Saturday, July 13, 2013

Shrink Rap Radio #359 – Addiction In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts with Gabor Mate

Dr. Gabor Mate is one of the important innovators in the realm of psychotherapy and addictions treatment. While not officially aligned with the interpersonal neurobiology group around Dr. Dan Seigel and Dr. Allan Schore (there is a book series from Norton centered on this topic), he is nonetheless squarely within this tradition in his understanding of the impact of early childhood adversity (abuse, neglect, etc.) on those who experience addiction and other forms of dysfunctional adaptive strategies.

Dr. Mate has also innovated the use of traditional psychoactive plants in the treatment of addiction, including ayahuasca (see this post from Beams and Struts) and ibogaine (see Ibogaine: Rite of Passage for a 50 minute documentary on this substance).

He is author of four books, including When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress (2004) and In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction (2009).

I always enjoy listening to him being interviewed - hopefully you will too.

Shrink Rap Radio #359 – Addiction In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts with Gabor Mate

Posted on July 11, 2013
A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

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Gabor Maté M.D. is a physician and bestselling author whose books have been published in nearly twenty languages worldwide. Dr. Maté is highly sought after for his expertise on a range of topics, from addiction and attention deficit disorder (ADD) to mind-body wellness, adolescent mental health, and parenting. A renowned thinker and public speaker, he addresses audiences all over North America, including professional and academic groups like nurses’ organizations, psychiatry departments, and corporate conventions, as well as presentations and seminars for local community groups and the general public. As a writer and speaker, he is widely known for the power, insight, clarity, candor, compassion, humor, and warmth of his presentations.

Common to all of Dr. Maté’s work is a focus on understanding the broader context in which human disease and disorders arise, from cancer to autoimmune conditions like MS, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, or fibromyalgia; childhood behavioral disorders like ADD, oppositionality, or bullying; or addiction, from substance abuse to obsessive gambling, shopping, or even workaholism. 
Rather than offering facile, quick-fix solutions to these complex issues, Dr. Maté weaves together scientific research, case histories, and his own insights and experience to present a broad perspective that enlightens and empowers people to promote their own healing and that of those around them. His approach is holistic and kaleidoscopic – linking everything from neurophysiology, immunology, and developmental psychology to economic and social policy – and even touches on the spiritual dimensions of disease and healing.

His books, all Canadian best-sellers, include:
copyright 2013: David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

Open Source Summit - Managing Open Source Communities & Converting Closed Communities to Open

On June 25 and 26, NYU hosted an Open Source Summit in Washington, D.C. The Open Forum Foundation organized more than 11 government agencies for a two-day symposium on open source communities, how to convert closed communities into open communities (day one), and then a discussion on creating new communities (day two).

Here is the organizer's statement:
This year's Open Source Summit will explain how to build, engage with, and maintain open source communities -- and when we say open source, we don't just mean software, we also mean hardware and data.
If you are a federal civil servant that needs to build or engage with an open source community, you should plan on attending.
Be warned however: this is not your average event! The multi-agency planning team is tasked with ensuring that the event provides substantive benefit to federal agency personnel, and the format is uniquely designed to deliver not just abstract content from subject matter experts (of course we have those), but also the opportunity to see this knowledge applied to a specific case study, and then to learn how to apply it to your specific situation.

In addition, we will collate the results of the discussions during the event and make them available afterwards so that others may learn from the shared experiences and wisdom of their peers.
So far NYU has posted the sessions from the first day - if they add the second day, I will share them.

Open Source Summit
Part One: Open Source Communities - How they work. How to engage with them. How to manage them

NYU Washington, DC
June 25-26, 2013

The 2013 Open Source Summit features professionals explaining how to build, engage with, and maintain open source communities -- not only with software, but with hardware and data as well.

Open Source Summit
Part Two: Converting Closed Communities to Open

If you have a pre-existing development community and you are open sourcing the project, how do you manage this complexity?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Robert Kegan - The Further Reaches of Adult Development: Thoughts on the 'Self-Transforming' Mind (RSA)

From The RSA, this is the video of the talk Robert Kegan gave there a few months ago (back in May), but it is not the whole talk, only the highlights. There is a link below the full podcast with audience questions and answers.

Kegan, one of the pillars of Ken Wilber's AQAL Integral Theory, is a professor of developmental psychology at Harvard and the William and Miriam Meehan Professor in Adult Learning and Professional Development at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

His books include the seminal The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development (1982), which he then expanded on in In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life (1998). His most recent book, with Lisa Laskow Lahey Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (Leadership for the Common Good) (2009) applies his developmental model to solving the resistance to change in both individuals and organizations.

As a tool for making sense of this information, if it is new to you, here is a diagram of his developmental model as presented in In Over Our Heads:

Robert Kegan - The Further Reaches of Adult Development: Thoughts on the 'Self-Transforming' Mind

Robert Kegan's theory of adult meaning-making has influenced theory and practice internationally across multiple disciplines. In a special RSA event, he considers: is it really possible to grow beyond the psychological independence of the "self-authoring mind," so often seen as the zenith of adult development?

Chair: Jonathan Rowson, director, RSA Social Brain Centre.
In partnership with Friends of the Earth:

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

Restoring the Body: Bessel van der Kolk on Treating Trauma with Yoga, EMDR, and Healing Therapies

Bessel van der Kolk is one of the major figures in the conception and treatment of trauma and post-traumatic stress. Among his many books are Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on the Mind, Body and Society (2006), Psychological Trauma (1987), and Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body (2011).

On last week's On Being (NPR), Krista Tippett talks with van der Kolk about some of the newer body-centered approaches to treating trauma and traumatic stress.

Restoring the Body: Bessel van der Kolk on Treating Trauma with Yoga, EMDR, and Healing Therapies

July 11, 2013

Human memory is a sensory experience says psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk. Through his longtime research and innovation in trauma treatment, he shares what he's learning how bodywork like yoga or eye movement therapy can restore a sense of goodness and safety. And what he’s learning speaks to a resilience we can all cultivate in the face of the overwhelming events that after all make up the drama of culture, of news, of life.

