Lapdrön , I realized that demons—or maras as they are called in Buddhism—are not exotic beings like those seen in Asian scroll paintings. They are our present fears and obsessions, the issues and emotional reactivity of our own lives. Our demons, all stemming from the root demon of ego-clinging, but manifesting in an infinite variety of ways, might come from the conflicts we have with our lover, anxiety we feel when we fly, or the discomfort we feel when we look at ourselves in the mirror. We might have a demon that makes us fear abandonment or a demon that causes us to hurt the ones we love.

Demons are ultimately generated by the mind and, as such, have no independent existence. Nonetheless, we engage with them as though they were real, and we believe in their existence—ask anyone who has fought an addiction or anxiety attacks. Demons show up in our lives whether we provoke them or not, whether we want them or not. Even common parlance refers to demons, such as a veteran who is home “battling his demons” of post-traumatic stress from the war in Iraq. I recently heard a woman say she was fighting her “jealousy demon.” Unfortunately, the habit of fighting our demons only gives them strength. By feeding, not fighting, our demons, we are integrating these energies, rather than rejecting them and attempting to distance ourselves from disowned parts of ourselves, or projecting them onto others.

The Practice of the Five Steps of Feeding Your Demons

WHEN I began to teach the Chöd practice in the West twenty-five years ago, I developed an exercise of visualizing and feeding “personal” demons so that the idea of demons would be relevant and applicable for Westerners. This exercise evolved into a five-step process, which began to be used independently of the Tibetan Chöd practice. My students told me that this method helped them greatly with chronic emotional and physical issues such as anxiety, compulsive eating, panic attacks, and illness. When they told me the five-step process also helped in dealing with upheavals such as the end of a relationship, the stress of losing a job, the death of a loved one, and interpersonal problems at work and at home, I realized that this exercise had a life of its own outside of teaching the traditional Chöd practice.

When we obsess about weight issues or become drained by a relationship or crave a cigarette, we give our demons strength, because we aren’t really paying attention to the demon. When we understand how to feed the demon’s real need with fearless generosity, the energy tied up in our demon will tend to dissolve and become an ally, like the demons that attacked Machig and subsequently became her aides.

Feeding a demon will take about half an hour. Choose a quiet place where you feel safe and comfortable. Arrange a time when you won’t be interrupted. Set up two chairs or two cushions opposite each other: one for you and one for the demon and ally. Once you’re set up you will want to keep your eyes closed until the end of the fifth step, so put the two seats (chairs or cushions) close enough to each other that you can feel the one in front of you with your eyes closed. Keeping your eyes closed will help you stay focused and present as you imagine this encounter with your demon. However, until you know the steps by heart, you may need to glance at the instructions.

Begin by generating the motivation to do the practice for the benefit of all beings. Then take nine deep abdominal breaths, which means breathing in deeply until you can feel your abdomen expand. Place your hands on your stomach and notice it rise and fall. As you inhale during the first three breaths, imagine your breath traveling to any physical tension you are holding in your body and then imagine the exhalation carrying this tension away. During the next three breaths release any emotional tension you might be carrying with the exhalation and in the last three breaths release any mental tension such as worries or concepts that are blocking you. Now you are ready for the five steps.

Social Group I, 2006, acrylic and oil stick on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

Step One: Find the Demon

In the first step you will find where in your body you hold the demon. Your demon might be an illness, an addiction, a phobia, perfectionism, anger, depression, or anything that is dragging you down, draining your energy. So first decide what you will work with. Finding the demon in your body takes you out of your head into a direct somatic experience. Think about the issue or demon you’ve decided to work with and let your awareness scan your body from head to toe, without any judgments, simply being aware of the sensations that are present. Locate where you are holding this energy by noticing where your attention goes in your body when you think about this issue. Once you find the feeling, intensify it, exaggerate it. Here are some questions to ask yourself: What color is it? What shape does it have? Does it have a texture? What is its temperature? If it emitted a sound, what would it be? If it had a smell, what would it be?

Step Two: Personify the Demon and Ask It What It Needs

In the second step you invite the demon to move from being simply a collection of sensations, colors, and textures that you’ve identified inside your body to becoming a living entity sitting right in front of you. As a personified form appears, a figure or a monster, notice its color, size, expression and especially the look in its eyes. Don’t try to control or decide what it will look like; let your unconscious mind produce the image. If something comes up that seems silly, like a cliché or a cartoon character, don’t dismiss it or try to change it. Work with whatever form shows up without editing it. Then ask three questions aloud in the following order: What do you want from me? What do you need from me? How will you feel if you get what you need? Once you have asked these questions, immediately change places with the demon. You need to become the demon to know the answers.

