Thursday, May 28, 2009

opening minds


The larger point is that liberals and conservatives often form judgments through flash intuitions that aren’t a result of a deliberative process. The crucial part of the brain for these judgments is the medial prefrontal cortex, which has more to do with moralizing than with rationality. If you damage your prefrontal cortex, your I.Q. may be unaffected, but you’ll have trouble harrumphing.

One of the main divides between left and right is the dependence on different moral values. For liberals, morality derives mostly from fairness and prevention of harm. For conservatives, morality also involves upholding authority and loyalty — and revulsion at disgust.

So how do we discipline our brains to be more open-minded, more honest, more empirical? A start is to reach out to moderates on the other side — ideally eating meals with them, for that breaks down “us vs. them” battle lines that seem embedded in us. (In ancient times we divided into tribes; today, into political parties.) The Web site is an attempt to build this intuitive appreciation for the other side’s morality, even if it’s not our morality.

“Minds are very hard things to open, and the best way to open the mind is through the heart,” Professor Haidt says. “Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games.”

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Augusto Boal, Founder of the Theater of the Oppressed, Dies at 78

Augusto Boal, Founder of the Theater of the Oppressed, Dies at 78

In Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, in the working quarters of Rio. And then, every morning that I went to work with my father, when I was twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old, and then I saw all those workers, and I saw how they were oppressed. And always, I was preoccupied with them. I was fascinated by how could they not rebel if they were so oppressed.

And then, my beginning, it was at fifteen years old; I started writing plays about them. And I was in a moment in which I thought that as I was not oppressed as their oppression, I was not in the same circumstance, and I was pretending to be an artist, I was superior in some way. And then I said, “I’m going to teach them what they have to do to fight.” So I entered in the line of the political theater of the ’50s, of the ’60s, in which they had messages to give.

And one day I learned that I did not know more than they did, unless in the theater. In the theater, yes, I knew more. But their lives, they knew more than I. And it happened on a day when I was working for peasants in the northeast of Brazil, and I was doing a play in which the protagonist said, at the end said, “We have to spill our blood to save our land.” And then we were all singing, dressed like peasants. We were not peasants; looking like peasants, but we were not peasants, and saying, “You have to spill your blood, our blood, to save our lands, to reconquer.”

And then a peasant came to us and says, “Well, you think exactly like we do. So why don’t you take your rifles,” because we had rifles on stage, very beautiful, colorful rifles, and he said, “Why don’t you come with your rifles, and let’s go to fight against some landowners that occupied our land. We have to spill our blood.” And then we said, “Forgive us, but our rifles, they are not true. They are fake. They are setting rifles.” And he said, “OK, the rifles are not true. They are not real rifles. But you are sincere, so you come, because we have rifles for everybody. Let’s fight against them.” And then we said, “No, we are truly artists, not truly peasants.” And he said, “When truly artists say, ‘Let’s spill our blood,’ you are talking about our true blood of truly peasants and not about yours.”

So I understood that we could not give a message to women, because we are men; to blacks, because we are white; to peasants, because we live in the city. But we can help them to find their own ways of fighting.

AMY GOODMAN: How did [being imprisoned for your theatre work] change your view also of theater?

In some way, it had been changed before we did this episode, in which I found that I was telling—giving advice to someone, but I was not able to take the same risks. Che Guevara used to say something very beautiful. He said, “To be solidarity is to take the same risks.” And I was not taking any risk. I went there, I did the play, and then “Go and fight,” and I take the plane back home. So my—had already changed.

But at the same time, to be in a solitary cell, to be alone there, not talking to anybody anytime, and most of the time not seeing anybody, made me, for the first time in my life, to listen to silence. I had never listened to silence. I listened to sounds. But I listened to sounds. And then, in that moment, I learned. I learned that in this moment of the silence, your thoughts, they become more concrete, almost objects.

And then, when I was moved from this cell to a cell with many other prisoners, political prisoners, I learned something very important also, that when we are free in space, we are arrested in time. We have to go look at the watch. It’s what time? And we have to go here, we have to go there. We are arrested in time. And when we are arrested in space, we have the free time. We have the liberty of using our time.

...There is a poet, a Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, who says, “The path does not exist. The path, you make by treading on it. By walking, you make the path.” So we don’t know where the path leads, but we know the direction of the path that we want to take. That’s what I want, and not to accomplish, but to follow, until I can’t.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Findings - Ear Plugs to Lasers - The Science of Concentration -

Findings - Ear Plugs to Lasers - The Science of Concentration -

Ultimately, Dr. Desimone said, it may be possible to improve your attention by using pulses of light to directly synchronize your neurons, a form of direct therapy that could help people with schizophrenia and attention-deficit problems (and might have fewer side effects than drugs). If it could be done with low-wavelength light that penetrates the skull, you could simply put on (or take off) a tiny wirelessly controlled device that would be a bit like a hearing aid.

...Researchers have already observed higher levels of synchrony in the brains of people who regularly meditate.

...She recommends starting your work day concentrating on your most important task for 90 minutes. At that point your prefrontal cortex probably needs a rest, and you can answer e-mail, return phone calls and sip caffeine (which does help attention) before focusing again. But until that first break, don’t get distracted by anything else, because it can take the brain 20 minutes to do the equivalent of rebooting after an interruption. (For more advice, go to

"You’re constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience, just as William James said.”

During her cancer treatment several years ago, Ms. Gallagher said, she managed to remain relatively cheerful by keeping in mind James’s mantra as well as a line from Milton: “The mind is its own place, and in itself/ Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n.”

Friday, May 08, 2009

Oakland, Calif. -

Oakland, Calif. -

The Black Panther Legacy Tours (707-644-2730; aren’t for your typical tour group types. Led by David Hilliard, a former Panthers chief of staff and childhood friend of Huey P. Newton, the three-hour tours ($25 a person, reservations only) start at the West Oakland Library, 18th and Adeline Streets. They trace the history of the Oakland-born movement at 18 sites, from the boxy building where Newton and Bobby Seale drew up the party’s Ten Point Program in 1966 to the sidewalk where Newton was killed by a drug dealer in 1989.