Voices on the Radio

Bessel van der Kolk is Medical Director of the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts. He’s also Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University Medical School. His books include Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on the Mind, Body and Society and Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body.

Production Credits

  • Host/Executive Producer: Krista Tippett
  • Senior Editor: Trent Gilliss
  • Senior Producer: David McGuire
  • Technical Director: Chris Heagle
  • Coordinating Producer: Stefni Bell

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

Beyond PTSD to "Moral Injury"

For service members returning home from combat, PTSD diagnoses are commonplace and extensive. But one VA psychologist argues that the complications of PTSD compound to create a moral injury — one that requires a community, not a clinic, in order to heal.

Refugee Yoga in Beirut

Can a yoga class really make a difference in the midst of a war zone? Emily O'Dell on finding our way home.

Nature in Our Backyards: Healing Places, Sacred Spaces

Folks continue to gift us with picturesque images of their physical sanctuaries and healing spaces. The common themes? Home and nature.

Eric Yordy - An Analysis of Same-Sex Marriage Through the Lens of the Establishment Clause

I have argued for most of the last decade or more that all laws banning same-sex marriage, or reducing same-sex marriage to the level of civil unions, is a violation of the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution (the separation of church and state). These laws are founded in and argued from a distinctly Christian framework, which is in essence establishing a state religion (any encoding of religious beliefs in law by the government can be seen as a violation of the Establishment Clause).

I have never seen a legal expert make this argument, so I thought I would share this article from Eric Yordy, Associate Dean and Assistant Professor, The W.A. Franke College of Business, Northern Arizona University (Yordy has a J.D. from Cornell Law School).

The W. A. Franke College of Business 

February 5, 2013

22 Tul. J.L. & Sexuality 55, 2013

This article addresses the conflict between marriage as a religious concept and marriage as a legal concept. It analyzes the "establishment" of religion when government defines marriage.
Full Citation:
Yordy, Eric D., Caught in the Clause: An Analysis of Same-Sex Marriage Through the Lens of the Establishment Clause (February 5, 2013). 22 Tul. J.L. & Sexuality 55, 2013. Available at SSRN:


... At the federal level, the Defense of Marriage Act was passed into law in 1996, giving states the ability to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman for all federal purposes. ... Because the religion clauses do focus on the term "religion" rather than "moral belief" or simply "belief," Professor Choper uses the after-life consequences as the sole factor to separate religious beliefs from other beliefs. ... Goodsell, early Christian churches sanctioned and accepted existing nonchurch marriages. ... And like the MCC churches, the UUA seems to be a legitimate religion under the Brimmer test. ... Justice Thomas concurred in the opinion but argued that the Establishment Clause should not even be a consideration for two reasons: (1) the Establishment Clause was never meant to apply to the states but only to the federal government, and (2) even if the clause applies to the states, there is nothing about this display that coerces a person to view the display. ... Applying this idea to the marriage definition question, the precise argument of many religious leaders is that a civil definition of marriage that includes same-sex couples will lead to coercion to perform those marriages or lose government benefits (such as tax exempt status). ... Applying a two-prong Lemon test, where excessive entanglement and effect are analyzed together, we see that civil marriage definitions still fail the test - in large part due to the tremendous effect of advancing traditional religion over legitimate, nontraditional, religion or nonreligion. ... Conclusion: Given that marriage is primarily a religious concept, or at least is a primary and defining concept in many religions, it is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution for the government to be involved in defining religion.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

David DeSteno - The Morality of Meditation

This weekend's New York Times Magazine had a brief but interesting article on the "morality of meditation," a look at how the technology of meditation - originally intended to help free the mind from attachments and suffering - is being commoditized for mass consumption, completely void of its original purpose and intent.

However, what these researchers found was that meditation practice, even when not intended to promote freedom from suffering or increased compassion, still resulted in increased compassion among those practicing meditation compared to those who were not meditating.

So the use of meditation for performance enhancement (how truly American!) still has very positive behavioral effects on those who adopt the practice.

The Morality of Meditation

Olimpia Zagnoli

Published: July 5, 2013

MEDITATION is fast becoming a fashionable tool for improving your mind. With mounting scientific evidence that the practice can enhance creativity, memory and scores on standardized intelligence tests, interest in its practical benefits is growing. A number of “mindfulness” training programs, like that developed by the engineer Chade-Meng Tan at Google, and conferences like Wisdom 2.0 for business and tech leaders, promise attendees insight into how meditation can be used to augment individual performance, leadership and productivity.

This is all well and good, but if you stop to think about it, there’s a bit of a disconnect between the (perfectly commendable) pursuit of these benefits and the purpose for which meditation was originally intended. Gaining competitive advantage on exams and increasing creativity in business weren’t of the utmost concern to Buddha and other early meditation teachers. As Buddha himself said, “I teach one thing and one only: that is, suffering and the end of suffering.” For Buddha, as for many modern spiritual leaders, the goal of meditation was as simple as that. The heightened control of the mind that meditation offers was supposed to help its practitioners see the world in a new and more compassionate way, allowing them to break free from the categorizations (us/them, self/other) that commonly divide people from one another.

But does meditation work as promised? Is its originally intended effect — the reduction of suffering — empirically demonstrable?

To put the question to the test, my lab, led in this work by the psychologist Paul Condon, joined with the neuroscientist Gaëlle Desbordes and the Buddhist lama Willa Miller to conduct an experiment whose publication is forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science. We recruited 39 people from the Boston area who were willing to take part in an eight-week course on meditation (and who had never taken any such course before). We then randomly assigned 20 of them to take part in weekly meditation classes, which also required them to practice at home using guided recordings. The remaining 19 were told that they had been placed on a waiting list for a future course.

After the eight-week period of instruction, we invited the participants to the lab for an experiment that purported to examine their memory, attention and related cognitive abilities. But as you might anticipate, what actually interested us was whether those who had been meditating would exhibit greater compassion in the face of suffering. To find out, we staged a situation designed to test the participants’ behavior before they were aware that the experiment had begun.

