Saturday, June 08, 2013

Daniel O'Connor - Awareness-in-Action: A Critical Integralism for the Challenges of Our Time

Daniel O'Connor has completed a revised and expanded edition of his 2012 book, Awareness-in-Action: A Critical Integralism for the Challenges of Our Time. The book is available for free download under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative. Here is the brief introduction (the Preface from both editions) Daniel posted on the download page (from the 2012 edition):

Awareness-in-Action: A Critical Integralism for the Challenges of Our Time

I began writing this compact book four years ago as a brief digression at the beginning of an article on my particular formulation of integral economics, wherein I thought it might be appropriate to clarify what I meant by the integral that I was using to reconstruct this economics. That article was being written for an academic audience at the First Biennial Integral Theory Conference, so my digression to explicate the critical integral praxis that had long resided inchoate, in the back of my mind, was written in a formal academic style. Two years after that first draft of an article, which was incompletely satisfying enough to encourage further effort, I began writing once again during intermittent pockets of time between projects. My intent was to write a long academic article, or perhaps a series of articles, but certainly not a book, and I think that creative tension between what I wanted this to be and what it apparently needed to be accounts for the relative density and directness of the resulting presentation. 

The ideas articulated in this book are precisely the same as those I introduced at that conference, and although this articulation is not as comprehensive as some scholars might prefer, or as accessible as some practitioners might like, I do hope it is sufficient to foment the sort of action-oriented discourses I have in mind. It should come as no surprise that I don’t anticipate a large audience for a rather speculative book of philosophy by an unknown author who didn’t even have the good sense to secure the services of a reputable academic publisher or a brazen literary agent. Nevertheless, I do anticipate a savvy audience of scholar-practitioners who recognize that the worldly challenges in response to which these ideas are being proposed simply will not wait two more years while I take the standard route to publication. Consequently, I have chosen to self-publish this first edition and to do so with a Creative Commons license that relieves you of any financial cost to read, discuss, and share this book as widely as you choose.

Should you choose to read, discuss, and share this work, it will help to remember that its primary purpose is to seed derivative applications in such real-world fields of human action as economics, business, politics, governance, sociology, journalism, and activism. While I have already been doing so in economics and business, there is no shortage of opportunities for critical integral reconstruction of established theories and practices within, between, and beyond disciplinary and institutional boundaries. If you would like to apply Awareness-in-Action in your particular field, please let me know. I would be glad to help in any way I can.

Daniel J. O'Connor
Bainbridge Island, Washington
March 2012

This is from the Introduction:
As a distinctively integral reconstruction, my intent is to emphasize those insights that appear to be essential for a philosophy of human action that honors the full potential and variety of the human experience, which necessarily includes our experience of the worlds beyond humanity. Just as the adjective integral offers us two complementary definitions—comprehensive or essential—so too does the process of integral theorizing offer us two complementary approaches with two corresponding results.3 In contrast to a comprehensivist approach to integralism characterized by the construction of an inspiring, encyclopedic meta-narrative, I prefer an essentialist approach characterized by the distillation of a compelling, universal meta-paradigm—a paradigm of paradigms, if you will. Nevertheless, by focusing deeply on the quintessential features of all human action in real-world contexts, I propose in this work the broad contours of a meta-paradigm—an integral aperspectival/a-practical meta-paradigm, to be precise—with the potential to enact a seemingly infinite plurality of differential perspectival/practical narratives at least suggestive of a comprehensive meta-narrative, the specifics of which are by definition beyond anyone’s sole capacity to articulate. It is therefore so much the better that I, at least, won’t be enticed to try.

Therefore, this work actually represents two mutually implicating lines of inquiry into the possibility of an integral philosophy of human action and an action-oriented integral philosophy, both of which are centered on the essential perspectives and practices that appear to be governing the actions of all people in their efforts to realize their full potential in real-world situations. In pursuing these lines of inquiry, I gratefully incorporate and, where necessary, carefully reformulate the extraordinary insights of three primary theorists—J├╝rgen Habermas, Ken Wilber, and Chris Argyris—whose collective body of work already contains much of the content needed for this initial reconstruction. Having engaged with this collective body of work since 1994, both in theory and in practice, I bring to this effort a commitment to help realize what I see as some of the latent potential in each of their brilliant philosophical programs.

Granted, in my preliminary effort to articulate a form of integral philosophy that is as realistic as it is idealistic and as fallibilistic as it is humanistic, with a pragmatic focus on the way people can, should, and already do act in the world, my contribution may be little more than a clarification of my own novel vision of the nexus between Habermas’s critical theory, Wilber’s integral theory, and Argyris’s action science. Nevertheless, the logic of this vision and its demonstrated capacity to reconstruct established views within these fields should justify the effort required of you, the reader. More to the point, the real promise of the critical integralism I call Awareness-in-Action is in its potential to (re)define the common core of all the various forms and fields of human action, so that those of us concerned with such matters might learn how to respond more effectively to the interdependent political, economic, social, and ecological challenges of our time.

Beginning with the self-evident reality of human action—that people act—the question arises as to the ideal conditions that must be presupposed by all people in order for them to act in any situation. Is it possible to articulate any fundamental presuppositions of human action that can withstand our efforts to invalidate them, through logic and other direct experience, and at least approach a believable universality?

What Is the One Drug You Would Pay Almost Anything For?

Interesting question . . . there was time when I would have wanted pharmaceutically pure MDMA or psilocybin, but I am not sure right now there is any drug I find that valuable. How about you?

Be sure to check out the comments at the io9 site.

What is the one drug you would pay almost anything for?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

We have drugs available today that can focus your attention and allow you to absorb oxygen without breathing. In the future, we might have drugs to give you perfect visual memory or erase your fear. What would be the one kind of drug that you would pay anything to take?


A Performance-Enhancing Drug for Scientists and Professors

Barry Bonds isn't the only guy trying to better his game with drugs. If you're trying to compete for the best grants and patents in the… Read…  
In a monumental breakthrough with far ranging implications, cardiologists at the Children's Hospital Boston in Massachusetts have kept…Read…
Bruce Banner take note: Researchers at the University of Southern California and Italy have successfully identified a critical neurological factor in … Read…
I'm not talking about science fictional drugs that would make you invisible or allow you to shoot lasers out of your head. I mean drugs that are actually within our grasp, medically — drugs that could enhance your mental and physical abilities, or change your emotional state so that you are more compassionate or fearless or careful. Maybe it would be a form of heroin that is totally non-addictive so you could experience the ultimate high without ever wanting it again. 
What is the one drug you wish for the most?

