Posts Tagged ‘Dalai Lama’

God & Religion

April 18, 2019

It is important to maintain a distinction between religion and God. Typically, the two concepts are conflated. A previous healthy memory post, God & Homo Sapiens, drew from a book by Reza Azlan titled “God: A Human History.” This book provides an exhaustive review of evidence for religions from, at least, the earliest humans, through the development of the large religious organizations that exist today. Azlan makes a compelling argument that the belief in the soul as separate from the body is universal. Moreover, he argues that it is our first belief, far older than our belief in God, and that it is this belief in the soul that begat our belief in God.

It is reasonable to assume that there were humans who believed in God that predated religions. There are even data that support the notion that neanderthals had religious beliefs. It is likely that the earliest groups of humans had religious leaders. HM has wondered about the souls of people who existed before organized religions. What happens to them? HM is impressed that the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) has its members try to find their ancestors before the Church was founded so that they can be married and brought into the church in the temple. Unlike the tabernacle only Mormons can enter the temple.

Given that the size of our universe is still unknown as we are still waiting for light to reach us, it is likely that there are other species in this universe who are more intelligent than homo sapiens. It is unlikely that man has been made in God’s image. God is a spiritual entity of unknown form. Indeed, in pantheism God is omnipresent throughout the universe.

HM always wanted to believe in God, but he could never join a church because his thinking is governed by the law of Parsimony, and that law says to take the simplest explanation that explains the phenomena. What he disliked was that religions required one to believe. HM thinks that God gave us brains for thinking. not believing. It is men who tell us to believe so that they can govern us.

HM finds the Dalai Lama as the most impressive religious individual alive on earth. He is a Buddhist, but like other religions, there are different sects. The Buddhists who are attacking the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in Bangladesh are the antithesis of Buddhism. Although reincarnation is a central tenet in Buddhism, when asked if one needed to believe in reincarnation to be a Buddhist, the Dalai Lama answered “no.” All that was required is that one should love fellow humans and provide service to them. The Dalai Lama sends his priests to study science. He uses science to inform his religion. Unfortunately, too many religions are at war with science and fight science.

HM believes that we can communicate directly with God. During meditation there is a blissful state where one feels that he is in contact with his creator. So via meditation and contemplative prayer religions can be circumvented.

Understand that HM is not arguing against religions. If one has comfort in a religion that person should follow that religion, but not uncritically. Christians need to see if the preachings are in accordance with the gospels, rather than the old testament or parts of the new testament that are not gospels.

To learn more about meditation, begin with the relaxation response. You need to go to the main page of the healthy memory blog (by entering
https://healthymemory.wordpress.com into your browser.) Search for “relaxation response”. The next topic to search for is “loving kindness meditation”.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Personal Examples of Perceiver Mode

March 19, 2019

This is the third post in series of posts based on a book by Stephen Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller titled “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” The subtitle is “Harnessing the Power of the Four Cognitive Modes.” The chapter begins, “The nineteenth century poet Emily Dickinson illustrates well the characteristics of operating in Perceiver Mode—the mode of thinking and behaving in which people deeply engage in observing and analyzing their surroundings and circumstances (using the bottom brain) but tend not implement complex or detailed plans (using the top brain). She lived day to day with no career ambitions, sometime entertaining friends, but mostly reading and writing poems that she made little effort to have published.

She was a devoted gardener, and she loved her time with flowers, bees, and butterflies, from which she drew insights that informed her poetry. She wrote poems about the brain. This is poem number 632, she did not title her works.

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—

The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
As Sponges—Buckets—do—

Science was not Dickinson’s abiding passion. She found her greatest themes observing nature, in the changes of season and day, in the cycles of life and death. This would characterize someone for whom the Perceiver Mode was the typical way of thinking and behaving. Of the hundreds of poems Dickinson wrote about the natural world, the authors found the following poem one that nicely captures both her talent and her wisdom, presumably gleaned through deep utilization of her bottom brain.

Nay—Nature is heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Seas—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is—
To her simplicity.

The authors write, “If the Theory of Cognitive Modes is correct, then people who typically think and behave in Perceiver Mode will not ordinarily seek publicity. Still, some have achieved prominence without aggressively seeking it. History has shown that spiritual and religious figures who have helped make sense of human existence can attract large followings. Although they do not engage in self-serving campaigns, their ideas compel others.

The Dalai Lama fits that description (There are thirty-one healthy memory posts on the Dalai Lama).

The authors write, “One could argue that a person who typically thinks in Perceiver Mode is better suited to bringing a deeper perspective to human existence than is usually offered by someone who generally thinks in one of the other three modes.”

The Dalai Lama writes in “Compassion and the Individual”:
“It is possible to divide every kind of happiness and suffering into two main categories: mental and physical. Of the two, it is the mind that exerts the greatest influence on most of us. Unless we are either gravely ill or deprived of basic necessities, our physical condition plays a secondary role in life. If the body is content, we virtually ignore it, The mind, however, registers every event, no matter how small. Hence we should devote most of out serious efforts to bringing about mental peace.

From my own limited experience, I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes.”

If you have not tested yourself to see if you are classified in the Perceiver Mode, go to the the first post in this series “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.”

The Nurturant Parent Model

December 4, 2018

This is the fourth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.”

Lakoff begins, “Now let me talk a bit about how progressives understand their morality and what their moral system is. It too comes out of a family model, what I call the nurturant parent model. The strict father worldview is so named because according to its own beliefs, the father is head of the family. The nurturant parent model is gender neutral. Both parents are equally responsible for raising the children. The assumption is that children are born good and can be made better. The world can be made a better place, and our job is to work on that. The parent’s job is to nurture their children and to raise their children to be nurturers of others.”

According to Lakoff nurturance means three things: empathy, responsibility for yourself and for others, and a commitment to do you best not just for yourself, but for your family, your community, your country, and the world. Lakoff continues, “If you have a child, you have to know what every cry means. You have to know when the child is hungry, when she needs a diaper change, and when she is having nightmares. And you have a responsibility—you have to take care of the child. Since you cannot take care of someone else if you are not taking care of yourself, you have to take care of yourself enough to be able to take of the child.”

If you empathize with your child, you want your child to be fulfilled in life, to be a happy person. And if you are unhappy, unfulfilled person yourself, you are not going to want other people to be happier than you are. The Dalai Lama teaches us that. Therefore it is our moral responsibility to be a happy, fulfilled person. This is our moral responsibility. Moreover, it is our moral responsibility to teach our children to be happy, fulfilled persons who want others to be happy and fulfilled. That is part of what nurturing family life is about. It is a common precondition for caring about others.

Lakoff lists some additional nurturant values.

*If you want your child to be fulfilled in life, the child has to be free enough to seek and possibly find fulfillment. Therefore freedom is a value.
*You do not have very much freedom if there is no opportunity or prosperity. Therefore opportunity and prosperity are progressive values.
*If you really care about your child, you want your child to be treated fairly by you and by others. Therefor fairness is a value.
*If you are connecting with your child and empathize with that child, you have to have open two-way communication. Honest, open communication. That becomes a value.
*You live in a community, and that community will affect how your child grows up. Therefore community-building, service to the community, and cooperation in a community become values.
*To have cooperation, you must have trust, and to have trust, you must have honesty and open two-way communication. Trust, honesty and open communication are fundamental progressive values—in a community as in a family.”

Science

April 18, 2018

Dr. Pinker argues in “Enlightenment Now” that the greatest accomplishment of our species is science. HM strongly agrees with this statement. It is certainly responsible for our standard of living. Most of the progress documented by Dr. Pinker would not have occurred without science. This being the case, what could possibly be the problem.

One problem comes from religions who believe scriptures that are clearly wrong and deny Science. The Amish do this, but HM admires the Amish in that they adopt, for the most part, a standard of living commensurate to their ignorance of science. However, most accept the fruits of science while denying scientific findings.

Perhaps the best example of this is their denial of evolution and their embracement of intelligent design. Unfortunately, too many people argue against teaching intelligent design in schools, and for the teaching of evolutionary theory. HM dislikes this because science should not be taught as dogma. Moreover, comparing intelligent design with evolutionary design provides a good means of illustrating the essence of science.

Intelligent design cherry picks species that they argue could only be done by the hand of God. One can easily find living species that make one wonder why they were created, but it is the dead and extinct species that are most informative. What are they? Failures of God? Did God screw up millions to times trying develop the remaining species? What explains them? Don’t they point to an evolutionary process? And what about geological data? Those data, that came to us through many years of research by the more intelligent of our species is to be ignored because of what is said in the bible?