WHEN a participant entered the waiting area for our lab, he (or she) found three chairs, two of which were already occupied. Naturally, he sat in the remaining chair. As he waited, a fourth person, using crutches and wearing a boot for a broken foot, entered the room and audibly sighed in pain as she leaned uncomfortably against a wall. The other two people in the room — who, like the woman on crutches, secretly worked for us — ignored the woman, thus confronting the participant with a moral quandary. Would he act compassionately, giving up his chair for her, or selfishly ignore her plight?

The results were striking. Although only 16 percent of the non-meditators gave up their seats — an admittedly disheartening fact — the proportion rose to 50 percent among those who had meditated. This increase is impressive not solely because it occurred after only eight weeks of meditation, but also because it did so within the context of a situation known to inhibit considerate behavior: witnessing others ignoring a person in distress — what psychologists call the bystander effect — reduces the odds that any single individual will help. Nonetheless, the meditation increased the compassionate response threefold.

Although we don’t yet know why meditation has this effect, one of two explanations seems likely. The first rests on meditation’s documented ability to enhance attention, which might in turn increase the odds of noticing someone in pain (as opposed to being lost in one’s own thoughts). My favored explanation, though, derives from a different aspect of meditation: its ability to foster a view that all beings are interconnected. The psychologist Piercarlo Valdesolo and I have found that any marker of affiliation between two people, even something as subtle as tapping their hands together in synchrony, causes them to feel more compassion for each other when distressed. The increased compassion of meditators, then, might stem directly from meditation’s ability to dissolve the artificial social distinctions — ethnicity, religion, ideology and the like — that divide us.

Supporting this view, recent findings by the neuroscientists Helen Weng, Richard Davidson and colleagues confirm that even relatively brief training in meditative techniques can alter neural functioning in brain areas associated with empathic understanding of others’ distress — areas whose responsiveness is also modulated by a person’s degree of felt associations with others.

So take heart. The next time you meditate, know that you’re not just benefiting yourself, you’re also benefiting your neighbors, community members and as-yet-unknown strangers by increasing the odds that you’ll feel their pain when the time comes, and act to lessen it as well.

David DeSteno is a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, where he directs the Social Emotions Group. He is the author of the forthcoming book “The Truth About Trust: How It Determines Success in Life, Love, Learning, and More.”

Brain Epigenomics Mapped

This new study from The University of Western Australia maps the epigenome of the human brain.  While the ‘genome' acts as the instruction manual that contains the blueprints (genes) for all of the components of our cells and our body, the ‘epigenome' acts as an additional layer of information on top of our genes that change the way they are used.

This is huge breakthrough in brain imaging.

Brain Epigenomics Mapped

MONDAY, 08 JULY 2013

The new research will allow scientists to investigate the role the epigenome plays in learning, memory formation, brain structure and mental illness.                            Image: Jezper/Shutterstock

Comprehensive mapping of the human brain epigenome by UWA and US scientists uncovers large-scale changes that take place during the formation of brain circuitry.

Ground-breaking research by scientists from The University of Western Australia and the US, published in Science, has provided an unprecedented view of the epigenome during brain development.

High-resolution mapping of the epigenome has discovered unique patterns that emerge during the generation of brain circuitry in childhood.

While the ‘genome' can be thought of as the instruction manual that contains the blueprints (genes) for all of the components of our cells and our body, the ‘epigenome' can be thought of as an additional layer of information on top of our genes that change the way they are used.

"These new insights will provide the foundation for investigating the role the epigenome plays in learning, memory formation, brain structure and mental illness," says UWA Professor Ryan Lister, a genome biologist in the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, and a corresponding author in this new study.

Joseph R. Ecker, senior author of this study, and professor and director of the Genomic Analysis Laboratory at California's Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, said the research shows that the period during which the neural circuits of the brain mature is accompanied by a parallel process of large-scale reconfiguration of the neural epigenome.

A healthy brain is the product of a long period of developmental processes, Professor Ecker said. These periods of development forge complex structures and connections within our brains. The front part of our brain, called the frontal cortex, is critical for our abilities to think, decide and act.

The frontal cortex is made up of distinct types of cells, such as neurons and glia, which each perform very different functions. However, we know that these distinct types of cells in the brain all contain the same genome sequence; the A, C, G and T ‘letters' of the DNA code that provides the instructions to build the cell; so how can they each have such different identities?

The answer lies in a secondary layer of information that is written on top of the DNA of the genome, referred to as the ‘epigenome'. One component of the epigenome, called DNA methylation, consists of small chemical tags that are placed upon some of the C letters in the genome. These tags alert the cell to treat the tagged DNA differently and change the way it is read, for example causing a nearby gene to be turned off. DNA methylation plays an essential role in our development and in our bodies's ability to make and distinguish different cell types.

To better understand the role of the epigenome in brain development, the scientists used advanced DNA sequencing technologies to produce comprehensive maps of precisely which C's in the genome have these chemical tags, in brains from infants through to adults. The study delivers the first comprehensive maps of DNA methylation and its dynamics in the brain throughout the lifespan of both humans and mice.

"Surprisingly, we discovered that a unique type of DNA methylation emerges precisely when the neurons in a child's developing brain are forming new connections with each other; essentially when critical brain circuitry is being formed." says co-first author Eran Mukamel from Salk's Computational Neurobiology Laboratory.

Conventionally, DNA methylation in humans had been thought to occur almost exclusively at C's that are followed by a G in the genome sequence, so-called ‘CG methylation'. However, in a surprise discovery in 2009, the researchers found that a distinct form of DNA methylation, called ‘non-CG methylation' constitutes a large fraction of DNA methylation in the human embryonic stem cell genome.

The researchers had previously observed both forms of DNA methylation in plant genomes when conducting earlier research that pioneered many of the techniques required for this brain study.

"Because of our earlier plant epigenome research we approached our human investigations from a distinct angle," Professor Lister said. "We were actively looking for these non-CG methylation sites that were not widely thought to exist. Our new study adds to this picture by showing that abundant non-CG methylation also exists in the human brain."

Surprisingly, this unique form of DNA methylation is almost exclusively found in neurons, and in patterns that are very similar between individuals. "Our research shows that a highly-ordered system of DNA tagging operates in our brain cells and that this system is unique to the brain," says co-author Dr Julian Tonti-Filippini, a computational biologist of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the WA Centre of Excellence for Computational Systems Biology.

