Monday, November 26, 2007

most reliable memory optimizer is still brain training

Salomon's memory, "savant" seems like unlimited. He repeated 30, 40 even 70 numbers , words or voices after one reading and he could tell them backwards, on demand of wish. As well many of parts of Dante Divine Comedy. Also months and years later he could all that he taught or read call back in memory together with circumstances in which he was reading.

Stephen and Edelson from Center for the Study of Autism from Oregon are describing "savant syndrome" as one of most fascinating cognitive phenomenon of psychology studies and people diversity. Syndrome was first described by doctor Down in 1887, and it became wide known after with Oscar awarded movie Rain Man. Expression is relating to individuals- some of them are autistics, others can have different types of brain damage or other disturbances in development- that have above average abilities. Some are saying that we will never understand human cognition and memory , till we wont understand "miracle talents"of savant. Reason, why some people have this abilities is unknown.

Risky manipulation

For normal people are scientists developing medicines that would help improve our memory and sharpen our thoughts. Memory just to be total riddle. Explorers have done many studies with which they help explore mechanisms that are enable complex function of memory. But how far are we aloud to go in manipulation with our "gray cells"? The subject is attractive, because those that are normally forgetting stuff,
constantly fighting with that memory weakness, so they have to again and again look for telephone number of doctor, they quickly forget names of friends or they find it hard to learn some other language. All this come on surface after we become 20 years old and it is more obvious after 40. The lost of read, experienced or learned content can be very painful in our modern world that is based on richness an power of data. From Antic times we are fighting forgetfulness with help of memo techniques for memory training. In last times we are able to try it in different ways. Neurobiologist and psychologists have strength their knowledge in last decade exponentially. They explored ways of data storage, they defined features of forgetting and they defined cartography of brain functions. On that way they tried also biomedical possibilities how to manipulate with processes between and in neurones, that are interceding our memories, so they would improve memory in sick or healthy individuals. To awake exhausted memory, to sharpen and make faster our memory, so children and adult would preform better concentration and studying. Nobel prize winer E. Kandel thinks, that this kind of interfere into our brain would mark history same or stronger as genetics marked end of 20 century or mechanization marked industrial revolution. So called smart drugs and stimulative substances as caffeine or biloba are part of everyday life, even if their effect is mostly unproven. Which don't hold back their protagonists when they sell brain booster formula (mostly in states), that includes also mix of amino acids, vitamins, lipids, lecithin , hormones and so on.
Psycho-Pharmacologist are remaining skeptical and are researching other possibilities, for example Ritalin (
Methylphenidate), that is common prescribed for interference of attention or hyperactive kids. In USA is popular between students as creative drug , that are preparing for examines, because it is keeping them awake, clever and full of energy. Long term effect and risks are unknown. New similar medicament, that is big of promise, is stimulant modafinil.
People that were tested improved their cognitive functions in most fields, and it is common for healing narcolepsy - neurological dysfunction, where people during daytime suddenly fall asleep while working on their day activities. Army is also exploring it to prevent sleep shortage and as hel while traveling to prevent jet lag and in chronically tired.
Pharmaceutical competition
Meanwhile there is world competition between pharmaceutical companies, that are dealing with mind optimizer products. Some of them are focused mostly in biochemical-signal cascade reactions in neurons, that is based on switching memory genes, manufacturing new proteins and growth or short superfluous synopsis- nerve contacts that are changing, getting stronger in case of memory. They found out, that you can from firm cells grow new neurones, what was science fiction not so long ago. As reaction on outside teasers there are new and new structural changes in brains: neurons get reconnected, connections that are not useful get lost. But brains are in charge which from teasers are useful and they save them, others are deleted as fast as possible. In companies they defined target molecules inside signal ways that are making possible for them to interfere pharmaceutically into mind process. As Axel Unterbeck (president of such company) is saying, for example protein CREB, which is main switch for creation of long term memory. Substance MEM 1414 takes care that in cells is enough cAMP molecule, that activates CREB. That is the way to normalize memory on animals that was affected by aging. And they started to test on healthy volunteers. Others are focusing on earlier
phases of process and changes of AMPA receptor . This receptor as aerial activates close receptor NMDA which is important enter chanel for chemical signals between neurones. It translates calcium, which after entrance into cells activates different memory cascades. They already started with first clinical tests, using substances that makes receptor AMPA more sensitive on reactions.
All experts are not as enthusiastic about the deal as the pharmacists industry. They say that changing of functions of targeted molecules to little, that to change the whole we need changes in way to memory, and not only in one part of mosaic. This means that we should focus on on memory mechanisms from micro level of each neuron, like are electrochemical processes on neuron membranes, functions of ion channels and regulation of membrane potentials, working of neurotransmitters, receptors and translating of impulses on action potentials till the macro level, where importance is memory neuron net activation (interaction, communication between
targeted neurons). So their function is connectivity, electrical synchronization process or coherence.
They say, that there is little chance to expect pill that will in all mental views make us more efficient, but maybe we find substance to improve specific abilities in specific situations. Steven Rose, famous neurobiology master is critical on using animal models to study human memory, so on that basis we can not expect "smart pills". He is also looking for answer if perfect long term
memory is something that we really want? Psychological mechanisms to filter our percepts are without doubt of great importance, because in that way we prevent that irelevant or information of little importance would create crowd in our long term storage.

Anyway to make story a bit shorter:
Pharmaceutical companies are promising us that in future we will be able to use more substances that will be more specific and efficient, and off course with less side effects.
This new tools to control our brain are on other side opening Pandora Box full of ethic and philosophic dilemmas, including what kind of society and of our selves do we really want.......

to read from someone else view visit link

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Do we really want to know what all is hiding in our genes?

What medicine is the best, do you carry inside of you marks of Dingiskan or you are perfect candidate for depression or alzenheimer,s disease. Science is armed with unraveled sequence of human genome, and is digging dipper in our biology, at the same time is dropping more and more genetic tests, which from our DNA reading mysteriously messages from our past, present and future.
Our genom is script , that is saved on molecule DNA , which is coiled in 23 pairs of chromosomes, and is leading in core of our cells. Not long ago was this script terra incognita: on the maps of scientists there was big black mark, in which was here and there small part of light of already looked into areas.
Everything turned upside down in year 2001, when scientist presented to world, that they read complete human genome, they defined sequence of nearly three hundred milliards chemical letters, which make our encyclopedic of life. The action is similar as reading some very dick book, whit that exception that book is written with only four chemical letters
A, C, G and T.
Discovery of human genome opened the doors to new brand of science- genomics., and it seems that it will finally discovered the deepest questions in our biology, like: what is genetic ground of our superiority related to other beings living on earth, and the mystery of our beginning of existence. Along this they are working on our in between differences which is consequence genetic factors , and also our acceptance on diseases as cancer to intellectual and physical potentials.
Rummaging of researchers in genome gave many surprising findings. In usa, great britain, are in last few years forming companies , which are giving service in many varieties of genetic tests, from ones that discover is coffee harmful for you to tests that discovers if you are descendant of some famous person like Dgingiskan.

