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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in neuroscience (50)

Tuesday
Jul272010

Stalking, homicide, suicide, and depression - the neuroscience of rejection

Do you remember the pain of having your love rejected by another?  I sure had my fair share of failed romances as a young man!! Indeed, I'm pleased to say (at this stage of life) that my heart was broken quite often!  

Thankfully I have found love with my wonderful wife Megan! 

However, a recent study has shown that the same neurological functions as those activated by cocaine addition are active in the human brain when love is lost.  Goal orientated behavior dominates one's thoughts.  You become directed towards finding satisfaction for your desire to love and be loved, pretty much in the same way that an addict seeks a 'fix'. You are willing to make sacrifices, you set aside basic needs (such as sleep, proper nutrition) and become overtaken by the emotion of your desire.

To find out more about this groundbreaking research please follow the links from boingboing below.  By the way, I'd love to hear any stories you may have of love driven obsession!  No, I don't want to hear the scary stuff, I'd rather prefer to hear some of the funnier things you did for love.

A study published in the July issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology found that romantic break-ups activate parts of the brain that are associated with addiction cravings:

"This brain imaging study of individuals who were still 'in love' with their rejecter supplies further evidence that the passion of 'romantic love' is a goal-oriented motivation state rather than a specific emotion" the researchers concluded, noting that brain imaging showed some similarities between romantic rejection and cocaine craving. "The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that romantic love is a specific form of addiction."

The study also helps to explain "why feelings and behaviors related to romantic rejection are difficult to control" and why extreme behaviors associated with romantic rejection such as stalking, homicide, suicide, and clinical depression occur in cultures all over the world, the researchers wrote.

I think most of us have experienced this feeling at one point in our lives, but it's interesting to know it can be backed up by science.

Anguish of romantic rejection may be linked to stimulation of areas of brain related to motivation, reward, and addiction [Science Daily]

Tuesday
Jun152010

The secret powers of time - video games, porn and the rewiring of the brain

In this incredible video Professor Philip Zimbardo shows how our relationship to one of the 6 perspectives on time frames our whole lives.

Among the many interesting quotes are this one:

By the time a boy is 21, he has spent at least 10,000 hours alone playing video games alone, probably more watching pornography alone. And you put that together and it means A) They haven't learnt social skills (emotional and social intelligence) B) But also it means that the live in a world that they create.... Their brains are being digitally rewired.  Which means that they will never fit in a traditional classroom that is analogue; somebody talks at you without even the nice pictures, meaning IT'S BORING, meaning you control nothing, you sit there passively.... these kids will never fit into that.  They have to be in a situation where they are controlling something...

This is a fascinating thought.  I found Zimbardo's research on the relationship between one's perspective of time and one's cognitive processes (such as decision making, meaning making, and identity) extremely interesting, and certainly quite plausible in many instances.

Let me know what you think of the video...

By the way, this video is another exceptional example of how to communicate complex ideas in a memorable and useful manner.  In my lectures I often help students to understand that textual communication is a very difficult means with which to share ideas - visual stimulation is a far more direct and emotionally engaging means of sharing an idea.

Saturday
May012010

The science of getting happy and being happy

One of the best books I've read in the last year is Gretchen Rubin's book 'The Happiness Project'.  It was filed with great facts, it was written in a wonderfully personal style, and left me feeling happy!  

What more could you ask for!?

Today I saw from her facebook feed that she was interviewed on her book together with Dr Ian Smith (a medical doctor who wrote a book on the science of hapiness).

Watch the video below.  It is a great introduction to the topic.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I wrote a post on the neuroscience of hapiness that you can read here - it comes from some research I did for PhD.

And, here's a previous post I wrote on Gretchen Rubin's book.

Tuesday
Apr202010

African relational ontology, individual identity, and Christian theology

Yup, the title of this post is a mouthful... It happens to be the title of an academic article that I wrote some time ago that is being published.  

The article will be published in the July / August edition of the SPCK Journal 'Theology'.  This is by far the most prestigious journal in which I have had the privilege to publish an article.  I am truly amazed that it was accepted, and humbled to have it there.