This finding is very important, as previous studies have suggested that DNA methylation may play an important role in learning, memory formation, and flexibility of human brain circuitry. "These results extended our knowledge of the unique role of DNA methylation in brain development and function," Professor Ecker said. "They offer a new framework for testing the role of the epigenome in healthy function and in pathological disruptions of neural circuits."

"We found that patterns of methylation are dynamic during brain development, in particular for non-CG methylation during early childhood and adolescence, which changes the way that we think about normal brain function and dysfunction." says study co-author Terrence J. Sejnowski, head of Salk's Computational Neurobiology Laboratory. Recent studies have suggested that DNA methylation may be involved in mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. 
Environmental or experience-dependent alteration of these unique patterns of DNA methylation in neurons could lead to changes gene expression, adds co-corresponding author M. Margarita Behrens, a scientist in Salk's Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, "the alterations of these methylation patterns will change the way in which networks are formed, which could, in turn, lead to the appearance of mental disorders later in life."

This study is the culmination of more than two years' hard work from an international, interdisciplinary team involving science superstars from The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, UWA and several other institutes internationally.

Professor Lister and Dr Tonti-Filippini are now focussing their new research at UWA on how to control these epigenetic patterns within plant and animal genomes, which they hope will translate into breakthrough applications benefitting both human health and agriculture.

The work was supported by the Australian Research Council, the Western Australian State Government, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the Centre for Theoretical Biological Physics at the University of California, San Diego.

Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.

Tobias Grossmann - The Role of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex in Early Social Cognition

The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is primarily involved in processing, representing, and integrating social and affective information. We know now that it is one of the last brain areas to be fully developed (with some now suggesting that it can continue to develop throughout the lifespan), reaching maturity for many people in their late 30s.

A 2001 study by Gusnard, Akbudak, Shulman, and Raichle, looked at the role of mPFC in self-referential mental activity.
[The] dorsal and ventral MPFC are differentially influenced by attention demanding tasks and explicitly self-referential tasks. The presence of self-referential mental activity appears to be associated with increases from the baseline in dorsal MPFC. Reductions in ventral MPFC occurred consistent with the fact that attention-demanding tasks attenuate emotional processing. We posit that both self-referential mental activity and emotional processing represent elements of the default state as represented by activity in MPFC. We suggest that a useful way to explore the neurobiology of the self is to explore the nature of default state activity.
One of the primary roles of the mPFC is "executive function," as outlined in this section from the Wikipedia entry on the frontal cortex.

Executive functions

The original studies of Fuster and of Goldman-Rakic emphasized the fundamental ability of the prefrontal cortex to represent information not currently in the environment, and the central role of this function in creating the "mental sketch pad". Goldman-Rakic spoke of how this representational knowledge was used to intelligently guide thought, action, and emotion, including the inhibition of inappropriate thoughts, distractions, actions, and feelings.[25] In this way, working memory can be seen as fundamental to attention and behavioral inhibition. Fuster speaks of how this prefrontal ability allows the wedding of past to future, allowing both cross-temporal and cross-modal associations in the creation of goal-directed, perception-action cycles.[26] This ability to represent underlies all other higher executive functions.

Shimamura proposed Dynamic Filtering Theory to describe the role of the prefrontal cortex in executive functions. The prefrontal cortex is presumed to act as a high-level gating or filtering mechanism that enhances goal-directed activations and inhibits irrelevant activations. This filtering mechanism enables executive control at various levels of processing, including selecting, maintaining, updating, and rerouting activations. It has also been used to explain emotional regulation.[27]

Miller and Cohen proposed an Integrative Theory of Prefrontal Cortex Function, that arises from the original work of Goldman-Rakic and Fuster. The two theorize that “cognitive control stems from the active maintenance of patterns of activity in the prefrontal cortex that represents goals and means to achieve them. They provide bias signals to other brain structures whose net effect is to guide the flow of activity along neural pathways that establish the proper mappings between inputs, internal states, and outputs needed to perform a given task”.[28] In essence, the two theorize that the prefrontal cortex guides the inputs and connections, which allows for cognitive control of our actions.

The prefrontal cortex is of significant importance when top-down processing is needed. Top-down processing by definition is when behavior is guided by internal states or intentions. According to the two, “The PFC is critical in situations when the mappings between sensory inputs, thoughts, and actions either are weakly established relative to other existing ones or are rapidly changing”.[28] An example of this can be portrayed in the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST). Subjects engaging in this task are instructed to sort cards according to the shape, color, or number of symbols appearing on them. The thought is that any given card can be associated with a number of actions and no single stimulus-response mapping will work. Human subjects with PFC damage are able to sort the card in the initial simple tasks, but unable to do so as the rules of classification change.

Miller and Cohen conclude that the implications of their theory can explain how much of a role the PFC has in guiding control of cognitive actions. In the researchers' own words, they claim that, “depending on their target of influence, representations in the PFC can function variously as attentional templates, rules, or goals by providing top-down bias signals to other parts of the brain that guide the flow of activity along the pathways needed to perform a task”.[28]

Experimental data indicate a role for the prefrontal cortex in mediating normal sleep physiology, dreaming and sleep-deprivation phenomena.[29]

When analyzing and thinking about attributes of other individuals, the medial prefrontal cortex is activated. However, it is not activated when contemplating about the characteristics of inanimate objects.[30] As of recent, researchers have used neuroimaging techniques to find that along with the basal ganglia, the prefrontal cortex is involved with learning exemplars, which is part of theexemplar theory, one of the three main ways our mind categorizes things. The exemplar theory states that we categorize judgements by comparing it to a similar past experience within our stored memories. [31]
With all of this background, we still know very little about the mPFC in infants, how it develops and what roles it plays in affect and early social cognition. This new study looks at what is known about the mPFC in infants.