Does Math Objectively Exist, or Is It a Human Creation?

Thought-provoking video from PBS on a topic I seldom think about at all, which may be some kind of anxiety-based avoidance resulting from psychological trauma inflicted on me when last I took a math class, integral calculus. Oy vey! That was about the time I realized my strengths lie in the liberal arts and social science realms, not in the math and science realms.

Does Math Objectively Exist, or Is It a Human Creation? A New PBS Video Explores a Timeless Question

June 5th, 2013

In a famous scene from Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, the biographer and his subject come to discuss the bizarre theories of Bishop Berkeley, who posited that everything is immaterial—nothing has any real existence; it’s all just ideal concepts held together by the mind of God. If God should lose his mind or fall asleep or die, everything would fall to pieces or cease to exist. Boswell insists there’s no way to refute the idea. Johnson, kicking a large stone with such force that his foot rebounds, cries, “I refute it thus.”

Johnson’s little demonstration doesn’t actually refute Berkeley’s radical idealism. It’s a conundrum still with us, like Plato’s Euthyphro stumper, which asks whether the rules governing human behavior exist independently of the gods, who simply enforce them, or whether the gods make the rules according to their whims. In other words, is morality objective or subjective? A similar problem occurs when we consider the existence of the rules that govern physical laws—the rules of mathematics. Where does math come from? Does it exist independently of human (or other) minds, or is it a human creation? Do we discover mathematical problems or do we invent them?

The question has engendered two positions: mathematical realism, which states that math exists whether we do or not, and that there is math out there we don’t know yet, and maybe never can. This position may require a degree of faith, since, “unlike all of the other sciences, math lacks an empirical component.” You can’t physically observe it happening. Anti-realists, on the other hand, argue that math is a language, a fiction, a “rigorous aesthetic” that allows us to model regularities in the universe that don’t objectively exist. This seems like the kind of relativism that tends to piss off scientists. But no one can refute either idea… yet. The video above, from PBS’s Idea Channel, asks us to consider the various dimensions of this fascinating and irresolvable question.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Friday, June 07, 2013

Trauma's Physical Effects Persist for Years - Dr. Phebe M. Tucker

This feels like another piece of "well, duh!" news about trauma. But it's important that this information become more widely known. The author suggests that the neurobiological effects of trauma might help survivors better handle future trauma or increase their risk of cardiovascular disease and other problems, however, my experience and the trauma literature seems to suggest that those who experience early trauma (abuse, neglect, molestation) are LESS able to handle future trauma (their brains are not as resilient) and are often much more likely to experience other similar traumas as teens and adults.

They are correct that trauma increases risks for health issues, including cardiovascular disease, irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune disorders, ulcerative colitis, and other issues.

We need to make it more widely known that while kids are very resilient, sometimes their brains are less so, especially when exposed to frequent or repeated trauma.

Trauma's physical effects persist for years

By: SHERRY BOSCHERT, Clinical Psychiatry News Digital Network

SAN FRANCISCO – Neurobiological effects of trauma persist for years and might help survivors better handle future trauma or increase their risk of cardiovascular disease and other problems, three studies suggest.

One study assessed 34 adult survivors of Hurricane Katrina who were relocated to Oklahoma 22 months after the hurricane, and compared them with 34 control participants in Oklahoma who matched the survivors’ characteristics. A second study assessed nine adolescent survivors who were relocated 22 months after Hurricane Katrina and nine matched controls. The third study compared 60 adults who directly experienced the Oklahoma City bombing (84% of whom were injured) with matched controls 7 years after the bombing.

Dr. Phebe M. Tucker

The results showed that autonomic, neuroendocrine, and immune system changes from trauma might last for years, even after emotional wounds have healed, Dr. Phebe M. Tucker reported in a press briefing and a poster presentation at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

The survivors and controls differed in mean arterial blood pressure, heart rate, variability of heart rate, and levels of cortisol, a regulatory substance that promotes the fight-or-flight response; interleukin-2 (IL-2), which protects against infection; and interleukin 6 (IL-6), which promotes inflammation).

Some of these changes might enhance a person’s fight-or-flight response, and so could prepare survivors for future disasters, but the health implications are unclear, she said. Previous studies have linked trauma to increased cardiovascular and other health problems, such as a tripling in the myocardial infarction rate at Tulane University in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The physiologic changes seen in the current studies might contribute to that.

The current studies also found more short-term and long-term neurobiological changes in survivors with depression or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compared with survivors without depression or PTSD or control participants.

In the study of adult survivors of Hurricane Katrina, 35% of survivors and 12% of controls had PTSD. Baseline heart rates were significantly higher among survivors (81 beats per minute), compared with controls (75 beats per minute). Survivors with or without PTSD had significantly higher levels of IL-6, compared with control participants who did not have PTSD, reported Dr. Tucker, chair of psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City. She conducted the studies with Dr. David H. Tiller, also of the university.

Survivors’ baseline sympathetic (fight-or-flight) heart rate variability was significantly higher – approximately double – that of the control group. The protective, parasympathetic heart rate variability at rest was significantly lower than in controls. When participants were exposed to reminders of the hurricane, the controls showed a significantly greater reaction in the parasympathetic heart rate variability, compared with a flat response among survivors, she said.

"Overall, the adult Katrina survivors’ higher heart rates, decreased protective heart rate variability, and increased inflammatory IL-6 may increase their risk for heart disease," Dr. Tucker said.

The pilot study of 18 adolescent survivors and controls (average age 15 years) found significantly higher rates of symptoms for PTSD or depression among survivors. As might be expected from previous studies of trauma and PTSD, the survivors had lower levels of cortisol, and IL-2 levels correlated with cortisol levels, suggesting that survivors might have reduced immune protection and could be more susceptible to infection, she reported.

In contrast with the adult findings, however, higher PTSD symptoms in the adolescents correlated with lower levels of the inflammatory cytokine IL-6. This might be because the youths lacked the inflammatory changes seen in adults after trauma or the youths were more resilient in some ways, she speculated.

In the third study of the bombing survivors, mean PTSD and depression symptom severity scores were below clinically relevant levels 7 years after the bombing. The handful of survivors who still had PTSD had significantly higher cortisol levels, compared with non–PTSD survivors and controls.

