Category Archives: blogs of note

may 2010 buddhist carnival

callirgraphy: zen art

it’s a day late but here it is: my monthly buddhist carnival, serving up interesting little tidbits from the buddhist blogosphere.

we always start with a poem.

how bitter, how blue is the anger!
at the bottom of the light in april’s atmospheric strata,
spitting, gnashing, pacing back and forth,
i am asura incarnate

this is the lament – or perhaps just observation? – of kenji, one of japan’s most celebrated poet. he was a staunch follower of nichiren buddhism who has been accused by some of seriously fanning the flame of japanese imperialism during world war ii. this article by hiroaki sato at the asia-pacific journal provides an interesting insight into japanese culture and history and its connection with buddhism. a great article, and also one that dispels the idea that all buddhists are gentle and ever peace-loving. in addition, this essay is also a thoughtful reflection on the difficulty of translating japanese poetry into english.

buddhism and mental health: PTSD

since this month is mental health month, i’d also like to refer to at least two posts that talk about buddhism and mental health. at wildmind, we find this:

in northern india, the tibetan government in exile has been taking care of monks and nuns who have been brutally tortured by the chinese before they managed to escape to safety in india … there is no ability to provide the years of psychotherapy that might be necessary. the only hope for these people was to create a program of relaxation and meditation that could be taught in a group setting.

… the tibetan program was so impressive to researchers that a group from columbus, ohio, decided to try it out with women who had experienced domestic violence and other similar traumas. the group worked with the institute of buddhist dialectics and devised a program of short lectures and twice daily meditation. the results? significant reduction in overall PTSD symptoms, increase in positive emotions and reduction in fear, shame and sadness. many of the women continued to experience an overall benefit 365 days after the program ended and also experienced improved overall functioning.

(i’ve abbreviated some of this, hope that’s ok, wildmind people)

buddhism and mental health: the pros and cons of meditation
here is a mental health blog from singapore. it’s always nice to find blogs from non-western countries! he offers three different points of view on the usefulness of meditation when dealing with mental health challenges: meditation is definitely useful; meditation retreats can be harmful to some participants’ mental health; and meditation is useful, as long as it is undertaken with the help of a mental health professional.

the neurology of dualism

from mental health to neurology, not too much of a jump. travis eneix makes a very good point about accepting the concept of dualism for what it is:

the neurological structures of the brain are specifically evolved to give us the sense of being separate from our environment. it is an actual felt experience that what you feel as you is separate from things beyond the sensate barrier of touch, and therefore not-you.

with this simple knowledge, hard won by dedicated and caring scientists over the years as knowledge itself evolves, we can immediately take that feeling of separation into account not as a mistake, but as a useful tool for navigating our lived experience. instead of trying vainly to be rid of that sense, which if you listen to the non-dual teachers none of them are, you can view the sense as simply that, a sensation.

open source buddhism

something that travis and i have exchanged a few messages about is open source. the idea of open source has fascinated me for quite a while (actually, i’m surprised i haven’t written much about it. a little bit is here) so i was interested to find this site on open source buddhism. here they explain what it is:

a key component of open source is peer production. this is a form of joint collaboration by groups of
individuals. it relies on self-organizing communities of individuals who come together to produce a shared outcome, result, or product.

this same style of organization, as well as the philosophy behind it, can be applied to buddhism as well. we are living in an era where we have access to extant forms of buddhism and the records and documents of many forms that do not survive in a living form today. for those of us who are converts to buddhism, we do not have a vested national or cultural reason to embrace a specific form of buddhism over another. if one is thai, for example, it would make sense that the thai form of theravadan buddhism would be embraced and followed as a practitioner. …

as a european american, it does not necessarily make sense to embrace a very culturally entrenched form of buddhism. people do this and, for example, take tibetan names, where tibetan clothes, and generally embrace a culturally specific form of buddhism. this is definitely one possible path. an alternative to this is to look at the various forms of buddhism, evaluate the teachings and practices of them, and to work with those aspects that make the most sense within a non-buddhist culture without the history and relationship to buddhism that other nations and peoples already have. …

this is not a call to abandon traditional forms of buddhism but is, rather, a decision to not necessarily be limited by boundaries or practices simply because the form of buddhism practiced in a specific region or period had these limitations.