The role of medial prefrontal cortex in early social cognition

Tobias Grossmann
Early Social Development Group, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany

One major function of our brain is to enable us to behave with respect to socially relevant information. Much research on how the adult human brain processes the social world has shown that there is a network of specific brain areas, also called the social brain, preferentially involved during social cognition. Among the specific brain areas involved in the adult social brain, functional activity in prefrontal cortex (PFC), particularly the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), is of special importance for human social cognition and behavior. However, from a developmental perspective, it has long been thought that PFC is functionally silent during infancy (first year of life), and until recently, little was known about the role of PFC in the early development of social cognition. I shall present an emerging body of recent neuroimaging studies with infants that provide evidence that mPFC exhibits functional activation much earlier than previously thought, suggesting that the mPFC is involved in social information processing from early in life. This review will highlight work examining infant mPFC function across a range of social contexts. The reviewed findings will illustrate that the human brain is fundamentally adapted to develop within a social context.

Full Citation: 
Grossmann T. (2013, May 6). The role of medial prefrontal cortex in early social cognition. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience; 7:340. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00340


Humans possess a number of higher cognitive skills vital for language, reasoning, planning, and complex social behavior. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) can be seen as the neural substrate that underpins much of this higher cognition (Wood and Grafman, 2003). PFC refers to the regions of the cerebral cortex that are anterior to premotor cortex and the supplementary motor area (Zelazo and Müller, 2002). Based on its neuroanatomical connections, the PFC can be broadly divided into two sections: (a) the medial PFC (mPFC) and (b) the lateral PFC (lPFC) (Wood and Grafman, 2003; Fuster, 2008). The mPFC includes the medial portions of Brodmann areas (BA) 9–12, and BA 25, and has reciprocal connections with brain regions that are implicated in emotional processing (amygdala), memory (hippocampus) and higher-order sensory regions (within temporal cortex) (for more detailed information see, Wood and Grafman, 2003Fuster, 2008). The lPFC includes the lateral portions of Brodmann areas (BA) 9–12, BA 44, 45 and BA 46, and has reciprocal connections with brain regions that are implicated in motor control (basal ganglia, premotor cortex, supplementary motor area), performance monitoring (cingulate cortex) and higher-order sensory processing (within temporal and parietal cortex) (for more detailed information see, Wood and Grafman, 2003; Fuster, 2008).

Critically, the distinction between lPFC and mPFC in neuroanatomical terms maps onto general differences in brain function. Namely, while mPFC is thought to be mainly involved in processing, representing and integrating social and affective information, lPFC is thought to support cognitive control process (Wood and Grafman, 2003; Fuster, 2008). This general functional distinction between mPFC and lPFC can already be seen early in development during infancy (Grossmann, 2013), thus representing a developmentally continuous organization principle of PFC function. As far as brain function is concerned, mPFC has been shown to play a fundamental role in a wide range of social cognitive abilities such as self-reflection, person perception, and theory of mind/mentalizing (Amodio and Frith, 2006). This involvement of mPFC in social cognition and interaction has lead to the notion that mPFC serves as a key region in understanding self and others (Frith and Frith, 2006). Although this is not the focus of this review, it should be noted that apart from its implication in social cognitive functions in adults, mPFC has been shown to be more generally involved in a number of processes related to decision making in adults (e.g., Heekeren et al., 2008). In particular, most recently, a unifying model has been proposed that views mPFC as a region concerned with learning and predicting the likely outcomes of actions (Alexander and Brown, 2011).

Only very little is known concerning the role of the mPFC in the development of social cognition. This is particularly true for the earliest steps of postnatal development, namely during infancy (the first year of life). Addressing the question of whether mPFC plays a role in infant social cognition and if it does, to theorize about what role this might be is the goal of this review. Such a look at early social cognition during infancy through the lenses of social neuroscience is critical because it allows us (a) to understand the nature and developmental origins of mPFC function, and (b) to close a gap between the extensive behavioral work showing rather sophisticated infant social cognitive skills (Spelke and Kinzler, 2007Woodward, 2009; Baillargeon et al., 2010) and the social neuroscience work with adults studying mature mPFC functioning (Amodio and Frith, 2006Lieberman, 2006).

That mPFC plays an important role in the development of social cognition is evident in work examining mPFC lesions. For example, there is work comparing early onset (during infancy) and adult onset lesions to mPFC (Anderson et al., 1999). This work shows that, despite typical basic cognitive abilities, patients with mPFC lesions had severely impaired social behavior. More specifically, regardless of when the mPFC lesion had occurred, there are symptoms shared across patients with mPFC damage, including an insensitivity to future consequences of actions, defective autonomic responses to punishment contingencies, and failure to respond to interventions that would change behavior (Anderson et al., 1999). Critically, this study revealed that over and above the shared symptomatology, acquired damage to mPFC during infancy had a much more severe impact on social functioning signified by striking defects concerning social and moral reasoning, leading to a syndrome that closely resembled psychopathy. In this study, it was found that early onset damage to mPFC was related to antisocial behaviors such as stealing, violence against persons and property, severe impairment of social-moral reasoning and verbal generation of responses to social situations. Specifically, in adults with early onset lesions to mPFC, moral reasoning was conducted at a much lower level than expected by their age, such that moral dilemmas were mainly approached from an egocentric perspective characterized by avoiding punishment. Furthermore, early onset damage of mPFC was related to a limited consideration of the emotional implications of one owns behavior for others and much fewer responses generated to resolve interpersonal conflict. This suggests that mPFC plays a critical role in the acquisition of social and moral behaviors already early during ontogeny. It further suggests that in contrast to many other brain regions where damage and especially damage early in ontogeny can be compensated (Thomas and Johnson, 2008), mPFC appears to be less plastic or more vulnerable. This in turn indicates that there might be a sensitive period in development during which mPFC is required to develop and learn socially and morally appropriate behaviors. Even though the study of patients with lesions to the mPFC is of great importance in illuminating mPFC function, patients with circumscribed mPFC lesions acquired during infancy, as reported by Anderson and colleagues (1999), are extremely rare and can hence only provide limited insights into these early stages of developing mPFC function. It is therefore all the more important to employ functional neuroimaging to shed light on the development of mPFC function during infancy if we wish to better understand its role in early social cognition.