When exposed to reminders of the bombing, the survivors showed greater increases in heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressures, and mean arterial pressure. "Autonomic reactivity may be a generalized long-term response" to trauma that’s independent of PTSD, she said.

Dr. Tucker reported having no financial disclosures.

Twitter @sherryboschert

Self Illusion: The Brain's Greatest Con Trick? (Bruce Hood at The RSA)

Professor Bruce Hood's The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity (2012) is one of the better books on how the brain creates identity published in recent years, and one of my Best Books for 2012. Here is the publisher's promotion for the book:
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.
Professor Hood was at The RSA recently talking about his book.

Self Illusion: The brain's greatest con trick?

Published on Jun 5, 2013

Join Professor Bruce Hood as he shows that the concept of the 'self' is a figment of the brain, generated as a character to weave our internal processes and experiences together into a coherent narrative.

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

  • Our events are made possible with the support of our Fellowship. Support us by donating or applying to become a Fellow.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Speculations IV, June 2013 Is Now Online

The new, June 2013, issue of Speculations (IV) is now available online, and is free as always under its Creative Commons license. Below is the Table of Contents and a brief section of the first full essay.

Speculations IV, June 2013, ISBN: 978-0615797861

If philosophy begins in wonder, then where does it end? What is its end? Aristotle said that while it begins in wondrous questioning, it ends with “the better state” of attaining answers, like an itch we get rid of with a good scratch or a childhood disease that, once gotten over, never returns. How depressing! Why can’t a good question continue being questionable or, in a more literal translation of the German, “question-worthy?” As Heidegger puts it, “philosophical questions are in principle never settled as if some day one could set them aside.” Couldn’t we learn from questions without trying to settle them, resolve ourselves to not resolving them? Couldn’t wisdom be found in reconciling ourselves to its perpetual love, and never its possession? Wittgenstein once wrote that “a philosophical problem has the form: ‘I don’t know my way about,’” which was the symptom of the deep confusion that constituted philosophy for him. But Heidegger loved wandering aimlessly in the woods, following Holzwege or paths that lead nowhere, stumbling onto dead-ends which could also be clearings.

--Lee Braver, "On Not Settling the Issue of Realism"


Editorial Introduction


On Not Settling the Issue of Realism
Lee Braver

Politics and Speculative Realism
Levi R. Bryant

The Current State of Speculative Realism
Graham Harman

Weird Reading
Eileen A. Joy

A Very Dangerous Supplement: Speculative Realism, Academic Blogging, and the Future of Philosophy
Adam Kotsko

Speculative Realism: Interim Report with Just a Few Caveats
Christopher Norris

The Future of an Illusion
Jon Roffe

Realism and Representation: On the Ontological Turn
Daniel Sacilotto


"The World is an Egg": Realism, Mathematics, and the Thresholds of Difference
Jeffrey A. Bell

Ontological Commitments
Manuel DeLanda

The Meaning of "Existence" and the Contingency of Sense
Markus Gabriel

Post-Deconstructive Realism: It's About Time
Peter Gratton

Points of Forced Freedom: Eleven (More) Theses on Materialism
Adrian Johnston

Realism and the Infinite
Paul M. Livingston

How to Behave Like a Non-Philosopher, or, Speculative Versus Revisionary Metaphysics
John Mullarkey

"The Horror of Darkness": Toward an Unhuman Phenomenology
Dylan Trigg

Gary Snyder - Just One Breath: The Practice of Poetry and Meditation

Here is a wonderful article by poet and Buddhist, Gary Snyder, recipient of the Pulizter Price in literature for his poetry collection, Turtle Island (1975), and he is also the author of an excellent collection of essays, Practice of the Wild (1990). His 2008 collection of poems, Mountains and Rivers Without End: Poem, is probably one of my favorites.

This essay comes from the Tricycle Wisdom Collection.

Just One Breath: The Practice of Poetry and Meditation

Gary Snyder 

Wisdom Collection

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

IN THIS WORLD of onrushing events the act of meditation—even just a "one-breath" meditation—straightening the back, clearing the mind for a moment—is a refreshing island in the stream. Although the term meditation has mystical and religious connotations for many people, it is a simple and plain activity. Attention: deliberate stillness and silence. As anyone who has practiced sitting knows, the quieted mind has many paths, most of them tedious and ordinary. Then, right in the midst of meditation, totally unexpected images or feelings may sometimes erupt, and there is a way into a vivid transparency. But whatever comes up, sitting is always instructive. There is ample testimony that a practice of meditation pursued over months and years brings some degree of self-understanding, serenity, focus, and self-confidence to the person who stays with it. There is also a deep gratitude that one comes to feel for this world of beings, teachers, and teachings.

No one—guru or roshi or priest—can program for long what a person might think or feel in private reflection. We learn that we cannot in any literal sense control our mind. Meditation cannot serve an ideology. A meditation teacher can only help a student understand the phenomena that rise from his or her own inner world—after the fact—and give tips on directions to go. A meditation teacher can be a check or guide for the wayfarer to measure herself against, and like any experienced guide can give good warning of brushy paths and dead-end canyons from personal experience. The teacher provides questions, not answers. Within a traditional Buddhist framework of ethical values and psychological insight, the mind essentially reveals itself.

Meditation is not just a rest or retreat from the turmoil of the stream or the impurity of the world. It is a way of being the stream, so that one can be at home in both the white water and the eddies. Meditation may take one out of the world, but it also puts one totally into it. Poems are a bit like this too. The experience of a poem gives both distance and involvement: one is closer and farther at the same time.

TRADITIONS OF DELIBERATE ATTENTION to consciousness, and of making poems, are as old as humankind. Meditation looks inward, poetry holds forth. One is private, the other is out in the world. One enters the moment, the other shares it. But in practice it is never entirely clear which is doing which. In any case, we do know that in spite of the contemporary public perception of meditation and poetry as special, exotic, and difficult, they are both as old and as common as grass. The one goes back to essential moments of stillness and deep inwardness, and the other to the fundamental impulse of expression and presentation.

People often confuse meditation with prayer, devotion, or vision. They are not the same. Meditation as a practice does not address itself to a deity or present itself as an opportunity for revelation. This is not to say that people who are meditating do not occasionally think they have received a revelation or experienced visions. They do. But to those for whom meditation is their central practice, a vision or a revelation is seen as just another phenomenon of consciousness and as such is not to be taken as exceptional. The meditator would simply experience the ground of consciousness, and in doing so avoid excluding or excessively elevating any thought or feeling. To do this one must release all sense of the "I" as experiencer, even the "I" that might think it is privileged to communicate with the divine. It is in sensitive areas such as these that a teacher can be a great help. This is mostly a description of the Buddhist meditation tradition, which has hewed consistently to a nontheistic practice over the centuries.

