Do you enjoy being the center of attention? Is it important that your work is recognized?

I think those are two separate things. Years ago, when I was in a traveling theatre troupe, I wanted our production to be appreciated; that is, I did want the audience to be engaged…spellbound even…during the performance. And sure…I wanted them to pay attention to me when I was on stage - and to my fellow actors while they were on stage. But after the performance, I really didn’t want to interact with the audience at all. I loathed afterparties or meet-and-greets. The fawning, praise, false sense of intimacy…I found it viscerally repulsive. And I think this speaks to a very clear difference between having one’s efforts appreciated in context, and becoming “the center of attention” is a social situation. Those are two very different experiences, and they’ve provided a repeating contrast throughout my life. For example, when I have taught classes, I really enjoy becoming a facilitator of discussion, drawing people into it, exciting new conceptions or angles on a given topic, and synthesizing meaningful conclusions from group input - I really love doing that. But again, after class, when students approach me to offer their excitement or appreciation around my teaching style (rather that the topic itself), I try to be gracious but I am actually really, really uncomfortable.

Recently, I entered an essay contest. I haven’t done that in nearly thirty years, though this habit was part of my attempt to “become a writer” in my twenties. :-) In any case, the same dynamic is in play with writing efforts as well: I’d really like to be heard - I want folks to read what I write - but I don’t particularly enjoy a lot of attention after-the-fact. As the months have dragged on since I submitted my essay last November (some six months ago now), I find myself a little disgruntled that I haven’t heard any status on the contest. Is it because I wanted to win? Not particularly, no…it’s actually because I want my ideas to be heard, to be discussed, to influence discourse around a topic I care about. And that can’t happen if my essay is sitting in a closed office in someone’s read-me pile, instead of shared on my website, on FB, here on Quora, via etc. Which is why most of my books and essays are downloadable for free - here again, it’s nice to make money off of books sales, which to a small degree reflects some recognition of and attention to my work, but if people buy my books and don’t read them, that would be pretty pointless, right? So again it’s more about engagement and synthesis in the noosphere. That’s what really excites and sustains me.

Obviously the same phenomenon occurs on Quora. Although I can’t be sure that all of the “views” are actual full-length reads of my posts, it’s the “views” rather than the “likes” that I pay most attention to over time. More than that, when people engage me on Quora by posting comments or questions on my posts, I’m thrilled. I really enjoy immersing myself in a back-and-forth on complex topics. But if that turns into a love fest of mutual praise…well, that’s always nice but it doesn’t facilitate synthesis. It’s often just “preaching to the choir” as it were (again…this can feel nice or affirming…but it isn’t what motivates me to write).

This was a bit of a stream-of-consciousness data-dump…but hopefully I’ve made a useful distinction here.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

In layman's terms, what is philosopher Gianni Vattimo's idea of "weak thought"?

LOL. Reducing complex philosophical concepts to “layman’s terms” is perhaps itself a byproduct of weak thought - as we can only frame such discourse in the concepts we have learned via the culture through which we swim. Be that as it may….

My understanding is that Vattimo is passionately invested in the idea that nothing a priori - and most certainly not our “being/essence/ousia” - is self-evident, extant, or a reliable basis for philosophical disclosure. Thus to engage in a priori speculation is to demonstrate “weak thought.” We can only know (in the sense of strong thought, i.e. a posteriori “deductive cogency”) from our experience and, more reliably, what Vattimo calls “scientific calculation and technological organization.” Thus “Being” per se is fluid - it has no definite or stable structure. From Vattimo’s Weak Thought (2012): “One has access to Being not through presence but only through recollection, for Being cannot be defined as that which is but only that which is passed on [si tramanda].”

First I would say that this idea isn’t particular new - Proust makes clear reference to the same observations about transience and recollection in his writing. Of course I wouldn’t dream of implying that Vattimo is reappropriating here. I’m just saying it’s not particularly original.

Secondly I would say that Vattimo’s argument narrowly holds true for a very thin slice of concrete sequential reasoning, and not for the many other cognitive input streams humans have available to us (see Sector Theory 1.0 – Todd's Take on Epistemology). This is what I would call classic exclusionary bias. When Vattimo asserts that “we do not have pre-categorical or trans-categorical access to Being,” he is simply mistaken.

Lastly, where Vattimo seems to claim that the metaphysical tradition has no ”coherent unity,” IMHO he is evidencing his own incomplete understanding of that tradition - and his oversimplifying (or reducing) of its nuances - rather than any demonstrated continuity in his own logic.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Post-Postmodernity's Problem with Knowledge

Sell Sell Sell

This may actually be a pretty straightforward problem, with a challenging but nevertheless obvious solution. Here's my take....

I would propose there are nine primary forces at work in present-day knowledge generation, dissemination, evaluation and integration, which I would sketch out as the following inverted values hierarchy:

A. Titillation to entertain or make money.
B. Arrogant ideological agendas.
C. Tribalism and groupthink.
D. Extreme, self-protective specialization of informational domains and language.
E. Democratization and diffusion of knowledge.
F. Appreciation of an ever-increasing complexity and interdependence of all human understanding.
G. An understandable fluidity of exact knowledge.
H. Critical self-awareness.
I. The humbly inquisitive ongoing search for truth.

What seems immediately evident when looking these over is that personal and collective values have tremendous influence on the efficacy of a given approach to knowledge - and, perhaps most importantly, this influence can and does defy any institutions created to sustain a more diverse or fruitful values system. For example:

1. If the profit motive reigns supreme, then titillation to entertain or make money will trump all other variables. This has clearly had a role in news media, where entertainment and sensationalism have far outpaced accuracy or depth. More subtly, this has also had an impact on scientific research, where competition for grant money has distorted methodology and data in order to attract sufficient funding.

2. If a particular belief system is venerated above everything else, then arrogant ideological agendas destroy truth in favor of persuasive propaganda - especially when combined with tribalism and groupthink. We see this with religious indoctrination and exclusionary bias (i.e. denial of empirical evidence), with conservative news media that promote neoliberal political and economic agendas, and with the refusal of institutions of higher learning to allow truly diverse or controversial perspectives among their events and curricula.

3. When democratization and diffusion of knowledge is prioritized above every other value, then we end up with the armchair Dunning-Kruger effect, where folks believe they have mastered a complex discipline after reading a few Internet articles, and are then able to confidently refute (in their own estimation) the assessments of more educated and experienced practitioners in that field. Social media seems to provide considerable reinforcement of such knowledge-distorting self-importance - as do participatory systems and institutional dialogues that refuse to qualify or evaluate sources of information or their veracity, and give all input equal weight.

4. With extreme self-protective specialization, we end up with isolated islands of understanding that do not fully comprehend or appreciate each other - and in fact often can't function harmoniously together in society. One consequence of this are graduates of universities who are preoccupied with scholastic performance at the expense of actual learning, or who cannot understand their field in a way that actually adds value to its execution in the real world. In other words, an education system that rewards one narrow flavor of performance, while devaluing creative productivity in order to generate compliant specialists.

There are also some nasty values combinations in the post-postmodern era that seem increasingly pernicious in the destruction of knowledge, mainly because they deliberately exclude F, G, H & I - that is, the humbly inquisitive ongoing search for truth, fluidity of exact knowledge, critical self-awareness, and appreciation of ever-increasing complexity and interdependence. Really, whenever these four characteristics are deprioritized or absent, insight and understanding tends to be thoroughly crippled. But let's briefly take a closer look at each of these fundamentals....

What is "critical self-awareness?" I think it could be summarized many ways, such as taking one's own opinion with a grain of salt, or having a healthy sense of humor about one's own understanding, or being able to effectively argue against one's own position and appreciate its flaws - i.e. some of the central themes of postmodern thought. The "humbly inquisitive ongoing search" is certainly a kindred spirit here, but also implies that our journey towards the truth is never-ending; it's not just humility about conclusions, but about the process of seeking itself. Appreciating the "fluidity of exact knowledge" is an additional variable to balance out other, less rigorous impulses. It means there will be few black-and-white conclusions that are accurate; that ambiguity and imprecision are inevitable; that assertions should be tested in small arenas for limited periods, rather than as sweeping revisions; and so on. This fluidity does not, however, insist on a nihilistic or dismissive orientation to qualitative truth; on the contrary, it can recognize and integrate absolutes while remaining keenly aware of context. And, finally, "complexity and interdependence" means that we will of necessity be synthesizing a collective understanding together - there isn't much opportunity for elitist leadership or vanguardism, except perhaps in a few highly abstracted or technical areas. In other words, functional truth is perpetually intersubjective. At the same time - again as a balancing factor to the diffusion and democratization of knowledge - we will also need to appropriately weight the insights of experiential "experts" to help us navigate complexity.

These four characteristics can be viewed as attitudes, character traits, virtues, priorities, beliefs, operating assumptions, etc. The point is that if we prioritize these four above all considerations - subordinating our other beliefs, reflexes and desires to them - we can begin to formulate a healthy, fruitful relationship with knowledge, both culturally and interpersonally. If we don't prioritize these characteristics...well, then I suspect we'll keep making the same kinds of errors that have led us into our current state of apoplectic befuddledom. We simply can't afford to constrain the four essential qualities of truth-navigation in a straight jacket of what really should be extraneous and subordinated values and habits. And thus we arrive at a proposed values hierarchy that maximizes the utility of any approach to true and useful knowledge:

A. The humbly inquisitive ongoing search for truth.
B. Critical self-awareness.
C. An understandable fluidity of exact knowledge.
D. Appreciation of an ever-increasing complexity and interdependence of all human understanding.

E. Democratization and diffusion of knowledge.
F. Extreme, self-protective specialization of informational domains and language.
G. Tribalism and groupthink.
H. Arrogant ideological agendas.
I. Titillation to entertain or make money.

As you can see, this is simply an inverted version of the current status quo. Okay...if we can entertain this thesis, how do we get from here to there? Well I think education about this issue will help, but really we need to evaluate what is generating the memetic force of competing values hierarchies, and disable or de-energize that force wherever possible. How is it that titillation to entertain or make money has gained such prominence? Or that arrogant ideological agendas or tribalism and groupthink have usurped both the scientific method and common sense? Why has extreme, self-protective specialization so often shattered collaborative, interdisciplinary exchanges and synthesis? And how has the democratization and diffusion of knowledge rallied itself into such a farcical exaggeration...? Is there a common denominator for all of these trends...?

Well I think the answer is pretty straightforward, and I along with many others have been writing about it for a long time - it was Aristotle, I believe, who most clearly identified the same core issues we face today. The central problem is our highly corrosive form of capitalism. But perhaps I should forsake my own confidence for a moment and - applying the very virtues I've exalted here - humbly offer that a culture of acquisitiveness, infantilizing consumerism, competitive egotism and blindly irrational faith will likely not facilitate the four essential qualities humanity requires for thriving and productive knowledge. And I do believe this is a cultural decision - one in which we have all become complicit, and have all reinforced through tacit acceptance of the status quo. To break free of our shackles, we will need to let go of some of the habits and appetites we most covet and adore. But I could be wrong. Perhaps we can achieve equilibrium through our continued bluff and bluster, through ever-greater fabrications, self-deceptions and carelessly conspicuous consumption. That seems a risky bet to me...but again, I might be mistaken.

Has studying psychology changed the way you interact with people?

Yes, absolutely. For example:

I tend to be less judgmental of both myself and others as I have a better understanding of what prompts certain unskillful responses. Or…if I find that I am being judgmental…I am able to correct myself more quickly.

I am more tuned in to indications of depression in others than I had been before, and will more readily question further to see if someone is experiencing additional symptoms.

I can shift into an observation mode more easily now - detaching a bit from an interaction. This is actually not always a good thing (say, with a partner), but it can be useful when conflicts arise in friendships or with family members.

I think I have more humility about my own mentation - I am more aware of cognitive distortions and factors like stress or diet that can impair perception and increase reactivity. Knowing doesn’t necessarily change what I am observing…but I can be more chagrined than confused about it. When interacting with others, this makes things like admitting I was wrong or making repair attempts much easier. Not easy…just easier. :-)

One unfortunate side-effect of studying mental illnesses in particular is observing how prevalent forme fruste or subclinical diseases and disorders seem to be. It doesn’t take long before everyone seems to be exhibiting symptoms. Ha.

Lastly I would say that studying psychology is one thing, and experiencing therapy is quite another, but that both are highly instructive and have influenced how I interact with myself and others.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Is there a cause and effect relationship between supply and demand?

My answer would be “sometimes,” either unidirectionally or bidirectionally in our modern environments.

If there is pent up aggregate demand for a good that is known - i.e. has existed and fulfilled a particular utility for some time - then a new player could decide to begin producing that good, or an existing player could increase their production, or either could find ways to reduce prices on that good…all in order to meet pent up demand. This happens quite frequently in fact, and represents a unidirectional causal relationship between demand→supply. A common example of this would be established communities where there is no inexpensive housing, or that lack any grocery stores or gas stations within a convenient distance, or that only have access to one really pricy ISP. Another example would be a vast array of goods and services after a prolonged economic downturn.

There may also be what I would call “unconscious” pent up aggregate demand for a newly discovered or introduced good. A culture that has never been exposed to something that is commonly produced somewhere else - alcoholic beverages, coffee, silk fabrics, cigarettes, eyeglasses, etc - may quickly ramp up demand once exposed to that good. Likewise, a new service or product that satisfies some basic human need that isn’t being thoroughly provided for in existing society (or has been difficult to access) - such as pornography, social media, spiritual nourishment, for example - may create a boom of commoditization and consumption, and their responsive supply.

If someone invents a new good and exerts tremendous marketing effort to persuade people that they have a need (even if they didn’t before), then they may successfully create artificial aggregate demand. This also happens quite frequently, and represents a unidirectional causal relationship between supply → demand. An example of this would be pharmaceuticals marketed directly to consumers, especially where the efficacy of the drug is questionable, or the symptoms or condition are much less common than are being represented by advertising. Now of course it’s the marketing that stimulates artificial demand - not the supply alone - but in this case many such drugs just didn’t compete well with others for a given treatment, so the companies try to recover their R&D investment by gaining approval to treat conditions unrelated to their initial objective. In other words, without this preexisting supply there would be no marketing, so the causal chain remains intact.

Now I think it is important to note that these different scenarios can exist in both for profit and nonprofit environments, and among both privatized and socialized goods and services.

Where things get more interesting (to me at least) are situations that foster bidirectional causality, where a feedback loop amplifies both demand and supply. This occurs not infrequently in financial and information economies. For example, when psychological momentum builds around a speculative opportunity - such as high tech companies that could, perhaps, produce something that people want, but actually don’t produce anything at the moment (or haven’t made any profit producing what they do). And suddenly the demand for stock in these companies skyrockets - and stock values skyrocket along with that, which stimulates a boom of high tech companies entering the market that could, potentially, meet a demand that could, potentially, exist. But all of this is just make-believe. There is nothing there but a psychological demand-supply feedback loop.

It is also important to note that neither supply nor demand are the end of the causal chain. There are often many other factors in play - things like cultural capital, habituation and addiction, shareholder pressure to increase profits, macroeconomic events, etc. But if you use “supply” and “demand” as aggregate representations of economic function, then you can delve into other factors as subordinate or superior causes and effects.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Open Letter: Apology from U.S. to the World for Electing Trump

Hi Folks. We’re sorry about Trump - for a number of reasons.

On the one hand, we’re sorry that nearly half the U.S. electorate:

• Is unable to think critically or separate fact from falsehood.

