Friday, November 23, 2007

We surely have a lot of killing and savagery ahead of us before we fully civilize ourselves

What Makes Us Moral By JEFFREY KLUGER
TIME Cover Story Friday, November 23, 2007
Why We Turn Bad
With so many redundant moral systems to keep us in line, why do we so often fall out of ranks? Sometimes we can't help it, as when we're suffering from clinical insanity and behavior slips the grip of reason. Criminal courts are stingy about finding such exculpatory madness, requiring a disability so severe, the defendant didn't even know the crime was wrong. That's a very high bar that prevents all but a few from proving the necessary moral numbness.
Things are different in the case of the cool and deliberate serial killer, who knows the criminality of his deeds yet continues to commit them. For neuroscientists, the iciness of the acts calls to mind the case of Phineas Gage, the Vermont railway worker who in 1848 was injured when an explosion caused a tamping iron to be driven through his prefrontal cortex. Improbably, he survived, but he exhibited stark behavioral changes—becoming detached and irreverent, though never criminal. Ever since, scientists have looked for the roots of serial murder in the brain's physical state.
A study published last year in the journal NeuroImage may have helped provide some answers. Researchers working through the National Institute of Mental Health scanned the brains of 20 healthy volunteers, watching their reactions as they were presented with various legal and illegal scenarios. The brain activity that most closely tracked the hypothetical crimes—rising and falling with the severity of the scenarios—occurred in the amygdala, a deep structure that helps us make the connection between bad acts and punishments. As in the trolley studies, there was also activity in the frontal cortex. The fact that the subjects themselves had no sociopathic tendencies limits the value of the findings. But knowing how the brain functions when things work well is one good way of knowing where to look when things break down.
Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of us never run off the moral rails in remotely as awful a way as serial killers do, but we do come untracked in smaller ways. We face our biggest challenges not when we're called on to behave ourselves within our family, community or workplace but when we have to apply the same moral care to people outside our tribe.
The notion of the "other" is a tough one for Homo sapiens. Sociobiology has been criticized as one of the most reductive of sciences, ascribing the behavior of all living things—humans included—as nothing more than an effort to get as many genes as possible into the next generation. The idea makes sense, and all creatures can be forgiven for favoring their troop over others. But such bias turns dark fast.
Schulman, the psychologist and author, works with delinquent adolescents at a residential treatment center in Yonkers, New York, and was struck one day by the outrage that swept through the place when the residents learned that three of the boys had mugged an elderly woman. "I wouldn't mug an old lady. That could be my grandmother," one said. Schulman asked whom it would be O.K. to mug. The boy answered, "A Chinese delivery guy." Explains Schulman: "The old lady is someone they could empathize with. The Chinese delivery guy is alien, literally and figuratively, to them."
This kind of brutal line between insiders and outsiders is evident everywhere—mobsters, say, who kill promiscuously yet go on rhapsodically about "family." But it has its most terrible expression in wars, in which the dehumanization of the outsider is essential for wholesale slaughter to occur. Volumes have been written about what goes on in the collective mind of a place like Nazi Germany or the collapsing Yugoslavia. While killers like Adolf Hitler or Slobodan Milosevic can never be put on the couch, it's possible to understand the xenophobic strings they play in their people.
"Yugoslavia is the great modern example of manipulating tribal sentiments to create mass murder," says Jonathan Haidt, associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. "You saw it in Rwanda and Nazi Germany too. In most cases of genocide, you have a moral entrepreneur who exploits tribalism for evil purposes."
That, of course, does not take the stain of responsibility off the people who follow those leaders—a case that war-crimes prosecutors famously argued at the Nuremberg trials and a point courageous people have made throughout history as they sheltered Jews during World War II or refuse to murder their Sunni neighbor even if a militia leader tells them to.
For grossly imperfect creatures like us, morality may be the steepest of all developmental mountains. Our opposable thumbs and big brains gave us the tools to dominate the planet, but wisdom comes more slowly than physical hardware. We surely have a lot of killing and savagery ahead of us before we fully civilize ourselves. The hope—a realistic one, perhaps—is that the struggles still to come are fewer than those left behind. —With reporting by Tiffany Sharples and Alexandra Silver / New York Page 4 of 4 Previous 1 2 3 4 12:16 PM 12:27 PM 12:35 PM

