Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hacking your brain

Wired 14.02: Buddha on the Brain
Yeah, I know this is old, but it talks about a favorite topic of mine, hacking your mind. I find it interesting how much fear seems to surround the idea of changing how your mind works. This fear gets expressed a number of ways, including everything from "scientific skepticism" to "God did not intend for you to do that". They get stuck on the source, not because the source is really an issue, it is the technology that is the issue. And the fear of a loss of identity. To pick a trivial example, if I could change my brain to not like chocolate anymore, would I still be me?

I find two main groups that undertake meditation. Those that, for whatever reason, think it neat, or required, or whatever; and those that would do anything to stop being the way that they are. The former group have no real intentions of changing, whatever lip service they pay to the idea, although they will be changed by their practice. The second group are often in more dire straights. "I'd rather die than continue this way..."

I was kind of in both camps. I meditated for many years, although not very consistently. But by my late twenties, I'd pretty much hit bottom emotionally. That made it relatively easy to let go of the idea of a static "I". Without going into details, I changed. Meditation, introspection, whatever tools I found that worked, I used to change.

The great fear for the religious is that they have bet on the wrong horse. The great fear for the scientists is that so much of their identity is invested in their minds, any change is to be feared.

Monday, May 21, 2007

LadyThrills.com - Top 10 Foods That Burn Fat

LadyThrills.com - Top 10 Foods That Burn Fat

# Dairy Products
# Garlic
# Essential Fatty Acids
# Bananas
# Soybeans
# Apples and Berries
# Citrus Fruits
# Ginger
# Cinnamon
# Cayenne Pepper

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The power of realism

Dear Oprah, please stop promoting The Secret. - By John Gravois - Slate Magazine
What ever happened to the very simple idea of "hope for the best and plan for the worst"?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Do we need religion?

Yesterday I listened to a podcast that included an interview of Richard Dawkins. When asked whether religion fulfills a need, he replied that he and most of his friends lived happy, fulfilled lives without any belief in the spiritual. I've got to say, that's pretty smug. To quote Terry Pratchett, "It's hard to believe when you've read a lot of books." As a professor at Oxford, I seriously doubt he's worrying about where his next meal is coming from. He's highly educated, highly intelligent, and is pretty well set up. Not much need for faith in a circumstance like that.

If we play with the idea that there is some sort of "beard or apron in the sky", Jesus' comment about it being harder for a rope to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven rings very true. The caution that the yoga of knowledge is the hardest one with which to reach enlightenment as well. It's a lot easier to find faith when you really feel the need for it, when you are poor, hungry, frightened, oppressed, bewildered...

Even in officially atheist regimes, where religion is stamped out, the religion of the political ideology pops up to take the place of religion. We have a religion shaped hole in our psyches, that gets bigger and more obvious the more uncomfortable our situation. "There are no atheists in a foxhole."

We want explanations. We want existence to make sense, and to have meaning. We want to have faith in a better future for us and our loved ones, even if that future is after we die.

An Oxford professor, and the many other atheists who feel strongly about the need to get rid of religion, have the intellectual capacity, the inclination, and the leisure to come to such a conclusion.

Of all people, Richard Dawkins should understand the role religion plays in the survival of individuals and of the species. Without hope in difficult times, people just give up and die. Those with faith are more likely to survive, because their irrational belief in something better motivates them to continue where the hopeless surrender.

And we've come to the point that we no longer need to adapt to survive. We adapt our environment to ourselves. If you can find an environment in which to put homo sapiens, where belief in religion puts one at a survival disadvantage, and wait a few hundred generations, perhaps we'll get a new subspecies without that religion shaped hole in its psyche.

Mind you, this doesn't even touch upon the possibility of the manipulating the capabilities of body and mind through an engineered choice of belief.