Studies That Offer Hope

For the new year, here are some positive perspectives based on recent studies.

I’ll offer an excerpt about how racial bias can be lessened, but the article also discusses other issues such as empathy and altruism. This goes against what cynics and determinists are always arguing. We aren’t naturally racists. Like so many other attitudes and behaviors, racial bias or its opposite are dependent on many factors, both factors we control individually and factors we control as a society.

We aren’t fated to ignorance and mindlessness. We aren’t mere puppets of genetics and culture. We always have a choice. We always have the opportunity to learn and improve. Being realistic can mean being optimistic, depending on the reality we choose to create.

Can Empathy for Birds Make Us Happier? Ten Breakthroughs in the Science of a Meaningful Life
by Jeremy Adam Smith, Bianca Lorenz, Kira M. Newman, Lauren Klein, Lisa Bennett, Jason Marsh, Jill Suttie

Racial bias in policing is at the forefront of our national news. So it was heartening this year to see a study that found bias could be reduced through training in mindfulness—the nonjudgmental moment-to-moment awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, and surroundings.

Adam Lueke and Brian Gibson of Central Michigan University looked at how instructing white college students in mindfulness would affect their “implicit bias”—or unconscious negative reactions—to black faces and faces of older people. After listening to a 10-minute mindfulness audiotape, students were significantly less likely to automatically pair negative descriptive words with black and elderly faces than were those in a control group—a finding that could be important for policing, which often involves split-second assessments of people.

Why the connection between mindfulness and bias? Mindfulness has the power to interrupt the link between past experience and impulsive responding, the authors speculate. This ability to be more discerning may explain why another study this year found that people who were high in mindfulness were less likely to sink into depression following experiences of discrimination.

As we reported back in 2009, numerous programs have successfully helped officers become aware of their own unconscious biases. But by specifically looking at the effects of mindfulness training—even just 10 minutes’ worth—these new studies point to innovative techniques that might help prevent fatal mistakes from being made in the future.

60 thoughts on “Studies That Offer Hope

  1. in fact, mindfulness can change gene expression (see epigenetics – It can reduce symptoms of parkinson’s disease, asthma, obsessive compulsive disorder. it has been shown, by research, to improve police performance and reduce excessive use of force. it reduces bullying in schools and raises test scores.

    How can this be? Mindfulness has been shown to activate a region of the brain that Dan Siegel calls the “mid prefrontal cortex,” which includes the orbitofrontal cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, and others. it is closely connected to the anterior cingulate, which in turn, along with the insula, helps to connect the “thinking brain” to the “emotional brain” or limbic system, the “instinctive brain” or brain stem, the autonomic nervous system, the “heart brain” (there’s a whole field now of cardioneurology – this is not new age woo), the enteric brain (stomach brain or gut brain) and the immune and nervous systems throughout the body.

    The MPFC (mid prefrontal cortex) actually increases – physically! – in size through the practice of empathic, compassionate mindfulness. When done in a strong social support system, the effects are even more powerful. In fact, living in a tightly woven, caring social support system can have many of these effects even without regular formal mindfulness practice – though of course it is strengthened by practice.

    See also “the most important page” on the remember to breathe site, where we go into “Blue Zones” research about the extraordinary power of social support.

    Great post Ben, thanks. (by the way, Blue Zones are a great conversation bridge between liberals and conservatives – hearing liberals talk about strong communities, families, and local institutions can be a nice ice breaker)

    Oh, one more thing – on, if you go to the reading room and search “Salmon”, you’ll see some excerpts from our book, “Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness,” in which we describe some of the more extraordinary recent research on animal intelligence and emotions.

    You’ll love the story about Alex, the parrot, who had a vocabulary of over 100 words, including ones he invented (like, after being told a triangle was a ‘3 corner”, he looked at a football and spontaneously referred to it as a “2 corner”).

    He died a year or so ago. His last words – to irene Pepperberg, his caretaker and trainer – were, “Goodnight. I love you. See you tomorrow.”

    • “in fact, mindfulness can change gene expression (see epigenetics”

      Epigenetics has been a focus of interest lately.

      I’ve spent much of recent years reading about race and genetics. I’ve also spent time arguing with HBDers and other reactionaries. It’s kind of a waste of time (usually), but I can’t help myself. I’m a naturally curious person who will interact with almost anyone. I meet some interesting people that way, even when I don’t entirely agree with them.

      Many on the right can’t take seriously epigenetics because it undermines their worldview. It shows that people truly are capable of change in a very concrete and fundamental way. It also shows how powerful the environment can be.

      “How can this be? Mindfulness has been shown to activate…”

      All very interesting. I’ve read about that kind of thing over the years, although I haven’t focused on that area of research as much recently.

      “See also “the most important page” on the remember to breathe site, where we go into “Blue Zones” research about the extraordinary power of social support.”

      I actually live in one of those Blue Zones, here in Iowa City, IA. I haven’t been involved with it, though. I’d be curious what has been going on with it. There was a lot of media attention when it was announced, but I haven’t heard anything about it in a while.

      “Oh, one more thing – on, if you go to the reading room and search “Salmon”, you’ll see some excerpts from our book”

      Ah, yes, I’m quite familiar with that site. I’ve been visiting there for more than a decade. It’s a great resource. I’ll look at the book excerpts.

