Friday, March 28, 2008

Spiritual Brain authors in the media: Mario Beauregard at New Dimensions Café

The podcast is here (scroll down). Mario writes,
"The Neuroscience of Consciousness". Go to and click on New Dimensions Café Listen Now! You'll find a 24-1/2 minute dialogue that I recently had with Michael Toms. If you would like to subscribe to the New Dimensions Café podcast which features many of the guests that appear on New Dimensions it is available for a free subscription on the home page as well.


Monks lead protest for civil rights in Tibet

I've written before about the beating Buddhist monks have taken while opposing oppression in Myanmar - and now they are opposing oppression in Tibet.

They hope to draw attention to the problem due to the fact that the Olympics were awarded to China this year.

Here's Canada's John Fraser's harrowing but instructive take on why the Chinese government has such a problem with civil rights.
Each of the condemned men also had an armed PSB officer beside them, holding on to them either by the shoulder or at the neck. The prisoners' hands were tied behind their backs and they clearly had been beaten up. For the passengers on the right side of the bus, there was only a window glass and less than a foot distance between them and the condemned men. Never before and never again, probably, would they have such a close encounter with the Chinese justice system. One of the condemned looked up, almost disinterestedly. One eye was so bloodied it was completely shut, but with the other eye he and I made contact for a couple of seconds. As I write this on Good Friday, I can see his face so clearly that it unshrouds him and makes my soul shiver.

"They are about to be executed, aren't they?" a passenger asked after the truck finally made it past us and we were rolling again.

[ ... ]

The rest of the trip to Beijing was very quiet, but less than 24 hours later they were all back to shopping their brains out.

I excerpt this just so you know what you are going to read.

I sometimes run into Western Christians who think we invented taking a stand against tyranny, but there are many brave people in the world, including these monks.

And China is a materialist tyranny. Fraser writes,
When you have a gruesome gauleiter like Zhang Qingli, first secretary of the Communist party in the "Autonomous Region of Tibet," telling the Tibetan people that the Communist party is "like a parent" to them and that "it is always considerate about what the children need," and then segues into a studiously inflammatory claim that the "Central Party Committee is the real Buddha for Tibetans," you get a wee glimpse into the sick spiritual territory the party has always staked out for itself along with all its dubious claims of its "inalienable rights" to guide the masses.

By the way, Maclean's, which published John Fraser, is our century-old Canadian magazine that is standing up to the tyranny of Canada s misnamed "human rights" commissions, under which it has been recently charged.

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Social science: Why are the religious more charitable?

I've written before on the role of religion in causing people to give more time and money to charity, and whether giving makes you happier.

Now columnist George Will, noting a response from Texas, observes,

The single biggest predictor of someone's altruism, Willett says, is religion. It increasingly correlates with conservative political affiliations because, as Brooks' book says, "the percentage of self-described Democrats who say they have 'no religion' has more than quadrupled since the early 1970s." America is largely divided between religious givers and secular nongivers, and the former are disproportionately conservative. One demonstration that religion is a strong determinant of charitable behavior is that the least charitable cohort is a relatively small one -- secular conservatives.

That's an interesting new finding, but not a surprising one. Many secular conservatives are into Darwinian evolution - not a creed that encourages help for the less fortunate (Darwin's losers?). But I do not know if that is the actual reason for the tight wallets.

In any event, I always feel I must add a qualifier to claims that religion and philanthropy icreasingly correlate with conservative political affiliations. I am nearly sixty years old. That is old enough to remember the days when it was both the duty and honour of every able-bodied citizen to help the less fortunate. It was simply part of the air we breathed. It was not in any sense a "conservative" point of view. It is sad to see something that felt so normal become so politicized.

But wait! It may not be as politicized as some think. Remember the Zogby poll that asked whether Democrats considered themselves born again? And many of them did! Suppose we round them up and ask them how much THEY give to charity?

Now THERE is a poll for someone to sponsor. What if it turns out that secularists are the only ones letting poor kitty starve?

Note: The current controversy, featured in the soon-to-be-released Expelled film, has nothing to do with whether evolution occurs. Of course evolution occurs. But Darwin was wrong all the same because he left out design and purpose.

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Neuroscience and Arts: But HOW does meat think?

If you are not a materialist (but especially if you are), you must see this wonderful little film clip directed by Stephen O'Regan, and based on a short story by Terry Bisson.

Some (apparently) non-corporeal aliens come to Earth. Sitting in a booth in a small town greasy spoon, they are shocked, just shocked, by the fact that people are made of "meat".

Our brains are "meat." The aliens can't imagine how "meat" communicates. So ... how does meat think?

Don't miss the beautiful sequence where, while the aliens puzzle, in the next booth some very average people are celebrating their friend's excellent card castle (a completely useless activity that greatly exercises the mind and fine motor skills).

Note: In The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul, Mario offers a psychoneural translation hypothesis - how "mentalese" translates into "neuronese".

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