• Could not see Mr. Trump for the erratic, narcissistic, blowhard demagogue that he is.

• Is swayed by conspiracy theories, irrational fear-mongering, neoliberal propaganda, yellow journalism and false advertising.

• Confuses gambling of inherited wealth with business acumen.

• Has the mistaken impression that voting once every four years is the only political obligation necessary to support civil society.

• Allowed entertainment value to override wisdom and common sense.

• Actually believed that Trump would follow through on his campaign pledges.

You might wonder why so many people fell under the spell of this mass-hysteria. Here are some likely contributing conditions:

• Poor diets and insufficient exercise, which negatively impact brain development and function.

• Tribal conformance and groupthink brought on by insular and homogenous communities.

• Frustration, anger and mental illness, brought about in part by the multigenerational stresses of waning social status and economic immobility.

• The immaturity and entitlement induced by commercialistic habits, compulsions and dependencies.

• Economic insecurity resulting from globalization and the boom/bust cycles of growth-dependent capitalism, along with the ever-enlarging wealth inequality created by monopolization, cronyism and clientism.

• Rapid cultural and technological change, which were also accelerated by growth-dependent capitalism.

• Below-average analytical and emotional intelligence, which interfere with the capacity to comprehend or navigate complexity.

• Willful ignorance as a lazy, amoral choice.

We are sorry about these conditions, too, because they are a consequence of our ongoing committment as Americans to invest in conspicuous consumption, atomistic individualism and greedy materialism as our guiding lights, while at the same time decimating our public education system, news media integrity, and cultural truth metrics. We have also routinely abdicated our political obligations to corporations and individuals with huge concentrations of wealth, allowing them make more and more of our decisions for us – and take over more and more of our government and civic institutions – and we’re sorry for that, too.

On the other hand, those who appreciate complexity, want to champion progressive values, and believe in a more participatory, informed and egalitarian future are also sorry. Because we didn’t make our case to the American people, or effectively counter the ridiculous spectacle of Donald Trump…or in many cases even go out and vote. Shame on us.

So for all of this…and for the inevitable suffering of so many millions of people that will result from a morally and mentally crippled Trump administration…we are also truly and deeply contrite. In our confusion and pain, we the people of the United States of America have allowed an impulsive, feckless idiot to become our leader. Intuitively, most of us knew this was a bad idea, and that “making America great again” was really just a last-ditch attempt for poor and middle-class white people to feel like their penises mattered (or feel like their father's, husband's or son's penises mattered, as the case may be). But, like tantruming children, too few wanted to face the reality of that shrinking decline…or have much compassion for a lot of folks lashed out.

Again, so sorry.

Is applied loss of memory a way to rehabilitate human beings?

In my book, Memory : Self (a online searchable copy of which can be previewed via this link: Integral Lifework - Memory:Self), I describe a method called “Active Memory Reorganization” or AMR. This is a way of re-contextualizing memories to reinvent self-concept and modify compensating behaviors that can often be unproductive or self-destructive. It could certainly be utilized during rehabilitation. A key component of this process, however, is that the client actively participates - they are in conscious control of the process. In most Person-centered therapy this is a vital consideration, because it empowers a client to have agency regarding their own healing and well-being. From this perspective, any therapeutic actions “perpetrated upon” a client are usually deemed destructive at worst, and counterproductive at best. This is why highly confrontational or directive therapies, therapies that rely exclusively on psychoactive drugs, or therapies where a client is more passive (such as hypnotherapy), are not considered to be “person-centered” approaches. In the case of rehabilitation for those who have been convicted of serious crimes, it is especially important that they be supported in their own self-healing empowerment, rather than controlled and manipulated, since such obliterations of agency throughout their life likely contributed to their antisocial behaviors.

As a separate consideration, there may be structural issues (excessive testosterone production, inadequate or impaired prefrontal myelination, etc.) that are contributing to antisocial ideation and behavior, which neither AMR nor the kind of “memory wipe” you suggest would adequately address. In these cases, acute intervention - and indeed procedures that are imposed against someone’s will - may be necessary to stabilize a person so that they can begin a more self-aware and self-directed healing process. Our current metric for such intervention, however, is usually whether a person is likely to harm themselves or someone else, and incarcerated people have protections against punitive measures beyond the fairly narrow scope of their physical confinement (i.e. nothing “cruel or unusual”). This is why - in some places in the U.S. - it is not legal to use chemical castration against an inmate’s will. However, the metrics that inform rehabilitative efficacy are trends like recidivism, radicalization, and criminalization among prison populations - and clearly our approaches to rehabilitation need to align with measuring these outcomes.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

Would a psychologist understand enlightenment experience in a patient or would it be perceived as irrelevant garden variety delusion?

First and foremost in any therapeutic relationship is pursuing what is most beneficial for the client. The therapist’s spiritual beliefs and practices are separate from this - though of course they may influence therapeutic choices. What is more relevant is whether the client’s beliefs and practices are beneficial to them, or causing distress. And even if they are causing distress, the objective would be to alleviate that distress rather than reform a client’s entire belief system or dismiss it as delusion. That would be pretty irresponsible. A skilled therapist can even utilize the spiritual convictions of a client (along with other techniques that have proved efficacious) to help a client through what they perceive as a spiritual crisis - and this can happen whether the therapist shares those beliefs or not. Again, this is about what is beneficial to the client. Now of course this would also be true of delusion…but again the delusion need not be contradicted or dismissed out-of-hand, and only requires attention if it is interfering with well-being or day-to-day functioning. To give an example let’s say a client says, “I’m totally in love with this person but because they don’t want anything to do with me I just want to kill myself.” Okay well their earnest emotional conviction has everything to do with why they are suffering, but a solution has a lot more to do with how to manage emotional impulses and suicidal ideation than negating that belief (or treating it as unreal, delusional or suspect). In fact, for some personality and cognitive disorders, if a therapist betrays even the slightest skepticism about the validity of a client’s emotional state - if they so much as hint that it isn’t real or important, and that the client needs to accept this - then the therapeutic relationship will be finished. Kaput.

So I suppose my point is that it doesn’t matter - at all - if a psychologist understands, appreciates or recognizes an enlightenment experience in someone they are treating. What matter are outcomes. And so all that a therapist should be concerned with is how the enlightenment experience is impacting their client. Is it having a positive, constructive and enriching effect? That’s great! Is it having a debilitating, paralyzing, depressive or anxiety-producing effect? That’s not great, and the question becomes how to help a client manage their responses to the experience. It’s really that simple.

Now in my own work I of course have encountered this issue often. I have taught courses in meditation, helped people through spiritual crises, and generally encourage a deepening of spiritual experience. But what if a person’s spiritual journey is destroying their relationships, their health, their happiness, their means of support, etc.? Unless such destruction was the deliberate objective the client expressed when they sought my help, then my job is to help restore balance. That is one reason why the emphasis in Integral Lifework (what I teach and coach) is nurturing all thirteen dimensions of self. Spirituality is only one dimension, and all dimensions need to support and harmonize with all the others. Overemphasizing one or more of these is just as injurious as neglecting one or more.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

What are the sources of a lack of hope on individuals, communities, and society?

Thanks for the A2A Jeff. This is an interesting one and, I think, has mainly to do with intersects of internal and external antagonisms. In no particular order, this is what comes to mind, any of which can influence our perception of the world toward bleakness and hopelessness:

1. Personal experiences of failure and self-blame, betrayal of trust by loved ones, being the object of malicious intent or physical and emotional abuse, grief and loss around important relationships (such as the death of a parent or sibling early in life), oppressive or controlling family members, etc.

2. Extended (and especially multigenerational) exposure to a community ripe with pessimism, mistrust and defeat - an exploited or disenfranchised population, a war zone, extreme poverty and deprivation, etc.

3. Psychological and physiological depression. These could be caused by anything from genetic predispositions to undernurturing of some aspect of our being (creativity, intellectual stimulation, emotional connection with others, etc.) to poor sleep habits, lack of exercise, too little sunshine, or a crappy diet.

4. Not figuring out a sense of personal or collective purpose.

5. Being conditioned into externalized dependency without accountability or responsibility. This can be a result of a consumer mentality, feelings of entitlement, a personality disorder, etc.

6. Excessive wealth can sometimes induce hopelessness by undermining the natural drives and expectations to work, plan, accomplish goals, etc.

7. A spiritual crisis, such as the dark night of the soul, where one conception of self and/or Divine after another is obliterated, and feelings of spiritual isolation or abandonment are amplified.

8. Self-distraction or medication away from engaging reality - a persistent habit of avoiding growth in one or more dimensions, facing internal challenges, healing from past trauma, etc.

9. Raw, unadorned encounters with reality that strip away constructs and meaning and induce an existential crisis.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

The Problem of Feminine Power: Testosterone, Cultural Evolution & the 2016 U.S. Elections

Western culture has a problem with empowered women. From a historical perspective this is easy to observe – and we’ll cover some of that briefly – but the more interesting and relevant question is: why? Why have women been so persistently held back, oppressed, dismissed, denigrated, ridiculed, shamed and abused both institutionally and culturally in so many Western societies? Why, in a country like the U.S.A. where liberty and opportunity are so highly prized, have women been subject to these same prejudices? And lastly, it seems obvious that any cultural currents underlying the denigration of women are particularly relevant in the 2016 U.S. election – but what is really going on here?

About the history. Some potent reminders of the subjugation of the feminine:

• Around 85% of the witches executed in Europe and the American Colonies during the witch hunts of the 15th through 17th centuries were women.

• In medieval Europe, women who spoke their minds in public – or challenged their husband’s authority – could be subjected to public shaming via iron masks that they wore for a day or longer.

• It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that women began to receive substantive rights to their own property in the U.S., Britain and Europe; before that, husbands and fathers controlled their property.

• The post-enlightenment awakening to the importance of higher education for women resulted in the first all-women colleges in the mid-1800s and a growing concern for primary school education for girls all around the globe. Up until this time, however, it was mainly men who were encouraged to pursue education (other than in a religious context, such as Catholic convents). In many Muslim countries, however, female education has trended in the opposite direction in recent decades.

• Women’s suffrage around the globe is a particularly glaring indication of female disenfranchisement: it wasn’t until 1920 that women had the right to vote in the U.S.; 1928 in the United Kingdom; 1944 in France; 1946 in Italy; 1952 in Greece; 1954 in Columbia; 1955 in Cambodia; 1990 in Samoa; 2015 in Saudi Arabia.

• In terms of basic human rights, 189 members of the UN felt it imperative to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1981. As of this writing, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga, Iran, the Holy See and the United States have refused to sign on.

• Considering that women in many parts of the United States – and many parts of the rest of the world – still have challenges asserting both their reproductive rights and their right to equal pay, we can see that the double-standards regarding female empowerment persist into modern times.

Shaming Masks - Photo Credit Craige Moore, Creative Commons License 2.0

Is this longstanding prejudice in the Western world a consequence of religion? No. The mistrust and disempowerment of the feminine has nothing at all to do with religion – though religious institutions have happily taken up female oppression and regressive conservatism in service to their parent cultures. As Christianity has been the dominant religious institution in the West, we can explore it as an example. In the New Testament, Jesus is a radical feminist for his time. He elevated women’s positions above cultural norms, honored female disciple’s behaviors and attitudes above his male disciples, responded to women’s requests and admonishments even as he chastised men's, ignored cultural prejudices around female sexuality and physiology, and forgave women of their most culturally despised sins. And, for a time, this liberation of the feminine endured; in the early Church, women held positions of authority, influence and honor. In fact, there are only two short Paulian verses in all of the New Testament that place women in subjection to men, and there is a high likelihood that those were introduced (“interpolated”) into the scriptural canon long after the earliest Christian texts were written. (For more on this topic, see this excerpt from A Progressive's Guide to the New Testament.)

So what happened? Pre-existing culture happened. Everywhere we look in those first few centuries of spreading Christianity, the surrounding cultures were astoundingly oppressive toward women: beginning with North African culture, Jewish culture, and Roman culture…and eventually arriving in Northern Europe. These were societies where women were treated as slaves, traded like chattel, and sometimes killed (“exposed”) at birth because they were less desirable than male offspring. And as Christianity gradually gained institutional authority in these regions of the world, it also gradually adopted the dominant memes of those cultures. Jesus’ example and the practices of the early Church regarding women were almost completely abandoned. So what began as a seemingly deliberate attempt to liberate women was often turned on its head in favor of existing cultural traditions.

Now Northern European cultures are an interesting, diverse and complex study in themselves – so can we really generalize about “anti-feminine” sentiments in this way? I think we can, mainly because of the historical evidence. We know of only one European culture that had hints of strong matriarchal traditions, and that was the Picts, whose culture and language had been diluted, assimilated or erased by the end of the first millennium. But, as alluded to, the West isn’t the only place where women are second class citizens. Many North African cultures have a problem with empowered women as well. And here again it has nothing to do with religion, colonization by Northern Europeans, or any of the other lazy explanations that are frequently invoked. Take for example female genital mutilation and child brides – these traditions predate the arrival of Islam, Christianity and the northern invaders by centuries, and persist equally across these cultures regardless of the dominant ethnic, religious, economic and political orientations. For example, Ethiopia is a predominantly Christian country with completely different geography, ethnic groups and politics than Mali, a predominantly Muslim country; but they both practice FGM to an astonishing degree (74% and 89% respectively), and child brides are bartered off at about the same rate in both places (41-60%). Here again, cultural traditions seem to be the dominating factor, far outweighing any other influences.

But we must return to the why. Why are women so habitually denigrated? One theory that has been advanced by anthropologists and other researchers is that the cultural value of women was higher in peaceful and resource-abundant regions of the world than where resources were scarce or there was more competition with other inhabitants (see Hayden, Deal, Cannon and Casey). As the theory goes, because men had the physical advantages to become successful hunters and warriors, men gained prestige and authority in environments where those traits were important, and women’s roles became more supportive or subservient. Another theory posits that the introduction of writing and literacy pushed institutions and cultural authority away from the holistic and concrete oral traditions perpetuated by women, and into a linear, abstract and reductionist realm dominated by men (see Shlain). Another theory promotes the idea that the advent of privately owned land, agriculture and animal husbandry introduced the idea of reproductive ownership and control of resources through inheritance, where provable lineage and female reproductive capacity became essential mechanisms of patriarchal power that men felt compelled to control (see Ryan and Jethá). Yet another theory is that male-centric, warlike tribes steeped in cultural habits of domination invaded more egalitarian, cooperative and peaceful regions where women participated as equal partners, and proceeded to subjugate those cultures to the warlike-masculine-dominating archetype (see Eisler).

Although all of these theories have interesting evidence and merit, I don’t think any of them adequately explain female oppression. There is simply something missing – something more fundamental, more persistent, more universal…and more inherent. What is it? Well I think the underlying issue centers around the relationship between testosterone and similar dietary, cultural and physical habits that have arisen independently around the globe. Yes…you heard me: testosterone and dietary, cultural and physical habits. Bear with me here, as I think this will all come together nicely. To appreciate how this synthesizes, we need to understand something about human physiology: specifically, we need to appreciate the effects of testosterone on human behavior and development. Here are some of those well-documented correlations. Testosterone:

1. Beginning in the eighth week after conception, testosterone stimulates fetal differentiation to become male.

2. Strongly influences development of muscle mass and strength (and retention of these over time).

3. Has tremendous impact on sexual desire and impulses.

4. Increases feelings and expression of vitality, aggression and confidence.

5. Strongly correlates (and changes) with position of social dominance (higher testosterone reflects a higher position of dominance) and a desire to compete.