Step Three: Become the Demon

In the third step, you will discover what the demon needs by putting yourself in the demon’s place, actually changing places and allowing yourself to see things from the demon’s point of view. With your eyes still closed, move to the seat you have set up in front of you, facing your original seat, and imagine yourself as the demon. Take a deep breath or two and feel yourself becoming this demon. Vividly recall the being that was personified in front of you and imagine you are “in the demon’s shoes.” Take a moment to adjust to your new identity before answering the three questions.

Then answer the three questions aloud in the first person, looking at an imagined form of your ordinary self in front of you, like this: “What I want from you is . . . What I need from you is . . . When my need is met, I will feel . . .”

It’s very important that these questions make the distinction between wants and needs, because many demons will want your life force, or everything good in your life, or to control you, but that’s not what they need. Often what they need is hidden beneath what they say they want, which is why we ask the second question, probing a little deeper. The demon of alcoholism might want alcohol but need something quite different, like safety or relaxation. Until we get to the need underlying the craving, the craving will continue.

In response to the question “What do you need?” the stress demon might respond: “What I actually need is to feel secure.”

Having learned that beneath the stress demon’s desire to hurry and do more lies a need to feel secure, you still must find out how the demon will feel if it gets what it needs. This will tell you what to feed the demon. Thus, having been asked “How will you feel if you get what you need?” the stress demon might answer: “I will feel like I can let go and finally relax.” Now you know to feed this demon relaxation. By feeding the demon the emotional feeling that underlies the desire for the substance, we address the core issue instead of just the symptoms.

2004, acrylic and oil stick on canvas, 24 x 22 inches

Step Four: Feed the Demon and Meet the Ally

Now we’ve reached the crucial moment when we actually feed the demon. Return to your original position and face the demon. Take a moment to settle back into your own body before you envision the demon in front of you again.

Begin by imagining that your consciousness is separating from your body so that it is as if your consciousness is outside your body and just an observer of this process. Then imagine your body melting into nectar that consists of whatever the demon has told you it ultimately will feel if it gets what it needs, so the nectar consists of the answer to the third question in step three. For example, the demon might have said it will feel powerful, or loved, or accepted when it gets what it needs. So the nectar should be just that: You offer nectar of the feeling of power, love, or acceptance.

Now feed the demon this nectar, give free rein to your imagination in seeing how the nectar will be absorbed by the demon. See the demon drinking in your offering of nectar through its mouth or through the pores of its skin, or taking it in some other way. Continue imagining the nectar flowing into the demon; imagine that there is an infinite supply of this nectar, and that you are offering it with a feeling of limitless generosity. While you feed your demon, watch it carefully, as it is likely to begin to change. Does it look different in any way? Does it morph into a new being altogether?

At the moment of total satiation, its appearance usually changes significantly. It may become something completely new or disappear into smoke or mist. What happens when the demon is completely satisfied? There’s nothing it’s “supposed” to do, so just observe what happens; let the process unfold without trying to create a certain outcome. Whatever develops will arise spontaneously when the demon is fed to its complete satisfaction. It is important that the demon be fed to complete satisfaction. If your demon seems insatiable, just imagine how it would look if it were completely satisfied; this bypasses our tendency to hold on to our demons.

The next part of step four is the appearance of an ally. A satisfied demon may transform directly into a benevolent figure, which may be the ally. The ally could be an animal, a bird, a human, a mythic god or bodhisattva, a child, or a familiar person. Ask this figure if it is the ally. If it replies it is not, then invite an ally to appear. Or the demon may have disappeared, leaving no figure behind. If so, you can still meet the ally by inviting an ally to appear in front of you. Once you clearly see the ally, ask it the following questions: How will you serve me? What pledge or commitment will you make to me? How will you protect me? How can I gain access to you?

Then change places and become the ally, just as you became the demon in step three. Having become the ally, take a moment to fully inhabit this body. Notice how it feels to be the protective guardian. Then, speaking as the ally, answer the questions above. Try to be as specific as possible in your answers.