      I suspect we know some people in common. Much of my time on the internet over the years has been spent among the integral crowd. I first started blogging at Gaia, which is now sadly defunct. I met many interesting people there, some of whom I’m still friends with.

      “You’ll love the story about Alex, the parrot”

      I know of him. I’ve read about him and have seen some videos about him, but I can’t say I’ve ever looked very far into parrot research.

      By the way, I couldn’t find a search function on your website. I also tried to do a Google site search, but for some reason it wouldn’t work for your site. So, I wasn’t able to look up anything, which makes exploring your site more challenging.

      • hi, our site is very primitive and undeveloped at present. no search function, no social media, etc etc. We haven’t even submitted it to Google or other search engines. remarkably, we’ve been getting about 20 to 30 visitors a day, steadily, for more than a year. I know people setting up sites with google, social media and everything and barely getting that, so we must be doing something right. we’re getting our wordpress blog together this week, preparing a youtube channel with lots of videos, and will hopefully have a store up not too long from now.

        yes we probably do know quite a few people in common. I assume then you’ve seen my articles if you’ve been hanging out at integral world. Do you find David Lane impossible? Maybe it’ just me. He is, or comes across as, a very nice guy, but he just doesn’t seem to know how to follow a clear line of reasoning – amazing for a philosophy prof. I understand how Frank can be so confused (first in being pro wilber, now in being anti wilber – confused for different reasons) but I’m still enough of a believer in academia, I guess, that it always surprises me when a professor literally doesn’t know how to think.

        anyway, back to work!

        • Yeah, JayMan is a simpleminded thinker. People denying epigenetics are like those in generations past who denied Darwinian evolution. I’m one of those who thinks that we should put science before dogmatic ideology, but I’m crazy like that.

          • Hi, I just this link. Jan and I have been careful to seek out opposing views for everything we put on our site. one of the continuing controversies is left brain/right brain differences. The loudest voice opposing these differences is Harvard neuroscientist stephen Kosslyn. As far as I’ve been able to tell, Iain McGilchrist not only responds with clear logic, but despite McGilchrist’s repeated attempts, Kosslyn seems to almost completely misunderstand McGilchrists’s points.

            The only other thing on our site that I have found to be even slightly controversial is the section on epigenetics (about 10 years ago there was a flurry of opposition to placebos, but it turns out the Swedish study supposedly disproving placebo effects was badly done, and now everybody (including, I think, the authors of the study) agree that placebo effects are real. most people think it doesn’t imply anything about a non-physical mind, but I, along with the authors of Irreducible Mind, think otherwise).

            Ok, epigenetics – we were very fortunate to have the head of a Swiss neurobiology lab read through our site. He didn’t find any mistakes. He basically felt our epigenetics section was written well. He said there was a very small minority of biologists who preferred to use a different term for epigenetics, but otherwise, said it was fine.

            For me, the final proof that it’s acceptable was in a column by Jerry Coyne. In case you don’t know him, Coyne is one of the most intransigent, dogmatic anti-religion, frothing atheist, anti-all-woo biologists around. He said absolutely, yes, there are epigenetic effects, and they can be caused not only by the physical environment but by thoughts and emotions.

            Ok, so far so good. He went to say that yes, he agreed they could be passed on. Wow, I wondered, was he going to give a pass on intelligent design too? (just kidding). No, he said absolutely, they could ONLY be passed on for 3, maybe 4 generations.

            Why? I’m sure you’ll be utterly shocked, stunned, to hear, he din’t give any justification for this.

            he couldn’t give any justification, because just like with the biologist Lewontin, the only possible justification is a prior commitment to materialism. Lewontin actually said this – we must reject certain things and accept others, not because of their truth value, but because of our “prior commitment to materialism.’

          • “Jan and I have been careful to seek out opposing views for everything we put on our site.”

            That is always a good thing to do.

            “now everybody (including, I think, the authors of the study) agree that placebo effects are real”

            Placebos have fascinated me for a long time. I have a book about placebos that made an interesting case for why science should take them more seriously. The placebo effect challenges some basic aspects of the scientific method, specifically in terms of ‘controls’.

            “most people think it doesn’t imply anything about a non-physical mind, but I, along with the authors of Irreducible Mind, think otherwise).”

            I was raised in New Thought Christianity. I’m used to ideas about the non-physical mind. I’m personally agnostic, but quite open-minded about the subject.

            I also have had a long time fascination with Sheldrake’s morphic resonance theory along with lots of other crazy possibilities. Besides being raised in a New Agey religion, I spent a decade after high school reading authors like Robert Anton and listening to Art Bell’s Coast To Coast AM.

            I was born and raised in woo. I came of age in woo. I’m a product of woo thinking. This is why I think the world is stranger than I imagine and can imagine. I think the entire universe is a crazy place. I just tend to take my craziness far beyond even most woo advocates are willing to go. If there is a God, I’m not so certain he is ‘sane’, not that an anthropomorphic category like sanity would apply.

            I’m a heretic, if nothing else.

            “he couldn’t give any justification, because just like with the biologist Lewontin, the only possible justification is a prior commitment to materialism. Lewontin actually said this – we must reject certain things and accept others, not because of their truth value, but because of our “prior commitment to materialism.’”

