Saturday, June 15, 2013

Is DNA Collection the New Fingerprinting?

On Monday, June 3rd, the Supreme Court ruled that it is permissible to collect DNA sample from suspects who are under arrest. In their 5-4 ruling, the Justices decided that swabbing a person’s cheek (primary method of DNA collection) prior to the conviction does not constitute an unreasonable search. The only qualifiers given were that the person is under arrest “for a serious offense” and had been brought “to the station to be detained in custody.”

So what determines a "serious offense"?

I can see this ruling being misused in a multitude of ways, not least of which is arresting suspects as a "fishing expedition" to charge them with previous crimes or suspected crimes.

Once the DNA is collected, where does it go, who takes possession of it? Does it get entered into the national database? Does it get destroyed if the person is innocent? There a lot of issues with this ruling, and this article from Pacific Standard looks at the slippery slope this ruling entails.

DNA Collection Is the New Fingerprinting

What will it mean for crime suspects—and for victims?

June 3, 2013 • By Lauren Kirchner


On Monday, the Supreme Court gave the OK to the controversial practice of cops collecting DNA samples from crime suspects under arrest. In a 5-4 ruling, the justices decided that swabbing a person’s cheek prior to their conviction of any crime did not constitute an unreasonable search—so long as the suspect was under arrest “for a serious offense” and had been brought “to the station to be detained in custody.”

According to NBC News, 28 states and the federal government already adhere to this practice. This case dates back to the 2009 arrest of 26-year-old Alonzo King on assault charges. Maryland police swabbed his cheek after his arrest, and by running it through a DNA database, matched him to an unsolved rape case.

The slippery-slope argument here is a fitting one, of course. If cops can collect DNA without a conviction, without a warrant, then how soon will it be until they can collect it from anyone during routine traffic stops, or any time? Or until other institutions besides law enforcement can? Justice Scalia, writing in his dissent on Monday, addressed those concerns.

“Today’s judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes,” he wrote. “Then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane.”

Justices voting in the majority compared DNA collection to a more advanced version of fingerprinting. In his oral argument back in February, Judge Alito stressed the significance of this new technology, which has the potential to solve countless murders and rapes with “a very minimal intrusion on personal privacy.”

Is the DNA-fingerprint comparison an accurate one? In an age when an artist can pick up an old piece of chewing gum from the sidewalk and create a 3-D model of the gum-chewer’s face, it sounds a bit naïve.

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling is only one of many difficult cases that will arise, here and elsewhere, surrounding DNA sampling and sequencing technology. High-publicity instances of new DNA evidence freeing a wrongly-convicted prisoner may increase public support for DNA collection by law enforcement. At the same time, DNA-sequencing companies like 23AndMe and EasyDNA entering the mainstream may also make people feel more comfortable with the idea that something as private and complex as their genetic makeup can be mined for benefits both personal and societal. Canadian law enforcement officials are lobbying their government on the same issue now. In the U.K., a police commissioner is defending the right of cops to take samples from children under the age of 18 who are suspected of even minor offenses.

But what about non-criminal DNA databases? Privacy protection concerns should apply to victims of crime just as much, if not more, than they do to crime perpetrators and suspects. An article in Trends in Genetics out last month addressed the very tricky balance between identifying victims and protecting those victims’ privacy when DNA-collection is involved in the process.

According to the report’s authors, Joyce Kim and Sara H. Katsanis of Duke University, government agencies are increasingly using DNA databases specifically to identify victims of human trafficking and other human-rights violations. For instance, they write, “Routine, systematic databasing of family member profiles of missing persons” may help identify kidnapping or murder victims. Databases could also prevent children from being placed up for illegal adoptions. If there is ever a proper use for DNA in law enforcement, the authors argue, this is it—but there must be boundaries set, and soon.

“Scholars estimate that, globally, government-operated DNA databases will grow from approximately 30 million profiles in 2011 to 100 million profiles in 2015,” according to the report. Many of the existing collection programs, Katsanis and Kim note, “involve vulnerable populations, including children, sex workers, and persons whose legal or resident status may be questioned.”

The coordination and ownership of these databases is also at issue. “Government-held DNA databases can be readily monitored for quality and security, but less-secure private entities, such as NGOs or entities with diplomatic immunity, could minimize abuse of power,” the authors write. And the more centralized and internationally-accessible the databases get, the more security issues and legal complications will potentially arise.

Even outside of the law-enforcement and crime-prevention realms, the ownership of genetic information is an ongoing debate. California legislators are currently considering a new law to require genetic-testing firms like 23AndMe and EasyDNA to obtain a person’s permission before processing their information and putting it in their genetic database. Currently, it is perfectly legal to send someone else’s “genetic material” to one of these companies, for instance, for paternity information or, as one company puts it, “infidelity testing.” From the San Jose Mercury News: “‘We have privacy laws in place to protect health and financial information,’ said the bill’s author, Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima. ‘But arguably the most personal information about us—our own genetic profile—isn’t protected.’”

What’s more, a recent MIT study showed how easy it is for genetic databases to be hacked, making genome theft an actual, and frightening, possibility. “By means of your DNA, nature provides you with a security flaw that makes Microsoft Windows look like Fort Knox,” writes Michael White elsewhere on Pacific Standard today.

Having a not-quite-accurate 3-D model made of your face is one thing; putting detailed medical information in the hands of hackable Internet sites is quite another. Clearly, the security of these DNA databases should be just as pressing an issue as the collection of people’s DNA in the first place, criminals or no.