more about buddhism and open source here.

how important is enlightenment?

all of us who have spent some time hanging out with the ideas and practice of buddhism have thought about the place of enlightenment in our lives. here’s how one buddhist teacher, amaro bikkhu, talks about it

we developed a tradition of having a winter retreat during the cold, dark months of january and february. about three weeks into one of these early retreats, i was working very diligently and was extremely focused on the meditation. i wasn’t talking to anyone or looking at anything. every lunar quarter we would have an all-night meditation vigil. this was the full moon in january. i was really charged up and was convinced, “okay, tonight’s the night.”

want to know the rest? go here.

the importance of immediate response

from inexhaustible things:

someone said, “if you give a man a fish, you’ve fed him for the rest of the day. if you teach a man to fish, you’ve fed him for the rest of his life.” whose idea is this? does it match your own circumstances right now? is this piece of wisdom the rule for every instance? how would you behave if it was?

regardless, i responded: if you see someone who needs to be taught to fish, teach him to fish. if you see someone is hungry, feed him.

life can be this simple.

i don’t know what to add.

zen and calligraphy

having started with a poem, let’s end this edition of the buddhist carnival with another view at a creative endeavour: calligraphy.

on sunday chozen-roshi, co-abbot of great vow, gave a wonderful talk pointing out the variety of lessons we can learn from brushwork. the main point that stood out to me was how a skilful calligrapher is attention to each brushstroke, finishing each cleanly and starting each freshly. there isn’t regret, “oh, that stroke was all wrong. i should just give up.” in a similar way a student of zen is attentive to each moment. she also pointed out in calligraphy the delicate nature of various pressures. at times only the thin delicate tip of the brush makes a mark. at other times one presses the whole brush on the paper. in a similar way to live our lives skilfully we learn when to press harder and when to let up.

good advice from john chow

me looking goofy as i hold up john chow's book

very few blogs make much money. in fact, the vast majority make no money whatsoever. but that’s not what you want, is it? you want to make some real money blogging, and that’s why you bought this book in the first place. congratulations! you’ve already completed the first step on your path to becoming a dot-com mogul. now you just have to read the book and implement the strategies described within.

that’s on page one of john chow’s latest oeuvre, the paperback make money online. i said i was going to review it but i’m afraid there is already so much in those few words that it might just be a paragraph review, not a book review. sorry, john, you just have so much to say 🙂

let me unpack what he says:

if you know what you want, go after it!
going after it starts with the first step.
getting what you want is not difficult, all you have to do is implement.

incredibly simplistic, isn’t it? it’s the cliche that all get-rich-quick schemes use.

well, let’s see.

first of all, let me get this out of the way:  john chow is not really a get-rich-quick kinda guy, he’s more the get-comfortable-within-a-reasonable-amount-of-time type. yes, yes, his brand is that he’s evil but every time i meet him, i’m struck by his intelligence, his focus, his geeky quirkiness, and by how straightforward he is. plus he’s got a good heart. i have a lot of respect for him.

okay, let’s go back to the cliches. the thing is, they’re cliches for a reason: they contain a strong element of truth. it’s just that, as usual, we have problems with the truth.

(if) you know what you want, go after it

again, simple to the point of being simplistic. the problem? we often don’t know what we want. that’s why i started with the “if” in parentheses. a few years ago, i was going to take john chow’s advice and try to monetize my blog. i played around with it for a while but then it turned out that i didn’t really WANT (as in desire, hunger after) to make money online, i just thought it was a neat idea. big difference.

we spend way too much time thinking we want something when really we’re just lukewarm about it. so why not figure out what we REALLY want? and then let’s go for it with gusto!

start with the first step

yup. that’s it. unfortunately, we often start with things like, “but what if my boyfriend/mother/boss won’t like it if i buy a porsche with my first $20,000?” you know what, that’s not step #1, that’s step #1,783. plus you started the sentence with a “but”. ninety times out of a hundred, that’s a way to stop yourself in your tracks. it’s a word like the snake kaa that hypnotizes mowgli into paralysis in the jungle book. start with the first step, don’t paralize yourself with buts, then take the next step. really. it’s as simple as that. we tend to balk at that simplicity because we take those snakey “buts” way too seriously. (we take it so seriously, i should write a whole post just about that – in fact, i could write a book about it!)

