Law in Contemporary Society
Our discussion on 'vegging-out' vs. meditation today reminded me of a google talk I watched recently on meditation and happiness.

The man giving the talk, Matthieu Ricard, is a scientist turned monk whose brain has been studied for the effects of meditation. The results were that you can change your mind's biology through meditation.

Mr. Ricard says, "The mind is malleable, our life can be greatly transformed by even a minimal change in how we manage our thoughts and perceive and interpret the world. Happiness is a skill. It requires effort and time."

Perhaps other brain functions can be enhanced as well.

EDIT January 28th: The Atlantic has an article by Walter Kirn about the harms of multitasking. The article cites some studies on the effect of multi-tasking on memory which speak to this topic. The relevant portion:

"The subjects’ brains coped with the additional task by shifting responsibility from the hippocampus—which stores and recalls information—to the striatum, which takes care of rote, repetitive activities. Thanks to this switch, the subjects managed to sort the cards just as well with the musical distraction—but they had a much harder time remembering what, exactly, they’d been sorting once the experiment was over. Even worse, certain studies find that multitasking boosts the level of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems through biochemical friction, prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue, and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term, they may cause it to atrophy."

This is more evidence that excercising your brain is important to memory and focus. The UCLA paper is available here. An interview with one of the science paper's authors is here.

-- JustinColannino - 28 Jan 2008

Our neurology is freaking amazing, I mean it would be bizarre if our brain couldn't adapt. One of my favorite anecdotes is how they found that London taxi drivers actually have a observably larger hippocampus as a result of having to navigate through (and maintain mental maps of) London.

-- TheodoreSmith - 18 Jan 2008

Also- here is another link to a study showing the effect of transcendental meditation on intelligence in a group of high school students... link

-- TheodoreSmith - 18 Jan 2008

A few years ago I spent some time in Northern India, where I stayed a few nights in a Kagyupa monastery. The monks would wear their robes (just like the one he is wearing in that video) and ONLY their robes, in the single digit Himalayan temperatures. Me and the other Westerner's I was traveling with had on every layer of clothes we owned, and were still freezing cold. I asked one of the monks why they wore no coats and he answered, "The mind is the best coat."

Part of me is still incredulous, even though I saw it with my own eyes. I mean, it is FREEZING COLD there - how is it humanly possible that these men could be comfortable wearing so little? I take it the answer is because they had figured out how to use their minds to regulate their own body temperatures. It still amazes me every time I think about it.

-- JuliaS - 20 Jan 2008

The Mystery of the Monks

The alternate answer to the mystery of the monks is that their bodies were actually acclimatized and yours were not. Swimmers training for long distance ocean swims in cold water will prepare for their swims by swimming in cold water and living in cold conditions. This forces their bodies to adapt to the environment and causes their normal body temperature to drop.

Focusing on what we can do with our minds often causes us to forget what our bodies can do. Though mythical explanations seem attractive, simpler ones will often do the trick.

-- StephenClarke - 22 Jan 2008

  • But the monks don't claim a mystery: they think it's just as simple as you do, Stephen, and they're giving the same explanation. It's only that they have a slightly different view of what's being acclimatized. They don't see the mind/body distinction as you do, after all, because they're not culturally required to make that separation. But to the extent they do make it, they think it's the mind being acclimatized. At the biological level, after all, the science would say they're right: natural selection works to improve adaptation to cold climates all the time, but not within the lifetime of an organism. The genetic predisposition of Ashkenazic Jews to high blood sugar, which currently presents clinically as a heightened risk of diabetes, seems to have begun as a relatively sudden adaptation to Northern Europe climate in the last 1900 years, protective against hypothermia; Sephardi communities don't show the same trait. The pathogenic character of the adaptation is a sign of its recency--glucose in the blood is a long-term dangerous form of antifreeze. Yet finding even such a jury-rig adaptation that takes place within a short span of generations, however, is good hunting for the physical anthropologist. But training will inure a person to the effects of cold within weeks or months. That's not, if you want to insist on the distinction, primarily physiological.
    -- EbenMoglen - 22 Jan 2008

Indeed, the Economist and NY Times have been journalistically recording the hunt for these jury-rigs. Most importantly, the primary problem with attributing any genetic mutations of Ashkenazic Jews to natural selection is what scientists call the founder effect: dwindling of a community for political reasons to such small numbers as to render it sensitive to even the most unremarkable natural selection pressures. The small diaspora of Jews escaping the Roman Empire after the fall of the second temple is exemplary in confounding truly natural selection with relatively unnatural selection arising out of these historical contingencies.

Interestingly, the Ashkenazic population, for relatively obvious reasons, has largely abandoned the diaspora's original settlements in mainly Poland, Russia, and Germany. When I traveled to Krakow a few years ago, the community was so small as to render most of the historical synogogues precisely that: historical vestiges of once vibrant communities for tourists to visit. What kind of potential founder effect will be activated in light of the population dwindling caused by political alienation in the 20th century? Or perhaps with the introduction of 'tolerance teaching' in these countries - the didactic brochures they have in Poland are remarkable - the potential deleterious genetic effects could be 'mitigated' through intermarriage across different groups and thus genetic recombinations? Is there the beginning of an argument for immigration tolerance (i.e. encourage Jews to return) in these studies? In fact, I am trying, with great difficulty, to get Polish citizenship myself by jus sanguine.

-- JesseCreed - 22 Jan 2008

Read your Economist thoroughly. This past issue had a big article on the immigration of Russian Jews into Germany and the reaction that has elicited among German Jews. I happen to be a Russian Jew, so I noticed it. I'll be sure to try to mitigate any genetic defects I may carry ; )

-- KateVershov - 22 Jan 2008

Hey Kate - I did in fact hyperlink the word "Germany" in my comment to the article which you are referencing. You are right that I should have also connected it to Russia.

-- JesseCreed - 22 Jan 2008

Cool. Sorry, didn't look. I thought the link would be under the word 'Economist.'

-- KateVershov - 22 Jan 2008



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r12 - 22 Jan 2009 - 01:59:15 - IanSullivan
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