Monday, November 19, 2007

We are still missing something big, and natural selection does not explain the full complexity of evolution

Darwinian evolution is a slow, gradual process. But much of the fossil record hints at puzzling long periods of stasis, with scarcely any change. In 1972, evolutionary biologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen J Gould argued instead that species, perhaps even communities, form suddenly in fits and starts of change. They called the theory punctuated equilibrium.
Like individuals in a population, species also struggle amongst themselves to survive, and most become extinct over time. Species can also die out in mass extinctions, such as the one that caused the demise of the dinosaurs. Today we may be in the throes of another mass extinction, caused by human overexploitation of habitats...
Secret code
Darwin was able to establish natural selection, without any understanding of the genetic mechanisms of inheritance, or the source of novel variation in a population. His own theory on the transmission of traits, called pangenesis, was completely wrong.
It was not until Gregor Mendel and the start of the 20th century that the genetic mechanism of inheritance began to be revealed. We now know that most traits, such as skin colour, eye colour and blood group are determined by our DNA and genes. During the 20th century, evolutionary biologists such as Ernst Mayr, J.B.S. Haldane, Julian Huxley, and Theodosius Dobzhansky combined Darwinian evolution with our emerging knowledge of genetics to produce the "modern synthesis" that we call evolutionary biology today.
Most genes come in a variety of forms, one inherited from each parent. The varieties are known as alleles, and encode slightly different traits. The incidence of different traits, or alleles, in a population is driven by natural selection and genetic drift, which can randomly reduce genetic variation. Today, evolution is defined as the change in the frequency of alleles in populations over time.
New traits are introduced into populations by gene flow from other populations or by mutation. Mutation is a change in the structure of a gene and can be caused by errors in copying DNA, carcinogenic chemicals, viruses, UV-light and radiation. Most mutations are neutral, having no effect on gene function; others are harmful, such as the ones that cause inherited diseases like cystic fibrosis. Rarely mutations can lead to beneficial new traits, such as increased resistance to malaria.
Today evolutionary biologists are largely divided into two camps. The pro-selectionists such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Pinker, Edward O Wilson, Matt Ridley, Mark Ridley and Jared Diamond believe in the primacy of natural selection as the principle guiding evolution. Others such as Niles Eldredge, Stephen J. Gould, Brian Goodwin, Stuart Kauffman and Steven Rose argue that we are still missing something big, and that natural selection does not explain the full complexity of evolution. Instant Expert: Evolution 11:41 04 September 2006 NewScientist.com news service John Pickrell

East Asians get longer lives and bigger brains

human nature: Science, technology, and life.
Created Equal from: William Saletan Liberal creationism Posted Sunday, Nov. 18, 2007, at 7:57 AM ET
In fact, there's a mountain of evidence that differential evolution has left each population with a balance of traits that could be advantageous or disadvantageous, depending on circumstances. The list of differences is long and intricate. On average, compared to whites, blacks mature more quickly in the womb, are born earlier, and develop teeth, strength, and dexterity earlier. They sit, crawl, walk, and dress themselves earlier. They reach sexual maturity faster, and they have better eyesight. On each of these measures, East Asians lag whites and blacks. In exchange, East Asians get longer lives and bigger brains.
How this happened isn't clear. Everyone agrees that the three populations separated 40,000 to 100,000 years ago. Even critics of racial IQ genetics accept the idea that through natural selection, environmental differences may have caused abilities such as distance running to become more common in some populations than in others. Possibly, genes for cognitive complexity became so crucial in some places that nature favored them over genes for developmental speed and vision. If so, fitness for today's world is mostly dumb luck. If we lived in a savannah, kids programmed to mature slowly and grow big brains would be toast. Instead, we live in a world of zoos, supermarkets, pediatricians, pharmaceuticals, and information technology. Genetic advantages, in other words, are culturally created.
Not that that's much consolation if you're stuck in the 21st century with a low IQ. Tomorrow we'll look at some of the arguments against the genetic theory. back to top from: William Saletan Liberal creationism Posted Sunday, Nov. 18, 2007, at 7:57 AM ET

