A Panopticon is a circular building with an observation tower in the centre of an open space surrounded by an outer wall. This wall contains cells for occupants (for example, inmates in a prison). This design increases security by facilitating more effective surveillance. Residing within cells flooded with light, occupants are readily distinguishable and visible to a guard/official “invisibly” positioned in the central tower. Conversely, occupants are invisible to each other, with concrete walls dividing their cells.

In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault builds on Jeremy Bentham’s conceptualization of a panopticon as he elaborates upon the function of disciplinary mechanisms in the prison and illustrates the function of discipline as an apparatus of power. (Source)

An aspect of power is how do you know who is spying on you? How do you know who your real friends are? How do you know if you are on top? How do you even know who is on top?

Joseph Stalin knew he was in control of everyone in the Soviet Union because he knew that he was able to use the NKVD (his secret police) to control the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) and he knew that he could use the CPSU to control the NKVD. He also knew there wasn’t any other power base.

Even still, to be certain he imprisoned and shot millions of innocent people. By doing so, he removed imaginary (and sometimes real) threats and, just as importantly, he proved to himself and others through mass murder (the ultimate crime) that he could do whatever he wanted.

Who controls the NSA? How many people have access to that data? The metadata alone will tell anyone who has access how everyone in the world is connected and to whom. There are several whistle blowers (probably including Snowden) who claim the NSA is also storing phone calls and other digital data.

Information, as Foucault knew, is the basis of power. The NSA has a massive amount of information and thus massive power, but the question fairly screams—Who is at the top of all that power? Who controls and has access to all that information? Who gets to see how the metadata fits together?

I doubt that in today’s world just one person is at the top. We know Congress is not, nor is the president. Does the head of the NSA or the CIA know who is on top? I doubt they are. Is there a group within those bodies that knows? If there is a secret group (not publicly known) that is on top, or thinks they are, they will be able to get a sense of who their competitors are by metadata analyses and by more direct means of spying.

But who may be spying on them? Is there another group within their group or outside of it that knows even more than they do?

Digital panopticism in today’s world implies the profound likelihood that there is more than one “observation tower” or group on top. This is a massive problem for those of us without any power, but it is also a deeply disturbing problem for those with power because none of them can ever be certain if someone is above them and who that might be.

Is that the core reason the spying grows and grows? Because, futiley, they have to spy more and more to be sure they are on top or to be sure they know who is on top, and yet they also know that they can never be sure.

Maha-dukkhakkhandha Sutta: The Great Mass of Stress

translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi at Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. Then, early in the morning, several monks put on their robes and, carrying their bowls and outer robes, went into Savatthi for alms. The thought occurred to them, “It’s still too early to go into Savatthi for alms. What if we were to visit the park of the wanderers of other persuasions?”

So they headed to the park of the wanderers of other persuasions. On arrival, they exchanged courteous greetings with the wanderers of other persuasions. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, they sat to one side. As they were sitting there, the wanderers of other persuasions said to them, “Friends, Gotama the contemplative describes the comprehension of sensuality. We, too, describe the comprehension of sensuality. He describes the comprehension of forms. We, too, describe the comprehension of forms. He describes the comprehension of feelings. We, too, describe the comprehension of feelings. So what is the difference, what the distinction, what the distinguishing factor between him and us in terms of his teaching and ours, his message and ours?”

Continue reading…

Repost: Why you can’t fix it with generalities

Psychological, cognitive, emotional, or communicative problems cannot be fundamentally corrected by using general analyses or generalized procedures. You can teach someone to think and see differently, even to behave differently, by such procedures, but you cannot bring about deep change by using them. The reason this is so is change through generalizations does little more than substitute one external semiosis for another. The person seeking change will not experience deep change because all they are essentially doing is importing a different explanation of their “condition” into their life.

This happens with Buddhists who remain attached to surface meanings of the Dharma as well as to people seeking mainstream help for emotional problems. Any change will feel good for a while in most cases, but after some time stasis and a recurrence of the original problem, or something similar to it, will occur.

Continue reading…

Eight guys save a small girl



One of these guys notices a small girl on the fourth floor about to fall. The rest come to help. One broke his arm and another hurt his neck. The girl is unharmed.

This video reminds me of the ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius who said that people are fundamentally good. One way he showed that was with the thought experiment that there are very few of us who would not rush to save a child about to fall into a well. As you watch this video, I bet you feel good seeing the girl saved, which shows the same thing in another way.

Why Most Published Research Findings Are False


John P. A. Ioannidis



There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false. The probability that a research claim is true may depend on study power and bias, the number of other studies on the same question, and, importantly, the ratio of true to no relationships among the relationships probed in each scientific field. In this framework, a research finding is less likely to be true when the studies conducted in a field are smaller; when effect sizes are smaller; when there is a greater number and lesser preselection of tested relationships; where there is greater flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes; when there is greater financial and other interest and prejudice; and when more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance. Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias. In this essay, I discuss the implications of these problems for the conduct and interpretation of research.

Five myths about privacy


I am on vacation and so have been slow to add new material to this blog. The linked article is interesting and worth reading, but I chose to post it mainly for the following sentences, which have a wonderful Buddhist-American ring to them:

Even if a person is doing nothing wrong, in a free society, that person shouldn’t have to justify every action that government officials might view as suspicious. A key component of freedom is not having to worry about how to explain oneself all the time.

So agree with that and believe it should also apply to friends and colleagues. That may sound opposite to FIML practice where we say that all contretemps should be fully analyzed/explained, but it really isn’t. FIML is about finding deep freedom to communicate honestly with your partner. It doesn’t require you to justify everything you do, but rather provides a chance to speak deeply without fear of being misunderstood and judged wrongly.