Poetry has also been part of Buddhism from early on. From the 2,500-year-old songs of forest-dwelling monks and nuns of India to the vivid colloquial poems of Kenji Miyazawa in 1930s Japan, there is a continuous thread. Poetry has had a primary place of respect in Chinese literary culture, and many of the best-known poems of the Chinese canon are touched with Ch'an and Taoist insight. Some of the finest poets of China were even acknowledged Ch'an adepts—Bai Juyi and Su Dungpo, to name just two.

Although the Chinese Ch'an masters liked to say "The lowest class of monk is the one who indulges in literature," we have to remember that blame is often praise in the Ch'an world. The Ch'an training halls, with their unconventional dharma discourses and vivid mimed exchanges, and the tradition of the Chinese lyric poems, shih, with their lucid and allusive brevity, were clearly shaping each other by the early Tang dynasty.

Ch'an teachers and students have always written their own sort of in-house poems as well. In formalgung-an (koan) study, a student is often called upon to present a few lines of poetry from the Chinese canon as a proof of the completeness of his or her understanding—an exercise called zho-yu, "capping verses" (jakugo in Japanese). Such exchanges have been described in the book A Zen Forest by Soiku Shigematsu, a Japanese Rinzai Zen priest. Shigematsu Osho has handily translated hundreds of the couplets as borrowed from Chinese poetry and proverb. They are intense:
Words, words, words—fluttering drizzle and snow.
Silence, silence, silence—a roaring thunderbolt.
Bring back the dead!
Kill the living!
This tune, another tune—no one understands.
Rain has passed, leaving the pond brimming in the autumn light.
The fire of catastrophe has burned out all
Millions of miles no mist, not a grain of dust!
One phrase after another
Each moment refreshing.
These bits of poems are not simply bandied about between Zen students as some kind of in-group wisdom or slangy shorthand for larger meanings. They are used sparingly, in interviews with the teacher, as a mode of reaching even deeper than a "personal" answer to a problem, as a way of confirming that one has touched base with a larger Mind. They are valued not for the literary metaphor but for the challenge presented by the exercise of physically actualizing the metaphor in the present. They help the student bring symbols and abstractions back to earth, into the body. Zen exquisitely develops this possibility—yet it's not far from the natural work of poems and proverbs anyway.

The Buddhist world has produced numerous poets and singers of the dharma whose works are still admired and loved. Milarepa, whose songs are known by heart among Tibetans, and Basho, whose haiku are read worldwide, are perhaps the most famous.

I STARTED WRITING POETRY in my adolescence, to give voice to some powerful experiences that I had while doing snowpeak mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest. At first I wrote "directly as I felt." Then I discovered the work of Robinson Jeffers and D.H. Lawrence. Aha, I thought, there is more to poetry. I became aware of poetry as a craft—a matter of working with materials and tools—that has a history, with different applications and strategies all over the world over tens of thousands of years. I came to understand poetry as a furthering of language. (Language is not something you learn in school, it is a world you're born into. It is part of the wildness of Mind. You master your home tongue without conscious effort by the age of five. Language with its sinuous syntax is not unlike the thermal dynamics of weather systems, or energy exchanges in the food chain—completely natural and vital, part of what and who we are. Poetry is the leap off of [or into] that.)

I ran into a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins with the lines,
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep
This helped me realize that literal mountains were not the only place to climb. I was recovering at the time from a little frostbite suffered on a winter ascent of Mt. Hood. (It should be said that mountaineering is not simply some sort of challenging quest. It has that aspect, but for dedicated climbers the strategy, the companionship, and the cooperation is what makes climbing the game it is.) Climbing also opened me up to the impermanence, the total scariness, the literal voidness under my feet, the exposure, as we say, of consciousness itself. What deep and soulful thoughts that witnessing the gulf below can give you.

MY INTEREST IN WRITING brought me to the twentieth-century modernists and Chinese poetry; and my thoughts on nature and wilderness brought me to Taoism and then to Zen. This growing awareness of Zen was also interwoven with the discovery of Chinese landscape painting. I studied classical Chinese with Peter Boodberg and Shih-hsiang Chen at Berkeley. I learned of the poet Han-shan in seminars with Professor Chen and began a little translating of my own. I came to see that some of the finest of the Chinese poems had a mysteriously plain quality, and I wanted to understand where that came from. I started doing sitting meditation, zazen, by myself at home. These various strands got drawn together in the summer of 1955 when I was a trail-crew worker in the High Sierra of California. I started writing poems out of the labor on the trails that echoed the crispness of classical Chinese poems and also had the flavor of my nightly meditations up on the cliffs.

On those clear nights in the High Sierra I saw the stars as further rocks and trails leading onward and out. Although I had written dozens of poems before, these were the first I could acknowledge as entirely my own. They are in the collection Riprap. I made plans to travel to Japan, to learn more of meditation. A year or so later, in Kyoto, I asked my teacher Oda Sesso Roshi, "Sometimes I write poetry. Is that all right?" He laughed and said, "It's all right as long as it comes out of your true self." He also said "You know, poets have to play a lot, asobi." That seemed an odd thing to say, because the word asobi has an implication of wandering the bars and pleasure quarters, the behavior of a decadent wastrel. I knew he didn't mean that. For many years while doing Zen practice around Kyoto, I virtually quit writing poetry. It didn't bother me. My thought was, Zen is serious, poetry is not serious. In any case, you have to be completely serious when you do Zen practice. So I tried to be serious and I didn't write many poems. I studied with him for six years.

IN 1966, JUST BEFORE ODA ROSHI DIED, I had a talk with him in the hospital. I said, "Roshi! So it's Zen is serious, poetry is not serious." He said "No, no—poetry is serious! Zen is not serious." I had it all wrong! I don't know if it was by accident or it was a gift he gave me, but I started writing more, and maybe I did a little less sitting, too. I think I had come to understand something about play: to be truly serious you have to play. That's on the side of poetry, and of meditation, too. In fact, play is essential to everything we do—working on cars, cooking, raising children, running corporations—and poetry is nothing special. Language is no big deal. Mind is no big deal. Meaning or no-meaning, it's perfectly okay. We take what's given us, with gratitude.