Positive suggestions, detachment from the illness, a state of cheerfulness and trust and even guided imageries are helpful

Editorial: The many faces of illness Dr. Alok Pandey
An illness manifests on different levels where it can be detected and rectified. On the grossest level, the most outward, the physical field that our senses recognise and acknowledge, an illness takes the form of a disturbed functioning organ or disrupted cellular balance. On a slightly subtler level, it takes the form of disordered praanic currents or nervous energy flowing through a congestion or depletion in the life-force of an organ. Through different channels in our subtle body, at the mental level, an illness takes the form of an adverse suggestion, a wrong movement of thought or negative attitude. Or else it may engage our subconscious mind as a fear and anxiety or simply a secure pattern of habit that throws its shoots up to the surface from time to time. On an occult level, subliminal to us, illness may find its entry through the intrusion of an adverse or hostile force taking the form of ill will or a virulent stream of darkened and chaotic energies, forces of disintegration and disorder entering through some weak spot in our psychological and psychic armour. At the deepest and subtlest, the spiritual level, an illness may be the offshoot of a past energy or karma whose time for ripening has arrived, whose results and consequences the soul must go through to learn and grow and whose cosmic necessity is justified by the soul’s choice to go through certain experiences needed for its fullest self-development and progress.
These different levels are not necessarily mutually exclusive and can coexist. They may be present as a strong hereditary or constitutional predisposition. When the illness affects only one or two levels, it is relatively easy to cure. But when it has cast its roots deep into the subconscious or is supported by some spiritual necessity, then it is difficult to get rid of it completely, especially when the soul or central being has decided to go through the experience so as to lighten the chain of kaarmic energies that have been woven around it and grow stronger. Then no healing works but the central faith and will of the human being. If it wants recovery and persists, then whatever the time or difficulties one may have to endure, one eventually emerges. This central faith and will are however very deep and are not the wishful thinking or desire of our surface being to be free of the illness, through these too count in the balance of forces. For when the central will does not support the illness, it is a question of the play of forces vis-à-vis the cosmic will operating in the universe.
In this interaction of forces and their complex play, the physician, the system, the method and the medicine are forces that may work at one level or another, in favour of health or of illness. The treatment works best when it corresponds to the level of consciousness at which the illness is most operative and the patient’s faith in that modality of treatment is there along with an openness and receptivity to the healing energies and forces. The treatment may act on the most material level as with the case of certain drugs. On the physical level it may work by either directly attacking the disorder or making the material energies more receptive to the action of healing forces, augmenting the general physical resistance to the illness. Or else it may act upon the vital body and nervous-vital currents correcting the praanic imbalance. This occurs with the various forms of praanaayaama, reiki and possibly also homoeopathy.
Alternatively the treatment may take the form of physical exercises directed towards making the body less taamasic and more receptive to deeper healing forces. The therapy may also be directed towards the mind, creating a little room there for the light to act or a passage for the higher force to reach out to the body and heal. Here we must understand that the mind is but a grey intermediary zone between the darkness of terrestrial life and the light of a greater truth above. It is a mediating link between spirit and matter. If our mind is clouded and full of negativity, dullness and resistance, lacking in faith and will, full of doubts, anxieties and fears then the channel is blocked. This must be cleared for a more complete healing to take place. Positive suggestions, detachment from the illness, a state of cheerfulness and trust and even guided imageries are helpful on this level and are either therapeutic in themselves or else assist the healing process in other cases. Then there are the subconscious roots that can be tackled by autosuggestion and hypnosis or, more radically, by bringing down a higher consciousness into these nether parts. Occultists act on the hidden cosmic forces that bring about the illness. Finally, the kaarmic knots loosened by meditation, prayer and invocation can be completely eradicated by the action of the Divine Grace.