The conflict between science and religion is unnecessary. HM believes in God and there are many religions that do not claim for the literal interpretation of the bible. When there is good scientific data, that should be believed rather than some religious scripture. The Dalai Lama provides a good example. He uses science to inform his religion. And he sends his followers to learn science.

The disrespect of science among American right-wing politicians has led even stalwarts (such as Bobby Jindal) to disparage their own Republican party as the “party of the stupid.” This reputation grew out of policies set in motion during George W. Bush’s administration including the encouragement of the teaching of intelligent design in lieu of evolution, and a shift from the longstanding practice of seeking advice from disinterested scientific panels to stacking the panels with congenial ideologues, may of whom promoted flaky ideas (such as that abortion causes breast cancer) while denying well-supported ones (such as condoms preventing sexually transmitted diseases).

The highest point of this stupidity has been reached with the Incompetent who is currently serving as the President of the United States. Not only is he not using science and denying science, but he is both making scientific information difficult to access and even destroying scientific information.

Dr. Pinker makes every effort to be fair. He notes that there are those on the left of the political spectrum who have stoked panics about overpopulation, nuclear power, and genetically modified organisms. It is important that these potential problems be brought to public attention, but people must do their own reading to get a more balanced understanding of the issues.

There are many criticisms of science that are just irrelevant. One is reductionism. Reductionism is not the aim of all science. Some areas of research employ reductionism. But at different levels, new processes emerge. And research areas are designed for particular areas that emerge at different levels. So one can study neuroscience, but then others study the processes that emerge from neuroscience, such as cognition.

There are also criticisms of science by intellectuals. Frankly, HM attributes most of these criticisms as intellectual jealousy. Although their studies might be interesting, they are not that relevant to the rest of society, and do not contribute much to public welfare.

Regarding public welfare and political disagreements, a scientific approach should be embraced. When a problem is identified and there is disagreement about how to deal with the problem a scientific approach is recommended. Design a study to evaluate the alternative approaches. This could also provide the data for the possible quantification of the magnitude of the benefit or problem, depending on what is being studied. Do not argue “I believe.” Beliefs should be left at home. Points should be argued with logic and data.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith andhealthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It Should be Life Quality Not Household Income

December 17, 2017

Being at the forefront of the baby boomers, HM becomes extremely agitated when he reads of how bad the more recent generations have it. The argument usually consists of adjustments of median income, and that this is not keeping up with previous generations. Monetary income is used to quantify life quality. This is extremely shortsighted and wrong.

Do any of these new generations wish they could have been in the good old days of the baby boomers? If they do, then they are fools. Personal computers were not available to say nothing of the internet and mobile computing. Would anyone in these new generations be willing to part with their smartphones? Medical care, automobiles, and other technologies have markedly improved.

Many baby boomers had to register for the draft and fight in the Viet Nam war. They had the privilege of possibly having their names added to the wall on the Mall. Of course, if one was wealthy, it was quite possible to find a physician who would provide the basis for a medical deferment.

Unfortunately, dollars are equated with happiness and life satisfaction. The Gross Domestic Product is the most common means of assessing life satisfaction, if not happiness. A healthy economy requires the GDP to grow. We are placed on a treadmill to continue working to buy more material goods. This is the rat race that is only occasionally mentioned.

There have been several healthy memory blog posts on the expectations HM was given when he was in elementary school. He learned that advances in technology would allow a large increase in leisure time. At that time women with children rarely worked. Now everybody is working longer hours. Why? There is a fear of technology taking away jobs. Why? Why can’t technology be used to increase leisure time and to make life more enjoyable?

A previous post, Flourishing, described what Aristotle and other wise people, both ancient and contemporary, wrote about what constitutes the good life. Rather than hedonism, the goals should be eudaemonia and ikigai, having a purpose in life other than having a job to earn money to engage in a futile effort to achieve happiness. Follow the wisdom of the Dalai Lama and go to http://joinaforce4good.org/learn.

There are metrics for Gross National Happiness that are more relevant to happiness than are gross domestic products. (Enter “Gross National Happiness” into the search block of the healthymemory blog to find relevant posts.)

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

More on the Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

December 16, 2017

That is from the book written for the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman, “A FORCE FOR GOOD: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World.” Five healthy memory blog posts have already been written. Several more months could be spent on posts summarizing more wisdom from the book. Instead chapter titles and headings from the remainder of the book will be written here in the hope that they will persuade to you read the book on your own.

The first two parts, that have been reviewed are titled Part One: A World Citizen and Part Two: Looking Inward.

Part Three is titled Looking outward
Representative titles and headings follow;
Compassion Takes Action
Constructive Anger
The Strength of Altruism
The Empathy Gap
Structural Unfairness
Impeccability
Economics as if People Mattered
Rethinking Economics
The Secret of Happiness
Action for Happiness
Doing Good While Doing Well
Care for Those in Need
Helping People Help Themselves
Self-Mastery
Women as Leaders
Barefoot College
Heal the Earth
Radical Transparency
Trade-offs, Innovations—and Education
Rethinking Every Thing
How Did That Get Here?
A Century of Dialogue
Beyond Us and Them
The Power of Truth
Harmony Among Religions
Toward a Century of Dialogue
Put-Ups and Win-Wins
Educate the Heart
Mind Training
Reinventing Education
Social and Emotional Learning
A Call to Care
Part Four is titled Looking Back, Looking Ahead
The Long View
Are Things Getting Better or Worse?
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Thinking in New Ways
A Theory of Change
Plant the Seeds for a Better World
Act Now
Take It to Scale
The Human Connection
Think, Plan, Act

Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

December 15, 2017

With the Dalai Lama’s encouragement Richard Davidson founded the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM). Part of its mission is to study the best routes to compassion. A kindness curriculum is being tested at a preschool there. Preschoolers recite together a kindness pledge: “May all I think, say, or do not hurt anyone and help everyone.”

If the children do something kind for someone, they earn a “seed of kindness” planted on a big poster of a “kindness garden.”

They have a practice they call “belly buddies.” Children put a favorite stuffed animal on their bellies, then lie down and quiet themselves by paying full attention to the buddy rising and falling as they breathe in and out. The kindness curriculum includes a variety of methods like these, all aimed at helping the preschoolers learn to be more calm and quiet. This exercise should also prepare the children for the meditations they will do when they are older.

These preschoolers, four- and five-year-olds, are at the cusp of a development phase when kids are known to become more selfish, self-focused, and egocentric. In a test of the kindness program’s effects, the preschoolers were given a challenge after a semester.

Each child received some “cool” stickers (kids at this age are passionate about stickers) and was asked to allot the stickers to several envelopes: one with their own picture on it, one with a picture of their best fiend, the third with a child they did not know, and the fourth with a sick child.

Over the semester, a comparison group of preschoolers who did not participate in the program became more selfish in their sticker allotments—but not the kids in the kindness curriculum. So this usual trend in five-year-olds toward selfishness can be offset. Moreover, this shift toward a warmer heart is not just for children.

https://centerhealthyminds.org/about/founder-richard-davidson

The website for this center is provided above. It is certainly worth checking out.

Partnering with Science

December 14, 2017

The title of this post is identical to a chapter in “A FORCE FOR GOOD: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for our World” has been written for the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman. The Dalai Lama sees science as but one way of grasping reality, limited by its methodologies and assumptions, like another way of knowing. The Dalai Lama said, “Scientists themselves have emotions that create problems. If we get helpful finding from science about how to create greater well-being and lessen destructive emotions, it’s more convincing and it will also help the scientists.

When Goleman was a pre-doctoral traveling fellow in South Asia, he studied a fifth-century text that provided a sampling of “ancient Indian psychology.” He was amazed at the precision with which this text delineated specific methods to shift our emotional and mental states (not to mention achieving transcendental states, which even today are largely off psychology’s map in the West.) So it is not only the Buddhist religion that offers relevant practices for western psychology, but eastern psychology itself has valuable science for the west.

The Dalai Lama has met many distinguished scientists on his visits to the West, and there have been many western scientists who have traveled to India to meet the Dalai Lama.

When Kiley Hamlin, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia was showing the Dalai Lama a video of a three-month-old preferring a nicer triangle (the triangle was shown as being nicer in the video) to the mean square (which was shown as being a meanie in the video). She concluded, “The very young already like goodness and enjoy being helpful and compassionate.”

Although pleased the Dalai Lama did not take this presentation uncritically. The Dalai Lama responded, “Thinking in terms of statistics, you’ve shown only one child. That is the average response?”

Hamlin reassured him that this test had been replicated with hundreds of children and in cultures around the world.

