Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Hypocrisy of Bombing Syria for Chemical Weapon Use When the FDA Allows Corporate AG to Poison US Citizens

I have no doubt that the Syrian administration used chemical weapons against the rebels in its ongoing battle to suppress the insurrection against their totalitarian regime. Apparently, nearly 1500 people died from what has been identified as a nerve gas attack.

It is absolutely abhorrent that a government would do this to its own people. I do not, however, think that we create change by use of weapons. Bombing Syria for killing their own citizens is not going to change things, but it will more than likely bring Iran into the conflict, which then brings Russia into the situation. This is a no-win for the US.

More than that, attacking anyone for using chemical weapons is complete hypocrisy. Our own government consistently allows corporations to poison Americans on a regular basis with chemicals known to be toxic, to cause cancers, and to disrupt the endocrine system.

Among the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that contaminate our food supply are the following (Schafer and Kegley, 2002):
This class of chemical agents includes many organochlorine pesticides such as chlordane, dieldrin, DDT (and its main metabolite, DDE), aldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, and toxaphene. POP chemicals targeted for international phase out also include industrial chemicals and byproducts of certain manufacturing processes and waste incineration such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and furans. 
The characteristics that make POPs chemicals unique also make them an urgent global environmental health problem. Because of their physical properties, these chemicals:
• persist in the environment for many years;
• concentrate in fatty tissues and bioaccumulate as they move up the food chain;
• travel long distances in global air and water currents, generally moving from tropical and temperate regions to concentrate in the northern latitudes; and
• have been linked with serious health effects in humans and other living organisms, even at very low exposures.
In just a few decades, POPs have spread throughout the global environment to threaten human health and damage land and water ecosystems.All living organisms on Earth now carry measurable levels of POPs in their tissues. POPs have been found in sea mammals at levels high enough to qualify their bodies as hazardous waste under US law [1], and evidence of POPs contamination in human blood and breast milk has been documented worldwide [2, 3].
The health risks from these chemicals are well-known (cancer, birth defects, endocrine disruption, and so on), yet the government (the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency) allows their presence on the foods we consume. As one example, here are the allowable levels of DDT on the foods we might consume believing that we are eating healthily:

The smallest amount of DDT known to pose a risk to adults is 35 micrograms (10 mcg for children), yet an average American diet, not even including junk foods, can contain as much as 3,154 mcg of DDT, more than 90 times the amount known to present health risks.

Another class of toxic chemicals in the environment is engineered nanomaterials (NM), which "are already being used in sporting goods, tires, stain-resistant clothing, sunscreens, cosmetics, and electronics and will also be increasingly utilized in medicine for purposes of diagnosis, imaging, and drug delivery" (Nel, Xia,Madler, and Li, 2006). Further,
The main characteristic of NM is their size, which falls in the transitional zone between individual atoms or molecules and the corresponding bulk materials. This can modify the physicochemical properties of the material as well as create the opportunity for increased uptake and interaction with biological tissues. This combination of effects can generate adverse biological effects in living cells that would not otherwise be possible with the same material in larger form. 
And . . .
The biological impacts of NM and the biokinetics of nanoparticles are dependent on size, chemical composition, surface structure, solubility, shape, and aggregation. These parameters can modify cellular uptake, protein binding, translocation from portal of entry to the target site, and the possibility of causing tissue injury (4). At the target site, NM may trigger tissue injury by one or more mechanisms (Table 2). Potential routes of NM exposure include gastrointestinal tract (GIT), skin, lung, and systemic administration for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. NM interactions with cells, body fluids, and proteins play a role in their biological effects and ability to distribute throughout the body. NM binding to proteins may generate complexes that are more mobile and can enter tissue sites that are normally inaccessible. Accelerated protein denaturation or degradation on the nanoparticle surface may lead to functional and structural changes, including interference in enzyme function (24). This damage could result from splitting of intramolecular or intramolecular bonds by catalytic chemistry on the material surface (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2. Possible mechanisms by which nanomaterials interact with biological tissue. Examples illustrate the importance of material composition, electronic structure, bonded surface species (e.g., metal-containing), surface coatings (active or passive), and solubility, including the contribution of surface species and coatings and interactions with other environmental factors (e.g., UV activation).
The real issue with these substances is that we know so very little about how they interact in the body and the ways they might disrupt our health (although we do know that most of them cause the formation of reactive oxygen species [ROS] that are associated with oxidative stress in cells). Yet there is no regulation on these substances.

The best known and most researched toxins in our food, water, and air are endocrine disruptors (EDs), such as estrogenic, antiandrogenic, or thyroid-disrupting agents. Combinations of EDs are known to produce synergistic effects even if the quantity if each chemical is low enough that they usually would not, by themselves, produce observable effects (Kortenkamp, 2007). Once again, however, very little is known about how mixtures of chemicals from different classes of EDs might affect our health.

While men seem to be more susceptible to the EDs (especially the xenoestrogens), women's cosmetics are filled with potentially and known to be harmful chemicals.


While there are many here that have potential toxicity, UV filters (sunscreen), found in many facial creams, are known endocrine disruptors, which can cause weight gain, birth defects, infertility, and cancer, among other things (see Schlumpf, et al, 2004; Heneweer, Muusse, van den Berg, and Sanderson, 2005).

A few months ago, a new study by Researchers from the School of Public Health at U.C. Berkeley (Liu, Hammond, and Rojas-Cheatham, 2013), published in Environmental Health Perspectives, gained a lot of media attention. Two previous studies had found high levels of lead and/or cadmium in lipsticks:
[T]wo other studies evaluated lead in eye shadows and lipsticks including a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study that detected lead in all tested lipsticks (Hepp et al. 2009) and a study (Al-Saleh et al. 2009) that identified several cosmetic products containing lead above 20 ppm, the FDA limit of lead as an impurity in color additives for cosmetics (U.S. FDA 2011). Studies conducted in other countries have also detected lead and cadmium in some lipstick samples (Adepoju-Bello et al. 2012; Brandao et al. 2012; Gondal et al. 2010; Solidum and Peji 2011).
In the present study, the researchers tested 32 drugstore and designer lipsticks and glosses for nine metals, including lead, aluminum, cadmium, chromium, and manganese - all of which may have cancer-causing or neurotoxic effects with exposure. The study found manganese, titanium, chromium, nickel, and aluminum in nearly every product, lead in 75 percent of the lipsticks, and cadmium in nearly half.

