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Archive for the 'Psychology' Category

Friday, July 24th, 2015

On Grief: Poems by Alexandra Butler, author of “Walking the Night Road”

Walking the Night Road

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. While Butler has written a wonderful and moving memoir in Walking the Night Road, she is also a published poet, who has written many poems addressing the same stories and themes as Walking the Night Road. In today’s post, the final in our week’s feature of her book, we are happy to present a list of Butler’s poems curated by their author, with short introductions to each poem to help put them into the context of her memoir.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

The author’s memories of her childhood become distorted by grief. Author expresses rage about the promises her beloved mother made to her as a child and could not keep. The promises of Mortals.

Fair Game
o happy childhood
for I did not know
that all my life approached
that old sit down that had been had
so many times
so many beasts in that same brine

how could she ever think
that this cup would not be mine

what we had
what did we have
as transparent now as air
as easy and as casual and as
natural as a yawn
as every day as anything
I found her there but gone
my hand felt for my heart
as if to turn the thing back on

that which she had wiped away
with a mother’s furtive hand
had written its name back
on every surface everywhere
leaning forward through the walls
its halos of fiery hair
its red breath melting the paint
that went rolling down like peels
royal purple at its heels

how easy it had been for it to hide
heartless so no worry
of a beating from inside
while I slept it had swept in
calmly to prepare its feast
sitting down at what had always been its place
at the head of our family table
in the centre of our safe and sacred house

I awoke to find my mother there
smoking at the window
a bright green apple
shoved deep inside her mouth

just like that
she’d been made gone

in what
as a child I had reduced
to a simple ray of light
did I not see the storm within
of countless particles in flight
ditto did I not see in her
the simple beast
she always was despite
elaborate fantasies

an animal—a jungle—and a reign
a wild one who had managed
to convince me she was tame
and that she and I were chosen
two of life’s beloved pets
instead of just two more
among the countless hunted game (more…)

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

Memories of Robert Butler

Walking the Night Road

“I uncovered memories that would become well worn over that year. I thought about his sunniness, how he could be merry on the surface even when he was suffering. I remembered rituals I had not always perceived as rituals, the fact that he would sit me on the sink when I was small so I could help him shave.” — Alexandra Butler

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. In today’s post, we have a brief excerpt from Walking the Night Road in which Butler looks back at her memories of her father, gerontologist Robert N. Butler.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

With my father’s death I felt as if I’d lost her again. The first year, they were these two wraiths standing before me and blocking my view almost to the point of blindness. I imagined—I dreamed—whatever it was I spent all that year doing—my mother as transparent, my father as opaque. She had let a great deal of her connection to me go. He could not. Or maybe it was I who could not. I felt we were one another’s captives. We had found our love too late. And lost it too soon. At first it had seemed right to imagine her as free, and imagine my father as regretful. Yet the more I stared into the memory of them, the more their identities started to unravel.

He still had the presence of a house cat, curled up on every chair. I felt certain he had been his truest self the last years of his life. And that made me long for the years that I had missed of being close to him. Years where he could have influenced me, influenced who I would become. (more…)

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

The Surgery

Walking the Night Road

“My dad kept turning his head away to cry. I guess he didn’t want to scare my mother, but I cried outright, even when the surgical team glared and shook their heads. I cried as hard as I could. No one here was stupid. We all knew what was at stake. And then when she was still awake, still whispering kind words to us, we had to leave her there, alone.” — Alexandra Butler

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. In today’s post, we have a brief excerpt from Butler’s account of her mother’s surgery in Walking the Night Road.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

Mom’s surgery was to take place on the fifteenth floor of the hospital, but for some reason I remember it taking place in the basement. For some reason, I thought we left her in the basement that day, in the cellar. The cellar, I remember thinking. The words ran laps around my mind. The cellar. The morning of her surgery, I woke up and threw up.

They had wrapped her head the night before in white gauze right over her hair. She looked like a ghastly vision of a bride. It made no sense. Apparently they didn’t need to shave her head completely. They would just cut and pull the scalp back—hair and all. And hair and all joined the cellar in running laps.