Once the ally has articulated how it will serve and protect you, and how you can summon it, return to your original place. Take a moment to settle back into yourself, seeing the ally in front of you. Then imagine you are receiving the help and the commitment the ally has pledged. Feel this supportive energy enter you and take effect.

Finally, imagine the ally itself melting into you and feel its deeply nurturing essence integrating with you. Notice how you feel when the ally has dissolved into you. Realize that the ally is actually an inseparable part of you, and then allow yourself to dissolve into emptiness, which will naturally take you to the fifth and final step.

Step Five: Rest in Awareness

When you have finished feeding the demon to complete satisfaction and the ally has been integrated, you and the ally dissolve into emptiness. Then you just rest. When the thinking mind takes a break for even a few seconds, a kind of relaxed awareness replaces the usual stream of thoughts. We need to encourage this and not fill this space with anything else; just let it be. Some people describe the fifth step as peace, others as freedom, and yet others as a great vastness. I like calling it “the gap,” or the space between thoughts. Usually when we experience the gap we have a tendency to want to fill it up immediately; we are uncomfortable with empty space. In the fifth step, rather than filling this space, rest there. Even if this open awareness only occurs for a moment, it’s the beginning of knowing your true nature.

Although the method of personifying a fear or neurosis is not unfamiliar in Western psychology, the value of the five-step practice of feeding your demons is quite different, beginning with the generation of an altruistic motivation, followed by the body offering (which works directly with ego-clinging) and finally the experience of nondual meditative awareness in the final step of the process. This state of relaxed awareness, free from our usual fixation of “self” versus “other,” takes us beyond the place where normal psychotherapeutic methods end.

Direct Liberation of Demons

Once we have practiced feeding the demons for some time, we begin to become aware of demons as they form. We learn to see them coming: “Ah, here comes my self-hatred demon.” This makes it possible—with some practice—to liberate demons as they arise without going through the five steps, by using what is called “direct liberation.” This most immediate and simple route to liberating demons takes you straight to the fifth step, but it is also the most difficult to do effectively.

Direct liberation is deceptively simple. It involves noticing the arising energy or thoughts and then turning your awareness directly toward it without giving it form as we do in the five steps. This is the energetic equivalent of turning a boat directly into the wind when sailing; the boat travels because of its resistance to the wind and stops when its power source has been neutralized. Similarly, if you turn your awareness directly into an emotion it stops developing. This doesn’t mean you are analyzing it or thinking about it but rather turning toward it with clear awareness. At this point, if you are able to do it correctly, the demon will instantly be liberated and vanish on the spot. The technique of direct liberation is comparable to being afraid of a monster in the dark and then turning on the light. When the light goes on we see that there never was a monster in the first place, that it was just a projection of our own mind.

Let’s take the example of a demon of jealousy. I notice, “Ah, I’m getting jealous, my heart rate is increasing. My body is tensing.” If at that moment I turn toward the energy of jealousy and bring my full awareness to it, the jealousy will pop like a balloon. When we feed a demon using the five steps, by the time you get to the fifth step both you and the demon have dissolved into emptiness and there is just vast awareness. Here we are short-circuiting the demon as it arises by meeting its energy consciously as soon as it surfaces, going directly to the fifth step.

Another example of a situation in which you might practice direct liberation would be an interaction with other people. You might be sitting with your lover, for instance, when you discover that something he committed to doing has not even been started. You feel irritation welling up. But then if you turn your awareness to this sensation of irritation, looking right at it, it disappears.

One way I explain direct liberation at my retreats is through an experiment. You might try it. Consciously generate a strong emotion—anger, sadness, disappointment, or desire. When you get this feeling, intensify it, and then turn your awareness directly to that emotion and rest in the experience that follows. Liberation of the demon can be so simple and instantaneous that you will distrust the result, but check back on it, and, if you have done it correctly, the emotion will have dissolved.

With considerable practice the next stage becomes possible: Here immediate awareness, clear and unmodified, is already stable, not something you just glimpse periodically. At this stage, you don’t have to “do” anything; awareness simply meets emotions as they arise so that they are naturally liberated. Emptiness, clarity, and awareness are spontaneously present. Emotions don’t get hold of you; they arise and are liberated simultaneously. This is called instant liberation. An emotion arises but finds no foothold and dissolves. At this point we have no need for feeding demons, because we are governed by awareness, rather than by our emotions.

