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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Human Nature’s Pathologist

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Steven Pinker was a 15-year-old anarchist. He didn’t think people needed a police force to keep the peace. Governments caused the very problems they were supposed to solve.
Besides, it was 1969, said Dr. Pinker, who is now a 57-year-old psychologist at Harvard. “If you weren’t an anarchist,” he said, “you couldn’t get a date.”
At the dinner table, he argued with his parents about human nature. “They said, ‘What would happen if there were no police?’ ” he recalled. “I said: ‘What would we do? Would we rob banks? Of course not. Police make no difference.’ ”
This was in Montreal, “a city that prided itself on civility and low rates of crime,” he said. Then, on Oct. 17, 1969, police officers and firefighters went on strike, and he had a chance to test his first hypothesis about human nature.
“All hell broke loose,” Dr. Pinker recalled. “Within a few hours there was looting. There were riots. There was arson. There were two murders. And this was in the morning that they called the strike.”
The ’60s changed the lives of many people and, in Dr. Pinker’s case, left him deeply curious about how humans work. That curiosity turned into a career as a leading expert on language, and then as a leading advocate of evolutionary psychology. In a series of best-selling books, he has argued that our mental faculties — from emotions to decision-making to visual cognition — were forged by natural selection.
He has also become a withering critic of those who would deny the deep marks of evolution on our minds — social engineers who believe they can remake children as they wish, modernist architects who believe they can rebuild cities as utopias. Even in the 21st century, Dr. Pinker argues, we ignore our evolved brains at our own peril.
Given this track record, Dr. Pinker’s newest book, published in October, struck some critics as a jackknife turn. In “The Better Angels of Our Nature” (Viking), he investigates one of the most primal aspects of life: violence.
Over the course of 802 pages, he argues that violence has fallen drastically over thousands of years — whether one considers homicide rates, war casualties as a percentage of national populations, or other measures.
This may seem at odds with evolutionary psychology, which is often seen as an argument for hard-wired Stone Age behavior, but Dr. Pinker sees that view as a misunderstanding of the science. Our evolved brains, he argues, are capable of a wide range of responses to their environment. Under the right conditions, they can allow us to live in greater and greater peace.
“The Better Angels of Our Nature” is full of the flourishes that Dr. Pinker’s readers have come to expect. He offers gruesomely delightful details about cutting off noses and torturing heretics. Like his other popular books, starting with “The Language Instinct” (1994), it is a far cry from his first published works in the late 1970s — esoteric reports from his graduate work at Harvard, with titles like “The Representation and Manipulation of Three-Dimensional Space in Mental Images.”
From Irregular Verbs, a Career
He came to Harvard after graduating from McGill University in 1976. At the time, he was convinced that a life in psychology would allow him to ask the big questions about the mind and answer them with scientific rigor. “It was the sweet spot for me in trying to understand human nature,” he said.
But he quickly realized that such explorations would have to wait. “You can’t do a Ph.D. thesis on human nature,” he said. “So I studied much smaller problems — academic bread-and-butter problems.”
He began by studying how we picture things in our heads, looking for the strategies people use to make sense of the visual information continually flooding the brain. As he worked on his dissertation, however, he recognized that many other scientists were also tackling the same problems of visual cognition.
“There were a lot of people studying them who were doing a better job than I could,” he said. So he looked for another problem.
The field he settled on was language, and it proved to be consuming. For Dr. Pinker, it was “a window into human nature.” Linguists have long debated whether language is a skill we develop with all-purpose minds, or whether we have innate systems dedicated to it.
Dr. Pinker has focused much of his research on language on a seemingly innocuous fluke: irregular verbs. While we can generate most verb tenses according to a few rules, we also hold onto a few arbitrary ones. Instead of simply turning “speak” into “speaked,” for example, we say “spoke.”
As a young professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he pored over transcripts of children’s speech, looking for telling patterns in the mistakes they made as they mastered verbs. Out of this research, he proposed that our brains contain two separate systems that contribute to language. One combines elements of language to build up meaning; the other is like a mental dictionary we keep in our memory.
This research helped to convince Dr. Pinker that language has deep biological roots. Some linguists argued that language simply emerged as a byproduct of an increasingly sophisticated brain, but he rejected that idea. “Language is so woven into what makes humans human,” he said, “that it struck me as inconceivable that it was just an accident.”
Instead, he concluded that language was an adaptation produced by natural selection. Language evolved like the eye or the hand, thanks to the way it improved reproductive success. In 1990 he published a paper called “Natural Language and Natural Selection,” with his student Paul Bloom, now at Yale. The paper was hugely influential.
It also became the seed of his breakthrough book, “The Language Instinct,” which quickly became a best seller and later won a place on a list in the journal American Scientist of the top 100 science books of the 20th century.
Dr. Pinker used the success of the book to expand the scope of his work. “It gave me the freedom to return to these much larger questions, informed by what I could learn about real humans,” he said.
For the past 17 years, he has alternated between wide-ranging books on human nature, like “How the Mind Works” (1997) and “The Blank Slate” (2002), and books focused on his research, like “Words and Rules” (1999), about irregular verbs. He writes at the apartment he shares with his wife, the novelist Rebecca Goldstein, and at a house on Cape Cod.
Cause for Optimism
As a public intellectual, Dr. Pinker has engaged in a series of high-profile debates about evolutionary psychology. In 1997, the Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould accused him and other evolutionary psychologists of seeing fine-tuned adaptations in every facet of human existence.