Chaos And Dark Matter
Six years ago when scientist had for the first time in front of them uncovered human genome map, they were astonished over the look of it.Most sophisticated plan of biology is not even a little comparable to map that we can imagine. All together looks like a big mes without a leading thread or shape. So that this is platform for beginning of human creature, which is able to think, seemed unbelievable. Bizarre, but in our genome there is plenty of parasites and dead bodies, it has more similarities with hundred years old tree, full of dead ropes than healthy source of life.
In some points of view it looks like yours garage, it is very individual, but not tide up: there is little evidence on organization; there is so much old crowd; practically nothing is not thrown away; and there is a bit of things with great value messed around without any organization.
Half a century ago, in beginnings of molecular biology, the experts imagined that genome is only a simple and nicely organized book of genes
where in style to gene A follows gene B, and then gene C and so on, like in some kind of cook book the recipes. After all the genes were unbeatable primadonas of genetics. Genes are those demands from general base, which command the cells what to do. People we are results of our genes, so our genome is nothing else than catalog of all our genes that is the way that went the public logics.
But it failed apart together with glamorous status of genes, when we realized and it became public, that that genes occupied as little as one percent of genome. It is like the Encyclopedia Britannica would have on thousands of pages only ten pages with explanation of facts, and those ten pages would be lost incaotic relationship with the whole book, hiden in the sea of unuseful data. Can you imagine? that is the way our genome is organized.
And if there is only percent of gene, why we need 99% of script around in our genome? At first the investigators thought that all that data is not usefully, that most of it it is simply waste and crowd, that got collected through millions of years of evolution and so just stayed there, because there was no one to erase it. It seems really heretic, that the nature would neglect and behave uneconomic. In all that disappointment that part of genome got calling JUNK DNA.
Lion part of that not useful crowd are presented as sequence with not much of a kind name PARASITE DNA. It is also known as jumping gene or Selfish DNA, which got that name because of a habit , that is jumping around over genome and and are leaving their marks as it falls. It can also happen that it falls in some gene and then it destroys. How carefully it is accomplishing its mission are showing facts that the prime champions of parasites are elements L1 and Alu, in human both of them loaded in around million copies and together they occupies third of space in genome.
In genome we can also found creatures as are Zombie gene or so called pseudogene. These are dead genes, that like some kind of ghosts scary around our genome and somehow meanwhile some of them awake from their grave. Pseudogenes were million years ago normal genes, that got the death shoot- they were buried by mutation. Our genome is mass grave yard, because in there lays at least twenty thousand pseudogene corps, which is enormous number, if we think that this amount is not much less than amount of our normal genes.(I found some nice explanation of them in someones blog:"The zombie gene, when attached to human DNA mutates it so that only the most primitive of impulses are received. This has to do with synapses along the central nervous system. Due to the fact that zombies are now dead and subject to decay, these synapses also degenerate so they are no longer receptive to more sophisticated or refined impulses.") And also between those normal genes we can found some that are out of space. So who is the god then, what is so gorgeous about it... Guys I'm amazed by those facts and i will write more about it soon.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Web's The Word, So Who's The God?

I wondered what to write about, and I got idea as son as i woke up my computer screen.
"Internet addiction"
Yes, someone can spend so much time browsing the Web, or chatting or emailing cyberfriends, that it might be considered addictive or compulsive behavior. Formally recognized as a mental disorder "Internet addiction" isn't . You might think about whether your online activity creates problems in your personal or work life.
Does surfing the Net become a regular escape from real-life problems that you aren't addressing?
Do you spend so much time online that you aren't taking care of other important aspects of your life?
Answering "yes" to any of these questions doesn't necessarily mean you're addicted to the Internet, at least not in terms of a clinical disorder. So don't worry, the web is the world, and we are creating it, there are virtual cities build and there are real people (whit minimal help of robotpower) actually building it. We all want to participate, we all want to exist in it, and is not so hard to do yours best, exist on line in best aspect of yours life. In actual world we are commonly limited to create it as we desire, as we need and want it to be, but here on line it all seems possible. people discovered, build new world, and i realized we are all trying to do our best. I realized we are all protecting it as well.
The Web is so integrated into our lives , it's becoming commonplace to use it no matter where we are. Some www facts.
But please, don't worry. if you've been really bad you can confess on line. Really and you will get yours feet back, and your confession will be useful, other could learn from yours mistakes. And what is most important, you will feel so much better, I'm absolute. If you want to do it go ahead.
But if you feel addicted and you like this addiction what is wrong then? Probably nothing. We are living, and we can choose to exist as we wish.
what i like most on internet is "here is no god". And if you say there is good of internet, please be serious about how great camuflage this god is using not to lead us into mental disorder.
Have pleasure and enjoy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

stigmates cover madness

Stigma can arise in many ways. Mentally ill people may behave differently: a depressed person will appear sad or dull; someone who is in the elated (manic) ...

The stigmata are wounds believed to duplicate the wounds of Christ's crucifixion that appear on the hands and feet, and sometimes on the side and head, of a person. The fact that the stigmata appear differently on its victims is strong evidence that the wounds are not genuinely miraculous (Wilson).
St. Francis of Assisi (1182 - 1226), devoted to imitate Christ in all ways, apparently inflicted himself with wounds and perpetrated the first stigmatic fraud
Stigmata is the plural of the word stigma, which means mark, or brand. However, it is most commonly used to refer to

"Bodily marks or pains resembling the wounds of the crucified Christ".

The phenomenon with which this wu shall be considered is that of the several well documented* cases of people who have experienced stigmata, but without any apparent physical cause. This is considered miraculous by the Catholic church, and many sufferers have been canonised.
*Those in recent times

The first recorded sufferer of these mystical stigmata was St. Francis of Assisi, during the 13th Century. There have been many cases since then, including in the recent past, and even the present.

Location of Stigmata

According to the Bible, Christ received several wounds before his death. The most significant of these were the crucifixion wounds. It is interesting to note, that while all our sources seem to point to the nails being driven between the bones of the forearm, almost all stigmatics seem to suffer on their palms. This could be seen as evidence that stigmata are caused by some psychosomatic pathway in the body of the sufferer, who probably believed that Jesus was nailed to the cross by his hands. The other crucifixion wounds that Jesus suffered from were those located on the feet, but these are less common among stigmatics.

There are three other kinds of wound that Jesus received prior to his death. The first of these is the marks of the whip with which he was beaten.

And Pilate, wishing to content the multitude, released unto them Barabbas, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.

St. Catherine de' Ricci is one of the few recorded cases of such stigmatatics.

Stigmata which appear on the forehead are connected to the crown of thorns with which Jesus was mocked.

And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple garment; and they came unto him, and said "Hail, King of the Jews!".3

According to the gospel of John there is one more wound with which stigmatics might be afflicted. This is the spear thrust used to see whether Jesus was truly dead.

But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: howbeit one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and straightway there came out blood and water.4

This is not mentioned in the other gospels, and may be a product of Johannine redaction, especially considering the Old Testament proof texts quoted soon after, which could have been mentioned to fortify the theme of Jesus as fulfillment of the Law. Nonetheless, this is the wound often referred to as Jesus "fifth wound", and is accepted by the Catholic church.

Physical Characteristics

As mentioned above, Stigmata can be either visible, or be simply an inexplicable pain. The characteristics of physical stigmata vary somewhat, and defy conventional science. Stigmata can appear, and then heal themselves very quickly, and without warning, but seem to occur more often on the days during which Jesus died, and then laid in the grave. Some stigmatics suffer from stigmata often, but in other cases they only occur once.

The most noticable physical characteristic of most stigmata is that they appear to run with blood. During this time, and often beforehand the sufferer will feel pain. Several scientific studies have been undertaken to investigate the fluid that comes forth from these wounds, and the conclusions have varied. In some cases, the fluid seems to be the blood of the sufferer, in other cases the blood appears foreign. In yet other cases the liquid has been found not be be blood at all.

The wounds always appear fresh, no matter what the duration, and in some cases may even seem to emit a pleasant odour. They appear to resemble their supposed cause in most cases, but may be very shallow, or somehow different in other cases. In fact it seems sensible to reaffirm that there are a common set of characteristics with stigmata, but specifics vary greatly.

Possible Explanations

There are three non-supernatural theories that may explain stigmata

Perhaps some disease, possibly combigned with the action of the mind is sufficient to cause wounds on the surface of the skin. Unfortunately, we must discount this theory, as stigmata do not react to treatment as normal wounds do, and the healing is remarkably rapid.

It is possible that those appearing to suffer from Stigmata inflict the wounds upon themselves, either consciously or during their sleep. While this seems like a good explanation, it cannot stand up to the accounts of spontaneous wound generation and healing, and there is no evidence to back it up. Some apparent cases of mystical stigmata may be due self-inflicted injuries, but this may only apply to a minority of examples, who's mental stability is likely to be questionable.

Psychosomatic causes
The most convincing explanation for stigmata is one that postulates that the mind is somehow responsible for causing the stigmata. While not an expert on the subject, I think it is safe to say that while the mind may be capable of many remarkable feats, the creation, and sudden healing of severe wounds is beyond it, as we currently understand. With further study a greater understanding of such phenomena may be acquired, and perhaps this explanation will become sufficient.

