Keep Hope Not Fear Alive

This recent series of posts has used the example of Stephen Colbert's satirical "March to Keep Fear Alive" as a timely illustration of a larger point: humans evolved to be fearful -- a major feature of the brain's negativity bias that helped our ancestors pass on their genes. Consequently, as much research has shown, we're usually much more affected by negative -- by which I mean painful -- experiences than by positive ones.Besides the personal impacts of this bias in the brain, it also makes … [Read more...]

Balancing Joining and Separating

There is a natural balance within us all between the desire for joining and the desire for separation, between the desire for closeness and the desire for distance.These two great themes – joining and separation – are central to human life. Almost everyone wants both of them, to varying degrees.People tend to focus a lot on the joining theme, both because relationships are about – uh – joining, and because spiritual practice of any kind is fundamentally about coming into relationship with thi … [Read more...]

The Wolf of Hate

I heard a story once about a Native American elder who was asked how she had become so wise, so happy, and so respected. She answered: “In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day.”This story always gives me a little shiver. It’s both humbling and hopeful. First, the wolf of love is very popular, but who among us does not also harbor a wolf of hate? We can hear its snarling both far away in distant wars and close to home in o … [Read more...]

The Evolution of Love

How did we evolve the most loving brain on the planet?Humans are the most sociable species on earth – for better and for worse.On the one hand, we have the greatest capacities for empathy, communication, friendship, romance, complex social structures, and altruism. On the other, we have the greatest capacities for shaming, emotional cruelty, sadism, envy, jealousy, discrimination and other forms of dehumanization, and wholesale slaughter of our fellow humans.In other words, to paraphrase a … [Read more...]

5000 Synapses in the Width of a Hair

How much change in the brain makes a difference in the mind?That's the issue raised by a very interesting comment regarding my previous blog, "The Brain in a Bucket."So I've taken the liberty of posting the comment here (hoping that's OK in blog etiquette; still learning as I go), and then responding. Here it is:I was pondering your statement that long term meditators show a thickening in certain areas of the brain. As I understand it, the volume of the skull is fixed in adults. This would … [Read more...]

The Brain in a Bucket

Have you ever seen a real brain?I remember the first time I saw one, in a neuropsych class: the instructor put on rubber gloves to protect against the formaldehyde preservative, popped the lid off of a lab bucket, and then pulled out a brain.It didn’t look like much, a nondescript waxy yellowish-white blob rather like a sculpted head of cauliflower. But the whole class went silent. We were looking at the real deal, ground zero for consciousness, headquarters for “me.” The person it came from … [Read more...]


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