Writing at the intersection of cognitive neuroscience, Zen Buddhism, physics, and literature

Telling yourself “Don’t ever do that” isn’t mindfulness

Cartoon of a family having a picnic
Cartoon of a family having a picnic

Did you know, the Buddha wasn’t a vegetarian? Well, it’s true.

The early Buddhists, including Siddhartha Gautama himself, were mendicants, eating whatever people gave them. In fact, one of the few biographical details credited by most historians about the Buddha is that he died at age 80 after eating “soft pork”.*

Still, many Buddhists, including Zen Buddhists, stick to a vegetarian or vegan diet so as to observe the first precept, to avoid killing. And while this is a noble impulse, it can actually be a stumbling block for cultivating mindfulness.

One…


The Soul and the Id: Understanding the Hard Problem of Consciousness

Sorry, folks, but digital immortality by upload is impossible

Image for post
Image for post

Like the song says, “everyone wants to be on a postage stamp, but nobody wants to die.”

And lately, one of the hottest topics for those who’d like to keep the party going forever is mind uploading, the notion that we can transfer our consciousness to machines. But like all immortality schemes that have come before it, there are fatal flaws in the plan.

The first thing we need to recognize is that consciousness — the only type of “mind” that could reasonably be uploaded in order to bestow an immortality worthy of the name — is a bodily function…


The purpose, pleasures, and pitfalls of sitting

Small boy wearing sunglasses sitting in the lotus position in a field
Small boy wearing sunglasses sitting in the lotus position in a field

The first thing to know is that meditation is training. Gentle training, but still training.

So while it won’t change who you are, it will change you. (It’s tempting to go into it wanting the opposite.)

I started sitting in the early 1990s with a martial arts group, and I still got this part wrong for many years. You don’t use or deploy meditation like a tool or technique. You take it up — like an art, a career, a sport, a vow.

Meditating occasionally is a lot like occasionally picking up a paintbrush or a compound bow or a…


It’s not a trend or a social construct. It’s biological reality.

Silhouettes of people
Silhouettes of people

Imagine you wake one morning to find a third arm, fully formed from the elbow down, extending from your solar plexus right in the center of your chest. It looks like your other limbs, you can move it just as easily, and it senses touch and hot and cold and pain just like the others.

And yet, it feels alien. Like something foreign that has been implanted inside of you and grown out on its own. Not really “your” arm at all.

What do you do?

Do you think, “Ah, well, now that’s convenient! Now I can type and drink…


The Soul and the Id: Understanding the Hard Problem of Consciousness

Long relegated to the realms of religion, myth, and superstition, the soul is actually our most useful concept for a scientific approach to what it means to be a person.

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Image for post

In the spring of 2005, the Woodside Hospice in Pinnelas Park, Florida, became ground-zero of a national debate over life, death, human rights, and the soul. The storm was sparked by a clash between the husband and the parents of Terri Schiavo (pronounced shave-oh), a woman residing at the hospice, and grew to encompass the state governor, the American Congress, a US President, national and international media, and the Vatican.


Three-step system to increase off-holiday food supplies

Volunteers are sorting donations of food at a food bank.
Volunteers are sorting donations of food at a food bank.

In the summer of 1972, researchers from the Department of Psychology at New York University stole radios right in front of people on a beach. And by changing just one thing they did, they drastically raised the percent of observers who tried to stop them — from 20% to 95%. Believe it or not, this same technique can prompt food bank donors to return and give more.

A team led by NYU’s Thomas Moriarty spent the summer of ’72 punking beachgoers by having one of the team lay down a beach blanket within five feet of another one, turn on…


It’s not because they don’t want it

Man seated on the ground against a wall with his face hidden by his arms
Man seated on the ground against a wall with his face hidden by his arms

“Why didn’t he ask for help first? If we had only known, we would have done anything. Anything!”

Nobody wants to be the one to say those words. And when we say them, we mean them. We mean them with all our heart and all our soul.

But as sincere as they may be, most of the time they’re not true. Because we wouldn’t have. Not then. Not really.

That is painful to say. And it’s painful to hear. But there’s nothing about depression and suicide that is not painful. …


It’s America’s heritage, too

Battle flag of the 3rd Arkansas, Army of Northern Virginia, overlaid on a photo of the war dead at Antietam, American Civil War
Battle flag of the 3rd Arkansas, Army of Northern Virginia, overlaid on a photo of the war dead at Antietam, American Civil War

My earliest ancestor to sail to the new world, Capt. John Dameron, arrived in 1619 aboard the ship Deuty, laden with a cargo of some 200 boys harvested from the streets of London and bound for indentured servitude in Jamestown. Although I am his descendant in the direct male line, I did not inherit his name.

Two hundred and forty years later, on the cusp of the American Civil War, Joseph Dameron was settled in Caswell County, North Carolina. For years by then, Southern politicians had been maintaining their power in the US Congress by whipping up popular opposition to…


But that’s OK — it’s all part of the plan …

Photos of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Chuck Norris, and a composite of the two
Photos of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Chuck Norris, and a composite of the two

There’s lots of folks saying US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia is crazy. After all, she claims to believe that 9/11 and Sandy Hook were faked, Trump won the 2020 election, and the Rothschilds used earth-orbiting lasers to spark the California wildfires.

What these people don’t understand is, it’s all a smokescreen to distract attention so that no one notices “she” is actually Chuck Norris. In the role of a lifetime.

Just take a gander at those photos up there. Look at the nose, the eyes. …


How quieting the brain sharpens your mind

Closeup of a green frog on a lily pad
Closeup of a green frog on a lily pad

A while back, Fast Company ran an article featuring the “secrets of the most productive people”, a productivity how-to from 11 big hitters spanning industry, politics, media, tech, design, and entertainment, headlined by Oprah Winfrey. (Spoiler, if you don’t already have a kick-ass personal assistant, you’ll want to run out and get one.)

Three topics appeared in all of the profiles: sleep, organization systems, and finding time to be un-productive.

First, nobody agrees on sleep, which means everybody agrees on sleep — whatever your pattern is, do that. The mayor of LA can…

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