Perhaps the title was so obscure that they thought it was worth a chance!?  The full title of the article is

African relational ontology, individual identity, and Christian theology: An African theological contribution towards an integrated relational ontological identity (Theology, July/August 2010 Vol CXIII No 874 ISSN 0040-571 X).
The article comes from a body of research that I conducted over a period of some years in which I investigated the problem of individual identity (what does it mean to be 'me').  How is my identity formed in relation to other persons and my context?  And what aspects of the Kosmos can be relied upon to validate who I truly am?  Do I rely on my appearance, or my experiences, or is there something more concrete and substantial to 'true identity'?
 
This article focusses on the importance of relationships and intersubjective identity as the locus of understanding who we are as human persons. It relates these important social aspects of our identity to three prominent Christian doctrines (the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christian anthropology and the doctrine of soteriology (salvation) - it is something of a systematic approach).  
I have another article from this same body of research that contains more of the neuroscience and psychology of identity that will be published in the South African Journal HTS later this year.  And then I am still working on the book 'Why you may not be who you think you are.  Adventures in neuroscience, artificial intelligence and philosophy' (I am under contract to Cambridge Scholars Press for this book).
Here's the abstract for this article in 'Theology'.
African theology has a great deal to contribute to the theological discourse on human identity. Relationships are central to the formation, expression and understanding of who an individual person is. The African philosophy of ubuntu, more accurately expressed as umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a person through other persons), affirms the critical under- standing that identity arises out of intersubjective interactions between persons. This paper discusses how concepts of identity in African philosophy and religion can enhance our theological understanding of individual identity. Hence this research presents an African theological approach to identity that is systematized in relation to the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christian anthropology and the doctrine of salvation.
If you're interested in reading more about my research in this area, and various other thoughts on neuroscience, identity and Christian theology please follow this link.

 

Wednesday
Apr142010

Sci-Fi meets society - my Artificial Intelligence research used...

I have mentioned elsewhere on my blog that I practice a simple discipline of NOT 'googling' myself (sometimes it is called 'vanity searching' - I think that is quite an accurate description).  It is a simple choice not to search for my name on the internet.  It is quite liberating not to worry about what others are saying, or not saying, about me!

However, even though I have chosen this, every now and then someone sends me a note about something I've written, or a comment that someone has made about my research or writing. I'm ashamed to admit that it feels quite good (what the Afrikaans would call 'lekker').  

This was the case with this particular entry.  A friend sent me a link to point out that my research on 'strong Artificial Intelligence' was quoted in an iTWeb article! Very cool!  

It was quite exciting to read the context in which my ideas were used.  The article is entitled 'Sci-fi meets society' and was written by Lezette Engelbrecht.  She contacted me some time ago with a few questions which I was pleased to answer via email (and point her to some of my research and publication in this area).  Thanks for using my thoughts Lezette - I appreciate it!

You can read the full article after the jump.

As artificially intelligent systems and machines progress, their interaction with society has raised issues of ethics and responsibility.

While advances in genetic engineering, nanotechnology and robotics have brought improvements in fields from construction to healthcare, industry players have warned of the future implications of increasingly “intelligent” machines.

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, executive dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, at the University of Johannesburg, says ethics have to be considered in developing machine intelligence. “When you have autonomous machines that can evolve independent of their creators, who is responsible for their actions?”

In February last year, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) held a series of discussions under the theme “long-term AI futures”, and reflected on the societal aspects of increased machine intelligence.

The AAAI is yet to issue a final report, but in an interim release, a subgroup highlighted the ethical and legal complexities involved if autonomous or semi-autonomous systems were one day charged with making high-level decisions, such as in medical therapy or the targeting of weapons.

The group also noted the potential psychological issues accompanying people's interaction with robotic systems that increasingly look and act like humans.

Just six months after the AAAI meeting, scientists at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, in the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne, Switzerland, conducted an experiment in which robots learned to “lie” to each other, in an attempt to hoard a valuable resource.

The robots were programmed to seek out a beneficial resource and avoid a harmful one, and alert one another via light signals once they had found the good item. But they soon “evolved” to keep their lights off when they found the good resource – in direct contradiction of their original instruction.

According to AI researcher Dion Forster, the problem, as suggested by Ray Kurzweil, is that when people design self-aggregating machines, such systems could produce stronger, more intricate and effective machines.

“When this is linked to evolution, humans may no longer be the strongest and most sentient beings. For example, we already know machines are generally better at mathematics than humans are, so we have evolved to rely on machines to do complex calculation for us.