The Dalai Lama nodded in approval—but still queried, “And was their economic level taken into account?

Hamlin confirmed that they had found the same in children from poorer families and from wealthy ones.

In addition to his travels to meet scientists in the west, regular conferences are held at the Dalai Lama’s residence in India where scientists present their research to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama says that he’s collecting “ammunition,” findings to support his message in his public talks—and with the press.

The Dalai Lama’s Approach to Religion

December 13, 2017

To be sure, the Dalai Lama’s understanding of the power of compassion comes from his deep spiritual reflections of human suffering and relief from that suffering. However, as a world leader, the Dalai Lama puts aside religion, ideology, or any faith-based belief system in seeking a foundation for this compassionate ethic. He notes that, for centuries, religion provided an ethical base—but with the spin-off of philosophy from theology, postmodernism, and the “death of God.” many people have been left with no absolute foundation for ethics. Moreover, so often the talk about ethics polarizes people who get hijacked by extreme voices, particularly when the discussion revolves around religious belief.

Those who cause the troubles we hear about in the daily news all too often invoke as justification one or another religion—whether Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, or any other. The Dalai Lama says, “then there are those narrow-minded believers who say all creatures are the same but emphasize their own faith, forgetting the larger perspective.”

He observes that “their actions show that ‘deep inside’ they do not take their own religion’s moral values seriously and so distort or carefully select some textual sources while ignoring others, to serve their own needs. If we lack basic conviction in the value of compassion, then the effect of religion will be quite limited.”

Religions have had thousands of years to promote ethics—and have often failed, he says. Besides, while selflessness and kindness are ideals found in most faith-based teachings, these virtues also exist in nonreligious ethical systems. He continues”there are countless people in the world who are concerned for all humanity and yet who do not have religion. I think of all the doctors and aid workers volunteering in such places as Darfur or Haiti or wherever there is conflict of natural disaster. Some of them may be people of faith, but many are not. Their concern is not for this group or that group but simply for human beings. What drives them is genuine compassion—the determination to alleviate the suffering of others.”

He seeks a morality of compassion that all agree upon: “My concern is the seven billion human beings alive now, including one billion nonbelievers.”

A Force for Good

December 12, 2017

The Dalai Lama envisions a force for good. That force begins by countering the energies within the human mind that drive our negativity. To change the future and not repeat the past, The Dalai Lama tells us, we need need to transform our own minds—weaken the pull of our destructive emotions to strengthen our better natures.

Absent that inner shift, we remain vulnerable to knee-jerk reactions like rage, frustration, and hopelessness. These only lead us to the same old forlorn paths.

With a positive inner shift, we can more naturally embody concern for others—and so act with compassion, the core of moral responsibility. The Dalai Lama says that this prepares us to enact a larger mission with new clarity, calm, and caring. We can tackle intractable problems, like corrupt decision-makers and tuned out elites, greed and self-interest as giving motives, the indifference of the powerful to the powerless.

By beginning this social revolution inside our own minds, the Dalai Lama’s vision aims to avoid the blind alleys of past movements for the better. He cites the message of George Orwell’s cautionary parable “Animal Farm:” how greed and lust for power corrupted the “utopias” which were supposed to overthrow despots and help everyone equally, but in the end re-created the power imbalances and injustices of the very past they were supposed to have eradicated.

The Dalai Lama sees that the seeds we plant today can change the course of our shared tomorrow. Some may bring immediate fruits others may only be harvested by generations yet to come. But our united efforts, if based on this inner shift, can make an enormous difference.

The life journey that led the Dalai Lama to this vision has followed a complex course, but we can pick up the final trajectory to this book from the moment he attained a sustained global spotlight.

That global spotlight began when the Dalai Lama earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He was a new breed of celebrity. He was neither thrilled by fame and money nor overly eager for exposure in the world press. His very being seems to tell us you are not the center of the universe—relax your anxieties, drop your self-obsession, and dial down those me-first ambitions so you can think about others too. He immediately gave away the cash award that goes with the Nobel Prize. His main concern was who would be the most worthy recipients.

He refuses to be sanctimonious about himself and laughs at his own foibles. He flavors compassion with joy, not dour and empty platitudes.

Goleman notes that these traits are no doubt grounded in the study and practices the Dalai Lama has immersed himself in since childhood and and still devotes himself to for five hours each day (four in the morning and another hour at night). “His self-discipline in cultivating qualities like an investigative curiosity, equanimity, and compassion undergird a unique hierarchy of values that gives the Daily Lama the radically different perspective on the world from which his vision flows.”

The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

December 11, 2017

Previous posts on the Dalai Lama have focused primarily on the benefits of different types of mindfulness and meditation. Their focus has been primarily on science. “A FORCE FOR GOOD: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for our World” has been written for the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman. It outlines the Dalai Lama’s ideas on how to improve this world. This vision is worthy of your attention and the following posts will try to extract his ideas within the limitations of blog posts. You are strongly encouraged to read the book itself. There is also a website associated with this book,
http://joinaforce4good.org/learn. It is certainly worthy of repeated visits.

The following is taken from the Introduction to the book, which is written by the Dalai Lama:
“As a human being I acknowledge that my well-being depends on others and caring for others’ well-being is a moral responsibility I take seriously. It’s unrealistic to think that the future of humanity can be achieved on the basis of prayer or good wishes alone; what we need is to take action. Therefore, my first commitment is to contribute to human happiness as best I can. I am also a Buddhist monk, and according to my experience, all religious traditions have the potential to convey the message of love and compassion. So my second commitment is to foster harmony and friendly relations between them. Thirdly, I am a Tibetan, and although I have retired from political responsibility, I remain concerned to do what I can to help the Tibetan people, and to preserve our Buddhist culture and the natural environment of Tibet—-both of which are under threat of destruction.

The goal of happier human beings living together and supporting each other more fully in a more peaceful world is, I believe, something we can achieve. But we have to look at it taking a broad view and a long-term perspective. Change in ourselves and in the world in which we live may not take place in a hurry; it will take time. But if we don’t make the effort nothing will happen at all. The most important thing I hope readers will come to understand is that change will not take place because of decisions taken by governments or at the UN. Real change will take place when individuals transform themselves sided by the values that lie at the core of all human ethical systems, scientific findings, and common sense. While reading this book, please keep in mind that as human beings, equipped with marvelous intelligence and the potential for developing a warm heart, each and every one of us can become a force for good.

Analytical Meditation

December 9, 2017

This is the advanced deep path meditation. Usually stabilizing meditation (see previous post) is preliminary to analytic meditation. This type of meditation is for the purpose of developing insight or correct understanding of the way things are, and eventually to attain special insight (Sanskrit: vipashyana) into the ultimate nature of all things. Analytical meditation brings into play creative intellectual thought and is crucial to our development: the first step in gaining any real insight is to understand conceptually how things are. This conceptual clarity develops into firm conviction which, when combined with stabilizing meditation, brings direct and intuitive knowledge.

It is doubtful that most readers will want to get into this level of meditation, and fortunately, there are many benefits to just using the relaxation response. However, others might want to try this and see if it is for them. This can lead to retreats and a high level of involvement.

Should you be interested in exploring analytical meditation a good book is “How to Meditate by Kathleen McDonald. In addition to covering the basics, here is what she covers:

Meditations on the Mind which include meditation on the breath, meditation on the clarity of the mind, and meditation on the continuity of the mind.

Analytical Meditations which include Meditation on Emptiness, Appreciating our Human Life, Meditation on Impermanence, Death Awareness Meditation, Meditation on Karma, Purifying Negative Karma, Meditation on Suffering, Equanimity Meditation, Meditation on Love, Meditation on Compassion and Giving and Taking, Dealing with Negative Energy.

Visualization Meditations which include Body of Light Meditation, Simple Purification Meditation, Meditation on Tara, the Buddha of Enlightened Activity, Meditation on Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, Inner Heat Meditation.

And should you be interested in Prayers and Other Devotional Practices
Prayers, Explanation of the Prayers, A Short meditation on the Graduated Path of Enlightenment, Meditation on the Buddha, Meditation on the Healing Buddha, Meditation on the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, Prayer to Tara, Vajrsattva Purification, The Eight Mahayana Precepts, Prostations to the Thirty-five Buddhas.

