Two studies on instruments reading or affecting brain states

Science is getting closer to using instruments to accurately determine brain states and/or affect them.

One recent study deals with the cruder outlines of tone of voice— happiness, sadness, or fear—showing that the way we process our own tone of voice is probably the same as the way we process other people’s tones of voice.

From the abstract:

…our result reinforces the wider framework of self-perception theory: that we often use the same inferential strategies to understand ourselves as those that we use to understand others.  (Covert digital manipulation of vocal emotion alter speakers’ emotional states in a congruent direction)

Additionally, this study shows that we are affected by our own tones of voice without being consciously aware of that. If you want to cheer up, speak more cheerfully and it will affect you as well as others, though obviously this can be taken too far.

The other study, which was conducted on people undergoing neurosurgery, shows that

…continuous auditory representations… could be accurately reconstructed from measured neural signals. (Reconstructing Speech from Human Auditory Cortex)

Symbolic behavior in animals

Here is a story about a cat who “hunts” socks and shorts instead of birds and mice.

Brigit has collected 50 pairs of socks and likes to steal them in pairs.

Besides making for a cute story, this behavior is probably a very basic form of symbolic behavior, where clothing items replace prey.

These items symbolize or “stand in for” normal prey and by so doing redirect hunting instincts into the realm of signs, symbols, semiotics.

The ability to use signs and symbols is fundamental to complex communication.

Could It Happen Here?

The Donald Trump phenomenon is amazing. I’ve never seen such enthusiasm for a politician—ever. His rallies are overflowing with emotion. This scares a lot of people because it conjures up images of populism, and even fascism. There’s something about crowds of cheering White people that terrifies America’s elites, especially when the speaker is criticizing their long-standing immigration policies.

We have become inured to an arrangement in which major party candidates are vetted by the media and the donor class before being put up for election. It’s a top-down system that more resembles an oligarchy than a democracy. Donald Trump has not been vetted. (Source)

Buddhist morality and Human Germline Engineering

The methods and implications of Human Germline Engineering (HGE) are succinctly outlined in the following:

Four kinds of scientific and technological progress are bringing the revolution on-line. They work in tandem. First, geneticists figure out which genes do what, individually and in combination. Second, neurologists map the human brain and trace its functions. Third, programmers create computer simulations that predict the effects of juggling genes. Fourth, bioengineers create better tools to cut and paste DNA strands.

All four of those disciplines have been racing ahead, especially in recent years. There is no reason to assume that any of them will run up against insurmountable obstacles. Nor is it obvious that prohibitive costs will block HGE development or restrict its availability to tycoons whose superhuman progeny will rule the rest of us. On the contrary, DNA technology shows every sign of being amenable to the same types of forces that catapulted silicon chip development forward so powerfully. Indeed, society and the law may find it hard to regulate hobbyists creating new forms of life in their basements. (Source: Human Germline Engineering: the Game-Changer)

Highly recommend the article.

The moral implications of HGE are interesting. Some fear it will give more power to the already rich and powerful, some claim it violates religious morals or the sanctity of life, some that we will create monsters.

From a Buddhist point of view—as long as no greater harm is caused by HGE—there is no moral reason to oppose it.

Life arises due to conditions. If the conditions that give rise to life change, they are still giving rise to life.

If the conditions giving rise to life change to become more conscious, as with HGE, not only is there no problem with this but it may become morally difficult not to do it.

Cloning, making machines conscious, offloading human awareness into a machine, or doing HGE on the unborn do not violate Buddhist morality unless they are causing greater harm.

The parameters of the harm question can be debated, but the basic idea of humans creating life in their own image does not run counter to Buddhist moral thinking.

Repost: Buddhist morality and signaling

The five precepts of Buddhism are no killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, or irresponsible use of alcohol.

These moral guidelines are for non-monastics.

I think most of us tend to think of the five precepts as being about the material world. After all, killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and getting drunk are all rooted in actions of the material body. Even lying issues forth from the mouth of the body.

But what if we look at the precepts differently? What if we view them as fundamentally signals that issue forth from the mind?

If we look at them that way, then lying, which is often glossed as the least important of the five precepts, becomes the most important.

The reason is that lies send bad signals forth from the mind. And surely killing, stealing, misconduct, and getting drunk are the baddest of bad signals. Each one is a form of lying.

In a post I put up just yesterday, Ethics, morality, I outlined a simple way to understand morality as that which reduces error and increases efficiency of mental signals, both internal and external (those exchanged with others).