“What will happen when other functions of human activity, such as knowledge or wisdom, are superseded in the same manner?” (read the rest of the article here...)

Friday
Mar192010

Learning to listen to the earth - is it a good thing?

This amazing video shows how we are learning to listen to the earth! Did you know there are more ‘things’ on the internet than people!?
There are sensors under the roads, in shops, in our offices, homes, schools and our phones - they’re all reporting things to us and about us.
The key is DIKW is the key, moving from:
  • captured data to
  • usable information to
  • knowledge to
  • wisdom
I suppose that as long as we gather the data in order to glean information that we can use as knowledge so that we become more wise it is a good thing.
 
For example, I don't like being filmed by hundreds of closed circuit tv cameras wherever I go - but I understand why it is necessary to capture that data, so that the information can help the police to get knowledge about criminals and criminal hot spots so that they can advice people to be wise about where they go, and what they do when they go out.
I've blogged about some of this here (see the post on wolframalpha which I think is very interesting in this regard), and here for a neuroscientific perspective, and this one which deals with strong artificial intelligence.
Friday
Mar122010

Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit

This little Latin saying has been living within me for the last while:  "Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit" [bidden or not bidden, God is present / invoked or not invoked, God is present].

It is variously attributed to Erasmus (a Enlightenment scholar and humanist) and Carl Jung (the Swiss psychiatrist).

There is a great truth contained within these simple words.  Indeed, God pre-exists our thoughts, our actions, our intentions, and even our will.

This is not only a theological statement (the Bible is filled with reminders that before we are, God is!)  God is the source from which all life comes.  God is creator (and so we are creation).  However, it is also a neuro-scientific reality.

If you ever have the inclination to understand the neurobiology of belief there is a wonderful book, written by Andrew Newberg and Eugene d'Aquili entitled "Why God won't go away: Brain science and the biology of belief"

Here is an endorsement for the book:

 

"Why God Won’t Go Away is a thrilling exploration of the intersection of modern brain science and religious experience by one of the leading researchers in this field. Theologians and religionists, don’t worry; this is no exercise in God bashing. For, unlike most books exploring the connection between science and religion, Dr. Andrew Newberg is exceedingly mindful of the limits of science- what it can and cannot say, where it can and cannot go. He realizes that for every question science answers about religious experience, a dozen more arise to take its place. The respect this book displays toward the great mysteries, such as the nature of God and the origin and destiny of consciousness, is one of its most appealing qualities. Newberg’s reverential attitude toward the great unknowns is reminiscent of Einstein." Larry Dossey, MD Author: Reinventing Medicine, Healing Words

I have, however, progressed beyond the dualism that separates belief into physical and spiritual categories.  For me the dividing wall between spirit and mind, between my body and my faith, has been broken down.  In Christ the Spirit of God is present fully in a human person.  And, through His saving grace my life is being transformed into that state of 'being present' to God.

So, no matter what you face today I would like to encourage you with the knowledge that whether God is invited, or not invited, God is always lovingly present.  Amazingly God has even given us the biological capacity for this truth to be discovered within the depths and complexity of the brain!

Thursday
Feb252010

Church decline and neuroscience... How people decide.

A few times a year I have the great opportunity of teaching some classes at Media Village (mainly in their school of video production and school of photography).  This is an incredible place, run by Graham and Diane Vermooten, two of the most gifted and passionate media specialists I have ever encountered.

I think it is safe to say that their yearly video are among the most effective mobilization tools that the Global Day of Prayer has!

So, today I started my two days of lectures with an incredible team of people - the classroom is abuzz with intellect, commitment and engagement.  It is one of the highlights of my month to be with such a diverse group of people (they always come from all over the world).

The title of today's session is: (A theology) of media, ministry and minds.

In this first session I cover some of the major shifts in Christianity (mainly drawing on the work of Jennings' 'The next Christendom', and my own research published in my recent book 'Christian and positive: Reflections on Christianity in an HIV+ world').  What is clear is that Christianity is moving from the West to the East and from the North to the South.  However, there are some other radical shifts in the 'Christian world'.  In parts of Europe (where Christianity was once strongest, and from where so many of the missionaries came) the faith is loosing ground at a rapid pace!

What is clear is that the traditional Church is in decline.  There are two pragmatic reasons for this decline (you'll be surprised at how simple they are!)

 

  • Fewer people are joining the Church.
  • More people are leaving Churches.