Santayana on the Appreciation of Beauty - The Partially Examined Life, #77

George Santayana (1863-1952) was the first and maybe still the foremost Hispanic-American philosopher (as a student he worked under William James at Harvard). His embrace of naturalism and rejection of idealism were the foundation for a spiritual philosophy not based in religion. Here is some brief info on his life from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Philosopher, poet, literary and cultural critic, George Santayana is a principal figure in Classical American Philosophy. His naturalism and emphasis on creative imagination were harbingers of important intellectual turns on both sides of the Atlantic. He was a naturalist before naturalism grew popular; he appreciated multiple perfections before multiculturalism became an issue; he thought of philosophy as literature before it became a theme in American and European scholarly circles; and he managed to naturalize Platonism, update Aristotle, fight off idealisms, and provide a striking and sensitive account of the spiritual life without being a religious believer. His Hispanic heritage, shaded by his sense of being an outsider in America, captures many qualities of American life missed by insiders, and presents views equal to Tocqueville in quality and importance. Beyond philosophy, only Emerson may match his literary production. As a public figure, he appeared on the front cover of Time (3 February 1936), and his autobiography (Persons and Places, 1944) and only novel (The Last Puritan, 1936) were the best-selling books in the United States as Book-of-the-Month Club selections. The novel was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and Edmund Wilson ranked Persons and Places among the few first-rate autobiographies, comparing it favorably to Yeats's memoirs, The Education of Henry Adams, and Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Remarkably, Santayana achieved this stature in American thought without being an American citizen. He proudly retained his Spanish citizenship throughout his life. Yet, as he readily admitted, it is as an American that his philosophical and literary corpuses are to be judged. 
On The Partially Examined Life podcast, they discuss one of his classic books: The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outline of Aesthetic Theory (paper) or The Sense of Beauty Being the Outlines of Aesthetic Theory (Kindle, $0.00).

Episode 77: Santayana on the Appreciation of Beauty

Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 1:47:42 — 98.7MB)

On George Santayana’s The Sense of Beauty (1896)

What are we saying when we call something “beautiful?” Are we pointing out an objective quality that other people (anyone?) can ferret out, or just essentially saying “yay!” without any logic necessarily behind our exclamation? The poet and philosopher Santayana thought that while aesthetic appreciation is an immediate experience–we don’t “infer” the beauty of something by recognizing some natural qualities that it has–we can nonetheless analyze the experience after the fact to uncover a number of grounds on which we might appreciate something. He divides these into areas of matter (e.g. the pretty color or texture), form (the relations between perceived parts), and expression (what external to the work itself does it bring to mind?) and ends up being able to distinguish high art (form-centric) from more savage forms (centered on matter or expression) while distinguishing real appreciation (which can include any of the three elements) from mere pretension (when you don’t really have an immediate experience at all but merely recognize that you’re supposed to think that this is good).

The regular foursome talk through Santayana’s theory with regard to expressionist painting, rock ‘n roll, beautiful landscapes, abstract expressionism, and more. Read more about the topic and get the book.

End song: “Sense of Beauty” by Mark Lint with help from some PEL listeners. Read about it.

Please go to to help support our efforts. A recurring gift will gain you all the benefits of PEL Citizenship. Thanks!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Markus Molz & Mark G. Edwards: Research Across Boundaries - Introduction to the First Part of the Special Issue

This is Markus Molz's and Mark G. Edwards's introductory essay to the recent special edition of the Integral Review (Vol 9, No 2) - International Symposium: Research Across Boundaries, Part 1.
The issue stems from an international symposium, “Research across Boundaries – Advances in Theory-building,” held at the University of Luxembourg in June of 2010.

The symposium was the first to bring together many leading "boundary spanning and meta-level researchers" from more than 15 countries across all continents and as many different research areas.
In what became a set of truly global dialogues, the participants presented and commented an astounding array of contemporary integrative frameworks, as well as inter- and transdisciplinary reviews and research practices across various fields of inquiry of high relevance for the future.
And here's a little more from later in the introduction:
This special issue brings together the contributions of many of the scholars and visionaries that participated in the symposium, plus a couple of complementary papers of resonating researchers who couldn’t make it to the event itself but were keen to make a contribution nevertheless. Our invitation was to deliver summary accounts of sustained boundary-crossing research and (meta)theory-building, often of a lifetime, to colleagues rooted in other research domains. The contributors were called to make the essentials of their sophisticated views, or more focused parts thereof, accessible to the interested public and to provide extended bibliographies for those attracted to explore the original sources of their work. Our guiding idea was to encourage boundary-crossing, on a meta-level, between mature boundary-crossing approaches that, somehow paradoxically, did not yet, or barely, come in touch with each other. The scientific committee of the symposium and its helpers volunteered to identify and invite these boundary-crossing scholars and to facilitate their meta-boundary-crossing dialogues and polylogues.

As a result, the Luxembourg symposium saw contributions offered that stemmed from quantum theoretical inspirations to cybernetics and complexity approaches, from action theory to semiotics and integrative meta-theorizing. The philosophical underpinnings included metaparadigms like transdisciplinarity, integral theory, critical realism, relational contextualism, global ethics, as well as participatory and emancipatory worldviews. Issues of boundary-crossing research paradigms and communities, of sense-making tools and theory families, institutional barriers and opportunities were all intimately considered.
About the Authors/Editors:

  • Markus Molz is currently Visiting professor at the School for Transformative Leadership, Palacky University Olomouc, Manager of the University for the Future Initiative, founding Board Member of the Institute for Integral Studies, and Associate Editor of Integral Review. He has a broad background in transdisciplinary social sciences, integral studies, meta-studies, international project development, and consulting of NGOs. His interests revolve around integral pluralism, quality of life in the Great Transition, as well as social and educational innovation. His current focus is on concrete pathways for institutionalizing integrative and transformative higher education and research. e-mail:
  • Mark Edwards is Assistant professor at the Business School, University of Western Australia where he teaches in the areas of business ethics and organisational transformation. Mark’s PhD thesis (awarded with distinction) was published in a series on business ethics by Routledge/Taylor-Francis in August 2010 and was awarded book of the year 2011 by Integral Leadership. The book focuses on the integration of knowledge as applied to the fields of organisational transformation and sustainability. Mark’s research has been published in several leading academic journals and covers a diverse range of topics including business ethics, management studies, systems research, futures studies, psychotherapy and spirituality, sustainability and organisational transformation. e-mail:
* * * * *

Research Across Boundaries: Introduction to the First Part of the Special Issue 

Markus Molz and Mark G. Edwards
In the coming century, there will be an urgent need for scholars who go beyond the isolated facts; who make connections across the disciplines; and who begin to discover a more coherent view of knowledge and a more integrated, more authentic view of life. (Boyer, 1994, p. 118) 

Background and Foreground

In the context of an unprecedented proliferation of research specializations and the pressing problem-solving needs in society, Ernest Boyer and other scholars, have emphasized the special role for research that connects knowledge and that spans boundaries. This scholarship of integration complements traditional modes of specialization of knowledge. Major advances in boundary spanning research across the seams of separate paradigms, disciplines, cultures and contexts have been made in many places in recent years. Multi-paradigm and multi-method research, translation research movements, trans- and meta-disciplinary approaches, as well as cross-cultural or cross-sector participatory projects are emerging in and across many fields of research. It is no accident that these developments are surfacing at this juncture in planetary evolution.

