Large meta-study shows alcohol does far more harm than good

Key takeaways:

  • Alcohol is worse for you than many previously thought thought
  • It is linked to health outcomes such as heart disease, diabetes, tuberculosis, breast cancer (in women), and lip and oral cavity cancer (in men)
  • Despite some previous studies suggesting that moderate alcohol consumption has health benefits, the study found that the risks outweighed any benefits
  • The optimal amount of alcohol consumption is zero; that is, to minimize your health risk, the optimum amount of drinking is none (Alcohol’s Heavy Toll: The Largest Analysis Ever of How Alcohol Impacts Health)

The study is here: Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016

Making Sense of the Mental Universe

Try reading the following paper while keeping the Mind Only Buddhist interpretation of our world in mind.

In 2005, an essay was published in Nature asserting that the universe is mental and that we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things. Since then, experiments have confi rmed that — as predicted by quantum mechanics — reality is contextual, which contradicts at least intuitive formulations of realism and corroborates the hypothesis of a mental universe. Yet, to give this hypothesis a coherent rendering, one must explain how a mental universe can — at least in principle — accommodate (a) our experience of ourselves as distinct individual minds sharing a world beyond the control of our volition; and (b) the empirical fact that this world is contextual despite being seemingly shared. By combining a modern formulation of the ontology of idealism with the relational interpretation of quantum mechanics, the present paper attempts to provide a viable explanatory framework for both points. In the process of doing so, the paper also addresses key philosophical qualms of the relational interpretation. (Making Sense of the Mental Universe)

Edit: The explanation offered in the linked paper, without saying as much, provides a very reasonable way to see Buddhist rebirth occurring without there being any soul or pudgala being reborn. Nothing need fly out of the body or transmigrate anywhere.

Instead, the classic Buddhist description of karma alone giving rise to a new life works perfectly. Rather than conceive of ourselves as fundamentally material beings, we can conceive of our personal individuality as being (a part of a “mental universe”) enclosed within a Markov blanket.

If there is still karma, a new Markov blanket or bodily form will be “reborn” or rearise after the extinction of its prior existence. In Kastrup’s way of putting it, our physical bodies are themselves Markov blankets causing or allowing us to arise as forms separate from the wholeness of the mental universe.

I suppose we might venture to say that enlightenment occurs when the karma, or reason for our separation in a Markov blanket, is gone and “we” remain the whole (of the mental universe) without being reborn (in a body).

Is the thought “I should have seen that” where we draw the line between higher and lower awareness?

As humans, we cannot but think sometimes: “I should have seen that. I had all the information but had not put it together.”

I am pointing this out because this ineluctable thought is an aspect of our consciousness itself and not of our culture or language, whatever those may be.

Do conscious beings who have no language think thoughts like this non-verbally? Do they have a sensation like we do that accompanies a similar realization in them?

Maybe they do and maybe they don’t. Non-verbal beings on earth obviously correct their behaviors, but how far does that travel in their awareness? Do dogs laugh at themselves? Do they have a feeling of self-recrimination as we sometimes do when we realize I should have seen that?

Is at least some of the feeling of shame grounded in this thought? Dogs clearly manifest shame.

Would a computer that can pass many tests of consciousness have the thought I should have seen that?

It seems to me that beings higher than us—angels, Bodhisattvas, Dharma protectors, prophets, and more—would very probably have this thought sometimes.

The full enlightenment of a Buddha as understood in the Mahayana tradition seems to indicate a state of awareness where the thought I should have seen that no longer arises.

In his life as we know of it, the Buddha did make new rules for monastics as conditions dictated. At such times, did he have this thought or not?

In your view, is the highest consciousness possible unbounded? Such that it must also think this thought?

Would you be happier if you never had the thought I should have seen that or not?

Is consciousness inert, like water, yet permeates everything? Inert but does not permeate everything?

I should have seen that is interesting because this thought seems to inhere in consciousness itself and not arise from language, culture, training, or other conditions. It seems to be accompanied by a sensation, at least in us.