 

These are two simple facts!  The statistics are clear, and I will gladly share them with you - as a start you may wish to read the lecture that I presented in the UK in March last year which has some statistics on South Africa and England.

Simply stated, Church attendance is declining because people are no longer going to Church.  There are many complex reasons for that.  Central to my argument, however, is the thesis that the message of the Gospel, and the person and work of Jesus, have not lost their effectiveness.  However, the Christian faith's method of engagement, support, and community is no longer finding favour in many contexts.

My theory is that there is a neuroscientific explanation for this choice - let me explain.

Human persons choose to do certain things and not to do others.  At a very basic level choice is a function of the brain's operation.  The core purpose of all brains (including those of animals) is survival.  Basically the human brain is a complex survival mechanism (I have written about this elsewhere in detail).  It is designed to help you survive and to help the species survive.  Moreover, the human brain is not only a survival mechanism, it is an efficiency system!  The human brain is incredibly efficient at processing choices for survival!

Let share the following narrative to explain this point.  I'm sure you would have heard about the epic battle of minds between Gary Kasparov (the Chess Grand Master) and the Artificially Intelligent Super Computer, Big Blue (designed by IBM)?  Big Blue was the first computer ever to beat a human at the game of chess. What the programmers and engineers did was to design a machine that could massive linear processing that was both accurate and fast, and pitted all of that power against the Chess Master's years of experience and skill.  As the two opponents faced off against each other they would examine the chess pieces on the board and then each decide in turn what would be the best, or most effective, move or set of moves to make in order to defeat their opponent.  What Big Blue did was to study the chess board and then process every possible move that could be made working out the statistical probability of success for each series of moves (aggregating these statistics by considering a few moves into the future.  For example, if Big blue moved this piece and Kasparov moved that piece, then what set of choices would be presented and would that be good or bad).  You can see how complex that is!  However, the computer's power and speed allowed it to sift through all of the millions of options that had been programmed in each instance to decide what move would be best.  However, this processing is extremely energy intensive!  So much so that Big Blue had to be cooled in order to avoid the risk of fire!

Kasparov, on the other hand, made use of years of 'tacit' learning (basically neural pathways of experience, coupled with dopamine reactions and the input of the occipital frontal cortex) to simply glance at the chess board, see which 4 or 5 options were best (based on years of experience at chess) and so only had to process the probability of those 4 or 5 moves.  Kasparov hardly broke a sweat!  

The human brain is incredibly efficient!  It has been designed for survival and efficiency (which, as I argued in this post, is the reason why greed exists!  We know we need to survive, and so we hoard money and possessions in order to survive for longer with less effort - anyway, watch the little video as well, it gives a succinct explanation of my thoughts in this regard).

What makes all of this even more significant is that the decision-making centre of the brain resides predominantly in the 'old brain', an area of the brain that processes what is best for survival and efficiency without bringing every choice into the 'new brain' (the frontal cortex).  For example, your brain does not alert you of the need to breath, it just does that because you need oxygen to survive.  The same goes for metabolizing your food etc.  The choice to expend energy doing these things is a 'no brainer' as some have said.  It just happens because it is necessary for survival.

Now when you couple this to the way in which the Church operates, you can see why people sometimes choose (consciously or unconsciously) not to attend Church or adhere to the Christian faith. 

I have often asked Christian groups and Churches what tangible value we contribute to society - it is, perhaps, best phrased in a question that I first heard asked by Rev Dr Ross Olivier, "Would anyone in your community (other than your Church's members) notice if your Church shut down today?"  This is a challenging question!  I'm sure that there are many Churches that add little or no value to the communities in which they exist.  Yet, there is a hope that through these communities people will come to experience the Good News of salvation in Christ!

As such, I have come to think that the average person simply does not even consider the role of the Church in their lives.  Moreover, until we are able to effectively meet the 'felt needs' of our communities we cannot expect them to respond to propositional truths about our faith! I've quoted this before, but Ed Silvoso, an Argentian minister once said:

Preaching the good news without love is like giving someone a good kiss when you have bad breath.  No matter how good the kiss, all the recipient will remember is your bad breath!

I think that sometimes my faith, and the faith of Christians communities I am a part of suffers from this unfortunate situation.  Our intentions are pure.  We long to encounter people with the truth that God loves them, and that God loves all people.  Yet, as with the instance of Ecclesia de Lange and Bishop Paul Verryn, we do not show love.  Rather we show judgement and condemnation...