For now, the nature and cause of mystical stigmata are mysterious to us, but we have not exhausted all roads of scientific enquiry, and it is still not possible to point to either a divine or mundane cause.

Some Notable Stigmatics
* St. Francis of Assisi (1186-1226)
* St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)
* St. Catherine de' Ricci (1522-1589)
* St. Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mind full of Viruses

"Viruses of the Mind" (1991) is a controversial essay by Richard Dawkins using memetics and analogies with biological and computer viruses, and with disease and epidemiology, to analyse the propagation of ideas and behaviours. Its particular focus is on religous beliefs and activities. The essay is included in the books Dennett and His Critics: Demystifying Mind (ISBN 0-631-19678-1) and A Devil's Chaplain. In this essay, Dawkins coined the term faith-sufferer.

The second episode of Dawkins' two-part television programme The Root of All Evil? explored similar ideas and took a similar name, "The Virus of Faith".


Dawkins defines the "symptoms" of being infected by the "virus of religion", providing examples for most of them, and tries to define a connection between the elements of religion and its survival value (invoking Zahavi's handicap principle of sexual selection , applied to believers of a religion). Dawkins also describes religious beliefs as "mind-parasites", and as "gangs [which] will come to constitute a package, which may be sufficiently stable to deserve a collective name such as Roman Catholicism ... or ... component parts to a single virus".

Dawkins argues that religious belief in the "faith-sufferer" typically shows the following elements:

  • It is impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous: a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, the believer feels as totally compelling and convincing.
  • The believer typically makes a positive virtue of faith's being strong and unshakable, in spite of not being based upon evidence.
  • There is a conviction that "mystery," per se, is a good thing; the belief that it is not a virtue to solve mysteries but to enjoy them and revel in their insolubility.
  • There may be intolerant behaviour towards perceived rival faiths, in extreme cases even killing opponents or advocating their deaths. Believers may be similarly violent in disposition towards apostrates or heretics (even when "heretics" espouse only a very slightly different version of the faith, as with the proliferation of Christian sects).
  • The particular convictions that the believer holds, while having nothing to do with evidence, are likely to resemble those of the believer's parents.
  • If the believer is one of the rare exceptions who follows a different religion from his parents, the explanation may be cultural transmission from a charismatic individual.
  • The internal sensations of the patient may be startlingly reminiscent of those more ordinarily associated with sexual love.

Dawkins stresses his claim that religious beliefs do not spread as a result of evidence in their support, but typically by cultural transmission, whether from parents or from charismatic individuals. He refers to this as involving "epidemiology, not evidence." He distinguishes this from the spread of scientific ideas, which, he suggests, is constrained by the requirement to conform with certain virtues of standard methodology: "testability, evidential support, precision, quantifiability, consistency, intersubjectivity, repeatability, universality, progressiveness, independence of cultural milieu, and so on." He adds, "Faith spreads despite a total lack of every single one of these virtues."


The idea that "God" and "Faith" are viruses of the mind has provoked some hostile criticism, including John Bowker's 1992-3 Gresham College lectures, in which he suggests that Dawkins' "account of religious motivation ... is ... far removed from evidence and data" and that, even if the God-meme approach were valid, "it does not give rise to one set of consequences ... Out of the many behaviours it produces, why are we required to isolate only those that might be regarded as diseased?"

Alister McGrath has also commented critically on Dawkins' analysis, suggesting that "memes have no place in serious scientific reflection", that there is strong evidence that such ideas are not spread by random processes, but by deliberate intentional actions that "evolution" of ideas is more Lamarckian than Darwinian, and that there is no evidence (and certainly none in the essay) that epidemiological models usefully explain the spread of religious ideas. McGrath also cites a metareview of 100 studies and argues that "If religion is reported as having a positive effect on human well-being by 79% of recent studies in the field, how can it conceivably be regarded as analagous to a virus?"

Christianity is a meme--a mind virus that lives in the minds of people and is spread through proselytization and other means.

In this essay, which helped establish the field of memetics, Dawkins attempts to answer a question that obviously bugs him: why do people persist in believing silly religious myths?

A beautiful child close to me, six and the apple of her father’s eye, believes that Thomas the Tank Engine really exists. She believes in Father Christmas, and when she grows up her ambition is to be a tooth fairy. She and her school-friends believe the solemn word of respected adults that tooth fairies and Father Christmas really exist. This little girl is of an age to believe whatever you tell her. If you tell her about witches changing princes into frogs she will believe you. If you tell her that bad children roast forever in hell she will have nightmares. I have just discovered that without her father’s consent this sweet, trusting, gullible six-year-old is being sent, for weekly instruction, to a Roman Catholic nun. What chance has she?

And then you have Richard Brodie, he did a similar book with yust the same adress:
Virus of the Mind by Brodie is the first popular book on the market exclusively about memetics, the study of infectious ideas. I've been looking forward to it since I first heard rumours of its existence in alt.memetics almost a year ago.

I have to confess that at first I was disappointed with the presentation style of the book. It seems to be aimed at an audience with a high-school reading level, with key points highlighted in boxes and illustrated with cartoons featuring Eggbert, on oval happy face with spiky hair. Later I came to the conclusion that Brodie is probably capable of a more sophisticated writing style, but consciously chose to give it wider appeal in a deliberate act of memetic engineering.

In fact Brodie takes many opportunities to apply the techniques he discusses which serves not only to lend weight to the theories, but should also theoretically increase books sales. :) For example, he named the book Virus of the Mind rather than, say, Introduction to Memetics because it will catch more people's attention due to their association memes.

It is difficult to discuss memetics in depth without veering off into deep philosophy. Everything that exists, everything with a name, everything we know corresponds to a meme including memes themselves. What is truth? What are we? What should we do? The new science of the meme sheds light on all these questions and Brodie doesn't shy away from tackling these issues head on, but always remaining practical and open-minded.

The book covers a great deal in its 230 pages. Starting with general definitions, it goes on to describe how memes are like biological and computer viruses and how they evolve in their respective mediums. One chapter introduces evolutionary psychology (the subject of Robert Wright's excellent The Moral Animal), and how the ancient memes of "sex" and "danger" are still very much shaping our culture today. Another chapter covers how we get programmed (infected by new memes), and how these techniques are used by governments, corporations, cults and religions. (I paid special attention to the chapter on how to start a cult :)

It was refreshing to see how charitable Brodie is towards religion, even after describing in detail how it is really a cultural power virus, evolving to take advantage of the natural "push-button" memes of its adherents including "security", "sex", "belonging" and "crisis" through memes like "tradition", "heresy", "evangilism" and "repetition". He concludes that despite all that religions are still very useful because they give purpose to otherwise meaningless lives.

I suspect even someone already well-read in the area of memetics will find new insights in Virus of the Mind. Brodie is obviously a bright guy who has thought a lot about how to teach people about memes in order to create a future by design. Virus of the Mind should be on the reading list of everyone interested in the future evolution of ideas.

You’ve heard of ordinary viruses – those microscopic entities that get inside your body and replicate themselves. They war against your natural resistances and make you feel rotten. And through your coughs and sneezes they jump onto other people and make them feel rotten too. Well, did you know that there are other kinds of tiny ‘organism’ called viruses of the mind?

What is a mind virus and are they a danger to us? A mind virus is a tiny ‘seed’ of information that somehow lodges itself within our minds. It is a ‘seed’, which, in given individuals, falls on ‘fertile ground’, germinates and then takes on a life of its own. It is as if this ‘germinated seed’ or ‘fascinating idea’ had an unconscious ‘intent’ and that blind urge is to replicate itself. For example, you hear a joke and, before you know it, you find yourself with an almost irresistible urge to spread it around. You hear a catchy tune sung by a show-off and before long you have joined the ranks of punters who have bought the recording. In this way jokes and tunes spread themselves around the world. Recently, in my neck of the woods, children have been infected with the Pokemon mind virus. In no time at all children up and down the country have been gripped by a fanatical urge to purchase and save the ‘pocket monster’ cards. It has been a retailer’s dream. I noticed another mind virus when it hopped over the pond from America to England. This revealed itself when I saw large numbers of young people wearing the same baggy ‘street cred.’ type clothes with baseball caps worn with the peak at the back. They had all been infected with a mind virus. Probably the most impressive mind virus of recent times has been the 'Harry Potter' phenomenon. In a short space of time this spellbinding idea has spread to susceptible little minds all over the world, making the author, J.K. Rowling and her publishers, squillions of pounds.