6. Seems to correlate with increased objectification of sex partner as a means to gratification (higher testosterone = higher objectification; interestingly, there is evidence that estrogen has a similar effect).

7. Offers strong correlations with violent criminality (higher testosterone levels in the most violent criminals).

8. May contribute to impatient, impulsive, risk-taking personality traits.

We should note that there are genetic predispositions, socialization, learned behaviors and other factors in play as well in all of this – and that correlations between certain behaviors and testosterone may indicate more of cofactor relationship than direct causality – but for now the details of those discussions will remain outside of our scope. Also, we should appreciate that many of these correlations are equally true for both women and men. What, then, in the most simplified terms, stimulates or sustains testosterone production as people age? Here are some broadly held conclusions regarding that:

1. Intense exercise, especially in bursts of activity and using the largest muscle groups.

2. Intermittent periods of fasting.

3. Having lots of sex, and lots of thoughts about sex.

4. Low carb, low sugar, low grain, high protein diet that includes healthy fats.

5. Receiving regular doses of Zinc (oysters, crab, other shellfish, beef, chicken, pork, beans, garlic, mushrooms, spinach, whole grains).

6. Receiving regular doses of Vitamin D (seafood, egg yolks, beef liver, beans, mushrooms, cheese).

7. Maintaining low levels of body fat.

8. Consuming foods with BCAAs (like cheese and cottage cheese).

9. Engaging in aggressive, risk-taking or violent activities.

10. Maintaining a competitive, dominance-oriented worldview and behaviors.

Can you surmise which cultures – historically – have promoted nearly all of these testosterone-enhancing components of diet, cultural values and physical habit as part of their societal norms…? Quite interestingly, most of them happen to be the very same cultures that have dominated the globe for centuries. Speaking specifically to pre-industrial proclivities of British, European and (post-colonization) North American cultures: what were the dominant features of day-to-day living in terms of diet, social mores and activities? Consider the habits, attitudes and appetites of explorers, the colonizers and imperialists, warmongers and revolutionaries…all those dominators who reveled in engineering competition and subjugating others in every aspect of life? Certainly we could have a chicken-and-egg debate around which came first – high testosterone levels or the conditions that helped to maintain them – but the historically prevalent power brokers and change agents in these cultures seem to be poster children for testosterone-enhancing lifestyles.

We can then even piggyback onto Jared Diamond’s hypothesis in Guns, Germs and Steel, asserting that perhaps testosterone has been one more actor that helped facilitate the Eurasian hegemony. And inherent to that testosterone-reinforced dominance (or at least thematically and biologically consistent with it) is patriarchy, male chauvinism, and general devaluation of the feminine. Even when women are themselves “masculinized” by testosterone and testosterone-enhancing activities, they likewise become aggressive, competitive, dominating, risk-taking and violent – establishing their primacy over everyone else who is “weaker.” Thus a primary feature of testosterone-reinforcing diets, culture and physical habits could at once be both the subjugation of other cultures, and the principle of “masculine” dominance, objectification and commoditization of others – from slaves to sex workers to sheeple...and most certainly "the weaker sex."

Testosterone-Dependent Dominance Systems

Now when we take a moment to step back and think about this hypothesis, one thing that rapidly becomes clear is that much of modern Western society is no longer conforming to its historical testosterone-producing advantages – at least not in many substantive ways. Habit-wise we have become much more sedentary, are consuming a lot more sugar and carbs, are gaining a lot of weight, and are generally amplifying the preconditions for Type II Diabetes in several ways. We are also exposed to a host of industrially produced antiandrogens (pesticides, insecticides, phthalates in plastics, and parabens in soaps and pharmaceuticals) that disrupt testosterone expression. Which begs the question: is the same level of testosterone-induced behavior still in play? Well I think it is…but only for those who succeed within the vestigial socioeconomic systems, traditions and institutions preserved from earlier eras. Remember the correlation between social position and testosterone? Well when human beings deliberately operate within a system that encourages and rewards aggressive competition, dominating tactics, oppression of anyone perceived as “weaker,” physical and sexual prowess, and patriarchy, the primacy of testosterone and its ongoing production is also encouraged in those who dominate. And that symbiosis amplifies itself over time, as testosterone in turn reinforces the attitudes and behaviors that produce it. It is a classic “The Wolf You Feed” dynamic where the testosterone-rich dominate the testosterone-poor.

Which is certainly one reason why – in our competitively capitalistic, hierarchically corporatist, domineeringly commercialized culture – men receive more pay than women, owner-shareholders lord it over worker-consumers, law enforcement perpetrates violence against citizenry, girls are sexually objectified at a young age, nearly half of all women experience sexual assault, the Stanford Prison Experiment had such predictable results, and nearly half the electorate fears allowing an empowered and experienced woman to become POTUS. It all fits hand-in-glove. And it doesn’t seem to matter how cooperative, genteel, educated, mutually supportive, peaceful or egalitarian a society becomes – the tyranny of testosterone can still undermine all such progress and reverse cultural evolution toward fascist sentiments and masculine-authoritarian leadership styles. More than just promoting a “Strong Father-Ruler” archetype to quash any spark of matriarchy, the tyranny of testosterone becomes a biological imperative to perpetuate reproductive primacy and control. In a pervasive – perhaps even global – societal reflex to stave of cultural male menopause, the fear of feminine power has become a sort of mass hysteria; irrational to its core, but also grounded in the physiological realities of the developed world that explicitly or implicitly erode testosterone-dependent dominance systems. One has to wonder whether the rise of Islamist fundamentalism in the developing world isn’t at least in part another indicator of this same hysteria: men seeking to reassert masculine power as they see it being eroded around them.

Thus feminine power is not merely about a woman having positional influence, it’s about a woman exercising power dynamics that are alternative and contrasting to testosterone-related, "traditionally masculine" ones. It’s about a different mode of social organization, a different flavor of collaboration, a different pattern of interaction and communication, indeed a radically alternative political economy. Is it time to let go…? To elevate and embrace feminine power, and attenuate the masculine? I think it probably has been for some time, but even as the collective balls of society continue to shrink, the more conservative and fearful elements of our culture thrash against the inevitable, hoping through their frantic, last-ditch efforts to secure just a little more time for testosterone’s rein. And so we arrive at the 2016 election, where the archetype of feminine power has at least partially been embodied in Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump, by contrast, has clearly expressed himself to be shaped by traditional masculine power, with no hint of the feminine and a clear discomfort with anything resembling feminine power. And now Hillary, as the Democratic nominee for U.S. President, has become the sole locus for cultural male menopause hysteria, with all its attendant fears and worries around demasculinization. But it is not because Hillary is a woman and Donald is a man that this archetypal tension runs so deep – it is because they each represent such different orientations to power…and to testosterone.

Before concluding, I think it responsible to at least give a nod to men’s movement. I actually think that issue of oppressive gender roles applies equally to men, in that men often feel trapped in the same cultural expectations that should concern all equal rights activism. In terms to causality or blame, it doesn’t really matter that the mechanisms that brought, for example, male dominance of civic institutions into being were “patriarchal” or “misogynistic” by nature, if the roles and responsibilities regarding men that are championed or imposed by those institutions are subjectively oppressive for men. For example, the gender inequality we find in military service, or high-risk jobs, or how custody and child support are awarded, or the imposition of a breadwinner role, or indeed differences in suicide rates and criminal sentencing. In these areas, the men are definitely at a disadvantage, and any remedies we seek to enable greater equality should take such disadvantages into account. In this context, I think we should be aiming for a clearer demarcation between what I have described as testosterone-driven attitudes, proclivities and behaviors, and what “should” define masculinity. In fact I think we can point to testosterone as a central actor in the systemic oppression of everyone - both women and men. That said, I realize that I have probably reinforced a dualistic gender bias by referring to masculine and feminine power…so perhaps we need to come up with a more gender-neutral, multidimensional language in such discussions. In this sense, it appears I still need to escape the cultural conditioning of my own language, as I have admittedly been immersed in some fairly radical feminism from a very young age.

To wrap things up, there are currently a few contrasting theories about the impact of testosterone on human cultural development. One indicates that lowering levels of testosterone in humans around 50,000 years ago facilitated more prosocial behaviors, and therefore stimulated the first art, technology and blossoming of culture (see Cieri). Another goes to the opposite extreme by asserting that testosterone is responsible for critical masculine functions and advances in human civilization (see Barzilai). Another hypothesis elevates the role of cultural conditioning in how much testosterone is generated in certain situations, indicating that biology itself is shaped by culture and reinforces that culture (see Nisbett & Cohen, and Richerson & Boyd). It is this last theory that I think is the most interesting, because it indicates a more nuanced relationship between the internalized beliefs that result from cultural conditioning, and how our bodies respond and adapt to culture according to those beliefs. The implication is that our choices and experiences over time will shape both our individual psychology and collective cultural evolution – not just in how we consciously shape our institutions, but in how our internal hormonal cocktail conforms to, and facilitates, those societal expectations.

For further reading:

Parental Alienation: Clever Villainy, Mental Illness or Somewhere In-Between?

Dark Desert

First some definitions….

From the Wikipedia article (

“Parental alienation is the process, and the result, of the psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards a parent and/or other family members.[1][2] It is a distinctive and widespread form of psychological abuse and family violence —towards both the child and the rejected family members—that occurs almost exclusively in association with family separation or divorce…”

From a Psychology Today series (

“Parental alienation involves a set of strategies, including bad-mouthing the other parent, limiting contact with that parent, erasing the other parent from the life and mind of the child (forbidding discussion and pictures of the other parent), forcing the child to reject the other parent, creating the impression that the other parent is dangerous, forcing the child to choose between the parents by means of threats of withdrawal of affection, and belittling and limiting contact with the extended family of the targeted parent….There is now scholarly consensus that severe alienation is abusive to children…and it is a largely overlooked form of child abuse.”

From the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization (PAAO -

“Parental alienation (or Hostile Aggressive Parenting) is a group of behaviors that are damaging to children's mental and emotional well-being, and can interfere with a relationship of a child and either parent. These behaviors most often accompany high conflict marriages, separation or divorce…These behaviors whether verbal or non-verbal, cause a child to be mentally manipulated or bullied into believing a loving parent is the cause of all their problems, and/or the enemy, to be feared, hated, disrespected and/or avoided.”

It might seem as though most parents who attempt to alienate their children from an ex-partner know what they are doing: they are trying to sabotage their children’s relationship with the other parent. However, this may not be the case. What is their underlying motivation? Is it an inability to forgive perceived wrongs? A stubborn drive for vengeance? An irrational fear that they will lose their children to the other parent’s affections or perspective if they don’t actively alienate that parent? A realization that their own inadequacies may become more apparent if they don’t fix as much blame as possible on their ex? Some loss of sanity to a delusional alternate reality where they actually believe the other parent is perpetrating horrible things on their children? A projection of one’s own fears and childhood abuses onto the other parent? An underlying personality disorder that is triggered by the stress of separation or divorce? Some combination of many or all of these factors? And, perhaps most crucially, even if they are aware of these motivations, are they able to consciously manage their response?

These have been some of the questions my wife Mollie and I have asked ourselves on a weekly – and sometimes daily – basis over the past twelve years regarding her son and daughter. Although her ex had a history of ongoing physical, emotional and psychological abuse toward family members in the years preceding their divorce, the divorce itself seemed to throw him into a crazed spiral of controlling, acutely abusive and alienating behavior that created tremendous additional stress for everyone involved. Mainly we have wanted to understand his motivations so that we could respond in the best way to protect the children and deescalate the drama. What was the wisest course of action? Our eventual conclusion – after much counseling, research, meeting with attorneys, etc. – was that we would actively avoid “counter-alienation” behavior, keep communication pathways open with her ex to facilitate the healthiest, most cooperative decisions possible for the kids, and allow her daughter and son come to conclusions about their father on their own. Whether this was actually the wisest course is still a difficult question – and we’ll revisit that later on in this article.

Thankfully, in the last few years, both children have begun to realize that most of the fear-inducing narrative their father had invented around my wife and me was not true, and they have distanced themselves to varying degrees – either from their father, or from his delusional machinations, or both. But of course offering the space and time for each child to come to this conclusion independently was not an easy decision for us to make…and we are still second guessing it even today. After all, the alienation persisted for nearly a decade…couldn’t we have done something more to protect the kids? Adding to this doubt, both children have expressed the sentiment at one time or another that they felt abandoned by their mother because they were subjected to their father’s delusions, control and abuse seemingly without any intervention or help. And seeing their pain around these feelings of helplessness and abandonment just adds to our own distress and doubt. So is there anything we could have done differently…?


Our first encounter with the concept of “parental alienation” occurred during consultations with an attorney. The attorney quickly identified the symptoms and shared some resources about it, including a book written by his partner in that law practice. One of the first things those resources pointed out was a correlation between Borderline Personality Disorder and parental alienation, and frankly all of the alienation behavior before and after the divorce fit that diagnosis like a glove. But again, what could be done? It was the attorney’s recommendation that Mollie pursue full custody by showing the court evidence of her ex’s bizarre antics, and the harm this was doing to both children. Of course, in order to arrive at this point, the attorney had already used up all of his $2,500 retainer, and we found ourselves out of funds. Mollie was working part time, I had been writing a book (The Vital Mystic) full-time for the past year, and for the kids’ sake we of course were not planning on moving in together anytime soon. In addition, we were already accruing significant debt to provide resources the kids needed (family therapy, a family vehicle, a safe neighborhood and living environment, etc.). Over the next few years, all of these efforts to support the kids while navigating the ex’s extreme alienation tactics would lead both of us into severe financial hardship. So despite our best efforts, we simply did not have the resources to move the full-custody option forward.

But what, you might wonder, constitutes bizarre and destructive parental alienation behavior? I think it’s important to provide a few illustrations of the kinds of things this ex was doing throughout the divorce and for years afterward. Most of this could be categorized as “amplifying his own victimhood and all the wrongs he believed the children should know about,” which Mollie and I had somehow facilitated. Here are some examples; keep in mind that the children were ages eight and eleven when all of this began:

1. Whenever the children were with their mother, her ex would call them several times each day to interrogate them about what they were doing, where they were, who they were with, and what their mother was up to – all in an attempt to manage or correct any situation he didn’t like. The conversations were intense, caused both children a lot of stress, and frequently lasted over an hour. Whenever he couldn’t reach the kids by phone, the ex would fly into a manic rage, escalating his threats with Mollie until he got his way.

2. Despite seldom involving himself in the children’s education previously, the ex insisted on becoming the sole parental contact at their school, attending all parent-teacher meetings alone, making sure that he was the only emergency contact, and making it very difficult for their mother to assert she had 50/50 custody as per their agreement.

3. Despite previous years of harsh, authoritarian parenting that included corporeal punishment, the divorce transformed the ex into a “Disney Dad” who was now excessively indulgent with both kids, ignoring any discipline or agreed-upon accountability around their diet, school, behavior, medical treatments or any concerns that he would have inflexibly mandated and controlled prior to the divorce.

4. In what was probably one of the most harmful and inappropriate decisions, the ex spent hours sobbing in front of the children, repeating a story that he was “all alone now” and that they were “all he had,” that he couldn’t bear the thought of being without them, and that any betrayal would kill him. This ongoing grief and drama encouraged each child to feel guilty about any time spent away from their father, and resulted in Mollie’s daughter sleeping in the living room with her father (on a separate couch) nightly. It also increased the stress and drama around any enjoyment they experienced without their father, making them feel like this was somehow a betrayal.