Recent advances in applying functional imaging technology to infants, specifically, the advent of using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) has made it possible to study the infant brain at work. fNIRS is an optical imaging method that measures hemodynamic responses from cortical regions, permitting for the localization of brain activation (Lloyd-Fox et al., 2010). Other neuroimaging techniques that are well established in adults are limited in their use with infants because of methodological concerns. For example, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) requires the participant to remain very still and exposes them to a noisy environment. Although fMRI has been used with infants, this work is restricted to the study of sleeping, sedated or very young infants. The method of fNIRS is better suited for infant research because it can accommodate a good degree of movement from the infants, enabling them to sit upright on their parent's lap and behave relatively freely while watching or listening to certain stimuli. In addition, unlike fMRI, fNIRS systems are portable. Finally, despite its inferior spatial resolution also in terms of obtaining responses from deeper (subcortical) brain structures, fNIRS, like fMRI, measures localized patterns of hemodynamic responses in cortical regions, thus allowing for a comparison of infant fNIRS data with adult fMRI data. In the last decade, there has been a surge of fNIRS studies with infants, including a number of studies that have looked at PFC activation during a wide range of experimental tasks (for review, see Grossmann, 2013). In the following sections, I shall review the available experimental evidence that implicate mPFC in infant social cognition. This review is aimed at providing an overview of the range of social contexts during which infants employ the mPFC. The review of the empirical work is organized according to the two main sensory modalities (audition and vision) in which social stimuli were presented to infants. Following the presentation of the experimental evidence, I will discuss a number of issues that arise from these studies. Finally, based on these findings, I will outline an account of what role mPFC plays in the early development of social cognition during infancy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

An Overview of Critical Neuroscience

Via Somatosphere, these two videos offer a useful introduction to "Critical Neuroscience," an emergent field that seeks to examine (with a critical eye) the ways in which the new brain technologies influence our lives, from the personal, social, ethical, clinical, commercial, and policy debates to the methods and tools used to acquire new findings.

Critical Neuroscience probes the extent to which discussion of neuroscience—in ethical debates, policy texts, commercial, and clinical projects—matches the achievements and potential of neuroscience itself. It examines the ways in which the new sciences and technologies of the brain lead to classifying people in new ways, and the effects this can have on social and personal life. It studies both the methods used to gain new knowledge, and the ways in which the knowledge is interpreted and used. The project aims at finding or creating a shared vocabulary for neuroscientists and social scientists in which they can talk about the potential of the tools, the analytical methods, the interpretations of the data. We also need a shared way in which to think about the barrage of media reports of all this work. Critical Neuroscience aims, more over, at drawing attention to any social or political imperatives that make certain research programs in neuroscience more attractive and better funded than others. We hope to introduce our observations into brain research itself, and to integrate them into new experimental and interpretive directions.
The incredibly overpriced handbook to this field is Critical Neuroscience: A Handbook of the Social and Cultural Contexts of Neuroscience (2011), but two of the articles/chapters are available at Suparna Choudhury's page.

This is an interesting new field and these videos offer a nice introduction.

Videos from “Critical Neuroscience” Course

By Eugene Raikhel

I’ve written in the past (here and here) about the Critical Neuroscience project – an effort led by a group of social and biological scientists and philosophers to develop “a reflexive scientific practice that responds to the social, cultural and political challenges posed by the advances in the behavioural and brain sciences,” (Choudhury, Nagel and Slaby 2009). Suparna Choudhury, Jan Slaby and others have been very active in developing this project through a series of workshops, conferences, publications and ultimately, research projects. A short course on Critical Neuroscience has now been included in McGill’s Summer Program in Social and Cultural Psychiatry and you can view videos of two lectures from the course online. I’ve embedded them below.

If you’re interested in learning more about Critical Neuroscience, a good place to start is the Introduction and “Proposal for a Critical Neuroscience” from Choudhury and Slaby’s edited volume Critical Neuroscience. I was very excited to also have a chapter included in that volume; the only problem has been that the book has only been released in hardcover at a prohibitive price. Luckily Suparna has been kind enough to post both of these chapters on her site.

1: Critical Neuroscience and the Cultural Brain: An Outlook

How do we make sense of what is going on in the field of neuroscience? How can we make sense of the many discourses about neuroscience? Lecture given by Suparna Choudhury of McGill University, Montreal and Jan Slaby of Freie Universitat, Berlin.

2: Critical Neuroscience: An Overview

Critical Neuroscience and the Cultural Brain: an outlook. How do we make sense of what is going on in the field of neuroscience? How can we make sense of the many discourses about neuroscience? Lecture given by Suparna Choudhury of McGill University, Montreal and Jan Slaby of Freie Universitat, Berlin. 
In part two, Laurence Kirmayer gives an overview on the field of Critical Neuroscience, covering varieties of critical neuroscience, cultural constructions of the brain, the social brain, cultural neuroscience and neurodiversity.

The Brain - A User's Guide to Emotions and Emotional Styles

This is a cool graphic that Pamela Brooke (from who emailed the link to me because she thought those of you who read this blog might find it interesting - and it is pretty cool.

Below the graphic, I have included the text from the section on emotional styles and how to change (retrain) your brain.

The Brain: A User's Guide to Emotions

The Brain: A User's Guide to Emotions

Emotional Styles - How to Retrain Your Brain

Six emotional dimensions that shape our lives and determine how we respond to our environment and the people around us, based on activity in the brain.


- Definition: The ability to recover from adversity.
- Originates: Signals between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala.
- How to retrain: Engage regularly in mindfulness meditation, focusing on your breathing and the sensations in your body.


- Definition: The ability to sustain a positive emotional viewpoint.
- Originates: Ventral straitum
- How to retrain: Fill your workstation and home with positive reminders of happy times, such as vacations or photos of friends and family; change those photos every few weeks. Express gratitude frequently by thanking people and keeping a gratitude journal.


- Definition: The ability to determine the physical signals that reflect emotions
- Originates: Signals between visceral organs and the insula
- How to retrain: For the overly self-aware and critical, practice non-judgmentally observing thoughts and feelings; for those who want to develop more self-awareness, tune in frequently to your body and determine how you feel and where those feelings originate.