It's unclear what the health risks are here, although these substances are known to be toxic.

Perhaps the most pernicious substances (also EDs) are the phthalates, which research has linked to type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity, among other things. From US News and World Report (2012):
Found in everything from toys to perfume, phthalates belong to a class of chemicals called "endocrine disruptors," because they interfere with the body's hormone systems. Other chemicals in this category are Bisphenol A (BPA), which is used in plastic and canned foods, and was recently banned in baby bottles by the FDA, and parabens, commonly used to preserve personal care products. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed adding eight types of phthalates and BPA to its list of chemicals that "may present an unreasonable risk of injury to human health or the environment" and has requested further study of these chemicals from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Like BPA, phthalates aren't always listed in a product's ingredients. In fact, phthalates are often grouped under the catch-all ingredient, "fragrance," rather than separately identified on cosmetic labeling.

A study presented at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in Houston this summer showed a correlation between phthalates and childhood obesity. That study along with "hundreds of others in the last few years," according to the group, caused it to issue a forceful statement, calling for further federal regulation of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which research suggests may interfere with healthy human development. Congress banned several phthalates in children's toys in 2008.
Strangely, there is considerable disconnect in the medical community about the FDA and regulation of these chemicals. Michael Roizen, an internist, anesthesiologist, and chair of the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute (and co-author with Dr. Oz of the YOU series of health books), is quoted in the US News article saying, "If it was definitive, the FDA would have done something about it already." Yeah, sure, you betcha.

Taken together, all of these exposures to toxic substances likely is contributing to the increases in diabetes, obesity, cancers, and other potentially deadly illnesses.

With the failure of the FDA and the EPA to impose restrictions on these chemicals, our government is complicit in poisoning the US population, and since some of these chemicals have become ubiquitous environmental toxins, we are also poisoning the rest of the world. 

There is considerable hypocrisy in our government condemning other governments for poisoning their citizens when ours is doing the same, just more subtly, to its own citizens.

$1.99 Kindle Book - OBSESSED: The Compulsions and Creations of Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz

This looks good (just downloaded my copy). Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz has changed the way we treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for the better. Some older treatments, as described in Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior [1997] and The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force [2003], were essentially humiliating and not helpful.

This book from Steven Volk looks at his life and work as the background that shaped his innovations.

In OBSESSED: The Compulsions and Creations of Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, author Steve Volk ventures deep into the mind of Jeffrey Schwartz, a controversial, often combative psychiatrist and expert on obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Schwartz is best known to the public as the man who coached Leonardo DiCaprio for his Oscar-nominated role as the OCD-afflicted billionaire Howard Hughes in The Aviator. But his extraordinary professional contribution, achieved through a lifetime of obsessive work, is a breakthrough therapy that has helped free thousands of OCD sufferers from their habitual behaviors, compulsions and irrational fears.

Considered a pariah among his academic peers, Schwartz’s unconventional treatment methods draw on his fascination with the Holocaust, his experience with Buddhist meditation and his pioneering work documenting the neural circuitry of OCD. By teaching his adult patients to willfully rewire their brains and reverse their disease, Schwartz has challenged the prevailing view in neuroscience that free will is dead.

Veteran journalist Steve Volk, a senior writer at Philadelphia Magazine, skillfully balances the groundbreaking research of a philosopher-scientist with the story of a man battling demons of his own. Schwartz’s most pressing battle may actually be the one he fights against his compulsions and social awkwardness in his quest to find some accurate, workable definition of humanity that can help us overcome our darkest, most primitive selves.

Shrink Rap Radio #366 – The Dream and Its Amplification with Jungian Analyst Nancy Furlotti

For anyone interested in dream interpretation, and especially the Jungian approach, this episode of Shrink Rap Radio is a cool conversation with Jungian analyst Nancy Furlotti.

Shrink Rap Radio #366 – The Dream and Its Amplification with Jungian Analyst Nancy Furlotti

Posted on August 29, 2013
Copyright 2013: David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

Nancy Furlotti

Nancy Swift Furlotti, M. A., Ph. D. candidate, is a Jungian Analyst in private practice in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, California. She is a past President of the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles. Nancy did her analytical training at the Los Angeles Institute while also participating in the Research and Training Centre for Depth Psychology According to C.G. Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz in Switzerland. She is, also, an active faculty member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts, the C. G. Jung Institute of Colorado, and an associate member of JPA. Beyond these, Nancy teaches and lectures in the US and Switzerland, and has a number of publications: The Archetypal drama in Puccini’s Madam Butterfly; Angels and Idols: Los Angeles, a chapter in the book, Psyche and the City: A Soul’s Guide to the Modern Metropolis. Her article, Tracing a Red Thread: Synchronicity and Jung’s Red Book, was published in Psychological Perspectives. Most recently her co-authored book, The Dream and Its Amplification [The Fisher King Review Volume 2], has just been released.

Nancy has a deep interest in exploring the manifestations of the psyche through dreams and myths with a specific focus on the dark emanations from the psyche. A current focus of research is on Mesoamerican mythology, ritual, dreaming, and healing the split between science and nature. Her interest in exploring symbols and deepening her understanding of Jung, have landed her on two foundations: The Philemon Foundation, where she was a founding board member and served as Vice-President, Treasurer, and Co-President of the Board of Directors. She has been a board member of ARAS (Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism) for more than 15 years. She is, also, chair of the Film Archive Committee that oversees the Remembering Jung Video Series, 30 interviews with Jungian analysts, and the films, A Matter of Heart and The World Within. Nancy is in the process of organizing a Jung Endowment at UCLA in collaboration with the department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Semel Institute, which will bring Jungian theory and training back into a major university.