            That is interesting. I wonder why that is. It could be as you say, a “prior commitment to materialism.” But I’m not sure. It might be a simpler reason.

            Epigenetics research isn’t very old. There is no research that has studied epigenetics beyond a few generations. For the hardcore scientists, something that has never been studied is treated as if it doesn’t exist. At present, scientists have no way of studying epigenetics across centuries and so from a purely scientific point of view any hypothesis about long-term epigenetic changes is non-falsifiable and hence non-scientific.

          • actually, regarding epigenetics, off the top of my head, I think there’s been studies of dozens of generations of fruit flies. It may have even been these that got Jerry Coyne so rattled.

            Anyway, i’m personally quite convinced that all evolution is based on non-physical connections, with consciousness at the foundation.

            I’m curious if you ever tried mindful cognitive behavioral therapy (including basis with food, exercise and sleep habits) for depression. Or maybe you’d prefer not to talk about this in public – if so, I understand. Just asking. We have a page on our site on mindful CBT – a form I’ve found very powerful.

          • I’d like to see the fruit fly studies. I’ll have do a web search about that. I have some books on epigenetics. I suppose they discuss that research, unless it is very recent.

            All I know for sure is that consciousness is all I can know. I am consciousness. The entire world is known through and within consciousness. Speculating about anything outside of and preceding consciousness seems like a pointless activity. But I still don’t know what consciousness is, what it means, where it is heading, or why it exists at all. Consciousness just is.

            No, I haven’t tried mindful cognitive behavioral therapy. I’m not sure that I’m interested at this point in my life. I’ve tried so many types of therapies that I’ve grown circumspect. I’ve found a place in my life that feels good enough. I’ve figured out what works for me in basic ways, such as diet and exercise. But I’ll keep mindful CBT in mind.

  2. The issue is not really what society could do or should do at this point. The bottleneck is the 0.1%.

    Society should become more communal, more egalitarian, and a lot more future-oriented, but it won’t. Not with the current leadership. That is the real problem right now.

    • The 0.1% can’t stop change. If that wa the case, no revolution or civil war would ever happen. Anyway, the 0.1% is never a unified group. The immensely wealthy are as divided among themselves as they are against everyone else.

      I still say the reasons for change are mysterious. No one really controls change happening or not. Conditions just get to a certain point and change happens. It is the same way with innovation, as we discussed in the other post.

      We never know what the future holds, not even necessarily the near future. The factors are too complex to even be comprehensible, much less controllable. Even the 0.1% realize the limits of their power. At some point, either reform happens or else something far more dramatic. The 0.1% ultimately would prefer reform than the alternative.

      I don’t know where we are at. But there definitely is a shift going on in demographics and in public awareness/mood/opinion. What all of that will add up to is anyone’s guess. It can feel like no change is happening, but that is always deceptive. We just don’t see what is shifting, until the effects accumulate to such an extent that they become impossible to ignore.

      I’m pretty sure the super rich will relent to allow reform. I could be wrong, of course. Either way, change will happen. If not reform, then something else.

      Present conditions aren’t sustainable in the long term. How long change can be delayed is hard to say, but if delayed long enough there will be a breaking point. I just don’t think it will likely get to that point. The early 20th century in the US was closer to social breakdown that what we are experiencing now.

      I guess we’ll find out.

  3. God damnit benjamin. This article is like, destroying the negativity of the reactionary sphere. Like, it’s such a… Different mindset from what I’ve realized I’ve absorbed.

    I noticed you commented on one of education reelists posts, lol. No one ever replied to you though.

    I’m not sure if my biases are changing or I’m more aware or if it’s actually true, but I feel like I can see the negativity in bloggers like him, sailor, etc a lot more. Like I can pick up on the implicit negativity and, well, bias. The bitterness. The short-comings and tunnels whereas I didn’t before.

    • “This article is like, destroying the negativity of the reactionary sphere. Like, it’s such a… Different mindset from what I’ve realized I’ve absorbed.”

      It is indeed a different mindset.

      I look all data. I look at the data from the reactionary sphere. And I look for data in various places outside of the reactionary sphere. I’m just curious to see what data is out there.

      I try my genuine best to put the data before my opinions and beliefs. I look at the data, and then if necessary I’ll change my opinions and beliefs.

      I’m not a blind optimist, but some of the data does offer reasons for hope. In the end, all the cherrypicked data in the reactionary sphere doesn’t change the fact that other data exists, such as in this article.

      The world is more complex and more interesting than can be contained in any ideology.

      “I noticed you commented on one of education reelists posts, lol. No one ever replied to you though.”

      I forget all the places that I comment. I’ve gotten around the web quite a bit over the years. I comment everywhere I go, leaving behind my mind droppings to mark that I’d been there.

      I know you purposely don’t directly link to articles (or spell names correctly), but I do. Here is the post in question and my comment:

      “One failing with this list is the following. What makes for a successful individual when magnified on the large scale makes for a dysfunctional society. That is how we got to have all the problems we have today.”

      I would add also that it depends on what one means by success. The post assumes that the person who cuts all personal ties and prioritizes career and money over all else is ‘successful’. Many people would see that as a dark, cynical, and dysfunctional notion of ‘success’. It is a limited understanding and so would be limiting.