The poet in us can be seen at both the beginning and the end of a life. Everybody knows a child can come up with a rhyme, a song, a poem that will delight us. At the same time, the old priest on his deathbed will write a poem, his last act. The most refined and accomplished people will express their deepest understanding in a poem—and the absolute beginner will not hesitate to try to express a transient transcendent moment. There is no sure way to predict which poem will be better than the other.

Poetry is democratic, Zen is elite. No! Zen is democratic, poetry is elite. Which is it? Everybody can do zazen, but only a few do poetry. Everybody can do poetry but only a few can really do zazen. Poetry (and the literary world) has sometimes been perceived as dangerous to the spirit career, but also poems have been called upon to express the most delicate and profound spiritual understanding.

We can appreciate Ikkyu's probing poem:
Ridiculing Literature 
Humans are endowed with / the stupidity of horses and cattle.
Poetry was originally a / work out of hell.
Self-pride, false pride, / suffering from the passions,
We must sigh for those taking this path / to intimacy with demons.
Ikkyu, a fifteenth-century Japanese Zen master and a fine (and strikingly fearless) poet himself, laughingly ridiculed his fellow poets, knowing as he did the distractions and temptations that might come with literary aspirations. His "intimacy with demons" is not to be seen in the light of the occidental romance with alienation, however. In Japanese art, demons are funny little guys, as solid as horses and cows, who gnash their fangs and cross their eyes. Poetry is a way of celebrating the actuality of a nondual universe in all its facets. Its risk is that it declines to exclude demons. Buddhism offers demons a hand and then tries to teach them to sit. But there are tricky little poetry/ego demons that do come along, tempting us with suffering or with insight, with success or failure. There are demons practicing meditation and writing poetry in the same room with the rest of us, and we are all indeed intimate. It didn't really trouble Ikkyu.

On seeing Ikkyu's poem (and these comments) my friend Doc wrote me from his fish camp:
Ikkyu says, "Humans are endowed with the stupidity of horses and cattle."
I think Ikkyu is full of shit.
Humans are endowed with a stupidity all their own.
Horses and cattle know what to do.
They do it well.
He is right about poetry as a work out of hell.
We ought to know.
Phenomena experience themselves as themselves.
They don't need poetry.
We are looking at a mystery here.
How do these things have such an obstinancy and yet are dependent on my consciousness?
When I practice fishing with two teenagers
poetry never occurs to me.
But later it does.
I can go over the whole day.
Hooray! That's what being human is all about.
It is just as much a weakness as a strength.
You say a language is (a wild system born with us.)
I agree.
It is wilder than wild.
If we were just wild we wouldn't need language.
Maybe we are beyond wild.
That makes me feel better. 
-Doc Dachtler
Kanaka Creek

BEYOND WILD. This can indeed include language. Poetry is how language experiences itself. It's not that the deepest spiritual insights cannot be expressed in words (they can, in fact) but that wordscannot be expressed in words. So our poems are full of real presences. "Save a ghost," you might be asked by your teacher—or an owl, or a rainforest, or a demon. Walking that through and then putting a poem to it is a step on the way toward realization. But the path has many switchbacks and a spiritual journey is strewn with almost as many land mines as a poet's path. Let us all be careful (and loose as a goose) together.

SPENDING TIME with your own mind is humbling and broadening. One finds that there's no one in charge, and is reminded that no thought lasts for long. The marks of the Buddhist teachings are impermanence, no-self, the inevitability of suffering, interconnectedness, emptiness, the vastness of mind, and the provision of a Way to realization. An accomplished poem, like an exemplary life, is a brief presentation, a uniqueness in the oneness, a complete expression, and a kind gift exchange in the mind-energy webs. In the No play Basho (Banana Plant) it is said that "all poetry and art are offerings to the Buddha." These various Buddhist ideas in play with the ancient Chinese sense of poetry are part of the weave that produced an elegant plainness, which we name the Zen aesthetic.

Tu Fu said, "The ideas of a poet should be noble and simple." In Ch'an circles it has been said "Unformed people delight in the gaudy and in novelty. Cooked people delight in the ordinary." This plainness, this ordinary actuality, is what Buddhists call thusness, or tathata. There is nothing special about actuality because it is all right here. There's no need to call attention to it, to bring it up vividly and display it. Therefore the ultimate subject matter of a "mystical" Buddhist poetry is profoundly ordinary. This elusive ordinary actuality that is so touching and refreshing, all rolled together in imagination and language, is the work of all the arts. (The really fine poems are maybe the invisible ones, that show no special insight, no remarkable beauty. But no one has ever really written a great poem that had perfectly no insight, instructive unfolding, syntactic deliciousness—it is only a distant ideal.)

So there will never be some one sort of identifiable "meditation poetry." In spite of the elegant and somewhat decadent Plain Zen ideal, gaudiness and novelty and enthusiastic vulgarity are also fully real. Bulging eyeballs, big lolling tongues, stomping feet, cackles and howls— all are there in the tradition of practice. And there will never be—one devoutly hopes—one final and exclusive style of Buddhism. I keep looking for poems that see the moment, that play freely with what's given,
Teasing the demonic
Wrestling the wrathful
Laughing with the lustful
Seducing the shy
Wiping dirty noses and sewing torn shirts
Sending philosophers home to their wives in time for dinner
Dousing bureaucrats in rivers
Taking mothers mountain climbing
Eating the ordinary
appreciating that so much can be done on this precious planet of samsara.

Gary Snyder lives in the northern Sierra Nevada and Practices in the Linji Ch'an (Zen) Buddhist tradition. Pulitzer prize-winning poet and essayist, his most recent book is Practice of the Wild (North Point Press).

Adapted from the Introduction to Beneath a Single Moon: Legacies of Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry. Edited by Kent Johnson and Craig Paulenich. (Shambhala Publications)

Images © Allen Ginsberg (1) and Mayumi Oda (2 and 3).

Lenny Ravich - Humor and Laughter for Happier life, Improved Self Esteem, and Peak Performance

I often give my clients a homework assignment - find some way, any way you can, to laugh and smile and laugh some more. It's cool to see that others are also promoting the healing power of laughter.

There's also a whole movement around Laughter Yoga.

Talks@Google APAC Presents: Lenny Ravich

Published on Jun 4, 2013

At the age of 76, Lenny still travels the world, facilitating workshops and lectures on the subject of "Humor and Laughter for Happier life, Improved Self Esteem, and Peak Performance". Lenny stop by Google Singapore for an afternoon of humor, relaxation and tips on how to be happier. This event happened took place on May 22nd, 2013.