The night before her surgery was rough. She was stoned. She was swearing and itching and writhing in her bed. She spoke in her sleep about violent things, about killing and you shut up and you can go to hell. I trembled in the corner on my cot, a little girl. She doesn’t mean it repeating in my head. My sister Chris slept upright in a chair. Every so often she would whisper soothing words. My mother told Chris that she could go and fuck herself, and in my pulse pounded the words this is not my mother.

The next morning, it seemed that she remembered nothing of the night before. We took turns climbing into bed with her. It felt Catholic, like we were climbing into the confessional. There was whispering between my mother and us all. It was like a benediction, as if she were blessing us, each and every one while we paid our last respects. She would hold your face in her hands and tell you how sorry she was. I remember my sister Cindy sitting on my mother’s bed. Her hair was coming out of her ponytail. She was hunched over my mother, and she looked twenty years younger than she really was. Cindy had lost a little brother when she was only four. (more…)

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Coming of Age in Grief

Walking the Night Road

“When you count back, you can see a story from the end. I like that—the seemingly natural narrative that forms this way. With the end in my hand, the story becomes mine. I can have it all make sense, or I can lose my mind like she lost hers—like I lost her. But I can have my story.” — Alexandra Butler

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. In today’s feature post, we’ve excerpted a section from the opening of Walking the Night Road, in which Butler introduces her mother, and begins to tell the painful story that drives the memoir.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Experts on Aging, Dying as They Lived

Walking the Night Road

“To the small extent that we have any choice in this uncertain life, it is wise to face your own death. In a world where so many of our fellow human beings live with threats of terror and destruction, if you are lucky enough to imagine you might have any measure of control over how you die, that is a privilege that should not go to waste.” — Alexandra Butler

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. To start off the week’s feature today, we are happy to present an article by Alexandra Butler that originally appeared in The New York Times Opinionator blog, The End. In “Experts on Aging, Dying as They Lived,” Butler tells the story of Walking the Night Road in brief.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

Experts on Aging, Dying as They Lived
By Alexandra Butler

At 10 years old I knew my parents did not wish to be resuscitated nor plugged into machines in the event of serious illness. They told me they were not afraid of death but rather of being kept alive at any cost. I knew they would refuse medical interventions, if they felt there was no purpose except to separate the dying from their deaths. They were wary of doctors who my parents said were trained by a medical culture that had lost touch with what should be its major focus: ending suffering.

My father, Robert N. Butler, was a physician, a psychiatrist and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who pioneered the field of aging. My mother, Myrna Lewis, had a Ph.D. in social work; her specialty was older women. Together they co-wrote books on aging, mental health, sexuality and public policy. They would have been tickled by the coverage a few months ago of the Iowa state representative Ross Paustian, a Republican, nose-deep in their book “Sex After Sixty” in the middle of a House debate over the collective bargaining rights of teachers.

My parents applied what they learned out in the field to their personal lives. They worked hard to put as much money toward their retirement and old age as they could so that my half-sisters and I would never be financially responsible for them. They told us where we could find copies of their wills and health directives, explaining that these documents clarified their wishes and we would not have to bear the full weight of making end-of-life decisions for them.

As a teenager I hated these discussions. I probably told them to stop torturing me and to stop being so morbid. They were reassuring me about scenarios that I did not want to think about. I could not have known how grateful I would be now. (more…)

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler

Walking the Night Road

“An honest look at marriage, aging, happiness, and survival — both wise and funny. You will walk the Night Road too.” — Barbara Walters

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Walking the Night Road. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, July 24th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Seventh Sense, by William Duggan

This week our featured book is The Seventh Sense: How Flashes of Insight Change Your Life by William Duggan.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Seventh Sense to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, May 29th at 1:00 pm.

For more on the book you can read the introduction:

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

The Journey Ahead

The Thirteenth Step

“[F]or now at least, any promise of “cure” is somewhere between naïve and dishonest, depending on who makes it and why. But it is equally true that these chronic relapsing disorders can now be managed so that most people with such disorders can decrease their risk for relapse, allowing them to live productive, good lives.” — Markus Heilig

This week our featured book is The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig. For the final day of our giveaway, we are happy to present an excerpt from “The Journey Ahead,” the final chapter of The Thirteenth Step.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway of The Thirteenth Step!