      If enough people in a society followed that recipe of ‘success’, it would mean disaster for that society.

      “I’m not sure if my biases are changing or I’m more aware or if it’s actually true, but I feel like I can see the negativity in bloggers like him, sailor, etc a lot more. Like I can pick up on the implicit negativity and, well, bias. The bitterness. The short-comings and tunnels whereas I didn’t before.”

      I would say that is a good thing. It’s not to say you should never pay attention to views and data from the reactionary sphere. But you should always strive to keep everything in context. If a reactionary shares an interesting piece of data or makes a good point, then take that for what it is worth and leave the rest.

      It’s taken me a long time to get to my own sense of perspective. When one enters the reactionary sphere, it easily can feel overwhelming and disheartening. It is somewhat of a self-enclosed community and worldview. It creates a media bubble and an echo chamber that, if you spend too much time there, can be hard to keep in perspective.

      Do you understand why I feel empathy and compassion for reactionaries trapped in dark visions of reality? Their loops of thought are like nooses around their necks. It is not a happy way to live one’s life. They’ve told themselves a story so many times that they’ve forgotten it is only a story.

      It can be frustrating to deal with such people, but that is all the more reason to offer empathy and compassion. Think about how much harder and depressing it must be to be one of those reactionaries. Could you imagine being stuck in that mindset 24/7?

      It’s good to keep in mind that reactionaries are normal people who fell into a trap of thinking and have never been able to escape. Any of us can come to similar fates. That is why we should be carefful in our thinking, but it is also why we should strive to be forgiving of those who fail to be as careful in their thinking as they could be. We all have our cognitive biases, and so none of us can fairly be too self-righteous toward others.

      That said, we should point out the flaws in their thinking without mercy. Reactionary mind viruses can be extremely dangerous to both individuals and societies, if not kept under control.

      • from what I can “read between the lines” of his blog, pity his circumstances have lead him to become so calculatedly hateful.

        The epitome of corny. And insincere “I’d like to believe these.” You know he’s at some level pleased with his place in his reactionary reality. Same with Murray.

        • Here is the comment I just left at that article:

          I could be said to suffer from “depressive realism”. I’ve been clinically depressed for decades. I have strong tendencies toward religious agnosticism, philosophical pessimism, and radical skepticism. Yet I almost entirely disagree with Derbyshire on most issues. So, which one of us is right?

          I think Derbyshire might be confusing depressive realism with a particular variety of arrogant self-righteousness and ideological dogmatism. My own depressive realism just tends to make me intellectualy humble and admit what I dont know or am not certain of. Derbyshire seems to want more certainty than present knowledge allows for. That is problematic.

          • Derby IS arrogant and self-righteous. Like, he’s literally the most arrogant and smug person I’ve seen. That’s saying a lot.

            For example. He’s proudly states tha he knows for sure Maya Angelou was an untalented affirmative action hack. In the same sentence, he proudly states that he’s never read any of her work, he just knows that she was full of shit.

            Same with the movie django unchained. He’s the guy who can write a review for a movie while proudly declaring that no, he’s never actually watched the movie he’s reviewing.

        • Still, I do think there is some truth to depressive realism. There is at least one study that found pessimists, as compared to optimists, had a more accurate view of reality as it is. They could better assess present conditions, including about themselves.

          That doesn’t mean they accurately understand the reasons for why reality is the way it is. For certain, that doesn’t mean they know if it has to be that way. Pessimists are only realistic in one narrow way, an important aspect but only one aspect. All the pessimist can see a bit more clearly than others is what is at the moment, not what was or could have been, much less what yet might be.

          The pessimists narrow singleminded focus on the way things are is the very thing that typically makes them ignorant and clueless about all else. A pessimist could make a great accountant or police investigator (as long as their pessimism was combined with intelligence), but they less likely would make a great innovative inventor or visionary leader.

          I say all of this as someone with a strong streak of pessimism, specifically in the form of depressive realism. I just humbly acknowledge that the perception of realism doesn’t always perfectly correlate to reality. I doubt my own certainties as much as the certainties of others.

          Derbyshire would be better off if he turned some of that depressive realism back on himself. He might gain some self-awareness and insight. A daily meditation practice with regular psychotherapy visits might do wonders for him.

          • You do. His is more of a self-righteous privileged arrogance dressed up in “depressive realism.” In a way he gets off to it.

            He creeps me out tbh. If I gave pet names J would be the disconnected dogmatist, the one whose turned off a part of himself to deal with himself, and Derby would be the one I wouldn’t let my kids near.

            Also, since he’s the resident China expert in the sphere… What a charlatan. That and being, well, deeply racist even towards Asians underneath. Know what I mean?

          • In my experience, actual depressive realism goes along with self-doubt and self-questioning. I don’t detect in Derb much of that. What he calls “depressive realism” is more likely just a combination of cynicism and narcissism.

    • I think he writes articles like this just because he is an attention whore. But the idea by itself is novel and interesting.

      Instead of West vs East, he proposes the dividing line of Eurasia should be North vs South. If the US were to join, would it too have to be divided between North and South, finishing what the Civil War started?