Down through the ages, each generation of humanity has faced its own challenges, its own demons, and its own possibilities for expanding the possibilities. Sometimes the challenges are accepted, the will, the heart and the hands are tested, and life deepens and expands. Sometimes the challenges are rejected and avoided, our demons get the better of us, we turn in on ourselves and the possibilities afforded by human birth close down. Whatever our choices have been in the past, humanity has moved on. But something new presents itself in these current days. We are living in an unprecedented historical epoch, the Anthropocene (Steffen et al, 2011).

The human has irrevocably changed the planet. The impact of our actions are coming back to haunt us and our children. The challenges are now global, local and everything in between, they are with us now and they stretch out into the distant intergenerational future, they include the whole Earth system and every living thing that travels with her, they involve every aspect of the countless bio-social systems that network across her surface and which course through the intersubjective experience of every plant and animal. The possibilities for responding to the planetary challenges, and the implication of those responses, are extreme and they stretch out between a  vision for and acceptance of a profound deepening of planetary potentials and a life-destroying,  fear-laden rejection of the realities that demand our attention.

Science, the humanities, religion, art, the storehouses of cultural and indigenous knowledge, the world of lived practice and life experience will all generate their own contributions to meeting or avoiding the local, regional and global challenges that beset us. Many possibilities exist in considering these options but, whatever path we choose as individuals or as a single global family, never before have the global stakes been so high, never before has the need for planet-wide decision-making, for big-picture explanations and solutions been so pressing. Never before has human society, as a single entity, been required to develop a coherent global approach to dealing with the challenges that now confront it.

And it is no coincidence that the unfolding planetary challenge should also be accompanied by the emergence of global forms of knowing and of accessing knowledge. In no previous times has so much knowledge been intentionally produced, stored and disseminated, has there been such an extensive body of expertise in so many distinct research specializations. It is only now, in these last few years, that the products of so many knowledge traditions, institutions of learning, independent scholars, research collectives and commercial research sources from so many regions, cultures and historical periods have become accessible to so many people across the globe. The web and depth of knowledge is vast and it is available. But what sense can and will we make of it all? Down which pathways will all this knowledge lead us?

It is no coincidence that in these critical times of a global anthropogenic cocktail of crises, we are also immersed in an ocean of experience, of data, information and knowledge. Do we have the wisdom to not only develop shared knowledge from this ocean of information but also to make shared sense of it? And are we able to make use of the bigger pictures we gain from boundary-crossing experience and reflection to engage in large-scale and long-term coordinated action? This is needed to enable a dignified life for the many throughout the Great Transition (Raskin et al, 2002; Spratt et al, 2010). Under complex and volatile conditions boundary-crossing competence is also considered more and more important as a complement for domain-specific expertise (see e.g. Engeström, Engeström & Kärkkäinen, 1997, Horlick-Jones & Sime, 2004).

Responding to the need for shared sense making, there is a widespread and growing call today for building connections across disciplines, paradigms, cultures, and worldviews (see for instance Dussel, 2009; Giri, 2002, as well as Nelson and Raman in this issue). And indeed, in recent years various advances have been made in boundary-crossing research that facilitates (re)connections between theory and practice, facts and values, history and future, sciences and humanities, the knowledge traditions of East and West, North and South. Gasper (2004) says that
we should recognize and promote a complex intellectual 'eco-system' with multiple legitimate types of life-form, sub-system, and of interaction of ideas, inquirers and users (p. 310) … an eco-system within which many species and hybrids co-exist and interact … A complex eco-system requires a complex system of concepts and models to describe and understand it. ... Interaction requires mutually accessible and acceptable intellectual frameworks. (p. 327) 
In navigating through the hazards of the Great Transition we need conceptual visions with the requisite complexity and scope. Towards this end the Luxembourg Symposium was organized.

Read the whole essay and check out the new issue of Integral Review.

Neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor: Religious Fundamentalism as a Mental Illness (or Mind Control)

I don't know if fundamentalism is a mental disorder as much as it's a developmental stage for a lot of people. Nearly religions pass through an egoic, authoritarian stage where all rules worth following are divinely given. Those who are fundamentalist simply get stuck in this worldview.

On the other hand, fundamentalist parents often control their children in joining them in their religious worldview - see Jesus Camp for a sad and clear perspective on this topic.

You can listen to Taylor's talk in the audio clip below, as well as read the summary from Huffington Post.

Wednesday 29 May 2013 • Venue: Google’s Big Tent

Funds are pouring into brain research, but what does this relatively new science mean for us? Taylor looks at the promise of drugs that could boost our brain-power, at the potential for more subtle marketing techniques and even at the prospect of machines that could read our minds. She looks at the science behind these claims and at how scientists look inside the human brain.


This event has taken place.
[NOTE: After this had already posted, I changed the parenthetical in the title from brainwashing to mind control. Brainwashing implies forced reprogramming of thoughts and beliefs, while mind control is more subtle and covert, relying on environmental cues and supports as much as, or more than coercion. More on this in a later post.]

* * * * *

Kathleen Taylor, Neuroscientist, Says Religious Fundamentalism Could Be Treated As A Mental Illness

The Huffington Post | By Meredith Bennett-Smith Posted: 05/31/2013

An Oxford University researcher and author specializing in neuroscience has suggested that one day religious fundamentalism may be treated as a curable mental illness.

Kathleen Taylor, who describes herself as a "science writer affiliated to the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics," made the suggestion during a presentation on brain research at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales on Wednesday.

In response to a question about the future of neuroscience, Taylor said that "One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as people who can be treated," The Times of London notes.

“Someone who has for example become radicalised to a cult ideology -- we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance," Taylor said. “In many ways it could be a very positive thing because there are no doubt beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage."

The author went on to say she wasn't just referring to the "obvious candidates like radical Islam," but also meant such beliefs as the idea that beating children is acceptable.

Taylor was not immediately available for comment.

This is not the first time Taylor has explored the mind processes of a radical. In 2006, she wrote a book about mind control called Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control, which explored the science behind the persuasive tactics of such groups as cults and al Qaeda.