Check out the following Psychology CE Courses based on listening to Shrink Rap Radio interviews:

Friday, August 30, 2013

Arthur C. Clarke Narrates Film on Mandelbrot’s Fractals; David Gilmour Provides the Soundtrack

More awesomeness from Open Culture. Fractals: The Colors of Infinity takes us deep inside the world of fractal geometry, where we encounter what some people have called “the thumbprint of God.” Mostly, it's one of the most aesthetically beautiful discoveries in the history of mathematics.

Arthur C. Clarke Narrates Film on Mandelbrot’s Fractals; David Gilmour Provides the Soundtrack

August 29th, 2013

In 1995, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the futurist and science fiction writer most well known for his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, presented a television documentary on the 1980 discovery of the Mandelbrot Set (M-Set)Fractals: The Colors of Infinity brings us inside the world of fractal geometry, and soon enough we’re encountering what has been called “the thumbprint of God” and some of the most beautiful discoveries in the history of mathematics. Clarke narrates the 54-minute film, which includes interviews with important mathematicians, including Benoît Mandelbrot himself. David Gilmour, the guitarist for Pink Floyd, provides the soundtrack. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect combination. Fractals: The Colors of Infinity first appeared on Open Culture back in 2010, which means that a second viewing is long overdue. A book closely related to the film can be purchased here: The Colours of Infinity: The Beauty, The Power and the Sense of Fractals.

Related Content:

Raghava KK: Coloring Outside the Lines (


This short video from National Geographic Live is pretty cool. The 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer Raghava KK creates interactive art with an agenda - to change the viewer's mind, literally.

Raghava KK: Coloring Outside the Lines

Raghava KK: Coloring Outside the Lines from National Geographic Live on

Your brain waves may change the appearance of art by 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer Raghava KK, but at the same time his art may change you through interactivity that shows the many perspectives within every story.

Bio of Raghava KK

Raghava KK's globally acclaimed art pushes the boundaries of creativity and technology, often blending the two in interactive, participatory experiences that challenge and change perceptions. His work spans genres as disparate as painting, sculpture, film and performance. His work spans genres as disparate as painting, sculpture, film and performance." You walk into an art gallery, approach a painting, touch the canvas, and watch it transform before your eyes. No alarms sound. No guards descend. In fact, you've done exactly what the painting's creator wanted you to do. For Raghava KK, interactive art isn't a stunt, but a powerful way to broaden perspectives and encourage empathy. "I like to question the way information itself is delivered," he explains. "Everyone has a bias. What can be transformational is creative expression that allows many different biased perspectives to coexist simultaneously. When you see the world through other people's eyes, you have a richer understanding of who you are and why people do what they do."

KK's distinctive style first flourished in his work as a newspaper cartoonist. His penchant for using comic pathos to challenge accepted societal norms has since swept through myriad art forms, including painting, sculpture, installation, film, and performance. Today, technology plays a pivotal role in his art, allowing multiple perspectives to be revealed and manipulated by the viewer, essentially becoming a new creation each time it is seen. His iPad picture book for children created a new genre of "shaken stories." Each time parents and kids shake the screen, a new definition of "family" appears. Mom, dad, and child; two dads and kids; two moms and kids; single parents. "I grew up in the bubble of a very traditional Indian family and only saw one point of view," he says. "I created this book because I wanted to expose my own children to many perspectives at a very early age." Now he's helping develop a new technology, embedded in picture frames, that lets his paintings become touch screens.

He creates the art with real paint, but when someone touches the canvas, the image changes via the magic of a digital projection system. "It's reinvented by each person who interacts with it," KK says. Another idea begins with an empty wall. As you stand before it, a randomly chosen character projects onto the blank space and mirrors your movements. "It's fascinating to see how people step outside their own inhibitions and start moving the way they think that character would move." He's using brain-wave technology to push the participatory experience even further. Wearing an EEG headset, the viewer's mood and perspective become part of the art. "I start with an image of a grumpy old woman; I call her Mona Lisa 2.0," he explains. "As you look at her, the EEG headset measures 13 frequencies from your brain waves to indicate if you're stressed, calm, sad, angry, relaxed, concentrating hard, or anything in between." A computer algorithm processes those brain-wave measurements and makes the woman's face respond to your mental activity. As your emotions change, the art changes in real time-grinning, smiling broadly, frowning, scowling, or gazing peacefully.

Technology is also key to an educational tool he's developing to teach children shapes-not just as flat geometric graphics, but as concepts. "We crowd-source photographs of structural objects in the real world that physically demonstrate different shapes-using a car tire to teach circles or the pyramids to teach triangles. It's a much more meaningful way to learn. This idea of many crowd-sourced images all existing simultaneously could be a great way to take on some of the world's bigger issues and show multiple perspectives on different topics." Ultimately, KK sees participatory art as a tool for encouraging self-realization, and he hopes the interactive experiences he creates will make people more open to having their opinions challenged. "I explore sensitive topics such as politics, identity, gender, sexuality, and conformity, but there's often an element of humor to my work. I like to disrupt your thinking, but make you feel like I'm hugging you while I'm disrupting you. That's why I frequently use the disarming aesthetic of cartoons to say something powerful. I want to make people think differently, without losing them along the way. "I think the most important ingredient of happiness is to feel you are useful and adding value to the world," he explains. "When I judge what my life has meant, it's not how much money I've made or how many paintings I've sold. It's whether I've used my art as a tool to give back and make a difference, large or small."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fritz Lang’s M: Watch the Restored Version of the Classic 1931 Film

Very cool - gotta love all the excellent finds brought to us by Open Culture. Having not been a big box office success with its original release, M was re-released in 1959 in a shorter (butchered?) 89-minute version. The restored 109-minute version below is closer to Lang’s original film and was the product of a restoration project mounted in the 1990s.

Fritz Lang’s M: Watch the Restored Version of the Classic 1931 Film

August 25th, 2013

When Jean-Luc Godard asked the Austrian filmmaker Fritz Lang in 1961 to name his greatest film, the one most likely to last, Lang did not hesitate. “M,” he said.

Made in 1931, near the end of the Weimar Republic, M is Lang’s brilliant link between silent film and talkies, and between German Expressionism and what would eventually be called Film Noir. It tells the story of a Berlin society caught up in hysteria over a series of child murders, and of the massive mobilization — by police and criminals alike — to catch the killer.

