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Sun, 09 Aug 2020
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Science of the Spirit


Welcome these hard times like a Stoic

reading by fireplace
We might all be quarantined for a while. There are worse uses of your time than reading the Stoics

People around the world are feeling rudderless and adrift. There's conflicting information about the pandemic - but it's not just about health. People losing work, feeling frightened, being isolated at home, worried about their loved ones and wondering about getting basic supplies.

We all must make ethical decisions in this pandemic. Should I take that second pack of toilet paper for my family, or leave it for the next? Should essential workers stay home to protect themselves?

Responses are varied. Some people are showing grace under pressure. Some are responding with shock or panic, others seem to be wilfully ignoring the situation. Many have never experienced this type of crisis before, others are finding their traditional roadmaps breaking down: churches empty, political leaders losing trust, supermarkets ransacked, neighbours "sheltering in place" behind closed doors.

The more we read, the more anxious we become.

Stoicism is an ancient tool for remaining calm in adversity. Often dumbed down to refer to having a stiff upper lip, or emotional reserve, Stoicism is actually a deep philosophical framework, useful in providing an ethical scaffold for both everyday life and in times of difficulty.

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MindMatters: Interview with Joseph Azize Pt. 1: Gurdjieff, Mysticism, Exercises

joseph azize
For several decades, numerous books and explications have been published on the profoundly insightful philosophy and teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff. Some were written by the man himself, and many by those who worked with him. But while Gurdjieff himself included a few of the guided exercises that formed a major part of the actual practice of his ideas in Life Is Real Only Then, When "I Am", until recently no other book has focused on these exercises, which are designed to bring those practicing them to a greater state of self-awareness and 'conscious evolution'.

Though the exercises have been carried on by some, many have fallen out of practice, been forgotten, altered, or replaced by exercises Gurdjieff never taught. And there has been a reluctance to share with those not directly part of these groups - leaving few, if any, outside of these organizations with the knowledge of their practice. This has now changed. In his new book, Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation, & Exercises, Father Joseph Azize has lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding the great mystic's direct approaches to helping individuals grow, including all the previously published exercises in addition to several previously unpublished and at risk of being forgotten. Azize's book is the first to be devoted exclusively to the exercises and their extensive analysis.

On this week's MindMatters, we speak with Father Joseph Azize not only about his own time working with some of Gurdjieff's students, but also about his decision to go forward with his book, and what he feels is the true value of this newly shared information. We also get to discuss what this long-time practitioner thinks are some of the most essential aspects of the human condition - after many years of distilling the information for his own growth and vocation.

Part 2 is coming next week.

Running Time: 00:59:13

Download: MP3 — 54.2 MB

Black Magic

Memento mori, or love in the age of corona

memento mori
In recent weeks, I've learned not to post anything on Facebook, because people decide I'm a hater if I so much as suggest that there might be another metric worth considering besides the coronavirus mortality rate. So I won't open that can of worms here, except to say that risk management entails looking at a variety of factors, not exclusively public health. The strength of the economy, the stability of society, the prevalence of psychological illness, and the death tolls of other diseases - all these are relevant factors to take into account. A purely epidemiological approach is necessarily narrow-minded. It doesn't do us much good to save, say, one thousand lives from COVID-19 if we've condemned our nation to a decade or more of grinding poverty. Chronic unemployment, bankruptcy and foreclosure, the loss of businesses and the lifetime of effort they represent ... these are not trivial outcomes. And they do have public health consequences. Look at the epidemic of opioid addiction among the chronically unemployed in the Rust Belt.

This too shall pass, though it may leave a Great Depression in its wake. (And those who believe that economic numbers are "only statistics," as I've been told very heatedly online, will soon learn how real these statistics can be.)

What interests me, in the context of this blog, is that vast numbers of people in the Western world seem absolutely flabbergasted to discover that they are, in fact, mortal. The reality of their own demise evidently had never been quite clear real to them before, and now fills them with existential dread.

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MindMatters: The Hidden Psychological Depth of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

anakin skywalker
The tragic fall that started it all... Darth Vader: we're all familiar with the hulking half-man half-machine embodiment of inhuman domination, brutal ambition and a malevolent will to rule the galaxy with a robotic fist - as portrayed in the very widely seen and loved Star Wars series. But as we look back at what made these almost mythical stories great to begin with, we are reminded of who this character was before he became such a powerful agent of the dark side. As shown in the Star Wars prequels, and particularly in the mostly-overlooked film, Episode III: Revenge of The Sith, we learn that the person who was to become Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker, was first a Jedi, a prodigious and sincere student of the force, and one of a number of warrior priests who sought to protect the republic and fight for the side of the greater good.

On this week's MindMatters we take a look into Anakin's 'darkened mind' and the emotional and psychological processes he underwent that fueled his tragic descent to become Darth Vader, as well as the excellent portrayal of Palpatine's manipulation of confused Anakin's young mind. Revenge of the Sith may be one of the most relevant of the Star Wars movies for this very reason: in the context of a cosmic 'space opera', it teaches some all-important lessons on how our human frailties, worst instincts and egotistical natures can be played upon - and grown - to allow for some truly horrendous consequences. And may the force be with you, dear listener. Always.