"We all change our beliefs of course," Taylor said in a YouTube video about the book. "We all persuade each other to do things; we all watch advertising; we all get educated and experience [religions.] Brainwashing, if you like, is the extreme end of that; it's the coercive, forceful, psychological torture type."

Taylor also noted that brainwashing, though extreme, is part of a the "much more widespread phenomenon" of persuasion. That is, "how we make people think things that might not be good for them, that they might not otherwise have chosen to think."

However, Taylor has also been a voice of caution in terms of the ethics of delving too deeply into the human brain's mysterious workings.

"Technologies which directly scan or manipulate brains cannot be neutral tools, as open to commercial exploitation as any new gadget," Taylor wrote in a blog post for The Huffington Post in 2012. "The brain supremacy offers chances to improve human dignity, but it also risks abuse."

Watch the video below to hear Kathleen Taylor discuss her book Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control.

Here is a brief description of the book from Amazon:
The term 'brainwashing' was first recorded in 1950, but it is an expression of a much older concept: the forcible and full-scale alteration of a person's beliefs. Over the past 50 years the term has crept into popular culture, served as a topic for jokes, frightened the public in media headlines, and slandered innumerable people and institutions. It has also been the subject of learned discussion from many angles: history, sociology, psychology, psychotherapy, and marketing. Despite this variety, to date there has been one angle missing: any serious reference to real brains. Descriptions of how opinions can be changed, whether by persuasion, deceit, or force, have been almost entirely psychological.

Lauren Kirchner - Brain-Scan Lie Detectors Just Don’t Work

Well, imagine that. Traditional lie detectors are not admissible in court, and brain-scan versions are not accurate - both of which are likely beatable by any sociopath.

This article comes from Pacific Standard.

Brain-Scan Lie Detectors Just Don’t Work

Perpetrators can suppress “crime memories,” study finds.

June 10, 2013 • By Lauren Kirchner
Dr. Zara Bergstrom and Dr. Jon Simons examine the electrical brain activity of another of the paper's authors, Marie Buda. (PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE'S DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY)
It sounds just like something out of a sci-fi police procedural show—and not necessarily a good one.

In a darkened room, a scientist in a white lab coat attaches a web of suction cups, wires, and electrodes to a crime suspect’s head. The suspect doesn’t blink as he tells the detectives interrogating him, “I didn’t do it.”

The grizzled head detective bangs his fist on the table. “We know you did!” he yells.

The scientist checks his machine. “Either he’s telling the truth … or he’s actively suppressing his memories of the crime,” says the scientist.

Some law enforcement agencies really are using brain-scan lie detectors, and it really is possible to beat them, new research shows. 
“Dammit,” says the detective, shaking his head, “this one’s good.” 
But it isn’t fiction. Some law enforcement agencies really are using brain-scan lie detectors, and it really is possible to beat them, new research shows. 
The polygraph, the more familiar lie detection method, works by “simultaneously recording changes in several physiological variables such as blood pressure, pulse rate, respiration, electrodermal activity,” according to a very intriguing group called the International League of Polygraph Examiners. Despite what the League (and television) might have you believe, polygraph results are generally believed to be unreliable, and are only admitted as evidence in U.S. courts in very specific circumstances. 
The brain-scan “guilt detection test” is a newer technology that supposedly measures electrical activity in the brain, which would be triggered by specific memories during an interrogation. “When presented with reminders of their crime, it was previously assumed that their brain would automatically and uncontrollably recognize these details,” explains a new study published last week by psychologists at the University of Cambridge. “Using scans of the brain’s electrical activity, this recognition would be observable, recording a ‘guilty’ response.” 
Law enforcement agencies in Japan and India have started to use this tool to solve crimes, and even to try suspects in court. These types of tests have not caught on with law enforcement in the U.S., though they are commercially available here. That’s probably a good thing; the researchers of this study found that “some people can intentionally and voluntarily suppress unwanted memories.” 
The experiment was pretty straightforward, and the participants were no criminal masterminds. Ordinary people were asked to stage mock crimes, and then were asked to “suppress” their “crime memories,” all while having their brains scanned for electric activity. Most people could do it, the researchers found: “a significant proportion of people managed to reduce their brain’s recognition response and appear innocent.” 
Not everyone could, though. “Interestingly, not everyone was able to suppress their memories of the crime well enough to beat the system,” said Dr. Michael Anderson, of the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge. “Clearly, more research is needed to identify why some people were much more effective than others.” 
Separate studies on guilt-detection scans, conducted by cognitive neuroscientists at Stanford University, had similar findings. Anthony Wagner at Stanford’s Memory Lab had study participants take thousands of digital photos of their daily activities for several weeks. Wagner and his colleagues then showed sequences of photos to the participants, and measured their brain activity while the participants saw both familiar and unfamiliar photos. 
The researchers could identify which photos were familiar to the participants and which ones were not, with 91 percent accuracy, Wagner said. However, when the researchers told the participants to try to actively suppress their recognition of the photos that were theirs—to “try to beat the system”—the researchers had much less success. 
Scientists still don’t know how this “suppression” actually works; like so many questions about the inner workings of the human brain, it remains a mystery. But the fact that so many test subjects could, somehow, do it on command, led the authors of both the Cambridge and Stanford studies to come to the same conclusions. 
In short, brain-scan guilt-detection type tests are beatable, their results are unreliable, and they shouldn’t be used as evidence in court. Except on television.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Psychologist and cognitive scientist Paul Bloom had an article in The New Yorker a week or two ago, The Case Against Empathy, that has generated a LOT of conversation and controversy. After all, scientists and neuroscientists and philosophers have been telling us that empathy is a core human bonding skill. Bloom's argument counters this perspective; in essence, "Empathy has some unfortunate features—it is parochial, narrow-minded, and innumerate. We're often at our best when we're smart enough not to rely on it."

Empathy is deaf to facts and figures; it’s engaged by the “identifiable victim effect.” Illustration by Harry Campbell.