And, when we're 'hard-wired' for survivial and efficiency we will avoid all uncessary pain and all unecessary commitment that does not add value to our lives or the lives of those we care about.

What do you think?  Am I missing the mark?  Is there something that you can see that I've missed, or some point on which I have it completely wrong?

I'd love to hear your views!  I long to discover, and help other discover, ways of bringing the unchanging, transforming, Gospel of Christ to the whole world!

Just on a final note, I am coming to understand the incredible value of shared narrative!  For this new generation 'conversation' is so much more important than 'content'!  They can learn most of what I can teach from books, google searches (and even from I've written on my blog and in books).  It is far more valuable to learn with each other and from each other by conversation and mutual discovery of some truths!

Tuesday
Jan192010

How do you cope with stress and pressure? (and remain productive)

Like many others I returned to work early in January after a break over Christmas and the new year.  It was great to get back into the swing of things.  I love what I do, and I like being engaged in multiple tasks; I even enjoy working with a bit of pressure!

However, 2010 is a massive year for me!  First, we have a large stadium prayer gathering in Cape Town (in the new Cape Town stadium on the 22nd of March 2010 - see http://www.gdop-sa.com for more details).

Next, we have an international conference for the Global Day of Prayer from the 17th - 23rd of May at the Cape Town international Convention Centre.  I am responsible for handling the programme at this conference, but I also play a central role in most of the other committees for the events.  You can see more about this conference at http://www.gdop2010.com - it is actually two events, a conference from the 18th to the 20th and then a stadium event at the Newlands Rugby stadium with a global television broadcast on the 23rd of May).  There is more work to be done for this conference than I have hours in my day!

Next, there is the Lausanne Congress on World evangelization which is taking place here in Cape Town in October this year.  I am a member of the arrangements team, as well as serving on the Theological working group, heading up the social media strategy, and I am also one of the officially invited delegates to participate in the congress (there are 50 persons from South Africa who were invited to participate in the congress, so it is a great honour to be among that number.  I am fairly certain that I must be among the most junior of the group, and that my practical involvement in the congress is what got me the spot!  There are certainly far more gifted theologians and leaders in our context!  However, I shall do my best). You can read more about the Lausanne Congress at http://www.capetown2010.com and follow Lausanne on Facebook and on Twitter.

Together with these big responsibilities I also have two new books coming out in 2010.  I had a very tight deadline to write a book on workplace spirituality and faith at work for Struik publishers (this book will be launched at our Global Day of Prayer conference in May - so, the content must be finished in the next week in order for it to be edited, proofed and sent to India or China for printing (I'm not sure where it is printed, but it is in the East, and then it is shipped back to South African in bulk).  Please do pray for me!  I have been waking VERY early and going to bed VERY late to try and finish the 12 chapters for the book!  I need both strength and inspiration to meet the deadline (I have done 7 chapters and have 5 more to go).

The other book that I am working on is a reworking of my doctoral research which Cambridge Scholars Press is publishing entitled 'Why you may not be who you think you are! Adventures in neuroscience, artificial intelligence and theology'.  I'm afraid that is on the back, back burner for a little while (until May at least).

Apart from these big projects I have my regular work to contend with.  I am a chaplain in a company that has 2000 employees, I am a chaplain to the Global Day of Prayer, serving on the regular working team of various ministries and boards, and then also still doing a bit of teaching and some post-graduate supervision at the University of Pretoria and the University of Stellenbosch where I hold academic posts.

Most importantly I have to take time for my family and my faith, and of course there is my health....

When I consider all of this I do get a little stressed at times!!!

SO, here's the question... What do you do to remain productive and cope with stress?  Please not that emphasis on remaining productive while coping with stress.  I love my work, and I like to be busy, but I want to find some tools to keep a 'handle' on it.

Here's a little video that explains what I am currently doing.

However, I'd love to hear your wisdom please!

Wednesday
Jan062010

More than just a bag of neurons, or, are we more than our brains?

 

My friend Phil Collier is posting some wonderful content on his Brain Science blog brain sparks

He posted an interesting question about whether we are merely the 'stuff of our brains' (i.e., if our neurons determine who we are, or if our identity and consciousness is more complex than that). 