Is it subject to Buddhist “dependent origination” and thus a feature of ordinary consciousness but not of ultimate consciousness?

Are the conditions it depends on its own conditions? Or other conditions? This might be a very big question.

A materialist would say consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter dependent on matter. A true physicalist would not speak so fast because conscious may very well be a primary aspect of all things, even the driver of physical laws.

Is the thought I should have seen that where we draw the line between higher and lower awareness? Do single cells, which can change their minds, have a sensation that expresses this thought? Does God never have this thought? Do Buddhas?

Notice that a great deal of humor depends on bringing to our awareness something maybe not that we should have seen but that we could have seen. Humor like that gives us no new information outside of our ourselves, though it does fit together information we already have in a new way,

So, I should have seen that can be occasion for delight and laughter. Fundamental to feelings of relief or peace of mind; it’s a feature of consciousness that arises in consciousness and that we react to consciously, almost always with some sort of sensation.

“Our Constitution doesn’t exist to protect us from religion; it exists to protect religion from government” Betsy DeVos

Too many misinterpret a separation of church and state as an invitation for government to separate people from their faith.

In reality, our Constitution doesn’t exist to protect us from religion; it exists to protect religion from government. The First Amendment affirms our free exercise of religion, and we don’t forfeit that first freedom to anyone or in any place, especially in public schools.

~Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos

Announcement of the Guidance on Constitutional Prayer in Public Schools

A universal feature of human consciousness is the capacity to sometimes say, “I should have seen that.”

By this I mean, you had all the information but had not fit the pieces together.

I can avoid waking my partner with the coffee timer (stove timer) by simply setting the timer for one minute more than I want and shutting it off early.

That knowledge was all there and I had used it for others timer chores, but not for coffee (French press) until yesterday morning. The reason probably is early morning haze, but that is not the deep point.

The deep point is the doing of that or the not doing of that could have been better and I can now wonder why I didn’t see it before. 

This small thing is compounded by my partner having already informed me that the timer sound does not and has never bothered her at all. And that looks like grounds for yet another I-should-have-seen-that moment somewhere down the road.

For why am I concerned if she is not and also I completely believe her? Is that a bug in my head or a seed of something more important?

Another example is for years I was not drinking enough water. The information was there, I had it all, but did not put it together for a long time.

Seeing this as a universal feature of human consciousness highlights in retrospect that a fundamental aspect of consciousness is its capacity to arrange or rearrange bits of information to affect intent.

When we rearrange even minor bits of known information, we can sometimes feel I should have seen that before. (If our rearrangement is based on new extrinsic information, we more often will feel aha, now I’ve got it or that will do it.)

Philosophically, I wonder if God also has this feature. That is, does this feature of human consciousness extend to the highest level of consciousness possible in our universe?

For hard atheists, the same question would be does an invented God have this feature?

How do angels or beings much higher than us but less than God see us?

Surely they will sometimes be perplexed by this same feature of consciousness. I expect that would make them sympathetic to us. Maybe they feel even worse than us.

Does this help explain to you why our world is so messy and sometimes just awful? And sometimes so beautiful?

Master Huiyuan

Huiyuan (Chinese: 慧遠; Wade–Giles: Hui-yüan; 334–416 AD) was a Chinese Buddhist teacher who founded Donglin Temple on Mount Lushan in Jiangxi province and wrote the text On Why Monks Do Not Bow Down Before Kings in 404 AD. He was born in Shanxi province but after a long life of Buddhist teaching he wound up in Jiangxi province, where he died in 416. Although he was born in the north, he moved south to live within the bounds of the Eastern Jin Dynasty.

Huiyuan was posthumously named First Patriarch of the Pure Land School of Buddhism. His disciples included Huiguan (慧觀), Sengji (僧濟), and Faan (法安). (link)

Pastor Wang Yi sentenced for ‘inciting subversion’

Wang Yi, a founding pastor of China’s Early Rain Covenant Church, has been sentenced to nine years in jail by a Chinese court for inciting subversion of state power and other crimes.