In an article at the Harvard University Press blog, James Dawes (author of Evil Men) offered a rebuttal to Bloom's argument:
The feeling for others that we call empathy might often be a thin disguise for narcissism and even voyeurism. We think we are drawn to and captivated by stories of other people’s trauma because we are caring creatures, because empathy compels us. But perhaps we are drawn to stories of suffering because we feel an insecure need to display to ourselves, through our performed empathetic response, our moral worth. Or perhaps we are drawn to stories of suffering because some of us have the privilege of being bored. As Eva Hoffman put it when criticizing the interest people take in the stories of Holocaust survivors: we have “significance envy.” We borrow from the tragedy of others to make our empty days feel purposeful and high-stakes. We are emotional parasites. 
But let’s put all that aside. Let’s say our empathy really is empathy, that it really is about caring for the other. Even then, empathy can be dangerous. If we don’t get close enough to the other, our empathy is thin and superficial. We under-identify. But if we get too close, we over-identify. Our empathy can erase the other; we can find ourselves emotionally standing-in for the other. 
But let’s put that aside, too. Let’s say we get the distance just right, seeing the other in the fullness of their identity but also respecting their difference from us, respecting (excuse for a moment the jargon) that they are unassimilable. Even then, empathy can be dangerous. One of the primary arguments for empathy is that it promotes helping behavior. But what if the opposite is true? What if empathy doesn’t give us the energy for action? What if it uses up our energy for action? Taking the case of our empathetic responses to fictional stories, Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued in 1758: 
In giving our tears to these fictions, we have satisfied all the rights of humanity without having to give anything more of ourselves; whereas unfortunate people in person would require attention from us, relief, consolation, and work, which would involve us in their pains and would require at least the sacrifice of our indolence, from all of which we are quite content to be exempt. It could be said that our heart closes itself for fear of being touched at our expense. In the final accounting, when a man has gone to admire fine actions in stories and to cry for imaginary miseries, what more can be asked of him? Is he not satisfied with himself? Does he not applaud his fine soul? Has he not acquitted himself of all that he owes to virtue by the homage which has just rendered it? What more could one want of him? That he practice it himself? He has no role to play; he is no actor.
Empathy—our ability to feel for others—is at the heart of what it means to be a human. Empathy morally improves me. Empathy gives meaning to my life. Empathy is the driver of historical progress and our best hope for the future. I believe all of this. I really do. But I also think the case against empathy is strong. And I think it is useful. To be satisfied with empathy is the easiest thing in the world. To get critical distance from it is hard, but necessary. My colleagues and I, all teachers of human rights, often joke about the “squishy” empathy we see in our first-year students. It is a necessary starting point, but we hope when they leave us four years later that their empathy will be sharper, more weather-beaten and scrappy. That kind of empathy, we believe, really might help change the world.
 Meanwhile, over at Very Bad Wizards, they did a podcast on Bloom's argument with Bloom participating (second half of show)


Episode Audio 
Download MP3 Audio [39.9MB]


Paul Bloom joins us in the second segment for a lively discussion about the value of empathy as a guide our moral decisions. And in our first scoop, we talk about Paul's new book (coming in November) Just Babies: The Origin of Good and Evil, racist babies, and how 80s sitcoms changed the world. In the first segment, Dave and Tamler face the music and try to respond to a listener's criticisms of their episode on slurs and offensiveness (Episode 22).

For another perspective, be sure to check out Jesse Prinz's paper on empathy and morality.

Innovative Study Proves that the Adult Human Brain Produces New Neurons

Via, a report on a new study from Cell that used an innovative method (carbon dating) to prove that human brains can create new neurons in adulthood (neurogenesis). We have known the brain does this for quite some time, but this another form of proof.

Atomic bombs help solve mystery: does the adult human brain produce new neurons?

June 9, 2013

Radioactive carbon-14 atoms released by atomic bomb tests are helping scientists determine new neurons produced in the brain (credit: Spalding et al./Cell)

A study in the journal Cell reveals that a significant number of new neurons in the hippocampus — a brain region crucial for memory and learning — are generated in adult humans.

“It was thought for a long time that we are born with a certain number of neurons, and that it is not possible to get new neurons after birth,” says senior study author Jonas Frisén of the Karolinska Institute.

But no one could check this, because there was no way to date the birth of neurons in humans.

Carbon-dating neurons

To do that, Frisén and his team developed an innovative method for dating the birth of neurons that takes advantage of the elevated atmospheric levels of carbon-14, a nonradioactive form of carbon, caused by above-ground nuclear bomb testing more than 50 years ago.

Since the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty, atmospheric levels of “heavy”14C (carbon-14) have declined at a known rate.

When we eat plants or animal products, we absorb both normal and heavy carbon at the atmospheric ratios present at that time, and the exact atmospheric concentration at any point in time is stamped into DNA every time a new neuron is born. Thus, neurons can be “carbon dated” in a similar way to that used by archeologists.

To count neurons in the hippocampus, Swedish researchers injected a substance that made them glow in different colors to distinguish non-neuronal cells from neurons. Shown here: an image of a transgenic mouse hippocampus (credit: Nikon Small World Gallery)

The researchers measured the carbon-14 concentration in DNA from the hippocampal neurons of deceased humans. They found that 1,400 new neurons in the dentate gyrus.area are added each day — 1.75% per year — during adulthood, and that this rate declines only modestly with age, suggesting that adult hippocampal neurogenesis may contribute to human brain function. 
Kirsty L. Spalding et al.. Dynamics of Hippocampal Neurogenesis in Adult Humans. Cell, 2013; 153 (6): 1219 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2013.05.002

Michael Barker - The Mystical Genius of Ervin Laszlo

Ervin László (born 1932 in Budapest, Hungary) is a Hungarian philosopher of science, systems theorist, integral theorist, originally a classical pianist. He has published about 75 books and over 400 papers, and is editor of World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution. He is associated with the integral movement, although he is not in the Wilberian AQAL camp.
He underscores the importance of developing a holistic perspective on the world and man, an outlook he refers to as "quantum consciousness".[1] 
The following is from Wikipedia's entry on Laszlo (as was the above quote):
In an essay, Stan Grof compared László's work to that of Ken Wilber, saying "Where Wilber outlined what an integral theory of everything should look like, Laszlo actually created one."[6] Jennifer Gidley, President of the World Futures Studies Federation, is a researcher in the areas of futures studies, integral theory and spiritual evolution, which she refers to as evolution of consciousness. In an in-depth study of integral theorists she made the following claim:
A major distinction appears to be that László (2007)[7] builds his general evolution theory in a more formal, systematic manner. He claims that he built significantly on the theoretical traditions of Whitehead’s process theory, Bertalanffy’s general system theory and Prigogine’s non-linearly bifurcating dissipative structures (p. 164). Wilber’s process appears to have been much broader and more diverse—but perhaps less systematic—gathering together as many theorists in as many fields of knowledge as he could imagine, then arranging them according to the system that he developed—which he calls an integral operating system (Wilber, 2004).[8] Another difference is that although they both appear to use imagination and intuition in the construction of their theoretical approaches, Wilber does not make this explicit whereas László (2007, p. 162) does.[9]
Ervin László is a Visiting Faculty member at The Graduate Institute Bethany. 