The Hungarian actor Peter Lorre plays Hans Beckert, the mentally disturbed murderer. Lorre worked on the film in the daytime while performing on the stage in Bertolt Brecht’s own production of Mann ist Mann in the evenings. His striking performance in M would catapult him to international stardom.

The script was written by Lang and his wife, Thea Von Harbou. It was inspired by a series of mass murders, culminating in a sensational case of serial child killings in Düsseldorf. In a 1931 article, Lang wrote:

The epidemic series of mass murders of the last decade with their manifold and dark side effects had constantly absorbed me, as unappealing as their study may have been. It made me think of demonstrating, within the framework of a film story, the typical characteristics of this immense danger for the daily order and the ways of effectively fighting them. I found the prototype in the person of the Düsseldorf serial murderer and I also saw how here the side effects exactly repeated themselves, i.e. how they took on a typical form. I have distilled all typical events from the plethora of materials and combined them with the help of my wife into a self-contained film story. The film M should be a document and an extract of facts and in that way an authentic representation of a mass murder complex.

Although M was not a great box office success when it was released in Germany in 1931, the film gradually grew in stature and is now firmly established as one of the masterpieces of 20th century cinema. The formal brilliance of the film’s narrative structure, its classic visual images — the killer’s shadow appearing on a poster announcing a reward for his capture, a child’s balloon caught in a power line, Lorre’s bulging eyes as he discovers a chalk “M” on his shoulder — and its inventive use of sound — for example in the serial killer’s ominous whistling of Grieg’s Peer Gynt — have made M one of the most studied and imitated films ever made.

In 1959 M was re-released in truncated form, and for several decades afterward audiences were shown a badly altered 89-minute version. A restoration project was mounted in the 1990s. The 109-minute version above is closer to Lang’s original film. It’s now housed in our collection of 550 Free Movies Online.

Related content:

Mohan Pabba - Evolutionary Development of the Amygdaloid Complex

The amygdala is the integrative center for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation located just above the brain stem in what is often referred to as the limbic region (the paleomammalian brain). The amygdala is essentially two small almond shaped structures adjacent to the hippocampus.

Here are some descriptions of the functions of the amygdala:
The central nucleus of the amygdala produces autonomic components of emotion (e.g., changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration) primarily through output pathways to the lateral hypothalamus and brain stem. 
The central nucleus of the amygdala also produces conscious perception of emotion primarily through the ventral amygdalofugal output pathway to the anterior cingulate cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, and prefrontal cortex. 
Stimulation of the amygdala causes intense emotion, such as aggression or fear. 
Irritative lesions of temporal lobe epilepsy have the effect of stimulating the amygdala. In its extreme form irritative lesions of temporal lobe epilepsy can cause a panic attack. Panic attacks are brief spontaneously recurrent episodes of terror that generate a sense of impending disaster without a clearly identifiable cause. PET scans have shown an increase in blood flow to the parahippocampal gyri, beginning with the right parahippocampal gyrus. Similar but attenuated blood flow increases occurs during anxiety attacks. 
Destructive lesions such as ablation of the amygdala cause an effect opposite to the irritative lesions of temporal lobe epilepsy. Destructive lesions of the amygdala cause tameness in animals, and a placid calmness in humans characterized as a flatness of affect. Lesions of the amygdala can occur as a result of Urbach-Wiethe disease where calcium is deposited in the amygdala. If this disease occurs early in life then these patients with bilateral amygdala lesions cannot discriminate emotion in facial expressions, but their ability to identify faces remains. The anatomical area for face recognition and memory is in the multimodal association area of the inferotemporal cortex. This is a good example of how emotion in one area (amygdala) is linked with perception in another area (inferotemporal cortex) to create an intense emotionally charged memory.
The article below, courtesy of Frontiers in Neuroanatomy, offers an evolutionary history of the structures that make up the amygdala. It's pretty damn geeky, even by my standards.

Full Citation:
Pabba M. (2013, Aug 28). Evolutionary development of the amygdaloid complex. Frontiers in Neuroanatomy, 7:27. doi: 10.3389/fnana.2013.00027

Evolutionary development of the amygdaloid complex

Mohan Pabba
Neurosciences Unit, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada
In the early 19th century, Burdach discovered an almond-shaped mass of gray matter in the anterior portion of the mammalian temporal lobe, which he called “amygdala” (Burdach, 1819–1822). The first anatomical description of the amygdala was made in 1867 by Meynert (1867). Subsequently, a large number of other nuclei were added to the amygdala to constitute what is now known as the “amygdaloid complex” (AC) (Johnston, 1923). Until this day, AC remains a subject of intense investigation in terms of content and evolutionary development since it is a much more complicated structure than what was previously thought. It is therefore, important to know the evolutionary developmental origin of AC before we can completely understand its function.