Wang was detained in December 2018 along with other senior figures in the prominent unsanctioned church during overnight raids across various districts of Chengdu, the southwestern city where the church was founded. (link)

Pastor Wang Yi from the sermon The Gospel and Church-State Relations on May 27, 2018 at Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China.

Two excellent articles on the LeBaron killings in Mexico

From a few days ago: The LeBaron Massacre Seems to Have No Tie to Nxivm – More Likely Drugs or Water Fight

The LeBaron massacre – where three mothers and six children were killed – looks less like an accidental killing – of women and children caught in a crossfire of rival drug gangs – and more like targeted murder.

Reportedly, there were three SUV’s – where the woman and children were killed – one of them 10 miles distant from the others – which suggests this was no accident, not a case of mistaken identity.

The killing of women and children could be interpreted as the most ruthless message: ‘We will stop at nothing. Your entire clan will be exterminated.”

The LeBaron clan are not passive players in their north Mexican world. They are a white, polygamous Mormon group – some of them old-style Mormons right out of the days of Brigham Young. But they are not members, however, of the Utah Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints… (use link above for rest of story)

And earlier: The LeBaron Massacre and the LeBaron Connection to Nxivm and Keith Raniere

See the Frank Report for more stories on this topic and NXIVM.

Morality

Morality is a quality of consciousness.

It is the basis of enlightenment and the nexus of ultimate and relative realities.

The Buddha spoke of enlightenment only by saying what it is not.

Even when we consider moral acts with great care, we can never be entirely certain of our judgement because there is always more that we do not and cannot understand or know.

We can be cautiously certain only that we have tried or are trying to act morally.

Do we act as if in a role? Or do we act as if in a mind stream, a stream of karma?

God’s Will implies we have a role to play. What does a karmic mind stream imply? Are we attracted to the Tathāgata or not?

I think it’s best to consider all points of view.

Status as a fetish

Fetish can be defined as “a part standing for the whole” or “one thing being made bigger than it is by having become a psychological fixation.”

A good example of what I mean is pornography. Insofar as a mere image can stand for or replace instinctual sexual objectives, it is a fetish.

A sign (pornographic image) is as strong or stronger than the animal instinct. Or a sign can direct or redirect the animal instinct. That is a fetish.

Secondary sex characteristics do the same thing. You could call them nature’s fetishes but that would be stretching the concept. Human utilizations of makeup, clothing, and grooming could be said to stand “halfway” between the basic sexual instinct and the fetishized porno image.

Let’s apply that reasoning to status.

Two social psychologist I respect—Jordan Peterson and Kevin MacDonald—have both claimed many times that status is a fundamental human instinct and that it drives human behavior in many ways.

In posts on this site, I have disagreed with these ideas several times. I just don’t see it that way. Here are two of those posts: Status and hierarchy are as fundamental to human life as murder and Jordan Peterson on the gender pay gap, campus protests and the patriarchy.

In the second link just above, I said:

…I do not believe that social status is any more fundamental to human nature than murder is. Humans also possess reason and spiritual inclinations both of which can guide us away from status competition if we decide to do that and/or our conditions allow.

I still think that but over the past day or two a new understanding of the importance of status and human hierarchy has dawned on me. In essence, I think I have come to see that status really is a huge deal for many people; a much bigger deal than I had ever realized.

My explanation for that is people like me (and there are many of us) during childhood and adolescence see the “status game” as a choice. And we decide not to play it.

My SO made that choice. When we talked about this subject this morning, she said people like us are more open to art (in a broad sense) and less concerned with social hierarchies. I think that’s true. One good friend years ago used to call me a “now person,” meaning I am always living in the here and now and not doing a lot of planning for the future. I think she also meant or implied that I am not doing any thinking about my social status or the human hierarchies that surround me.