Akashic Field Theory 

László's 2004 book, Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything posits a field of information as the substance of the cosmos. Using the Sanskrit and Vedic term for "space," Akasha, he calls this information field the "Akashic field" or "A-field". He posits that the "quantum vacuum" (see Vacuum state) is the fundamental energy and information-carrying field that informs not just the current universe, but all universes past and present (collectively, the "Metaverse").

László describes how such an informational field can explain why our universe appears to be fine-tuned as to form galaxies and conscious lifeforms; and why evolution is an informed, not random, process. He believes that the hypothesis solves several problems that emerge from quantum physics, especially nonlocality and quantum entanglement.

Gidley's research also discusses László's Akashic Field theory, including a three page hermeneutic analysis of his theory compared to the similar theories a century ago of Rudolf Steiner.
Some of the terms Steiner used to characterize his spiritual-scientific methodology, such as cosmic memory and Akashic record, are currently being reintroduced into the scientific discourse by László...[10]

Macroshift Theory 

László stated in his book You Can Change the World that there is global choice for the coming world crisis, which could come in the form of a global breakdown centred on increasing fragmentation of economic inequality and a new arms race between rising powers. The other choice would be a global breakthrough led by international organizations. This would be by the linking of non-government organizations promoting sustainable development, using the Internet.[11] 
A Macroshift is defined as a popular movement to turn the tide from a global breakdown to a global breakthrough. László sees the years 2012-2020 as a critical period to change course as the coming crisis is taking shape in geopolitical current.

Global shift University 

His latest project created a university based on integral teaching. Among the schools Laszlo established at Giordano Bruno University are 
  • Philosophy and Religion (BA in Psychology, with an MA in Religious Studies) 
  • Government and Communication (BA in International Relations, with an MS in Human Rights) 
  • Economics, Administration, and Sustainability (BS in Business administration, with an MS in International Business) 
  • Arts and Culture (BA/MS in Art History, BA in Education)
The university also offers high-school certification and continuing education. Its goal is to creating change accelerators, which he defines as coalescing agents for social action and cultural awareness.
Among the more than 75 books he has published are Introduction to Systems Philosophy: Toward a New Paradigm of Contemporary Thought (1972), The Creative Cosmos: A Unified Science of Matter, Life and Mind (1996), The Systems View of the World: A Holistic Vision for Our Time (Advances in Systems Theory, Complexity, and the Human Sciences) (1996), Science and the Reenchantment of the Cosmos: The Rise of the Integral Vision of Reality (2006), Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything (2007), Quantum Shift in the Global Brain: How the New Scientific RealityCan Change Us and Our World (2008), and Dawn of the Akashic Age: New Consciousness, Quantum Resonance, and the Future of the World (2013).

The two-part article below comes from Swans. Follow the title links to read the whole articles.

The Mystical Genius of Ervin Laszlo (Part I of II)

by Michael Barker

(Swans - May 20, 2013) You would be forgiven for not knowing who Ervin Laszlo is, as he certainly doesn't make the headlines very often; which is why it is useful that Laszlo has published an "informal autobiography" entitled Simply Genius! And Other Tales from My Life (Hay House, 2011). But despite his generally low media profile, Laszlo is an influential systems theorist and all-round power broker who has helped coordinate circles of ruling-class policy wonks for nearly half a century. New Age salesman and guru to the rich, Deepak Chopra, calls him "a one-man human-potential movement" and notes that: "In a skeptical age when doubters sit by the side of the road saying no to every new idea, Ervin Laszlo said yes." (1) But what exactly does he say yes to... yes to magic... yes to capitalism... yes to macrobiotics... yes to socialism? On the first three counts Laszlo answers with a resounding yes; on the last, well I think it is safe to say that yes is not an option. So why should you care about Ervin Laszlo? Well if his opposition to socialism was not enough, another good reason would be that he has set his life goal as undermining materialism, no less; and unfortunately he has the ear of some very well-heeled members of the liberal intelligentsia.

* * * * *

The Mystical Genius of Ervin Laszlo (Part II of II)

by Michael Barker

(Swans - June 3, 2013) So far Ervin Laszlo's and Aurelio Peccei's efforts to manage the world had ignored the participation of the mass of humanity, and so, as Laszlo tells it, at this stage they realized that changes would not come about unless the elite "were pushed by a critical mass." Therefore, in order to prompt the masses to demand their changes, Laszlo suggested that the Club of Rome needed to include artists among their fold. This apparently was not feasible, so instead Aurelio proposed that Laszlo should gather together a group of artists, writers, singers, and spiritual leaders to advise the Club. According to Laszlo such a group would be more intuitive and holistically orientated, but things never quite got off the ground And so it was only in 1993 that Laszlo eventually brought together this global cultural group as the Club of Budapest, whose aim was "to achieve timely and fundamental change in the world through timely and fundamental change in people's consciousness." (1) Just as one might expect, the Club of Budapest's "Manifesto for Planetary Consciousness" was written (in 1995) by just one person, Ervin Laszlo -- with absolutely no democratic accountability to the mass of humanity whose lives he was attempting to irrevocably alter. Although to be fair Laszlo did spend three hours in consultation with the Dalai Lama making final revisions to his final six-page manifesto. (2)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hear the Very First Recording of Allen Ginsberg Reading His Epic Poem “Howl” (1956)

Allen Ginsberg's great American poem, "Howl," was for me (like so many others before and after) a pivotal moment in my understanding of poetry, of art, and of America. Before reading "Howl," I had help William Carlos Williams (Ginsberg's mentor) and Robinson Jeffers as the poets I from whom I tried to learn the craft of poetry. Ginsberg changed that.