Lenny is considered one of the world's leading spiritual leaders with a rare combination of mastery in Gestalt, humor, and lifetime experiences as an educator and an actor. Lenny is also certified as a Laughter Leader by the World Laughter Tour and is a member of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Psychology of Paedophilia - All in the Mind Podcast

In this week's episode of All in the Mind, Lynne Malcolm examines the psychology of pedophilia, one the most treatment resistant disorders known to psychology. Malcolm speaks with two experts in the field of sex offenders and two parents whose children were sexually abused (both by Catholic priests).

The psychology of paedophilia

Sunday 2 June 2013

For many of us, sexual attraction to children is difficult to understand—let alone the disregard child sex offenders have for the physical and emotional harm they can cause. What is the psychology of paedophilia? Are there differences in the brains of paedophiles, making them a biologically different class of person; or is attraction to children on a universal continuum, controlled only by socialisation? And the parents of two children who were sexually abused by a Catholic priest tell their devastating story.


  • Stephen Smallbone: Professor at the Griffith University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and a leading researcher on child and adult sex offenders
  • James Cantor: Psychologist and senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, Editor in Chief of Sexual Abuse : a Journal of Research and Treatment
  • Chrissie Foster: Mother of children who were sexually abused by a Catholic priest, Author
  • Anthony Foster: Father of children who were abused by a Catholic Priest


Hell on the Way to Heaven
Chrissie Foster with Paul Kennedy
Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Description: An Australian mother's love, the power of the Catholic Church, a fight for justice over child sexual abuse

Preventing Child Sexual Abuse: Evidence, Policy & Practice
Stephen Smallbone, William L. Marshall, Richard Wortley
Willan Publishing

Further Information:


  • Presenter: Lynne Malcolm
  • Researcher: Katie Silver

Peter U. Tse - The Neural Basis Of Free Will: Criterial Causation

Thanks to Integral Postmetaphysical Enaction for sharing this cool collection of links on the work of Peter U. Tse, a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist at Dartmouth, on his theory of The Neural Basis of Free Will: Criterial Causation, which builds on his theory of "criterial causation."
The idea is that large numbers of neurons (a complex of cells or "cell assembly") are likely to be involved in even the simplest thoughts and actions. Tse argues that the brain may be able to modify dynamically the probabilities that individual neurons are "firing." He calls this "dynamical synaptic reweighting." 
Since the process by which a pre-synaptic neuron releases chemical neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft is a statistical one (large numbers of neurotransmitter molecules must diffuse across the cleft to activate ion channel receptors on the post-synaptic neuron), Tse says that there is some ontological randomness in the process. He argues that this is real "ontological" indeterministic chance, quantum mechanical in origin. 
How exactly such weights or probabilities of firing might work is not understood, but Tse argues that weights would constitute "informational" criteria as opposed to being simply physical. They could represent mental events that supervene on the physical brain events.
Here is the MIT Press synopsis of the book, which was released in February and is available as a hardcover and in electronic versions.

The Neural Basis Of Free Will: Criterial Causation

By Peter Ulric Tse


The issues of mental causation, consciousness, and free will have vexed philosophers since Plato. In this book, Peter Tse examines these unresolved issues from a neuroscientific perspective. In contrast with philosophers who use logic rather than data to argue whether mental causation or consciousness can exist given unproven first assumptions, Tse proposes that we instead listen to what neurons have to say. Because the brain must already embody a solution to the mind–body problem, why not focus on how the brain actually realizes mental causation?

Tse draws on exciting recent neuroscientific data concerning how informational causation is realized in physical causation at the level of NMDA receptors, synapses, dendrites, neurons, and neuronal circuits. He argues that a particular kind of strong free will and “downward” mental causation are realized in rapid synaptic plasticity. Recent neurophysiological breakthroughs reveal that neurons function as criterial assessors of their inputs, which then change the criteria that will make other neurons fire in the future. Such informational causation cannot change the physical basis of information realized in the present, but it can change the physical basis of information that may be realized in the immediate future. This gets around the standard argument against free will centered on the impossibility of self-causation. Tse explores the ways that mental causation and qualia might be realized in this kind of neuronal and associated information-processing architecture, and considers the psychological and philosophical implications of having such an architecture realized in our brains.
The following article comes The Information Philosopher blog (Creative Commons permit).

Peter U. Tse


Peter U. Tse is a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist at Dartmouth who argues for a novel form of mental causation that he calls "criterial causation."

The idea is that large numbers of neurons (a complex of cells or "cell assembly") are likely to be involved in even the simplest thoughts and actions. Tse argues that the brain may be able to modify dynamically the probabilities that individual neurons are "firing." He calls this "dynamical synaptic reweighting."

Since the process by which a pre-synaptic neuron releases chemical neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft is a statistical one (large numbers of neurotransmitter molecules must diffuse across the cleft to activate ion channel receptors on the post-synaptic neuron), Tse says that there is some ontological randomness in the process. He argues that this is real "ontological" indeterministic chance, quantum mechanical in origin.

How exactly such weights or probabilities of firing might work is not understood, but Tse argues that weights would constitute "informational" criteria as opposed to being simply physical. They could represent mental events that supervene on the physical brain events.

Tse accepts the Basic Argument of philosopher Galen Strawson, that we are not free to change the way we are at any moment, that we cannot be "causa sui." But since ontological randomness can dynamically reassign weights to the synapses, we can change mental events in the future. He says:
The central argument against the possibility of free will rests on the impossibility of self-causation. [Strawson's] basic argument does not follow, given a degree of randomness in neural spike timing and given neural criterial causation, as follows: Physically realized mental events can change the physical basis not of themselves in the present, but of future mental events. How? By triggering changes in the physically realized informational/physical criteria for firing that must be met by future neuronal inputs before future neuronal firing occurs that realizes future mental events. Such criterial causation does not involve self-causation. (A criterial neuronal code underlies downward mental causation and free will, Lecture at Boston University, May 14, 2011) 
Tse describes the requirements for a "strong" free will that resembles the requirements for two-stage models of free will, but he does not think of criterial causation as a two-stage model.