In Buddhism, the great barrier to enlightenment is a confused, deluded mind. Anything that generates delusion or confusion, which lying surely does, is counterproductive. While anything that reduces delusion is good.

Buddhism, of course, recognizes the need for occasional lies—such as sanitizing the truth for children—but we really do not need to lie very often. We do not always have to say everything we think or tell anyone anything they want to know; we can easily and truthfully sidestep issues like that by simply saying we would rather not say.

In a very important way, clear signaling—honest signaling—is the foundation of all morality.

The Diamond Sutra Section Seven: Nothing Has Been Attained and Nothing Has Been Said

Section Seven of the Diamond Sutra has been added. A link to the sutra can be found at the top of this page. Discussions of previous sections of the Diamond Sutra can be found here or by clicking on the Diamond Sutra tag on the right margin of this page.

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In this section the Buddha follows up on his statement in the previous section “…this is why I have often said to you monks that even my teachings should be understood to be like a raft; if even the Dharma must be let go of, then how much more must everything else be let go of?”

He does this by asking Subhuti “…what do you say? Has the Tathagata really attained anuttara-samyak-sambodhi? Has the Tathagata really spoken a Dharma?”

Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi means “complete, unsurpassed enlightenment,” which is the ultimate goal of all Buddhist practice.

Subhuti answers correctly by saying, “As far as I understand what the Buddha has said, there is no definite dharma that can be called anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, and there is no definite Dharma that could be spoken about by the Tathagata.”

When spelled with a small d, dharma means “thing,” or in this case “anything that can be thought of or named.”

Subhuti’s saying “…there is no definite Dharma that could be spoken about by the Tathagata” means that the teachings of the Buddha have no definite form. They are methods for purifying the mind in an infinite variety of circumstances, not strict codes to be followed blindly. Like a raft, the teachings are used when and where they are needed and not where they are not needed.

Subhuti continues: And why is this? The Dharma of which the Tathagata speaks cannot be held onto, it cannot be spoken, it is not a law, and it is not a non-law.”

The true Dharma is the Dharma that is understood, the Dharma that alters consciousness for the better, the Dharma that ultimately brings anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.

“And that is why all bodhisattvas understand the unconditioned dharmas differently.”

The “unconditioned dharmas” are the eight unchanging attributes of the Tathagata or the enlightened state. Since these attributes are qualities of the Tathagata, this line might be interpreted to mean “All bodhisattvas understand the Tathagata differently.” The truth is one, but the angles from which we perceive it are many.

Buddhist sutras generally agree that the unconditioned state of enlightenment is: 1) timeless, 2) without delusion, 3) ageless, 4) deathless, 5) pure, 6) universal, 7) motionless, 8) joyful.

The difference between being offended and not trusting someone

In this post I will argue that suddenly being offended by someone and suddenly not trusting someone are different responses to similar underlying primal emotions or instincts.

Both reactions, though sudden, typically occur after a build-up period of doubt or suspicion.

An “offense” can occur for many reasons but usually it is due to words, lack of words, behaviors, or something a third-party said.

The same is true for a sudden loss of trust.

Though these two responses have underlying similarities that are primal—a sudden feeling of revulsion or disgust—they produce different effects.

If one feels offended or insulted a small war may ensue. This war may be open or hidden. It may be brief or long. The “offender” may or may not be aware that any offense occurred and, even if they are aware, that a war has begun.

Similarly, a sudden loss of trust is a primal response that arises from the same conditions that give rise to feelings of being insulted.

Avoidance seems to be the main strategy of people who interpret the same “offensive” words or behaviors as sign of untrustworthiness instead of offensiveness. Why go to war with someone we don’t trust? It’s better to avoid them.

Some people who feel offended, may also decide simply to avoid the person they perceive as having offended them, though I believe this response is less common among this type than rankling feelings that may give rise to acts of malice.

Being offended or insulted is a form of disgust or revulsion that cues in aggressive cultural or idiosyncratic thoughts and behaviors.

Loss of trust also arises from feelings of revulsion or disgust, but cues in different cultural or idiosyncratic behaviors, principally avoidance.

For myself, subjectively, if someone insults me or I perceive their words or actions to be insulting, I almost never become angry but rather stop trusting them.

I think, this person is not a friend because they are attacking me, or competing with me, or trying to harm me. I might still spend time with them, but will no longer feel an intimate bond with them. The trust has been broken.