Evolutionary psychology, Dr. Gould wrote, “could be quite useful if proponents would trade their propensity for cultism and ultra-Darwinian fealty for a healthy dose of modesty.”
Dr. Pinker gave as good as he got. He declared that Dr. Gould was “scrambling things so that his opponents have horns and he has a halo.” (Dr. Gould died in 2002.)
Then there is the question of male and female minds. In 2005, Lawrence H. Summers, then president of Harvard, caused an uproar by speculating that one reason for the underrepresentation of women in tenured science and engineering positions was “issues of intrinsic aptitude.”
Dr. Pinker (who had moved from M.I.T. to Harvard in 2003) came to Dr. Summers’s defense, and ended up in a high-profile debate with a fellow Harvard psychologist, Elizabeth Spelke.
Dr. Pinker argued that there were small but important biological differences in how male and female brains worked. Dr. Spelke argued that these differences were minor, and that evolutionary psychology had no part to play in the debate.
“The kinds of careers people pursue now, the kinds of choices they make, are radically different from anything that anybody faced back in the Pleistocene,” Dr. Spelke said at the close of the debate. “It is anything but clear how motives that evolved then translate into a modern context.”
In a way, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” is a response to this kind of critique. He says the idea for the book took root in his mind around the time of his debate with Dr. Spelke, when he stumbled across graphs of historical rates of violence. In England, for example, homicide rates are about a hundredth of what they were in 1400.
In 2006 Dr. Pinker was invited to write an essay on the theme “What Are You Optimistic About?” His answer: “The decline of violence.”
The reaction to the essay was swift and surprising. “I started hearing from scholars from fields that I was barely aware of, saying, ‘There’s much more evidence on this trend than you were aware of,’ ” he said.
Researchers sent him evidence that violence had declined in many other places, and in many different forms, from the death rate in wars to rates of child abuse. “I thought, ‘This is getting to be a conspiracy.’ It was beyond my wildest dreams. I realized there was a book to be written.”
Dr. Pinker set out to synthesize all these patterns and find an explanation for them. And in the process, he wanted to rebut stereotypes of evolutionary psychology.
“There’s a common criticism of evolutionary psychology that it’s fatalistic and it dooms us to eternal strife,” he said. “Why even try to work toward peace if we’re just bloody killer apes and violence is in our genes?”
Instead, Dr. Pinker argues that evolutionary psychology offers the best explanation for why things have gotten better, and how to make them even better.
Civilization’s Effect
“Better Angels” has impressed many experts on historical trends of violence.
“Steven Pinker’s great achievement is to weave these trends into a much larger pattern of reduced violence, greater empathy and, indeed, a comprehensive civilizing process,” said Nils Petter Gleditsch, a research professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo in Norway.
Human violence started dropping thousands of years ago with the formation of the first states, Dr. Pinker argues. For evidence, he points to archaeological studies and observations of stateless societies today. With the birth of the first states, rates of violence began to fall, and they have dropped in fits and starts ever since.
Dr. Pinker grants that these results may be hard to believe, but he thinks that is more a matter of psychology than of data. The emotional power in stories of violence — whether on the nightly news or on “Law and Order” — can distract us from the long-term decline.
He acknowledges, of course, that the past century produced two horrific world wars. But he says they do not refute his argument. Statistical studies of war reveal a lot of randomness built into their timing and size. The 20th century, he argues, suffered some particularly bad luck.
Dr. Pinker finds an explanation for the overall decline of violence in the interplay of history with our evolved minds. Our ancestors had a capacity for violence, but this was just one capacity among many. “Human nature is complex,” he said. “Even if we do have inclinations toward violence, we also have inclination to empathy, to cooperation, to self-control.”
Which inclinations come to the fore depends on our social surroundings. In early society, the lack of a state spurred violence. A thirst for justice could be satisfied only with revenge. Psychological studies show that people overestimate their own grievances and underestimate those of others; this cognitive quirk fueled spiraling cycles of bloodshed.
But as the rise of civilization gradually changed the ground rules of society, violence began to ebb. The earliest states were brutal and despotic, but they did manage to take away opportunities for runaway vendettas.
More recently, the invention of movable type radically changed our social environment. When people used their powers of language to generate new ideas, those ideas could spread. “If you give people literacy, bad ideas can be attacked and experiments tried, and lessons will accumulate,” Dr. Pinker said. “That pulls you away from what human nature would consign you on its own.”
And these ideas helped drive down violence even further. Ideas about equality led to women gaining power across much of the world, and “women are statistically more dovish than men,” Dr. Pinker said.
Reviews for the new book have been largely enthusiastic, though not unmixed. In The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert called it “confounding,” “exasperating” and “fishy.”
“Hate and madness and cruelty haven’t disappeared,” she concluded, “and they aren’t going to.”
Dr. Pinker’s response was equally scornful. “No honest reviewer would imply that this is the message of the book,” he wrote on his Web site.
Though violence has indisputably declined, he says, it could rise again. But by understanding the causes of the decline, humanity can work to promote peace. He endorses the new book “Winning the War on War” (Dutton/Penguin), by the political scientist Joshua S. Goldstein, which argues that the slogan “If you want peace, fight for justice” is precisely the wrong advice.
If you want peace, Dr. Goldstein argues, work for peace. Dr. Pinker agrees.
“It’s psychologically astute, given the massive amount of self-serving biases,” he said. “In any dispute, each side thinks it’s in the right and the other side is demons.”
The moral of his own book might be, If you want peace, understand psychology.