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

PTSD and addiction

The Thirteenth Step

“Here’s a dream: A future in which every patient with alcohol problems, man or women, is thoroughly evaluated for PTSD, treated with evidence based behavioral interventions, and given the opportunity to benefit from synergistic effects of psychotherapy and pharmacology. Wouldn’t that be something?” — Markus Heilig

This week our featured book is The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig. In today’s post, Heilig discusses the deep connection between PTSD and substance addiction which scientists are still trying to fully understand.

And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway of The Thirteenth Step!

PTSD and addiction
By Markus Heilig

The public is clearly waking up to the fact that much of the toll of PTDS comes from substance use. Hard drinking may appear as the only way to temporarily escape the intrusive memories of traumatic events, face people at the grocery store, or fall asleep without the torment of nightmares. Up to 75% of combat veterans with PTSD also have alcohol problems. Conversely, between a third and half of patients seeking treatment for alcohol problems have PTSD.

But here’s something else to think about: The vast majority of PTSD patients are actually not veterans of wars. Firefights or explosive devices are not the most common causes of PTSD. Rape, sexual assault, or intimate partner violence are. Even with the recent wars, PTSD is twice as common among women as it is among men, affecting 8 – 16% of adult females in the US. Yet women suffering from PTSD are not much talked about. When they seek treatment for alcohol problems, the questions that would allow a PTSD diagnosis to be made are rarely asked. And even if the diagnosis is obvious, people look the other way. Traumatic events are so hard to talk about. Excuses are plentiful. Maybe bringing back traumatic memories will trigger cravings and relapse? So this difficult material is left for a “later” that never comes. (more…)

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Us and Them

The Thirteenth Step

“In this book I will share some of the amazing advances the neuroscience of addiction has made over the years I have been in the field. I will offer a personal take on what addiction is: a malfunction of some of the most fundamental brain circuits that make us tick, and a disease that is not much different from other chronic, relapsing medical conditions. I trust it will be clear what addiction is not: a moral failing, a simple inability to say no, or a condition that can be cured by mystic incantations.” — Markus Heilig

This week our featured book is The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from “Us and Them,” the first chapter of The Thirteenth Step, in which Heilig explains his experiences working with addiction, and lays out his hopes for what his book will accomplish.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway of The Thirteenth Step!

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Why breakthroughs in addiction research have not changed addiction treatment

The Thirteenth Step

“But the size of the addiction research enterprise is dwarfed by a $35 billion a year or so treatment industry in this field. This is a booming entrepreneurial world, where treatment centers charge people tens of thousands of dollars for various offerings. And despite all the investment in science, few of those treatments make much use of the scientific advances in the area of addiction. In fact, treatment approaches have not changed much at all over the past quarter century.” — Markus Heilig

This week our featured book is The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig. To open the week’s feature, Heilig has written a powerfully argued guest post in which he contrasts the advances in the science of addiction and the stagnation in the way that addiction is actually treated.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway of The Thirteenth Step!

Why have breakthroughs in addiction research not changed addiction treatment?
By Markus Heilig

The US taxpayers fund the overwhelming majority of addiction research in the world. Every year, Congress channels about $1 billion to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). An additional almost 0.5 billion is separately given to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), my own workplace for the past decade. That may sound impressive, and in many ways it is. With the help of these resources, there have been truly amazing advances in the understanding of how addiction works. “Brain reward systems” have become part of the general parlance. The NIDA director has become a celebrity who has appeared on 60 Minutes. New findings on how alcohol and drugs get people hooked have shown a rare ability to fascinate people far outside the circle of scientists. And there has been perhaps a more modest, but still significant progress in figuring out better treatments.

But the size of the addiction research enterprise is dwarfed by a $35 billion a year or so treatment industry in this field. This is a booming entrepreneurial world, where treatment centers charge people tens of thousands of dollars for various offerings. And despite all the investment in science, few of those treatments make much use of the scientific advances in the area of addiction. In fact, treatment approaches have not changed much at all over the past quarter century. If someone were to be pulled out of a 12-step meeting then and transported through time to one today, he or she would probably not notice much of a difference. Here is, perhaps unsurprisingly then, something that the investment in research has not bought us: Any measurable dent in the damage done by addictions.