      Here is the comment I left at the article:

      If there is to be a Northern Eurasian alliance, that would also mean that all of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean world would have to be excluded. But Southern Europe and the Mediterranean world is the birthplace of Western Civilization and Christendom. Most of the US white and non-white population doesn’t descend from Northern countries and so that would have to be sorted out before the US would be allowed to join.

      Interestingly, these Northern Eurasian countries are mostly some combination of communist, socialist, and social democratic. They tend toward collectivist cultures. The difficult part is that they also tend to be higly homogenous, ethnocentric, and xenophobic. It might be hard to get these countries to agree to a Northern Eurasian alliance.

      • Are yu meaning to tell me that the master race Northern Europeans are not the unique individualistic, freedom-loving people who are so kind as to be willing to fight off the dark hordes by sort of accepting East Asians?

        I don’t think they really like central Asians, even though those people are geographically in northern Eurasia.

        • I mean reactionaries. Yes they’re ultimately chauvinistic towards East Asians as well, but I don’t think the like the central Asians like the Kazakhs or Chechens much even though they’re northern Eurasians geographically speaking. Central Asians don’t score high on national iq/contain no first world countries (yet) while east Asia barrif china is first world.

          They so love them some Putin though. Which is pretty at odds with the mainstream right (and left)


        • I actually think the relationship between individualism and collectivism is more complex than most people understand. They aren’t inherently opposed, as is assumed in Anglo-American hyper-individualistic dogmatic ideology. There is nor individualism without collectivism, but there can be collectivism without individualism.

          The countries with the greatest individual freedoms are also those with the most well-supported and well-funded social democratic welfare states. Individual freedom is a side effect of a society that heavily focuses on the public good and takes that as a genuinely serious priority, not just rhetoric as in authoritarian communism.

          Individualism just means freedom. And freedom just means opportunity. In the most free societies, individuals have lots of opportunities. But opportunities are created by the entire framework and culture of a society, which is to say the collective environment.

          The balance between individualism and collectivism can be hard to maintain. Free societies are a recent invention. Because of this, they aren’t yet well established. This is why a democratic society like Germany was able to so easily turn to Nazism. Many authoritarians will use the rhetoric of freedom to destroy a free society.

          The sad part is the hyper-individualist dogmatists are those most prone to the rhetoric of authoritarians. Such hyper-individualism just becomes a symbol of power and privilege, as seen with libertarian ideology. It’s a small step from Anglo-American libertarianism to plutocratic fascism.

          • Wow, this is great (I mean about hardcore libertarians being authoritarian). Is this common knowledge? I’ve had trouble finding people who see this. The libertarians have worked so hard at turning everything inside out (providing people money in their old age – i.e. social security – is progressive, fascist “statist” theft of individual freedoms!!) that it almost seems like stating the obvious – hardcore libertarians come across like authoritarian fascists – is like saying the emperor is naked.

            By the way XKEHWNHA – do you have an English name? Or something printable in an ordinary font?

          • That is a good question. Is it common knowledge?

            My sense is that more Americans have come to perceive libertarians as authoritarian or at least not particularly democratic, not as freedom-loving as they claim. Because of the Koch brothers, libertarianism has become associated with a wealthy elite trying to manipulate politics and take over the government. From what I can tell, libertarianism is seen less as a populist movement and more as a right-wing think tank-oriented special interest group.

            I think this perception has increased the most with the younger generations, but maybe with Americans in general. At the same time, there are still many Americans who identify libertarianism as something other than the Koch-funded Libertarian Party. There are some genuine libertarians out there.

            In some ways, the label of libertarian has probably become increasingly more acceptable than the label of Republican or conservative. I suspect that both the popularity and unpopularity of the label of libertarian has increased simultaneously, as part of the various growing divides in American society.

            It’s complex. And the changes don’t always fit stereotypes. Here is one set of data I wrote about:


  4. To be honest, I get the impression that the US will have to learn things the hard way in a manner not dissimilar to how Germany arguably had to learn things the hard way after WWII.

    One serious barrier to the studies you noted was that there has to be a desire to acknowledge one’s biases, and a desire for one to improve. If you don’t see that happening, then no amount of tests are going to do anything. That’s a huge problem in the case of the large conservative population that the US has.

    The real question in my mind is, after the US invariably declines, will it learn the hard won lessons the way Germany did?

    • I don’t doubt that another world war could happen. And I don’t doubt that such a horrific destruction and violence likely would transform the US as much as it transformed Germany. But maybe that is what needs to happen for the American population to face its collective demons.

      If there is another world war, let us hope we can at least avoid another genocide… and also avoid mass nuclear war. The costs of war could get very high if those in power choose to take it that far.

      • I don’t want it to happen because invariably I think the poor will suffer the worst – and not necessarily in the US but in the developing world.

        I was not thinking of WWIII, but rather of a massive depression where unlike in this recession, the lessons are truly learned. Such a thing would likely send living standards tumbling. It would end up sending a large portion of the nation from now to developing world standards.

        I don’t “want” it to happen of course, but I fear it might be inevitable that it does happen.

  5. i’m having a bit of trouble following the flow here. Incorrigible optimist that I am (foil to Benjamin??) I’d like to go back to the original theme. Not only are amazing things happening in mindfulness studies, but I really think that this is only the barest tip of the iceberg. Let me prophecy – I expect outraged barbs from the pessimists:>))

    Richard Davidson, in a talk posted on youtube, predicts that by 2050 the average child will grow up learning about the brain and practicing mindfulness. This is actually already taking place in hundreds of schools around the world. It’s called the Mindup! program. Test scores are higher, bullying is way down, the kids have incredibly empathic skills, etc etc.