In order to have a free will in the strong sense, there must be (a) multiple courses of physical or mental behavior open to us, (b) we must really be able to choose among them, (c) we must be or must have been able to have chosen otherwise once we have chosen, and (d) the choice must not be dictated by randomness alone, but by us. 
A strong conception of free will is not compatible with either predetermined or random choices because in neither case do we decide which alternative to actualize from among many that might have been selected. 
Criterial causation gets around the causa sui argument against both mental causation and free will by having neurons alter the physical grounds, not of present mental events, but of future mental events. 
Self-causation only applies to changing the physical basis of making a presentdecision that is realized in or supervenes on that very same physical basis. Self-causation does not apply to changing the physical basis of making a future decision. While there can obviously never be a self-caused event, criteria can be set up in advance, such that when they are met, an action automatically follows; this is an action that we will have willed to take place by virtue of having set up those particular criteria in advance. At the moment those criteria are satisfied at some unknown point in the future, leading to some action or choice, those criteria cannot be changed, but because criteria can be changed in advance, we are free to determine how we will behave within certain limits in the near future. Criterial causation therefore offers a path toward free will where a brain can determine how it will behave given particular types of future input. This can be milliseconds in the future or, in some cases, even years away. 
Assuming indeterminism, criterial outcome is an outcome that meets certain preset criteria, but what that outcome will be is not foreseeable, and had we run the sequence of events over from the same initial conditions, with the same criteria, we may have ended up with a different outcome, because of noise in the system. 
Criterial causality therefore leaves room for non-illusory choice that is a middle path between the extremes of (a) determinism, where there is no ability to choose freely in the strong sense because there is never the possibility of an alternative action, and (b) criteria-less indeterminism, where arbitrary choices follow from randomness rather than from criteria one sets up oneself.
Free will skeptics might counter that the setting up of any set of criteria to be met by future inputs is itself determined by preexisting sets of criteria that have been met. This is in fact correct. The key point is that criteria will be met in unpredictable ways if there is inherent variability or noise in inputs, such as can be introduced by the randomness inherent in neurotransmitter molecules crossing the synapse. Just because new criteria are set up by a nervous system in a manner dictated by the satisfaction of preexisting criteria does not mean that either the future or present criteria will be met in a predetermined manner. Moreover, because our neurons set criteria for the firing of other neurons in response to their future input, the choices realized in the satisfying of those criteria are our own choices. Ontological indeterminism and neuronal criterial causation permits a physical causal basis for a strong free will. (A criterial neuronal code underlies downward mental causation and free will, Lecture at Boston University, May 14, 2011) 
Tse compares his work to traditional two-stage models, but thinks of his criterial causation as having three stages:
The present view is a type of incompatibilist physicalist libertarianism. Its closest relatives are found in Jamesian two-stage models of free will, where a first stage alternative possibilities for action or thought are generated in part randomly, and in a second, subsequent stage, an adequately determined volitional mechanism, where chance is no longer a factor, evaluates and selects the optimal option.James, Popper and others viewed the process as akin to a Darwinian two stage process, where indeterminism in the microscopic domain at the level of genetic reshuffling and mutation is amplified into variability at the level of animal traits, which is then selected among via natural and sexual selection. James and his followers have described the first process as one in which multiple alternative ideasor plans for action are generated in part randomly, and the second stage as one where a will or rational faculty selects from among these possibilities. The present view differs from the traditional Jamesian view in that multiple ideas are not generated, and the selecting faculty is not rational and is not the will, but is instead a postsynaptic neuron. That is, instead of modeling possibility generation and selection at the level of ideas, here the focus is on what happens at the neuronal level. The present view might more profitably be thought of as a three stage model, where (1) in the first stage new physical/informational criteria are set in a neuron or neuronal circuit on the basis of preceding physical/mental processing, including volitional processing, and (2) in the second, later stage inherently variable and therefore indeterministic presynaptic inputs arrive at the post-synaptic neuron, and (3) in the third, later stage physical/informational criteria are met or not met, leading to post-synaptic neural firing or not. Randomness can enter at stage (1)’s resetting of synaptic weights, or in (2)’s presynaptic inputs, but in (3) the threshold for firing is met or not met. 
A central argument against the logical possibility of either mental causation or free will has been the impossibility of self-causation: Because mental events, including acts of willing, are realized in or supervene on physical events, they cannot alter the physical events in which they are presently realized or on which they supervene. The central thesis argued here is that physically realized mental events can change the physical basis of future mental events by triggering changes in the physical/informational criteria that must be met by future presynaptic inputs before future neuronal firing occurs. While this process of dynamic resetting of synaptic weights (= resetting of physical/informational criteria for firing) could operate deterministically, if neural processes can amplify were indeterministic, then criteria could be met non-deterministically. Assuming ontological indeterminism, criterial causation permits downward mental causation and free will because neurons can set up criteria for future action potential release which, once satisfied, lead to non-determined, yet self-selected future actions that harness inherent variability in neuronal responses to generate novel solutions that meet the criteria that were set. (A criterial neuronal code underlies downward mental causation and free will, Lecture at Boston University, May 14, 2011)
Tse believes that neuroscience has been biased by a kind of dogma about neuronal causation that has hampered understanding of mental causation. That traditional view has been that neuronal causation is tantamount to action potentials triggering action potentials. But that is only half the story. The other half is that an action potential can 'rewire' the synaptic weights on a post-synaptic cell without necessarily making it fire. This effectively changes both the connectivity of a neuron in the sense that different inputs might now make it fire than before rapid synaptic resetting, and it potentially changes the informational criteria that must now be met to make the post-synaptic neuron fire. 
(Private communication, January 23, 2013)