so start with the first step. then the next. one after the other. if a step is too big, make it smaller.

getting what you want is not difficult: just implement

well, in most cases it isn’t difficult; it’s just hard (as in hard work). let’s go back to “how to” books again, like john’s. in my experience, quite a few “how to” books or blogs actually give good advice. again, it’s simple: you’re probably not the first person to want to do something, or solve a particular problem. there were others before you, and they’ve found tricks that consistently work.

in many (or most) cases, “how to” books don’t work because we don’t work them. if john says on page 23 to get your own domain and you drag your heels on that because it’s more comfortable to use the pre-made platform, don’t be surprised if your online branding drags its heels, too. there’s a reason why the people who came before you suggest certain things. that doesn’t mean you have to accept everything blindly. give them a chance, though! otherwise, why did you buy the book, attend the workshop of subscribe to the blog in the first place? if there’s something that you can’t quite accept, ask questions rather than dismissing it.

so if you want something, do the things it takes to get there!

what do you think? do you have a “how to” book at home that you have followed – or not? what’s your experience?

buddhist carnival – april 2010

it’s been two years now, i think, that i’ve been starting the buddhist carnival with a poem. this one i found when i was rooting around the buddhasphere in connection with the post on mice, death and neuroticism. when i first found the poem, i didn’t really want to post it. it starts like this

meditation on death

like a flame blown out by the wind,
this life-continuum goes to destruction;
recognizing one’s similarities to others,
one should develop mindfulness of death.

just as people who have achieved
great success in the world have died,
so too i must certainly die.
death is harassing me.

death always comes along
together with birth,
searching for an opportunity,
like a murderer out to kill.

(the rest is here)

so why didn’t i want to post it? because it seemed so … morbid. “death is harassing me”, “like a murderer out to kill,” etc. not beautiful. not accepting. such crass language.

fortunately, i woke up from this disney dream. much of death is ugly, unacceptable and crass. prettying it up with songs of hosanna and pink ribbons wouldn’t be very buddhist, would it?

to illustrate the idea of death, why don’t we go to the worst horse. this is a camera.

so what’s the deal here? well, this item is one of the most recent pinhole cameras ” yes, it works ” by the artist wayne martin belger. as belger explains, the camera is “named ‘yama,’ [after] the tibetan god of death. in tibetan buddhism, yama will see all of life and karma is the ‘judge’ that keeps the balance. the skull was blessed by a tibetan lama for its current journey and i’m working with a tibetan legal organization that is sending me to the refugee cities in india.”

cleaning house

let’s stay with a bit of harshness here. “it is important to clean house”, says marguerite manteau-rao, “and keep on purifying one’s mind through unbroken mindfulness. just as critical is surrounding oneself with good people, starting with one’s most inner circle. this is an aspect of practice that often does not get enough attention.” she then goes on to quote from the kesi sutta from the pali canon

“if a tamable horse does not submit either to a mild training or to a harsh training or to a mild and harsh training, lord, then i kill it. why is that? [i think:] ‘don’t let this be a disgrace to my lineage of teachers.’ but the blessed one, lord, is the unexcelled trainer of tamable people. how do you train a tamable person?”

what do you do with untamable people? do you kill them?

dying completely

the barking unicorn is someone who i have come to like (and sometimes dread) because i often feel he’d like to tame me 🙂 while i sorely dislike people’s attempts at taming me (why do you think i dropped out of grade 9, never to return to high school?) i must admit that i’ve benefitted a lot from the barking unicorn’s words. for example, when i went to germany and needed to deal with my pretty intense fear of flying, i decided to build my own in-flight magazine, studded with online writings that i knew would keep my attention. one of them was the barking unicorn’s article about the unicorn and the goddess. it truly brought me grace – and it’s also in line with this whole idea of death that we seem to be pursuing right now. here is a teaser.

