THE SCIENCE OF COMPASSION

A recent NYTimes article http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/opinion/sunday/the-science-of-compassion.html?_r=1 by David DeSteno explores some of the scientific studies on the nature of compassion and how to increase it.  It corroborates what I have written about in previous blog postings. 

 When we find commonality with others we experience compassion and caring for them. The Golden Rule evolved out of and from within a specific community of like minded individuals.  As human beings we find our deepest sense of connection and caring when we discern anyother human being as being similar to ourselves. 

The greatest challenge to this admirable human trait is its evil twin–the tribal impulse.  While we view members of our "tribe" as worthy of compassion and altruism, those whom we deem as different are easily dehumanized.  When that occurs, and it has occurred with horrific regularity across human cultures and throughout human history, the result are often war, genocide, torture and destruction of other human beings. 

Acknowledging racial, religious, political, national differences seem to be the human default mode of being.  We seems to actually seek out differences among each other when they may appear minimal or nonexistent to others looking from without. I cannot forget an old Star Trek TV segment in which two stripped aliens seem locked in deadly combat.  They each had black and white stripes.  When Kirk questions their animosity towards each other they seem stunned.  "don't you see the difference between us?  He is black with white stripes, I'm white with black ones."  Of course the parallel with the American racial divide was the clear message  of the show.

When African tribes began slaughtering each other in recent decades, white Westerners were shocked by the aggression they observed.  Yet European history is replete with religious and national wars of unspeakable cruelty and barbarity. 

It is only when we see others as sharing our own hopes and fears that barriers break down.  It seemed apparent to many American that racial differences melted away after 9/11 and the awareness of an external threat to all of us.  Science fiction writers have frequently played up this theme when they portray alien attacks on planet earth.  Former sworn enemies recognize common concerns.  

Israeli singer Rita Jahanforuz with Persian roots sings in Farsi and is embraced by Iranian youth who love her sentiment.  Their emails decry their respective political and national antagonisms.

So the message is clear–we need to be open to our common humanity, not our particular differences.  We need to teach our children this message.  We need to interact with others who represent different backgrounds and recognize we share much more with each other as human beings than we believed to be so.

We need to remind ourselves of this truth when we inevitably react our of fear or anger and begin to label the "other" as different and dangerous.

HELLO DALAI –Why Celibacy ?

The Dalai Lama is unquestionably one of the greatest living human beings.  His life's story is admirable, his philosophical and spiritual writings are necessary reading. He embraces science even if it contradicts the Buddhist sutras.  But where I must depart from total admiration for his belief system is in one crucial area–celibacy.  

The history of celibacy and religious practices has been historically shared by both Eastern and Western traditions.  The possible relationship between celibacy and pedophilia within the Catholic church has become an extremely controversial subject.

It has been essentially absent, however, from Jewish /Kabbalistic tradition.  There are reports that perhaps some small, esoteric Essene groups during the time of the Roman occupation of Israel may have dabbled in it.  But overall celibacy has been frowned upon.  In this regard I am in total agreement.

Celibacy implies a rejection of sexuality as inherently dangerous, even evil. Celibacy posits itself as a more spiritually elevated state of  being  than sexuality. Celibacy places avoidance, restraint, abstinence of sexuality above acceptance and participation of the "animal instinct".  I believe this is a mistaken perspective. 

Sexuality is clearly a powerful human force.  It is unquestionably capable of ensnaring its participants in actions often deemed immoral or unethical.  Yet this is not an inevitable outcome.  It is essentially the most basic biological property that living beings possess.  Without particularly "horny" ancestors, none of us would be here. 

Perhaps it is/was the recognition of the power of this instinct (and its potential for abuse and misuse) that has caused some religious traditons to "abandon" it as a spiritual tool.  Of course other spiritual practices throughout history have embraced sexuality as a spiritual gift. The Tantric Hindu tradition utilizes sexual energy for spiritual purposes.

I admire this attitude.  Sexuality, like other biological imperatives is inherently neither good or bad.  If we recognize its spiritual potential, we will enjoy it and spiritualize it.  Kabbalistic interpretation finds sexuality within the Tree of Life. Sexual intercourse simulates the union of the male and female energies as manifest in the Sephirot of Tiferet and Shechina.  The Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply recognizes this truth. The Kabbalistic of original sin is not the sexual act but of disobeying God's injunction. Sexuality is recognized as a gift to be utilized for spiritual as well as physical enlightenment . 

If the phyisical world, our bodies and their functions included, are seen as inherently and potentially good, why would be seek to be celibate? 

Sorry Dalai.  I still think you are the greatest.  Let's talk about this celibacy thing.  OK?

MONEY & EMPATHY — Mutually Exclusive ?

The Money-Empathy Gap article in the latest New York Magazine http://nymag.com/news/features/money-brain-2012-7/ by Lisa Miller is a fascinating piece on the relatively obvious point that wealthy individuals may be self-involved, aggressive, obnoxious, unethical, jerks.  She provides "experimental " evidence by several researchers including Piff and Vohs to support this contention. 