When you find masses of people thinking, saying or doing some particular thing, you can be sure that a mind virus is at work. This happens when people fall under the spell of an ‘….ism’. I’m thinking of socialism, conservatism, communism, monetarism, fanaticism, fundamentalism, Christianity..ism, etc. Mind viruses fill you with proselytizing zeal. You become possessed with a great desire to spread them far and wide and some mistakenly attribute this feeling to God.

Some mind viruses appear fairly benign. But what do you do when the idea becomes widely accepted amongst ordinary people that it is quite acceptable to create, on a weekly basis, piles of non-biodegradable waste, which has to be tipped into a big hole in the ground? What are you to conclude when masses of people think it perfectly reasonable live in a world of plastic, neon, concrete, steel, brick and asphalt. Now these are a couple of dangerous mind viruses. We must remember that mind viruses, like our genes, do not spread because they are any good, but rather because they are good replicators.

Now consider your treasured identity - that strange complex of imperfect knowledge, fears, ambitions and masquerades, your public and private ‘faces’, which you call your ego. It could be nothing but a nest of mind viruses that combine to cloud the mirror of your awareness, to eventually sap your energy and to reduce your creative intent to that of folly. If you doubt this, just try to stop thinking for a few minutes and discover how difficult this is. You will find that you do not have thoughts at all, but that thoughts have you – in their grip! The inescapable conclusion is that a human being, with his or her genes and mind viruses, is simply a host to the successful replicators. Is this not what we are? And, in our ignorance of this one fact, have we not just given in to the urge to run amok on this wonderful self-organizing planet?

You see, for each of us there is no inner Self - at least not in our everyday space/time existence. At any given moment, our sense of identity is an illusion. We cannot know who we are for sure, so it is pointless trying to 'find ourselves'. This is because beneath the mind viruses, which furnish us with an imperfect knowledge of the world and of ourselves, there is only the ever-changing mystery of pure awareness and intent. The latter are magical emergent qualities that, in the course of a life, get paralyzed or channeled into one-sidedness by mind viruses.

The great mystics think that it is not practical for us to go on educating ourselves, adding yet more ‘bricks to the wall’ of our ordinary knowledge, the better to solve our problems. They know that this only fortifies the mind viruses and these in turn, generate solutions that, in the long run, become new problems. In his or her blindness, the average person calls the spectacle of solutions becoming new problems 'the march of civilization' or simply 'progress'. But real seers spot the joke and call it what it truly is - an ongoing madness whereby ideal conditions are maintained for the replication of genes and mind viruses. Open your eyes and check these things out in your own life and the world around.

Would it not be better to adopt methods to unlearn what we know in order to loosen the grip of our mind viruses and to reinstate our original purified awareness and intent? Instead of reacting to problematical circumstances and coming up with solutions that become new problems, we might then be better placed to create the world of our choice. We cannot do without knowledge of some sort, but that which we need is uncommon. It isn’t solely logical or deterministic understanding or yet another mind virus. Rather it has to incorporate a description of reality that engenders faith in a Strategy For Getting Nice Surprises.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Balance the Energy Flow

Taoist concepts, beliefs and practices
* Tao is the first-cause of the universe. It is a force that flows through all life.
* "The Tao surrounds everyone and therefore everyone must listen to find enlightenment."
* Each believer's goal is to harmonize themselves with the Tao.
* Taoism has provided an alternative to the Confucian tradition in China. The two traditions have coexisted in the country, region, and generally within the same individual.
* The priesthood views the many gods as manifestations of the one Dao, "which could not be represented as an image or a particular thing." The concept of a personified deity is foreign to them, as is the concept of the creation of the universe. Thus, they do not pray as Christians do; there is no God to hear the prayers or to act upon them. They seek answers to life's problems through inner meditation and outer observation.
* In contrast with the beliefs and practices of the priesthood, most of the laity have "believed that spirits pervaded nature...The gods in heaven acted like and were treated like the officials in the world of men; worshipping the gods was a kind of rehearsal of attitudes toward secular authorities. On the other hand, the demons and ghosts of hell acted like and were treated like the bullies, outlaws, and threatening strangers in the real world; they were bribed by the people and were ritually arrested by the martial forces of the spirit officials."
* Time is cyclical, not linear as in Western thinking.
* Taoists strongly promote health and vitality.
* Five main organs and orifices of the body correspond to the five parts of the sky: water, fire, wood, metal and earth.
* Each person must nurture the Ch'i (air, breath) that has been given to them.
* Development of virtue is one's chief task. The Three Jewels to be sought are compassion, moderation and humility.
* Taoists follow the art of "wu wei," which is to let nature take its course. For example, one should allow a river to flow towards the sea unimpeded; do not erect a dam which would interfere with its natural flow.
* One should plan in advance and consider carefully each action before making it.
* A Taoists is kind to other individuals, in part because such an action tends to be reciprocated.
* Taoists believe that "people are compassionate by nature...left to their own devices [they] will show this compassion without expecting a reward."
here is a long history of involvement by Taoists in various exercise and movement techniques. 6 Tai chi in particular works on all parts of the body. It "stimulates the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress and gently tones muscles without strain. It also enhances digestion, elimination of wastes and the circulation of blood. Moreover, tai chi's rhythmic movements massage the internal organs and improve their functionality." Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that illness is caused by blockages or lack of balance in the body's "chi" (intrinsic energy). Tai Chi is believed to balance this energy flow.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

We claim diversity, and became Hypocrits

Web definitions for hypocrite a person who professes beliefs and opinions that he or she does not hold in order to conceal his or her real feelings or motives
1. a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, esp. a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
2. a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, esp. one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

Types of Non-Hypocrites
From my observation I have classified non-hypocrites into two categories:
Tautological Rationalizers are not hypocrites because their beliefs and perceptions of reality conform to support their own desires and imperfections. They can not be hypocrites because their beliefs and perceptions of reality are rationalizations for their actions and are without objectivity. When a state of hypocrisy arises, tautological rationalizers conform their beliefs around their actions to eliminate contradiction, rather than conforming their actions around their beliefs.
Devoted Believers'
actions never contradict their beliefs. They are completely devoted to what they believe. Their beliefs and perceptions of reality are not rationalizations for their own actions. Their beliefs and perceptions of reality are the result of either objective logic, blind faith or a combination of the two. Regardless of the source of their beliefs, their beliefs and actions are without contradiction.

Types of Hypocrites
I am going to break hypocrites down into two levels, External and Internal. Within these levels I will classify 4 types of hypocrites based on the consistency between their stated and internal beliefs:
Honest External hypocrites: Their stated beliefs contradict their actions. However, their stated beliefs are consistent with their actual internal beliefs. Therefore they are also honest internal hypocrites. They have strong convictions but do not always follow through. Causes for this type of hypocrisy will be discussed later.
Dishonest External hypocrites: Their stated beliefs contradict their actions and their stated beliefs are not consistent with their actual beliefs. They often have weak convictions, and it is possible for them to be non-hypocritical on an internal level.
Honest internal hypocrites: Their internal beliefs contradict their actions. Their internal beliefs remain constant despite their contradicting actions. They are honest with themselves, and strive not to conform their beliefs around their own desires, actions, or imperfections.
Dishonest internal hypocrites: stated beliefs are consistent with actions but actual internal beliefs are not. They are often people pleasers with weak convictions.

How should one go about obtaining a belief system?

One should do their best to objectively perceive Reality for what it is.
One should do their best to objectively perceive Truth for what it is.
One should do their best to objectively perceive Morality for what it is.

Once you obtain a belief system in this manner, your perception of reality will be as close to actual reality as you can make it. If your beliefs are humanly impossible after this evaluation, then you will have to settle for being an honest hypocrite!