“dancers die completely… when a dancer dances she ceases to exist, annihilated utterly as if she had never been.”

a dancer’s ego is what dies and ceases to exist. the ego is that which considers itself an “i” separate from everything else. the ego is your delusion that you are you and the rest of the universe is not you. ….
the ego is the final, tallest, thickest barrier to enlightenment. when the ego dies and ceases to exist, one enters the state of being enlightened, of realizing that there is no “i” and no “you”, no “here” or “out there”. there is no dancer, no illusion of an “i”. there is only all in one. the dancer ceases to occupy a place in existence, and the goddess fills her place.

although her ego dies, a dancer persists as the vehicle she drives – a fleshly body with perceptions of sensation, experiencing things. when she is dancing – enlightened – a dancer experiences bliss – a quiet, serene state of contentment with things just the way they are. …

“let go over a cliff, die completely, and then come back to life – after that you cannot be deceived.”

enlightenment changes an aspect permanently, even though that aspect may be reborn into samsara again (“get a new vehicle,” in that metaphor). this change, this difference from those who have yet to “die completely,” is the goddess kiss to which i refer. it is the indelible mark of one who has been “made more than mortal forever.”

to dance is to be out of yourself. larger, more beautiful, more powerful.
this is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking. ~ agnes de mille

from dying to awakening and knowing: words

jayarava has a very interesting post about linguistics, discussing the word “knowing” in various languages. for example

there is [an] important sanskrit verb √budh ‘to perceive, notice, understand, to awake’. from this word we get the important buddhist technical terms buddha ‘awoken, understood’ and bodhi ‘awakening, understanding’. we also get the verbal noun buddhi ‘intelligence, reason, mind’. the only trace of this word in english is in the word ‘bid’, as in “do as i bid you” which is related to the causative form bodhaya- ‘to inform’ via the anglo-saxon bÄ“odan ‘command’.

words for buddhism, and for christians

for decades i have harbored an interest in buddhism, however i would quickly become so confused when confronted with all the different kinds of buddhism and words that were so foreign to me that my head would spin and i would simply give up. finally, i decided i was going to stick with it ……. and now i see that the very confusion i had experienced is probably similar to what someone who grows up in a non-christian culture would experience when learning about christianity. within christianity there is more than the catholics (and all of their “varieties”) and the mainline protestants (with their own different sub groups) but all the small community-based, storefront churches as well. what is a buddhist, a muslim, a hindu to do when confronted with all this?

so it has been with me as i learned about theraveda, mahayana, zen, tibetan, pure land, vajrayana, etc. once i began to at least attain a basic understanding, the next question began to arise …. so which one should i study and/or follow?? in fact, i hear this question quite often among those who are searching for a path.

here is my reflection on this question ….. first, i asked myself, how did i choose to become catholic? well, i didn’t really, now did i. it was a decision that was made for me by by parents, my family, my cultural and national heritage. hmmm …well, my parents or my family are not going to be making this decision for me. i am not aware of an english or polish tradition of buddhism, so i have no cultural group to return to ….. and i certainly don’t want to choose the wrong buddhism to learn about ………… after all, i already have 50 years into this catholicism, i am not so sure i am going to have another 50 years to develop my understanding of buddhism, so i had better get it right!!! (maybe, if i am lucky, in my next rebirth i will be born into the right one!!!)

here is how i have answered this question for myself …. i have decided to simply pay attention to where i am.

this – and more – is from a buddhist catholic.

buddhists, christians and social media

continuing in the vein of buddhism and christianity, here is something that attracted me first because of the title – why do we need a buddhist social network – but ended up interesting me more because it offers yet another angle on the question of whether buddhism, at least here in north america, is more of a religion or more of a (sometimes neutral?) common ground.

i was thinking about exactly how the buddhist community here in columbus is different than the christian communities in which i grew up. in the christian faith- and in most others as well- you find a good church, and then you keep going to that church exclusively. every once in a while there might be an event with multiple churches, but for the most part people either stay put or they stop going altogether, especially if other family members attend a particular branch.

in the buddhist community however, there is a tremendous amount of sangha-hopping. in fact, buddhist sanghas tend to be more of a ‘family’ set-up, where each person has an immediate sangha and an extended sangha who are often times scattered all over the world. while large traditions often sponsor the opening of large, beautiful new temples, these are not representative of the number of people that might actually practice their tradition alone, even amongst their own regulars.