P.S. HM finds parts of this post, which were taken from Kathleen McDonald’s book disturbing. “For example, This type of meditation is for the purpose of developing insight or correct understanding of the way things are, and eventually to attain special insight (Sanskrit: vipashyana) into the ultimate nature of all things.” Readers of this blog should be know that HM advises never be 100% certain of everything. For critical thinking there always needs to be room, however small, for doubt. So to claim eventually to attain special insight into the ultimate nature of things is a bit of an overshoot. So to meditate to develop insight or correct understanding of the way things are can be an aspirational goal. It is important to understand that there are different ways of knowing, and it is a mistake to pursue only one way. Science is a way of knowing. Contemplative practices of religions are a complementary way of knowing. These are two ways of knowing that complement each other. Unfortunately too many fail to realize this. HM thinks that the Dalai Lama is the first religious leader to use science to inform religious beliefs. He sends his priests to learn about science as he thinks this is essential to effective religious leadership

Lists of Paramitas

December 7, 2017

Paramitas means completeness or perfection. Lists of paramitas are virtuous traits that mark progress in contemplative traditions. Among the paramitas of the yogi’s discussed in “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body” are generosity, the giving away of material wealth or of oneself, and ethical conduct, not harming oneself or others and following guidelines for self-discipline.

Additional traits are: patience, tolerance, and composure. These imply a serene equanimity. The Dalai Lama told an MIT audience, “Real peace is when your mind goes twenty-four hours a day with no fear, no anxiety.”

The authors note that there are intriguing dovetails between scientific data and the ancient maps to altered traits. An eighteenth-century Tibetan text advises that among the signs of spiritual progress are loving-kindness and strong compassion toward everyone, contentment, and “weak desires.” The authors note that these qualities seem to match with indicators of brain changes that have been tracked: amped-up circuitry for empathic concern and parental love, a more relaxed amygdala, and decreased volume of brain circuits associated with attachment.

A Tibetan tradition proffers a view that we all have a Buddha nature, but we simply fail to recognize it. In this view, the nub of meditative practice becomes recognizing intrinsic qualities, what’s already present rather than the development of any new inner skill. According to this perspective, the remarkable neural and biological findings among the yogis are signs not so much of skill development, but rather the quality of recognition.

This is an interesting question to ponder. The authors point to an increasingly robust corpus of scientific findings showing, for example, that if an infant watches puppets who engage in an altruistic, warmhearted encounter, or ones who are selfish and aggressive when given he choice of a puppet to reach for, almost all infants choose one of the friendly ones. They say this natural tendency continues through the toddler years.

HM wonders if these same results are found with infants who are unloved. And if it occurs through the toddler years for unloved toddlers.

The authors note that historically meditation was not meant to improve our health, relax us, or enhance work success. They note that although these are the kinds of appeal that has made meditation ubiquitous today, over the centuries such benefits were incidental, unnoticed side effects. This was unfortunate, because the benefits that have made meditation popular today are very real, and can be achieved using the relaxation technique espoused by Dr. Benton for only 20 minutes a day.

What the Yogi’s are able to accomplish require many thousands of hour of meditation in the deep mode.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Altered Traits and the Deep Path

November 29, 2017

The deep path of meditation focuses on deep exploration of the mind toward a profound alteration of our being. An altered trait is a new characteristic that arises from a meditation practice that endures apart from meditation itself. Altered traits affect how we behave in our daily lives, and not just during or immediately after we meditate. The concept of altered traits has been a lifelong pursuit of Goleman and Davidson, authors of “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body,”

For Goleman and Davidson, the most compelling impacts of meditation are not better health or sharper business performance but, instead, a further reach toward our better nature. The research indicates that the deep path markedly boosts science’s models of the upper limits of our positive potential. The further reaches of the deep path cultivate enduring qualities like selflessness, equanimity, a loving presence, and impartial compassion, traits which we should all regard as positive traits.

Goleman and an Davidson wrote an article titled, “The Role of Attention in Meditation and Hypnosis: A Psychobiological Perspective on Transformations of Consciousness. Transformation of consciousness was their term for altered states, which they regarded as a psychological or neural shift. They contended that hypnosis, unlike meditation, produced primarily state effects, and not the trait effects that meditation did. At the time this article was written the fascination was not with traits but rather altered states. As Goleman and Davidson said, “after the high goes, you’re still the same schmuck you were before.”

Goleman and Davidson say that this basic confusion is still too common. Some people focus on the remarkable states attained during a meditation session, particularly during long retreats, and pay little attention to how, or even if, those states translated into a lasting change for the better in their qualities of being after they’ve gone home. Their point is that valuing just the heights misses the true point of practice: to transform ourselves in lasting ways day to day. The Dalai Lama has said, “The true mark of a meditator is that he has disciplined his mind by freeing it from negative emotions.”

Goleman and Davidson articulated the hypothesis: The after is the before for the next during. To elaborate, “after” refers to enduring changes from meditation that last long enough beyond the practice session itself. “Before” means the condition we are in before we start meditating. “During” is what happens as we meditate, temporary changes in our state that pass when we stop meditating. Repeated practice of meditation results in lasting traits—the “after.” Research in the book and in subsequent posts provide scientific support for meditation producing the “after.”

A Few Words About Buddhism

November 28, 2017

A reasonable response after reading the preceding posts is, if Buddhism is so great, what do they have to show for it. This is a variant of “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” First of all there are many different sects of Buddhism. They range from the highly ascetic Zen Buddhism, to highly commercialized sects that can be readily found in Japan. It should also be realized that, like other religions, there is a wide variance in the practice of the religion. What is particularly disturbing is how the Burmese, who are predominately Buddhist, have been persecuting the Rohingya, who are Moslem. They are killing them. Killing fellow humans is, or should be, anathema to Buddhists. Self-immolation, rather than fighting, was the preferred reaction in Viet Nam.

The Dalai Lama is the leader of Tibetan Buddhism. But as was said in a previous post, the Dalai Lama is not interested in making converts to Buddhism. However, he is interested in making a better world, and he thinks meditation and mindfulness will help in accomplishing this goal. The data in “Altered Traits” supports his thinking.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Altered Traits

November 25, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson. The subtitle is “Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. The following is taken from the Coda of the book: “We are inspired by the vision of the Dalai Lama. He encourages us all to do three things: gain composure, adopt a moral rudder of compassion, and act to better the world. The first, inner calm, and the second, navigating with compassion, can be products of meditation practice, as can executing the third, via skillful actions. Exactly what action we take, though, remains up to each of us, and depends on our individual abilities and possibilities—we each can be a force for good.”

We view this “curriculum” as one solution to an urgent public health need: reducing greed, selfishness, us/them thinking and impending eco-calamities, and promoting more kindness, clarity, and calm. Targeting and upgrading these human capacities directly could help break the cycle of some otherwise intractable social maladies, like ongoing poverty, intergroup hatreds, and mindlessness about our planet’s well-being.”

To be sure, there are still many, many questions about how altered traits occur, and much more research is needed. But the scientific data supporting altered traits have come together to the point that any reasonable scientist would agree that this inner shift seems possible. Yet too few of us at present realize this, let alone entertain the possibility for ourselves.

The scientific data, while necessary, are by no means sufficient for the change we envision. In a world growing more fractured and endangered, we need an alternative to mind-sets snarky and cynical, views fostered by focusing on the bad that happens each day rather than the far more numerous acts of goodness. In short, we have an even greater need for the human qualities altered traits foster.

We need more people of good will, who are more tolerant and patient, more kind and compassionate. And these can become qualities not just espoused but embodied.”

The philosophy espoused here is eudaemonism, which is a system of ethics that bases moral values on the likelihood that good actions will produce happiness. The exact opposite is hedonism, which is hardly an ethical theory, and maintains that pleasure is the highest good and proper aim of human life. There are several problems with hedonism. One is to take care of oneself and to screw everyone else. Poor health often is concomitant with pleasure. There also constraints on the amount of pleasure one can tolerate. Eudaemonism is unconstrained, promotes health, benefits others, and results in happiness. The hope is that eudaemonism is within us human beings and that meditation and mindfulness are activities that foster eudaemonism.

Understand that the goal here is not to convert people to Buddhism. The Dali Lama uses science to inform Buddhist ideology and practices. He sends monks to study science. Most religions at onetime had contemplative practices like meditation, and some still do. Rather than citing words by rote, prayer should be a meditative practice. It is important to realize that all religions, Buddhism included, have been created by human beings. What is spoken from the pulpit should not be taken uncritically. Rather, one needs to assess not only whether it corresponds with the stated doctrine and literature of the religion, but also whether it corresponds to a loving, just, and forgiving God.