Social interactions

- Definition: The ability to interpret social cues
- Originates: Interplay between the amygdala and fusiform
- How to retrain: Watch the body language of strangers and try to guess what emotions they are expressing. Work up to doing the same with family, friends and colleagues, monitoring how their body language matches with their tone of voice.

Sensitivity to context

- Definition: The ability to regulate responses based on the context of a situation
- Originates: Activity levels in the hippocampus
- How to retrain: List behaviors or events that trigger responses and consider why they did so. Think about your behaviors in those situations, meditating and breathing deeply until you feel more relaxed.


- Definition: The sharpness and clarity of focus
- Originates: Regulated by the prefrontal cortex
- How to retrain: Spend 10 minutes a day sitting in a quiet room and focusing on one object, refocusing when your attention wanders. 


David Brooks - The Secular Society (Charles Taylor)

Charles Taylor is one of the giants of contemporary philosophy. Two of his books, A Secular Age (2007) and Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (1992), are contemporary classics.

From Wikipedia, here is a brief summary of some of the ideas in Part IV: Narratives of Secularization:
The last half century has seen a cultural revolution in the North Atlantic civilization. "As well as moral/spiritual and instrumental individualisms, we now have a widespread "expressive" individualism"(p. 473). Taylor calls this a culture of "authenticity," from the Romantic expressivism that erupted in the late 18th century elite, "that each one of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one's own"(p. 475). 
This affects the social imaginary. To the "horizontal" notion of "the economy, the public sphere, and the sovereign people"(p. 481) is added a space of fashion, a culture of mutual display. The modern moral order of mutual benefit has been strengthened, mutual respect requires that "we shouldn't criticize each other's 'values'"(p. 484) in particular on sexual matters. Since "my" religious life or practice is my personal choice, my "link to the sacred" may not be embedded in "nation" or "church." This is a continuation of the Romantic move away from reason towards a "subtler language" (Shelley) to understand individual "spiritual insight/feeling." "Only accept what rings true to your own inner Self"(p. 489). This has "undermined the link between Christian faith and civilizational order"(p. 492).  
The revolution in sexual behavior has broken the culture of "moralism" that dominated most of the last half millennium. Developing individualism was bound to come into conflict with moralism, but in the mid 20th century the dam broke. Thinkers started to think of sexual gratification as good, or at least unstoppable, especially as "in cities, young people could pair off without supervision"(p. 501). Now people are not bound by moralism: "they form, break, then reform relationships"(p. 496); they experiment.
It is a tragedy, however that "the codes which churches want to urge on people" still suffer from "the denigration of sexuality, horror at the Dionysian, fixed gender roles, or a refusal to discuss identity issues"(p. 503). 
Today, the "neo-Durkheimian embedding of religion in a state"(p. 505) and a "close interweaving of religion, life-style and patriotism"(p. 506) has been called into question. People are asking, like Peggy Lee, "Is that all there is?" They are heirs of the expressive revolution, "seeking a kind of unity and wholeness of the self... of the body and its pleasures... The stress is on unity, integrity, holism, individuality."(p. 507). This is often termed "spirituality" as opposed to "organized religion." 
This has caused a breaking down of barriers between religious groups but also a decline in active practice and a loosening of commitment to orthodox dogmas. A move from an Age of Mobilization to an Age of Authenticity, it is a "retreat of Christendom." Fewer people will be "kept within a faith by some strong political or group identity"(p. 514), although a core (vast in the US) will remain in neo-Durkheimian identities, with its potential for manipulation by such as "Milosevic, and the BJP"(p. 515). 
Assuming that "the human aspiration to religion will [not] flag"(p. 515) spiritual practice will extend beyond ordinary church practice to involve meditation, charitable work, study group, pilgrimage, special prayer, etc. It will be "unhooked" from the paleo-Durkheimian sacralized society, the neo-Durkheimian national identity or center of "civilizational order" but still collective. "One develops a religious life"(p. 518). 
While religious life continues many people retain a nominal tie with the church, particularly in Western Europe. This "penumbra" seems to have diminished since 1960. More people stand outside belief, and no longer participate in rites of passage like church baptism and marriage. Yet people respond to, e.g. in France the 1500th anniversary of the baptism of Clovis, or in Sweden the loss of a trans-Baltic ferry. Religion "remains powerful in memory; but also as a kind of reserve fund of spiritual force or consolation"(p. 522). 
This distancing is not experienced in the United States. This may be (1) because immigrants used church membership as a way to establish themselves: "Go to the church of your choice, but go"(p. 524) Or (2) it may be the difficulty that the secular elite has in imposing its "social imaginary" on the rest of society vis-a-vis hierarchical Europe. Also (3) the US never had an ancien régime, so there has never been a reaction against the state church. Next (4) the groups in the US have reacted strongly against the post-1960s culture, unlike Europe. A majority of Americans remain happy in "one Nation under God." There are less skeletons in the family closet, and "it is easier to be unreservedly confident in your own rightness when you are the hegemonic power"(p. 528). Finally (5) the US has provided experimental models of post-Durkheimian religion at least for a century. 
After summarizing his argument, Taylor looks to the future, which might follow the slow reemergence of religion in Russia in people raised in the "wasteland" of militant atheism, but suddenly grabbed by God, or it might follow the "spiritual but not religious" phenomenon in the west. "In any case, we are just at the beginning of a new age of religious searching, whose outcome no one can foresee."
And here is more from the summary of Part V: Conditions of Belief:
We live in an immanent frame. That is the consequence of the story Taylor has told, in disenchantment and the creation of the buffered self and the inner self, the invention of privacy and intimacy, the disciplined self, individualism. Then Reform, the breakup of the cosmic order and higher time in secular, making the best of clock time as a limited resource. The immanent frame can be open, allowing for the possibility of the transcendent, or closed. Taylor argues that both arguments are "spin" and "involve a step beyond available reasons into the realm of anticipatory confidence"(p. 551) or faith. 
There are several Closed World Structures that assume the immanent frame. One is the idea of the rational agent of modern epistemology. Another is the idea that religion is childish, so "An unbeliever has the courage to take up an adult stance and face reality"(p. 562). Taylor argues that the Closed World Structures do not really argue their world views, they "function as unchallenged axioms"(p. 590) and it just becomes very hard to understand why anyone would believe in God. 
Living in the immanent frame "The whole culture experiences cross pressures, between the draw of the narratives of closed immanence on one side, and the sense of their inadequacy on the other"(p. 595). Materialists respond to the aesthetic experience of poetry. Theists agree with the Modern Moral Order and its agenda of universal human rights and welfare. Romantics "react against the disciplined, buffered self"(p. 609) that seems to sacrifice something essential with regard to feelings and bodily existence. 
To resolve the modern cross pressures and dilemmas Taylor proposes a "maximal demand" that we define our moral aspirations in terms that do not "crush, mutilate or deny what is essential to our humanity"(p. 640). It aspires to wholeness and transcendence yet also tries to "fully respect ordinary human flourishing"(p. 641).
Taylor imagines a two-dimensional moral space. The horizontal gives you a "point of resolution, the fair award"(p. 706). The vertical hopes to rise higher, to reestablish trust, "to overcome fear by offering oneself to it; responding with love and forgiveness, thereby tapping a source of goodness, and healing"(p. 708). and forgoing the satisfaction of moral victory over evil in sacred violence, religious or secular.
In his New York Times column on Monday, David Brooks identifies with the idea that secularism, through the breakdown of religious identity, is creating more isolated and insular individuals:
Individuals don’t live embedded in tight social orders; they live in buffered worlds of private choices. Common action, Taylor writes, gives way to mutual display. Many people suffer from a malaise. They remember that many people used to feel connected to an enchanted, transcendent order, but they feel trapped in a flat landscape, with diminished dignity: Is this all there is?
I disagree with this perspective as a final outcome of secularism, seeing it instead as a transitional moment. If people feel they are trapped in a "flat landscape, with diminished dignity," this is in itself an example of being embedded in a social order (tight or otherwise) in which meaning is felt to be absent.