the second major difference is that americans frequently attend retreats and dhamma talks held by monastics regardless of their tradition (with the exception of people who belong to ethnically close-knit buddhist communities). this is tantamount to catholics going to southern baptist revivals to ‘broaden their experience’. both are christian- but how much do they really mix? on the other hand, one of my dear friends is a japanese nichiren buddhist with whom i have gone to a variety of buddhist events all over town- even the tibetan temple downtown. this is unusual when you compare buddhism to other faiths- but then, buddhism tends to defy these concepts (and all concepts as a rule).

buddhist concepts, reiki concepts

let’s end with a rather longish treatise on the question of whether reiki has a buddhist origin, by oliver klatt, reiki master and editor of the german-language reiki magazin. i have to admit that i did not read through the whole article; i’m including it here because sometimes reiki gets all cute and new agey on us, and i find it refreshing when someone takes a more sober in thorough approach to investigating things.

we often read today that the usui system of reiki has a buddhist origin or that the spiritual roots of the system are in buddhism … taking a closer look at the spiritually significant elements of the usui system as the first step [i] examine them to determine if they have a special proximity to buddhism. then, in a second step, it appears reasonable to examine the spiritual orientation of the usui system as a whole and to also scrutinize it for a special closeness to buddhism. it appears to make sense for both steps to also examine a possible proximity of the usui system with the other major spiritual traditions and religions of the world. if it turns out that the usui system actually does have a close proximity to buddhism but is also close to the other religions and spiritual traditions, then we cannot claim that the system has a “special close relationship” with buddhism … in summary, no special relationship between the usui system of reiki and buddhism is discernible; in any case, no closer proximity than it also has to other religions or spiritual traditions.

of mice, death and neuroticism

what a nice surprise! two years ago i asked a question on louise m. brookes’ blog and today she replied. louise teaches bushcraft and wilderness survival, and blogs about building your own renewable energy systems, sustainable technology as well as personal development, fitness and health.

she had said

death makes all of our attempts at life utterly meaningless, laughable, ridiculous almost, yet we continue, most of us with our singularly particular neuroses.

and i commented

i’m curious why someone like you, who spends so much time in nature, would say that? isn’t death just part of the cycle?

here’s an excerpt of the reply

nature has a wonderful perspective on death, one that it is continually sharing all the time, it does not consider it either bad or good. death just is, death just happens …

any moment our life can be extinguished which renders all our ‘activity’ fairly redundant and apparently without import … i say apparently because we confer great meaning on our unknown spans of life … but we fail to attach great meaning to death … in many of our day to day lives it doesn’t bear thinking about and perhaps it should. the nature of nature is impermanence. it gives me great freedom to know that i can be plucked from my reality without a moment’s notice … death balances the gift of life, like the apex of a pendulum’s swing. when we fail to grant death its place in our day to day life, we fail to have truth …

when we deny death and avoid it and live with our eyes shut we are automatically neurotic. which was why i pointed it out in this manner as rendering ‘our attempts at life as meaningless, laughable and ridiculous’, like our discussing of the price of peas when someone is pointing a weapon at us.

we have just been adopted by a cat. every day she brings us various bits of mice and birds and leaves them on our doorsteps as offerings. mice who up until their early demise in the jaws of a cat were busy fetching food and building nests for their young – the difference between mice and men is that the mice are much more aware of the cat in any given moment than we are of death.

had we all known perhaps we would make different choices about what is important and what isn’t… would i stand there still and wonder for as long about which make up looks best? would i spend more time with my loved ones, would i help more folk that crossed my path?

this, of course, reminds me of the buddhist (and also hindu) practice of mindfully and intentionally engaging with death. as v.g. gunaratna says

it is not for nothing that the buddha has, in the very highest terms, commended to his disciples the practice of mindfulness regarding death. this is known as “marananussati bhavana”. one who wants to practice it must at stated times, and also every now and then, revert to the thought maranam bhavissati — “death will take place.” this contemplation of death is one of the classical meditation-subjects treated in the visuddhi magga which states that in order to obtain the fullest results, one should practice this meditation in the correct way, that is, with mindfulness (sati), with a sense of urgency (samvega) and with understanding (ñana).