5. The ex also aggressively played the children against each other, encouraging them to tattle on one another if either one didn’t comply with his expectations. As punishment, if one of the children didn’t report something they had done with their mother – or something they had done with me – that child would receive a cold shoulder for days or weeks afterward. This withdrawal of affection (and sometimes all interaction and eye-contact) was so frightening that both children began to make up stories to please their father’s preconceptions. And they would never, ever admit (even to each other) that they were enjoying themselves when they spent time at their mom’s.

Butterfly Woman Diaries I - Liar

6. The alienation narrative that the ex fabricated around both Mollie and me was heartbreaking and horrifying, but he repeated elements of it almost daily directly to the children or while talking in front of them – as well as sharing it with others in the children’s lives that he hoped to influence or control. Some examples of these fabrications, along with their consequences:

a. A story that, before the divorce, their mother had been sneaking out at night, climbing over the fence to have sex with me. This dovetailed neatly with the delusion that the family had moved from Seattle to San Diego just so Mollie could be with me. These ideas encouraged disrespect and judgment from both children towards their mother and hostility towards me. Often this resulted in simple disobedience, but sometimes it escalated into physical violence towards one or both of us.

b. That I had changed my name when I moved to San Diego because I was a mass-murderer and was hiding from the law. This led to Mollie’s daughter sleeping with a cordless phone and 9-inch kitchen knife under her pillow, and being terrified of spending time alone with me at first. Mollie’s son would routinely find reasons to throw objects at my head or lash out physically until I could distract him with jokes or a game.

c. That both children “should be deathly afraid” of me as a matter of course. This resulted in both children expressing fear towards me whenever they thought their father would be aware of our interaction. On one occasion Mollie’s daughter hid from us when we visited a school performance and the staff asked us to leave; on another, the children were encouraged to share a story with the school counselor that got CPS involved. CPS concluded that concerns were “unfounded,” but the damage was done. Mollie’s therapist indicated that until the ex accepted me, the children would always have to be proving their loyalty to him, and that we should limit my contact with the kids to lessen the strain on them.

7. The ex also coached both children on how to ignore or disrespect their mother's parenting in various ways: they didn't need to follow through with anything their mother asked them to do, could pretend to be asleep when she called to wish them goodnight, should challenge or devalue anything their mother said or did for their benefit, should reject and refuse anything their mother claimed to be "healthy" (food, exercise, sleeping habits, therapy, etc.), and could lie to her about anything that happened at their father's house. At the same time, the ex demanded complete honesty, loyalty and conformance from them regarding his distorted expectations and agenda.

8. As a final layer of frosting on the alienation-cake, the ex would rapidly escalate his threats any time he felt his demands or preferences were not being respected. He would angrily say he would call CPS, or come over to the house, or physically harm me, or “take the kids to Mexico.” As Mollie’s daughter once repeated while on the phone with her father: “Daddy says he doesn’t care if he has to go to jail, but he’s going to come over here....” It was almost impossible to placate this man unless we did exactly what he demanded (or at least agreed to do so), and we certainly didn’t want the kids to be traumatized by louder and more violent drama.

Sleep With The Angels

Of course, when either child was removed from a situation where they thought their father would be watching, listening or somehow find out what was transpiring, they would instantly become much more relaxed. Their natural sense of humor and playfulness would take over, and there would be hours of laughter and fun. But in the early days this was so rare – for both their mother and for me – that it often brought tears of relief whenever it happened. On one occasion, when we all went camping and were out of cell phone coverage, the kids finally seemed to completely relax and really be themselves for the first time – and it lasted a full weekend! But of course their father redoubled his alienation efforts after that (the following week was when the school counselor called CPS…).

Currently, both kids have worked out a lot of what was really going on, and they now have a much better relationship with their mother, and with me. But again…so much damage was done, with so much stress and pain, that both children have suffered permanent emotional and psychological harm; wasn’t their some other approach we could have taken that would have been healthier for them? And, indeed, healthier for us too…? Looking back, with full custody seeming increasingly difficult, the fallback was for us to attempt what most therapists warn will not change the alienation dynamics:

• Waiting for the alienator to calm down, become distracted or have a change of heart.

• Reasoning or bargaining with the alienator.

• Encouraging the alienator to get therapy or help.

• Appeasing the alienator by complying with their demands or making them feel as important as they seem to crave.

• Formal mediation with the alienator or other attempts at negotiation.

And those therapists are absolutely right: for over a decade, none of these approaches worked, because this alienator seemed compelled to fixate on their own power in the situation, circumventing all attempts to moderate their behavior, even if it sacrificed the well-being of their children. All an alienator will do (and what the ex did) is keep trying to control the situation, keep breaking agreements, keeping cajoling, intimidating or persuading people to accept the alienator's delusion, and keep the drum-beat of the alienation narrative going indefinitely (or at least until the children capitulate and agree to reject having a close relationship with the targets of alienation). So...what more can be done? It took us a while to figure all of this out, but probably the best advice and discoveries we encountered along this journey were the following nuggets:

1. Don’t let the alienator’s antics becomes a smokescreen for issues in your own relationships. That is, don’t make all potential drama and upset be about the ex; instead, put the ex in their place. Sure, they are creating a lot of pain, but as much as they would like to be, they aren’t really part of all these other relationships. Mollie and my relationship is separate. Her relationship with her kids is separate. My relationship with her kids is separate. And the more we can operate that way – the more the alienator is forced to be external rather than an internal part of relationship dynamics – the more those relationships can heal and gain their own footing.

2. Encourage the children to see you as your own person. In the same way, divorcing the children’s conceptions of their mother and me from their father’s programming involved relentless positive interaction and distraction from the alienation narrative. Yes, the ex repeatedly tried to sabotage those interactions, but we would just keep on keepin’ on: keep loving, caring, listening, supporting and parenting in positive ways. Eventually, even before the kids began individuating from their father’s influence, the contrast between their father’s version of reality and the reality they saw and felt with us became too great for them to ignore. In this sense, cognitive dissonance is our friend.

3. Find the help everyone needs and participate in the healing process. For both of the kids, therapy became a critical part of an ongoing reintegration and healing process. This wasn’t about the children needing to be “fixed,” this was about exploring what they were feeling and struggling with in the moment (and things that happened in their childhood, when possible) in a safe environment, with Mollie and I fully willing to engage therapeutic dialog with the kids – when the kids were ready for it. It also meant that Mollie and I sought support for our relationship, both in the midst of the alienation and then later as well, when we were trying to understand how best to support the kids’ healing process.

4. Focus all energies on your own parenting and relationship – rather than the alienator. This is really just an amplification of the previous three points, but it really drives them home: the alienator’s absence from all relationship dynamics is a powerful current in the healing process. This means that emotional and physical boundaries remain firm; that children are parented as if the alienator isn’t involved and can’t control the situation; that decisions are made without fear of the alienator’s threats or reprisals; that there is accountability (via law enforcement, if necessary) for the alienator’s extreme actions; that the relationship children have with the alienator doesn’t have to be protected, supported or compensated for; that fear of the alienator and/or sympathy for them is no longer a part of the decision matrix; that the well-being of one’s children is not dependent on placating the irrational whims of the alienator.

5. Keep giving, loving and caring – keep demonstrating affection to an alienated child – even if it doesn’t seem appreciated or acknowledged. This is really the torch Mollie recognized and carried, because she never gave up or stopped trying to reach out to her kids. Yes, she often was forced to give her children space, but she never let go of the possibility of having a healthy, loving relationship with them. So no matter how badly they behaved, no matter how nastily they treated her, no matter what accusations they made or what part of their father’s alienation narrative they amplified… she always created a comfortable living environment for them, always remembered their birthdays, always took them to celebrate select holidays at a swanky hotel, always had a family photo taken at Christmas, always rushed to their aid whenever they were in distress, and was always there with open arms, ready to welcome them home. In fact, Mollie always insisted on inserting herself into the children's lives and upholding the 50/50 custody agreement, no matter how difficult that was, or how unwilling or obstructive other parties might be.

6. Live your life as fully as possible. I think this one gets lost in the jumble of the pain, loss and grief of alienation. Alienation really hurts, and it can seem like all the joy and peace is being stolen out of our lives. But of course there is joy, and adventure, and tranquility, and accomplishment, and goals, hopes, dreams, and of course love. And that fullness of life needs to be embraced and celebrated. To be healthy and whole, to experience all the richness and discovery of each day – these are not optional, but the point of being. And if there is anything that can inspire those we care about to appreciate what we offer them, it is the example of our day-to-day living. In my Integral Lifework practice, one verse of my daily mantra goes like this: “Just for today, remembering the well-being of others, and nourishing them through being whole.”

All of these choices take courage, love, discipline, patience, endurance and resilience. I think perhaps our biggest regret is not realizing many of these things sooner and acting accordingly. But this approach really seems to be the only possible path to healing and wholeness when dealing with parental alienation. That is, unless you have the copious resources required to choose a course to gaining full custody, with supervised visitations. I think, increasingly, the courts are beginning to recognize that parental alienation exists and does tremendous harm, but there still doesn’t seem to be much incentive to remedy it in that environment. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt to educate them about this issue and advocate on a child’s behalf. For Mollie, the pain and grief over the years of motherhood she lost to alienation is still fresh, and still difficult to bear. Part of her own healing process has been to express that pain and grief through art, which she has done through many of her paintings shown in this article and at Her film “A Lonely Heart in the Crowd” also addresses the issue head-on (enter "you-are-magick" if prompted for password):

Lonely Heart Video - password = "you-are-magick"

The question remains: why is it so common that alienators are unable to change their tune or relax the alienation narrative and strategies over years or decades? This brings us full circle to our initial question of motivation. As one take, when we look at how Borderline Personality Disorder develops and presents itself, we may have a window into the inner workings of parental alienation. The Borderline will disconnect from reality, maintain persistent delusions, be strongly motivated by fear of abandonment, exhibit manipulative behaviors which are – for the Borderline – a desperately earnest tool for survival, react with disproportionate rage or despondence when they believe they are not being heard or loved, and generally operate from overwhelming emotional convictions rather than a reasoned or measured perspective. In other words, a Borderline cannot consistently be reasoned with, finds physical or emotional boundaries extremely threatening, will take extraordinary measures to prevent abandonment or rejection, and tends to resist any and all treatment. Essentially, they are primed to become a parental alienator.

I am a firm believer in the genotype/phenotype analogy for most mental illness. A genetic predisposition may be present, but it takes a unique combination of environmental factors to activate those genes – and, once activated, the trait expression is very difficult to suppress or manage. In the case of Borderline Personality Disorder, there is growing evidence that there are strong hereditary physiological factors as well as predictable environmental ones. For example, a Borderline’s myelination of the prefrontal cortex may be significantly reduced or delayed – this is as an inherited condition, and perhaps exacerbated by incompatible environments during development. In this case, going back a generation, we find the alienator’s own mother – claiming she was afraid her son would be taken from her – kept the alienator from any contact with his father’s family. Classic alienation behavior in itself.

So, in this instance, was parental alienation genetically inherited? Was it an observed behavior that was simply repeated? Is it evidence of an underlying mental illness? We just don’t know, in large part because the alienator has yet to take responsibility for his dysfunction and seek help. What is clear is that – just like someone with Borderline Personality Disorder – this alienator still feels tremendous pain and loss around events they could not control, but which were in large part conditions of their own creation.

My 2 cents.

Do we have multiple self-states rather than a unified, consistent Self?

Thanks for the A2A Cara. Great question and there a few different ways to answer it.

1. Our awareness of self is only in this instant. The instant that just past is now a previous “self-state.” So any unitive consistency in our personal identity is one that we have constructed in this moment, as part of an ongoing (and constantly revised) narrative. But I would say the “selves” being chained together in this way are…well…infinite.

2. There are about as many different ways to describe separate elements that contribute to an amalgamated self as there are traditions of psychology, philosophy and spirituality. Experiential, autobiographical, soul, executive, witness, spirit, personas, ego, id, archetypes, and so on. About the only thing that these different perspectives or descriptions agree upon is the necessity of integration, coordination, harmony or the like among these distinct contributive elements in order to be “whole” (or at least psychologically stable). That integrated or individuated self then becomes the ideal, high-functioning self, that is indeed “unified and consistent” in its process of integration/individuation, seeking to self-actualize within its ongoing narrative. In this schema there are then both “multiple self-states” and unity. Of course, there may still be a contrast between the real and ideal levels of function…but that is more of a semantic glitch IMO, as we can easily embrace the dialectic (and even be energized by it).

3. At the same time, you used the capitalized “Self” in your question. If by this you mean some sort of foundational, essential, spiritual Self (as the term is often used), then I would say that this aspect of our being is more unified and consistent. That does not mean it is a calcified nugget without potential for growth, but that it retains certain fundamental characteristics, or “suchness,” that may be fluidly emergent but nevertheless unitive in nature. This ground-of-being Self may also inform our narrative self at times, but (perhaps ironically) that input stream tends to be momentary or fleeting for most people. So again - as a felt experience in the moment, the Self contributes to the “multiple self-states” that unfold over time.

4. There are mental, emotional and spiritual conditions that interrupt the consistency of the narrative self. As one example, we might apprehend the bare reality of our constructed self - or even the essential Self as inhabiting a construct - so that we arrive at an apprehension of No Self, and eventually an integrated condition of No Self. As another example a person might find themselves unable to emerge from a unitive peak experience of consciousness, so that they can no longer differentiate between self and Self. And as Proust famously opined, there is an erasure of self-referential identity during sleep, so that we must “reassemble” ourselves upon waking, which speaks to the tentative nature of all of this.

So to reiterate: an important difference is that our various “selves” are either constructed (generative perceptions) or derived from constructs, where the “Self” is not constructed or derived, but directly apprehended (in the sense of *gnosis*) - after which it may or may not contribute to generative perceptions of self. And yet, in either case, various stages of unitive acquiescence can negate all constructs and perceptions of a differentiated, unique self. So whether the contrast is between self and No Self, or id and ego, or soul and persona, or disparate self-states and unified self-concept, or the unitive Self and operative will from moment-to-moment…well, the definitive answer to your question is likely to always be “both,” and “neither.”

You could say, therefore, that all versions of self are a choice, along with the choice to incorporate unitive consistency (or trajectory). You might even say that our efforts around these choices (to inform, deliberate, idealize, aspire, operationalize, etc.) are a unique feature of our consciousness, and one that is, IMO, pretty darn cool. That is what my book *Memory:Self *seeks to demonstrate in the context of multidimensional self-healing, addressing the contributive elements to self-conception and actualization as “semantic containers,” with many different input streams, which we can actively reshape and reinforce.

BTW you might also enjoy this post:

You might also be interested in this paper, which elaborates a principle embedded this answer (scroll down link to view paper online):

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

How are attitudes formed?

Thanks for the A2A - this is one of my favorite topics.

It would be easy to oversimplify and assert that particular genetic predispositions will be amplified by environmental factors - the classic genotype/phenotype theory. In fact I’ve offered this explanation in response to similar questions before. However…I do think it is an oversimplification, not just because this process is itself incredibly complex, but because there is more going on.

