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Thu, 20 Feb 2020
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Learning is consolation for sorrow: What to do when the world gets you down

A Velocity of Being
© Cindy Derby
Art by Cindy Derby from A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader.
In his wonderful contribution to A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, Yo-Yo Ma tells children about how books helped him survive his own childhood, listing King Arthur among his three great heroes; as a young boy born in France to Chinese parents, trying to find his mooring as an immigrant in America, he reaped great consolation and inspiration from the tales of the legendary medieval leader — stories of "adventure, heroism, human frailty and accidental destiny" that emboldened him to believe in the power of the quest for holy grails and improbable dreams — dreams as improbable as a small boy with no homeland growing up to be the world's greatest cellist.

And, indeed, buried inside the adventure-thrill of these Arthurian tales are treasure troves of wisdom on fortitude, courage, and the art of honorable living, nowhere richer than in the novels by T.H. White (May 29, 1906-January 17, 1964), one particular passage in which offers a meta-testament to the potency of reading in the character-formation of King Arthur himself.


The Power of Bad: How to overcome your brain's 'negativity bias'

negativity bias
Why can't we pull our attention away from a traffic accident or stop watching news about the latest viral outbreak? Why are we waylaid by criticism or unable to get past a minor snub from our best friend?

That's our negativity bias. We humans have a propensity to give more weight in our minds to things that go wrong than to things that go right — so much so that just one negative event can hijack our minds in ways that can be detrimental to our work, relationships, health, and happiness.

Overcoming our negativity bias is not easy to do. But a new book, The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It, coauthored by social psychologist Roy Baumeister and New York Times writer John Tierney, inspires hope. The book not only covers the fascinating science behind this stubborn bias, but also gives readers practical tips to work around it in effective — and sometimes counterintuitive — ways. If we know that "bad" is stronger than "good," the authors argue, we can use that knowledge to improve not only our own lives, but society at large.

Recently, I spoke with the authors about their book and what we can learn from it. Below is an edited version of our interview.

Comment: See also:


Mysteries of the human heart: The communication between heart and brain

Heart and Brain fields

“The human heart has hidden treasures, in secret kept, in silence sealed.” — Charlotte Brontë
The human heart, the size of two adult fists, is mysterious, intelligent, powerful, and sometimes inexplicable. The Egyptians believed that Anubis, the god of the underworld and judge of the dead, weighed the hearts of the recently deceased against a feather — if the two balanced, the heart would be returned to owner. If the heart was heavier, it was weighted by bad deeds and fed to a monster.

Heart as Ruler of the Brain

Aristotle considered the heart as the center of reason, thought, and emotion, senior to the brain in importance. Ninth century Arabic philosopher Abu Nasr al-Farabi believed that, "The ruling organ in the human body is the heart; the brain is a secondary ruling organ subordinated to the heart." Auguste Comte, a 19th century French philosopher declared that the brain should be servant to the heart.

"The most common denominator in all religions is that the heart is the seat of wisdom," said Rollin McCraty Ph.D, director of research at the groundbreaking HeartMath Institute in Santa Cruz, CA. Twelfth century Christian mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, would agree. She wrote, "The soul sits at the center of the heart, as though in a house."

Comment: As with all the findings coming out of the HeartMath Institute, it's difficult to assess where the science stops and the wild speculation begins. That the work they are doing is very interesting isn't really at question. But one has to wonder what their methods and techniques are trying to accomplish.

See also:


Question everything: The one habit that changed my life

hidden iceberg
© Darius Foroux
It's 2020, you don't need a blogger, YouTuber, or social media person to tell you that reading, exercising, meditating, eating nutrient-dense food, journaling, and drinking enough water are good habits.

I've written those types of articles as well. But society is slowly changing. People are waking up. We're more aware of what we do, what we put in our bodies, and how we live.

There's a lot of personal growth advice everywhere you go. For the past few years, it seems like everyone is obsessed with self-improvement. You can tell that by the amount of self-help advice that you can get from mainstream media.

Even traditional outlets like The WSJ feature articles about overcoming procrastination, personal finance, and healthy living. It's everywhere. You can't open Netflix without being bombarded with the latest health documentaries.

But while this advice might look good on the surface, there are a few issues if you think about it more deeply:
  • What advice is true? There's a lot of contradicting advice out there.
  • Why do people defend their beliefs so firmly? Have you ever had a discussion with a vegan? You can't. They are not open to other ideas.
  • Why do give people advice? What are people's interests? Why do they invest time and resources in convincing people that certain things are true?

Comment: More food for thought:

SOTT Logo Radio

MindMatters: That's the Spirit! The Stoic Philosophy of Pneuma

pneuma zeno
While the ancient philosophy of Stoicism is experiencing a comeback, many are still unfamiliar with some of its more esoteric concepts, like the role of pneuma or spirit in cosmology. The primal stuff of the cosmos - informing matter and mind at different levels of tension - for the Stoics, pneuma is the alpha and omega, the beginning and end of the cosmos.

Today on MindMatters, we take a look at some of the basics of Stoic cosmology, how it informs their ethics, and the role it had on early Christian theology, specifically in the letters of Paul. For Paul the Holy Spirit actually has more in common with the Stoic Divine Pneuma than you might think, and has some far-out implications for what Paul thought about things like the "resurrection", "pneumatic" bodies, and the growth of knowledge and being.