for some reason – perhaps because of my father`s interest in buddhism – the idea that death is always near has been given to me when i was quite young, when i was about 14. i still remember it clearly. i was strolling on the sidewalk, almost home, when i realized that in the apartment building next to me, they were fixing the roof.

in germany, most roofs are made with heavy roof tiles. with a flash, it occurred to me that right here, right now, one of those tiles could fall down, hit me in the head, and kill me. i also felt in my bones a fundamental existential principle: “ìf not now, when?”

this second of realization was one of the most significant moments in my life. why i reacted to this experience with gratitude and an almost excited astonishment instead of fear, i’ll never know. it was a gift, just like having louise’s blog post land in my lap was.

may we be continuously aware of the freshness of each moment.

mice play, cats eat, i
work in the garden, sow, plant.
—  now? later?:  i die.

love every day

is it valentine’s day yet?  what?  i missed it?  drat!  yup, that was one of the things that fell between the cracks during my trip to europe.  what also fell between the cracks was telling you about an ebook that chelle kindly invited me to participate in.  as a gift to her readers on valentine’s day, she put together love everyday e-book.  a nifty idea, the book looks at marriage and romantic relationships through the lends of the little things we do each and every day: waking up and hitting the snooze button, drinking that morning cup of coffee, sitting through traffic, going to work, doing housework, grocery shopping, logging onto the internet.  some writers use these lenses as metaphors (“how do you fuel your relationship?”), others talk directly about the topic; for example i write about how the internet and marriage interact with each other.  you can download the book here.

two entries particularly caught my eye.  one was “what are you waiting for?” by pat flynn.  i like the urgency of the tone:

what are you waiting for?

a sign? something to happen that tells you it’s the right time?

signs aren’t always things that happen. more often than not, signs come from the things that don’t happen.

what are you waiting for?

are you waiting for permission? someone to tell you that it’s okay?

permission from someone else is never as important as the permission that you have to give yourself first.

complacency is probably one of the biggest stumbling blocks in a marriage.  i like how pat challenges this attitude.

i was also impressed by lori lowe’s contribution, pour on love: how to love your spouse generously.  an excerpt:

gaining a little more happiness is like gaining a little more money; you always want more. but giving and receiving love generates fulfillment. there are myriad ways to show love, but we know love when we see it, hear it, read it, and feel it. love is in the details, the thoughtfulness, the caring.

when you act in a loving”even sacrificial”manner, you experience the paradox of giving. this is the secret your grandparents knew about: it is in giving that we receive. the joy and love you give returns to you. yes, it is risky to invest yourself fully …

how can you pour on love?

voraciously study your spouse. put as much energy into that research as in your career and hobbies. try to understand and participate in their interests as they change over time”recreational, musical, romantic, sexual and culinary interests. ask about your partner’s hopes, preferences, desires, dislikes, and fears. encourage their dreams. communicate your needs and desires as well. be the one who knows them best, and help them to know your heart.  …

do it without keeping score. do it without stopping. do it with love.

here are the other contributors to the book:

8 from google

my brain is still only functioning at 42.718% capacity (as opposed to the usual 60 7/8th) so i don’t find myself to be able to say much. what little brain power i had went to work today and another fabulous mental health chat on twitter. but i feel guilty for not blogging enough so i thought i’d show you what blog posts i’ve liked today in my google reader. i’ll even do the shocking thing and not convert everything into lower case! here we go:

The @5days_Vancouver campaign for homeless/at risk youth

from by Raul

York and Wellington

photo credit: Danielle Scott

I was alerted by Nathan Tippe to the 5 Days Vancouver campaign, the local branch of the national 5 Days campaign, created by students to raise awareness of the situation of homeless people and at-risk youth. I was more than happy to promote the cause (a) because it is a fundraiser and (b) because the local chapter is being organized by UBC students (and as you know, I teach at UBC).


Mental health report focuses on multicultural groups

A March 15th news release from the Mental Health Commission of Canada:
CALGARY, March 15 /CNW Telbec/ – Statistics Canada is predicting that 1 in 3 Canadians will belong to a visible minority by 2031. The Mental Health Commission of Canada has released a report addressing the needs of multicultural, immigrant and refugee groups. The study is part of its mandate to improve mental healthcare across all areas of Canadian society.