The process of acknowledging our collective demons begins with our personal demons—universal fears, paranoia, prejudices, arrogance, and other weaknesses. Families, groups, nations, and even society as a whole can create demons that are the sum of unresolved individual demons. If we do not acknowledge these personal demons, our weaknesses and fears can join those of others to become something monstrous.

Through shifting our perspective away from attacking our enemies and defending our territory to feeding our demons, we can learn to stay in dialogue with the enemy and find peaceful solutions. In this way we begin a quiet revolution. Drawing on the inspiration of the teachings of an eleventh-century yogini, we can change our world.

The Story of Chöd Practice

The great eleventh-century Tibetan yogini Machig Labdrön (1055–1145) received empowerment from her teacher, Kyotön Sonam Lama, with several other women practitioners. At the key moment when the wisdom beings descended, Machig magically rose up from where she was sitting, passed through the wall of the temple, and flew into a tree above a pond.

This pond was the residence of a powerful naga, or water spirit. These capricious beings can cause disruption and disease but can also act as treasure holders or protectors. This particular naga was so terrifying that the local people did not even dare to look at the pond, never mind approach it. But Machig landed in the tree above the pond and stayed there in a state of profound, unshakable meditation.

Young Machig’s arrival in this lone tree above the pond was a direct confrontation for the water spirit. He approached her threateningly, but she remained in meditation, unafraid. This infuriated him, so he gathered a huge army of nagas from the region in an attempt to intimidate her. They approached her as a mass of terrifying magical apparitions. When she saw them coming, Machig instantly transformed her body into a food offering, and, as her biography states, “They could not devour her because she was egoless.”

Not only did the aggression of the nagas evaporate but also they developed faith in her and offered her their “life essence,” committing not to harm other beings and vowing to protect her. By meeting the demons without fear, compassionately offering her body as food rather than fighting against them, Machig turned the demons into allies.

There is a story, also about a water creature, in Western mythology that stands in stark contrast to the story of Machig Labdrön and the naga. The myth of Hercules exemplifies the heroic quest in Western culture. Accompanied by his nephew Iolaus, Hercules goes to the lake of Lerna, where the Hydra, a nine-headed water serpent, has been attacking innocent passersby. Hercules and Iolaus fire flaming arrows at the beast to draw it from its lair. After it emerges, Hercules discovers that every time he destroys one of the Hydra’s heads, two more grow back in its place.

Iolaus uses a burning branch to cauterize the necks at the base of the heads as Hercules lops them off, successfully preventing the Hydra from growing more. Eventually only one head remains. This head is immortal, but Hercules cuts through the mortal neck that supports it. The head lies before him, hissing. Finally, he buries the immortal head under a large boulder, considering the monster vanquished.

But what kind of victory has Hercules achieved? Has he actually eliminated the enemy, or merely suppressed it? The Hydra’s immortal head, the governing force of its energy, is still seething under the boulder and could reemerge if circumstances permitted. What does this say about the monster-slaying heroic mentality that so enthralls and permeates our society?

Although the positive aspects of the myth can lead to important battles against hatred, disease, and poverty, it also poses terrible and largely unacknowledged dangers. Among these is the ego inflation of those who identify themselves with the role of the dragon-slaying warrior hero. Another is projecting evil onto our opponents, demonizing them, and justifying their murder, while we claim to be wholly identified with good. The tendency to kill—rather than engage—the monster prevents us from knowing our own monsters and transforming them into allies.

For more on Chöd, the Tibetan practice that inspired "Feeding Your Demons," check out "The Most Generous Cut" by Alejandro Chaoul.

Tsultrim Allione is a former Tibetan Buddhist nun and author of Women of Wisdom. She is the founder of the Tara Mandala retreat center in Colorado ( This article has been adapted from her new book Feeding Your Demons, © 2008. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Epigenetics: How Our Experiences Affect Our Offspring

Epigenetics is a rapidly growing field of study that examines how genetic changes can occur from one generation to the next as a result of environment, experience, and even diet. Epigenetics completely overturns the evolutionary maxim that random chance and "genetic drift" are the primary drivers of evolution. Sorry, Richard Dawkins, but Darwin is not the final word on evolution.

This article, from The Week, is a basic introduction to the field of epigenetics.