Now don't get me wrong, you should do everything humanly possible to keep the hypocrisy to a bare minimum. Conform your actions to your beliefs the best you can, but never conform you beliefs to justify your actions, unless you have objectively found flaws in your beliefs.

I leave you with the following:

It is best not to be hypocritical, but I would rather be an honest hypocrite than a person who tries to make truth conform around his or her own desires and imperfections. In other words, I would rather be an honest hypocrite than lie about my imperfections. That is the hard core truth.

Now that we have covered the terminology, I now pose a very interesting question:

How come we claim such a diversity and weare only small hypocrite pretenders?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lao Tse; Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river.

Zen buddhism is based on a single, esoteric idea: all humans have a Buddha nature inside them and to realize this nature all a human being has to do is search his or her inner self. The key to Buddhahood in Zen is simply self-knowledge.
Zen in Japan
Zen Buddhism arrived in Japan as early as the 7th century, but did not develop significantly there until the 12th century. Zen has since been an important force in Japan. It has had considerable influence on Japanese culture, "reaching far beyond the temple and entering into cultural and social areas of all kinds, including gardening, ink painting, calligraphy, the tea ceremony, and even military strategies. " {2} Zen priests played an important role in the political unrest of 16th century Japan, both serving as diplomats and administrators and preserving Japanese cultural life.
The way to gain self-knowledge is through meditation (which is what the word "zen" means). Now, "meditation" is one of the cornerstones of Buddhism, where, under the name dhyana , it forms the final and most important aspect of gaining enlightenment. But Zen (in Chinese, Ch'an ) or Meditation Buddhism granted meditation an exclusive importance not ascribed to it in other Buddhist schools. This is indicated by its very name: all other Buddhist schools either take their names from important Scriptures (such as the Lotus sect, which takes its name from the Lotus sutra) or from a philosophical position (such as the Consciousness-only sect) or an individual philosopher (such as Nichiren), whereas Zen takes its name from the practice of meditation. Meditation, which was a means to an end in other Buddhist schools, became the end in itself in Zen: meditation was Truth realized in action. As a result, Zen readily dispenses with the Buddhist scriptures and philosophical discussion in favor of a more intuitive and individual approach to enlightenment. Meditation, however, is a strict religious discipline: the mind must be made sharp and attentive in order to intuit from itself the Truth of Buddhahood. Part of this discipline involves waking up the mind of the disciple, making it aware of the things around it. There are several ways of doing this: motorcycle maintenance, hard labor, travel, and, in Japan, the koan, which is a question and answer session between disciple and master which involves sudden beatings and illogical answers all in an attempt to wake or stimulate the disciple's mind to make it ready for the discovery of the Truth inside.

Buddhist colour symbols
Eternity, truth, devotion, faith, purity, chastity, peace, spiritual and intellectual life - these are some of the associations that appear in many different cultures. All express a general feeling that blue is the coolest, most detached and least material of all hues.

The Virgin Mary and Christ are often shown wearing blue in Christian art, and it is the attribute of many sky gods including Amun in Egypt, the Sumerian Great Mother, the Greek Zeus (Jupiter to the Romans), the Hindu Indra, Vishnu and his blue-skinned incarnation, Krishna.

In Buddhism both light and dark aspects of this mysterious color are important.

signifies the primordial darkness in Buddhism. In the realm where it is dark, because there is no light reflected, there is also a sound which we cannot hear as it is so high on the scale of harmonics that it is inaccessible to the hearing capacity of any physical being. The wonders of creation may be manifested through the gradual slowing down of vibrations. The darkness becomes light, the shadows colors, the colors sound, and sound creates form.

One of the most interesting examples is represented by the so-called black paintings. The special genre of the black thangkas, the potent, highly mystical paintings portraying shimmering, brilliant forms appearing out of a translucent darkness, came to full fruition in the second half of the 17th century.

Their aesthetic power derives from the contrast of powerful lines against a black background, making them one of the most effective means to appreciate the Tibetan mastery of line work. There is a range of variations in the technique, beyond the boldness of gold lines over a black background, to large figures and settings and a variety of colors, and orange, flamed halos.

Black paintings, a relatively late appearance in Buddhist art, have added yet another means by which artists can conjure up visions of mysterious transcendent worlds. Like the fierce deities who are often the subject matter of these thangkas, the blackness signifies the darkness of hate and ignorance as well as the role these qualities have to play in the awakening of clarity and truth.

Thangkas with black background form a special category of contemplative paintings. They are a highly mystical and esoteric type, usually reserved for advanced practice.

Black is the color of hate, transmuted by the alchemy of wisdom into compassion. Darkness represents the imminence of the absolute, the threshold of the experience. It is used for terrific ritual actions, the radical conquest of evil in all its forms - conquest not by annihilating, but by turning even evil into good. Thus, in the black paintings (Tibetan nagtang) the black ground casts forth deities in luminous visions of translucent colors.

Do bad things happen to good people?

let me post this link to a new spinoff website by Marshall Brain: God Is Imaginary.

Why do bad things happen to good people?"
This is certainly one of the most profound metaphysical questions of all time. In fact, how a person answer might say more about their metaphysical views then any other single question could (not to mention the me v. the universe idea and it's importance to personality psychology).
For most metaphysical schools of thought the answer in the cynical cliché that 'no good deed goes unpunished'. The implication here is that good deeds carry punishments rather than rewards. Thus, one could say that doing good and being a good person is it's own reward (if there is to be one at all). Taken further, one has to ask one's self if being a good person in the expectation of some reward is truly being good morally or just good strategically.
It is, in fact, an essential concept within most spiritual groups throughout history that one might deny one's self of earthly joys in order to prove one's devoutness. This is evident both in great spiritual leaders (Jesus, Buddha) and in various orders of monks and priests who take vows that inhibit their ability to enjoy the 'mundane' pleasures of life. It is saying, in essence, that the joy of faith and spirit is the only joy they need, and that they are willing to sacrifice anything for the greater good (typically peace, love, or enlightenment).
For the monotheistic, in particular, there is an additional complimentary element. That being, that god promises only his love. You are to love him/her as he/she loves you. This covenant will not prevent adversity, but rather give you the strength to overcome adversity. This is probably best demonstrated for the Judeo-Christian in the book of Job (one of my favorites).
Anyway, for the godless there is just as much to be learned from this concept. It's an idea that has been around forever, but only becomes clear upon one's own meditations.
"Virtue herself is her own fairest reward."
-Silius Italicus, Punica
"Nature does not loathe virtue: it is unaware of its existence."
-Françoise Mallet-Joris
It seemed the world was divided into good and bad people. The good ones slept better... while the bad ones seemed to enjoy the waking hours much more.
-Woody Allen
We see many who are struggling against adversity who are happy, and more although abounding in wealth, who are wretched.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Corrupt and Hypocritical Religious Leaders

  1. I believe in "X". .
  2. Belief in "X" is irrational because [...], and hence I don't believe in "X".
An exquisitely erotic panel. In ancient India the caste system with its ideas of birth and rebirth and practices of obligatory unpaid services (vishti and balutem) for the construction of temples, palaces, forts, etc., along with institutions of Dana made physical slavery unnecessary - mental slavery through blind belief was sufficient for the diversion of the social surplus from the class of Vaishya-shudra producers to that of the non-producing categories.

So who or what runs your world? And do you agree with this survey, should religious leaders be given more power? Do you think they should be trusted more than elected politicians? Or should intellectuals have more of a say in the running of your country?