Here is some biography from The Academy of American Poets:
He was admitted to Columbia University, and as a student there in the 1940s, he began close friendships with William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and Jack Kerouac, all of whom later became leading figures of the Beat movement. The group led Ginsberg to a "New Vision," which he defined in his journal: "Since art is merely and ultimately self-expressive, we conclude that the fullest art, the most individual, uninfluenced, unrepressed, uninhibited expression of art is true expression and the true art."

Around this time, Ginsberg also had what he referred to as his "Blake vision," an auditory hallucination of William Blake reading his poems "Ah Sunflower," "The Sick Rose," and "Little Girl Lost." Ginsberg noted the occurrence several times as a pivotal moment for him in his comprehension of the universe, affecting fundamental beliefs about his life and his work. While Ginsberg claimed that no drugs were involved, he later stated that he used various drugs in an attempt to recapture the feelings inspired by the vision.

In 1954, Ginsberg moved to San Francisco. His mentor, William Carlos Williams, introduced him to key figures in the San Francisco poetry scene, including Kenneth Rexroth. He also met Michael McClure, who handed off the duties of curating a reading for the newly-established "6" Gallery. With the help of Rexroth, the result was "The '6' Gallery Reading" which took place on October 7, 1955. The event has been hailed as the birth of the Beat Generation, in no small part because it was also the first public reading of Ginsberg's "Howl," a poem which garnered world-wide attention for him and the poets he associated with.

In response to Ginsberg's reading, McClure wrote: "Ginsberg read on to the end of the poem, which left us standing in wonder, or cheering and wondering, but knowing at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America..."

Shortly after Howl and Other Poems was published in 1956 by City Lights Bookstore, it was banned for obscenity. The work overcame censorship trials, however, and became one of the most widely read poems of the century, translated into more than twenty-two languages.
Below is the first ever recorded reading of "Howl," a major find for lovers of poetry, especially Beat poetry.

Hear the Very First Recording of Allen Ginsberg Reading His Epic Poem “Howl” (1956)

June 12th, 2013

Occasionally I slip into an ivory tower mentality in which the idea of a banned book seems quaint—associated with silly scandals over the tame sex in James Joyce or D.H. Lawrence, or more recent, misguided dust-ups over Huckleberry Finn. After all, I think, we live in an age when bestseller lists are topped (no pun) by tawdry fan fiction like Fifty Shades of Grey. Nothing’s sacred. But this notion is a massive blind spot on my part; the whole awareness-raising mission of the annual Banned Books Week seeks to dispel such complacency. Books are challenged, suppressed, and banned all the time in public schools and libraries, even if we’ve moved past outright government censorship of the publishing industry.

It’s also easy to forget that Allen Ginsberg’s generation-defining poem “Howl” was once almost a casualty of censorship. The most likely successor to Walt Whitman’s vision, Ginsberg’s oracular utterances did not sit well with U.S. Customs, who in 1957 tried to seize every copy of the British second printing. When that failed, police arrested the poem’s publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and he and Ginsberg’s “Howl” were put on trial for obscenity. Apparently, phrases like “cock and endless balls” did not sit well with the authorities. But the court vindicated them all.

The story of Howl’s publication begins in 1955, when 29-year-old Ginsberg read part of the poem at the Six Gallery, where Ferlinghetti—owner of San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore—sat in attendance. Deciding that Ginsberg’s epic lament “knocked the sides out of things,” Ferlinghetti offered to publish “Howl” and brought out the first edition in 1956. Prior to this reading, “Howl” existed in the form of an earlier poem called “Dream Record, 1955,” which poet Kenneth Rexroth told Ginsberg sounded “too formal… like you’re wearing Columbia University Brooks Brothers ties.” Ginsberg’s rewrite jettisoned the ivy league propriety.

Unfortunately, no audio exists of that first reading, but above (or via these links: StreamiTunes ) you can hear the first recorded reading of “Howl,” from February, 1956 at Portland’s Reed College. The recording sat dormant in Reed’s archives for over fifty years until scholar John Suiter rediscovered it in 2008. In it, Ginsberg reads his great prophetic work, not with the cadences of a street preacher or jazzman—both of which he had in his repertoire—but in an almost robotic monotone with an undertone of manic urgency. Ginsberg’s reading, before an intimate group of students in a dormitory lounge, took place only just before the first printing of the poem in the City Lights edition.

The recordings listed above all appear in our collection of 525 Free Audio Books. Just look for the Poetry section.

Related Content:

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

George Monbiot - A New Future for Nature

Environmental author George Monbiot recently spoke at The RSA about his newest book, Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding (not yet released in the U.S., but Amazon has some copies). Monbiot is also author of Manifesto for a New World Order (2006) and Bring on the Apocalypse: Collected Writing (2008). On the political side, "he is the founder of The Land is Ours, a peaceful campaign for the right of access to the countryside and its resources in the United Kingdom. In January 2010, Monbiot founded the website which offers a reward to people attempting a peaceful citizen’s arrest of former British prime minister Tony Blair for alleged crimes against peace."

A New Future for Nature

6th Jun 2013

Listen to the audio

(full recording including audience Q&A) 

Please right-click link and choose "Save Link As..." to download audio file onto your computer.
Watch this event as a RSA Replay; for the next ten days. 
RSA Replay is now a featured playlist on our Youtube channel. Videos in this playlist are unedited, low resolution versions of our events from start to finish and will be available to view for seven days after the event date.
Journalist and environmentalist George Monbiot visits the RSA to tell the story of his efforts to re-engage with nature and discover a new way of living. Drawing upon remarkable new scientific discoveries, he lays out a new, positive environmentalism, in which nature is allowed to find its own way.

By restoring and “rewilding” our damaged ecosystems on land and at sea, he argues, we can repair the living planet, create ecosystems in the UK as profuse and captivating as any around the world, and bring wonder back into our lives. Join George Monbiot at the RSA as he argues for a mass restoration of the natural world - and makes a powerful call for us to reclaim our own place in it.

Speaker: George Monbiot, journalist, environmentalist and author of Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding (Allen Lane, 2013)

Chair: Tony Juniper, independent sustainability and environment adviser and author of What has nature ever done for us? (Profile, 2013).

MRI Study: Breastfeeding Boosts Babies' Brain Growth

With all we know about attachment theory and interpersonal neurobiology, this result is not at all surprising. For example, we know that breast feeding creates a deeper mother-child bond, and that it promotes quicker development of interpersonal skills (emotional intelligence begins in this stage of development).