    Now, this will drive some absolutely crazy, but i suspect this kind of upbringing will basically eliminate what we now call conservatism. As children grow up learning how to think, while integrating their thought processes with emotion and physical awareness, the kind of narrow, black and white thinking which underlies conservatism will simply die away. With that, inequality will start dissipating, as people learn to find fulfillment within (that’s part of the MindUp! program as well.

    “But wait, Don” I hear you thinking (yes, I’m telepathic:>) “All this from one stupid little school program”???##@$@#$ (I assume, this being an internet comments section, varying degrees of vitriol at such out of control optimism… but wait, I haven’t gotten started yet!…

    hmmm, maybe I should save the rest for later….

    • I’m a fan of thinkers like Carl Jung, Philip K. Dick, William S. Burroughs, Charles Fort, Robert Anton Wilson, Terence Mckenna, Rupert Sheldrake, John Keel, Jacque Vallee, etc. You aren’t likely to go beyond my weirdness and woo tolerance.

      I love hearing ‘crazy’ ideas. It doesn’t mean I believe everything I hear. But it does mean I purposely go out of my way to look for out-of-the-box thinking.

      A mindfulness school program that might eliminate conservatism seems pretty tame, to my mind. It definitely sounds like a great idea. Just add it to the heap of thousands of other great ideas. If we implemented even a few of these types of things, we could revolutionize the world and utterly transform human society (maybe even human nature).

      The world needs more ‘crazy’ woo thinkers right now, as far as I’m concerned. Even if many of the ideas they produce turn out to be BS, the few real gems would be worth it. We need to let our imaginations free range. Let’s consider the possibilities first, and then we can consider how to make the possibilities into reality.

    • I’m not sure if you know about New Thought Christianity. The church I was raised in is Unity. It is what could be called prosperity gospel, positive thinking, etc. The idea is that the mind is all powerful, the Mind of God in some fundamental sense is also the Mind of Humanity (Christ Cosciousness).

      I embraced religion when I was younger. I went full woo. It is as much a part of me as original sin is part of a Catholic. Even when a Catholic leaves the Church, many of them speak of original sin haunting them for the rest of their lives. It is the same for fundamentalists with burning in hell. For me, I’ll be haunted for the rest of my life by positive thinking. I’ll never fully escape it, even if I wanted to.

      I’m still comfortable with woo, but I hold it at a distance. Decades of severe depression has caused me to do a lot of soul-searching. In the process, I’ve become more of a radical skeptic.

      I’ve interacted with a wide variety of people in my life. I still associate with many woo believers. But over the years I’ve had many other influences. I’ve come to think of myself as an equal opportunity critic.

      It has taken me a long while to come to a certain understanding about myself. My process was in coming to terms with my own woo upbringing. This caused me to be critical of woo in many ways, although still open-minded and curious.

      When I’m around woo advocates and other optimists, I tend to question and doubt. Optimists often see me as a pessimist. But when I’m around pessimists, they often see me as an optimist. It all depends on what I’m responding to and how others perceive my response. I’m simply a person who questions and doubts, not just woo but everything.

      • I for one support the changing of human nature.

        But, you know, most people don’t. Most dystopias are essentially realistic Utopias. We humans are, in many ways, terrified of a better world even though we walk about it all the time. We’re almost attached to ugliness, we have a funny relationship with it. I don’t like it per se but can’t stand to let it go

        • In a correspondence:

          A system like the one in The Handmaid’s Tale dosen’t have to be religiously based. I can easily imagine one being based on Sociobiology or Evolutionary Psychology. Or at least whatever interpretation of it. There’s no shortage of reactionaries who are non-religious or who may be, but justify their ideologies using “science.” Then again, I’m sort of a “it’s evolution!” type myself, in that I think many ills, even the ones seemingly based in religion, is ultimately based in instinct. For example, I think female sexuality is taboo in so many cultures relative to male sexuality partially because of instinctual male fears of cuckolding To be honest that probably contributes to my general lack of faith in people. It’s not fun to think that your liberal ideals are unrealistic and achievable only by radically altering human nature

          And no, Crake dosen’t necessarily have to be a monster. From my perspective, as I’ve probably ranted about ad nauseum, Crake’s actions can ultimately be seen being done out of love, and it’s not even in the environmental way you mentioned. Crake’s actions are instead a way to save humanity from itself. Humans are in the awkward space of having the ability to think beyond what our instincts tell us, yet we do not possess the ability to transcend our instincts. We humans, like most of nature, are wired and possess instincts that support a world that is inherently unjust and unfair, yet we can envision justice? We are tribal like any other animal, yet can imagine a universal humanity? Yet, while we can imagine and contemplate beyond our instincts, we just can’t transcend them? Will we be forever relegated to the agonizing of what is and what ought to be in philosophy or ethics circles?Where we will greet any story, that imagines a world of true transcendence still fixed within current realities of human nature, ironically,with horror? As if humans enjoy circle-jerking in our awkward stage of being able to think, but not transcend? We are a species that can discuss abstract concepts like universal brotherhood, like fairness, like love for those distant to us, like self-reflection… while we watch the world burn from a human instinct wired for tribalism, factionalism, pride, reproduction for no ultimate purpose but replication, love for no ultimate purpose but preservation of DNA… and reasons that seem so dire and significant to those in the moment, but are ultimately so petty.