Here are some examples of input streams that I believe impact attitude formation:

Memetic propagation (see Memetics)

Somatic memory (see The lifelong cost of burying our traumatic experiences)

Self-reinforced patterns of ideation
(see Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression as an example)

Enculturation and Groupthink (see What is Groupthink)

Genetic predisposition (see Are beliefs inherited?)

Stressful Environments (see Stanford Prison Experiment)

Family of Origin (see Family of Origin Issues)

Diet (see You Are What You Eat: How Food Affects Your Mood)

Exercise (see

Relationship choices (friendships, which family ties are maintained, work relationships, romance, etc.).

Karma (in this life, and over multiple lifetimes).

On the one hand, all of these contribute to our self-concept - in both how we interact with the world around us, and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. It is that narrative identity that excites and maintains some attitude patterns and responses over time. On the other hand, we are a biochemical and spiritual organism that can be conditioned into thinking, feeling and reacting in consistent ways because of past experiences - whether we are conscious of this conditioning or not. Thus there are self-generative and unconscious-reflexive agents at work in our attitude formation.

Lastly, I would say that although many of the sample input streams I listed have negative connotations, they can also contribute to positive outcomes. It is just that we often first become aware of them as barriers to well-being rather than what they are: transformative energies that can be constructive or destructive.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

What is mental force? Is it needed physical force to understand or is the mental pronunciation of words which evokes mental energy?

Thanks for the A2A. I expect you are referring to Jeffrey Schwartz’s work on “self-directed neuroplasticity,” along with its broader implications a la quantum mind.

I don’t think anyone knows the answer to your question for certain, though there are a lot of opinions out there. Even as Schwartz acknowledges, this has been a topic of spiritual philosophical traditions for millennia - so there is a lot of material to choose from. Here are some recent books you might consider reading that offer different perspectives as they have percolated up into the present day:

Trance: From Magic to Technology by Dennis R. Wier.

Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything by Ervin Laszlo

Morphic Resonance, by Rupert Sheldrake

Meditations on the Tarot, A Journey into Christian Hermeticism

Personally, I believe we must be very careful and disciplined with our thoughts, as the conjunction of will, spirit and conception can - with or without a deliberate focus - result in manifestations that operate independently (and even in spite of) of our conscious ideation. In other words, whatever the mechanism may be, our thoughts can spawn seemingly independent actors that influence what occurs inside us and around us. This is, I suspect, why so many spiritual traditions encourage a maturing emphasis on ordering thoughts and emotions according to a constructive values hierarchy - and in particular a relinquishment of personal ego - rather than encouraging those thoughts and emotions to run amok in response to mere whim, self-aggrandizement or animalistic impulses. As above, so below; as within, so without.

At the same time, there is always the danger of apophenia and magical thinking when navigating these particular waters, as well as an unconstrained enlargement of ego that often occurs when the heart, mind and spirit are not properly conditioned and prepared.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

Does having integrity require more than just honesty?

Thanks for the A2A Joel. Yes, I think it does. For example, having integrity means following through on what you say you will do - and that stick-to-itiveness requires willpower and self-discipline. I also think integrity speaks to underlying motivations - being driven by a desire for the good of others, rather than just self-serving impulses. In this sense, I think integrity also implies emotional and moral maturity. Integrity also has prosocial connotations - I think without exception - whereas honesty in the wrong context (or honesty that is insensitive, untimely or calloused) is not considered a prosocial trait. In other words, having integrity is usually perceived as a constructive and beneficial habit, whereas honesty is more conditionally appreciated. Someone could have integrity with the principle of withholding sensitive information that could harm someone, but be perceived as dishonest or uncooperative by some. So in a given situation, one person may value honesty more than integrity, and another person may value integrity more than honesty. Consider a journalist who won’t reveal their source: they may have integrity with their principles, but be considered “dishonest” by an investigator or at trial….

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

When someone is being reactive or ignorant because of their ego, how do I bring them into the now or their true self?

Thanks for the A2A. Some good answers here. I would add some additional options…

- Laugh. Just laugh and accept what is.

- If they are a close friend asking for help, share with them what you are observing about their behavior, while validating their perspective and their feelings at the same time. Ask them what they think is really going on, and listen carefully to their answer in a supportive and empathic way. This takes skill and practice, however your job here is to not be attached to the outcome of your efforts, and to avoid trying to control the other person - otherwise you are just being enslaved by your ego.

- If they are a stranger who tries to engage you on some topic, you can simply ask “You seem very attached to this idea. Why is that?” and see how they respond. Listen carefully. If there is openness, you can go deeper (with empathy and without attachment as in #2). If there is no opennes, then you can thank them for engaging you, politely excuse yourself, and walk away.

- Look within yourself for reasons why you are feeling this way, and see if your reaction authentically stems from compassionate concern, or from a need to challenge or correct others.

- Actively meditate for a few days on the best course of action regarding this person.

- Acknowledge contrition within your heart for judging this person, try to see the Light that radiates from the core of their being (and which ultimately will encourage them to heal and grow), and ask for guidance about how to encourage that Light to shine more brightly in them and in yourself.

- Be so completely present and ego-free in your being that you radiate the suchness of each moment, drawing others to be fully present with you.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

How does one maintain optimal mental health?

Thanks for the A2A.

What many of the other posts here are hinting at in terms of holistic self-care - what they seem to intuit to be contributive to “optimal mental health” - has actually been systematized in Integral Lifework’s thirteen dimensions of nurturing. Check out that site and take the free Nourishment Assessment to get a taste.

I would add some other factors that are addressed in those thirteen dimensions, but specifically impact mental health:

- Reduce stress - environmental, emotional, relational, work, etc.

- Balance nutrition and reasonable BMI.

- Neuroplasticity exercises.

- Avoid cognitive dissonance (i.e. beliefs that are in contradiction with reality).

- Work through barriers to well-being in each dimension (i.e. shadow work, talk therapy, family of origin issues, CBT for negative self-talk, etc.)

- Love.

- Avoid addictions of all kinds (drugs, relationships, work, alcohol, etc.)

- Healthy and regular social interactions.

- Moral development (transcend your own ego).

- Let go (don’t force stuff to happen and try to go with the flow).

- Don’t participate in conspicuous consumption.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question:

What is the difference between the self and the Self?

Thanks for the A2A Pete. I think I’ve touched on this before: T Collins Logan's answer to What is Self (capitalized)?

However, there is always more to muse upon. So, to be trite:

The “self” asks questions about itself on Quora; the “Self” already fully groks the incompleteness of those answers.

To be less trite:

“self” is often ascribed more primitive or reflexive identity constructs, as operating in a “self”-perpetuating momentum of differentiating “self” from everything else. This “self” also seems to be very attached to itself - and very “self”-protective and egoic formation.

“Self” is often ascribed a more evolved or spiritual identity construct - Divine Spark, Atman-Brahman, Ground of Being…or some other expression of unitive, less differentiated essence. And I think this is probably because this version of Self - though uniquely defined or expressed in different traditions - is a formation of various spiritual practices that many folks can readily intuit. Perhaps most importantly, however, is the idea that as the sense of Self becomes more pronounced, the smaller self attenuates.

For some, a continuation of this particular journey is a realization of No Self (not a “self” or a “Self”). This is a further attrition of egoic constructs - a further unitive non-differentiation. So one person might say that the two - the self and Self - become equivalent in their constructed sense…and that they then both cease to exist in any real way.

For others, No Self is a dark night or empty desert to appreciate and integrate along a path that continues farther still. There is more letting go of differentiation and concepts of differentiation. This is where the One - as a felt experience of undifferentiated unity - envelopes and diffuses previous conceptions (and indeed all conceptions).

And of course that’s not the end, either. Let’s say, for example, that the self is finite, the Self absolute, that No Self relinquishes both “self” and “Self” in emptiness, and that the One anticipates and transcends all of these in unmanifest potential. Yet what if this entire journey is a veil - a deceit of consciousness if you will - and beyond that veil is a pure fire that entirely consumes and obliterates every insight? And what if that fire has consciousness…or rather, what if the fire is a sort of consciousness of consciousness? What if the most penetrating and sustained gnosis of humanity is like…I dunno…a sense of humor for this fire? A kind of joke that makes all such formations and awareness so much giggle-jam on laughter-toast…?

But, in the meantime, there is still wood to chop, water to carry, and agape to refine in the skillfulness of good work. Oh…and of course more meditation, too. And (I feel the laughter welling up as I re-read my post here) a certainty and humility regarding disruptive revisions to our understanding.

My 2 cents.

How can I contribute more to society?

Thanks for the A2A. This is a huge question and could take you in many different directions depending on how you begin to answer it. So I’ll focus mainly on that beginning. In order to ferret out how you - with your unique values, resources, perspective and abilities - can best contribute to society, you will first need to:

Clearly define your personal, interpersonal and social values. I saw that you began to do this in your response to one of the answers here, but IMO you could really drill down deep to understand and document what you think is most important in your relationships, your personal standards of ethics, and in what you believe to be societal standards and mechanisms for good.
Clearly understand what you bring to the table. What are you strengths, aptitudes, skills and resources? What is your work style, relationship style and communication style? What are you really good at, and what do you enjoy doing the most?

Begin to explore how your values intersect with your individual strengths, aptitudes, skills and resources. This can be the trickiest part of the process, and it is important to avoid locking yourself into a single trajectory too quickly - instead, you can remain open, and look at what is already being done in the world that resonates with both what you care about, and what you are good at.
Identify communities, collaborators and institutions that support your values and strengths. Make an extensive list of these, research them online, and talk with as many people as possible about the options that already exist (there are likely many!). There are probably whole communities whose philosophy of values and approaches to societal contribution align closely with yours.

Try things on for size. Try out a number of different possibilities that you think will allow your values and strengths to be put to good use. Take some classes in a promising field, do some volunteering at a promising organization or work in an entry level position, engage in some activism with a like-minded group of folks, etc.

Be willing to start something on your own if you need to. For me, it became clear after a few decades of “trying things on for size” that there wasn’t a prefect match for me already out in the world in terms of a career, volunteer organization, community, etc. So I started my own business, wrote exclusively about what I was passionate about, and began more informally connecting with folks who had similar values and concerns.

This can be a lengthy process - it took me nearly twenty years to figure all of this out. So be patient, and persistent. Also, to begin with step #1, check out the Self-Assessment Resources on my Integral Lifework website.

I hope this was helpful.

Is there a relation between human brain's ability to switch to Default Mode and the development of ego stages?

Thanks for the A2A.

I had to laugh when I saw your question because…well this is an extremely complex topic and there seems to be very little agreement among neuroscientists regarding these kinds of correlations. You could, in effect, say “Sure! DMN activation has a direct impact on ego development and stages. Why not?” And you could probably find some research to at least marginally support your view. But in reality…we just don’t know - in fact we don’t even know (for certain) if the DMN actually exists, or just captures a current picture of a certain combination/distribution of brain functions. In other words, it may only be a placeholder for a more complex understanding still waiting in the wings.

That said, here’s my take using what I believe to be a relatively current inclusion of relevant placeholders….

I suspect that ego formation and development relies on equal involvement from several systems and regions of the brain. These probably include the Default Mode Network, the Salience Network, the Central Executive Network, various avenues of inter-hemispheric exchange, MTL structures and their communication with higher level cortical regions/functions, and many more contributive regions, structures and functions. In fact I would further assert that without all of these components interacting smoothly and in healthy harmony with each other, ego formation and development would be difficult - and perhaps not occur predictably, or at all. This balance is so orchestral in nature that emotional trauma or physiological disruption to any of these components could sabotage the expected course of how narrative self relates to ego, how ego relates to the perceived world around it, how egoic impulses are managed and so on. And then there are the more conscious or deliberate modes of ego-transformation, which likely depend on additional variables and involvements.

So I suppose the moral of this answer is: we should be wary of overzealous reductionism.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Prasanth Chandrahasan: There is a background to this question. Unfortunately, when trying to add this as a question detail, I am exceeding Quora’s word limit. Please don’t downvote and collapse because this is important.

Ken Wilber has argued, citing the work of developmental psychologist late Skip Alexander that only meditation can bring about a change in ego development between the ages of 25 to 55. Specifically, any one who meditates regularly for at least five years is shown to jump two levels in an ego development cycle. Wilber refers to Loevinger's stages of ego development and also to several other models as well.

Alexander’s research focused on Transcendental Meditation (TM) which is known to activate the Default Mode in the brain (I am aware of the ambiguity of this term but herein it is referred as per the research papers). So putting these together, one could argue that the brain’s ability to wander around (or be in Default Mode) is actually helpful in ego development.

Sure enough, there is a lot of research in the field all of which are coming from the TM organization (Alexander too). Not that I don’t trust it, just wondering if this is an area of active research and if so, is there any definitive results.

I have read your post Prasanth. I appreciate Ken’s work but he is mistaken in this regard - I think he is probably referencing his own experience, but there are many different ways to encourage development along any trajectory (that is, whether one agrees with Loevinger’s stages or not). Consider, for example, the different non-meditative paths of yoga, any of which could enhance the maturation of ego state. As for research to support this assertion, that is sparse. Additionally, some forms of meditation activate the DMN, but others do not, so that is not a reliable touchstone for comparison. In fact I would return you to my original answer, in that even with meditation, unless there is integration and harmony via all of the components referenced, ego development will not occur. Incidentally, I would offer a slightly different take on ego development that I think exceeds Loevinger’s schema and is inclusive of moral development. You can view that here (just scroll down page to view document): Integral Lifework Developmental Correlations


What actually makes scores of people disapprove of kind/soft males?

Hello Chrysovalantis and thank you for the A2A.

In my experience this is purely a cultural phenomenon. I’ve known men all my life for whom “masculinity” was defined by toughness, harshness, and a certain degree of cruelty or indifference, and an aversion to emotional vulnerability. “To be male is to be mean,” seemed to be the standard. That’s how they were raised by their parents, how their peers also acted, how they saw men portrayed in movies, how their sports heroes behaved in public and so on. A sensitive, kind male growing up in such communities was almost always viewed as someone who (please excuse the coarse language): a) “Needs to go get laid,” b) “Should grow a thicker skin,” c) “Had better man up,” d) “Is a girly little bitch,” e) “Is a weakling and a cry baby,” f) “Should go join the military to toughen up,” g) “Is probably gay.” When reacting to a sensitive male, no compassion, patience, understanding or friendship would be offered.

Until those big strong men needed someone to understand their pain.

Then, suddenly, they would seek out the kind, soft-hearted friend who would listen to their suffering, offer insight and advice, not judge them when they became upset or (horror of horrors) actually allowed themselves to cry. But of course all of this would have to be in private, and when back out in public they would return to their old ways of a tough, implacable brashness.

So if this is the cultural standard that you have encountered…I would move somewhere where the culture is different. University towns tend to have a different standard for masculinity. Cities with lots of arts and progressive politics are often equally celebratory of a kind, soft-hearted male. Blue collar factory communities and rural farming towns tend to revert to the mean male meme - at least in the U.S. and in the parts of Europe I have lived. In any case, cultures differ from place to place, and the are many that embrace what other cultures criticize.

My 2 cents.


Why don't positive thoughts flow like negative thoughts?

Thanks for the A2A Arti. Good one!