Here's my response to Phil (please see his post here): 

Hi Phil, 

As I mentioned in our conversation this morning, I tend towards an inclusive approach that suggests that we are the stuff of our minds (of course 'the brain' extends into the body through the nervous system, and regulates and is informed through the endocrinatic system). As such we would have to say that in part we are our bodies (not just the cells of our brains, although those are important!) 

However, I have found Ken Wilber's all quadrant, all level (AQAL) approach to consciousness quite helpful in breaking down the false dualism between consciousness and matter. 

Thus, on an individual exterior level (my biology) the individual's brain has a great deal to do with their identity and consciousness. However on a collective exterior level (the human or mammalian brain) there is also an element of additional identity forming activity going on. Then of course you have the individual interior (what I think and believe about myself that forms me) and the collective interior (what 'our' culture, religion, socialization, has contributed towards my understand of myself in relation to others). 

You can read more about my understanding of Wilber here, and a few other Wilber posts here

Then, with regards to the idea of an objective mapping of the functions of the brain (i.e., how the electrical and chemical components function to create outputs of action or thought), you may be interested to read some of Ray Kurzweil's thoughts. 


He has done a great deal in trying to map and emulate brain function (his speciality has been speech synthesis and speech recognition), but more recently he has become knowing for his mathematical predictions of the exponential increase in computational capacity in machines. 

I discussed this at length (and also discussed Wilber and consciousness at length) in my doctoral thesis. See the following post for links and information about Kurzweil (discussed in chapter 2) and you can read about Wilber in chapter 4. 

I am currently under contract with Cambridge scholars press who will be publishing my Ph.D in a more 'popular' form as book in 2010 (the working title is 'Why you may not be who you think you are - adventures in neuroscience, strong artificial intelligence and philosophy'). So keep an eye on this space! I'll post updates on the progress as they come.

The original interview with Ray Kurzweil in h+ can be found here.

Blessings, 

Dion

 

Friday
Jan012010

A new neuroscience blog, and the concept of time (does time exist?)

A friend of mine, Philip Collier, has just launched a new neuroscience website at http://www.brainsparks.co.za

Phil and I are cycling buddies, but we also share an interest in the brain - Phil graduated with a Masters in research psychology at the University of Port Elizabeth.  He and I often spend our rides up the Helderberg mountain talking about how the mind functions!

Please do check out his new website - it looks set for great things!

I read one of his first posts with great interest.  I would encourage you to have a look at the post here - where are you now.  What struck me as I read it was the question about the nature of time (and how a poor understanding of the nature of time can hamper a person from truly living in the present moment).  I once read a wonderful quote that said, 'we crucify ourselves between two thieves, the regret of yesterday and the fear of tomorrow'.  I'm not sure who said it, so help me with a reference if you know!  However, what I can say is that I have a much more positive view of the concept of the present - 'the now'.  I believe that there is great spiritual value in learning to live in the present moment.

Once you've read Phil's post you may like to consider my response to him (I have copied it below).  This gives some insight into how I view the concept of time.

All that being said, happy new year!  May the next decade be truly blessed for you!

 

Hi Philip,
Congratulations on the launch of your new site! It looks fantastic.  I look forward to great content and many wonderful interactions in the years to come.
The notion of time has been one that has occupied my mind as well - I have read Tolle's 'The Power of Now' (in fact it is one of the books we use in our conscious leadership programme with the senior management of our company).  I found it a most stimulating and helpful book.  I do think that his intention is much more focussed upon awareness of the moment than on the actual concept of time.
However, your question raises some very interesting thoughts indeed!  The ancient Greek philosophers spoke of two kinds of time, chronos (from which we get our English word 'Chronology' - this is a linear, historical, concept of time).  Then they spoke of kairos, this is the kind of time that has to do with moments of rightness, instead of marking sequential events.  It has often been described as 'pregnant' time: when a child is to be born and gestation is complete, or there is some form of trauma, then kairos comes to the fore, it is the 'right' time, or the 'selected' moment.
The sages of many of the world's mystical religious and spiritual traditions (Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish mystics to name but a few) have long emphasized the incredible value of being 'present to the moment'.
Some years ago when I was doing some research on 'the new science' (particularly the work of David Bohm the quantum physicist) I came to realise just how 'the lived moment' is hardwired into all of the cosmos.  The constant implication and explication of matter in and out of the source of reality (what Bohm called 'active mind') is only perceivable in the moment of realisation.  Of course this concept was discovered much earlier by Einstein, Rosen and Podoslky (also called the EPR or tunneling effect).  You can read about it in one of my books (download a PDF copy here).  See pages 38 forward, but particularly from page 40.
One final note about the philosophy of time, as I have come to understand it, is that time is a construct (like mass or speed).  Time is not an aspect of the ontological nature of reality - rather, it is something that we have created in order to make sense of the sequence of experience and events that we process in our conscious minds.
Consciousness, however, is an ontological necessity!  Becoming conscious of the present moment, and the power of the present moment, is the key to finding blessing and peace in life.  However, history is equally important (since our consciousness of our past and the past of others gives us a sense of perspective on the present, and hopefully it makes us wise enough to act with intention and courage).  Moreover, a conscious aspiration is also a helpful thing (however, not to the extent that it draws us out of the present moment so that we miss the joy and opportunity of 'the now').
Well, those are a few of my thoughts.
Regards,
Dion

