Link

You Think You Know Fruit?

NewImage‘…[F]ruit can still surprise us. Whether it’s a bright-orange bulb that tastes like peanut butter, a poisonous lychee relative that becomes edible and egg-like when cooked, or a Pacific Island native that doubles as sugary treat and fibrous dental floss, these plants show us that the fruit world still holds many wonders for those willing to explore it….’

Via Atlas Obscura

Link

R.I.P. Gene Sharp

Global Guru of Nonviolent Resistance Dies at 90:

NewImageGene Sharp, a preacher’s son whose own gospel of nonviolent struggle inspired velvet revolutions that toppled dictators on four continents, died Jan. 28 at his home in Boston. He was 90.

His death was announced by Jamila Raqib, an Afghan refugee who is the executive director of the Albert Einstein Institution, which Dr. Sharp founded in 1983 to promote indigenous regime change that does not invite violent retaliation.

His strategy was adopted by insurgents in the Baltics, Serbia, Ukraine, Burma (now Myanmar) and Egypt, during the Arab Spring turmoil. The Occupy Wall Street movement and other “occupy” demonstrations to protest economic inequality in the United States also drew from the Sharp manual.

Dr. Sharp became an intellectual father of peaceful resistance and the founder of an academic discipline devoted to his lifetime cause, one that synthesizes the philosophies espoused by Einstein, Gandhi, Tolstoy, Thomas Hobbes, Henry David Thoreau and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

He could also be a pragmatic strategist and, though generally shy and mild-mannered, a sometimes strident advocate.

Continue reading the main story He armed his diverse followers with a list of 198 of what he called “nonviolent weapons” of protest and noncooperation to disrupt or even paralyze oppressive authorities.

“In South America, they’re not tweeting Che Guevara; they’re tweeting Gene Sharp,” said the Scottish journalist Ruaridh Arrow, who made an acclaimed documentary film about Dr. Sharp in 2011, “How to Start a Revolution,” and wrote his biography, to be published this year….’

Via New York Times

Link

How Responsible are Killers with Brain Damage?

NewImage‘Can murder really be a symptom of brain disease? And if our brains can be hijacked so easily, do we really have free will?

Neuroscientists are shedding new light on these questions by uncovering how brain lesions can lead to criminal behavior. A recent study contains the first systematic review of 17 known cases where criminal behavior was preceded by the onset of a brain lesion. Is there one brain region consistently involved in cases of criminal behavior? No—the researchers found that the lesions were widely distributed throughout different brain regions. However, all the lesions were part of the same functional network, located on different parts of a single circuit that normally allows neurons throughout the brain to cooperate with each other on specific cognitive tasks. In an era of increasing excitement about mapping the brain’s “connectome,” this finding fits with our growing understanding of complex brain functions as residing not in discrete brain regions, but in densely connected networks of neurons spread throughout different parts of the brain.

Interestingly, the ‘criminality-associated network’ identified by the researchers is closely related to networks previously linked with moral decision making. The network is most closely associated with two specific components of moral psychology: theory of mind and value-based decision making…..’

Via Scientific American

Link

China has put a railgun on a warship

SNewImageShould America be worried?

‘…[W]e can rest somewhat assured that the railgun might not actually work. Fancy though it may be, it’s not easy to get a machine this powerful to fire at a target. The American military had up until fairly recently working on railgun technology but since dropped it in favor of more short-range weaponry; it looks like China was watching pretty closely and picked up the ball where America either lost interest or lost focus.

So, should anyone be worried? Maybe. It could be a while until the railgun actually gets used, and… this [might be] the kind of show-off weapon that is built mostly as a deterrent and/or status symbol. And besides, it’s not like we have a head of government who likes to tick off the Chinese. Oh, wait! We do. Well, we might be seeing the railgun sooner than later….’