Some basic facts: Alcohol continues to kill about 80,000 Americans each year. Death from prescription pain killers adds almost 20,000 more, and has been on the rise for over a decade. As we have begun clamping down on these prescriptions, heroin has become resurgent instead. Why is it that all the passionate research efforts by dedicated scientists have such a hard time producing much of a change in the lives of real people with addictions? Only about one in 10 people with alcoholism ever receive treatment. For most of those, that is synonymous with joining Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a movement formed three-quarters of a century ago, when medicine had little to offer addicts beyond perhaps treating the shakes of acute alcohol withdrawal. (more…)

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig

The Thirteenth Step

“Heilig makes the science accessible to both lay and professional audiences alike by using a strong, conversational tone interspersed with humor and illustrative vignettes. He draws the reader in and effectively consolidates complex concepts. I applaud his efforts to bring the plight of the addicted to the attention of others and for calling upon the field to do its very best to help.” — Valerie J. Slaymaker

This week our featured book is The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its subject, and its editors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Thirteenth Step. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, May 22nd at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Discouraging North American and European Citizens from Foreign Jihad

Mental Health in the War on Terror

This week our featured book is Mental Health in the War on Terror, by Neil Krishan Aggarwal. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. In today’s guest post, Aggarwal discusses a recent New York Times article on efforts to keep Western citizens from “traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries,” and how the War on Terror has been and is being shaped by sometimes troubling stereotypes.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Mental Health in the War on Terror!

Discouraging North American and European Citizens from Foreign Jihad
By Neil Krishan Aggarwal

A New York Times article dated January 13, 2015 and titled “West Struggles against Flow to War Zones” describes North American and European officials struggling to “stem the flow of their citizens traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries.” The article comes after last week’s tragic attacks in France and reflects major themes from my book Mental Health in the War on Terror: Culture, Science, and Statecraft. In my book, I analyze questionable claims of Orientalist stereotypical scholarship and de-radicalization programs, some of which appear in this article. By scrutinizing this article, I hope to show how such claims recur in an influential newspaper and shape public discussions of the War on Terror. Only by inspecting such claims one at a time can we discern how the War on Terror has permeated popular culture.

1. The “West/Rest” fallacy. The authors begin: “For more than a decade, Western governments have struggled to stem the flow of their citizens traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries.” This assertion implies a rigid division among Muslims and non-Muslims. Where does the West begin and end? What is the standard for “Muslim countries”? Is a Muslim country defined on the basis of political system (Saudi Arabia), population (Indonesia), or Orientalist notions of the Middle East? Are we not comparing apples and oranges by contrasting entities based on geography (“Western”) and religion (“Muslim”)? (more…)

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

National Security Above Mental Health — Neil Aggarwal

Mental Health in the War on Terror

“We need novel solutions for hierarchical organizations such as the CIA and the armed forces that erect institutional safeguards for psychiatrists, psychologists, and whistleblowers warning of misuses in mental health knowledge and practice.”—Neil Krishnan Aggarwal

This week our featured book is Mental Health in the War on Terror, by Neil Krishan Aggarwal. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. Today, we are happy to repost an article on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on American use of torture, written by Aggarwal and originally posted in mid-December.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Mental Health in the War on Terror!

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s release of the report Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program marks a signature moment for government accountability in the War on Terror. The report acknowledges that “the CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees” and “the CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.”

Politicians have debated release of the report. Former Vice-President Dick Cheney has claimed that enhanced interrogation techniques were “absolutely, totally justified” and were the “right thing to do, and if I had to do it over again, I would do it.” In contrast, Senator Dianne Feinstein, committee chairwoman, defended the release: “Releasing this report is an important step to restoring our values and showing the world that we are a just society.” Similarly, President Barack Obama declared: “The report documents a troubling program involving enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects in secret facilities outside the United States.”