The AC is a multinuclear complex comprised of 13 nuclei. These nuclei are divided into three major groups: the basolateral, cortical-like, and centromedial. Other accessory nuclei such as the intercalated cell masses (I) and the amygdalo-hippocampus area have also been described. The basolateral group is comprised of the lateral nucleus (LA), basal nucleus (B), and accessory basal nucleus (AB) (Johnston, 1923). The cortical-like group of nuclei includes the nucleus of the lateral olfactory tract (NLOT), bed nucleus of the accessory olfactory tract (BAOT), anterior and posterior cortical nuclei (CoA and CoP, respectively), and periamygdaloid cortex (PAC). The centromedial nucleus consists of the central nucleus (CeA), medial nucleus (M), and amygdaloid part of the bed nucleus of stria terminalis (BST). The major remaining groups of AC are the amygdalohippocampal area (AHA) and intercalated nuclei (I) (Aggleton, 2000; Sah et al., 2003). These different nuclei of AC are connected within and also with various brain regions, and thus, process various types of information (e.g., olfactory and Figure 1A).
Figure 1. AC of tetrapods. (A) The interconnections (left panel) and summary of the main inputs to AC and outputs from AC (right panel). The various types of inputs to AC are denoted with different types of colored arrows. (B)Pictorial diagram depicting the changes in the position of certain AC nuclei during the course of evolution. LA, lateral nucleus; MeA, medial nucleus; CeA, central nucleus; DLA, dorsal division of lateral nucleus; BST, bed nucleus of stria terminalis; BL, basolateral amygdala. The figure panels (A) and (B) are adapted and modified from Sah et al. (2003)Moreno and Gonzalez (2007b).
Swanson and Petrovich (1998) definition of amygdala as neither a structural nor a functional unit provides an attractive point to explore the evolutionary developmental aspects of AC because a growing number of evidence suggests AC as an evolutionarily conserved structure. Earlier, research on structural organization of AC in different amniotic vertebrates revealed a common pattern of organization, along with shared functional roles. Conversely, research on anamniotes provided little comparative information regarding structural organization of AC. However, recent studies have shown a homology between amygdaloid components of amniotes and anamniotes. To better understand the evolutionary and developmental history of a particular brain region, one needs to follow a “sequential (step by step) approach,” which takes into account the developmental, topological, hodological, genetical, and functional history. Interestingly, recent data on AC of mammals, reptiles, and anurans suggest that the evolution of AC occurred as common traits of telencephlon, for example, regions of cortical amygdala such as nLOT and accessory olfactory bulb (AOB) (Remedios et al., 2007; Huilgol et al., 2013); but not as the sum of unrelated structures with different origins. The present understanding of AC in developmental and adult vertebrates suggests two major divisions of telencephlon: the pallium and the subpallium (Puelles et al., 2000Martinez-Garcia et al., 2002; Moreno and Gonzalez, 2007b; Remedios et al., 2007). This dual view or origin makes AC a histogenetic complex structure of the adult brain, with extremely intense morphogenetic and migratory processes during the development in all tetrapods (Puelles et al., 2000). In mammals, the pallial component is composed of “cortical amygdala” and “basolateral amygdala.” In turn, the subpallial component consists of the striatal component, central amygdala, and medial amygdala. This basic plan is shared by reptiles, birds, and also by anuran amphibians (Martinez-Garcia et al., 2002; Medina et al., 2004). Interestingly, this basic description is possible only in few mammalian tetrapods, but not in the non-mammalian amniotes and the anurans where they have no clear anatomical subdivisions. The existence of shared embryological AC components in all tetrapods provides clues to the presence of precursors of the amygdaloid nuclei from anamniotes (Moreno and Gonzalez, 2007b). The following sections deal with the current view on accepted and shared components of AC in tetrapods.

The amygdala is a part of a phylogentically conserved olfactory system, particularly the olfactory bulb, in vertebrate evolution in terms of embryological origin, neurochemistry, connectivity, and function (Martinez-Garcia et al., 2002; Huilgol et al., 2013). Additionally, a major part of amygdala is also an integral component of the vomeronasal system of the tetrapod (except avian) brain (Swanson and Petrovich, 1998; Moreno and Gonzalez, 2005a).

In mammals, the vomeronasal information passes via the AOB to medial (MeA) and cortical postero-medial amygdala (CoApm) (Swanson and Petrovich, 1998). In addition, the amygdala also receives information from the main olfactory bulb (MOB) and hypothalamus to modulate reproductive and defensive behaviors (Canteras et al., 1995). In reptiles and anurans, the existence of a well-developed “vomeronasal amygdala” has also been reported (Moreno and Gonzalez, 2003), although no vomeronasal amygdaloid nuclei has been described in birds so far (Martinez-Garcia et al., 2006). Thus, in all tetrapods, the main secondary vomeronasal brain areas belong to AC.

In mammals, the olfactory amygdaloid system consists of the distinct cortical (CoA, CoP nuclei, etc.) and basolateral amygdala (BL, M, LA nuclei). LA receives major sensory input, and is important for emotional behavior (Ledoux et al., 1990). Studies on birds indicate the presence of nuclei that are comparable to CoP of the mammalian amygdala. These studies also revealed the possession of counterparts similar to BM and LA of the mammalian amygdala (Martinez-Garcia et al., 2006). In reptiles, studies on the olfactory system showed comparable functional circuitry with the mammalian BA complex. The anuran counterpart of the mammalian olfactory amygdala is LA (Moreno and Gonzalez, 2004). This part of the amygdala in anurans receives directly or indirectly olfactory, visual, auditory, somatosensory, vomeronasal, and gustatory information. The observed integration that occurs in AC of tetrapods is responsible for the acquisition of “emotional memory,” which pertains to the survival of individuals during their defence against danger, their interaction with sexual partners, or their fight with an enemy (Ledoux, 2000). Therefore, the amygdala receives large sensory input information from olfactory and vomeronasal projections, and are conserved in tetrapods.

Studies on tetrapods showed CeA as the main receiver of a wide range of sensory information from other amygdaloid regions in addition to the thalamus and brain stem. Moreover, CeA is known to link and integrate the emotional and motor components of behavior (Han et al., 1997), behavioral responses to nociceptive and visceral pain (Han and Neugebauer, 2004), and behavioral responses to stressful stimuli (Saha et al., 2000). CeA also mediates many of the autonomic, somatic, endocrine, and behavioral responses in different tetrapods. The autonomic amygdala provides a link between environmental stimuli and animal behavioral responses, and thus, provides an important significance in terms of evolutionary conservation.

Another conserved shared system of tetrapods is the strong amygdalo-hypothalamic connections (Martinez-Marcos et al., 1999; Moreno and Gonzalez, 2005a). In mammals, nuclei that project to hypothalamus through the stria terminalis arise from the medial and basolateral amygdala (Swanson and Petrovich, 1998). As in mammals, the amygdalo-hypothalamic projections of anurans (Moreno and Gonzalez, 2005b) also project through the stria terminalis. In anurans, the amygdalo-hypothalamic connections control functions mediated by the hypothalamus in response to pheromones and odors (Reiner and Karten, 1985; Swanson and Petrovich, 1998).

As in mammals, the amygdalo-hypothalamic projections of anurans, project through the stria terminalis. The main similarity with amniotes is the projection to the hypothalamus from comparable amygdaloid territories carrying vomeronasal, olfactory, and multimodal information (Reiner and Karten, 1985; Swanson and Petrovich, 1998). The situation of amygdalo-hypothalamic projections in birds is more complicated because of the lack of a well-developed olfactory/vomeronasal system.