Running Time: 54:53

Download: MP3 — 50.3 MB


The story of the camel, the lion, and the child: Nietzsche's three steps to a meaningful life

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche
In 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche was a man who had known the depths of despair. Nietzsche had lived with a number of health problems, mental health issues, and post-traumatic stress syndrome from serving as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War (during which he had also contracted diphtheria and dysentery). The final straw was that the woman he loved deeply, whom he had proposed to a number of times, had abandoned him.

Nietzsche was an extraordinarily gifted young man. He had studied for a PhD while still a teenager and was awarded a tenured professorship at the remarkably young age of 24.

In the late 1860s the budding philosopher also excelled as a horseman and soldier. He was fated, it seemed, to be made a captain in the Prussian military but a riding accident and his failing eyesight (which made him almost blind) ended his soldiering career. He returned to academia where he excelled again.

Nietzsche was a gifted writer as well as an academic prodigy who developed extraordinary insight into some of the most deeply buried ideas that structure our beliefs. He had taken an intellectual wrecking ball to most moral and philosophical concepts that are taken for granted even today.

Books like Human, All Too Human, Untimely Meditations and The Joyful Science, tore down the edifice of morality, religion, reason and exposed the emptiness at the heart of modern civilization.


12 things I see happy people do (that unhappy people do not)

Happy face
I have been thinking a lot about happiness of late, partially because so many people seem unhappy. I think that was my first epiphany upon entering the world of Social Media; people are unhappy and there are a lot of them. Now don't get me wrong, we all know some people who wouldn't be happy, were they not unhappy but I am not talking about them. We will just let them be. I am also not thinking theologically here (i.e. juxtaposing happiness and joy), today I am going to err on the practical and pragmatic side of things. With that being said, let's get going.

I think most people want to be happy; they are just not quite sure how to get there from their present location. Many people honestly believe that happiness is a lucky bounce; a sunny disposition or favorable circumstances but I disagree. Happiness is a choice. I believe the best route to happiness is found by following the footsteps of those who have already arrived.

Here are my observations on the topic that have been formed by watching happy people for decades.


Advice from Marcus Aurelius: A stoic way to start the day

Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome and a philosopher, wrote a series of reflections in his personal journal. They were never meant for publication, but what has come to be known as his Meditations is a classic work. It has been influential among not only philosophers, but politicians, leaders, and other interested readers.

In Book 2, Marcus writes about several things that we should say to ourselves to start the day:
"...today, I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, and unsocial."
He goes on to say that it is their ignorance of the true nature of good and evil that leads them to act in these ways. But he highlights our common humanity, that human beings share "the same mind, the same fragment of divinity." He concludes this meditation as follows:
"We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work on opposition against one another is against nature: and anger or rejection is opposition."

Comment: More wisdom from Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics:


Build your own intellectual oasis

Two years ago I started an experiment I would like to recommend to you. At the urging of my best friend, concerned not just about my happiness but my mental health, I went dark. Perhaps if enough people give this a try it could help pull our troubled culture out of its downward spiral.

What do I mean by going dark? I've enjoyed a four-decade long career as an engineer, entrepreneur, and venture capital investor working with many others to help build the digital world in which we now live. As the years passed I became more of an "activist," devoting increasing amounts of time, money, and attention to various issues and causes impacting the body politic. For 25 years I wrote regular opinion columns for publications like Network Computing and Communications Week, back in the pre-web days, transitioning to Forbes.com, the Huffington Post, RealClear Markets, the Daily Caller, and the Foundation for Economic Education in the digital age. As my tech career began winding down I spent half a dozen years as a fellow at a Washington DC policy think tank, three as a radio show host on Bloomberg Radio where I had the pleasure of interviewing Claire Lehmann when Quillette was just a gleam in her eye, a couple of years as a roving lecturer on college campuses, all seasoned with a smattering of talking head appearances on TV. I had also been deeply engaged in social media since the phenomenon first emerged.

Then in January of 2018 I abruptly shut it all down, because my best friend was right.


Cradled by therapy

© Aeon
How attachment theory works in the therapeutic relationship
Why therapy works is still up for debate. But, when it does, its methods mimic the attachment dynamics of good parenting

In 2006, a team of Norwegian researchers set out to study how experienced psychotherapists help people to change. Led by Michael Rønnestad, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oslo, the team followed 50 therapist-patient pairs, tracking, in minute detail, what the therapists did that made them so effective. Margrethe Halvorsen, a post-doc at the time, was given the job of interviewing the patients at the end of the treatment. That's how she met Cora - a woman in her late 40s, single, childless, easy to like. As a kid, Cora (a pseudonym) had suffered repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her mother and her mother's friends. Before entering therapy, she habitually self-harmed. She'd tried to kill herself a number of times too, her body still scarred by the remnants of suicides not carried through.

'Her story was in the room,' Halvorsen tells me, then grows quiet as she stumbles to convey the strong impression that Cora left on her. Seven years after they met, it's still hard to articulate: 'Maybe presence is the right word.' It was the way that Cora spoke of the atrocities done to her - in a steady voice, with clear eyes - that made the researcher wonder how someone so scarred could seem so alive, and undiminished.