The Neural Basis of Free Will

In March 2013, MIT Press published Tse's book, The Neural Basis of Free Will: Criterial Causation. In it he argues that criterial causation provides a model for getting around both Galen Strawson's Basic Argument against free will and Jaegwon Kim's logical argument against a non-reductive physicalism and the possibility of mental causation. Tse defines four "very high demands" of a "strong conception of free will"
I argue that it is possible to be a physicalist and ontological indeterminist and adhere to a strong conception of free will. A strong free will requires meeting some very high demands. We must have (a) multiple courses of physical or mental behavior open to us; (b) we must really be able to choose among them; (c) we must be or must have been able to have chosen otherwise once we have chosen a course of behavior; and (d) the choice must not be dictated by randomness alone, but by us. This seems like an impossible bill to fill, since it seems to require that acts of free will involve acts of self-causation. The goal of this chapter is to describe a way to meet these demands, assuming ontological indeterminism and criterial causation among neurons, that does not fall into the logical fallacy of self-causation. (The Neural Basis of Free Will, pp.133-4) 
We agree with Tse, and can add some comments and specifics to each of his four demands.
(a) multiple courses of physical or mental behavior open to us; These must be alternative possibilities that were notpre-determined, some indeterminism is involved in their generation. 
(b) we must really be able to choose among them; It's not clear what "really" adds to the choice in (c), and (d). 
(c) we must be or must have been able to have chosen otherwise once we have chosen a course of behavior; Having been able to choose otherwise is a consequence of (a) alternative possibilities and (b) we must be able to choose. 
and (d) the choice must not be dictated by randomness alone, but by us. Our choice must be adequately determined and "up to us," as Aristotle and Epicurus insisted. Randomness must be limited to (a), enabling our choosing otherwise in (c).
Tse argues that criterial causation allows neurons in the present to alter the physical realization of future mental events in a way that escapes the problem of self causation, namely Galen Strawson's Basic Argument, which Tse thinks has been at the root of basic criticism of the possibility of free will and mental causation.

Let's look closely at Tse's three stages:
(1) in the first stage at t1 new physical/informational criteria are set in a neuron or neuronal circuit on the basis of preceding physical/mental processing, including volitional processing, in part via a mechanism of rapid synaptic resetting that effectively changes the future inputs to a postsynaptic neuron; Randomness plays a role here, so resetting the future synaptic weights is not completely "up to us," which was Tse's demand (d) for strong free will. 
(2) in the second stage at later time t2, inherently variable presynaptic inputs arrive at the postsynaptic neuron; Randomness is also here. 
(3) in the third, later stage at t3 physical/informational criteria are met or not met, leading to postsynaptic neural firing or not. Note that the conditions in the world (thealternative possibilities) at time t3 may be very different from those at t1, requiring a different response than one that was appropriate at t1. And because the weights set at t1 were random, the "physical realization of future mental events" is not adequately determined. We do not make the choice at t3.
Let's compare Tse's three stages to the traditional two stages of our Cogito model. First the "free" generation of alternative possibilities, involving indeterminism. Second the adequately determined "will" evaluates and selects one of the possibilities. Or we may recursively go back to "think again" before the final decision.

Note that the two-stage model also circumvents Galen Strawson's Basic Argument. It separates the "free" stage of generating possibilities (t1) from the evaluation (t2) and selection "will" stage (t3).

Tse on Creativity

Tse is correct that ontological indeterminism (in the form of "noise" in the neural system) is a critical ingredient of both free will and creativity. Tse's description of the creative processappears to be in two stages, the first indeterministic and the second adequately determined and "up to us." He describes the process going on when Mozart composes his music.
Any criterial outcome will meet the criteria preset by a given brain and so will be an outcome that is satisfactory to that brain and caused by that brain, but it will also not be a unique solution predetermined by that brain or coerced upon that brain by external forces. Imagine, for example, Mozart trying to generate a musical sequence that sounds happy. Some part of his brain, perhaps a working-memory area like the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, defines criteria that a melody would have to meet in order to sound happy. Various cascades of criterial satisfaction are met that result in possible sequences that might meet the happiness criteria. 
These are "presented" to Mozart's executive system, and it either accepts them or rejects them, whereupon lower level systems continue to generate possible solutions to the problem. Of course, whatever eventually is accepted by him as adequate will sound to us like Mozart, because it satisfied the criterial decoding schemes that were unique to his brain. However, if we had "rewound the clock," a different solution to the problem might have been reached than the one that was reached, because of noise in the system. None of his pieces of music was predestined to sound as it did, and each piece could have turned out otherwise, although any piece that met his criteria would have sounded like a piece by Mozart. He could not help but have his style because he could not help but instantiate criteria that would satisfy Mozart, because he was Mozart, with his nervous system. Criterial causal systems, like Mozart's brain, can thus harness randomness to generate novel and creative solutions. His lower-level executive systems generated various sequences that met the criteria for happiness that his executive decision to generate a happy melody had set in place. 
  • Note that the second "will" stage can reject the alternative possibilities generated so far, and, time permitting, can ask the first "free" stage to "think again."
When solutions were presented for executive consideration, his executive system could then further edit these solutions, or reject them, invoking the further generation of possible solutions that might meet the criteria set for a happy melody. Indeed, this editing of, selection among, and invoking of solutions to problems appears to be a central function of the executive subsystems of the frontal lobes... 
Mozart's executive system was free to reject or modify possible solutions generated by his lower-level systems that met his criteria for a musical sequence that sounds happy. This is an open-ended process that can go through countless iterations. Because of noise in the system, the outcome of this process is not predetermined. It is also not random. Any outcome will have met Mozart's criteria, so will inevitably end up sounding like Mozart and no one else. Thus, although Mozart was not free to preset criteria that belonged to Bach, what his nervous system would create was not foreseeable, in principle, to him or anyone else. Yet, what he ended up composing was shaped by his nervous system alone to meet criteria preset by his nervous system. 
Criterial causation permits a degree of self-determination that meets the high standards demanded of a strong free will described in §7.1, without permitting, of course, a causa sui free will, which is impossible. To reiterate, for us to have a strong free will, multiple courses of physical or mental behavior must be open to us, we must really be able to choose from among them, we must have been able to have chosen otherwise once we have chosen, and the choice must be dictated not by randomness but by us. Returning to our example, Mozart's brain can generate numerous musical sequences that meet his preset criteria for a happy melody, and his executive circuitry can choose from among these on the basis of the degree to which these criteria are met, or on the basis of other criteria realized in his nervous system. Because of noise in the system, there is no guarantee that he would choose the same sequence as the best one if we could "rewind" him in time and play the sequence over. The same musical sequences might not even be generated for executive consideration by the lower-level systems because they in turn generate possible solutions by setting criteria on their own lower-level inputs, and so on. Such hierarchies of critical selection can, even at the lowest level, harness noise for the generation of novel solutions to problems posed by higher levels in the system. However, the choice is not dictated solely by randomness, but, in the present example, by criteria that Mozart's nervous system set up to solve the problem of finding a happy melody. This meets all the stringent conditions required of a free will described in §7.1, without falling into the trap of a causa sui free will (§7.4). 
Finally, here is a two-hour video talk by Tse.

Downward Mental Causation and Free Will

Published on May 17, 2013

Peter Tse gives a talk entitled "A criterial neuronal code underlies downward mental causation and free will".