On the other hand, studies that compare the distribution of neuronal markers (either proteins or genes/transcription factors) across the development of analogous AC nuclei from different species as well as within the same species have also provided valuable information on the evolution of AC. For instance, similarities in the molecular profiles of the pallium and subpallium of mice and chickens were obtained by comparing the nested expression domains of genes such as Dlx-2, Tbr-1, Pax-6, NKx-2.1, and Emx-1 (Puelles et al., 2000). Moreno and Gonzalez, using the distribution of somatostatin, nitric oxide synthase, etc. in anuran CeA and MeA in a series of studies, has predicted that these parts of AC could be related to AC of amniotes (Moreno and Gonzalez, 2005a, 2007a). Medina et al. demonstrated a possible existence of evolutionary relationship in various AC nuclei of mammals, reptiles and birds by testing the expression patterns of genes/transcription factors such as Lhx2, Lhx9, Pax6, Islet 1, NKx2, Lhx6, and Lhx5 in forebrain regions of these animals (Medina et al., 2011). Using the similarities and differences in the expression of Lhx1 and Lhx5, Abellan et al. suggested a common pattern of evolutionary conservation in telencephalon between mice and chickens during various stages of development (Abellan et al., 2010). By examining the distribution of Lhx2, Trb1, reelin, and CdK5, Remedios et al. estimated a possible developmental and evolutionary link between nLOT of AC and neocortex (Remedios et al., 2007; Subramanian et al., 2009). Another study from Tole's group, using migratory genetic markers (e.g., NP2 and AP2α), showed that the distinct halves of AOB [posterior and anterior (pAOB and aAOB)] has different developmental origins, and that pAOB could be a component of AC as it was positioned closely to MeA in anamniotes (Xenopus) (Huilgol et al., 2013). Finally, Barger et al. using a different approach, i.e., by comparing the percentage of neurons in individual nuclei of AC between humans and apes, suggested that during the course of human evolution, LA of AC has further progressed in humans (Barger et al., 2012). 
Concluding Remarks

The classical hypothesis proposed by Edinger regarding the evolution of the brain attracted much attention (Edinger, 1908). He proposed that the telencephlon evolved in progressive stages of complexity and size, culminating to the human brain. He also stated that there is an “old brain” (the subpallium at the telencephalic base) followed by the addition of a “new brain” (the pallium at the top of the telencephlon). Nevertheless, this classical hypothesis provides evidence on the existence of a basic plan in the origin, regionalization, and organization of the forebrain of vertebrates. Based on the data pertaining to the organization of AC, there seems to have several important features that are common to all tetrapods: (1) it is formed by pallial and subpallial derivatives; (2) it is topographically situated in the ventrolateral caudal telencephalic hemispheres; (3) it has shared features in relation with different functional systems like the vomeronasal, olfactory, autonomic, and multimodal systems along with an intricate intra-amygdaloid network; (4) it is the origin of important hypothalamic projections; (5) it has a common embryological origin for several prominent features of AC; (6) it has the presence of a main output for autonomic system; finally, (7) it has abundant local circuit neurons that are shared by most amniotes. Thus, in the light of recent findings on AC (Remedios et al., 2007; Butler et al., 2011; Huilgol et al., 2013) also strongly support the idea that tetrapods share the same basic plan.

The increase in size of the pallium, especially in mammals, has an evolutionary importance. The current spatial arrangements of the mammalian AC are still found in living anurans. Therefore, it is now obvious that these “new evolutionary nuclei” would have pushed the “most conserved nuclei” (Moreno and Gonzalez, 2007b). It explains why mammals have the central, medial, and basolateral nuclei occupying the most medial positions, whereas the cortical amygdaloid nuclei occupy the most lateral positions (Figure 1B) (Moreno and Gonzalez, 2007b). Consequently, the brain of ancestral tetrapods developed an elaborate AC in response to new requirements imposed on them as a part of the transition from water-to-land. Therefore, the basic organization of the brain system, at least in the case of the AC, is still recognizable in all existing tetrapods, and can be compared with that of mammals.


I am thankful to Dr. Richard Bergeron, Dr. Marzia Martina, and Wissam B. Nassrallah for their helpful feedback on the manuscript. 

Seth Greenland - Why Is America So Angry?

This brief article excerpt by Seth Greenland comes from the September 2013 issue of Shambhala Sun. Greenland asks, and with good reason, Why is America so angry?
Someday, someone will write a book about how we arrived at American apoplexy, but for now let’s be more forward-looking\ and consider what some people are doing about it other than consuming massive levels of prescription medication.
This is only a small part of the whole article, but it offers some thoughts on doing something about the anger instead of simply allowing ourselves to become the anger.

Why Is America So Angry?

Shambhala Sun | September 2013


Someday somebody will explain why we're all so mad these days. But for now, says SETH GREENLAND, let's consider what to do about it. 

When the guy driving the late-model Volvo with a “War Is Not the Answer” bumper sticker gave me the finger, I knew America had taken a wrong turn. The behavior of this hostile L.A. hippie represented more than a traffic kerfuffle. A Volvo with that kind of bumper sticker is a signifier: college graduate, votes Democratic, listens to NPR, and will think about moving to Canada if a Republican becomes president, or at least attend a dinner party where another guest will talk about it. In other words, we are not dissimilar, and we’re reasonable people, aren’t we, this paragon of liberalism and I? And here he was, my sociocultural doppelgänger, thrusting his middle finger at me, bespectacled, professorial face contorted in rage. Yes, I had accidentally cut him off on Olympic Boulevard—He was in my blind spot, Your Honor!—but did the sixties not happen? Did he not at some point also own a vinyl copy of Sweet Baby James? Are we not brothers?

From the perspective of a blue state resident, it’s easy—and facile—enough to ascribe the anger percolating in America to the political ascendancy of the right. The enviable market share of Fox News and the conservative monopoly of AM talk radio all speak to their dominion. But this is misleading. Perhaps the manner in which they express their rage is more colorful (thank you, Tea Party costume department), but, as my Olympic Boulevard encounter illustrates, anger is everywhere. People talk about the mainstream media’s sense of misguided fairness that makes them treat both sides equally, but here is a fact: America is furious.