A Buddhist nun who is a close friend has often described mundane human behaviors as being motivated by jealousy. I have often disagreed with her, believing that her emphasis on jealousy was influenced too much by her culture (Chinese) or by the innocence of her monastic lifestyle.

Today, I think she was influenced by the status-conscious world she had grown up in and as a young adult renounced for Buddhism. But I also think she was able to see something I have been almost completely blind to. For me status has always been a very small cloud on the edge of the sky, not a major thunderstorm in human motivation. For her it is, or was, a storm in the human mind.

Status is a fetish. And fetishization does explain a lot about it. But if lots of people have that fetish or have that strong understanding of status, that’s how it is. As a social construct the status fetish can be even bigger and more imposing than the basic instinct it rests upon.

I hope this post helps people who see status as important understand people like me and my SO, and vice versa.

From a Buddhist point of view, I think it is important to fully understand the entire status spectrum—from instinct to fetishized sign—and to understand where you are on that spectrum and where the people you deal with are on that spectrum.

My guess is that most people reading this blog do not think of status as being very important. People like us need to appreciate that status is probably largely what motivates good people like Jordan Peterson as well as bad people like Bernie Madoff.

Might also be good if status-conscious people would understand that people like us are not all slackers or losers, nor are we seething with envy over your status. We simply do not even see the game you are playing. We do other stuff like become monastics or perform ordinary tasks cheerfully and without complaint.

Word order and word choice affect how and what we think

A new study shows that the word order of the language(s) we speak affects how we remember spoken information and perhaps more.

An article about the study can be found here: Word order predicts a native speakers’ working memory.

The main novelty of this study is that the link between language and thought might not be just confined to conceptual representations and semantic biases, but rather extend to syntax and its role in our way of processing sequential information. The language we speak affects the way we process, store and retrieve information.

The study can be found here (no paywall): The word order of languages predicts native speakers’ working memory.

Word choice can have even bigger effects on how we think and what we think about.

For example, using the term default mode network in place of unconscious mind or the Freudian Id yields a very different kind of understanding about what people are and how they function.

If you pay close attention to your default mode network, I am certain you will find yourself making judgements about other people. I am also certain that many of those judgements will have been repeated many times in the past and without intervention from your meta-self will be repeated many more times in future.

These judgements affect how you think and feel about many things; they tend to be fundamental to the workings of our psychologies.

Often our default mode judgements include our desired punishment for the offense we have just judged: “I hope that SOB falls in the river” or however you would put it.

A wonderful side of our minds is we can see that. We can see what we are doing and even figure out ways to act on what we see.

The next time you notice yourself wishing someone would fall in the river, stop and ask yourself if that is what you really want.

I am not saying get all moral with yourself and pray for the person. I am just saying ask yourself if that is what you really want. Do you really want them in the river?

I bet most of the time, if not all, you would much rather see them repent, reform, apologize, make amends, sin no more.

If you see that, you can see there is no spiritual need for revenge or punishment. What we need and want is the betterment of the person we have judged and the betterment of ourselves.

The way we think about our real-world minds and uses of language can be changed by how we think about them.

Associations of Religious Upbringing With Subsequent Health and Well-Being From Adolescence to Young Adulthood: An Outcome-Wide Analysis

In the present study, we prospectively examined the associations of religious involvement in adolescence (including religious service attendance and prayer or meditation) with a wide array of psychological well-being, mental health, health behavior, physical health, and character strength outcomes in young adulthood…. Compared with no attendance, at least weekly attendance of religious services was associated with greater life satisfaction and positive affect, a number of character strengths, lower probabilities of marijuana use and early sexual initiation, and fewer lifetime sexual partners. Analyses of prayer or meditation yielded similar results. Although decisions about religion are not shaped principally by health, encouraging service attendance and private practices in adolescents who already hold religious beliefs may be meaningful avenues of development and support, possibly leading to better health and well-being. (Source PDF)