Corrupt and hypocritical religious leaders
Religious leaders preach one thing and do another but don't throw out the baby with the bathwater
No wonder people are getting fed up with religion when things like this happen. Just last week one of the leading Christian Evangelical pastors, who was the leader of a 14,000 member church in Colorado Springs and a powerful adversary of gay unions, admitted to having a homosexual relationship with a gay escort. This is not the first nor will it be the last abomination caused by religious leaders who preach one thing and themselves do another. The list of religious leaders, even within the Jewish community, who have been embarrassed in similar ways is too long to cite here.
Many secular Jews, especially those living in Israel, maintain that the deceit and double standards that they see within the rabbinate and religious organizations have turned them off religion. Organized religion has become a dirty word in the eyes of many because of the corruption and hypocrisy that it often breeds. Indeed, through my teenage years, I myself put religious leaders on pedestals, only to be forced to take them off again later. Of all the religious leaders I met, from all sectors of Jewish religious life, I could not find one person who truly belonged on a pedestal as an example of perfection.
This experience taught me that no one deserves unconditional reverence. In the final analysis, humans are humans and as such are prone to make mistakes. Even religious leaders are subject to desires, lusts and temptations. Although we expect our spiritual leaders to set an example of morality and ethics, and many of them try to do just that, they are not infallible. The problem, however, lies both with some religious leaders and their followers. Some religious leaders like to portray themselves as holy and perfect. They demand reverence and get offended when they are not treated with the respect they perceive as being due to a person of their stature.
This egotism in turn plays into the natural human need of reliance and trust in others. Most of us know the limit of our own knowledge and abilities and therefore find it comforting to be able to put our faith in a person whom we feel we can trust and believe in as scholarly, holy and perfect.
One of the beauties of Judaism and the Hebrew Bible is that all the main characters are portrayed in a uniquely human fashion, warts and all. Even biblical Moses was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel because he hit the rock instead of speaking to it. Judaism is extremely realistic about its religious leaders – it recognizes that as humans they are bound to fail at least some of the time. Unlike Christianity, Judaism does not see its religious leaders as divine and therefore infallible.
Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater
In Judaism religious leaders have but one role – to teach Torah and to render Halachic (Jewish law) decisions. Yes, we can look up to them hoping that the Torah they have learnt has made them better people, but we must never expect absolute perfection from them, nor should religious leaders portray themselves as such.

When we witness religious leaders misbehaving, inevitably it will reflect negatively on the religion as a whole and they must therefore be held accountable for unacceptable behavior. However, we must be more sophisticated as well and realize that, although humans may fail to live up to their teachings, this does not detract from the truth of the teachings themselves.

Although we must constantly strive for higher standards, corruption, sin and hypocrisy are unfortunate facts of life and to give up on religion because of hypocritical and corrupt religious leaders is to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Ultimately we are all autonomous human beings with choices of our own and both positive and negative aspects to our character. As one of the great Chassidic masters once said, “One who sees only the negative traits of others will learn only from them and end up completely negative. One who notices the positive in others will be able to learn from that and incorporate it into their own life and therefore become a better person.” We can choose to see only the negativity in our religious leaders or we can learn from the abundance of positive attributes that they have. If we do the latter we are much more likely to become better people ourselves.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Religious Affiliation, Atheism and Suicide

When most of us hear the word "cult," we see a bunch of brainwashed zombies feeding their children cyanide-laced fruit drink, mass murders, a burning compound in Waco, Texas -- it's not a pretty picture. But is it a true picture? What exactly is a "cult," and how is it different from a "religion"? Are all cults dangerous? Are people who join destructive cults mentally disturbed, or are all of us equally susceptible?

In this article, we'll separate fact from propaganda and learn what a cult actually is, what practices characterize a destructive cult and look at some of the more notable cult incidents in recent history.

What's a "Cult"?
If You Need Help
If you think you may be involved in a destructive cult, or you've recently left one, there are a lot of resources out there ready to help you. They can assist you in understanding the situation and taking action. Here are just a few organizations that specialize in helping people recover from cult involvement:

* Support Group Locations
* Post-Cult Trauma
* Cult Information Service

The cults that make the news and drive fear through the hearts of parents sending their kids to college are the exception, not the rule. At its most basic, a cult is simply a small, unestablished, non-mainstream religious group that typically revolves around a single leader. The American Heritage Dictionary defines "cult" this way:

1. A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.

2. A system or community of religious worship and ritual.

The first definition is closer to the common usage of the term today, but you'll notice there's no mention of brainwashing, murder or mass suicide. There is no meaningful difference between a cult and a religion in terms of faith, morality or spirituality. The primary differences are that a "cult" operates outside of mainstream society, often calls on its followers to make an absolute commitment to the group and typically has a single leader, whereas a "religion" usually operates within mainstream culture, requires varying levels of commitment from its members and typically has a leadership hierarchy that, in practice, can serve as a series of checks and balances.

But destructive cults are a different story. There is a big difference between a destructive cult and a non-destructive religion (or a non-destructive cult). A destructive (or totalist) cult exploits its members' vulnerability in order to gain complete control over them, often using unethical psychological techniques to bring about thought reform. It can be said that a non-destructive religion or cult attempts to alleviate its members' vulnerability through spiritual guidance in an effort to help them exercise control over their own lives.

While most small, non-mainstream religions are harmless, certain circumstances do make them an easy breeding ground for destructive practices. The People's Temple began as a charitable organization in the United States that ran a free medical clinic and drug rehabilitation program. But you probably know it as the doomsday cult whose Kool-Aid mass suicide/murders took more than 900 lives in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978. How can something that began with so much hope go so very wrong? There's a lot of speculation about what happened to the members of The People's Temple, but for the most part, what went wrong is what goes wrong with most destructive cults: the leadership.
Photo courtesy Getty Images
Don Hogan Charles / New York Times Co.
Reverend Jim Jones, leader of The People's Temple, and his family in 1976
Photo courtesy Getty Images
David Hume Kennerly
Nine-hundred members of The People's Temple (including more than 200 children) dead after Jones ordered a mass murder/suicide in 1978

It's really a two-part problem. First, many of these religions are founded by a single person who retains a position of exclusive power within the organization, and power tends to corrupt even the most ethical among us. In the case of The People's Temple, there is evidence that its leader, Reverend James Warren Jones, was abusing prescription drugs and becoming increasingly paranoid through the 1970s. Next, because these groups operate outside the mainstream, there is usually no one checking up on their operating procedures, so a corrupt or mentally unstable leader is free to exploit his followers to his heart's content. In addition to this authoritarian leadership structure, some primary characteristics of a destructive cult include:

* Charismatic leadership
* Deception in recruiting
* Use of thought-reform methods
* Isolation (physical and/or psychological)
* Demand for absolute, unquestioning devotion and loyalty
* Sharp, unsurpassable distinction between "us" (good, saved) and "them" (bad, going to Hell)
* "Inside language" that only members fully understand
* Strict control over members' daily routines

For the remainder of this article, when we refer to techniques employed by "cults," we're talking about destructive cults, not the small religious groups that keep to themselves and don't hurt anybody. In the following sections, we'll examine destructive cults more closely and find out how they function. Let's start with the leadership structure.

It Takes All Kinds
Not all destructive cults are religious in nature. They can be driven by political or financial goals as well. In the end, it's all about subjugating members' individuality to achieve the desires of the leader(s), whether that means reinforcing a self-proclaimed messianic status, participating in destructive activities in the name of political revolution or simply filling the leader's pockets with their hard-earned money. There are radical political groups, commercial pyramid schemes and self-help seminars that employ similar recruiting and indoctrinating techniques as destructive religious cults, targeting people with certain vulnerabilities and then playing on those vulnerabilities to keep them "in the fold." The end result is a "convert" who will blow himself up in the name of destroying capitalism, try to get all of his loved ones to buy into the same business deal that he is losing his life savings on, or keep signing up for an unending series of lectures, seminars and retreats that promise psychological and spiritual healing but really only drain his bank account.
Cult suicide is that phenomenon by which some religious groups, in this context often referred to as "cults", have led to their membership committing suicide. Sometimes all members commit suicide at the same time and place. Groups which have done this include Heaven's Gate, Order of the Solar Temple, Peoples Temple (Jonestown) and the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. In other cases, certain denominations apparently supported mass suicide, but did not necessarily encourage all members to do it. Examples here include Filippians and the Taiping.

According to a recent study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry religious affiliation is associated with significantly lower levels of suicide compared to religiously unaffiliated people, atheists and agnostics. Source: Kanita Dervic, Maria A. Oquendo, Michael F. Grunebaum, Steve Ellis, Ainsley K. Burke, and J. John Mann. "Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt" (161:2303-2308, December 2004).

