The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, April 8, 2017
History ... Psychology ... Society ...

I recently heard an interesting report on NPR about some research being done on the psychological importance of ritual. A University of Toronto PhD student named Nicholas Hobson teamed up with some professors to examine what the practice of ritual does to the mind, especially in terms of how we relate to others. One question that Hobson and company addressed was the difference in how we relate to those who share our rituals versus those who don’t.

But first, Hobson set out how important ritual is to the human race:

. . . rituals are ubiquitous around the world. Whenever you see a behavior that occurs in different places, different times, among people who have had no contact with one another, it tells you there’s something in that behavior that’s likely woven into the hardware of the mind.

So, ritual may be more than an idea that we pick up from our ancestors; it might be part of the human genetic endowment! It certainly is interesting to see how similar rituals are for people from all over the world.

You can often find world-wide rituals focused on a similar theme. A big focal point for many public rituals is the winter solstice, i.e. the point in the year when the days are darkest, but will soon stop getting darker and getting more light (this is December in the northern hemisphere, June in the southern hemisphere). Back in November, the Teaching Company put out a catalog that had some nice info about winter solstice rituals in the northern hemisphere. The Teaching Company will mail you scads of catalogs  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:54 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, January 27, 2017
Psychology ... Spirituality ... Zen ...

Being an old guy with old-fashioned habits going well back into the previous century, I still like to have paper reading material at my dinner table, so as to peruse while I eat (or after I eat; more and more I like to linger at the dinner table for a while after I’ve finished my food and drink). I’ve been a subscriber to The Atlantic for over 25 years, and I still try to get thru the issues each month. The January/February issue had quite a few interesting article topics, including octopus consciousness, oil fracking, Glenn Beck, the health dangers of sugar, sleep difficulties (something I experience all too often these days), and not surprisingly, another screed against white America by Ta Nehisi Coates, renewing his call for reparations because of the sin of replacing Barack Obama with Donald Trump.

(Sorry, Mr. Coates — despite all of the historical injustices inflicted upon African-Americans by whites which you accurately cite, African Americans must share some of the blame for Trump, given that too many qualified African American voters who helped Obama in 2008 and 2012 stayed home this past November 9; despite the racism and sexism that motivated some white voters, had blacks they turned out, Trump might not have carried Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Also, note that Mr. Coates mostly ignores the issue of voter misogyny against Clinton — which cuts across color lines).

All of that was quite good and interesting. But the article that I have given the most thought to lately is a short piece entitled “Awesomeness Is Everything“. Awesomeness? Does that have to do with “awe”? I never thought much about awe. I can’t say that I’ve experienced it very often in my life, or if I did, I didn’t immediately recognize myself being “awe struck”. To me, awe is more of an advertising term — this new IPhone is awesome! It has also had its political uses, e.g. the supposed “shock and awe”  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:38 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Personal Reflections ... Psychology ...

Here’s a quick blog thought for when you’re feeling blue — perhaps the December blues, when “the holiday season” is getting on your nerves and the cold and early darkness is starting to bring you down.

Or let’s say that your life seems disappointing, because the great dreams and promises of your youth just didn’t come to pass . . . There’s an article in this months Atlantic about the “U” shaped curve of life satisfaction. According to various studies and interpretations of those studies, we are generally pretty happy with our lives as children and in our early adulthood, then things go downhill until bottoming out in our mid to late 40s. We hit bottom, but things start seeming better to us in our 50s and better still in our 60s and 70s.

So maybe you’re now 46 years old and don’t feel very optimistic, maybe you are fighting off a mid-life crisis. Or maybe you’re like me, having gotten thru my 40s,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:26 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Brain / Mind ... Psychology ...