My problem with the article is that the underlying poltical impetus for its inclusion is so obviously transparent.  Obama and his compassionate desire to care for those who cannot do so for themselves versus the out of touch, obscenely rich Romney who could not care less.  The issue is far more complex.  

Do rich people who drive fancy cars plow through stop signs and disdain four way intersections?  What about obnoxious, angry poor people? And who knows what is going through the mind of any of our fellow human beings in the first place?  Perhaps they are in crisis, suffering through some personal tragedy, just broke up with a lover, got fired from their job?  Who knows?  How can we know?

What about people who derive their income from competitive businesses that reward risk taking over those careers that don't.  Are Wall Streeters less empathic than other wealthy individuals?  Perhaps they are, in the whole.  And just perhaps the qualities that drive success in Wall Street are the antithesis of compassionate empathic individuals.  But in such a situation the money issues follow from the job description, not the other way around. And furthermore, can we judge each individual without knowing them?  We should not.

We know that some physicians have the reputation as being  more aggressive and less empathic by virtue of their specialty (orthopedics versus pediatrics, for example).  And stereotypes do reveal some degree of truth, but generalizations will often be wrong when it comes to any individual human being.

I tend to hold the door for people who are coming into a building  behind me.  I find that just as many less affluent "appearing" don't say  thank you as do those in expensive suits.  Should I draw conclusions based on that observation?  I don't think so.  What about individuals who are suddenly affluent versus those who grew up that way? 

 Some extremely wealthy families imbued their offspring with a sense of obligation to be charitable, and to value other qualities besides money, others likely not.  Some poor families raised their children to view every individual with respect, regardless of their wealth, until proven otherwise.  I have personal knowledge that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is extremely charitable and apparently donates anonymously.  He may have strong opinions on governing but on a personal level is extremely down to earth.

Human behavior deserves continuous study, observation and discussion.  But we need to be aware of just how human our esteemed researchers are themselves.  We all have biases.  We all have personal and political agendas.   We may cross the street to avoid someone who is begging or disheveled.  It is not right, but we often do it anyway. 

Studies can be tweaked to reveal just what we would like them to "prove".  We just need to be aware that simple generalizations are self-fulfilling prophecies.  And let us try to avoid what seems unavoidable–stereotyping groups of people whom we don't truly know as individuals.

DEBUNKING THE PARANORMAL ?– Nothing New & Still Wrong

I was the skeptic who would debunk reports of the paranormal.  That is until I truly looked into the phenomena and spoke face to face with those who experienced it first hand.  The result of my research I published in  META-PHYSICIAN ON CALL FOR BETTER HEALTH as well as this blog site.  Psychology Today in their latest edition August 2012 devotes its cover story by Matthew Hutson  to the Sixth Sense.  It endeavors to find scientific explanations for a variety of phenomenon. 

 There is no question that human beings seek to find patterns to explain life experiences and that we are certainly capable of fabricating connections or "agents" (spiritual beings) that do not exist.  It is also possible to forget something and then experience it again as deja-vu.  But the article also explores several other areas that I am very familiar with, the NDE (near death experiences) and ADC ("after death communications"/" visits from heaven") and medium experiences and attempts to explain them away as well. 

Here the author resorts to traditional skeptic's arguments against the validity of each.  Once again they fail to examine the phenomena as they truly are.  I cannot examine each of these topics in this short posting.  But I suggest that those readers who remain open- minded should explore them further. 

 But in brief–NDE cannot be explained away as caused by lack of oxygen to the brain.  Quite simply when the brain is deprived of oxygen or is exposed to any abnormal accumulation of chemicals, the perceived memories are fragmentary, distorted or nonexistent at best.  Read reports of NDE.  They are incredibly coherent and the details of the experience never fade.  They also result in life altering transformations for those who have had them.  I have reported on such from this blog site. They also are perceived as being intensely real–more so than any dream, hallucination, or even daily perception.  They also reveal information that could not be known by normal cognition.  Does this seem like a false experience, an oxygen deprived hallucination? Hardly. 

 ADCs and medium experiences can only be truly appreciated by someone directly, or if that individual has a high credibility quotient (CQ).  In other words if you speak directly to someone you know and trust and observe their emotional reaction, you can be quite sure that there is there is truth behind the experience. 

 Anyone who has been had a reading by a talented medium can attest to the experience.  The information that they obtain is impossible for them to know.   When Lynn Milano offered me my deceased father's statement regarding his "left knee" I KNEW she was in communication with him. (He had been wounded in World War II in exactly that spot and subsequently walked with a stiff left leg).  There was no way she could know that information.  That is just one of countless examples.  Those of us who have experienced such readings are not naive. We are not reading into vague, generic statements.

So once again, the skeptics are unable to debunk these highly exceptional experiences.  But don't let anyone else attempt to convince you of this–do your own homework.  For those of you who are seekers of truth, metaphysicians, the process has already begun.