Full article online:


OBJECTIVE: Few studies have investigated the association between religion and suicide either in terms of Durkheim's social integration hypothesis or the hypothesis of the regulative benefits of religion. The relationship between religion and suicide attempts has received even less attention.

METHOD: Depressed inpatients (N=371) who reported belonging to one specific religion or described themselves as having no religious affiliation were compared in terms of their demographic and clinical characteristics.

RESULTS: Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation. Unaffiliated subjects were younger, less often married, less often had children, and had less contact with family members. Furthermore, subjects with no religious affiliation perceived fewer reasons for living, particularly fewer moral objections to suicide. In terms of clinical characteristics, religiously unaffiliated subjects had more lifetime impulsivity, aggression, and past substance use disorder. No differences in the level of subjective and objective depression, hopelessness, or stressful life events were found.

CONCLUSIONS: Religious affiliation is associated with less suicidal behavior in depressed inpatients. After other factors were controlled, it was found that greater moral objections to suicide and lower aggression level in religiously affiliated subjects may function as protective factors against suicide attempts. Further study about the influence of religious affiliation on aggressive behavior and how moral objections can reduce the probability of acting on suicidal thoughts may offer new therapeutic strategies in suicide prevention.

Pitzer College sociologist Phil Zuckerman compiled country-by-country survey, polling and census numbers relating to atheism, agnosticism, disbelief in God and people who state they are non-religious or have no religious preference. These data were published in the chapter titled "Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns" in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed. by Michael Martin, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK (2005). In examining various indicators of societal health, Zuckerman concludes about suicide:
Concerning suicide rates, this is the one indicator of societal health in which religious nations fare much better than secular nations. According to the 2003 World Health Organization's report on international male suicides rates (which compared 100 countries), of the top ten nations with the highest male suicide rates, all but one (Sri Lanka) are strongly irreligious nations with high levels of atheism. It is interesting to note, however, that of the top remaining nine nations leading the world in male suicide rates, all are former Soviet/Communist nations, such as Belarus, Ukraine, and Latvia. Of the bottom ten nations with the lowest male suicide rates, all are highly religious nations with statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism.
It is important to keep in mind that atheism and agnosticism have no inherent proscription against suicide, so higher rates of suicide among agnostics and atheists should in no way be considered a failure of these belief systems. Indeed, compassionate tolerance for suicide and euthenasia are widely regarded as hallmarks of many secular societies.

The list of countries with the highest levels of atheism, agnosticism and non-belief in God (see: Largest Atheist Populations, reporting lists by Zuckerman, 2005, and Greeley/Jagodzinski, 1991) strongly correlates with countries that have the most liberal (or "progressive") laws, policies and practices regarding right-to-die, assisted suicide, and euthenasia for infants, the terminally ill, chronic pain sufferers, the handicapped, and depressed individuals. Zuckerman (2005) listed the top countries with the highest levels of atheism and non-religiousness as: Sweden, Vietnam, Denmark, Norway, Japan, Czech Republic, Finland, France, South Korea, Estonia, Germany, Russia, Hungary, Netherlands, Britain and Belgium (highest by level of non-belief, with Sweden being the highest).

A report last updated 1 March 2005 about assisted suicide (Assisted Suicide Laws Around the World, compiled by Derek Humphry, former editor of World Right-to-Die Newsletter) summarizes the situation in these proportionately more atheist/agnostic countries:

...Sweden [ranked #1 on the list of countries with the highest proportion of atheists/agnostics] has no law specifically proscribing assisted suicide...

Norway [ranke #4] has criminal sanctions against assisted suicide by using the charge "accessory to murder"... A retired Norwegian physician, Christian Sandsdalen, was found guilty of wilful murder in 2000. He admitted giving an overdose of morphine to a woman chronically ill after 20 years with MS who begged for his help... Dr. Sandsdalen died at 82 and his funeral was packed with Norway's dignitaries, which is consistent with the support always given by intellectuals to euthanasia.

Finland [ranked #7] has nothing in its criminal code about assisted suicide. Sometimes an assister will inform the law enforcement authorities of him or her of having aided someone in dying, and provided the action was justified, nothing more happens. Mostly it takes place among friends...

Germany [ranked #11] has had no penalty for either suicide or assisted suicide since 1751...

France [ranked #8] does not have a specific law banning assisted suicide, but such a case could be prosecuted under 223-6 of the Penal Code for failure to assist a person in danger. Convictions are rare and punishments minor...

Denmark [ranked #3] has no specific law banning assisted suicide...

In England and Wales [ranked #15] there is a possibility of up to 14 years imprisonment for anybody assisting a suicide. Oddly, suicide itself is not a crime, having been decriminalized in 1961. Thus it is a crime to assist in a non-crime. In Britain, no case may be brought without the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions in London, which rules out hasty, local police prosecutions... there have been eight Bills or Amendments introduced into Parliament between 1936-2003, all trying to modify the law to allow careful, hastened death. None has succeeded, but the Joffe Bill currently before Parliament is getting more serious consideration than any similar measure...

Hungary [ranked #13] has one of the highest suicide rates in the world... Assistance in suicide or attempted suicide is punishable by up to five years imprisonment. Euthanasia practiced by physicians was ruled as illegal by Hungary's Constitutional Court (April 2003), eliciting this stinging comment from the journal Magyar Hirlap: "Has this theoretically hugely respectable body failed even to recognize that we should make legal what has become practice in everyday life." Estonia [ranked #10]... lawmakers say that as suicide is not punishable the assistance in suicide is also not punishable.

The only four places that today openly and legally, authorize active assistance in dying of patients, are:

1. Oregon [the U.S. state with the highest proportion of self-described non-religious residents] (since l997, physician-assisted suicide only);
2. Switzerland [ranked #23] (1941, physician and non-physician assisted suicide only);
3. Belgium [ranked #16] (2002, permits 'euthanasia' but does not define the method;
4. Netherlands [ranked #14] (voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide lawful since April 2002 but permitted by the courts since l984)...

Japan [ranked #5] has medical voluntary euthanasia approved by a high court in l962 in the Yamagouchi case, but instances are extremely rare... The Japan Society for Dying with Dignity is the largest right-to-die group in the world with more than 100,000 paid up members

[See the article for many more details.]

Active religious cultures exhibit lower levels of suicide

In 2002 the American Journal of Epidemiology published a study by Dr. Sterling C. Hilton showing that active Latter-day Saints are 7 times less likely to commit suicide than their surrounding peer population. (See: "High Religious Commitment Linked to Less Suicide", describing the study from American Journal of Epidemiology).

In various broad-based sociological studies, Latter-day Saints consistently exhibit high levels of religiosity and committment to behavior in accordance with religious teachings, relative to the general population, levels higher than seen in nearly all other sizable religious groups. The Hilton study showed not only that membership in a highly religious culture is linked to lower levels of suicide, but also that higher levels of participation within a specific religious group are linked to lower levels of suicide.

It is important to keep in mind that suicide is not actively encouraged by any major group or belief system, whether atheist, agnostic or highly religious. Even in nonreligious nations and belief systems in which suicide is considered a moral and viable option, it is an abberation.

Although there is a strong statistically significant correlation linking religious belief and practice to lower levels of suicide, it is not reasonable to use this correlation to broadly generalize about the merits of any particular belief system. Simply put, most people eat food, have families, work or go to school. But only a tiny fraction of any population ever commits suicide. Suicide is a statistical anomaly and is not a generally applicable demographic measure.

Social scientists believe that non-belief in God or lack of religiosity are not causitive factors leading to suicide. Rather, it is likely that religious belief that suicide is wrong is a strong deterrent factor that prevents otherwise suicide-prone individuals from committing suicide.

According to medical research, the factors most predictive of suicide are hopelessness and depression. Clinical depression can be found in all segments of society. The following passage is from: "Cognitive therapy for the suicidal patient: A case study" in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, Oct-Dec 1998, by Christine E. Reilly:

Suicide is responsible for more than 31,000 deaths a year, making it the ninth leading cause of death in America (Anderson, Kochanek, & Murphy, 1997). The single most predictive risk factor for a completed suicide is a psychiatric diagnosis. As in the case of depression and panic disorder, cognitive therapy research has made a significant contribution toward understanding the variables in suicide. A task force of the National Institute of Mental Health Center for Studies of Suicide Prevention developed a tripartite classification system in 1973 to describe suicidal behavior-suicide ideation, suicide attempt, and completed suicide (Beck et al., 1973)...