There was an article on Slate the other day about Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule” for success (i.e., Practice Does Not Make Perfect, by David Z. Hambrick, Fernanda Ferreira, and John M. Henderson). Well, actually the article started off about Gladwell and his notion that personal success is mostly an issue of drive and a willingness to put the energy into mastering something — anything, really. But after that, the three authors took an interesting look at recent research about the relationships between genetics, human abilities and ultimate achievements in life. They basically concluded that Gladwell was wrong in that success is much more dependent upon inborn abilities than upon desire and discipline. While practice and drive certainly are a necessary part of any achievement, the bottom line is that people who don’t have the right bodies and brains (and history and environment) just aren’t going to become concert pianists or NFL quarterbacks or theoretical physicists or jet fighter pilots.

It’s starting to look like “we either have it or we don’t” in terms of being able to get somewhere in life. The classic arguments on what drives our lives and who we are often come down to nature versus nurture. In regards to what we can or can’t accomplish in life, modern research seems to be putting more and more stock in “nature”, i.e. genetics.

So, someday (probably soon), you might take a swab test and have a lab determine what you would be good at; i.e. what fields or endeavors that you would be a “natural” for. Hmmm . . . is this really a good thing? In some ways yes — sure, it makes sense that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:22 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Psychology ... Society ... Spirituality ...

I recently finished reading Franciscan friar Richard Rohr’s book “Falling Upward”. I’m not exactly within the Roman Catholic fold these days, not even at heart. I still see Jesus in a different way than even the most liberal Catholics try to see him. But nonetheless, having grown up in the Roman tradition and recognizing that is has been a force for much good in the world despite all the bad that it is also responsible for, I still feel some affinity to “groovy Catholic writers” like Rohr. His book tries to cheer up those of us who know that we are “over the hill” and are approaching the final phases of our life here on earth. He tries to say that if we can let go of the things that obsessed us in the early days of youth and young adulthood, and learn about the deeper things, our final years might be the best of all, despite all the decay and inevitable discouragement as we see our bodies fall apart.

But to be honest, much of what Rohr writes doesn’t stick with me. It’s sort of like cotton candy writing. Still, here and there Rohr makes a point that hits home with me. One of those points was about the idea of what “home” means to us. Turns out that “home” means a lot more than the particular place where we usually take shelter for the night. Home is a much bigger idea, and it has inspired various social bromides such as “a house is not a home” and “home is where the heart is”.

So Rohr includes a chapter on home and homesickness in Falling Upward. He claims that the “home idea” is  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:59 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Brain / Mind ... Current Affairs ... Psychology ...

It’s been over 8 weeks now since the mysterious disappearance of Flight 370, the Boeing 777 that turned west from its normal south-to-north flight path from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Beijing, and diverted west then presumable south without any communications from the crew or passengers (via cell phone) as to what went wrong. Recall all the assertions that “we have probably found it”, which were soon thereafter retracted. Two days after the incident, oil slicks were spotted in the South China Sea that seemed to mark the spot. But no, military radar reviews showed that the plane headed the other way, to the Bay of Bengal.

There soon followed other various spottings of floating metal and plastic objects, debris fields and such that just must have been the result of a crash into the ocean. Then came the satellite pings and the analysis thereof, and most everyone was then sure that Flight 370 must have went down off the western coast of Australia. Underwater devices in that region soon heard signals that seemed likely to be from the homing device on the plane’s black box. Once again, the mystery was just about solved (at least as to where the plane wound up). But once again, this hot lead went cold, and many experts now doubt that those signals were from the black box.

In the first few weeks, press coverage of the Flight 370 search effort and incident analysis were almost non-stop; every new detail made the front pages. But after a month went by,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:55 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Music ... Psychology ...

I was going thru an interesting article on the neuroscience of introversion recently. There have been a surprising number of brain studies which well establish that the brains of introverts and extroverts operate quite differently. One side effect: extroverts are found to be “happier”. Well, why not, America is an extrovert culture, and those who go with the flow generally have an easier time of it. Personally, I feel more “fulfilled” as an introvert, even if my life isn’t one big smile.