So here is my take on this: negative thoughts are a product of millions of years of successful survival of the human species. Pete Ashly touched on this in one of his comments in this thread, indicating we have “a million ways to die and one way to live.” As it turns out, that “one way to live” involves constantly scanning our environment for things that a) benefit individual or collective survival in some way, or b) threaten individual or collective survival in some way. Evolution itself has ensured that we are hard-wired to develop this constant situational awareness. The product of that awareness, in terms of cognition, is that because fundamental structures of the human brain are designed to identify such existential threats and beneficial opportunities, our higher brain functions also tend to mirror those fundamental structures in working out predictions for the near future. In this sense, the impulse to think negative thoughts is really no different that the impulse to have sexual fantasies about someone we are attracted to, or replay memories of enjoyable sexual encounters, or have violent thoughts about someone who feels threatening to us, or imagine how good our favorite food would taste right now, or revisit memories where we achieved something important for ourselves or others - or indeed repeatedly revisit memories where we felt embarrassed or defeated. Again, all these thoughts bubble up from very pragmatic reflexes of consciousness to satisfy basic survival instincts to thrive or perish.

Now one really nifty ability humans have is our capacity to manage this reflexive thought flow in various ways - and indeed to channel our basic drives into what I call the “fulfillment impulses” of our choosing. Allow me to illustrate what I mean. In Integral Lifework, there are four primary drives: to exist, to experience, to adapt, and to affect. All of our motivations, reflexes, habits, strategies and so forth to fulfill these four primary drives can issue from two places: from within ourselves, or from outside ourselves. What others have alluded to in this thread is that modern commercialistic culture is quite adept at conditioning us to rely on exterior guidance and fulfillment, rather than looking within ourselves for resources. “Don’t think, just consume!” And of course this has helped us become very good - and rather dependent - mass consumers. However, the alternative is to take matters into our own hands as far as we are able, and cultivate intrinsic qualities and character that will guide our fulfillment of primary drives, relying more and more on resources from within ourselves. This is a very different mode of being, and can feel quite foreign to someone who is unpracticed at it, but it’s actually a skill that has been practiced and promoted by everyone from meditation teachers to cognitive behavioral therapists for quite a long time now. It is a core discipline of Integral Lifework.

But what is the point of all this? Well, the point is that we don’t have to submit to our seemingly “automatic” negative thought flow, and we don’t have to identify with it either. That is not to say we should reject negative thoughts - on the contrary, we will tend to navigate them more constructively if we can learn how to recognize and accept them in a relatively detached way, realizing “These thoughts and impulses are happening within me right now, that is true…but they are not the essence of who I am.” My having a dream about ecstatically flying through the sky doesn’t make me a bird - nor does it mean I can simply jump off a cliff and fly. These are thoughts and feelings that have meaning, can be instructive, can provide insight and guidance about the self…but they are fleeting events - a map that reflects elements of our consciousness, but not the territory itself.

Further, we can also transform the habits of our mind to bias our thoughts and feelings towards the positive instead of the negative. Remember that there are two factors in play on an instinctive level: resources that are beneficial, and threats to avoid - thrive or perish. Well it turns out that if we practice things like gratitude meditation, or habitual generosity, or letting go of our need to control outcomes, or any number of other constructive habits, our tendency to have negative thoughts will relax a bit. It won’t go away, but we will, as some other answers here allude to, strengthen alternate, more positive pathways for our thoughts and emotions to travel. In Integral Lifework, there is an additional piece to the puzzle: it turns out that in order to sustain positive thoughts and emotions, we also will need to make sure all dimensions of our being are fully nurtured and loved. This is profoundly important, because without support from all dimensions, our generosity can, after a time, begin to feel empty and strained; our sense of gratitude can become more irregular and superficial; our meditation more shallow and scattered. We will, essentially, lack the internal resources to sustain our positivity.

Lastly, there are also issues of personality or disposition, along with the dominant tendencies of our surrounding culture. Some people are just more cynical and pessimistic than others - in my experience, a majority are. Being persistently optimistic is rare enough to even be described in a negative light - as overconfidence, naïveté or pollyannishness. There are also cultural factors, as some cultures seem (as a very broad generalization) more prone to pessimism than optimism. Here again, the pessimists seem to be in the majority, and tend to view the persistently optimistic cultures as either naive, suspect, delusional or megalomaniacal. And within the suspicion and mistrust of the pessimist towards the optimist is the very kernel of the governing negativity: fear. If we or our culture mainly operate from fear, we will be pessimistic; if we mainly operate from affectionate compassion, we will be more optimistic. So part of the shift from negativity to positivity also requires letting go of fear, and strengthening love.

In any case, to explore some of the practices that support positive self-talk, positive emotional cycles and a positive outlook, please check out the ideas, practices and resources in this paper (you can scroll down to read document without downloading it or logging into the Academia website): Integral Lifework Concepts, Tools & Assessments

My 2 cents.


Why would someone say "pride is ignorance"?

Thanks to Pete Ashly for the A2A.

Clearly, from the eight answers already offered, this could mean many different things to different people. So it probably would be wise to ask whoever is expressing the sentiment in a given moment what they, specifically, mean by it.

In part, I think the difficulty in interpretation is a result of the words being used. Because of my own consideration of this topic over the years (and my own unfortunate firsthand experiences with its implications), I immediately translated the phrase to “arrogance = ignorance.” And even then, what I really am thinking when I say that is “reckless arrogance = willful ignorance.” But, as we see in Charles J. Hunsinger’s answer, not everyone views pride as “reckless arrogance” (or even, using different language, “excessive overconfidence” or hubris), and Chas Warren doesn’t view ignorance as a willful lack of knowledge. So here again, for different people this phrase will inevitably be interpreted in different ways.

Interestingly, we actually see this difference echoed in the dictionary definition of “pridefulness:”

1) A reasonable or justifiable sense of one's worth or importance

2) An often unjustified feeling of being pleased with oneself or with one's situation or achievements

That said, because of how I filter the phrase through my own experiences, what resonates about this statement runs along similar lines to what Pete Ashly and Ankur Sah shared in their responses: if we truly understood the cascading dependencies of cause and effect - and the complete entanglement of our own agency with other forces and conditions - our pridefulness (in the sense of arrogance or overconfidence) would be greatly attenuated as a general rule - at least regarding our own choices and accomplishments. So, in this sense, a functional deficit in the accuracy of one’s own conceptions about the self and its surrounding world - as well as in the ultimate efficacy of one’s own actions in that context - is created by ignorance; in a way, excessive overconfidence is just one of many such deficits that result from not knowing.

But this is only one side of the coin, which effectively relates one consequence of pridefulness to a condition of ignorance. The other side of the coin, also pointed out by other answers offered by Hipcat Printery, Kayla Choi and User, is that a condition of ignorance can result in the consequence of pridefulness. In this sense, a functional deficit in the accuracy of one’s own conceptions about the self and the surrounding world - as well as in the ultimate efficacy of one’s own actions in that context - is created by hubris; and here, too, ignorance is just one of many potentially negative outcomes that may result.

With these two perspectives in mind, we might propose that the phrase “pride is ignorance” is a sort of dialectic koan from which a well-rounded truth can be synthesized, describing a feedback loop that will snowball into greater and greater error. Aspects of this idea are captured in the Dunning–Kruger effect; here we see the two sides of the coin mirrored, with ignorance invoking pridefulness, and pridefulness invoking ignorance.

What is most interesting to me is how this dynamic can be amplified in groups, where pridefulness and ignorance play off of each other not just in one individual, but between individuals as they interact with each other and conform to the group’s agenda, thereby enlarging the scope of both hubris and a pervasive lack of understanding. The disastrous historical consequences of such interplay are well-known - with everything from the Inquisition to the Red Scare being fed by the ignorance/arrogance snowball effect - which is, I think, why Santayana intoned: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Lastly, for me this question also evokes thoughts about a contrasting dialectic: “humility is insight.” Here, too, there are variations of interpretation, but a case can be made for humility leading to insight, and insight leading to humility. And here, too, a group of people that embrace an ongoing dialectic synthesis around these concepts can amplify effects both individually and collectively.

My 2 cents.


Why do I get intense while trying to learn about rules?

Thank you for the A2A Claudia, and for helping me better understand your question.

For some people, I think rules can often be the calm in the storm of chaos in life, and in many ways they can help them feel safe - like having a secure place to rely on where A + B always equals C - and so they may become very fond of rules and increasingly indignant, panicked or upset when rules are not followed. For others, rules can feel oppressive because there may be too much structure and rigidity in their lives, and too little freedom, so that it no longer seems like an issue of safety, but one of being controlled and dominated. For other people rules are simply “optional” or contextual - they are to be used to accomplish a desired end…but if they aren’t working in a given situation, then the rules will be bent or circumvented so that a particular goal can be reached. Then again, some people reflexively reject rules, choosing the opposite response in a conformism to non-conformism, out of a sense of rebelliousness or a feeling of being outside of society or social norms, or because of a desire to depart from the status quo as a matter of conscience or conviction. I could go on…but as you can see there are many variations of how people react to rules. In fact, all of the reactions I described could be experienced by the same person over time.

So then, what is happening here? In my view nearly all of these responses are about “finding our place in the world.” We want to understand where we fit in, what power and influence we have, how to navigate our relationships, the tools available to us to achieve certain ends, and so forth. Rules - whether legal, familial, cultural, or linguistic - are the arena within which we define our place, role, purpose and power. So when we have intense feelings around rules, I think we are most often actually having intense feelings about those dynamics: the efficacy and limits of our personal agency, the strength and depth of our connection and trust with other people, the extent of our freedom, and our understanding of meaning and purpose. Rules are just representations, just the surface, symbolic of these underlying dynamics. Thus our relationship with rules is a fair indicator of our relationship with ourselves, and of how we see ourselves in the world.

I hope this was helpful.


On average are older humans proportionately more functionally intelligent than younger humans based on age?

Answering the question: "On average are older humans proportionately more functionally intelligent than younger humans based on age?"

Thanks for the A2A Carl.

I think the key to your question is the use of the term “functionally intelligent.” Here is a paper I wrote on this subject:, which you can also read online here (just scroll down on the page): Functional Intelligence. The essence of this hypothesis is that “functional intelligence” is the skillful operationalization of a well-defined values hierarchy; in other words, intelligence that actually matters in both day-to-day life and in what we might call the grander scale of complex interdependencies and relationships. As I disclose in the paper my IQ has declined since my early twenties (by roughly 8%), but my functional intelligence is considerably improved (I would estimate it roughly doubled by age 50). This “real-world” advantage more than makes up for the fact that I likely couldn’t get into Mensa anymore, that my thinking isn’t as quick and agile, and I can no longer memorize text in an eidetic fashion. I am much, much “smarter” than I was at age 20 in almost every dimension - emotionally, spiritually, physically, relationally, in terms of abstract reasoning, etc.

To draw a parallel, in my twenties I hiked a lot all around the North Cascades in Washington State. I was in incredible shape. Now I am in much worse shape physically, without the same strength, swiftness or bursts of energy. However, my physical stamina and endurance are far greater than I had back then, and I could easily achieve hiking feats I could not have dreamt of at that time. Why? Because I know my body’s limits very well, I can pace myself perfectly without even thinking about it, I know just how much to drink and eat as I hike to keep my energy up without inducing lethargy, and I know how to carefully avoid injury or overextending myself. In my twenties I was still figuring all of this out, taking unnecessary risks, struggling to appreciate my limits and capacities.

Now of course society in general (and the STEM community in particular) still loves their child geniuses, ivory tower savants, hyperspecialized experts and so forth - and these celebrity intellects can rely on general intelligence (G factor) as a metric for performance in their field. But how well are they doing in their personal relationships? How are they feeling about their life purpose and happiness? How easily can they navigate complex social situations that are unfamiliar to them? How fuidly can they “think around corners” (in terms of accurate predictive capacity) in fields outside of their specialty? How broad and interconnected is their knowledge…? These are, I believe, the more inclusive and multidimensional descriptiors of “intelligence” we should be promoting in our society. Why? Because doing so will encourage a wiser, more skillfully capable society that can engage both complexity and change with powerful capacities of unitive insight - instead of a hopelessly fractured Cartesian mess where each field can barely understand itself in the most self-referential terms…let alone comprehend anyone or anything outside of it.

My 2 cents.

Can emotions be controlled, the same way we control our thoughts or actions?

Quora answer to "Can emotions be controlled, the same way we control our thoughts or actions?"

Hi Christopher and thanks for the A2A.

"Control" is a tricky word. I would avoid using it with respect to emotions, because all emotions have a basis, and understanding that basis is the key to influencing how we feel. But the emotions themselves are not something we should try to "control," IMO, as that response evokes ego, repressive reflexes, self-judgement, and a host of other potentially unhealthy responses.

The other answers so far have focused on methods of influencing emotional patterns, habits and reflexes, and indeed CBT is an excellent therapeutic resource for this. There is a workbook called Mind over Mood by Greenberger and Padesky that provides an excellent practical approach to this method. Another method called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and which is largely derived from CBT, may be an even more effective approach. Although it is relatively new, DBT incorporates Buddhist mindfulness in the mix, and emphasizes a tools-based approach to emotional regulation that can be especially effective when there are barriers to introspection. In concert with these modalities there is also "Motivational Interviewing," which uses additional guided techniques to align behavior (and ultimately thoughts and emotions) with internalized values. Something all of these approaches have in common is a fundamental honoring of the individual's sovereignty over there own person: a "client-centered" and collaborative engagement that aims for fairly rapid benefits produced mainly by the client themselves.

Now there is a deficit to these approaches: they don't address what I would call deeper, structural barriers that may be at the root of some patterns of thought and emotion. These barriers can be neurological, chemical, psychological, energetic or spiritual - and cognitive approaches simply fall short of penetrating them at all. There are therapeutic approaches like Hakomi that are more effective at getting at some of these issues, and it is worth taking a close look at why and how Hakomi works. I have also proposed something called AMR (Active Memory Reorganization) which also attempts to address deeper, multidimensional structures that cognitive approaches can't reach. But there isn't a lot of science around either of these yet. Which is one reason why mainstream Western medicine defaults to pharmacology, surgery, ECT or other extreme interventions when confronted with severely destructive, seemingly intractable emotional, behavioral or cognitive cycles. But I think that, ultimately, the scientific community will have to conclude that body-centered psychotherapy with cognitive, energetic and spiritual components will probably be the most client-centered, efficacious and compassionate course of collaborative action.

There are also other several other, alternative approaches which can have substantial impact on this area of our well-being in the short-term. Among these are modes of bodywork that activate or release repressed material, forms of hypnotherapy that find alternative pathways to the same, or energetic healing modalities that can circumvent or repair structural barriers. I've practiced many of these, and seen various levels of success with them - usually dependent upon a client's receptivity, *and some sort of cognitive, habit-changing follow-up*. In other words, these methods can provide temporary or cathartic relief, but if the underlying factors (be they core material from childhood, repressed memories of traumatic events, physiological issues, self-care habits, etc.) aren't consciously addressed in an ongoing fashion by the client themselves, the results tend not to be enduring ones. In our consumer-based society, it's easy for people to become habituated to externalizing their healing, rather than taking personal responsibility for it. Likewise, modern Western medicine incentivizes repeat consumption of superficial treatments, rather than preventative medicine or addressing causal issues. So this is an uphill challenge to be sure.

My 2 cents.

Is super intelligence artificial or real?

In answer to Quora question "Is super intelligence artificial or real?"