 

Friday
Nov062009

When the creators become the creation - our relationship with our technolgies

Some time ago I posted the following thoughts on technology and our relationship with it:

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the French phenomenological philosopher, understood that human interaction upon the world is not a one way street... We don't simply act upon the world!  There is a reverse action from the world upon us...  For example, if you were to walk into an empty room that had nothing but an chair in it what would you do?  At some point the emptyness of the room and the presence of the chair would act upon you consciously, or subconsciously, and they will cause you to sit.  This illustrates how the space and the objects in the space have informed and transformed your thought processes.  However, the very act of sitting (as an act of physics, where the human body and the structure of the chair encounter one another) is a mutual interaction of material realities in which each has an effect upon the other.  When you sit on the chair the structure of the chair flexes and takes up strain in certain areas.  Conversely the structure of the chair exercises pressure upon your body (changing the shape of your body, supporting your back, lowering the pressure on your feet etc.)

Technology thus has both 'subtle' and 'gross' interactions with its human creators - by this I mean that technology interacts both with what is unseen (thoughts, choices, dreams, hopes, aspirations, desires, fears etc.) and what is seen (our physical being, our environment, our proximity to self and others...)

When one comes to consider this complex relationship between consumers of technology, creators of technologies, and the technologies themselves one can begin to understand that the ethical considerations of what we do (and do not do) with our technologies is even MORE complex!  For example, how far do we go in manipulating the human genetic code to do away with certain pathological conditions (mental illness, disease etc.)?  When have we taken our use of technology too far, and when have we not taken it far enough!?

 Today I came across another very interesting post on the relationship between persons and the technologies we create.  Once again, I was interested by the naive view that the author had concerning our existing (and historical) relationship with the technologies we create in order to make our lives more comfortable.  The author's assumption is that we are only just beginning to see a shift in power from being creators of technology to being 'recreated' by our own technologies!

 

The reality is of course that our technologies have impacted, and changed, us since the very first time we used them!  The development of farming changed nomadic tribes to static people groups.  The ability to harness the energy of animals or aspects of nature (such as wind and water) made production possible that introduced surpluses into the economy that moved societies from an agrarian economy to a trading economy...  I could go on forever citing historical examples of such shifts in our behaviour as a result of the impact of our 'created technologies' upon us, their creators!

I would simply state two points once more.  The first is that this affirms, for me at least, the fact that all of reality is interconnected.  We act upon reality and there is always a reaction as a result.  This fact should cause us to be mindful of our relationship with creation, and of course also with God our creation, with whom we are in relationship.  It is not by accident that the fundamental expression of the mystery of God is the concept of 'Trinity', three persons in a relationship identity and life forming interaction (called perichoresis by the Greek philosophers who influenced and formed early Christian Confessing (Creed based) theology).

Second, I would affirm once again that the central aspect of human identity - the human brain, is a simplistic system geared towards survival.