Obviously, this book deserves many posts. Coleman and Davidson apply rigorous standards to assessing the data, so the conclusions above are justified. The primary criticism might well be that they are overly optimistic. Nevertheless, they are well worth pursuing.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Siddhartha’s Brain

October 14, 2016

“Siddhartha’s Brain” is a book by the veteran science writer James Kingsland.  The subtitle of the book  is “Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment.”  Should you not know, Siddhartha, a well off noble who became a pauper to learn about suffering and, more importantly, how to deal with it, became known as the Buddha.  If people think they know one thing about Buddhism, it is probably that Buddhists believe in repeated rebirths after death.  However, when the Dalai Lama  was asked whether it is necessary to believe in rebirth to be a Buddhist, he emphatically replied:  “It doesn’t matter!   The most important thing was to practice the essence of the Buddha’s teaching—impermanence, selflessness, and compassion.”  He went on to say that with increasingly refined states of meditation, one would invariably  gain the insight that rebirth was real and that to escape from the cycle of suffering, one must attain nibbana. The Dalai Lama does not proselytize Buddhism.  What he does strongly advocate is secular humanism.  Even Buddhists in traditional schools dismiss any speculation about rebirth as a waste of time.  They believe instead that we  should focus on the karma that determines out psychological well being in this life.   It is important to realize that Buddhism is not a belief system.  Rather it is a religious approach based on experience.

Nor is it claimed that Buddhists developed meditation.  Rather it is believed that individual humans stumbled upon the meditative experience.  Moreover, meditation has been practiced by contemplatives in virtually every substantive religion.  Meditation can and should be expanded into mindfulness.  One is tempted to attribute the current state of the world, as well as the historical record, to a famine of mindfulness.  It is hoped that some day there will be a feast of mindfulness,  The practice of mindfulness involves regarding oneself in the third person and trying to understand others from their perspectives, and to be concerned about their well-being.

One learns much about Siddhartha and Buddhism in this volume to include practices of meditation and mindfulness. But it does not cover all the different branches  of Buddhism.  They range from the extremely ascetic Zen Buddhism to highly commercial versions.  There are Buddhist priests who marry and have families.  HM has been to Japan several times and has marveled at the selling of fortunes by some versions.

There are Buddhists who strongly object to the way the private companies have adopted mindfulness and meditation practices.  Philosophically, they are far from the Dalai Lama who presses for secular humanism.  Regardless, HM predicts that in the future it will be commonplace for businesses and agencies to have dedicated spaces for meditation and mindfulness.  Dedicated facilities for physical exercise have become commonplace, but dedicated facilities for meditation and mindfulness will not only promote physical health, they will also promote psychological health and beneficial interactions among personnel.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ten Fundamentals of Brain Plasticity

August 3, 2016

These ten fundamentals come from Dr. Merzenich’s book, “Soft-Wired” with elaboration and comments by Healthy Memory (HM).

1. Change is mostly limited to those situations in which the brain is in the mood for it.
If you force it the learning will be inefficient and of poor quality.  I find it surprising that Dr. Merzenich, in spite of his participation in the conferences at Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India  with the Dalai Lama that have demonstrated the pronounced effects of meditation, he makes no mention of meditation.  Meditation is one of the best, if not the best, means of restoring the mind.

2.  The harder we try, the more we are motivated, the more alert we are, and the better (or worse) the outcome, the bigger the brain change.
Once again HM marvels that Dr. Merzenich, in spite of his participation in the conferences at Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India  with the Dalai Lama that have demonstrated the pronounced effects of meditation.  Meditation provides an ideal means of gaining control of one’s attention, and an ideal means of focusing attention.

3.  What actually changes in the brain are the strength of the connections that are engage together, moment by moment, in time.
Both neurorgenesis, the forming of new neurons, and synaptogenesis, the forming of new connections among neurons are involved.  It is also important to realize that these neurons are not necessarily adjacent to each other.  Neurons transmit signals through axons that can be quite long.  So a single neuron in the prefrontal cortex can be sending a signal to another neuron in a distant part of the brain.  These connections can be quite long and complicated.  Their interactions have been described as being conversations within the brain.

4.  Learning-driven changes in connections increase cell-to-cell cooperation, which is crucial for increasing reliability.
So the process of learning involves increasing this cell-to-cell cooperation, cells which can be quite far apart depending upon the type of learning, and the reliability of the learning.

5.  The brain also strengthens the connections between those teams of neurons representing separate moments of activity that represent each little part of an action or thought.
So these signals need to be strengthened in terms of the time sequence of the actions or thoughts.

6  Initial changes are just temporary.
So with the exception of certain extraordinary conditions, these changes will be lost unless they are strengthened by further activity.

7.  The brain is changed by internal mental rehearsal in the same ways, and involving precisely the same processes, that construct changes with the external world
So thinking alone will strengthens these processes.  Thinking and mental rehearsal are very important.

8.  Memory guides and controls most learning.
Indeed, memory is key.  Memory is a device for time travel.  It reviews what it can find in memory and then uses it to solve problems, to consider alternative courses of action, to make a joke, or for pleasure.

9.  Every moment of learning provides a moment of opportunity for the brain to stabilize and to reduce the disruptive power of—potentially interfering and background or “noise.
This is all good.

10.  Brain plasticity is a two-way street; it is just as easy to generate negative changes as it is to produce positive ones.
So brain activity can be destructive.  Thinking negative thoughts and having a fixed mindset are damaging and do not allow us to fulfill our potential.  HM is reminded of an incident that took place in his last place of employment.  He was riding down in an elevator and one of the fellow passengers in the elevator remarked to his friend, that when he retired he was going to do absolutely nothing.  If all he could find on television were Luci reruns,, he would just watch “I Love Lucy.”  HM would place a large wager that serious dementia was not too far in this individual’s future.

HM would like to add a couple of more comments.
Please read the healthy memory blog post “The Myth of Cognitive Decline”, and “More on the Myth of Cognitive Decline.”  The longer we live, the more we have in memory, and if we have growth mindsets we have even more in memory.  This might appear to slow us down, but in reality we have rich mindsets with brains with many long interconnections within them.  In addition to adding to these mindsets it is healthy to review old memories.  Writing a biography or a family history can be enriching.

It is also important to realize that our brains continue to work even when you stop thinking about something.  My wife and I are frustrated when we know something, the name of an actress,for example, but can’t remember it.  We become frustrated, but find that the name comes into consciousness, unsolicited at some later time.  HM thinks this is very healthy, so he resists trying to google something that he is sure he knows.  He will try for a while to remember it.  He knows that when he stops consciously thinking about it, his brain will continue searching and will probably eventually find it.  HM believes that this unconscious bran activity is reactivating memory circuits and providing for memory health.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Now What?

June 16, 2016

“Now What” is the title of the final chapter in Sharon Begley’s outstanding book, “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain:  How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves.”   The answer to this question is that the future has arrived and that we are the beneficiaries of a revolution in the understanding of the brain and human potential.

There are three key discoveries.  One is that neurons are created until we die.
The second is neuroplasticity that the brain can rewire itself.
The third is that we can effect these changes with how with think, that is, with our minds.  Hence the title, “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.

Sometimes there are problems in the brain, and these can be corrected  by the way we think and exercises that can effectively make corrections to our neuroplastici brains.  But we can also build upon and improve our minds.  The future is virtually limitless.
Begley reviews some of the exciting research of Merzenich, which shall not be reviewed here as there shall be many future posts about the work of Merzenich.

A critical topic is that of secular ethics, a term Healthymemor believes was coined by the Dalai Lama.  The Dalai lama does not proselytize for Buddhism.  Rather he argues for a new basis for a modern ethics, one that appeals to the billions of people who adhere to different religions or to no religion, one that supports basic values such as personal responsibility, altruism, and compassion.

The problem is that a scientific literate person or anyone who gives a cursory glance at newspaper science stories may well react to that a message with some skepticism.  Modern science seems to be offering a radically different view of human responsibility.  Critics call this view neurogenetic determinism, the belief, ascendant from the early 1990s and propelled by the mystique of modern genetics, that ascribes causal power to the genres one inherent from one’s parents.  Should a reader still adhere to this view they are urged to read or reread all the posts devoted to Begleys book.  Genes are affected by the environment and, what is important, are epigenetic, which refers to what is read out from genes.  The environment has strong effects as do meditative practices.  There is a related wrong view and that is strict determinism.  We are victims to neither our genes nor to our environments.  Our minds, how we think about the world along with meditative practices, can and do effect changes.

Healthy memory shall conclude this post with the Begley’s final paragraph.  “The conscious act of thinking about one’s thoughts in a different way changes the very brain circuits that do that thinking, as studies show how psychotherapy changes the minds of people with depression show.  Such willfully induced brain changes require focus, training, and effort, but a growing number of studies show how real those changes are.  They come from within.  As discoveries of neuroplasticity, and this self-directed neuroplasticity, trickle down to clinics and schools and plain old living rooms, the ability to willfully change the brain will become a central part of our lives—and our understanding what it means to be human.”