In Mental Health in the War on Terror: Culture, Science, and Statecraft, I investigate how the government uses mental health professionals to advance national security interests and how mental health professionals serve such ends. I examine bioethical debates on whether mental health professionals should do no harm or participate in interrogations. I examine debates among prosecution and defense teams on the meanings of detainee mental health symptoms in Guantanamo tribunals. I conclude that the War on Terror has pushed American government officials to treat terrorism as a military problem requiring new forms of mental health knowledge, practice, and institutions rather than a law enforcement problem handled through extant institutions.

The Senate committee’s report reinforces this conclusion. After capture of militant Abu Zubaydah, a psychologist-contractor proposed in July 2002 that SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) techniques from the American military could be “novel interrogation methods” for the CIA. These techniques include walling, facial holding and slapping, cramped confinement, stress positions, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and mock burial. One CIA official clarified that “personnel will make every effort possible to insure [sic] that subject is not permanently physically or mentally harmed but we should not say at the outset of this process that there is no risk.” The psychologist-contractors normalized these techniques, responding, “The safety of any technique lies primarily in how it is applied and monitored.”

(more…)

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Mental Health, Culture, and Power in the War on Terror

Mental Health in the War on Terror

This week our featured book is Mental Health in the War on Terror, by Neil Krishan Aggarwal. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. In today’s post, we have an excerpt from the first chapter of Mental Health in the War on Terror, in which Aggarwal introduces his project, takes a close look at the causes and symptoms of PTSD, and examines the effects that the War on Terror had on an American veteran and a detainee at Guantánamo Bay.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Mental Health in the War on Terror!

Monday, January 12th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Mental Health in the War on Terror, by Neil Krishan Aggarwal

Mental Health in the War on Terror

“Very few people are able to synthesize the disciplines of anthropology, mental health, cultural studies, political theory, religious studies, bioethics and forensics as Aggarwal does in this book. He offers a balanced and insightful account of the challenges of forensic psychiatry in assessing and managing terrorism suspects.” — Hamada Hamid, Yale University

This week our featured book is Mental Health in the War on Terror, by Neil Krishan Aggarwal. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Mental Health in the War on Terror. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, January 16th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

How Expectations and Uncertainty Affect the Economy — An Interview with Eric Barthalon

Uncertainty, Expectations, and Financial Instability

The following is an interview with Eric Barthalon, author of Uncertainty, Expectations, and Financial Instability: Reviving Allais’s Lost Theory of Psychological Time.

Question: What is your book about?

Eric Barthalon: Uncertainty, Expectations and Financial Instability is about what we call “expectations” and the pro-cyclical responses they trigger. I argue that, under uncertainty, we infer the future largely from our experience of the past, and I show how Allais’s lost theory of psychological time gives an operational and testable content to this intuition or hypothesis.

Q: What exactly do you mean by uncertainty?

EB: When we throw four dices repeatedly, we cannot tell the outcome of each throw, but experience as well as mathematics tell us very precisely what we should expect: there will not be many instances where the sum of the four dices is either 4 or 24; most of the throws will yield a result close to 14. This is a situation of “known unknowns” or risk, in which it would be insane to expect a throw to yield either a 2 or a 30, and—even if the first throws are not close to 14—it would be equally insane not to expect the average of the throws to converge toward 14. In such risky situations, our expectations should be identical to the model’s forecasts. This is the very definition of rational expectations. (more…)

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Francisco Varela and Waking, Dreaming, Being

Waking, Dreaming, Being

This week our featured book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, with a foreword by Stephen Batchelor. In today’s post on the final day of our feature, we are happy to post an excerpt from a fascinating interview of Thompson conducted by Joy Stocke at the Wild River Review. In the interview, Stocke and Thompson discuss the importance of his upbringing to his work, the influence of Francisco Varela, and the Dalai Lama, among many other topics, though we’ve chosen to focus on the discussion of Francisco Varela for this excerpt.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being!

WRR: Your book, ultimately, is a meditation on consciousness. Is consciousness wholly dependent on the brain or does it transcend the brain

Thompson: That’s the fundamental question of the book. I felt compelled to write about it because it kept coming up for me in different ways, some of which were personal and some intellectual. On a personal level I thought about the question a lot when I was working intensely with my friend and mentor, Chilean neuroscientist, Francisco Varela, just before he died. He was terminally ill and we knew that at some point soon he was going to die.