Running Time: 01:05:21

Download: MP3 — 59.8 MB


People are now stocking Little Free Libraries with toilet paper and food for neighbors in need

Little Free Pantries
There are more than 75,000 registered Little Free Libraries around the world — and people are now converting them into Little Free Pantries for their communities during the COVID-19 crisis.

Comment: A wonderful example of our built-in capacity for caring and the need for human connection!!


Musical scales are a prehistoric gift to the modern world

prehistoric drums, world's oldest musical instruments

Handed down: Research suggests prehistoric humans played the 'drum' from whatever material they found suitable, borrowing from our ancestral primate cousins.
During the last a few months, several groups have come up with interesting publications on how music affects the mind. The first is a report on March 1 from a group from Indiana University in the U.S., stating that music may overcome delirium in critically ill patients. Such patients experience acute mental disturbance, with speech disorder and hallucinations. The researchers attempted to try music as a drug-free intervention in 117 such patients, and gave half of them music - either their own personally chosen music (PM), or relaxing slow tempo music (STM), and compared them with a control group which was not offered music. The music was offered to the experimental group for 1 hour, twice daily for a week, and their progress noted. Results revealed that such music delivery (PM or STM, either was OK) reduced the incidence of delirium. When audio-books were offered instead of music, it did not help! The STM chosen had relaxing (60-80 beats per minute) classical music, native American flute sounds, or relaxing piano music — all preselected by a board-certified music therapist. They concluded that music is a useful non-pharmacological intervention for critically ill patients.

A little earlier was published a report in Current Science (118(4), 612-620; 2020 ) from Dr. B. Geethanjali of SSN College, Chennai, and her colleagues, titled "Evaluating the effect of music intervention on hypertension". They did a randomised controlled assessment of 200 high-blood-pressure patients, measuring their heart rate, respiratory rate (RR) and mean arterial pressure (MAP), and found that these parameters declined after music intervention for one month. The researchers chose to offer music intervention, along with the regular treatment, and chose the raga Hindolam (or Malkauns) — a pentatonic, 'low arousal', and pleasant one. (As we all know and experience, fast music and rhythms are 'high arousal', and excite us).

About this time also, the well known music therapist, Rajam Shankar of Hyderabad came out with a scholarly and well-researched monograph: "the healing power of music", with details on the kind of ragas that can be used in therapy, and a detailed description of as many as 35 known Carnatic music ragas (many common to Hindustani music too), and some case studies.



Science review confirms yoga benefits your brain

With a history spanning thousands of years, yoga (in a wide variety of forms) has proven its benefits experientially across generations. Modern science is also confirming its usefulness for people seeking improved mental and physical health and fitness conditioning.

Like many (if not most) other forms of exercise, yoga, though mild in comparison, has also been shown to support healthy brain function and stave off neurological decline.

Comment: Why Yoga? More Healing research:


Free won't? How Libet's free will research is misrepresented

free will

Sometimes, says Michael Egnor, misrepresentation may be deliberate because Libet's work doesn't support a materialist perspective
In a recent podcast, "Free Will or Free Won't?", Robert J. Marks (left) and Dr. Michael Egnor discussed free will, free won't, predestination, and the brain, as seen from the perspective of neuroscientist Benjamin Libet's findings about brain activity when people make decisions (partial transcript here).

In the transcribed portion below (the second half), they looked at how Libet's findings have been misrepresented to suit doctrines of naturalism/materialism:

10:00 | The misrepresentation of Benjamin Libet's experiments

Robert J. Marks: You mentioned that Libet's experiment of free won't is actually misrepresented by materialists. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?

Comment: See also: SOTT EXCLUSIVE: Do humans really have 'free will'? Only if you work on your machine

And check out SOTT radio's:


How well do you know the back of your hand, really?

back of hand
Many of us are spending a lot of time looking at our hands lately and we think we know them pretty well. But research from York University's Centre for Vision Research shows the way our brains perceive our hands is inaccurate.

In a new study, the Centre's director Laurence Harris, a Psychology professor in York's Faculty of Health, and graduate student Sarah D'Amour, found the brain's representation of the back of hands changes depending on the orientation in which they are held.

The study published the journal, Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE) today looked at how accurate healthy individuals are at judging the size of the back and the palm of their hand and how perception of hand size might be affected when viewing the hand in familiar or unfamiliar perspectives.

Using a novel technique that revealed the indivduals' implicit representation of their hands in the brain, researchers found the perceived width is different when the hand is held upright compared to when it is held sideways, but only for the back of the hand. There was no variation seen in perception for the palm.


Be conscious of what you are thinking

© Kleiton Silva
Since the dawn of New Age thought, proponents have emphasized the power of the mind in controlling biology. The notion of self-empowerment in managing health was adamantly condemned by the pharmaceutical industry, an industry whose livelihood is based upon selling drugs as the only path in controlling health. The public's perception that pharmaceuticals are the only way to regain health is conditioned by the industry's onslaught of drug commercials every ten minutes in TV programming. The financial power of the drug companies has also been used to manipulate medical school curricula so that practitioners are trained to devalue the role of the mind while they are encouraged to write drug prescriptions for their patients.

While medical practitioners have essentially dismissed the role of the mind in influencing health, science has fully established that a minimum of one third, and up to two thirds, of all positive medical interventions are due to the Placebo Effect, an expression of the real power of mind over matter.

Comment: More from Dr. Lipton: