Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Volunteers to help plant the grasses are most welcome

Matrimandir Update
Written by Marlenka Friday, 08 December 2006
Narad talks about his experiences with the Mother and how the Matrimandir Gardens came into being, from the first time She talked about the concept up to the present time. Narad first came in 1961, to the Ashram. He was in close contact with Mother. Her vision of creating a beautiful garden for the Matrimandir, which would be as important as the Matrimandir itself, she entrusted to Narad to manifest. Presently, with the completion of Matrimandir just around the corner, Narad wants to see the many and varied grasses get planted at its base that he has brought from America. Compost making is in processs, weeding is going on and volunteers to help plant the grasses are most welcome. You can download the recording here.

Ecocities – Small is Prosperous
Written by Radio Team Saturday, 09 December 2006
This event has been recorded. An interactive presentation given by Richard Register Saturday December 9 at 5:30 PM in the Conference Hall at Town Hall.Richard Register is a well known leader and practicing professional of ‘Ecocity Movement’ worldwide. His organization is known as ‘Ecocity Builders.’He arrives in Auroville after taking part in the 6th International Ecocity Conference in Bangalore. Many books and articles have been published on this theme; the latest is ‘Ecocities: Rebuilding Cities in Balance with Nature.’For further information contact www.ecocitybuilders.org © 2008 AurovilleRadio AurovilleRadio

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hume was right: machines are simply not good metaphors for organisms

Massimo Pigliucci's Amazon Blog « Go to Massimo Pigliucci's full Amazon Blog
The demise of the genetic blueprint metaphor 2:44 PM PST, December 18, 2008

Metaphors are dangerous things. On the one hand, it seems pretty much impossible to avoid using them, especially in rather abstract fields like philosophy and science. On the other hand, they are well known to trick one’s mind into taking the metaphor too literally, thereby creating problems that are not actually reflective of the reality of the natural world, but are only perverse constructs of our own warped understanding of it.

Take the metaphor of living organisms as analogous to complex artifacts, which led William Paley to articulate the most famous argument in favor of Intelligent Design -- an argument that, incidentally, has not changed in its broad philosophical outline since the early 18th century. David Hume -- rather presciently, since he wrote before Paley -- pointed out that the metaphor is flawed. Hume argued that living organisms are not like watches, to use Paley’s analogy. They are not machines that are assembled, but organic beings that develop gradually over time. [...]

Hume was right: machines are simply not good metaphors for organisms, and it is time for stubbornly reductionist biologists to move on and search for better metaphors.

Pick pickles from Auroville

Auroville's very own online store has been officially launched this December 2008 THE AUROVILLE STORE » FOOD » NATURAL FOODS » PICKLES
Producer Title+ Price Buy Now
Naturellement Garlic Pickles Rs.169.00
Prepared in the home-made traditional way with choice ingredients. They are hand made in small batches, using abslolutely no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives. Our garlic pickle is so delicious that it is dangerously addictive! 300g. 6 months shelf life.
Naturellement Lemon Pickles Rs.139.00
Prepared in the home-made traditional way with choice ingredients. They are hand made in small batches, using abslolutely no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives. From organic lemons, our lemon pickle is made the traditional way under the sun. 300g. 12 months shelf life.
Mango Pickles Rs.139.00
Prepared in the home-made traditional way with choice ingredients. They are hand made in small batches, using abslolutely no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives. Made from organic local varieties of mangoes, this product is a must for every mango pickle lover. 300g. 12 months shelf life.
French Mustard Rs.179.00
Prepared in the home-made traditional way with choice ingredients. They are hand made in small batches, using abslolutely no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives. From organic mustard seed made after a french recipe. 300g. 12 months shelf life.
Mango Chutney Rs.139.00
Prepared in the home-made traditional way with choice ingredients. They are hand made in small batches, using abslolutely no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives. Of Anglo-Indian origin, our sweet and sour chutney is the perfect blend of two cultures. 375g. 24months shelf life.

LAUNCH OF THE AUROVILLE STORE Dear world family. Auroville's very own online store has been officially launched this December 2008 during the Deepam festival, a festival of light, as our small offering to bringing a little more light in the world. Now the beautiful products of the Auroville community are just a click away. We ship worldwide and accept various forms of payments including Paypal, major credit cards and bank deposits for those in India.Products made in Auroville are unique and carry the very essence of our prayer for a world of brotherhood and harmony. Take some time to peruse the creations by our various units and many more are coming soon. 8:17 AM 9:59 AM

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Aurovillians are innovating in applications of solar technology, design of handicrafts and architecture

Auroville : where material and spiritual innovations flourish
Posted on December 23rd, 2008 by avikroy

This weekend the road trip in southern India was particularly rejuvenating. This trips are part of my practice to immerse myself in the realities of the aspirations , challenges and progress of the people in the Indian countryside. I reached Pondicherry from Bangalore by road on Sunday night . I decided to spend Monday in Auroville , a global city in making whose purpose is to realise human unity.

Auroville never fails to inspire me . It rests deeply on spiritual foundation of creating an environment where citizens of the world live to pursue the truth and give free expression to their inner calling and at the same time be of value to the community of Aurovillian . It balances the call for spiritual seeking and care for progress. This care for progress gets reflected in the material innovations they are supporting and trying to find practical applications. I had stimulating discussions with Aurovillians who are innovating in applications of solar technology, design of handicrafts and architecture. A day well spent in a place which vibrates with a creative and spiritual energy , in the evening i again hit the road to go to the temple town of Madurai. Filed under: Asia, India Avik Roy’s expertise includes business strategy, business modeling, process design and operations management.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The universe isn't chaotic but is full of patterns and structures, coherences and relationships

To Applaud the Large Hadron Collider
by RY Deshpande on Mon 08 Dec 2008 11:14 PM IST Permanent Link Cosmos

And today! Wednesday 10 September 2008! It is a golden day in the annals of physics. It marks the beginning of a new set of experiments planned on a scale that never happened in the long and troubled days of mankind. Their findings are expected to throw light on the commencement and evolution of the universe in which we live. If matter is the foundation of this vast enterprise, then it becomes our natural curiosity also to know what really is there in matter that makes it so attractive, so potentially rich to give rise to this marvel of creation. That also means, possibly, the wonders that are locked in its bosom will be slowly disclosed to us, in the unfolding course of time. Could matter give away its secrets to us? Would it? Perhaps the Large Hadron Collider is but one small step in that mighty direction. It is built into the spirit of man that looks at its own depths and wonders how he arrived on the scene when nothing of the kind exists anywhere else.

The Collider is a huge circular machine, of 9 kilometer diameter, and is housed in a 100-meter deep underground tunnel. Located at CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research, near Geneva, it straddles France and Switzerland.

The building of the Collider spread over a period of 14 years with its cost building into $8 billion. At its full power trillions of protons will whiz around the 27 kilometer circumference, 11 245 times a second. The machine will have superconducting magnets operated at 2 K; it will need 10 000 tons of liquid nitrogen and 60 tons of liquid helium. The beams of protons will travel through ultra-high vacuum, emptier than the interplanetary space. The collision of the two proton beams coming from opposite directions will produce temperatures of the order of 100 000 times larger than the temperature in the interior of the sun. Four eyes suitably located will observe the products of the collision. 15 million gigabytes of data will be generated every year. 80,000 computers set all over the world will get busy in processing them. Some 10,000 physicists and engineers from 100 countries are occupied in this super-massive enterprise. It is expected to mark the beginning of a new era of discovery in physics, with the full power of the machine coming into play probably less than a year away.

Collision of the two proton beams will recreate conditions that existed a trillionth of a second after the big bang moment. It is thus hoped to provide clues about the factors that dominated at the time of the birth of the universe. The machine has captured public imagination,—and rightly so. This is wonderful; yet there are quite a few also who are worried about “The X Factor”.

There are others who naively ask in what way the information coming from the scientific investigations is going to serve the cause of humanity. Using so many scientists and putting so much of material into the experiment is a waste—they think. The money spent on it could be used to alleviate the poverty of fellow human beings. The $8 billion spent on the LHC could have been used on feeding or sheltering the people in poor countries. Luckily this instant emotionalism does not touch us in the larger perspective of things. Such statements are not at all new to science, and one just moves on. Science demands experimentation—and the prince is willing to open the treasury. That itself is the great march of civilization, perhaps happening for the first time after the House of Wisdom established by the Abbasids about 1200 years ago. But the sheer magnitude and concentration of effort that are present in our age are absolutely phenomenal. We owe all this greatly to the liberal atmosphere and the free spirit of inquiry that is prevalent today.

Two things that bolster our faith in science are the comprehensibility of the universe and the well-understood laws of nature that will not dupe us on the way, will not betray us mid-stream. Einstein famously said that "the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible". The universe isn't chaotic but is full of patterns and structures, coherences and relationships. It is to discover these patterns and structures, these coherences and relationships that we are willing to hold out a mighty bit of us. That is the search for truth prompting the scientist as a truth-seeker; that is the search for beauty persuading the scientist as a beauty-admirer. And the beautiful truth is, society is willing to give him that exceptional privilege—and that indeed is the truthful beauty of man.

Yet one could be screaming about the kind of costs involved in these truth-beauty pursuits which can no longer be private, not even single or national pursuits. But there is really no paradox. The inherent fuzziness of the Quantum world governed by the Uncertainty Principle means that to the finer and more subtle depths you go the more you pay for things. We have to sharpen our tools. But these are fructuous in more than one way. Witness for instance the Internet that came from such occupations. CERN itself had the privilege of giving us the World Wide Web.

But what are the scientific issues that are associated with the Large Hadron Collider? Could it be that we live in a world other than the simple four dimensional space-time configuration glorified by Relativity? The 10-dimensional manifold as suggested by some theories is summoning us to look into the future. And then are there universes apart from our own universe? that we are not the only in this creation? But more intriguing, and of direct consequence, is the question about the substantiality of matter. The question is: What is it that gives mass to particles? The theory answers it in terms of what is called Higgs boson. It is the Higgs boson that gives mass to particles. This demands not Aristotelian logic but experimental verification. Therefore it is the Hadron Collider that must pass the verdict. The machine has been designed and built, the startup operations have begun and within a few months answers should be forthcoming. We await them with bated breath. There are a few more things also to be settled. In this complexity of the universe what we see is only a small fraction of its totality, the remaining being hidden from our view. The mystery of the dark matter will always keep us ill at ease, lest we get gobbled up by it. The so-called Standard Model that is there with us over the last several years has kept many of these questions open and the experiment has become imperative. So there is that entire anxiety about the results coming from the Large Hadron Collider.

But connected with this praiseworthy gigantic effort there are also a few spurious and dubious aspects and these aspects must be at once dismissed from our minds. We must first realize that the beginning of the universe from the big bang is a scientific theory and it is science which is going to judge it in terms of scientific criteria and parameters. Whether it is going to be upheld or is going to collapse,—well, it is science which will have the say in the matter and nothing else.

There is a hurried tendency of the Vedantic mind connecting the big bang with the bursting of the cosmic egg, brahmāņda. But they are not on a par in several respects. For instance, brahmāņda is not going to collapse if Hadron Collider is going to dismiss the big bang. And then, and more importantly, one is a theory and the other an occult-spiritual experience. They belong to different categories and we must not mix them up. But this mixing-up game was started in a rather bad manner some thirty years ago by Fritjof Capra when his Tao of Physics intriguingly mesmerized both communities, the scientific and the Vedantic...

This is good,—as far as it goes. But never should either of them lose sight of the fundamentals, their fundamentals, of the spiritual and the material. If one is the breathing in and breathing out of the physical in the cosmic process of objectification, the other is the rhythm of the timeless set into the great movements of time. One is mental conceptualization and the other the truth-dynamism set into motion by the Spirit itself. Here our interest is not in mysticism but in physics proper, professional physics. So, as far as the Large Hadron Collider is concerned, let us applaud the startup operation and eagerly wait for the arrival of the Higgs Boson. It is a definite pointer towards what will give materiality to matter, substantiality to substance.
RY Deshpande
Refer also the article Higgs Boson—A Matter of Physics Posted to: Main Page

Friday, December 12, 2008

The core and its connections

About the Earth's Core
By Andrew Alden, See More About: structure of the earth core of the earth geomagnetism

A century ago, science barely knew that the Earth even has a core. Today we are tantalized by the core and its connections with the rest of the planet. Indeed, we're at the start of a golden age of core studies... Our main tool for core research has been earthquake waves, especially those from large events like the 2004 Sumatra quake. The ringing "normal modes," which make the planet pulsate with the sort of motions you see in a large soap bubble, are useful for examining large-scale deep structure.

***

Inner core
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (Redirected from Earth's core)

The inner core of the Earth, its innermost layer as detected by seismological studies, is a primarily solid sphere about 1,220 km (758 mi) in radius, only about 70% that of the Moon. It is believed to consist of an iron-nickel alloy, and it may be hotter than the Sun's surface[1].

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The superorganism has castes; Individuals are automatons

The Superorganism from Marginal Revolution by Tyler Cowen
The subtitle is
The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies and that is the new book by Bert Hölldobler and Edmund O. Wilson... Here is a New York Times review of the book [By STEVE JONES
Published: November 21, 2008
]

Hölldobler and Wilson’s central conceit is that a colony is a single animal raised to a higher level. Each insect is a cell, its castes are organs, its queens are its genitals, the wasps that stung me are an equivalent of an immune system. In the same way, the foragers are eyes and ears, and the colony’s rules of development determine its shape and size. The hive has no brain, but the iron laws of cooperation give the impression of planning. Teamwork pays; in a survey of one piece of Amazonian rain forest, social insects accounted for 80 percent of the total biomass, with ants alone weighing four times as much as all its mammals, birds, lizards, snakes and frogs put together. The world holds as much ant flesh as it does that of humans.

Karl von Frisch, discoverer of the famous waggle dance of the honey bee, said in the 1930s that “the life of bees is like a magic well. The more you draw from it, the more there is to draw.” Plenty of excellent science still springs from that source, and Wilson and Hölldobler gather some classics here. How does an ant work out how far it is back to the nest? Simple: by counting its steps. Glue stilts onto its legs as it sets out and it will pace out into the wilds; take them off and it will walk only part of the way back.

The superorganism has castes, based not on genetic differences but — like our own social classes — on the environment in which they are brought up. Sometimes, a chemical message does the job, but cold and starvation can be just as effective at condemning an individual to a humble life as a worker.

A few simple rules produce what appears to be intelligence, but is in fact entirely mindless. Individuals are automatons. An ant stumbles on a tasty item and brings a piece back to the nest, wandering as it does and leaving a trail of scent. A second ant tracks that pathway back to the source, making random swerves of its own. A third, a fourth, and so on do the same, until soon the busy creatures converge on the shortest possible route, marked by a highway of pheromones. This phenomenon has some useful applications for the social animals who study it. Computer scientists fill their machines with virtual ants and task them with finding their way through a maze, leaving a coded signal as they pass until the fastest route emerges.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Too much time spent on introversion could lead to depression and lack of spontaneity, joy, and gaiety

Discovering one's own golden mean
K. VIJAYARAGHAVAN, ET, 17 Nov 2008

The term ‘golden mean’, according to Chambers dictionary means “moderation, a middle way between extremes.” An ancient Tamil proverb also notes that even the elixir of life (amrita) can become poison, if taken in excess.

Doubtless, life has to be marked by dynamism, extroversion and action but too much of these could also be damaging. Similarly, too much of ‘take it easy’ attitude or even reflection and introspection could lead to stagnation, with life drifting away without any tangible accomplishment.

The ceaseless and excessive dynamism of the warriors of Ulysses (Odysseus) and also their subsequent metamorphosis to lethargy and introversion, as portrayed by Tennyson, would suggest that there should be a golden mean between these extremes.

The ‘middle path’ concept, centred on finding the right ‘golden mean’, for sustained excellence, as applicable to each aspirant, would eventually depend on individual nature and needs. However, certain broad, practical and time-tested concepts in evolving this could serve as guidelines.

Those habituated to a busy bee life in search of fruits — they themselves may not be sure of and pushing themselves to near physical and psychological burn out — would do well to remember that all their activities would become counterproductive unless tempered with moments of needed reflection, solitude, relaxation and meditation.

Similarly the dreamer and one involving himself continually with substantial reflection, analysis and meditative exercises would also be benefited through forays into activities calling for dynamism and physical exercises marked by zest and exhilaration. In fact, too much time spent on such acts of introversion could also become counterproductive, leading to depression and lack of spontaneity, joy, and gaiety.

Research on depressed and schizophrenic patients has revealed that ‘work therapy’ and involvement with dynamic activities often work where passive counselling, analysis and even medication could fail. Indeed, work is worship. The business of life, if it were to be fulfilling, is to get on with it with briskness and natural ease, not cluttered by perceived ideas of excessive introspection, etc.

This natural approach could often prove to be the right sadhana for inner purification. Doubtless, the crux of all true accomplishment lies in discovering for oneself his own workable ‘golden mean’ and to build his dreams on this stable foundation!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sharing as social exchange was a social construct, never a biological adaptation

Why economists should study the origins of bargaining?
from Adam Smith's Lost Legacy by Gavin Kennedy
European Association of Evolutionary Political Economy,
Rome, November 2008

The Pre-History of Bargaining: a multi-disciplinary treatment (Part 1) [i]
© Gavin Kennedy (Heriot-Watt University)

The whole point of the quasi-bargain was to share the spoils between the catchers and the matrifocal family. Therefore there had to be a social mechanism to ensure that the chasers shared with the non-chasers, otherwise individuals and the group faced local extinction. In a Darwinian sense, the individual may not care about the group (natural selection works on the individual not the group) but an individual had to care about the fate of some minimum number of other individuals if he was to achieve his own survival goals. A chase was more successful if it was conducted by several of the most fleet-footed individuals, backed by the best stone toolmakers and the bravest perimeter skirmishers and pickets who warded of rival predators. A race with each other it was not.

To succeed in worthwhile scavenging the Ancients had to discover that there was safety in numbers and how to make noise near the carcass to ward off intruders. Scavenging induced co-operation, supported by stronger-willed enforcers. It also induced stone-tool creation and use. While predators were busy in a stand-off, or a snarling fight, the scavengers had time to risk a sneak snatch at whatever meat they could get. On such occasions their stone cutting and scraping tools and their disciplined numbers gave them a small enough advantage. Chimpanzees in a display charge can chase off a leopard; several Ancients screaming in an aggressive charge, catching predators with accurately aimed heavy stones, waving heavy branches, beating a predator’s body with clubs, and generally creating mayhem, could drive off even fearsome predators, at least for a short while. Meanwhile, the cutters would get to work. Skilled and brave distracters were party to the quasi-bargain too.

In principle, gatherers shared most of what they gathered, killed or found. In principle, strong quasi-bargains within the band’s matrifocal families embraced them all.[xxvii] Did this mean they all pulled their weight together in whatever way they could best contribute? Probably not; they were as riven by the usual dissents found in any group of Homo before or since. When it ‘worked’ reasonably well, it was an evolutionary stable compact. But there were wide variations in the behaviours of the individuals whose co-operation was essential for it to ‘work.’ Groups fell apart when laggards predominated; they were destroyed by careless acts in the vicinity of predators; they were scattered by internal discord and, in consequence, survivors may have endured generations of misery.

Gathering plant food, insects, and small animals, was more reliable than relying on opportunistic scavenging. But gathering was subject to variability, which imposes a cycle, sometimes severe, of ‘feast or famine.’ Some variability was the ‘fault’ of the individual, such as a lack of skills, effort or learning, and sometimes it was bad luck, injury, illness, the chosen search pattern, or attacks by predators. Where there was variability, there was pressure for sharing among sociable hominids. With multi-lateral promiscuity, sharing whatever food was collected was a small but significant behavioural step for males from merely feeding themselves. Establishing the sex-for-food norm, and policing it effectively, took generations to evolve into a culture of sharing, with additional norms to cope with exceptions, to constrain selfish behaviours and to establish taboos that enforced the metanorms. Sharing undoubtedly enhances the survival of the individual amidst scarcity. Sharing as social exchange was a social construct, never a biological adaptation.[xxviii]

It arose directly from the psychology and practise of the quasi-bargain. If the Ancients suffered cycles of scarcity and abundance, and the cycles were asynchronous (while one individual enjoyed a feast, the other endured famine) a transfer of resources between each other to even-out the cycle proved beneficial (though that does not mean it always happened!). Over the cycle, sharers benefited. But could they co-operate despite the nature of their ‘prisoner’s dilemma problem (whether to do what was best for oneself or what was best for one’s partners and one’s self)? [xxix]

Frank Marlowe identified six useful distinctions between types of food sharing and by changing the order we glean its possible social-evolution:[xxx]

  • Mutualism: food for foraging partners, particularly, but not exclusively, for kin;[xxxi]
  • Tolerated scrounging (TS) - food for peace (sometimes known as ‘tolerated theft’);
  • Costly signalling (CS) – ‘food for non-food benefits, such as sexual access’ -
  • Reciprocity:
  • Not-in-kind exchanges - ‘food A for food B’; [xxxii]
  • In-kind exchanges with delayed reciprocity – ‘food now for same food later’ (e.g., human equivalent of bats with blood);[xxxiii]

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Open, generous, equal, frank and kind

Health News The beauty of flowers
Naini’s Page Monday, September 17, 2007 12:4:37 IST Mind Matters

Have you been amongst flowers early in the morning? Or seen them facing the sun waiting its advent? Felt the aspiration that surges all around when watching a bud slowly open its petals one by one. Seen the earth after a few drops of rain and realise how the flowers like little multicolored hands come out in a gesture of thanks giving. Walked by a bush at night and smelt the beautiful fragrance of the raat-ki-rani. Wondered why flowers make you so happy, peaceful and filling you with joy and love?

Says Sri Aurobindo in Savitri: “The worlds senseless beauty mirrors gods delight its hued magnificence blooms in leaves and flowers.”

Flowers have been an intrinsic part of my life- my grandmother's vast collection of plants from around the world, dad's constant pottering in the garden, mother filling the house with marigolds, asters, rajnigandas and mogras, my aunt weaving garlands with all of us joining in, especially during functions and weddings. Starting my morning by picking up a beautiful champa from the ground, placing it behind one of my ears gives me immense pleasure.

The mother of Pondichery always said, “Be like a Flower”. 'They are open, generous, equal, frank and kind'. Do you know why?

  • Open — to everything and everyone that surrounds it.
  • Generous — without restrictions, dispels its very own perfume which it sacrifices entirely for our pleasure.
  • Equal — It has no preference. Everyone can enjoy its beauty without rivalry.
  • Kind — Its presence fills us with joy.
  • Frank — It hides nothing of its beauty everyone can see what it is.

They are made an important part in the ashram life - teaching people the charm of silence and thus the self giving which demands nothing in return. Flowers have a spiritual significance and are extremely receptive. No wonder, flowers have charmed and attracted men and women alike. They have been associated with religion, love, myths, legends, deaths, remembrance. For they say it more profoundly than words representing peace, joy, purity, beauty aspiration, love humility, and surrender.

Cherish your flowers. Watch them bloom naturally or in a vase. Let them be till they are fresh, collect them when they are no longer and give them back to the earth for what it has given us or otherwise we will become poor. www.cybernoon.com/

Land’s End and Sri Aurobindo Peak

Shortcut to heaven Usha Subramaniam, ET Bureau 6 Nov, 2008
Fear factored - The combination of trekking and holistic living at the Aurobindo Ashram camp near Nainital was perfect for Usha Subramaniam

Delving back into childhood memories of fairy tales, my mind’s eye spontaneously morphed our camp director into the Pied Piper of Van Niwas. Nirankarji’s delightful energy and sprightliness did what music did to Hamelin’s children, 115 kids happily made the steep uphill trek behind him, quite oblivious to the arduous climb. Contributing equally to the merry mood were the locale and content of the trip, a summer adventure youth camp held in the scenic and serene Van Niwas, Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Bara Pathar in Nainital. It’s no wonder then, at the culmination of the camp, two enthusiastic 12-year olds, Akankshita Dash and Samyukta Sankaran, succinctly gushed, “Shortcut to Heaven!”

The Sri Aurobindo Education Society in New Delhi has been conducting these six-day camps since 1977, in which some 1400 young people from all over India learn basic rock-climbing skills like scrambling, bouldering, rappelling and river crossing under the eagle eye of trained instructors. Yogasana-based exercises, shramdaan and, in the evening, breathing exercises, meditation, talks on right nutrition, and so on, ensure a week-full of balanced activities for the kids — and parents like myself and my friend!

To the uninitiated (and not-so-intrepid souls like yours truly) the prospect of rock climbing can bring on a panic attack sweaty palms, pounding heart et al. But the camp makes you conquer such fears. In any case I found most children to be plucky, lithe, zealous and effortless climbers. As for the few diffident ones, it was touching to see team members rally round to buoy up their morale. This was so contrary to the sneaky one-upmanship visible in present-day city life!

Day One was an unexpected test of strength and stamina, of steel and balance, of co-ordination and resolve! We crawled over jagged terrain, descended narrow rocky crevices and caves, all the while seeking, grasping and levering ourselves using available cracks and niches as handholds and footholds. How we marveled at our thrilling achievement as the day rounded off with a 4.5-km trek to Hanuman Mandir from where Naini Lake can be seen, far below.

The next day saw us carefully heaving ourselves up over large and small rocks using techniques learnt the previous day. Sometimes, facile looking boulders proved more daunting, as just a half- or one-inch toehold was all that was available to haul myseld self up! Though bouldering requires a shorter sequence of movement, a couple of boulders demanded grit and stability of mind and body. Climbing ‘chimneys’, that is, rocks shaped like chimneys for which there is a different technique, was relatively easier...

The early part of the next day was taken up with a brief session on rope knots and hitches, to prepare us for rock climbing. Given the assurance of a safety rope around the waist and patient guidance and encouraging support of instructors, we had to challenge ourselves because rocks were higher and steeper this time round. Gradually, dogged perseverence triumphed over illogical phobias; can-do conviction outweighed nagging anxiety. The children soaked in the glorious view of the surrounding mountain-scape after a spirited 7-km trek up to Dorothy’s Seat (Tiffin Top, in the afternoon. On each trek, Nirankarji and his admirable, outstanding team of instructors cajoled the children into cheerily marching ahead, up the forested paths where oaks, pines, deodars and flowering rhododendrons grew in abundance. Every moment there in the hills, the children were doing things undreamt of in the city...

Waking up at 5.30am, finishing breakfast by 7.30am (all meals were simple and traditional, and entailed that all plates and tumblers be washed by the user after the meal!) no TV and computer games, and a long vigorous walk. They enjoyed every moment of it! Rappelling (as I recalled it from some action film or the other) seemed more dreaded than other camp activities; but I realised that I was wrong. Since the harness and rope provided safety and security, this was a great chance for acrophobes like myself to face it head-on.

Once I got past the first few seconds focusing wholly on the safety rope and harness I tilted my body backwards at 90o degrees to the rock/wall and the rest was easy and tremendous fun. What a limiting and illogical factor fear is, I realised! That afternoon we trekked 9 km to Land’s End and Sri Aurobindo Peak with some tree-climbing included. Gradually growing in stamina and confidence, we campers pushed our endurance levels higher day by day. On the fifth day was an instruction on the Tyroline Traverse technique of River Crossing, which was developed in the Tyrol range of the Alps. I nearly chickened out. Not for me that precarious, upside-down posture high up on a rope! But then, the positive impact of group activity came into play. So, overcoming trepidation, I did do that river-crossing!

At 8am on the day before we left, we trekked all the way up to Naina Peak , soaring 2,622 metres above sea level. It was a rewarding trek, even though snow covered mountains like Nanda Devi and Trishul were not visible that morning. However, that hardly mattered to any of us. The mood was ecstatic since the trip to Nainital was, in young Arpita Singh’s words, “totally incomparable” or, to quote Akankshita and Samyukta “a heavenly treat!” Well, if a 40-something’s mind can unconsciously hark back to a fairy tale character during an adventure camp, you can gauge exactly how hugely invigorating and restorative the camp can be for us urban individuals!

Monday, November 03, 2008

In Auroville, the pursuit of beauty is a way of life

Indian Express > Mumbai > The Artist’s Way

Find beauty and the purpose will follow. This is a credo that I try and abide by. Though by no means is it an easy task in cities like Mumbai, where the mind-numbing commute and the daily grind can make one prone to things like road rage.
In Auroville, Pondicherry, the pursuit of beauty, it would seem, is a way of life.

Potters, painters, poets and others of their ilk live and eke out a living in sylvan settings. On the face of it, their lives appear simple and uncluttered; the most common daily routine consists of Tai Chi/Yoga or meditation combined with healthy eating and a work routine that is focused and mindful. It’s a routine that is geared to assist the individual and aid the community. The art produced and sold here is beautiful and serene, free of isms and trends, indicative of a spontaneous and free way of thinking and being. This Zen lifestyle is enviable, despite the fact that the community as a whole does suffer from the same ills that plague any settlement.
Walking on dusty tracks and listening to the roar of the blue sea in the distance, I am reminded of a book called The Artist’s Way, which extols simplicity and creativity through small, daily rituals. Seemingly simplistic, these daily routines that are (to my mind) linked to the pursuit of beauty, add other dimensions to the mundane aspects of life.

The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, who needs no introduction, has written a seminal work on the spiritual significance of flowers. It’s a treatise that is both philosophical and artistic in its scope. Her samadhi shrine is adorned with flowers of incredible beauty. Matri Mandir is a structure of rare and pristine beauty. The meditation chamber offers a life-transforming experience to those who are open to it.
Gazing at the ocean from the seashore at Pondicherry, it strikes me that we, in the city, are increasingly removed from calm, a pre-requisite for creativity. A wise soul that I bump into at a little bookshop selling translations of books written in French, tells me that, “quietude, reflection, spontaneity...this is the way of the soul. We clutter the path with roadblocks in the form of unnecessary desires”. Indeed.

The majority of Aurovillians live a creative life. It’s a life sans chafing. Which is not to say they are not ambitious, successful, or in any way removed from the demands of the world and international trends. They have just learnt to tap into their intuitive selves and let their higher self guide them towards all that is necessary and required for a peaceful co-existence. Filled with reflections and age old discoveries, I am led to send a text to a friend who is aspiring to be an artist. It says, “If you want to learn form, study the shape of flowers.” Eat, pray, love, to borrow from the title of a bestseller, is actually all that one needs to do. (The columnist is a writer and a consultant)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Drink seven glasses of water in empty stomach

EACH MAN IS A CASE BY HIMSELF Sri Nirmal Ch. Sahu Souvenir - SAMA Conference 2008

Each man is a case by himself because his health problems depend on his entire past, his soul’s need at present and in future. People governed mainly by physical and vital need physical aid of all kinds and we cannot be sure about their cure. Rational people can be explained about all scientific methods including the need to have balance in their food, sleep, physical exercises and medicine. For the spiritual personality, the best of all is to take shelter in spirituality.

There are two ways of curing an illness including skin problems. One consists in putting a force of consciousness and Truth on the physical spot which is affected. In this case the effect produced depends naturally on the receptivity of the person. Sri Aurobindo used to cure his disciples in this way. It was like a hand which came and took away the trouble spot.

In other cases when the body lacks receptivity altogether or is very resistant to spiritual methods doctors have to see the psychological condition of the person. The cause of illness may be vital or mental. If one can act simultaneously upon cause and effect, and the cause is sufficiently receptive to consent to change, then one is completely cured. The patient has to call peace on the spot and increase his faith in The Divine Grace! There is no disease that cannot be cured by Divine Grace.

Skin is the second physical protective layer; the first being the subtle body or the body guard of the body. In both cases punctures are caused by fear, depression, and disappointment which allows the dark forces to enter. The faith on The Divine Mother keeps it (subtle body) intact or repairs it soon. The faith in the part which is open to The Mother helps the parts which are not open. Thus the mind and the vital can help the physical parts — the cells to open to The Mother.

The descent of the Supramental Force (29.2.56) has changed the destiny of earth and men. The Force can change every thing just in one stroke, all for good. We have got to prepare ourselves so that the contact with this Force becomes possible and then to allow it to settle permanently. We shall be free from all diseases, decay and eventually death.

A Wonderful Discovery:-
Skin disease has a direct link with our digestive system. All people suffering from skin diseases have some sort of digestive problem. Thus, if the disorder in our digestive system is set right or at least kept in control the skin problem can be set right or diminished to a great extent, if the problem is not acute.

The Divine Mother has prescribed seven glasses of water in empty stomach. If one finds it difficult to drink seven glasses at a time, slowly and gradually one can increase from one to two and finally arrive at seven. A few sadhaks and sadhikas in the Ashram at Pondicherry have expressed their happiness in the current year 2008 when their digestive problem miraculously disappeared within a few weeks having followed this instruction.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Back To Health Through Yoga by Ramesh Bijlani

Bookmark Treatment and health in Yoga By Ratnadeep Banerji Organiser Home > 2008 Issues > October 26, 2008
Back To Health Through Yoga, Ramesh Bijlani, Rupa & Co., pp 329, Rs 295.00

Ramesh Bijlani has rendered a lucid explication of ‘the too complex and misunderstood aspects of yoga’. After a span of 30 years, serving as a faculty at AIIMS, he took recourse to treatment through yoga. His fervent zeal in the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother led to this book. ‘Integral yoga is a very powerful synthesis of different schools of yoga.’ As Gita says it, ‘yoggasthya kuru karmani’, all actions can be performed with a yogic poise. ‘Yoga is a way of life which facilitates spiritual quest. It is a journey towards perfection.’

The cultural impresario of India, Dr Karan Singh has sufficed his foreword to the book. He mentions, ‘All life is yoga’, thus spake Sri Aurobindo. Yoga accelerates the spritual sojourn by providing a conducive ground of a healthy body and a purified mind. Again P.K. Dave, former director AIIMS in his remark says, ‘yoga doesn’t suffice for calisthenics’ but instead attunes and streamlines the body-mind concord.

Integral Yoga ‘aims at a collective psychospiritual transformation by dealing with the ego, dealing with desires, surrendering oneself, learning to accept diverse situations with equanimity, profess love and involve sincerity. He devotes the chapter ’Demystifying Meditation’ upon the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Asthanga yogas forming the crux of Raja Yoga. Therein he discusses the practice of ‘pratyahara’ meaning sensory withdrawal.

Ramesh Bijlani has devoted an entire section over lifestyle disorders having chapters on certain core areas fraught with attitudinal negligence and distorted habit. ‘The poor back’ deals with the pervasive problem of vertebral column arising primarily due to bad posture. He discusses certain common ailments such as ‘slip disc’ which stands a misnomer for ‘disc prolapse’ wherein there is no disc slipping out instead wearing out of annulus, a tough ring that gives way and ruptures to eject some of its inner jelly like content. He recommends pertinent asanas to fix the problem.

The author has blacklisted gluttony as he has monikered the chapter with ‘the mother of many maladies’ for an inebriated urge to gorge turns disastrous. He lays increased emphasis on increased intake of dietary fibre. He cites an interesting instance.

‘One burfi, one vada, one samosa and a cup of tea are not difficult to have, and would contain about 500 calories. To get 500 calories from apples, one would need about 800 grams of apples, which is the weight of about seven apples. Very few would find it easy to have seven apples in on sitting. Further, because of the tendency of fibre to soak water, it swells up to form a viscous mass. Hence, fibre swells up in the stomach and we feel full’.

Ramesh Bijlani dwells on sleep disorders. He turns the master-key by quoting The Mother, ‘To sleep well one must learn how to sleep’. He analyses the state of deep dreamless sleep and the phase of rapid eye movement (REM). He elaborates on sleeplessness and sleep apnea as well as the repercussions of inadequate sleep. He raises one apt question, ‘what should one do if one is unable to sleep?’. He advises certain prudent strategies and a corrective lifestyle.

Ramesh Bijlani spills some myth-busters. About alcohol doing good to heart, he says that it has not been well-established but alcohol is certainly bad for liver. He adds, ‘wine may do some good to the heart because of its antioxidant content and not because of its alcohol content.

  • It is preferable to get nutrients from fruits and vegetables rather than from alcohol’.
  • He disdains upon sugar intake.
  • About olive oil, he doesn’t attach any special importance in diet while he recommends traditional oils like mustard oil and soybean oil along with small amounts of saturated oils such as butter, coconut oil, ghee or palmoleinas these complement for polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).
  • Spices are a rich source of phytochemicals. ‘A moderate amount of spices help in improving the diet.’
  • About caffeine containing fizz drinks, he quotes Dean Ornish ‘caffeine does not give energy, it borrows energy from the future’. Consumption of such drinks brings ‘temporary alertness and elevation of mood’ instantaneously but after an hour it turns even worse than before.

His lucid exposition with diagrams makes the book an exhilarating account for lay readers and medical practitioners alike to imbibe upon the nuggets of wisdom. His enlisted yogic practices for lifestyle disorders quench the parched throats of ailing bodies. A new path unfolds when the readers troll down the discerning ‘words of wisdom’ to bolster their faith in the maverick yoga and ward off their untoward fears as Sri Aurobindo says,

‘it should take long for self-cure to replace medicine, because of the fear, self-distrust and unnatural physical reliance on drugs which medical science has taught to our minds and bodies and made our second nature’.

This book efficaciously dispels these morbid credos of the populace with profundity to establish that yoga is the finest lifestyle ever devised. (Rupa & Co., 7/16, Ansari Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110 002.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Simple and effective tools to put Sadhana on the integral foundation

We offer this page to all sadhaks who are in need of simple and effective tools to put their sadhana on the integral foundation of concrete and psychological methods of the Integral Yoga...

All practices, that are given on this page have been selected in the course of many years of yogic practice and search for simple and effective means to control mind with its habitual mechanical thinking and vital with its violent impulses, urges and desires, as well as the body restlessness and tendency to busy itself with different outer activities and tasks.

Here is the link. http://www.sriaurobindoyoga.org/files/school/practice_of_iy_en.html
University of the Integral Yoga Posted in Website News No Comments »

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

SAICE children prove to be taller than their Indian peers

Growth patterns and secular trends over four decades in the dynamics of height growth of Indian boys and girls in Sri Aurobindo Ashram: A cohort study
Author: Nikhil Virani

Affiliation: a PED Research, Department of Physical Education, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, India DOI: 10.1080/03014460500068261 Publication Frequency: 6 issues per year Published in: Annals of Human Biology, Volume 32, Issue 3 May 2005 , pages 259 - 282 Subject: Molecular Biology; Number of References: 46 Formats available: HTML (English) : PDF (English) Article Requests: Order Reprints : Request Permissions Purchase Article: €28.00 plus VAT - buy now add to cart [show other buying options]

Abstract
Background: Growth parameters are widely used in the assessment of health, nutrition and physical characteristics of a population; however, there still exist uncertainties regarding ethnic variation and the influence of physical activity on growth. Due to the paucity of longitudinal data, the dynamics of the adolescent growth spurt have not been satisfactorily examined in most populations.

Aim: The main purpose of this longitudinal study is to present the secular trends in the dynamics of height growth over four decades. In the process, this paper also aims to establish current norms for some biological parameters of growth and to address issues concerning ethnic variation and the effect of childhood physical activity on growth.

Methodology: Three hundred and one boys and 235 girls of Indian origin who had been enrolled in the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (SAICE) by age 6 and remained for at least 3 uninterrupted years were divided into four birth cohort periods. Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses were carried out to derive distance, velocity and acceleration curves.

Results: No significant differences were found between ethnic groups in any of the growth parameters. Over the 40-year span of this study, SAICE children prove to be taller than their Indian peers. A significant positive secular trend was seen in the height attained at all velocity turning points over the first two decades. Most pre-pubertal growth parameters in these children resemble those from developed nations.

Conclusions: Children from most parts of India have similar genetic growth potential. After a significant positive secular trend in height attained over the first 20 years, the adult height has now plateaued. The significant difference in post-pubertal stature between the current generation and those of European origin indicates a genetic difference. Regular and graded physical activities have a salutary effect on growth. The data provide norms for healthy, active Indian child growing up in a satisfactory environment. Keywords: Growth pattern; height; height velocity; India; secular trend; longitudinal view references (46) : view citations © 2008 Informa plc

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

If one pursues the quest, one would locate it — the source of all creativity

The human aspiration and integral yoga Wednesday August 20 2008 10:37 IST HEALTH
Manoj Das

THE aspiration often finds expression through our activities in the fields of art, literature, sculpture, music, dance, etc. But that does not stop there. It seeks the very source from which inspiration for such activities comes. If one pursues the quest, one would locate it — the source of all creativity.

The problem, however, is, by the time one locates that sublime source, the normal activities, the external demands of our gross life, assume a certain unreality, appear unsubstantial. As a consequence one tends to break away from the mundane life, pronouncing upon it the judgment that it was either false or illusory.

In other words, for centuries past, the spiritual path has been looked upon as a path opposite to the so called worldly way.But a deeper reflection would tell us that this vast and complex life could not have been conceived and allowed to flourish only to be abandoned by the enlightened. It has a purpose, it has a destination. One realises that however engrossed we may be in ignorance, we are nevertheless looking for knowledge; however we may be overwhelmed by sorrow and suffering, we are looking for delight.

Are these aspirations for light and delight vain? Did some unfathomably mighty power create this world and then forgot all about it, for it to ever rotate in darkness? Sri Aurobindo asserts that despite all signs to the contrary, a dynamic consciousness is unfolding itself gradually with all its splendours. True, with the unfolding of the manifold capacity of mind and intelligence, man has misused it in various ways.

While he has enriched life with a million inventions scientific and technological, he has also devised the terrible destructives. With the growth of intelligence, he has proved greater efficiency in corruption and hypocrisy.But such contradictory developments do not cancel the truth of the mind's growth. They only show that something greater than mind must control the activities of mind. A moral or ethical principle is too weak to give any spontaneous direction to mind towards its right use.There has to be a transformation, a qualitative change. In Sri Aurobindo’s own words,

“It is indeed as a result of our evolution that we arrive at the possibility of this transformation.As Nature has evolved beyond Matter and manifested Life, beyond Life and manifested Mind, so she must evolve beyond Mind and manifest a consciousness and power of our existence free from the imperfection and limitation of our mental existence, a Supramental or Truth-Consciousness and able to develop the power and perfection of the spirit.”

His Yoga, the Integral Yoga, shows the way. Manoj Das The author is a Padma awardee, recipient of the Saraswati Samman, Hon. D.Litt. from several universities and the Sahitya Akademi's highest honour, the Fellowship.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The p2p approach implies an ontology and spiritual approach

from Michel Bauwens <michelsub2004@gmail.com> to "Tusar N. Mohapatra" <tusarnmohapatra@gmail.com> cc "M. Alan Kazlev date7 August 2008 22:18

Dear Tusar,
thanks for the response, no offense taken.
Below a summary of the p2p ideas, which seem to be understood by quite a bit of people that seem less smart than yourself, so I think perhaps it is a matter of context and culture.
The p2p approach implies an ontology and spiritual approach, but is pluralistic and open to people with atheistic and secular spiritual practices.

My own approach is very congruent with the approach of John Heron, Jorge Ferrer, and I am a member of a western esoteric fraternity, however, in a western context, I do not feel you gain anything by pushing such an agenda forward, so I only communicate such matters face to face, while publicly pushing for an open/relational/participatory spirituality approach.

What matters is the loving care we express and practice through autonomy-in-cooperation, and not the different metaphysics that may be at the base of such choice. People with very different spiritual presuppositions can and do act on it, while people with similar metaphysical approaches may totally disagree on the advisability of peer to peer.

See for linkages to spiritual material, http://p2pfoundation.net/Category:Spirituality, the open spirituality debate was here, at http://p2pfoundation.ning.com/forum/topic/show?id=2003008%3ATopic%3A5308

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sama Fabian from Aurolab Yoga Project, London

Yoga Workshop with Sama Fabian, Pitanga ::: 6:00 AM
Sama Fabian from London, known to the community of Yoga practitioners for her research work in the “Aurolab Yoga Project” and for a couple of intensive workshops given in the past years, is now staying in Auroville for some time.
Every first Thursday of the month, 6.00 – 8.30 am, “Full Practice”, In August: Thursday, 7th
“For teachers, teacher trainees and seasoned practitioners who would enjoy sharing a common practice in the spirit of enquiry and experimentation.”
For more information on Sama’s work: http://www.aurolabyoga.net/, contact samyoga@btinternet.com
posted by Pitanga

Monday, June 30, 2008

Viewing the world through the filter of our right mind

June 25th, 2008 Guest Blogger: Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor
By Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor 3 COMMENTS SHARE Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. WATCH NOW

Everything we are capable of thinking, feeling or doing is because we have cells in our brain that perform that function. I can track a moving target because I have cells designed to do that. I can move my finger because I have cells wired specifically for that function. Once those cells are either traumatized or die, then I can no longer perform that function.

On an emotional level, I can experience anger or sadness or loneliness, because I have emotional circuitry, made up of cells that perform those functions. Equally important, I have the ability to experience deep inner peace or a connection with something that is greater than I am, because I have cells that perform those functions.

Our beautiful brain is divided into two very separate and equally important cerebral hemispheres. Each of these hemispheres process information in very different ways, thus creating for us two very different ways of looking at the world. Our right hemisphere is all about the present moment. It’s all about right here, right now. In this present moment, information in the form of energy streams in through our sensory systems and our right hemisphere creates an enormous collage about what this present moment smells like, tastes like, feels like, sounds like and looks like. In the present moment, there is no judgment placed on our experience – things are not good or bad, or right or wrong, instead they are simply relative to one another. In addition, our right hemisphere thinks in pictures and experiences the world around us as energy. As energy beings, we are at ONE with all that is, because energy cannot be separated from itself, and the underlying ‘feeling’ of our right human mind is one of deep inner peace and joy.

Our left hemisphere is a very different place, however. It is our ability to think in language – to create language and place meaning on sounds. It is our ability to understand when others speak. A portion of our language centers is the portion of our left brain that says “I am an individual”. Thanks to this circuitry and other circuitry in our left minds, we can identify the boundaries of where our bodies begin and end. Thanks to my left hemispheres I am capable of perceiving myself as a single, solid individual separate from the flow.

In the consciousness of my left hemisphere, I am capable of relating this present moment to my past moments and recall information from that past that I can apply in the present to influence how I choose in this moment to interact with the world. Because I see myself as an individual, my left mind ego center has the understanding that I am very important. It also is the home of the voice of my ‘inner critic’ or that mean little voice that has a tendency to place negative judgment on either myself or others.

There are several wonderful benefits to having two very different minds. First, we always have a choice in who and how we want to be in the world. We can choose to approach the world with a compassionate perception whereby we understand that we are connected to everything around us, where we are aware that we are the life force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses (cells) that make up our form.

By viewing the world through the filter of our right mind, we experience a sense of satisfaction, bliss and deep inner peace. Another advantage to having two very different anatomical machines inside our head is that we have the ability to observe and witness what is going on inside our heads. We have the power to consciously choose what we want to focus our minds on. As human beings we have the ability to realize that everything we think and feel emotionally is merely emotional circuitry, and we have the ability to choose to bring our minds back to the present moment where we can once again experience the feeling of deep inner peace.

We truly are remarkable living entities and what a privilege it is that we have the ability to co-create with one another the kind of world we yearn for. Our life is a gift and when we choose to see the blessing of what we are with gratitude in our hearts, we can live heaven on earth. home about blog episodes subscribe contact

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sandra continues her self-funded voluntary work with a reforestation project in Auroville

A passage to India with VSO Morpeth Herald - Morpeth, England, UK: 27 June 2008 By ANNA SMITH

Back home, Sandra looked back fondly on her time with VSO and six years on, at the age of 54, she has returned to Bangalore under her own steam to offer her services once more. She has already toured the old horticulture training centre where she was based originally, visited the new, larger facility and met up with former colleagues, including her old boss Hegde.

Now she has moved on to Auroville to continue her self-funded voluntary work, helping with a reforestation project, before meeting up with her husband to visit friends in the foothills of the Himalayas.

"Personally, I feel I have grown and developed as a person, become more accepting of some things, and less of others, and I have realised how lucky I have been to have had so many opportunities — to go to school, have a career, choose my own life, travel, etc," said Sandra.

"I have a much greater awareness and understanding of the Indian culture — our similarities and differences — and an understanding of how globalisation is affecting the country, both then and now.

"I have seen great changes in the past eight years, notably an increased middle class and its attendant consumerism and traffic."

Sandra's experience of India has taken on a new lease of life since she first set out with VSO eight years ago, but she remains full of praise and gratitude for the charity that set her on her journey.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Philosophy can offer insights into mental phenomena for psychiatry to objectively verify

A Monograph Series Devoted To The Understanding Of Medicine, Mental Health, Man And Their Matrix
Why MSM Acknowledgement Call for papers... Forthcoming MSM... ARTICLE Ahead of print schedule
Notes on a Few Issues in the Philosophy of Psychiatry
Singh Ajai R 1, Singh Shakuntala A 21 M.D. Psychiatrist, Editor, Mens Sana Monographs, India2 Department of Philosophy, Joshi-Bedekar College, Thane, Maharashtra; Deputy Editor, Mens Sana Monographs, India
Correspondence Address: Singh Ajai R 14, Shiva Kripa, Trimurty Road, Nahur, Mulund (West), Mumbai 400080, Maharashtra India

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

Abstract
The first part called the Preamble tackles: (a) the issues of silence and speech, and life and disease; (b) whether we need to know some or all of the truth, and how are exact science and philosophical reason related; (c) the phenomenon of Why, How, and What; (d) how are mind and brain related; (e) what is robust eclecticism, empirical/scientific enquiry, replicability/refutability, and the role of diagnosis and medical model in psychiatry; (f) bioethics and the four principles of beneficence, non-malfeasance, autonomy, and justice; (g) the four concepts of disease, illness, sickness, and disorder; how confusion is confounded by these concepts but clarity is imperative if we want to make sense of these concepts; and how psychiatry is an interim medical discipline.

The second part called The Issues deals with: (a) the concepts of nature and nurture; the biological and the psychosocial; and psychiatric disease and brain pathophysiology; (b) biology, Freud and the reinvention of psychiatry; (c) critics of psychiatry, mind-body problem and paradigm shifts in psychiatry; (d) the biological, the psychoanalytic, the psychosocial and the cognitive; (e) the issues of clarity, reductionism, and integration; (f) what are the fool-proof criteria, which are false leads, and what is the need for questioning assumptions in psychiatry.

The third part is called Psychiatric Disorder, Psychiatric Ethics, and Psychiatry Connected Disciplines. It includes topics like (a) psychiatric disorder, mental health, and mental phenomena; (b) issues in psychiatric ethics; (c) social psychiatry, liaison psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine, forensic psychiatry, and neuropsychiatry.

The fourth part is called Antipsychiatry, Blunting Creativity, etc. It includes topics like (a) antipsychiatry revisited; (b) basic arguments of antipsychiatry, Szasz, etc.; (c) psychiatric classification and value judgment; (d) conformity, labeling, and blunting creativity.

The fifth part is called The Role of Philosophy, Religion, and Spirituality in Psychiatry. It includes topics like (a) relevance of philosophy to psychiatry; (b) psychiatry, religion, spirituality, and culture; (c) ancient Indian concepts and contemporary psychiatry; (d) Indian holism and Western reductionism; (e) science, humanism, and the nomothetic-idiographic orientation.

The last part, called Final Goal , talks of the need for: a grand unified theory.he whole discussion is put in the form of refutable points...

VI. Final Goal
VI.A. A Grand Unified Theory VI.1. The ultimate aim of psychiatric theorizing and research is to find a grand unified theory that will explain all mental phenomena, in health and disease. VI.2. All piecemeal approaches are valid only as stop gaps to this destination, never as the only reality. Hence, statements like 'Our strongly held desires to find the explanation for individual psychiatric disorders are misplaced and counterproductive' (Kendler, 2005) need to be accepted as the reality of today, to be countered by systematic research to find exactly such an explanation. VI.3. No foreclosure, no giant leaps; just a string of evidences to a final resolution. VI.4. The present maze-like complex findings in most major psychiatric disorders only camouflage an essentially simple solution that awaits discovery. VI.5. Just as Einstein integrated a string of evidences/theories before him to give his essentially simple theory of relativity, we need the genius of a synthesizer to make sense of the burgeoning scientific research in psychiatry and extract the essential simple solution that lies within handshaking distance. VI.6. As we get to know it finally, we may be surprised at the naivetι of it all.

Concluding Remarks
1. Disease cannot vanish. Diseases can. This is the very basis of medicine, it is very raison d'etre . It is equally applicable to psychiatry.

2. For psychiatry, we are in dire need of exact knowledge, and knowledge that is universally valid. Although the scientific approach may not be the only one, it is the only one that can be empirically validated, and refuted. Psychiatry, which claims to be a scientific discipline, should not lose sight of this. It either gives up the claim of being scientific, or learns to follow the cannons of science.

3. A scientist looks at the 'how' of phenomena. A philosopher looks at its 'why'. What is the nature of a question that combines both the 'how' and the 'why'? It will be an integrated question. A 'what'. What is the nature of an answer that answers both the 'how' and the 'why'? It will be an integrated answer. Again a 'what'. By integrated, or a 'what', we mean it involves the empirical knowledge of the scientist combined with the speculative reason of the philosopher.

4. Science is basically antiphilosophy, since its fundamental thrust is to reduce the need for speculation, and speculation is fundamental to philosophy. Philosophy is basically science nurturing, since it offers insights for science to objectively verify and accept/refute. It also plays the role of being the conscience of science, because it shows the path and often prevents it from getting waylaid. While playing this role, philosophy sometimes appears to be antiscience since it is critical of science's unbridled power. Actually it is science nurturing.

5. The mind is the functional correlate of the structure called the brain. It has no existence aside and apart from it.

6. Theology and philosophy of mind can supply many speculative insights, which will need scientific enquiry and validation to convert them into empirical knowledge.

7. Robust eclecticism is compatible with subscribing to any one strand of thought in psychiatry - biological or psychosocial. It remains robust only as long as it accepts the worth of evidence from any quarter, even adversarial. Eclecticism is an attitude. Empirical enquiry is a process. One cannot substitute for the other. But one can, and should, complement the other.

8. Diagnosis cannot replace individual and customized care. But the converse is equally applicable. In fact diagnosis complements individual and customized care. And the latter helps refine the diagnostic process.

9. Beneficence is essential, non-malfeasance obligatory; autonomy is relative and justice debatable. Beneficence is the bedrock of medicine, non-malfeasance its conscience. Justice its sentinel, autonomy its crowning glory.

10. Most psychiatric problems are illnesses, since they involve an inability to fulfill normal social roles. They are often also sicknesses, since there is subjective awareness of distress. But none are diseases as of yet, as there is no proven universally accepted objective pathology. This is the most important problem for psychiatry to tackle.

11. The major task of psychiatry, therefore, is to prove their illnesses and sicknesses are also diseases. Till this happens, psychiatry has the promise to become, but only approximates, a branch of medicine. It is at an interim stage of development as a medical discipline. This is an uncomfortable but necessary realization.

12. Genes determine, and regulate, behavior. And behavior alters gene expression. Both are interlinked through and through. The major task of modern psychiatry is to unravel which determines what, and to what extent.

13. Insights in psychiatric knowledge will come from many sources, especially the psychological, the psychoanalytic, the sociological, and the philosophical. Breakthroughs will come mainly, if not solely, from biology.

14. Psychiatric treatment will always require an empathetic grasp of the patients' inner feelings; and a working knowledge, if not an intimate grasp, of the sociocultural ethos in which they occur.

15. Biology is the engine and the fuel. Will psychoanalysis hold the steering, help change gears, and stop clamping on the brake?

16. The mind is the brain. And the brain, the mind. They are two sides of the same coin.

17. How do biological and psychosocial approaches gel? (i) Only under the overarch of ensuring comprehensivity of patient welfare; (ii) each supplies insights to the other while carrying out self-correction; and (iii) each accepts irrefutable evidence of its shortcomings, from whatever source it originates, internal or external.

18. Reductionism is a valid approach in the study of psychiatric phenomena. But integration of the finding of disparate approaches is equally valid. As is explanatory pluralism.

19. So, reductionism or integration? Both. Reductionism as an approach. Integration as an attitude.

20. All mental phenomena have a correlate in brain functioning, known or unknown. All brain activity gives rise to mental phenomena, known or unknown. The key is to find the links between brain activity and mental phenomena. The key is also to make the unknown mental phenomena and brain activity known.

21. In psychiatric therapy , beneficence and non-malfeasance are paramount, and must override autonomy and justice when they conflict. In psychiatric research , however, autonomy and justice are paramount, and must override beneficence and non-malfeasance when they conflict.

22. Social psychiatry must back up its insightful contentions with strong evidentials. Liaison psychiatry remains relevant only if appreciates the relevance of the medical model, but is prepared to transcend it. The same rule is applicable to psychosomatic medicine. Forensic psychiatry is necessary, but psychiatric ethics is mandatory. While the former ensures autonomy and justice, the latter ensures beneficence and non-malfeasance. Neuropsychiatry is promising but guild-driven.