Via Big Think

Link

How to Get Over Yourself

NewImageWhat Freud and Buddhism agree on about the ego, paraphrased from Mark Epstein’s essay, an excerpt from his excellent book A Guide to Getting Over Yourself:

Ego is the affliction we all have in common, and it is not an innocent bystander. While claiming to have our best interests at heart, ego-driven pursuits undermine the very goals it sets out to achieve. We need to loosen ego’s grip to have a more satisfying existence.

How we interact with our ego is up to us. We have gotten very little help with this in life; no one teaches us how to be with ourselves constructively. Goals which develop a stronger sense of self are generally cherished in our society but self-love, self-esteem, self-confidence and aggressively seeking what one wants do not guarantee well-being. If we look around, we see that people with a strong sense of self are suffering. In fact, the most important events in our lives from falling in love to giving birth to facing death all require the ego to let go.

We have the capacity to bring unbridled ego under control by focusing on internal successes instead of merely success in the external world. Our culture does not generally support such conscious de-escalation of the ego but there are advocates to be found, among them both Buddhist psychology and Western psychotherapy. Although developing in completely different times and places and until recently having nothing to do with each other, both the Buddha and Freud came to a virtually identical conclusion, identifying the untrammeled ego as the limiting factor to our well-being.

Neither Buddhism or psychotherapy aim to eradicate the ego, which would render us either psychotic or completely helpless in navigating the world and mediating conflicting demands of self and others. Both practices, in fact, build up some executive functions of the ego. Much of the benefit of modern meditation practice, for example, which has found a modern place in healthcare, on Wall Street, in athletics and in the military, lies in the ego strength it confers by giving people more control. But ego-enhancement, by itself, can only get us so far.

Both practices aim to rebalance the ego by strengthening the “observing I” over the “unbridled me.” Freud based his approach on free association and the interpretation of dreams. The self-reflection borne from psychoanalysis, staring into space and “saying whatever comes to mind,” shifts the ego toward the subjective, making room for uncomfortable emotional experiences, greater acceptance, and relaxation of ego struggles.

Buddhism teaches people to watch their minds without necessarily believing, or being captivated by, everything they see. In so doing, one is freed from being victimized by one’s most selfish momentary impulses. By making room for whatever arises in the mind and dwelling more consistently in an observing awareness, a meditator is training herself neither to push away the unpleasant nor to cling to the appealing. Observing ego is balanced and impersonal, more distant from the immature ego’s insistent self-concern and its fluctuation in the face of the incessant change life throws at us.

However, there are some differences between the focuses of psychotherapy and Buddhist meditation. Freud found the most illuminating thing to be the unconscious instincts that came to awareness through the process of psychoanalysis, giving people a deeper and richer appreciation of themselves and thus humbling the ego with a wider scope, greater awareness of its limitations, and greater freedom from being dictated to by instinctual cravings.

Buddhism finds inspiration, in contrast, in the phenomenon of consciousness itself and seeks to give people a glimpse of pure awareness. Not only do I experience things, I know that I am experiencing them and even know that I know I am doing so, in an endless regress. But once in awhile through deep meditation the whole thing collapses and there is no ‘I’, no ‘me’, just the pure awareness. It is hard to talk about but it is an indubitable result of this kind of mind training, and the consequent freedom from the limitations of one’s identity comes as a relief. The contrast from one’s habitual ego-driven state is overwhelming, and much of Buddhist tradition is designed to consolidate the perspective of this expanded awareness with one’s everyday perspective.

Via Big Think

Uncategorized

Study finds brains of jazz musicians have superior flexibility

NewImagePlaying jazz can make you cooler under pressure:

‘A small study by Emily Przysinda of Wesleyan University suggests that the brains of jazz musicians react differently to unexpected events than the brains of classical musicians or non-musicians. It also supports previous findings that learning to play music at all improves creativity….

…The researchers suggest that the jazz musicians, who study a musical tradition that places a high value on improvisation and often uses strange chord structures, were well trained to expect the unexpected…’

Via Big Think

And what about listeners who prefer improvisational styles?