Many factors play a role in suicidal ideation and behavior. Hopelessness frequently has been reported to be the most critical psychological variable predictive of suicidal ideation and behavior. Degree of hopelessness, along with a negative self-concept (a variable predictive of suicide independent of hopelessness), compose two of the three components of Beck's negative cognitive triad found operating in depressed individuals (Beck, Steer, Epstein, & Brown, 1990).

Certainly Latter-day Saint missionaries never knock on doors with a message, "Hello. If you join our Church you'll be less likely to kill yourself." Likewise, it is unlikely that any atheists and agnostics will modify their beliefs and religious practices simply because of one demographic factor relating to a statstical group they happen to belong to. If your "discussion" of the relative merits of your belief system devolves into pointing out the suicide rate within a specific population, then you have already lost the argument, because you have abandoned substantitive dialogue in favor of an appeal to tangential sensationalism.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

voodoo is a positive religion

I'm here to tell you that Voodoo - no matter how you spell it - is a positive religion. True, it has its negative aspects, but so do all religions. Most of the negative stuff you've seen and heard about Voodoo (cannibalism; dolls with pins in them; zombies; black magic) is either completely false or so rare that it hardly ever takes place. But c'mon, you and I both know that Hollywood producers aren't going to profit by making a two hour movie portraying a day in the life of the Catholic Church. But if a movie-maker can get some kind of negative angle on a religion - something out of the ordinary, like an exorcism or devil worship, then those producers will take this all the way to the bank! After all, Aunt Evelyn is Catholic, but I'd be willing to bet that she's never once gone to church and found the crucifix upside down or blood where the holy water is suppose to be. Well, I've never been to a Voodoo ceremony where there are dolls with pins in them, or people getting sacrificed and eaten. Just as there have been occasional exorcisms within the Christian religion, and a small percentage of people who worship the devil - Voodoo also has its dark side. But also like Christianity, Voodoo's darker side isn't nearly as graphic as Hollywood portrays it. Take zombification for example: when you break it down, its just a boring technical procedure where some guy called a bokor (he's basically like a priest gone bad) administers a few drugs that knocks the person (zombi) out and leaves him or her helplessly dazed for the rest of his or her life. It's pretty basic stuff. No wands or whips or daggers. Even the evil spells that bokors put on people sound anti-climactic (When a bokor puts a bad spell on someone, he says he's doing work on that person). All that an evil spell really does (if it works) is give the recipient of the spell some bad luck. And bad luck can be anything from a bladder infection to a plane crash. Still, there is no blood dripping from ceilings, and there are no human organs in the middle of dinner tables.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to defend the evil, or dark side of Voodoo. I think it's horrifying, and that's why I don't practice it. I stick with people who follow the nice spirits - the sweet loa we call them. No one I know even practices Voodoo with their left hand. Alourdes, my friend that I mentioned earlier, is a mambo (Voodoo priestess) and she practices Voodoo with her right hand - meaning she follows the sweet loa, too. This side of Voodoo that I associate with (and so do 95% of all of the people who follow the spirits) is called the Rada side. In Rada Voodoo, the only time it can really get nasty is when the spirits are upset. See, Mom, these spirits aren't like the big almighty Christian God who's way up there in the sky. The Voodoo God - we call him/her Bondye or sometimes Granmet, (Grand Master) - is too busy and also, quite frankly, he/she is too snobbish. My spirits have feelings just like I do. They're not too high and mighty to talk to little old me. They understand me. My spirits know what it's like to be angry, sad, happy, lonely, or tired. They can feel that way, too. That's why they can sometimes get a little nasty, If I ignore them, they feel jilted just like I would if someone ignored me. So, yeah, things can sometimes get a little strange - if I ignore my spirits I'm liable to run into some sort of misfortune (illness, accident etc.) But they're usually pretty forgiving, and they give ME a lot of notice when they're upset (my professor at school calls my spirits Anthropomorphic).

I don't want you to get the wrong impression - my spirits aren't so temperamental that they can't be relied upon. They're benevolent spirits as long as I remember them. Our relationship is based on love. I love and adore my spirits, and they love and protect me.

There are a lot of loa, too. I'm not responsible for all of them, though - just my personal spirits. I already told you that I married my special spirit, Loko. The ceremony was about a month ago. It was really neat. Loko is kind of in charge of nature. He's really into leaves and herbs, and Alourdes says he's the guard of sanctuaries and upholder of justice. The reason I married him out of all of the other spirits is because he is the spirit that is most like myself (No wonder I'm studying law!) It's funny 'cause there are all these other spirits that I thought I would be way more compatible with than I am with Loko. Papa Ghede is the loa of eroticism; life and death; protector of children; guardian of the cemetery; and just a real funny guy who likes to smoke cigars (you know how I love the smell of cigar smoke!) Agwe is the spirit of the sea. Ougon is the strong, dominant, and prophetic warrior spirit. Erzulie is the refined loa of love and beauty who likes to flirt and get attention. It's interesting because she's so lovely and happy all throughout ceremonies, but right before she leaves she gets real sad and sinks into a deep depression that she bears all alone because no one can comprehend her pain. But the thing is - she comprehends everybody else's pain (maybe that's why she cries?) Anyway, there's also Dumballah, who is a snake spirit. He's a real loving father-figure type. Then there's Zaka, Papa Ghede's brother, and he's kind of gross. He's just really immature and sometimes acts disgustingly. Ghede usually gets lewd at ceremonies, but it's all in good humor. However when Zaka acts that way, it's not always funny. He's just not as smooth at it as Ghede is.

Simba is one of the Petro spirits, they're more angry than sweet. They often get a bad rap. Most of the left handed Voodoo is from the Petro spirits, but there is also a justified rage in Petro which Haitian history explains. Anyway, Simba rules the waters. Ti-Jean is another Petro spirit.

Gran Bwa is the guy we go to when somebody wants to be initiated into the priesthood. Ayida and Erzulie are both married to Dumballah. But I guess the most important spirit is Papa Legba. Legba is so important because without him, we can't get to our other spirits. He's kind of like a telephone operator because he connects you with the spirit you need to get a hold of. We call Legba's role opening the gates to the spirit world. Legba is a Rada spirit, so when bokors want to do work on somebody and they need to open the gates to the Petro spirits, Kalfu is who they ask.

So do you see what I mean about there being a lot of spirits?! That's why I couldn't believe it when Alourdes told me that Loko is my spirit. I thought for sure that my bouts with depression were enough evidence to prove that I belonged with Erzulie; or my love of swimming and the ocean would surely make me one of Agwe's descendents. Heck, even Papa Ghede and I both love children! But the more I think about it, the more I know that Alourdes is right. Every day I learn more and more about Loko. The other day I surprised Alourdes with a birthday cake. She wanted to know how I found out it was her birthday, and I just smiled mysteriously. It wasn't until then that Alourdes told me I was so much like Loko 'cause he hears everything. She said he's like the wind and you never know when he's around! I thought that was pretty neat. The more I get to know Alourdes, the more I'm amazed at how brilliant she is. I can't even fathom how she can see so much in people. Just by talking with someone, she can see deep within her psyche, and can detect who her personal loa are. She claims she knew Loko was my main spirit before she ever even met me! She said she had a dream where her spirit (Ougon) told her I'd be coming to her and she should take care of me! Then, when she read my cards that first day, she told me that the spirits sent me to her. At the time I was confused, but now, in retrospect, I think she was right. I think that my loneliness and frustration with school and my financial insecurity were all results of the work of the spirits. Ever since I've been following the loa, my life has been virtually trouble-free. Someday I hope to become more than a serviteur in Voodoo. I'd like to be further initiated into Voodoo in a ceremony called lave-tet. Alourdes calls this a washing of the head, and she says I'll know when I'm ready for it because my spirits will let me know.