Can a combination of therapies work better in that case since they act on diff-erent levels? Yes, but they should be combined judiciously and with a clear understanding of their action. Thus, for example, a pressure upon the subcon-scient roots either by spiritual or other means may initially lead to an increase in resistance and worsening of symptoms. Again, the higher healing force may find the work more difficult when the patient has put his trust in the wrong kind of physician who is himself full of fears and doubts or when the medicine given is not the right one. Of course, certain things such as medicines, exercises including praanaayaama, positive thoughts, suggestions, imagery, prayer and meditation can usually be well combined.
Some people wrongly assume that if we pray or rely on the Divine then we must not go to any doctor or use any medication. This is an erroneous belief, though it does contain its own partial truth. One might also conclude in that case that it is not necessary to eat food or use any external means for transportation since one depends only upon the Divine. Obviously such an extreme step would defy common sense and even though justifiable for a very rare individual, cannot be made the general rule of life. The truth behind this is that one should not have a divided shraddhaa, a wavering faith that might be the case with those who want to try everything since they have faith in none and are full of doubts about everything. In these cases, a combination of different modes of therapy, especially material ones, only confuses the body. For those who believe in the Grace, it is simple and easy enough to see that the Divine Grace does not act in a vacuum or hang in thin air. The Divine Force can and often does use instruments for its work. And these instruments in men and matter, the spiritual, mental and vital energies of human beings and the physical and vital energies of herbs and minerals, can either facilitate or hinder or resist this working. The play of this world is immensely complex and real and not a shadow play with some arbitrary God playing with puppets and marionettes but a growing into its likeness. And indeed this must be so, for how else could evolution take place? Puppets remain puppets forever.
This growth is through three phases. The first is challenge. Challenge makes us test our knowledge and strength against that which opposes it. Then comes the stage of crisis. Here we are face to face with the limits of our being and the limits of ‘our ’ knowledge. Disease is only one such challenge; the stress of civilisation is another. The last stage is change. The change that gets us past the crisis is not achieved through a multiplication of machinery and equipment, not even an external manipulation, but is essentially an inner change, an exceeding of our inner limits of self and knowledge and power. But till that happens, humanity has to survive. Therefore Nature has devised temporary means: material, physical, chemical, biological and psychological, to keep us in the race. The means are very limited and act within the boundaries of our knowledge and power. Yet they are instruments used by a higher force as makeshift measures till man outgrows their necessity.
Indeed, one sign of inner growth is an increasing freedom from external means. If the aspect of knowledge grows, then something in us remains essentially and fundamentally free of all afflictions. Even if the outer being is challenged or goes to pieces, the inner being is delightfully free and in peace. When the aspect of power grows, then we can return upon our outer being and external nature and this corporeal body made up of dust and clay and free it from the clutch of disease, disorder and perhaps even death. But this is a gradual growth and needs much patient work and hard inner labour. It cannot come except through a long and arduous journey. To expect otherwise would be to indulge in fanciful imaginations and wishful thinking.
These flights of fantasy are also justified as one means to open the inner doors to a greater power than man has ever known. Yet the wise must know the difference between fantasy and reality, between a trick of magic and an authentic miracle. The test is simple enough. A trick dupes the senses or outwardly changes something, but an authentic change always proceeds from within outwards, however small it may seem. That is the law. And the test of authentic healing is this: it touches a deeper chord in our soul, awakens a will and faith to recover, brings hope and a calm luminous trust in our mind, balances our life-force by balancing our inner being and its movements and finally spreads to our outer members and heals. This is the radical cure, an integral and holistic healing.— Dr. Alok Pandey Back