I write about the last real conversation I had with him, how it centered on consciousness and the question of its transcendence. It was fall of 2000 and Cisco and I were in my dad’s apartment in New York on the Upper West Side, writing a scientific article about consciousness and the brain. We weren’t raising that question at all in the article but we were talking about it a lot when we weren’t working. Cisco was a Buddhist, and knew that he was going to die soon, so transcendence was something he was contemplating. From a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, consciousness is the most fundamental luminous nature of awareness, underlying more ordinary cognitive forms of the mind, and it’s not considered to be brain dependent. Cisco took this perspective very seriously, but he was a neuroscientist, so he was also skeptical and doubtful.

The experience of talking to Cisco about this and watching him die and feel the loss intensified the question for me. It was a question that I had always thought about, having studied Asian and Western philosophy, but also having grown up in the New Age and yoga world where it was just taken for granted that people had multiple lives and that consciousness carried on after physical death. (more…)

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Waking, Dreaming, Being

Waking, Dreaming, Being

This week our featured book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, with a foreword by Stephen Batchelor. Dreaming is one of the key parts of the human experience that Thompson examines in his book (it’s right there in the title, after all), and in today’s post, crossposted from the Huffington Post Blog, Thompson discusses the importance of dreaming to his work as a scholar, and to understanding what the concept of a “self” actually means.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being!

Waking, Dreaming, Being
Evan Thompson

Dreaming and waking up have puzzled and fascinated humanity since prehistoric times. Paleolithic cave paintings, according to some art historians, depict mental images from dreams and the borderland between sleep and wakefulness. The ancient Indian texts called the Upanishads describe three states of the self — waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. The early Chinese Daoist philosopher, Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu, 369-298 B.C.E.), wrote that only after one is “greatly awakened” does one realize that it was all a “great dream,” while the fool thinks that he is awake. The word “Buddha” means “Awakened One.”

Lucid dreaming — being aware of dreaming while you’re dreaming — is a vivid way to experience waking up and dreaming at the same time. You wake up within the dream without waking up from the dream. In the 1980s scientists showed that lucid dreaming is a real and unique state of consciousness in sleep. In the past four years, brain-imaging experiments have been done with lucid dreamers. Instead of cave art depicting the dream world, we now have images of the dreaming brain. (more…)

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Evan Thompson talks to Tricycle Magazine

Waking, Dreaming, Being

This week our featured book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, with a foreword by Stephen Batchelor. Recently, Thompson spoke to Tricycle Magazine about his book, his view of the mind, and mindfulness as an object of scientific scrutiny. We’ve excerpted parts of this interview below.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being!

Almost two and a half decades ago, in The Embodied Mind, you critiqued a notion of mind that was already prevalent then and that continues to frame much of the current neuroscience research on meditation. What is that view, and what is wrong with it?
We criticized the view that the mind is made up of representations inside the head. The cognitive science version says that the mind is a computer—the representations are the software, and the brain is the hardware. Although cognitive scientists today don’t think the brain works the way a digital computer does, many of them, especially if they’re neuroscientists, still think the mind is something in the head or the brain. And this idea shows up in the neuroscience of meditation. But this idea is confused. It’s like saying that flight is inside the wings of a bird. The mind is relational. It’s a way of being in relation to the world. You need a brain, just as the bird needs wings, but the mind exists at a different level—the level of embodied being in the world.

What’s your alternative view of the mind?
The alternative view we put forward is that cognition is a form of embodied action. “Embodied” means that the rest of the body, not just the brain, is crucial; “action” means that agency—the capacity to act in the world—is central. Cognition is an expression of our bodily agency. We inhabit a meaningful world because we bring forth or enact meaning. We called this view “enaction” or the “enactive approach.”

In the enactive approach, being human is a matter of inhabiting the human world of culture and shared bodily practices. Of course we need our brain to do this, but we also need that world to be in place in order for the human brain to develop properly. The brain is what philosophers call a necessary “enabling condition” for mind and meaning, while enculturation is a necessary enabling condition for the brain. What’s important is not just what is inside the brain but what the brain is inside of—the larger space of the body and culture. That is where we find mind and meaning. (more…)