The left became unhinged when George W. Bush was elected. Admittedly, given the Florida recount, the worst recession in sixty years, and the most foolish American war since, well, ever, there was something to be angry about. But the hatred expressed toward him was profound; it felt new and stronger than the opprobrium heaped on Reagan when he was in office. Interestingly, even with all of the anger toward Bush, the left pretty much stayed home while he was in the White House. There were a few economic demonstrations and some antiwar activity, but it paled compared to how people hit the streets during, say, the Vietnam era.

Charles Krauthammer dubbed this Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS)— basically ascribing all the world’s ills to the president— and it has become deeper, crazier, and more active now that the virus has migrated from left to right and its symptoms are projected onto President Obama. How else to explain the Tea Partiers, who had no problem with Bush’s vast spending, claiming Obama’s fiscal habits are a danger to the republic? Or the characterization of this barely left-of-center politician who has treated Wall Street with kid gloves as some kind of socialist class warrior and aspiring tyrant? This epic level of anger is most visible on the level of national politics, but it has trickled all the way to the bottom. By bottom I am referring not only to the guy in the Volvo who gave me the finger but also to the comments section of any website that allows them. The Internet has enabled the anger, allowing it to spin like a Catherine wheel, spreading toxicity everywhere.

Why is America so angry?

Someday, someone will write a book about how we arrived at American apoplexy, but for now let’s be more forward-looking\ and consider what some people are doing about it other than consuming massive levels of prescription medication.

One of the things they’re doing is meditating. This explains the rise of what is known as applied mindfulness, which offers practices to develop the capacity to deal with their anger skillfully. People from many religious backgrounds have engaged with this work without giving up their own spiritual identities. They can celebrate the High Holidays and still meditate each morning without annoying their rabbis. They can sing hymns and eat fruitcake at Christmas while still attending their sitting group. Chances are you or someone you know practices a form of meditation. Major universities are researching the effects of these practices. Young children are being taught mindfulness, and not just the ones on Adderall.

Apart from scale, anger is no different on the national level than it is in preschool. When little Emma takes Jacob’s toy truck, Jacob’s anger springs from his thwarted need to possess the object. He is thinking about what he wants, or thinks he wants. Emma, of course, is thinking about what she wants. A fundamental Buddhist belief is that all people want to be happy and, at root, all of our actions, even angry ones, come from that fact. So this kid thinks the truck will make him happy, when really what is probably going to make him happier in the long run is having a friendly relationship with Emma.

Mindfulness, as it happens, is a remarkably effective way to deal with anger. Anger is about my needs. When you get angry, here’s what you’re really screeching: What about ME? The Tea Partiers who hate Obama are really upset because THEIR ideas about economics are so much better, and why doesn’t he see that?

The hostile left-wing Volvo driver might be shocked to hear it, but he’s not so different from Rush Limbaugh: both lack a filter with which to screen their bile. Meditation practice provides this filter by training us to be nonreactive, to consider our actions, to “check in” and directly experience how we feel physically and emotionally before acting on it. They teach us to see the larger world and our place in it more clearly, and to experience what we are feeling with some degree of awareness.

We don’t need to become Buddhists to deal with our anger but everyone can benefit from what Buddhists have learned from millennia of training. These practices are not a panacea or a cure, but a process through which we learn to see our emotions as dynamic and changing. By undertaking this work, we are less likely to give the finger to the next hapless driver who accidentally cuts us off. Or start a war.

That’s right, Volvo Guy. I’m talking to you.

~ Seth Greenland is the author of three novels, including The Angry Buddhist, and was a writer-producer on the HBO series Big Love.

Excerpted from the September 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Zoran Josipovic - Freedom of the Mind (on Mindwandering and Contemplative Consciousness)

Zoran Josipovic is a neuropsychologist and runs the Contemplative Science Lab at New York University. He is one of the leaders in seeking an understanding of how the brain creates meditative or contemplative states of experience.

In this brief article from Frontiers in Perception Science, Josipovic comments on an article (Frontiers in Perception Science, 2013 [Aug 27] | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00560) that suggested mind wandering is associated with increasing levels of unhappiness. Here is a bit of his introduction to the article:
Mind wandering, task-independent thought, spontaneous thinking, free associating, creative imagining are some of the terms used to describe what occurs to our mind when we notice its functioning, or when we allow it the freedom to be in its natural condition: open, aware and spontaneously fluid. That such mentation is being increasingly declared as undesirable, is perhaps a sign of the times: seduced by a promise of digital perfection and virtual reality, we are forgetting that life is a lived experience in which meaning unfolds through a process of being embodied, as our minds “wander” from the unconscious and preconscious, to fully conscious. Thus, the question is not whether we can be free of thoughts and perform with ever increasing efficiency, but whether we are authentic and present to all of our being, including the wandering mind. 
I think he is making some important points here, but his view is unfortunately a minority view in the worlds of cognitive science and neuroscience.

Full Citation: 
Josipovic Z. (2013, Aug 27). Freedom of the mind. Frontiers in Perception Science; 4:538. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00538

Freedom of the mind

Zoran Josipovic
Contemplative Science Lab, Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, NY, USA
“Thinking or not thinking, both always perfect, neither ever stepping from the ground.”
~ Zen saying

Mind wandering, task-independent thought, spontaneous thinking, free associating, creative imagining are some of the terms used to describe what occurs to our mind when we notice its functioning, or when we allow it the freedom to be in its natural condition: open, aware and spontaneously fluid. That such mentation is being increasingly declared as undesirable, is perhaps a sign of the times: seduced by a promise of digital perfection and virtual reality, we are forgetting that life is a lived experience in which meaning unfolds through a process of being embodied, as our minds “wander” from the unconscious and preconscious, to fully conscious. Thus, the question is not whether we can be free of thoughts and perform with ever increasing efficiency, but whether we are authentic and present to all of our being, including the wandering mind. Those background spontaneous thoughts that at first introspection appear to be task-unrelated, may on a closer look reveal a deeper meaning, whose significance is both task-related and self-related, as authentic being contains both the extrinsic task-related and intrinsic self-related aspects of experience. To the extent that mind wandering serves a function of dissociating and avoiding the awareness of certain aspects of one's present experience, it could be said to be related to unhappiness. But making a simple causal link between mind-wandering and unhappiness ignores the larger situatedness of both as manifestations of self-meaning and self-organization.