Another interesting fact about introverts: our brain reacts more sensitively to certain physical stimuli. One such stimuli is lemon juice. Various tests have shown that introverts salivate quite a bit more then extroverts in response to lemon juice in the mouth. Actually, I do rather enjoy licking fresh-cut lemons (when no one else is around and only I will use them). It’s interesting that extroverts can’t easily turn a sour lemon into a pleasurable experience, as the introvert within me can.

This all reminds me of an old episode of “The Little Rascals“, one that I watched many times when growing up (one of the pleasures of summer vacation  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:54 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Psychology ... Technology ...

I learned the rudiments of computer programming while in college, back in the mid-1970s. That was back in the dark ages of computers, when we keyed our programs on punch cards and brought them to a desk to be run. The output would come back in the form of a stack of thin 11 x 18 inch pages, listing all the stupid errors you made, along with all sorts of other computer system gibberish. So you’d re-punch some of your cards and try again; maybe in an hour or two you’d get your next set of results, hoping for a column or two of output numbers that made sense. That was my introduction to Fortran.

I didn’t make a career out of computer work, but knowing basic computer logic did help me in my various jobs over the next three decades. Still, I really only knew one half of the world of computer usage, as I never took a class on databases (COBOL, back then). To me, databases were like the dark side of the moon. I figured that they really weren’t all that important, and even if they were, how hard could it be? You just put numbers in indexed boxes, according to rows and columns. How complicated would it be to retrieve the number in row 1035, column 215 — say, sales of washing machines on July 23, 1974 at the Wichita store?

Only later in life did I come to know just how important the world of databases is. In 2000 I took a mid-life career hiatus and went through some classes at the now-defunct Chubb Top Gun program, which gave me  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:18 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Current Affairs ... Psychology ...

I am lucky in that I had parents who cared and managed to do a pretty good job of bringing me up. They certainly had their problems; being their child was not always a sunny-day picnic. But they were the kind of parents whose ultimate loyalty could be taken for granted, all the way thru to adulthood. Only later on in life did I find out what a luxury that was.

I was also lucky in that I never experienced a really bad trauma, like being sexually abused by a priest as a child, or being on a battlefield or witnessing a murder. (And I hope that trend continues into the final decades of my life). As such, I never felt the need to see a professional therapist. I’ve been able to deal with most of my emotional problems by talking with others and thinking things through on my own. (I enjoy questioning myself sometimes, questioning my reasons and motives and behaviors as though I were someone else.). I feel as though my own behavior is under my own control (most of the time, anyway). Thus, I couldn’t imagine investing my time and money into a series of therapeutic discussions with a trained counselor. I can always find better things to do with my limited bank account.

Nonetheless, psychological therapy is still a popular practice amongst college-educated suburban Americans like myself. So I wondered what it was like (although I have read stories about therapy, and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:30 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Brain / Mind ... Psychology ... Spirituality ...

Last week at the zendo, one of our members gave a talk about holotropic breathwork; the person in question was quite qualified to do this, as she has been practicing it for over 15 years and is now a group facilitator. I wasn’t familiar with that particular form of “bodywork”, so I listened with interest. It sounded quite interesting, especially the claim that holotropic breathers plumb the depths of the psyche and glean great personal and metaphysical insights — without expensive long-term talk therapy or the use of dangerous psychotropic drugs. And without any extraordinary life commitment; the typical breather attends a day-long session every two months, and that’s it. Hey, I’m all for personal and metaphysical insights without a repetitive and burdensome daily practice! So, like many of the other listeners at this talk, I was interested in signing up.

But before I signed on the dotted line, the quasi-scientist in me wanted to know how it worked. The other parts of me said, “oh come on, quasi-scientist, that kind of attitude is exactly what holotropic breathwork puts on hold”. It’s all about the Journey to the Center of the Mind (remember that cheezy song by Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes?).

Nonetheless, the quasi-scientist soon had me in front of a Google page typing in terms like breathwork and hyperventilation. Hyperventilation? It was made clear at the recent zendo talk that breathing fast for a good long time (around an hour) is the key to holotropic breathwork, the gateway to  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:41 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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