23. What Szasz and his ilk have to realize is there is a moral judgment involved in any labeling, whether of a disorder in psychiatry or the rest of medicine. If it were good/proper to vomit blood, or fall unconscious, or live with broken bones, or develop heart attacks, no branch of medicine would be needed. Similarly, if it were good/proper to live with suicidal attempts/thoughts, to fear meeting people so, one remains confined to the house, to keep hand washing for hours, to believe one is the Almighty, or that the whole world is plotting/scheming against you, no psychiatry would be needed.

24. Psychiatric classification is capable of being both scientific and objective. Diagnostic categories do match real mental disorders. Hence, the medical model of psychiatry that many defend is legitimate, even if inadequate.

25. While psychiatry should beware it does not protect criminals, delinquents, etc., it must equally make people at large, and law enforcing agencies, aware that in certain mental conditions, a person may not realize the nature and consequences of his actions. A typical example is a schizophrenic who acts on his delusions and assaults someone, or a suicidal depressive who makes a suicidal attempt during a depressive phase. Treating helps them get rid of their delusion/suicidal impulse; putting them behind bars does not.

26. Often those who are creative are so not because of, but in spite of , mental illness. Moreover, often they continue to remain creative not because of, but in spite of, mental illness and treatment; and all the side effects and lifestyle modifications that ensue following a major mental illness.

27. Religion and spirituality hold an eternal fascination for some serious psychiatric thinkers. There are many concepts in both that intersect. But in so far as religion stresses the subjective at the expense of the objective, it cannot become a predominant force in psychiatric thinking. However, it can supply many insights into mental phenomena, which psychiatric research can explore with profit. But with its tools, its criteria, its methodology.

28. Unless the older concepts in the philosophy of mind, whether of the East or the West, get converted into empirically testable hypothesis, they are useless for modern psychiatry. Reverence and awe is one thing, proof and therapeutic validation quite another.

29. Indian psychiatrists' attempts to understand ancient Indian concepts and their relevance to contemporary psychiatry have been intensely patriotic/reverential but feebly scientific. As different from this, Western thinkers have not desisted from critical evaluation of their greatest predecessors. Only that which stands the critical scrutiny of peers is accepted, and that too provisionally. This necessary progression in mindset - from reverence to critical sifting and analysis - is essential if experimentally verifiable models of care have to evolve from the writings of the great masters of the past.

30. It is also mentioned, almost as a truism, that Indian thought is holistic, synthetic, as opposed to the Western, which is reductionist and analytic. The predominance of religion (and belief) in Indian thought, and of science (and verification) in the West has given rise to such predominance. Holism is necessary as an attitude ; reductionism is necessary as an approach . Holism is necessary to synthesize and integrate diverse strands of knowledge. But reductionism is needed to produce new knowledge, which is then synthesized and integrated.

31. The orientation necessarily has to be a blend of science and humanism. Where universally valid scientific knowledge serves individual patient welfare. And individual patient welfare serves to promote further universally valid scientific knowledge. Not as difficult as it seems, provided research integrity and patient welfare remain the watchwords. Holism at its best.

32. The ultimate aim of psychiatric theorizing and research is to find a grand unified theory that will explain all mental phenomena, in health and disease.[74]

Take Home Message
There are many areas of connect between philosophy and psychiatry. Philosophy can offer insights into mental phenomena for psychiatry to objectively verify. Psychiatry must progress from being an interim medical discipline to becoming a full one. It will do so only by finding biological determinants of behavior in health and illness. A grand unified theory to explain mental phenomena is the final goal.

Acknowledgment
The editors wish to thank the peer reviewers of this paper for their valuable contributions. The authors wish to thank Dr. Anirudh Kala who invited them to first write on this topic for the book Culture, Personality and Mental Illness: Perspective of Traditional Societies (Eds. V.K. Varma and A.K. Kala) to be published by Jaypee Brothers Medical Publishers. This is a substantially expanded version of the paper to be published there under the title, 'Notes on Some Philosophical Issues in Psychiatry'.Conflict of Interest Author and co-author are editor and deputy editor of MSM.

Questions That This Paper Raise

  • 'Science is basically antiphilosophy and philosophy is basically science nurturing.' Why can both not be nurturing of each other?
  • 'Disease cannot vanish. Diseases can.' When can disease vanish, and well-being flourish?
  • 'Eclecticism is an attitude. Empirical enquiry is a process.' What if their roles are interchanged?
  • 'The major task of psychiatry, therefore, is to prove their illnesses and sicknesses are also diseases.' Will only biology help here?
  • 'Insights in psychiatric knowledge will come from many sources, especially the psychological, the psychoanalytic, the sociological, and the philosophical. Breakthroughs will come mainly, if not solely, from biology.' What about breakthroughs from other sources and insights from biology?
  • 'Reductionism as an approach. Integration as an attitude.' What if their roles are also interchanged?
  • Unless the older concepts in the philosophy of mind, whether of the East or the West, get converted into empirically testable hypothesis, they are useless for modern psychiatry. How do we do that?
  • 'This necessary progression in mindset - from reverence to critical sifting and analysis - is essential if experimentally verifiable models of care have to evolve from the writings of the great masters of the past.' Is not reverence itself necessary to understand phenomena? Which areas of enquiry are most suited for a move from reverence to critical enquiry?
  • 'The orientation necessarily has to be a blend of science and humanism.' How much of each, what when they conflict, how can then blend seamlessly?
  • The ultimate aim of psychiatric theorizing and research is to find a grand unified theory. Is it at all possible? Such grand ideas are doomed to failure. Why at all attempt it?

[Authors' Postscript: A Parting Thought, and Some Explanatory Notes:
A paper such as this can arouse two extremes of reactions. There are some who may find this paper well worth the effort, others may want to forget all about it. While both reactions are understandable and legitimate, more relevant would be to tear apart and analyze which of its points are relevant, and which need rejection; and why.
The paper adopts a certain format of presentation because it best suits the assertion that it presents. This is no comment on the usual style in which academic papers are presented.
To those who may feel the writers think they are Wittgenstein, or it is an imitation, we wonder whether anyone, Wittgenstein included, enjoys sole proprietary rights to presenting papers in a certain format.
To those who find this paper poorly written, badly argued, and rather naive in its outlook, we plead guilty on all charges. It is not well written, if a typical academic paper format is what makes a paper well written, for it only presents points to be refuted, if possible. It is badly argued, for it mainly presents assertions and conclusions of arguments, and many actionable points, rather than pure arguments. It is rather naive in its outlook, for we believe a naivetι that charts the course is preferable to arguments that enmesh and cause inaction. Of course the course should be worth charting, and well delineated. How this paper errs in so doing, would be worth knowing from our peers.
The charge can also be made that despite being a paper on philosophy and psychiatry, it seems to be ignorant of most recent philosophy. Being ignorant and not quoting, or commenting on, are not identical. The purpose of this essay is to raise certain foundational issues with regard to psychiatry and its sub-disciplines, and its relation to many other branches, especially philosophy. The purpose is not necessarily to enter into a polemic with recent writings in the philosophy of psychiatry. This is no comment on the need for, or preoccupations of, the latter.
Some may not be sure if this is a final version: this reads like an essay plan for several papers and does not offer a coherent argument and position. This is the final version, as of now, which of course can expand into several papers over a length of time. It does not offer a coherent position/argument, because it presents several assertions to be worked over, by the author and contemporaries, if psychiatry has to make solid ground as a rigorous empirical discipline in biomedicine. If it wishes to reject its empirical base, if it rejects the very need to establish itself as a branch of biomedicine, if it wishes to keep floundering, or if it wishes to continue with presenting arguments for the sake of arguments, then these assertions may be kindly forsaken.
Some of you may get irked at the sheer audacity of making such a grand project of a paper. Especially the sweeping generalizations, the dogmatic assertions, and the occasionally brusque comments. If you can stop getting irked, and can manage to give it a second read, things may not seem that bad after all. For you, as a reader/thinker, have at least sometimes realized the worth of an initially rejected idea.]

About the Authors Ajai R. Singh M.D. [Figure 1] is a Psychiatrist and Editor, Mens Sana Monographs (http://www.msmonographs.org). He has written extensively on issues related to psychiatry, philosophy, bioethical issues, medicine, and the pharmaceutical industry.

Shakuntala A. Singh, Ph.D., [Figure 2] is Principal, Reader and Head, Department of Philosophy, K.G. Joshi College of Arts and N.G. Bedekar College of Commerce. She is also Deputy Editor of MSM. Her areas of interest are Indian Philosophy, Bioethics, Logic and the Philosophy of Science.