However, I worry about how studies like this will impact those mothers who cannot breast feed, either because it's too painful, or an absence of sufficient milk production, or beacuse the baby does not cooperate. These women are bound to experience some guilt or shame, that somehow they are disabling their children. While the research is useful and important, we need to be aware of how it will affect others.

However, my guess is that good attachment-focused parenting can counteract any negatives from not being able (or willing) to breast feed a child, so those women should not feel any guilt or shame.

Below this article are the citation and the abstract - the full article is behind a paywall (because Elsevier is evil).

MRI Study: Breastfeeding Boosts Babies' Brain Growth

June 6, 2013 — A study using brain images from "quiet" MRI machines adds to the growing body of evidence that breastfeeding improves brain development in infants. Breastfeeding alone produced better brain development than a combination of breastfeeding and formula, which produced better development than formula alone.

MRI images, taken while children were asleep, showed that infants who were exclusively breastfed for at least three months had enhanced development in key parts of the brain compared to children who were fed formula or a combination of formula and breastmilk. Images show development of myelization by age, left to right. (Credit: Baby Imaging Lab/Brown University)
A new study by researchers from Brown University finds more evidence that breastfeeding is good for babies' brains.

The study made use of specialized, baby-friendly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the brain growth in a sample of children under the age of 4. The research found that by age 2, babies who had been breastfed exclusively for at least three months had enhanced development in key parts of the brain compared to children who were fed formula exclusively or who were fed a combination of formula and breastmilk. The extra growth was most pronounced in parts of the brain associated with language, emotional function, and cognition, the research showed.

This isn't the first study to suggest that breastfeeding aids babies' brain development. Behavioral studies have previously associated breastfeeding with better cognitive outcomes in older adolescents and adults. But this is the first imaging study that looked for differences associated with breastfeeding in the brains of very young and healthy children, said Sean Deoni, assistant professor of engineering at Brown and the study's lead author.

"We wanted to see how early these changes in brain development actually occur," Deoni said. "We show that they're there almost right off the bat."

The findings are in press in the journal NeuroImage and available now online.

Deoni leads Brown's Advanced Baby Imaging Lab. He and his colleagues use quiet MRI machines that image babies' brains as they sleep. The MRI technique Deoni has developed looks at the microstructure of the brain's white matter, the tissue that contains long nerve fibers and helps different parts of the brain communicate with each other. Specifically, the technique looks for amounts of myelin, the fatty material that insulates nerve fibers and speeds electrical signals as they zip around the brain.

Deoni and his team looked at 133 babies ranging in ages from 10 months to four years. All of the babies had normal gestation times, and all came from families with similar socioeconomic statuses. The researchers split the babies into three groups: those whose mothers reported they exclusively breastfed for at least three months, those fed a combination of breastmilk and formula, and those fed formula alone. The researchers compared the older kids to the younger kids to establish growth trajectories in white matter for each group.

The study showed that the exclusively breastfed group had the fastest growth in myelinated white matter of the three groups, with the increase in white matter volume becoming substantial by age 2. The group fed both breastmilk and formula had more growth than the exclusively formula-fed group, but less than the breastmilk-only group.

"We're finding the difference [in white matter growth] is on the order of 20 to 30 percent, comparing the breastfed and the non-breastfed kids," said Deoni. "I think it's astounding that you could have that much difference so early."

Deoni and his team then backed up their imaging data with a set of basic cognitive tests on the older children. Those tests found increased language performance, visual reception, and motor control performance in the breastfed group.

The study also looked at the effects of the duration of breastfeeding. The researchers compared babies who were breastfed for more than a year with those breastfed less than a year, and found significantly enhanced brain growth in the babies who were breastfed longer -- especially in areas of the brain dealing with motor function.

Deoni says the findings add to a substantial body of research that finds positive associations between breastfeeding and children's brain health.

"I think I would argue that combined with all the other evidence, it seems like breastfeeding is absolutely beneficial," he said.

Other authors on the study were Douglas Dean, Irene Piryatinsky, Jonathan O'Muircheartaigh, Lindsay Walker, Nicole Waskiewicz, Katie Lehman, Michelle Han and Holly Dirks, who all work with Deoni in the Baby Imaging Lab. The work was funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health.

Full Citation:
Sean C.L. Deoni, Douglas C. Dean, Irene Piryatinksy, Jonathan O'Muircheartaigh, Nicole Waskiewicz, Katie Lehman, Michelle Han, Holly Dirks. (2013). Breastfeeding and early white matter development: A cross-sectional study. NeuroImage; DOI:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.05.090

Breastfeeding and early white matter development: A cross-sectional study

Sean C.L. DeoniaDouglas C. Dean IIIIrene Piryatinksya, Jonathan O'Muircheartaigha, Nicole Waskiewicz, Katie LehmanMichelle HanHolly Dirks


  • First investigation of breast-feeding and early infant brain myelination.
  • Breastfed infants shown improved brain development by 2 years of age.
  • Duration of breastfeeding is positively associated with behavioral performance.


Does breastfeeding alter early brain development? The prevailing consensus from large epidemiological studies posits that early exclusive breastfeeding is associated with improved measures of IQ and cognitive functioning in later childhood and adolescence. Prior morphometric brain imaging studies support these findings, revealing increased white matter and sub-cortical gray matter volume, and parietal lobe cortical thickness, associated with IQ, in adolescents who were breastfed as infants compared to those who were exclusively formula-fed. Yet it remains unknown when these structural differences first manifest and when developmental differences that predict later performance improvements can be detected. In this study, we used quiet magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to compare measures of white matter microstructure (mcDESPOT measures of myelin water fraction) in 133 healthy children from 10 months through 4 years of age, who were either exclusively breastfed a minimum of 3 months; exclusively formula-fed; or received a mixture of breast milk and formula. We also examined the relationship between breastfeeding duration and white matter microstructure. Breastfed children exhibited increased white matter development in later maturing frontal and association brain regions. Positive relationships between white matter microstructure and breastfeeding duration are also exhibited in several brain regions, that are anatomically consistent with observed improvements in cognitive and behavioral performance measures. While the mechanisms underlying these structural differences remains unclear, our findings provide new insight into the earliest developmental advantages associated with breastfeeding, and support the hypothesis that breast milk constituents promote healthy neural growth and white matter development.