Transforming the Emotional Mind

June 13, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of Chapter nine of Sharon Begley’s “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.”  In the 1970s, Davidson and his colleagues discovered striking differences in the patterns of brain activity that characterize people at opposite ends of the “eudaemonic scale,” which provides the spectrum of baseline happiness.  There are specific brain states that correlate with happiness.

Secondly, brain-activation patterns can change as a result of therapy and mindfulness meditation, in which people learn to think differently about their thoughts.  This has been shown in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and with patients suffering from depression.  Mental training practice and effort can bring about changes in the function of the brain.

Given these two facts Davidson built the hypothesis that meditation or other forms of mental training can, by exploiting the brain’s neuroplasticity, produce changes, most likely in patterns of neuronal activation, but perhaps even in the structure of neural circuitry that underlie enduring happiness and other positive emotions.  Then therapists and even individuals by exploiting the brain’s potential to change its wiring can restore the brain and the mind to emotional health.

In 1992 Davidson and his colleagues found that activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, as detected by EEG, is a reflection of a person’s emotional state.  Asymmetric activation in this region corresponds to different “affective styles.”  When activity in the left prefrontal cortex is markedly and chronically higher than in the right, people report feeling alert, energized, enthusiastic, and joyous, enjoying life more and having a greater sense of  well-being.  In other words, they tend to be happier.  When there is greater activity in the right prefrontal cortex, people report feeling negative emotions including worry, anxiety, and sadness.  They express discontent with life and rarely feel elation or joy.  If the asymmetry is so extreme that activity in the right prefrontal cortex swamps that in the left, the person has a high risk of falling into clinical depression.

The Dalai Lama has noted that the most powerful influences on the mind come from within our own mind.  The findings that, in highly experienced  meditators, there is greater activity in the left frontal cortex “imply that happiness is something we can cultivate deliberately through mental training that affects the brain.”

Research has shown that every area of the brain that had been implicated in some aspect of emotion had also been linked to some aspect of thought:  circuitry that crackles with electrical activity  when when the mind feels an emotion and circuitry  that comes alive when the mind undergoes cognitive processing, whether it is remembering, or thinking, or planning, or calculating, are intertwined as yarn on a loom.  Neurons principally associated with thinking connect to those mostly associated with emotion, and vice versa.  This neuroanatomy is consistent with two thousand years of Buddhist thought, which holds that emotion and cognition cannot be separated.

Using fMRI Davidson measured activity in the brain’s amygdala, an area that is active during such afflictive emotions as distress, fear, anger,and anxiety.  Davidson said, “Simply by mental rehearsal of the aspiration that a person in a photo be free of suffering, people can change the strength of the signal in the amygdala.  This signal in he fear-generating amygdala can be modulated with mental training.

Eight Buddhist adepts and eight controls  with 256 electrodes glued to their scalps engaged in the form of meditation called pure compassion, in which the meditator focuses on unlimited compassion and loving-kindness toward all living beings.  This produces a state in which love and compassion permeates the whole mind, with no other considerations, reasoning, or discursive thoughts.  The brain waves that predominated were gamma waves.  Scientists  believe that brain waves of this frequency reflect the activation and recruitment of neural resources and general mental effort.  They are also a signature of neuronal activity that knits together far-found brain circuits.  In 2004 the results of this study were published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Not surprisingly the results of the monks were quite pronounced.  But it was encouraging to discover that some of the controls who received a crash crash course and only a week’s worth of compassion meditation, showed a slight but significant increase in the gamma signal.

fMRI images were also taken.  The differences between the adepts and the controls were quite interesting.  There was significantly greater activation in the right ins and caudate, a network that other research has linked to empathy and maternal love.  These differences were most pronounced in monks with more years of meditation.  Connections from the frontal regions to the brain’s emotion regions seemed to become stronger with more years practicing meditation.  It was clear that mental training that engages concentration and thought can alter connections between the thinking brain and the emotional brain.

A surprising finding was that when the monks engaged in compassion meditation, their brains showed increased activity in regions responsible for planned movement.   It appeared that the monks’ brains were itching to go to the aid of those in distress.  Another spot of activation in the brains of the meditating monks jumped out in  an area in the left prefrontal cortex, the site of activity association with happiness.  Activity in the left prefrontal swamped activity in the right prefrontal  to a degree never before seen from purely mental activity.

Davidson concluded, “ I believe that Buddhism has something to teach us as scientists about the possibilities of human transformation and in providing a set of methods and a road map of how to achieve that.  We can have no idea how much plasticity there really is in the human brain until we see what intense mental training, not some weekly meditation session, can accomplish.  We’ve gotten the idea in Western culture, that we can change our mental status by a once-a-week, forty-five intervention, which is completely cockamamy.  Athletes and musicians train many hours every day.  As a neuroscientist, I have to believe that engaging in compassion meditation every day for an hour each day would change your brain in important ways.  To deny that without testing it, to accept the null hypothesis, is simply bad science.”

Davidson continues, “I believe that neuroplasticity will reshape psychology in the coming years.  Much of psychology had accepted the idea of a fixed program unfolding in the brain, one that strongly shapes behavior, personality, and emotional states.  That view is shattered by the discoveries of neuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity will be the counter to the deterministic view (that genes have behavior on a short leash).  The message I take for my own work is that I have a choice in how I react, that who I am depends on the choices I make, and that who I am is therefore my responsibility.”

Turning on Genes in the Brain

June 12, 2016

The seventh chapter of “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain” by Sharon Begley explains how genes in the brain are turned on.  This chapter begins by explaining the plight of many Romanian orphans after the dictator Ceausescu was overthrown.  The terrible neglect of these orphans produced severe cognitive and emotional shortcomings, which will not be reviewed.

The single best predictor of the growth of a baby is to ask its mother, “Did you want this child?”  In 2005 scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison designed a study showing what can happen to children whose parents answer “no” to this question.  The researchers studied children who were “reared in extremely aberrant social environments where they were deprived of the kind of caregiving typical for our species.  This meant that for seven to forty-two months after their birth, the twelve girls and six boys had lived in Russian or Romanian orphanages  that the World Health Organization described as poor to appalling.  These environments were generally void of stimulation and human interaction.  The children seldom experienced the love and caring of adults who recognized and responded to their needs.

These children were adopted by American families.  Within a year, most of their medical problems—ear infections and stomach problems, malnutrition and delayed growth—vanished.  Nevertheless, due to their legacy of neglect many of the children were diagnosed with attachment disorders, an inability to form emotional bonds to those closest to them.

Animal studies have identified two brain hormones as crucial to establishing social bonds and regulating emotional behaviors.  These are oxytocin and vasopressin that are associated with the emergence of social bonding and parental care.  Oxytocin, in particular, seems to be the brain’s social hormone.  When you have warm personal contact with someone you are close to, levels rise generating a sense of security and safety that lays the foundation for you to go out and have social interactions.  So we make friends and form close emotional attachments.  Vasopressin seems to be the “Oh, it’s you!” hormone.

The scientists tracked down eighteen of the Roumanian orphans who lived in Wisconsin.  They collected two urine sample from each child, a week or two apart, soon after the children played a computer  game while sitting on the lap of their mother or one of the female scientists.  Throughout the thirty-minute game, the mother or the scientist would whisper to the child, pat him on the head, tickle him or count his fingers and let him count hers, turning the otherwise impersonal game into a bit of a cuddle session.

These orphanage children had lower levels of vasopressin, suggesting that social deprivation may inhibit the development of the vasopressin system.  The children’s level of oxytocin after playing a game with their mother or a scientist was even more depressing.  Levels of this social-bonding hormone were not expected to rise after the interactions with the stranger, and they did not, in either the orphanage children or the control children.  However, after the children born to loving families sat on their mother’s lap and cuddled, their levels of oxytocin rose.  These levels did not rise in the orphanage children.  “Oxytocin is the system that cements the bonds between children and those who love them, producing a sense of calm and comfort that provides a base from which the children and those who love them, producing a sense of calm and comfort that provides a base from which children go out and embrace the world, form childhood friendships and, eventually, deep relationships .  This system was not what it should have been in the orphanage children.

“This research suggests that the lives we lead and the behavior of those who care for us can alter the very chemistry of DNA.  Genes are not destiny.  Our genes, and thus their effects on the brain, are more plastic than we ever dreamed.”