Thanks for the A2A Carl.
Discussions of superintelligence as an outgrowth of strong AI often restrict themselves to a reductionist, mechanical view of human intelligence, and to replicating and amplifying a narrow set of cognitive processes from this perspective. Confined to this line of thinking, "superintelligence" is a predictable development IMO - I just wouldn't call it that. Why? Because, as with many monodimensional views of intelligence, that development emphasizes quantitative, objective metrics that sidestep important qualitative and subjective and intersubjective issues - or even the full spectrum of objective ones. To appreciate what I'm getting at, take a look at my paper Functional Intelligence ( It is easy to lose sight of the full breadth of intelligence and its evolutionary implications when employing reductionist perspectives and methods. In a way it is easy to understand why this happens when the fields of science and technology themselves disproportionately attract people who exhibit Asperger's or other Autism Spectrum Disorder, and who are often high achievers in these systematizing fields. Among this population, the objective narrowing of "intelligence" is a comfortable way to systematize its functions. Add to this the fact that science and technology themselves have undergone increasing specialization, where the relationship with other fields or a broader, more inclusive understanding has been either crippled or abstracted. In my view, until the vastly more multidimensional spectrum of human experience (perception, insight, complex and nuanced ideation, intuition, emotional sophistication, somatic felt sense, etc.) becomes part of the generative synthesis of superintelligence, that synthesis will remain monodimensional, incomplete, and not representative of the evolutionary trajectory already established in homo sapiens. In other words, it will fall short. To fully expand what I believe to be a more appropriate (and ultimately more useful) avenue of heightened intelligence, we would need to answer Chalmer's hard problem - the whys of consciousness itself. This is what would allow us achieve something truly superintelligent in the most inclusive, multidimensional and holistic sense. Otherwise, we are just creating systems and tools, expanding on mechanization, and not really on intelligence at all. Thus the development of strong AI may indeed lead to supertools, but not to a superintelligence that represents the complexity and integrations of consciousness itself.

My 2 cents.

On what basis do people argue that the universe is conscious?

In answer to Quora question: "On what basis do people argue that the universe is conscious?"

You asked about a basis. For a mystic that basis is the personal experience of a unitive condition inclusive of subject and object - and indeed all objects -as the result of disciplined mental, emotional and physical practices. Direct experience of this felt reality is profoundly persuasive. However, how we react to or interpret such unitive apperceptions tends to reflect the structural sophistication and moral development within which our own consciousness currently operates. Wilber examines this idea in his discussion of a "pre/trans fallacy." Panpsychism is one response or explanation in a spectrum of responses and explanations to unitive apperception, but is really an abstraction of the core experience. Another response was Gutei raising a single finger. Another is immersion in profound love-consciousness. Another is worshipful gratitude toward the Divine. Thought-without-thought, action-without-action, no-self, Atman Brahman, supramentalisation...this list is varied and endless, but the core experience that inspired these reactions or conditions is the same; it has undifferentiated unity. So to appreciate the "mechanism of consciousness" in seemingly inanimate objects, you would need to commit to a mystical practice that could eventually offer you a directly apprehended answer. Then again, you might interpret your experience differently. But if you constrain your answers to rational arguments, you will tend to become mired in endless loops that can't resolve themselves. It would be equivalent, say, to trying to explain the relationship between manifest and unmanifest, or characteristics of the Ayn Soph, or what Buddhist "emptiness" is, etc. without experiencing these directly.

I hope this was helpful.

Comment from Dimage Sapelkin: "Why don't philosophers speak normal understandable language? You probably said something interesting and meaningful, but I only understood a few words"

Dimage I apologize. Sometimes trying to be precise with words can result in less easy-to-understand language. If I try to simplify what I'm saying, it may also be misunderstood, but I'll give it a try: If I meditate, and have a sudden "aha" moment in which I perceive everything as one - completely the same in its essence or in its relationship to everything else - I may conclude that "everything is conscious," because I cannot separate my own consciousness from my mind's penetration of (or entanglement with?) everything that I perceive. In fact, I may discover that what I believe to be "real consciousness" is actually something very different than my own "monkey mind," and that aspects of this "real consciousness" are in fact present in everything around me. But this experience is extremely personal and is challenging to explain it in rational terms. However, as a basis for "universal consciousness," it feels very convincing to the person experiencing it.

Comment from Dimage Sapelkin: "Yep, but if you think about the experience of other people who feel quite the same, you know that they have very different experience from yours. Their consciousness actually doesn't get included with yours while you feel as one with the universe. Isn't that a contradiction to what you are saying?"

From my discussions with others who have shared their mystical experiences with me, and from my readings of those mystics who have tried to write down their experiences, compared them with the experiences of mystics from other traditions, and so on...I would say that we all have encountered some pretty profoundly similar felt realities, and indeed "shared in the same consciousness." Sometimes our sensations and insights seem almost identical, but, I think more importantly, these mystical "ahas" share powerful central characteristics, such as feeling deep compassion for all human beings that endures into our daily lives, and never fades away entirely. Then again, their are many doors to the palace of wisdom, many paths up the mountain, and even if they at first may seem contradictory, they are ultimately reconciled in mystical union. I hope this was helpful.

Comment from Martin Silvertant: "A really excellent answer, and beautifully worded. I don't at all share Sapelkin's sentiment. I understood everything and didn't feel you were being pretentious in your choice of words.

One question though. What are you referring to exactly when you say one can't explain the relationship between the characteristics of the Ayn Soph? Are you implying it's inherently spiritual rather than rational?"

We can discuss or frame this rationally after encountering it in peak experiences, but I would say the experience itself is "transrational;" it integrates many different input streams, and rationality (or more accurately a "hyperrationality" that excludes felt sense, intuition, spiritual cognition, etc. from the mix) can actually get in the way - or at least cause us to stumble. My 2 cents.

How do I develop an identity and a sense of self?

In answer to Quora question: "How do I develop an identity and a sense of self?"

A2A. Self-concept is constructed and maintained by memories that form a narrative version of our identity, as selectively reinforced by present feedback (perceptions, thoughts, feelings, interactions, experiences, etc.). So although we may not always "feel" like we have an identity or sense of self, unless parts of our brain are severely damaged, we actually do. In order to "reconnect" with that sense of self, all you really need to do is access those memories and experience them in the present. It also helps to contextualize them - to decide what those memories mean to you. Why? Because unless we have an eidetic memory or other substantive structural uniqueness, most memories will be encoded because they connect us to important events or information. They are part of our essential learning - *they are relevant to who and how we are*. So you may need to decide what the relevance is.

Now of course there are people whose conscious recall of memory is impaired, and consequently their sense of self can become unstable. If this is true for you, there may be an underlying psychological or physiological condition for which some professional help may benefit. Psychology and physical medicine have made some extraordinary advances in this area. Then again, this may also be a permanent deficit that can't be remedied. If that is the case, you may have to live with an "unstructured" or absent sense of self.

However a much more common occurrence is simply not being tuned into various kinds of memory. And this really gets to the heart of the issue, because their are many different kinds. There is the sort of visually imaginative memory that plays like a movie in our heads - and this is what many people refer to when they describe long term memories from their past. But there is also emotional memory that expresses as a reflexive emotional reaction to certain situations, and which may feel like a sort of emotional intuition. There is also somatic memory that inspires reflexive physical reactions in the same way. And I believe there is also spiritual memory - something that guides a different kind of intuition - a sort of knowing that transcends obvious, rational information, but isn't emotional or physical in nature. And if we have shut down our sensitivity to (or awareness of) any of these memory streams, we will inevitably begin losing parts of our felt sense of identity.

So when I referred to reconnecting with a sense of self through memory, I meant doing so via all of these different dimensions of memory. And, if those have been closed off to you for a long time, that may require different therapeutic techniques. Bodywork, introspective meditation, breathing techniques...there are quite a few to draw from. And again, if you aren't able to access these memory streams on your own, you may need professional guidance.

My 2 cents.

What is ignorance?

In answer to Quora question "What is ignorance?"

I don't know.

No but seriously: ignorance is both the condition of not knowing, and I think also the inability to recognize this condition in ourselves, and further the deleterious impact on choices and patterns of though, emotion and behavior that such ignorance causes. All of this seems bound up in ignorance. There is a further extreme in which a person forcefully maintains ignorance in the face of knowledge and understanding - a *willful *ignorance. The most profound sort of ignorance seems to fall into this category. And when this willful condition is sustained for long periods, it slowly develops a sort of self-protective arrogance, so that the worldview nurtured by profound ignorance becomes a matter of egotistical pride. So there seems to be a progression here, from simply being naive and without comprehension, to being hardened and resistant to resolving those conditions in oneself, to the adamant trumpeting of clueless egotism. It is almost as if ignorance itself is a living thing...a slothful little demon that relishes the pain of making the same mistakes over and over again. And that demon has a name, I think: The Idiot.

My 2 cents.

What is the relationship between intelligence and consciousness?

In answer to Quora question "What is the relationship between intelligence and consciousness?"

Hi Jeff and thanks for the A2A. Interesting question.

For me it boils don't to qualitative factors: that is, what qualities of intelligence relate to what qualities of consciousness, and vice versa. That begins to plot some interesting correlations, and also excludes some of the more mundane metrics IMO. For example, I have a saying: "Because the Universe has conspired in favor of my consciousness, my consciousness conspires in favor of the Universe." This implies a certain quality of consciousness that engages with an intent that can only be governed by certain qualities of intelligence, and where both consciousness and intelligence have multiple vectors. In particular, it calls upon me to develop a highly functional intelligence that operationalizes a specific values hierarchy. Consider the differentiation between such a clearly conceptualized, clearly felt, and clearly actualized values system, and, say, the qualities of intelligence and consciousness that allow a leopard to stalk its prey, or a human to solve a math equation, or a chimpanzee to use a stick as a tool. There is an indication of orders of magnitude in that difference, or? So that realm of correlation, relationship and calculus that appreciates the complex, nuanced interdependence of an integral (holistic, multidimensional) conception of both intelligence and consciousness does indeed, I think, begin to narrow the field so that "both questions are answered at once." At the opposite end of the spectrum, one could speculate about a more linear correlation, and simply say that "levels of consciousness = evolution of intelligence," but that seems like a shortcut that sidesteps some really intriguing considerations.

On another, related thread, I often wonder about various kinds of curiosity (intellectual, emotional, spiritual, physical) and their impact on functional intelligence, qualities of consciousness, and the evolution of both. Is curiosity central to this nexus? I dunno...but it seems like an interesting line of inquiry.

My 2 cents.

How can I be more patient?

In answer to Quora question "How can I be more patient?"

Question details: "I get ticked very easily. Although I try a lot to stay calm and ignore the negativity, there are things that just irritate me to the core. There are only a few people who affect me--perhaps only two or three people. They may talk about a topic which I hate, and which I've told them that I hate discussing, yet they still talk about it. Ignoring it becomes impossible, and I get incredibly angry. No matter how much I try to stay calm, my mind starts to work at the fastest speed possible. My head starts hurting and I know at the end, it's me who suffers. I really don't know how to overcome this."

Thanks for the A2A.

First, I think many of the answers given so far could be very helpful - in particular Jacky Dror's. Second, I would say that learning to be patient takes time. A lot of time - this is still something I am working on, and I just passed the 51-year mark. So one of the first areas you will need to practice patience is in learning patience. That said, here is what I would add, not knowing all the details of your situation:

1. Anger responses can be the result of underlying physiological and/or psychological conditions. Hormone imbalances, sleep problems, dietary issues, environmental pollutants or allergens, situational stressors, unresolved trauma, ADHD, chronic depression...any of these could be factors. So consulting with both a doctor and a therapist about diagnostic testing could be very helpful.

2. Anger responses can become a physiological addiction in themselves, where we seek the release of certain hormones, and so unconsciously create situations where this will occur. One way to satisfy the same needs in a healthy way is to engage in daily vigorous exercise. This can interrupt the anger cycles. Of course, we may then become addicted to exercise instead...but that isn't such a bad thing, right?

3. In my practice, called Integral Lifework, anger and impatience can be the result of some area of your being being neglected or undernourished. You might want to take the Integral Lifework Nourishment Assessment (free) to see what areas may be interfering with your well-being and begin to address those.

4. I would also take a look at what you are putting into your body that isn't essential food. Caffeine, sugar, alcohol, simple carbohydrates and even wheat can be frequent culprits in disrupting mood and evoking impatience, frustration and anger. By taking a few months off from consuming these things, you may find your ability to manage emotions greatly improved.

5. It is extremely common for anyone who has had a difficult childhood, or who had neglectful or abusive family relationships, to have trouble managing their emotions. It's almost a guaranteed outcome. And this is where CBT or DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) can be extraordinarily helpful. I'm also a fan of body-centered psychotherapies like Hakomi.

In the meantime, until you can find healthy ways to process the impatience and anger you are feeling, I would encourage you to remove yourself from the situations that trigger this response. Just take a break from them. I'm a huge fan of meditation, and that can also be helpful, but if you keep placing yourself in stressful situations that you know could upset you, the meditation will not have an opportunity to create new supportive patterns and structures in your mind, body and heart.

My 2 cents.

How can a person be both rational and creative?

Quora answer to "How can a person be both rational and creative?"

Thanks for the A2A. I think this only becomes a dichotomy when we allow analytical reasoning to interfere with creative impulses and vice versa, instead of encouraging harmonious synthesis - we might call this interference "fragmentation." As an example, when I write poetry or a song, I let the words and melody flow from my creative center - the intuitive, emotionally felt, aesthetically-oriented structures in my psyche - and effectively suspend my "editor and arranger," which will only interfere with that flow. Once I've completed my first draft, however, I will take a break (from a few hours to a day) and actively engage my "editor and arranger," which definitely involves more analytical structures. In both cases, it's the same mind being used, but the focus or emphasis of processing - and the structures that are called upon for primary support - are different. Not opposite, but different. And so this is more about shifting the focus of my consciousness between rational and creative, and then into a mode of combining synthesis, which I can do very fluidly now. However, I want to be clear that* this was not always the case*. When I was younger, I had trouble moderating these two modes - I felt more fragmented, as if the underlying structures could only compete rather than synthesize. Either I would remain in my creative space to the detriment of constructive rationality, or I would become hyperrational to the detriment of my creativity. So "being both" required self-discipline and honoring of different dimensions of being and combining them harmoniously, skills which took many years to mature, and the byproduct of which might be called "consilience."

My 2 cents.

Do highly intelligent people tend to have a certain 'glint' or 'sharpness' in their expression which gives the feeling that they are more aware than average people?

Quora answer to "Do highly intelligent people tend to have a certain 'glint' or 'sharpness' in their expression which gives the feeling that they are more aware than average people?"

I thought this question and its answers were so entertaining I just had to respond.
Here are some reasons that people 's eyes "glint" or appear "sharp:"

1. Healthy eyes (clear, unjaundiced, not bloodshot, robust coloring, unscratched, uninjured).
2. Adequate fluid on the surface to reflect light.
3. Eye-smile (attracts attention and invites positive feelings).
4. Excitement (wider open eyes, attracts interest).
5. The quality and intensity of surrounding light.
6. Curiosity or intensity of focus (also attracts attention and triggers attentiveness in others).
7. Anger, love or other strong emotion (can increase tear fluid on the eye surface, open the eyes wider, intensify focus, etc.)

Now it may very well be that an "intelligent" person (however we are going to define that) may exhibit these qualities on occasion. However, to differentiate between the various causes and their relative micro-expressions will require a fairly high emotional or social intelligence (along the lines of MSCEIT), and familiarity with the person would increase accuracy. Which means that, unless you have a high EQ and know someone fairly well, *what you are likely observing as "a glint of intelligence" is just your non-rational presumptive projection onto that person*. And if such projections are partially reinforced (i.e. we see the "glint" in someone's eye whom we have been told is intelligent), then as meaning-making organisms we will tend to create generalizations about such "glinting," which we will then perpetuate with a persisting confirmation bias (and via Quora discussions).