Ideally, when primal feelings of disgust or revulsion are generated in these ways between friends, we should be able to discuss the matter and fix the problem, if there was one. In reality, though, this rarely happens.

In this, we can see that our primal emotions are incommensurate with our brains.

Neither response—being offended or ceasing to trust—is a good one. Both disrupt relations and cause suffering.

With a close friend, a technique like FIML can deal successfully with primal feelings, but with others it is all but impossible. And how can we get close to people anyway if it is so easy to feel insulted or mistrustful?

Huge cultural differences swing on and around these different perceptions of primal feeling. A culture than supports or encourages avoidance rather than violence may work well for the members of that culture.

But if someone from that culture is dealing with someone from a culture that encourages violence rather than avoidance, avoidance may be interpreted as a further offense, inciting even more violence.

Study shows “ego depletion” may not be a thing after all

This appears to be an important finding, overturning years of research and practice.

Everything Is Crumbling: An influential psychological theory, borne out in hundreds of experiments, may have just been debunked.

If “ego depletion” goes the way of salt, butter, Freud, BMI, and lobotomies, it will show yet again that widely accepted consensus, even in science, can be profoundly and fundamentally wrong.

How long before the science supporting the benefits of diversity and multiculturalism is honestly confronted by the science that shows opposite effects?

Brain in a box

We put our brains in a box when we adopt a limited view of any subject.

Once we adopt a limited view, it tends to self-propagate, to attract secondary and tertiary views as if the box were a magnet.

This is why so many subjects—both public and private–are polarized. You have this religion, therefore… You have this political belief or personality, therefore…

Rather than converse about the many nuances of any view or topic, most people tend strongly to categorize people, ideas, beliefs, emotions, and so on. That is, put them in a box.

We all do this, but like anything we all do, we are also capable of seeing through it.

An excellent large-scale example of this principle was reported today: Japan very nearly lost Tokyo.

The whole article, which is not long, is super worth reading because of what it says about the Fukushima disaster and also because of what it says about our tendency to put reality in boxes and talk about them rather than reality itself.

From the article:

Dramatic CCTV footage from the plant showed a skeleton staff – the Fukushima 50 – struggling to read emergency manuals by torchlight and battling with contradictory, confusing instructions from their superiors at Tepco. Total disaster was averted when seawater was pumped into the reactors, but the plant manager, Masao Yoshida, later said he considered committing hara-kiri, ritual suicide.

If readers recall, at the time the two main boxes in currency were:

  • the politically-approved box: “it’s serious but not to worry” and “the alarmists are crazy and also anti-nuclear and thus anti-science.”
  • and the alarmist box: “could mean the evacuation of Tokyo” and “nuclear power can never be safe.”

Turns out the second box—the “alarmists”—were closer to the truth. And worse, the important information and discussion of what was in-between those boxes was largely neglected or kept out of sight.

Additionally, the linked article reveals that incompetent officials were in charge of the plant, and that as the disaster unfolded few had any idea what to do.

That’s another box or a symptom of boxes. You donated to me or supported me or are my friend, how about being Japan’s nuclear safety advisor? Sure why not?

This is why:

…”very shocked” by the performance of Nobuaki Terasaka, his government’s nuclear safety adviser.

“We asked him, ‘Do you know anything about nuclear issues?’

“And he said, ‘No, I majored in economics’.”

If you look around, you will see boxes everywhere. A box that was first applied to anyone who questioned the JFK assassination story—“conspiracy theorist”—is one of the most long-lived.

“Alarmist,” “tin-foil hat,” “nut-job,” “kook,” “anti-science,” “anti-religion,” “racist,” “anti-racist,” and so on are other examples.

We should have gotten all the facts about Fukushima at the time, just as we should have gotten all the facts about WMD in Iraq before that war, which may have been caused by acts of treason.

If you asked for the facts, though, you would have been put in a box, your voice silenced.

If you can see these kinds of boxes in large events, they should also be findable in the smaller boxes of your life.

The small boxes of interpersonal communication and individual psychology are things like set views on personalities (yours or theirs), using “signs” about what someone thinks or believes without actually asking them in-depth, being intolerant of nuanced views or not even being able to hear them, categorizing people based on generalities, having a complex view of yourself but simple ones of others, or the other way around, etc.

In many cases, we do need to use boxes. They allow us to function easily in many situations, but boxes only describe boxed reality and in that prevent complex communication and understanding.