Epigenetics: How our experiences affect our offspring

New research suggests that people's experiences, not just their genes, can affect the biological legacy of their offspring

By The Week Staff | January 20, 2013

In this new science of "epigenetics," researchers are exploring how nature and nurture combine to cause behavior, traits, and illnesses that genes alone can't explain.

Isn't our genetic legacy hardwired?
From Mendel and Darwin in the 19th century to Watson and Crick in the 20th, scientists have shown that chromosomes passed from parent to child form a genetic blueprint for development. But in a quiet scientific revolution, researchers have in recent years come to realize that genes aren't a fixed, predetermined program simply passed from one generation to the next. Instead, genes can be turned on and off by experiences and environment. What we eat, how much stress we undergo, and what toxins we're exposed to can all alter the genetic legacy we pass on to our children and even grandchildren. In this new science of "epigenetics," researchers are exploring how nature and nurture combine to cause behavior, traits, and illnesses that genes alone can't explain, ranging from sexual orientation to autism to cancer. "We were all brought up to think the genome was it," said Rockefeller University molecular biologist C. David Allis. "It's really been a watershed in understanding that there is something beyond the genome."

What is epigenetics?
The word literally means "on top of genetics," and it's the study of how individual genes can be activated or deactivated by life experiences. Each one of our cells, from skin cells to neurons, contains an identical DNA blueprint, yet they perform vastly different functions. That's because epigenetic "tags" block developing fetal cells from following any genetic instructions that don't pertain to their intended roles. That biochemical process, scientists have discovered, occurs not just during gestation and early development but throughout adulthood, switching genes on or off and altering our mental and physical health.

How does that affect who we are?
We're only beginning to find out. A woman's diet during pregnancy seems to have a major impact on her baby's epigenetic tags. Prenatal diets that are low in folic acid, vitamin B-12, and other nutrients containing "methyl groups" — a set of molecules that can tag genes and cause epigenetic changes — have been linked to an increased risk of asthma and brain and spinal cord defects in children. Stress, too, can alter fetal epigenetic tags. Pregnant women who were traumatized at the World Trade Center on 9/11 were far more likely than other women to give birth to infants who reacted with unusual levels of fear and stress when faced with loud noises, unfamiliar people, or new foods.

Can changes occur later in life?
Absolutely. Young children who are abused are more likely to have epigenetic changes that make coping with stress more difficult. Twins may inherit a gene that predisposes them to cancer, but only one will develop the disease because diet, toxins, or smoking turn on that gene, while the other has different habits and goes cancer-free. "We're not completely at the mercy of our genes," writes health journalist Alice G. Walton. "In many ways, they are at the mercy of our health and lifestyle decisions and habits."

Are epigenetic changes hereditary?
To the consternation of strict Darwinists, they can be. Researchers used to think that when a sperm and egg combined, all their epigenetic tags were erased, leaving the resulting embryo with a clean slate. Now they know that about 1 percent of our epigenetic tags escape erasure and pass directly to our offspring — and potentially their offspring and beyond. Scientists have discovered, for instance, that a group of children conceived during the Netherlands' desperate wartime famine of 1944–45 tended themselves to have smaller-than-usual offspring. That suggests that what men and women eat and smoke, and what toxins and traumas they're exposed to, can affect their children and even grandchildren. University of Texas zoologist David Crews has done multigenerational studies with rats that led him to speculate that soaring obesity and autism rates could be due to our grandparents' exposure to "the chemical revolution of the 1940s," including the introduction of new plastics, fertilizers, detergents, and pesticides.

Are these insights yielding medical therapies?
Over the past five years, evidence that epigenetics plays a major role in cancer has become "absolutely rock solid," says Robert A. Weinberg, a biologist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass. Andrew Feinberg, director of Johns Hopkins University's Epigenetics Center, thinks it's a factor in autism and diabetes as well. Drugs are in the works aimed at undoing cancerous epigenetic changes. Even eating foods rich in gene-altering methyl groups — such as soybeans, red grapes, and green tea — might protect against disease by silencing detrimental genes. In one famous experiment, researchers fed a methyl-rich diet to pregnant female mice that carried a gene that made them fat, yellow, and prone to cancer and diabetes. Though their offspring carried the same gene, they were born slim, brown, and disease-free. But researchers are still trying to work out how to use this powerful tool to address specific health problems. "Did this change in diet increase cancer risk?" asks McGill University pharmacologist Moshe Szyf. "Did it increase depression? Did it increase dementia or Alzheimer's? We don't know yet, and it will take some time to sort it out."