The fact that our life is a participatory experience that contains a dimension of relatedness with environment and other human beings and which reveals an ongoing dynamic flux between self-referential and other-referential concerns, has been a challenge and a source of bewilderment for us, seemingly from the dawn of civilization. Our instinctive impulse is to manage this situation by creating rigidified constructs and boundaries that fragment experience into competing dualities of subject vs. object, self vs. other, in-group vs. out-group, good vs. bad. Yet such an instinctive solution tends to create a host of other problems and turns the existential unease into an outright suffering. Attempts at solution advocated over the centuries by the various contemplative traditions often include reductionist strategies for collapsing experience into one or the other pole of duality, either emphasizing the self-related (subjective), or other-related (objective) pole, while de-emphasizing and devaluing the other, sometimes even abolishing both in kind of non-conscious void (Sharma, 1987). These strategies have at times been seen as goals in themselves, other times as stages in the progress of meditation (Lutz et al., 2007). What they have in common is the approach of using various attentional and other cognitive control strategies to suppress the unwanted aspect of experience from arising. In doing so, these techniques inadvertently create yet another layer of fragmentation.

The dualistic structuring of experience may have an interesting parallel in the global organization of the cortex into the intrinsic default network involved in self-referential processing, and the extrinsic or task-positive network involved in perceiving and acting in the environment (Golland et al., 2007; Soddu et al., 2009). Increases in the activation and functional connectivity in the areas of default network have been found with meditations that emphasize the subjective pole of experience (Yamamoto et al., 2006; Travis et al., 2010; Lou et al., 2011), while increases in activations and functional connectivity in the areas of the task-related extrinsic network have been found with meditations that emphasize the objective pole of experience. Additionally, meditations that emphasize the objective pole of experience are often accompanied by a decrease of activation in the areas of default network, as well as increased functional segregation between the two networks (Pagnoni et al., 2008; Brewer et al., 2011; Kilpatrick et al., 2011).

The majority of meditation studies done in the past several years belong to this second category, including both focused attention (FA) and mindfulness meditations (OM). As a result, a prevalent view of the neuroscience of meditation is emerging, according to which the main effect of meditation is a suppression of the activity of the default network, and an increase in its functional segregation from the task-positive extrinsic network (Fell, 2012). This tallies with those interpretations of Buddhist philosophy that see the goal of meditation as abolishing of the sense of self or subjective reference (Austin, 2011). Since spontaneous thinking is primarily seen as being self-referential, such thinking is supposed to be abolished as well. On these views, much of cognitive and affective processing is believed to cease with successful meditation, and one's experience becomes reduced to present sensory awareness, which accommodates a self as an agent in the world, but not a self as a knower of its own states and contents (Christoff et al., 2011). In terms of the neuroscience, this view emphasizes the lateral extrinsic areas of the brain over the medial intrinsic ones, sometimes seeing the subcortical brainstem structures and thalamus as involved in representing a core phenomenal self. (Christoff et al., 2011; Vago and Silbersweig, 2012). It also relies on a somewhat reductionist view of the function of intrinsic default network, as a seat of the narrative autobiographical self (Farb et al., 2007). But as recent research shows, default network is also involved in much of what we regard as uniquely human consciousness, including self-awareness, future planning and making decisions about one's current personal state, constructing a scene from memory, as well as mind-wandering (Mason et al., 2007; Smallwood et al., 2008; Christoff et al., 2009; Andrews-Hanna et al., 2010; Preminger et al., 2011).

When the mind is allowed to be free, its spontaneous activity reveals two aspects: the arising and passing of thoughts and other mental contents, and the background nondual awareness—an open, awake cognizance that precedes conceptualization and intention, and contextualizes and unifies both extrinsic task-positive and intrinsic self-referential mental processes, without fragmenting the field of experience into opposing dualities. This background awareness appears in meditation to be self-same and unchanging, an empty cognizance devoid of content, while various sensory, affective, and cognitive contents, and the various states of arousal, appear to it as dynamic processes or, as a well-known metaphor states, like images in a mirror (Lama, 2004). Is this awareness merely a degree of integration of different aspects of experience? Taxonomies found in the nondual traditions, and the anecdotal accounts of meditation practitioners over many centuries, indicate that this might be a distinct level of consciousness, one that has not yet been conceptualized within the mainstream of neuroscience.

Mental states cultivated in meditation are quite complex and the neural signatures we have been able to detect so far are almost certainly only a small part of what is going on in the brain during such states. Meditation methods that attempt to suppress and control various aspects of experience, in addition to being unnecessarily arduous and potentially hazardous, may be violating basic principles of brain organization: the brain, and the cortex in particular, is not organized into discrete self-sufficient modules with singular functions that can be turned on and off as needed. Rather, it is a dynamic system where coalitions of neurons self-organize into globally distributed networks with intrinsic spontaneous fluctuations that optimize the processing of information in a context-dependent manner (Raichle, 2011; Baars et al., 2013). The relevance of this for understanding meditation research is that meditation techniques do not need to be limited to cognitive control strategies that fragment and suppress aspects of oneself. Rather, a meditation style that allows for the natural functioning of mind, and that recognizes the nondual ground, can reveal a more integrated and authentic being—an underlying natural unity of intrinsic and extrinsic aspects of experience in the context of nondual awareness.

Future research could further differentiate the neural mechanisms of nondual awareness from those of FA and open monitoring (Josipovic et al., 2012; Josipovic, in press) and explore the effects of nondual awareness on a variety of cognitive and affective processes, including mind wandering (Travis et al., 2002; Lutz et al., 2013). But our enthusiasm in this direction ought to be tempered by a warning from contemplative traditions that nondual awareness is not about improving oneself, but about realizing the innate freedom of authentic being (Longchenpa, 1975). Keeping in this spirit, future research could find ways to examine freedom and authenticity conferred by nondual awareness. 

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