          Well, here comes Crake to the rescue! Our dystopias are ultimately more realistic than Utopia, because they take the human condition into account. They recognize that a Utopia is not possible with humans’ current psychological makeup. Brainwashing people from birth to accept their place in society, like in Brave New World, or exercising totalitarian control over them, is ultimately more realistic than having current humans create a Utopia. Because the ultimate message of dystopias is that if you work with current human nature, you can create a certain kind of utopia, but one that comes at a price. A price that freaks us out.

        • “I for one support the changing of human nature.”

          I don’t just support it as a value and an ideal. I see it as a fundamental fact of human existence and evolution.

          If you look back on the human past, there are points when human consciousness and human nature profoundly changed. One of the greatest and strangest of these transformations appears to be what Julian Jaynes calls the breakdown of the bicameral mind.

          These transformations are mysterious and possibly unpredictable. We can only speculate about what causes them to happen.

          “But, you know, most people don’t.”

          I don’t think most people know what they want. Most people never give it much if any thought. They would have to first think at all (in a conscious and intentional kind of way) before they could think about what they want and which alternatives might be possible.

          “Most dystopias are essentially realistic Utopias.”

          I question that. I question most claims of realism. They usually are based on limiited data, often cherrypicked, and a lack of imagination. Almost every dogmatic ideologue claims they are being realistic. Their ideology just so happens to be just the way reality is.

          Your comment brings out the optimist in me or rather the possibility thinker. So-called objective reality limits humans less than humans limit themselves. Much of what we think of as ‘reality’ is actually self-caused conditions and socially constructed systems. This becomes a reality tunnel, which is different than reality in the larger sense.

          “We humans are, in many ways, terrified of a better world even though we walk about it all the time.”

          There is some truth to that. But I would broaden that. Humans are often afraid of the unknown. The unknown is unfamiliar and so seems uncertain.

          But often the unknown isn’t because it is genuinely unknowlable. There are real world examples of functioning alternatives, from political alternatives such as Scandinavian social democratic welfare states to economic alterntives such as the cooperative Mondragon Corporation. It is ignorance that keeps the alternatives as perceived unknowns.

          “A system like the one in The Handmaid’s Tale dosen’t have to be religiously based. I can easily imagine one being based on Sociobiology or Evolutionary Psychology. Or at least whatever interpretation of it.”

          As far as possibilities go, I could imagine a vast diversity of types of dystopias. I suppose just about anything pushed to an extreme could become a dystopia. And just about any idea, ideal, value, or belief could be used to justify some kind of dystopia or anothter.

          “Then again, I’m sort of a “it’s evolution!” type myself, in that I think many ills, even the ones seemingly based in religion, is ultimately based in instinct.”

          I have my doubts. There is no single monolithic set of instincts. There is just immense human potential that can be expressed in many ways. There is no such thing as an ‘instinct’ separate from and independent of particular environmental conditions that makes it possible to be expressed and elicits (promotes and supports) its expression.

          “For example, I think female sexuality is taboo in so many cultures relative to male sexuality partially because of instinctual male fears of cuckolding”

          The key point is that societies have existed where cuckolding is not an issue. The anthropological literature is filled with diverse alternative social systems. In many of those societies, there wasn’t the same kind of obsession about sexuality as is seen in modern developed countries. This proves that sexuality taboos aren’t based on universal human instinct.

          “To be honest that probably contributes to my general lack of faith in people.”

          I’m pessimistic about individual humans in the short term. But I’m optimistic about collective humanity in the long term. So, far society has continued to progress beyond all kinds of challenges and obstacles. Even when a mini ice age collapsed all of civilization, society bounced back relatively quickly and returned to building empires.

          “It’s not fun to think that your liberal ideals are unrealistic and achievable only by radically altering human nature”

          That might be the wrong way to think about it.

          Liberalism, as studies demonstrate, is a human potential within human nature as it presently exists. There are times when human nature or at least human consciousness radically changes, but expressing liberalism doesn’t require such extremes. Simple things like mindfulness and diverse communities have been shown to cause people to develop liberal attitudes, especially when these influences happen at a young age.

          I’d give humans more credit. I think it would be unrealistic to sell humans short.

  6. Ok, maybe I’ll go ahead. Anyone who hates woo should leave immediately or you’ll feel helplessly impelled to spend hours crafting a truly snarky reply (or maybe a great one line zinger will come to you in a matter of seconds).

    Take a breath…

    Sri Aurobindo predicted the a new consciousness was “descending” into the “earth’s atmosphere” in the mid 20th century. He referred to it as the supra mental. Mirra Alfassa, his long -time collaborator, stated i the 1950s and 1960s that many of the changes occurring in the world were a result of this shift.

    Now, if we let go of the idea that the ‘world’ (or the physical universe) is a thing-in-itself and instead, recognize it all as a particular structure in consciousness (what else could there be?), then this is not necessarily quite so “woo.” After all, if you examine your present experience carefully, you’ll see that all you can find are forms (appearings, the literal translation of “phenomena”) and awareness. The forms are many, but the awareness is the same throughout.