Darwin vs. Lamarck
Before Darwin laid out the principles of natural selection in On the Origin of Species, an 18th-century French naturalist, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, proposed a very different theory of evolution. Organisms, he thought, could pass on traits they'd acquired over their lifetime. Lamarckism — typified by the (incorrect) idea that giraffes have long necks because they're constantly stretching them to reach high leaves — faced ridicule after Darwinism took hold. At the turn of the 20th century, August Weismann debunked the theory by chopping off the tails of mice to prove that their pups would not inherit their taillessness. But even though "Darwin was 100 percent right" about how creatures evolve, said Swiss bioengineer Renato Paro, epigenetics suggests that the Frenchman may have been on to something after all. "Passing on gained characteristics," he said, "fits more to Lamarck's theory of evolution."

Shrink Rap Radio #339 – Infant Research & Neuroscience Implications for Psychotherapy with Judith Rustin

Judith Rustin is one of the leading figures in the "new" psychoanalysis, the intersubjective systems theory approach first outlined by Robert Stolorow, George Atwood, and Donna Orange. Her most recent book is Infant Research & Neuroscience at Work in Psychotherapy: Expanding the Clinical Repertoire (Norton, 2012). She was this week's guest on the Shrink Rap Radio podcast, hosted by Dr. David Van Nuys.

Shrink Rap Radio #339 – Infant Research & Neuroscience Implications for Psychotherapy with Judith Rustin

Judith Rustin, LCSW is a faculty member and supervising psychoanalyst at the Institute for the Psychoanalytic Study of Subjectivity, New York City, The Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Study Center, in New York City and The Chinese American Psychoanalytic Association. She has lectured nationally and internationally and published scholarly papers on self-psychology, intersubjectivity systems theory and more recently the interface of infant research and neuroscience with these two psychoanalytic theories. Her published scholarly papers cover these same subjects and areas of expertise with particular emphasis on their application to the therapeutic dyad and the clinical process. In 2005, Other Press published Forms of Intersubjectivity in Infant Research and Adult Treatment, written with collaborators, Beatrice Beebe, Steven Knoblauch and Dorienne Sorter.

Prior to becoming a Psychoanalyst, Judith was an Assistant Professor, (Field Faculty) at the Columbia University School of Social Work. During that tenure she helped to develop a program that integrated disabled students on a college campus and developed models of programs to insure permanency planning for children.

Currently, she maintains a private practice in New York City.

A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.
Copyright 2013: David Van Nuys, Ph.D. 
Posted on February 19, 2013

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A Review of Ray Kurzweil's How To Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed

From The Globe and Mail (Canada), Don Tapscott reviews Ray Kurzweil's newest book, How To Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed. It's a fairly shallow review that doesn't get into any of the real issues with Kurzweil's vision of reverse engineering the human brain, but for general readers it serves as a useful introduction to Kurzweil and his work.

How To Create a Mind: Can a marriage between man and machine solve the world's problems?

Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Feb. 08 2013

Title: How To Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed
Author: Ray Kurzweil
Publisher: Viking (2013)
Pages: 336 pages
Price: $29.50 (or $16.06 at Amazon)

How do you know when your new book is a success? When Google promptly offers you a plum job as soon as the book is on the stands.

That's the pleasant turn of events that Ray Kurzweil, 64, is enjoying. His most recent book, his sixth, is How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed. His new job at Google is director of engineering. Google made the announcement in December. Kurzweil has many fans. The Wall Street Journal once described him as “the restless genius” and Fortune said he was “a legendary inventor with a history of mind-blowing ideas.” Time put him on its cover, and Forbes called him “the ultimate thinking machine.”

He also has many detractors. Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, once said that Kurzweil's books are “a very bizarre mixture of ideas that are solid and good with ideas that are crazy. It's as if you took a lot of very good food and some dog excrement and blended it all up so that you can't possibly figure out what's good or bad.”

Kurzweil spends most of his time thinking about the inevitable unification of man's brain and computers, an event he described in detail in his 2005 book, The Singularity is Near. The term “singularity” was coined by mathematician John von Neumann in the mid-1950s. He wrote that artificial intelligence was only a matter of time, but that once mankind is fused with machine, it was impossible to predict what would happen.