An illness is like a mis-spelt word of an unknown script

Health is not only about keeping diseases at bay or staying fit by some measure or another. It is, above all, an attitude towards life. We may wish to be free of all struggles and all pains but do we understand why the law of struggle and pain came into existence in the first place? What is this law that turns our plans topsy turvy, upsets our dreams, and challenges us to dare failure and sport with defeat? Why do we fear this so much? If instead of all this fear we could look straight into its eyes, into the eyes of disease and death and fall and failure ,if we could see behind the mask, the smile of Love leading us through a narrow and stifling gate towards some greater heights of Glory and Truth, then we would stop being afraid and simply laugh at our pain and smile at the struggle. This is an attempt to look at this aspect of life differently.
The Language of Life Dr. Alok Pandey
An illness is like a mis-spelt word of an unknown script. The modern physician is like someone trying to correct the word by restructuring the letter without knowing the script or the meaning. He feels his way through some deformed letters and tries to correct it as children do in Kindergarten. But even after the deformity is set right, the erroneous word remains because one knows nothing about the meaning. The meaning of life must be known to understand the true error and set it right. For the mis-spelt word of illness is not just a structural issue but also a cognitive one. The average physician sees the structural defect that medical science has come to decipher by studying thousands of hieroglyphs. But a rare physician tries to go beyond the structure and see where the letters have changed positions lending thereby to a wrong sense to the very meaning of life.
The meaning of life is not merely in the structure of the letters and the rules of grammar of the language of life. The genetic code is simply the external script. The processes are simply the rules of its grammar, the punctuation, comma, exclamation, and the full-stop. But the one who holds the meaning and writes the poetry of life is hidden behind in the depths. He uses matter for page , will as pen, faith as the invisible ink. The contents of his life, his thoughts, feelings, desires, impulses, hopes, fears, expectations and aspirations constitute the various characters of his drama and what he speaks and does through them is the sense and substance of his complex play.
When the writer is fully conscious, when he inscribes some deep truth and has a sense of beauty and harmony in his calligraphy, when he is deliberate in his writing and knows the rules of the game of life, then he remains free of afflictions. But if he is casual, full of error and jumble, confused within and ignorant outside, then his language of life shares this defect and reveals this imperfection. Even if we correct a letter or a word here and there, he continues to mis-spell and his sentences become a jumble. There are two ways to avoid these errors which translate as an illness.
  • One is not to write much and to keep it all simple, perhaps very simple. Those who have a rudimentarily developed consciousness, whose life is full of a natural ease and a spontaneous simplicity with few wants and needs, avoid the errors of life that come by sheer excesses. They have few characters in their play, some small hopes and very few anxieties and fear.
  • The second way is to go to the other pole of a complex and developed consciousness with many characters in the play and a rather complicated script. For these, the only way is to discover the harmony of a higher divine Perfection. For while a short and simple script can be managed by a novice, a large and complex script needs a Master Artist.

This Master Artist is within us as the Lord of Life. Either we must live with the sense of a carefree albeit unconscious surrender to His delegate Nature, or else, do consciously and in detail what the simple creatures of Nature do spontaneously and unconsciously through her. That is to say, place our entire being consciously and willfully in the Hands of the Divine Master of Life through a detailed and integral yoga so that He takes up our pen and ink and erasing our errors rewrites the script and the drama of our life afresh.
This is the secret art we are here to learn. Till we learn that, till we hang between the animal simplicity and the divine spontaneity, we shall only exchange one error for another, correct the deformed letter but leave the word mis-spelt and lose thereby the meaning of life and our manifold existence because we knew only the form of letters but not the language, the structural aspects of the hieroglyph but not its meaning and sense.