My 2 cents.

How do you keep going on with your ideas facing many setbacks?

In answer to Quora question: "How do you keep going on with your ideas facing many setbacks?"

Question details: In the process of being a creative worker, you face many setbacks, rejections, and obstacles between your original, exciting spark of an idea and reaching your audience or selling it in some way. When you get there you get vindication that your idea was true and real; until you get there you can easily begin to doubt the quality of your idea, your value as a creator and even sometimes your sanity. How do my fellow creators out there in Quoraspace deal with keeping faith with your ideas??

Thank you for the A2A. Since there are already so many fine answers here, I will just add a few tidbits that have helped me over the years:

1. Try not to rely on any single motivation. Motivations will, of necessity, change over time. So have a quiver full of them.

2. Make sure that at least some of those motivations are grounded in something larger than yourself - a desire to benefit society, a conviction that
creativity is a gift to others, a sense of greater purpose for your skills and work, an attempt to give back for all the blessings in your life, an effort that celebrates the mutual joy of collaborating with others, etc.

3. Don't listen to what anyone says (good or bad) with other than a detached ear; it may be beneficial input or it may not...but it need not evoke any emotion other than gratitude that someone cares enough to share their feedback.

4. Honor the process over the outcome. It's great to have goals, but not if they exhaust or abuse your muse.

5. Avoid taking yourself seriously, even if you take your work quite seriously. Separate the two, cultivating humility even as you pursue excellence.

6. Be willing to let go. Always. Be willing to disengage from the process at any time, rather than be emotionally overcommitted or obsessive. And once your creation is complete, move on to your next project.

7. Do other stuff. Mix it up. Make sure all of your dimensions of being are being nourished so that your creative engines don't become depleted.

8. Sometimes setbacks signal that we are actually on the wrong there's that. Knowing if our course is sound requires discernment, perspective and maturity. These form over time and can't be rushed, alas.

9. Make sure you embed yourself in a community and relationships that share your values - and value your creativity.

10. Remember that the Universe owes you nothing. Absolutely nothing. And that success of any kind (even being able to bring your vision to completion) has more to do with timing, relationships, and dumb luck than anything else.

My 2 cents.

How do you stop someone who's willing to die for his beliefs?

In answer to Quora question: "How do you stop someone who's willing to die for his beliefs?"

Thank you for the A2A.

I think you need to understand what energizes the belief. For example is it:

- Acute depression?
- Existential desperation?
- Abject humiliation that triggers a frantic desire for revenge?
- Moral immaturity where an adult may be trapped in a 3-year-old's moral reasoning?
- A strong desire to conform or belong to a group that provides protection, acceptance, and approval?
- Fear of being ostracized, rejected or persecuted by one's family, community or tribe?
- An eagerness to embrace a sense of purpose, without which life seems empty and futile?
- A passionate devotion to a cause that seems singularly important or just?
- A desire to martyr oneself to prove one's purity and conviction?
- A substantial bribe - for example, benefit to one's family as a result of the suicide?
- Mental illness - delusion, psychosis, etc.?
- Severe drug abuse?
- Cultural conditioning?
- Profound ignorance of any other method to achieve the same ends?
- Severe physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse at a young age?
- Some combination of the above...?

Once you are able to understand the drivers of the behavior, it will be possible to enter into a dialogue about them - if the person is open and willing. There is a method called Motivational Interviewing which helps people compare their own fundamental values to their patterns of thought, emotion and behavior, with the aim of better aligning all of these. But this requires willingness to engage and, in severe situations like the one you describe, willingness to heal and learn, and to separate oneself from the environments and relationships that reinforce a suicidal conclusion.

My 2 cents.

Is the encounter with the Shadow, as illustrated by Carl Jung, the same as the Dark night of the Soul?

In answer to Quora question: "Is the encounter with the Shadow, as illustrated by Carl Jung, the same as the Dark night of the Soul?"

The simple answer would be no, they are not the same, even though they may (superficially, at least) seem to share similar characteristics and, potentially, one or two “consequent changes,” which again are more superficially related than substantive. For example, we might say they both involve a “letting go” in some way, but each type of “letting go” has unique and differing qualities. And there are other differences as well. To elaborate….

First, regarding the Shadow, almost everyone has repressed material that they can come to recognize, own and integrate by cultivating self-awareness. And, in general, almost everyone will benefit from this awareness and integration process. Furthermore, the practice is easily learned and practiced – even without a psychotherapist – and, for many people, engaging their Shadow is a spontaneous and natural consequence of their psychosocial development. As an example, our first serious romantic relationships will often disgorge plentiful Shadow material in both parties, which we can then choose to consciously engage, or continue to repress.

The Dark Night, on the other hand, is the result of specific mental, physical, emotional and spiritual disciplines, which few people choose for themselves, and even fewer are able to continue to their ultimate union with the Divine. It has two distinct phases – and transitions within each of those phases – that are sequential in nature and dependent on preceding conditions. It is also less likely (than Shadow work) to occur spontaneously – especially not in its second, more advanced phase, or even in an enduring way (rather than as occasional peak experiences). And lastly, the Dark Night engages spiritual faculties, intuitions and sensitivities that Shadow work generally does not, and its aim is union with God in the fires of Divine love after several components of self are utterly annihilated. Shadow work, though it may engage compassion-for-self and moderate ego-attenuation as engines of healing and transformation, does not quite aim for the same heights, or require the same despairing depths, to be actualized.

Now it could be said that the Dark Night is a kind of spiritual Shadow work in which the repressed understanding of a union with God, an understanding which some might argue could be intuited or "remembered" by our soul, is brought to the surface, accepted, owned and integrated. Jung even wrote about our need to listen to the prompting of our soul, and so he might well agree with this approximation. However, I do not believe he ever equated the two, and most modern Jungian therapists would, I suspect, tend to keep them separate. I also do not think St. John of the Cross would agree that the soul can intuit or anticipate what Divine union really is, and that it therefore could not be “repressed” as other Shadow material is. It would certainly be interesting to hear Jung and St. John of the Cross work this out. For now, from what we have of their writings and can understand from personal experience of each course of practice, encountering the Shadow and the Dark Night of the Soul are, well, as different as night and day.

My 2 cents.

Psychology: Does the complexity and depth of our language affect the depth and complexity of our thought?

In answer to Quora question: "Psychology: Does the complexity and depth of our language affect the depth and complexity of our thought?"

I think the only tenable answer to your question is "it depends." In particular, it depends on what you mean by "complexity and depth." It also depends on the style of thinking a particular person might have, as well as their innate processing bias and preceptive abilities. Some scenarios:

1) Someone whose thought process is grounded in felt experience and emotional intuition may increase their emotional vocabulary (their ability to describe and define different emotional states in more and more subtle ways) and perceptive faculties, and thereby increase the accuracy and nuance of their thought process. In this case, linguistic facility/complexity would seem to parallel complexity of thought as it intersects with a broadening and increasingly sophisticated perception-cognition loop, but only with respect to felt experiences and intuitive perception.

2) Someone whose primary mode of processing is hyperrational to the exclusion of felt experience and intuitive insight could increase their sophistication of language (vocabulary, structure, etc.) and perhaps have an impact on the specificity of conceptualization, but be completely blind to nuances or subtleties of differentiation and experience (especially nonrational ones). In this case, linguistic facility would seem to have less of a correlation with broad or multifaceted complex thought because the perception-cognition loop is too narrowly focused.

3) Someone with broad and multidimensional experience in a particular field, who is fluid at integrating different modes of interior processing (rational, emotional, somatic, etc.), and has developed complex conceptualization and language around their experiences, but who is chronically overwhelmed by anxiety and depression, may experience a paralysis of complex thought despite their linguistic facility. In this case, disruptive emotions override the potential breadth and nuance of the perception-cognition loop.

4) A monk who has meditated in silence for fifteen years may have insights and experiences that are profoundly complex, abstract, multifaceted and nuanced, but be unable to express them in words at all. In this case, linguistic facility has zero correlation with depth and complexity of thought, and this even despite a narrow focus of perception-cognition.

As you can see...I think it depends on a number of different variables. For me personally, metacognition is essential to what I consider "complexity and depth" of thought, but knowing what "metacognition" means is not.

My 2 cents.

What are common fallacies about psychotherapy?

Answer to Quora question: "Psychotherapy: What are common fallacies about psychotherapy?"

Thanks for the A2A.

- Psychotherapy is somehow different than any other healing modality. It isn't - or at least it's not supposed to be. If we have a (mental-emotional-relational) health issue we want to address, a good psychotherapist should be able to help.

- All psychotherapists are equal. Therapists are like violinists - there are virtuoso soloists, first chair orchestral violinists, second chair and so on all the way down to the squeaky fiddler performing on the street. Really capable virtuosos are pretty rare. Street fiddlers are a lot more common. So shop around! (see selecting therapist on

- All psychotherapeutic approaches are equal. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses, and some work better for one condition than another. Researching what technique tends to work best for a particular need can be very helpful.

- Degrees and certifications equate competence. One of the best therapists I ever experienced was a minister with no psychotherapeutic credentials. Another was an "intuitive healer" who provided some timely and effective insights. Another was a social worker. Another was a counselor in grade school. I'm sure you are getting the picture. The skills and qualities a good psychotherapist will usually have - humility, empathy, engaged listening, validation, intuitive intelligence, carefully probing questions, etc. - can be found in many people who aren't psychotherapists. I am not saying we should not use psychotherapy licensing and credentials to help separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of competence and professionalism, but those shouldn't be the only criteria. Because there are a lot (far too many, IMO) of really crappy psychotherapists out there.

- A good psychotherapist is highly directive, having a position of power over a client. I think one of the more harmful fallacies is the belief that therapists are supposed to take control, telling us what is wrong with us and then how to fix it. This passive expectation is incredibly disruptive to the client-centered, collaborative therapeutic processes that have proven the most effective. Therapists are supposed to empower their clients, not themselves.

- Psychotherapy is for crazy people. This is just dumb. Psychotherapy is for everyone who wants to improve their mental, emotional and psychosocial well-being, regardless of how "high-functioning" they may be.

- Psychotherapy is long-term and expensive. There are many short-term approaches that have proven quite effective - so much so that only three or four sessions may be enough to create positive change. Again, this goes to the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.

- Psychotherapists can prescribe drugs. Psychiatrists are MDs who practice psychotherapy and can also prescribe drugs...psychotherapists cannot.

There are probably many more fallacies out there...but those are some off the top of my head that I have encountered quite often.

Treating Animals Better than Humans

From the Quora discussion "How can some people treat animals better than they treat humans?"

Here's my take on this....

Most animal species cultivated as pets have commonly been bred for characteristics that reward human interaction with them. For example, we think of dogs as devoted, attentive and unconditionally loving; cats as affectionate, clever and mischievous; birds as cute, quirky and funny; horses as powerful, graceful and exciting; and so on. These behaviors and characteristics are somewhat predictable, emotionally honest, generally positive and for the most part "safe" in ways that interactions with fellow humans are not. When you then involve a person who may be naturally shy and introverted, or who has trouble with complex social situations, or who may have been abused or mistreated by others and suffered some emotional trauma or alienation from human society, then the safety and genuineness of interaction with domesticated animals can seem like a haven. For this group, the compassion and empathy they demonstrate for animals does seem to extend to humans, but they simply choose to lavish their attentions on species that have a natural propensity or selective breeding to reciprocate in a more honest and trustworthy way.

On the other hand, there is a certain segment of folks who seem to lavish pets and stray animals with gifts, medical attention, affection and gourmet meals that they would never consider providing for fellow humans or even themselves. In fact they seem to excessively invest in animals to the exclusion of everyone and everything else, and to a degree that seems pretty pathological - whether putting their lives at risk to rescue one feral cat, or mortgaging their house to pay for an aging dog's kidney operation. Rather than based mainly in emotional honesty or empathic connection, these folks seem to possess a deep-seated compulsion or addiction that obsesses over animals in essentially destructive ways. For this group I suspect there may be an underlying personality disorder involved, or a brain chemical imbalance similar to what presents as OCD.

The final group that comes to mind, and one that (sadly, IMO) seems increasingly common across many demographics, are pet keepers who mainly view animals as novelty, a breeding investment, an indication of social status, or some sort of materialistic benefit. They seem primarily concerned with appearance and grooming, animal performance, rarity of breed, pedigree, etc. and so "treat animals better than humans" only to obtain the highest return on their investment, the best performance in a competition, the highest fees for breeding services or offspring, the greatest appreciation from their peers, increased status in some social stratum, and a sense of advanced social privilege and sophistication in their own self-concept. This group is, I suspect, a natural product of commercialism, consumer identity and the materialistic fixations encouraged by endless capitalist propaganda that seeks to profit from every aspect of our existence.

So these are three groups off the top of my head, but I suspect there are more, and certainly even crossover between even these three, so that each person has a unique combination of reasons for giving animals preferable treatment to human beings.

My 2 cents.

Depression and "Cheering yourself up"

From the Quora question "Do we have proof that depression cannot be relieved by "cheering yourself up"?"

First I think it would be necessary to define what you mean by "proof," what you mean by "depression," what you mean by "relieved," and what you mean by "cheering up." Here are some scenarios:

A mild depressive mood swing caused by situational stresses combined with poor eating, sleeping and exercise habits could be fairly rapidly and permanently alleviated through eliminating the stressors and engaging in healthier diet, sleep and exercise routines. In this sense, specific steps can be taken to rapidly "cheer oneself up."

A severe, chronic, structural depression (i.e. caused by physiological factors that may be hereditary) will often require intervention with antidepressants, coupled with intensive cognitive retraining such as CBT, followed (when the downward spiral has been interrupted and mood stabilized through this intervention) by rigorous preventative measures involving diet, sleep, exercise and other positive self-care habits. Over time, the capacity to manage depressive tendencies may be improved with all of these factors, and pharmaceutical intervention attenuated to whatever degree the depression sufferer can tolerate, but only in some cases; for others the structural depression is so strong that no amount of cognitive restructuring or self-nurturing habits will alleviate the downward spiral without additional long term treatment.

In an acute depressive state brought on by tragedy and grief, it is my observation and experience that engaging the grief over time, and slowly working one's way through the emotional process of grieving, is the only reliable remedy. Short term relief may be afforded by pharmaceuticals masking the intensity of pain, but those drugs will also interfere with requisite emotional processing. In the case of grief, it seems to be that "feeling the pain" is the only avenue back to cheerfulness. At the same time, some people will nurture, deepen and extend their pain, which may then require intervention from a professional who can help them learn new cognitive tools to let go of a particular stage of grief in which they have become arrested.

In all of these cases, however, it is my view that the long term, qualitative "proof" of relieved depression can really only be measured via the subjective, ongoing emotional experiences of the person who has suffered depression. Sure, there are studies that demonstrate how various methodologies reduce self-limiting, negative and destructive emotions and thought patterns associated with depression, but to my knowledge very few have been able to capture any long term qualitative results other than with fairly extreme metrics (such as suicide prevention).

By the way, you may want to take a look at research on treatment of depression with CBT to further explore the correlations between cognitive habits and depressive mood swings. Dennis Greenberger's book "Mind over Mood" is an excellent starting point for exploring and practicing these techniques.

My 2 cents.