Kurzweil notes that “right now we're giving machines more and more intelligence, and in the end, the machines will always win.” He points to IBM's Watson computer as a hint of things to come. Watson was able to defeat the world's two best Jeopardy players. It did this by ingesting all the information on Wikipedia and other encyclopedias.

The Jeopardy challenge was designed to capture publicity, but IBM is now putting Watson to more valuable work: diagnosing human ailments. The computer is reading every book published about medicine, as well as the thousands of new journal articles and blog postings that come out every week. No human doctor or team of doctors can possibly keep as up to date. Dr. Watson will pose questions to a doctor about a patient's symptoms, family history and so on. It will then print out the list of possibilities, along with each ailment's probability. It will cite the material it drew upon in making up its mind. Kurzweil envisions clinicians consulting with Dr. Watson on their smartphones.

The thesis of How to Create a Mind is that the human brain itself is the most powerful thinking machine available today, so it is logical that we look to the brain for guidance on how to make devices smarter. He outlines a theory he calls “the pattern recognition theory of mind (PRTM),” which he says “describes the basic algorithm of the neocortex (the region of the brain responsible for perception, memory and critical thinking).” By reverse-engineering the human brain, we will be able to “to vastly extend the power of our own intelligence.”

What will we do with this new intelligence? First, we will better understand the brain itself and develop superior treatments for the brain's ailments, such as psychiatric disorders. Second, we will use our expanded intelligence to solve the many problems that confront mankind. Finally, we will use the intelligence to teach us how to be smarter.

I have written often about today's smartphones evolving into digital co-pilots, our constant companions that will help us get through the day. Kurzweil sees such devices shrinking to microscopic size and residing within our bodies. Will we have tiny computers in our bloodstream, ever alert for something amiss? These devices will be our links to what is now called the cloud, the vast computing power of the Googles, the Amazons, the Apples and the IBMs of the world.

It is easy to scoff at Kurzweil, because what he describes sounds so fantastical. But the reality is that humans tend to overestimate the speed of technological development in the short term, but seriously underestimate it in the longer term. I recall the derisive snorts telephone company executives would give me in the mid-1990s when I said their fabulously lucrative long-distance services would evaporate. Today, we have Skype. Television executives did the same thing when I said they shouldn't worry about the so-called 500-channel universe, that soon there would be a million-channel universe. Today, we have YouTube.

When asked about his new job at Google, Kurzweil said he hoped to “combine my 50 years of experience in thinking about thinking with Google-scale resources (in everything – engineering, computing, communications, data, users) to create truly useful AI [artificial intelligence] that will make all of us smarter.”

I wish him well.

Don Tapscott's recent e-book is Radical Openness: Four Unexpected Principles for Success, co-written with Anthony D. Williams.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bookforum Omnivore - How to Fix the American Political System

From Bookforum Omnivore, an interesting collection of links to articles proposing a variety of different ways to "fix" the American political system - and none of them involve armed revolution.

How to fix the American political system

FEB 19 2013 

Secular Buddhist Podcast Episode 156: Mirabai Bush: The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

This week's episode of the Secular Buddhist Podcast features (your host) Ted Meissner in conversation with Mirabai Bush, author and co-founder of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.

Episode 156 :: Mirabai Bush :: The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society 

 | February 17, 2013 

Mirabai Bush

Mirabai Bush speaks with us about The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.

The ideas and practices of Buddhism are finding new ways of expression in today’s society. We see mindfulness, for example, in therapeutic contexts and in the workplace, contributing to the betterment of our culture and the world. Few people have been so instrumental in this progress than today’s guest.

Mirabai Bush has organized, facilitated, and taught workshops, weekends, and courses on spirit and action for more than 20 years. She has a special interest in the uncovering and recovery of women’s spiritual wisdom to inform work for social change. Her spiritual studies include meditation study at the Burmese Vihara in Bodh Gaya, India, bhakti yoga, and studies with Tibetan lamas. Before entering the foundation world, Mirabai was the first professional woman to work on the Saturn-Apollo moonflight at Cape Canaveral. She has also worked on educational programs with inner-city youth of color. Mirabai was a co-founder of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and served as Executive Director until 2008. Under her direction, The Center developed its programs in education, law, business, and activism and its network of thousands of people integrating contemplative practice and perspective into their lives and work.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Lemon Twist Tea.  

Podcast: Download

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Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The track used in this episode is “Sangha” from his CD,Traditional and Modern Pieces: Shakuhachi.