8 Studies Demonstrating the Power of Simplicity

from PsyBlog by Jeremy Dean

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Psychological research on cognitive fluency shows why easy to understand = more profitable, more pleasurable, more intelligent and safer.

Which of these would you say sounds like the more dangerous food additive: Hnegripitrom or Magnalroxate?

The majority of people say Hnegripitrom sounds more dangerous. It turns out that the word ‘Magnalroxate’ is easier to think about than ‘Hnegripitrom’, probably because it’s more pronounceable, and people equate simplicity with safety (actually both words are made up).

This is one example of psychological research on meta-cognition: thoughts about other thoughts. Whether or not something is easy to think about”cognitive fluency”is one important type of meta-cognition, with all sorts of benefits accruing to things that are easily processed.

Here are 8 of my favourite studies on cognitive fluency, showing just how much can be explained by the feeling that something is easy to think about (or otherwise).

1. Complex writing makes you look stupid

Many of us did it in school: tried to impress teachers with fancy language and convoluted sentences, assuming it would make us look clever. As we soon discovered, though, most people can’t carry it off.

This has been tested by a study that manipulated text complexity to see how readers would judge the author’s intelligence. It found that as the text became more complicated, readers gave lower estimates of the author’s intelligence (Oppenheimer, 2005).

So if you want to be perceived as more intelligent (and who doesn’t?) keep your writing simple. This chimes perfectly with the standard advice given to wannabe writers. Sadly simplicity can be a lot harder to achieve than complexity.

(Note: the context of this study was students judging other students’ essays. This study might not extend to other types of writing and other types of readers.)


Babies are born to dance, new research shows

A study of infants finds they respond to the rhythm and tempo of music and find it more engaging than speech. The research suggest that babies may be born with a predisposition to move rhythmically in response to music.
from Mind on Fire by John
Past collaborative projects here at Mind on Fire have produced some fine creative work, like the results of the 18-hour comic day, and the virtual First of May Choir-you know, the JoCo song that goes, “First of May, First of May, Outdoor fucking starts today” (original call, final song). In that same spirit of group play, I would like to propose a new project. I would like to propose a group creative experiment with chance, disorder, fate, Jupiter, Steve-whatever you choose to call it.


Too Big to Trust? Or Too Untrustworthy to Scale?

from Trust Matters by (Charles H. Green)

This will be my fourth week on the road; more on that later in the week. At least all that plane time (and waiting in lines time) makes for good reading time”thanks to the iPhone Kindle Reader app. (and no they don’t pay me for saying it).

I’m re-reading Francis Fukuyama’s 1995 classic Trust: the Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity.

It’s the perfect companion for Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System”and Themselves.

Here’s why they belong together.

Fukuyama’s View of Trust

Fukuyama makes a compelling case that economic development is strongly affected by the cultural norms of a society”in particular, the propensity to trust. In this, he is up against both neo-classical economists (who argue people are rational utility-maximizers), Marxians (who argue it’s all about the money), and a ton of management theorists (who pretty much believe both).

As Fukuyama puts it:

The Chinese, Korean and Italian preference for family, Japanese attitudes toward adoption of non-kin, the French reluctance to enter into face-to-face relationships, the German emphasis on training, the sectarian temper of American social life: all come about as the result not of rational calculation but from inherited ethical habit.

Who we trust, it turns out, radically determines the nature of business we engage in.


The Neuroscience of Anorexia Nervosa

from Dr Shock MD PhD by Dr Shock

anorexia nervosa

One of the most striking features of those suffering from anorexia nervosa is their perception of their bodies. You can put them in front of a mirror and they will still tell you they’re to fat when in fact they’re skinny. A recent publication in Nature Proceedings has an explanation.

This explanation is based on the fact that our spatial experience is based on the integration of two different kinds of input, two different sensory inputs within two reference frames. These two reference frames are the egocentric frame and the allocentric frame.

With the allocentric frame you can “see yourself engaged in the event as an observer would”, it’s the observer mode, you can see your self in the situation. This allocentric representation involves long term spatial memory mostly located in the hippocampus and the surrounding medial temporal lobes of the brain.