    This shift continues. If you look at the progression toward the sense of there being just one world – look just at the last 20 years – this would, in Sri Aurobindo’s view, be a phenomenal reflection of this inner shift in consciousness.

    It’s not that it’s deterministic. It’s more like the rules of a game, like a baseball game. You can play millions of games and each time it will be different. But no matter how different it is, in order to score, you still have to through 1st, 2nd and 3rd base then back home.

    Well, same with the evolution of consciousness. It could be played in an infinite variety of ways (particularly since even in the purely physical world, there is a certain degree of indeterminism). But at some point, life and mind will arise. And we see that mind grows more complex over the course of evolution, with self-awareness arising just prior to the emergence of humans (“just prior” meaning within 50 million years or so).

    So it seems not utterly impossible that after 250 to 500,000 years of homosapiens, another species might arise. This will probably take a few thousand years, yet we are seeing signs of the immense change all around us.

    Ok woo-haters, have at it!!

    • I have nothing against the possibility you present.

      My own perspective isn’t to be critical of possibilities. Rather, what I’m apt to do is to point out that possibilities are immense beyond comprehension. The past could be interpreted in many ways and the future could manifest in a many ways.

      I give my loyalty to no single possibility but to possibility-mindedness, the possibility of infinite possibilities. I refuse to limit and narrow down my imagination. That is my radicalism.

      So, I have no doubt that the future will be drastically different. The future surely will include new species, maybe even new hominid species.

  7. Me when I was depressed. Well, in the bad part of the cycle.

    Also, friends don’t let friends read J. I say so since my depression is rather situational than chronic, maybe. I genuinely think my depression leaves as soon as I embrace different realities. I don’t mean changing my mindset towards the same reality. Like, I actually change my reality..

    For example, instead of believing in J’s reality but changing my attitude, I no longer believe J’s reality and think he’s full of shit

    • Did you write that?

      Good friends would let you drive home drunk before they’d let you read J. I didn’t come across J and other HBDers until recent years, well into my 30s. My own mental attitude and psychological state was already well set into its own grooves.

      J’s demented worldview wasn’t likely to impact me as it might have when I was younger. If I had been reading that kind of thing back when I was actively suicidal, I might not be here today.

    • So, gifted kids even have depression that is gifted? Well, damn!

      I’m unpersuaded by that claim. As I see it, depression is widespread in our society. I don’t buy that gifted people have some special existential variety of depression that is somehow more important and meaningful than found in all other depressed people.

      That sounds like bullshit to me. Depression is depression. It sucks. We should instead be asking what it is about our society that makes depression so prevalent, not trying to put depressed people in categories of more and less worthiness.

  8. I still find it preferable to eugenics. I only wish that instead of ‘editing’ embryos we could edit fully grown people, at their free will. This is more preferable to the selective breeding we do now where we want to fuc the best match we can get. Instead of aborting babies or avoiding fucking people with bad genes we can just edit everything. Genes are irrelevant now.

    I am a transhumanist and postgender-ist as well as post-sexualist.

    • “I still find it preferable to eugenics.”

      I suspect that eugenics and abortion will become moot in the future. There will be no such thing as unplanned and uncontrolled pregnancies. everyone will know exactly what they are getting into before the baby is born or even before conception. It will probably become standard procedure to test the genetics of eggs and sperms or else to test the fertilized egg.

      “I only wish that instead of ‘editing’ embryos we could edit fully grown people, at their free will.”

      I have read that human genetics are regularly altered in adulthood. Genetics are less set in stone than was previously thought. For example, viruses will remove and replace strands of DNA, carrying genetics from one thing to another. Viruses are genetic tricksters, messing around with genetics, just because they can. It’s their survival mechanism, constantly transforming themselves by borrowing genetics. It’s an unintended consequence that they change the genetics of other lifeforms in the process.

      “I am a transhumanist and postgender-ist as well as post-sexualist.”

      Why not be a posthumanist and transgender-ist as well as a trans-sexualist?

      • I am that as well. Transsexualist like in Ursula LeGuin’s left hand of darkness? Sure!

        I’m actually working on a “this I believe” speech for my speech class and I chose transhumanism, so yeah. I’m trying to write it without sounding depressing :/

        • In looking for inspiration, Einstein was a rather eloquent writer, regardless of what you think of his message.

          Off topic. But I am not against human cloning, which most seem to be.

          I don’t see anything sacred about humanity. I see us as any other animal, really. I’m also pro transhumanist as you can see.

        • “In looking for inspiration, Einstein was a rather eloquent writer, regardless of what you think of his message.”

          I’ve seen plenty of quotes by Einstein. But I haven’t read any of his writings beyond that.

          “Off topic. But I am not against human cloning, which most seem to be.”

          I don’t have much of an opinion about human cloning. Most issues in life don’t bring out a strong response in me.

          “I don’t see anything sacred about humanity. I see us as any other animal, really. I’m also pro transhumanist as you can see.”

          Humans aren’t any more special than anything else on this planet or in the universe. That said, as a human, I find humans fascinating creatures. But maybe an alien visiting the planet would find humans boringly predictable.

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