Richie Davidson said, “This work beautifully illustrates the mechanisms by which maternal influence can occur, and that it can occur in ways that affect gene expression.  This is powerful evidence for the impact of parenting on the capacity to change the brain and raises the issue of how we can promote better parenting.”

The Dalai Lama opined, “So the key thing is a peaceful mind.  Naturally and obviously, anger, hatred, jealously, fear, these are not helpful to develop peace of mind.  Love, compassion, affection—these are the foundations of a peaceful mind.  But then the question, how to promote that?  My approach, not through Buddhist tradition, I call secular ethics.  Not talking about heaven, not of nirvana or Buddhahood, but a happy life for this world.   Irrespective of whether  there is a next life or not.  Doesn’t matter.  That’s individual business.”

The Neuroplasticity of Young Brains

June 9, 2016

The fourth chapter of “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain”  by Sharon Begley is concerned with the neuroplasticity of young brains.  It reviews an enormous amount of research that can best be summarized in the following paragraphs taken from the text.

“…the key sensory cortices are, for the first decade of life and perhaps longer, like a flighty new college gradate hopscotching from job to job, responding to the best offer.  No signals from the eyes arriving?  No problem; the visual cortex will handle a different sense and even a non sensory job such as language.  No transmission from the ears?  The auditory cortex will be happy to help out with peripheral vision.  By the early years of the millennium, it was clear that these structures should really be referred to as he “visual cortex” and the “auditory cortex” in quotation marks.  “Visual information is going into the auditory cortex and auditor information is going into the visual cortex,” the researcher Neville told the Dalai Lama as she ended her presentation.  “This isn’t supposed to be how our brain is wired.  But what the research has shown is that the primary visual cortex is not inherently different from the primary auditory cortex.  Brain specialization is not a function of anatomy or dictated by genes.  It is a result of experience.  Who we are and how we work comes from our perceptions and experiences.  It is the outside world that determines the functions properties of the brain’s neurons.  And that’s what our work has been about: how experience shapes the functional capabilities of the brain.”

“Usually, the pathways from the ears to the visual cortex and from the eyes to the visual cortex remain scarcely traveled if traveled at all, like back roads.  In people with normal vision and hearing, superhighways  carry signals from the eyes to the visual cortex and from the ears to he auditory cortex just fine, swamping any activity  along the back roads of he brain.   As a result, the wayward connections all away soon after birth , when the brain figures out where signals are supposed to go.  But in the absence of normal sensory input, as when neurons from the retina are unable to carry signals to the visual cortex or neurons from the ears to carry signals to the auditory cortex, the preexisting but little-used connections become unmasked and start carrying traffic.  The “visual” cortex hears, and the “auditory cortex sees, enabling the brain to hear the lightning and see the thunder.  (“In Buddhism,” Thupten Jinpa added, “there is a claim that an advanced meditator can transfer sensory functions to different organs, so that visual activity can be performed by something other  than the ears.  In this case, a meditator can read with “closed eyes.”)  In what Alvaro Pascual -Leone and colleagues call “the intrinsically plastic brain,” more permanent structural changes then kick in, as neurons grow and sprout more connections to other neurons.  This may be how the visual cortex adds higher cognitive function to its repertoire, too.”

Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis

June 8, 2016

Chapters 2 and 3 of Sharon Begley’s “Train Your MInd, Change Your Brain” cover neuroplasticity and neurogenesis.  Prior to discussing neuroplasticity, how learning takes place needs to be discussed.  To explain how learning takes place psychologist Donald Hebb conceived of cell assemblies.  He proposed that learning and memory were based on the strengthening of synapses.
Somehow either the neuron that fires first in the chain (the presynaptic neuron) or the neuron that fires next (the postsynaptic neuron), or both, change in such a way that the firing of the first is more likely to cause the firing of the second.  Learning and memory involve the firing of large assemblies of these cells.  Hence Hebb’s theory is called cell assembly theory.  Hebb’s maxim is that cells that fire together wire together.

Virtually all the research on neuroplasticity involved animals.  This is because surgery was almost always required. Sensory  or motor connections might be severed, and then observations would be made regarding the effects of these operations.  Sometimes connections were rewired so that animals would see sound or hear light. The late nineteenth psychologist William James had wondered , were scientists were able to alter neuron’s paths so that exciting the ear activates the visual cortex and exciting the eye the auditory cortex, we would be able to  “hear the lightning and see the thunder.”  So James was correct.  And all this research invalidated the longstanding dogma that the nervous system could not be rewired or rewire itself underscoring the reality that the nervous system can and does rewire itself.

The longstanding dogma that new neurons  could not be created, neurogenesis, was more difficult to disprove.   Before cells divide, they make a copy of their DNA.  As cells can’t conjure the double helix out of thin air, biochemicals snag the requisite ingredients from within the cell and assemble them.  One element of DNA, thymidine, lets a radioactive  molecules glom on to it.  When the thymidine becomes incorporated into the brand-new DNA, the DNA has a spot of radioactivity, which can be detected experimentally.  Old DNA does not have this glow.

Joseph Altman, a new neuroscientist at MIT, decided to try the new trick on brains.  By scanning neurons for tell tale glows he figured he would be able to detect newborn DNA, and newborn cells.  He found neurons of adult rats, cats,  and guinea pigs with thymidine—indicating that they had been born after Altman had injected them with the tracer.  He published these finding in three prestigious scientific journals in 1965, 1967, and 1970, yet his claims were ignored,   Altman was denied tenure at MIT and joined the faculty of Purdue University.

Research was done using nonhuman  animals with rich environments.  That is animals who lived in enriched environments with exercise wheels and novel features were compared to animals living in impoverished environments.  The formation and survival  of new neurons increased 15% in a part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyros, which is involved in learning and memory.

To this point humans had not been involved in the research, the reason being that noninvasive brain imaging could not address this issue.  Brains needed to be taken from   dead research participants.  Oncologists injected BrdU into cancer patients because is marks every newborn cell.  This allowed them to assess how many new cancer cells were developing.  The researchers were able to enlist the cooperation of oncologists and their patients.  After these patients succumbed to cancer, their brains could be examined to see if any new  noncancerous cells had been generated.  Thanks to these patients and their oncologists, new neurons, indicating neurogenesis, were found in the hippocampus.

An interesting find was that forced exercise does not promote neurogenesis.  The neuroscientist Gage explained to the Dalai Lama, “Running voluntarily increases neurogenesis and increases learning even in very, very old animals.  It seems like the effects of running on neurogenesis and on learning are dependent on volition.  It has to be a voluntary act.  It is not just the physical activity.

When the neuroscientist Fred Gage sat down with the Dalai Lama it was clear that new neurons arise from neural stem cells in the adult human brain, which persist and support ongoing neurogenesis.  This discovery expanded the possibilities for neuroplasticity.  The neural electrician is not restricted to working with existing wiring, he can run whole new cables through the brain.

In humans new neurons might do more than help with learning.  The hippocampus plays an important role in depression.  In many people suffering from depression, the dentate gyrus oaf the hippocampus  has drastically shrunk.  There is a question of cause and effect, whether another factor caused the hippocampus to shrink leading to depression, or whether depression caused the shrinkage.

New research suggests that people who are suffering from depression are unable to recognize novelty.  Gage said this to the Dalai Lama, “You hear this a lot with depressed people.  Things just look the same.  There is nothing exciting in life.”  “There is also evidence,” Gage said, “that if you can get someone with depression to exercise, his depression lifts.”  So neurogenesis might be the ultimate anti-depressant.  When it is impaired for any reason, the joy of seeing life with new eyes and finding surprises and novelty in the world vanishes.  But when it is restored the world is seen anew.

It is clear that chronic stress impairs neurogenesis, at least in mice.  Gage’s colleague, Peter Ericsson suspects that holds lessons for humans also.  “In lab animals, chronic stress dramatically decreases neurogenesis as well as spatial memory..  When people under stress experience severe memory problems—forgetting their way to work, going into the kitchen and then no remembering why they went in—it is likely that what they’re experiencing is the very negative of stress on the function of the hippocampus due to decreased neurogenesis.”