BUT, and this is the BIG BUT I pose in opposition to Taylor's argument (as much as I admire him and his work), people are finding communities of seekers with similar paths outside of the mainstream and dying religious traditions. More to the point, people are finding their own "tribes" or "families" that have nothing to do with blood or heritage and much more to do with commonality and similarity in values and purpose.

I think Brooks get the gist of Taylor's perspective, and agrees with it, but I counter that both are wrong, or at the least, short-sighted.

The Secular Society

Published: July 8, 2013

I might as well tell you upfront that this column is a book report. Since 2007, when it was published, academics have been raving to me about Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age.” Courses, conferences and symposia have been organized around it, but it is almost invisible outside the academic world because the text is nearly 800 pages of dense, jargon-filled prose.

As someone who tries to report on the world of ideas, I’m going to try to summarize Taylor’s description of what it feels like to live in an age like ours, without, I hope, totally butchering it.

Taylor’s investigation begins with this question: “Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say 1500, in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?” That is, how did we move from the all encompassing sacred cosmos, to our current world in which faith is a choice, in which some people believe, others don’t and a lot are in the middle?

This story is usually told as a subtraction story. Science came into the picture, exposed the world for the way it really is and people started shedding the illusions of faith. Religious spirit gave way to scientific fact.

Taylor rejects this story. He sees secularization as, by and large, a mottled accomplishment, for both science and faith.

Advances in human understanding — not only in science but also in art, literature, manners, philosophy and, yes, theology and religious practice — give us a richer understanding of our natures. Shakespeare helped us see character in more intricate ways. An improvement in mores means we take less pleasure from bear-baiting, hanging and other forms of public cruelty. We have a greater understanding of how nature works.

These achievements did make it possible to construct a purely humanistic account of the meaningful life. It became possible for people to conceive of meaningful lives in God-free ways — as painters in the service of art, as scientists in the service of knowledge.

But, Taylor continues, these achievements also led to more morally demanding lives for everybody, believer and nonbeliever. Instead of just fitting docilely into a place in the cosmos, the good person in secular society is called upon to construct a life in the universe. She’s called on to exercise all her strength.

People are called to greater activism, to engage in more reform. Religious faith or nonfaith becomes more a matter of personal choice as part of a quest for personal development.

This shift in consciousness leads to some serious downsides. When faith is a matter of personal choice, even believers experience much more doubt. As James K.A. Smith of Comment Magazine, who was generous enough to share his superb manuscript of a book on Taylor, put it, “We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting. We’re all Thomas now.”

Individuals don’t live embedded in tight social orders; they live in buffered worlds of private choices. Common action, Taylor writes, gives way to mutual display. Many people suffer from a malaise. They remember that many people used to feel connected to an enchanted, transcendent order, but they feel trapped in a flat landscape, with diminished dignity: Is this all there is?

But these downsides are more than made up for by the upsides. Taylor can be extremely critical of our society, but he is grateful and upbeat. We are not moving to a spiritually dead wasteland as, say, the fundamentalists imagine. Most people, he observes, are incapable of being indifferent to the transcendent realm. “The yearning for eternity is not the trivial and childish thing it is painted as,” Taylor writes.

People are now able to pursue fullness in an amazing diversity of different ways. But Taylor observes a general pattern. They tend not to want to live in a world closed off from the transcendent, reliant exclusively on the material world. We are not, Taylor suggests, sliding toward pure materialism.

We are, instead, moving toward what he calls a galloping spiritual pluralism. People in search of fullness are able to harvest the intellectual, cultural and spiritual gains of the past 500 years. Poetry and music can alert people to the realms beyond the ordinary.

Orthodox believers now live with a different tension: how to combine the masterpieces of humanism with the central mysteries of their own faiths. This pluralism can produce fragmentations and shallow options, and Taylor can eviscerate them, but, over all, this secular age beats the conformity and stultification of the age of fundamentalism, and it allows for magnificent spiritual achievement.

I’m vastly oversimplifying a rich, complex book, but what I most appreciate is his vision of a “secular” future that is both open and also contains at least pockets of spiritual rigor, and that is propelled by religious motivation, a strong and enduring piece of our nature.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 9, 2013, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: The Secular Society.