(Dr. Alok Pandey has been working in the field of psychiatry with a spiritual approach for more than 15 years. He has developed a working concept of integral health and integral psychology which he is using in his life and practice. He is one of the founders of SAIIIHR). http://nextfuture.sriaurobindosociety.org.in/nov07/nfmay06_menu.htm

Thursday, November 01, 2007

During the Raja festival all agricultural operations remain suspended

JSTOR: Rice Rituals of Orissa During this month of Jyestha, three days (one day prior to and one day after the Raja Samkranti) are observed as the menstrual period of Mother Earth. ... JSTOR: Earth Mother EARTH MOTHER their deity, Aditi. The Raja-siuya, evidently a pre-Aryan ritual ..... In Orissa, among the Bhuiyas, during the spring festival called Magh ...
Raja Sankranti: Raja Sankranti (Swing festival) or Mithuna Sankranti is the first day of the month of Asara (June-July) from which the season of rains starts. It inaugurates and welcomes the agricultural year all over Orissa which marks, through biological symbolism, the moistening of the summer parched soil with the first showers of the monsoon, thus making it ready for productivity. To celebrate the advent of monsoon, the joyous festival is arranged for three days by the villagers. Though celebrated all over the state it is more enthusiastically observed in the districts of Cuttack, Puri and Balasore. The first day is called Pahili Raja (Prior Raja), second is Raja (Proper Raja) and third is Basi Raja (Past Raja).
According to popular belief as women menstruate, which is a sing of fertility, so also Mother Earth menstruates. So all three days of the festival are considered to be the menstruating period of Mother Earth. During the festival all agricultural operations remain suspended. As in Hindu homes menstruating women remain secluded because of impurity and do not even touch anything and are given full rest, so also the Mother Earth is given full rest for three days for which all agricultural operations are stopped. Significantly, it is a festival of the unmarried girls, the potential mothers. They all observe the restrictions prescribed for a menstruating woman. The very first day, they rise before dawn, do their coiffeur, annoint their bodies with turmeric paste and oil and then take the purificatory bath in a river or tank. Peculiarly, bathing for the rest two days is prohibited. They don't walk bare-foot do not scratch the earth, do not grind, do not tear anything apart, do not cut and do not cook. During all the three consecutive days they are seen in the best of dresses and decorations, eating cakes and rich food at the houses of friends and relatives, spending long cheery hours, moving up and down on improvised swings, rending the village sky with their merry impromptu songs. The swings are of different varieties, such as Ram Doli, Charki Doli, Pata Doli, Dandi Doli etc. Songs specially meant for the festival speak of love, affection, respect, social behaviour and everything of social order that comes to the minds of the singers. Through anonymous and composed extempore, much of these songs, through shere beauty of diction and sentiment, have earned permanence and have gone to make the very substratum of Orissa's folk-poetry.
While girls thus scatter beauty, grace and music all around, moving up and down on the swings during the festival, young men give themselves to strenuous games and good food, on the eve of the onset of the monsoons which will not give them even a minute's respite for practically four months making them one with mud, slush and relentless showers, their spirits keep high with only the hopes of a good harvest. As all agricultural activities remain suspended and a joyous atmosphere pervades, the young men of the village keep themselves busy in various types of country games, the most favourite being kabadi. Competitions are also held between different groups of villages. All nights 'Yatra' performances or 'Gotipua' dances are arranged in prosperous villages where they can afford the professional groups. Plays and other kinds of entertainment are also arranged by enthusiastic amateurs.
The special variety of cake prepared out of recipes like rice-powder, molasses, coconut, camphor, ghee etc. goes in the name of Poda Pitha (burnt cake). The size of the cake varies according to the number of family members. Cakes are also exchanged among relatives and friends. Young girls do not take rice during the three-day festival and sustain only with this type of cake, fried-rice(mudi) and vegetable curry. HOME :: SEARCH :: CONTACT US COMING TO ORISSA :: HOTELS