The Dalai Lama, Science, and Buddhism

June 6, 2016

The Dalai Lama, whose shortened religious name is Tenzin Guyatso, is the 14th Dalai Lama.  Dalai Lamas are important monks of the Gelug school, which is the newest school of Tibetan Buddhism.  This current Dalai Lama was interested in science from a very early age, and this interest in science has grown as he has matured.  Although science and religion are often portrayed as chronic opponents and sometimes even enemies.  There is no historic antagonism between Buddhism and Science as there has been between science and the Roman Catholic Church.  The Roman Catholic Church put Copernicus’s work on the Index of forbidden books and tried Galileo by the Inquisition, found him “vehemently suspect of heresy”, forced him to recant, and to spend the rest of his life under house arrest.  Both Buddhism and science share the goal of seeking the truth, with a small t.  For science truth is, or should be, always tentative and always subject to refutation by the next experiment.  For Buddhism, especially as the Dalai Lama sees it, even core teachings can and must be overturned if science proves them wrong.  Most importantly, Buddhist training emphasizes the value of investigating reality and finding the truth of the outside world as well as the contents of one’s mind.  According to Alan Wallace, who spent years as a Buddhist monk before turning in his robes to become a Buddhist scholar and who is a long time participant in the dialogues between scientists and the Dalai Lama, “Four themes are common to Buddhism at its best:  rationality, empiricism, skepticism, and pragmatism.”

In 1983, the Dalai Lama traveled to Austria for a conference on consciousness where he met Francisco Varela, a thirty-seven-year-old Chilean born neuroscientist who had begun practicing Buddhism in 1974.  It was not surprising  that the Dalai Lama had never met an eminent neuroscientist who was also knowledgeable about Buddhism, so the young researcher and the older Buddhist hit it off immediately.   Even with his busy schedule the Dalai Lama told Varela he wished he could have such conversations more often.

The following year Varela heard about a plan that Adam Engle, an entrepreneur in California was working on.  When Engle heard from Varela about the Dalai Lama’s interest in science he decided he wanted to put some energy into making the Dala Lama’s interest in science something more than a passing fancy.

After having put a great deal of energy into the effort in October 1987, the Dalai Lama hosted the first conference of what had been named the Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile.  Many conferences of the Mind and Life Institute have followed.  Many parts of this book are taken directly from these meetings between scientists and Buddhist scholars in Dharmsala.

Some scientists saw the Dalai Lama as a bridge between the world of spirituality and the world of science, someone whose expertise in mental training might offer western science a perspective that has been lacking in its investigations of mind and brain.  He was invited to address the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in 2005, but not without controversy.  Some five hundreds members signed a petition protesting his appearance arguing that religion has no place as a scientific conference.  The Dalai Lama has offered the following answer, “Spirituality and science are different but complimentary  investigative approaches with the same greater goal of seeking truth.”  He told neuroscientists that although Eastern contemplative practices and western science arose for different reasons and with different roles, they share an over-riding purpose.  They both investigate reality.  “By gaining deeper insight into the human psyche, we might find ways of transforming our thoughts, emotions and their underlying properties so that a more wholesome and fulfilling way can be found.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain

June 5, 2016

The title of this blog post is the title of a book by Sharon Begley.  Please ponder this title for a moment and consider its ramifications.

It overturns two longstanding dogmas.  One is that the brain is hardwired and fixed.  The second is that although we are conscious, this consciousness is epiphenomenal in that his consciousness cannot change the brain.

Healthy memory was pleased to learn that William James, the father of experimental psychology in the United States, first introduced the word “plasticity to the science of the brain.  In 1890 James posited that “organic matter,” especially nervous tissue, seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity.”As Ms. Begley notes, “But James was ‘only’ a psychologist, not a neurologist (there was no such thing as a neuroscientist a century ago) and his speculation went nowhere.”Santiago Ramon y Cajal was a great Spanish neuroanatomist who won the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1906.  In 1913 near the conclusion of his treatise on the nervous system he declared, “In the adult center the nerve paths are somewhat fixed, ended and immutable, thus stating that the physiology of the brain itself could not be changed. Nevertheless, he did continue with the hope, “It is for the science of the future to change, if possible, this harsh decree.”  Fortunately, empirical evidence that emerged in the 1990s and will be discussed in subsequent posts found that this statement is wrong.

The second dogma, that consciousness is epiphenomenal and that only the brain is made of solid stuff that science can study was never accepted by the Buddhists.  In Buddhism the mind is contra and can be used not only to influence but to change the brain.  The Dalai Lama ins very much interested in science and uses science to alter religious beliefs.  This will be discussed in the immediately following post.

As this is an important book, healthy memory shall devote many posts to it.  Even so, Healthymemory will not be able to do Sharon Begley’s book justices.  Thus, healthy memory encourages you to read the book, and Healthymemory is egotistical enough to think that there will be added value in also reading the posts.

God

May 17, 2016

The penultimate cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is “God.” The authors’ begin with Pascal’s Wager, which is a compelling argument for believing in God.  It is presented in terms of Cost Benefit analysis.  The authors’ argue that people do not form their belief in God in terms of cost/benefit analysis and continue the chapter with explanations as to why people believe in God, but that these beliefs do not constitute a proof of God’s existence.  After all these years of philosophical debate, it should be conceded that  proofs are not possible, and that belief is basically a matter of faith.

Healthymemory’s argument is that a cost/benefit analysis of the belief provides a rational basis for believing in God.  Pascal was arguing in terms of the century in which hie lived.  Healthy memory is taking the liberty of phrasing his analysis in contemporary terms.

Suppose that God does not exist and that you do not believe in God.  Although you might be proud of your hard-nosed belief, you cannot know that you are correct.  The only prospect is a possibly unpleasant surprise awaiting you after you die.

Suppose that you do believe in God and that God exists.  if you believe and you have lived in accordance with your beliefs, then death should have a pleasant outcome.  However, suppose that God does not exist.  Well you will never know because you will not exist after death to learn that you belief was incorrect.  However, during your life you will have lived with all the comforts your belief affords you.

Healthy memory is strongly of the belief that one should never be certain about anything.  All beliefs and models of the external world are probabilistic.  But even if one thinks that the probability of God existing is infinitesimally small.  You should still believe because you will enjoy the comforts of believing and will never learn that you were wrong (dead men tell no tales—even to themselves).

You might argue that this argument is specious, and that one is only fooling oneself.
Healthy memory would argue that when we are living we are constantly fooling ourselves.  There is an enormous amount of research indicating that we are more optimistic than justified by objective reality.  But this optimism is adaptive.  It causes us to persevere and to keep on trying.

Healthymemory has found that many of the difficulties people have with God are really difficulties they have with religions.   Religions are created and operated by humans.  If all religious people behaved according to the dictates of their faiths, the world would be a much better place.  But religions have been and continue to be the basis of innumerable wars.  It is quite possible, and perhaps even desirable, to believe in God and not to affiliate with any religious faith.

Healthy memory extols science and accords science for being responsible for the advancement of humankind.  Yet science provides one kind of knowledge.  There are other domains of knowledge and one is deficient if one is restricted to scientific knowledge.  That individual, in effect, becomes an intellectual runt.

The Dalai Lama has literally had a lifelong interest in science as this interest began in childhood.  He has said that were it not for his responsibilities as a religious leader, he would have been an engineer.  He has worked with a wide variety of scientists and has established a Mind and Life Institute.  Psychologist Richard Davidson has worked closely with the Dali Lama, who has provided Buddhist monks and priests in Davidson’s research on meditation.  This research has revealed notable changes in the brain during and after meditation.  Both basic and applied research  will show large advances from this research.  The emphasis is on the mind and how it can enhance lives.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Two Step Process

November 6, 2015

Dr. Benson has been conducting research with the Dalai Lama since 1979.  The Dalai Lamai  is very much interested in science and engineering.  If it were not for his position as His Holiness for Tibetan  Monks, he says that he would have preferred to become an engineer.

Tibetan monks have taken the potential of meditation to the extreme.  In one study monks dressed in nothing but small loincloths are draped in wet sheets while exposed to near-freezing temperatures.  Because these monks had developed amazing physiological control over years of practicing this type of heat-producing meditation, they experienced no distress in these conditions.  Within minutes the body temperatures they produced steamed and dried the wet, cold sheets.

Of course, these results were not obtained by the monks meditating for 20 minutes twice a day.  Meditation for many hours over many years is needed to obtain these results.  But they do demonstrate the control the mind can have over the body.

Usually a precaution is given that motivation should not be involved when meditating.  That is, no goals are to be achieved.  Noting this and noting the performance of these Tibetan Monks Dr. Benson developed the two-step process.  First the Relaxation Response is invoked.  Then, when the mind is quiet, when focusing has opened a door to your mind, visualize an outcome that is meaningful.  If you want to eliminate a pain, envision yourself without the pain.  If you want t improve your performance in a particular venue, imagine yourself performing well in these venues.  According to Dr. Benson, “Whatever your goal, these two steps can be powerful, allowing anyone to reap  the benefits of the Relaxation Response and take advantage of a quiet mind to rewire thoughts and actions in desired directions.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.