Remember the 3 questions that every human brain asks:

 

  • Can I eat it?  Will it eat me?  (Survival through avoiding threat, or through gaining sustenance - which is why action movies and food advertising work so well!  They reach straight to our primal brain).
  • Can I mate with it?  Will it mate with me?  (The preservation of the species in general, the furtherance of our gene pool in particular - which is of course why sex advertising works so well, and also why we find ourselves more readily attacted to persons who personify the best qualities of people like 'us' (e.g., Caucasian people tend to be more attracted to Caucasians, Hispanics to Hispanics, Orientals to Orientals... This is not always a race based bias (in the negative racial sense), it is to some extend a social and genetic predisposition that is 'hard wired' into our makeup in order to protect our gene pool within the species!)
  • And then of course the 'efficiency' question, have I seen this before (or do I recognize what I see, hear smell or taste?)  This final question forms a recursive loop into the two questions above.  If I have seen it, is it a threat or a help, will it harm me or help me?

Your response to people, situations, and just above every stimulus you encounter will result from these questions.  Interestingly enough the largest portion of our decision-making competency comes from visual stimulus (I have written about this elsewhere and here on visual stimulus) - this makes sense in a survival and efficiency system!  The eye is almost directly connected to the hind-brain (or old brain), which is the decision-making centre.  You brain receives visual stimulus and reacts upon it many times faster than smell or sound.  For example if you're walking down a pathway in the forest and see what looks like a snake you will jump without thinking!  Before you even have a chance to process what you're seeing your brain tells your muscles to react...

 

OK, so how does this relate to technology?  Well, our use of technology causes the development of new neural pathways (and the strengthening of existing neural pathways).  For example, I can type on my computer keyboard without having to look at my fingers on the keys.  Or, I can drive my car without having to think about exerting pressure on the clutch when I change gears.  I have done it so frequently that my mind can manage these tasks without having to interrupt my regular thought processes - that efficiency!

In some sense the technology of driving a car has had a radical effect on my life!  Because I can cover large distances at speed without exerting much energy I have had to devise other ways to generate fitness and maintain muscle tone (so, in my case I go to the gym for spinning classes and I cycle two or three times a week)...

But there are also other technologies that have changed my life - for example because of an inbalanced diet I have to take vitamins and supliments.  Because I work more hours than I sleep I have had to learn to manage my mood and state of mind (manage stress etc.) through prayer and meditation...

In short, the technologies we have created are recreating our lives!  I'd love to hear what you think!

Anyway, here's the article that got me thinking along these lines:


We make technology, but our technology also makes us. At the online science/culture journal Edge, BB pal John Brockman went deep -- very deep -- into this concept. Frank Schirrmacher is co-publisher of the national German newspaper FAZ and a very, very big thinker. Schirrmacher has raised public awareness and discussion about some of the most controversial topics in science research today, from genetic engineering to the aging population to the impacts of neuroscience. At Edge, Schirrmacher riffs on the notion of the "informavore," an organism that devours information like it's food. After posting Schirrmacher's thoughts, Brockman invited other bright folks to respond, including the likes of George Dyson, Steven Pinker, John Perry Barlow, Doug Rushkoff, and Nick Bilton. Here's a taste of Schirrmacher, from "The Age of the Infomavore":
We are apparently now in a situation where modern technology is changing the way people behave, people talk, people react, people think, and people remember. And you encounter this not only in a theoretical way, but when you meet people, when suddenly people start forgetting things, when suddenly people depend on their gadgets, and other stuff, to remember certain things. This is the beginning, its just an experience. But if you think about it and you think about your own behavior, you suddenly realize that something fundamental is going on. There is one comment on Edge which I love, which is in Daniel Dennett's response to the 2007 annual question, in which he said that we have a population explosion of ideas, but not enough brains to cover them. As we know, information is fed by attention, so we have not enough attention, not enough food for all this information. And, as we know -- this is the old Darwinian thought, the moment when Darwin started reading Malthus -- when you have a conflict between a population explosion and not enough food, then Darwinian selection starts. And Darwinian systems start to change situations. And so what interests me is that we are, because we have the Internet, now entering a phase where Darwinian structures, where Darwinian dynamics, Darwinian selection, apparently attacks ideas themselves: what to remember, what not to remember, which idea is stronger, which idea is weaker...
It's the question: what is important, what is not important, what is important to know? Is this information important? Can we still decide what is important? And it starts with this absolutely normal, everyday news. But now you encounter, at least in Europe, a lot of people who think, what in my life is important, what isn't important, what is the information of my life. And some of them say, well, it's in Facebook. And others say, well, it's on my blog. And, apparently, for many people it's very hard to say it's somewhere in my life, in my lived life.
The Age of the Informavore