Human Nature’s Pathologist

Source: The New York Times [Includes Video Presentation (Pinker Talks)]
Posted by
Robert Karl Stonjek

Researcher creates neurons that light up as they fire

In a scientific first that potentially could shed new light on how signals travel in the brain, how learning alters neural pathways, and might lead to speedier drug development, scientists at Harvard have created genetically-altered neurons that light up as they fire.
The work, led by John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Natural Sciences Adam Cohen, and described in Nature Methods on Nov. 28, involved using a gene from a Dead Sea microorganism to produce a protein that, when exposed to the electrical signal in a neuron, fluoresces, allowing researchers to trace the propagation of signals through the cell.
"It's very exciting," Cohen said of the research. "In terms of basic biology, there are a number of things we can now do which we've never been able to do. We can see how these signals spread through the neuronal network. We can study the speed at which the signal spreads, and if it changes as the cells undergo changes. We may someday even be able to study how these signals move in living animals."
To create the light-up neurons, Cohen and his team infected brain cells that had been cultured in the lab with a genetically-altered virus that contained the protein-producing gene. Once infected, the cells began manufacturing the protein, allowing them to light up.
"The way a neuron works is it has a membrane around the whole cell, sort of like a wire and insulation, except in a neuron the membrane is an active substance," Cohen said. "Normally, the inside of the cell is negatively-charged relative to the outside.
"When a neuron fires, the voltage reverses for a very short time, about 1/1,000th of a second," he continued. "This brief spike in voltage travels down the neuron and then activates other neurons downstream. Our protein is sitting in the membrane of the neurons, so as that pulse washes over the proteins, they light up, giving us an image of the neurons as they fire."
The research has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of how electrical signals move through the brain, as well as other tissues, Cohen said.
"Before, the best way to make a measurement of the electrical activity in a cell was to stick a little electrode into it and record the results on a volt meter," he said. "The issue, however, was that you were only measuring the voltage at one point, you weren't seeing a spatial map of how signals propagate. Now, we will be able to study how the signal spreads, whether it moves through all neurons at the same speed, and even how signals change if the cells are undergoing something akin to learning."
Another limitation of using electrodes, Cohen said, is that the process tends to kill the cells relatively quickly, making it impossible to study processes that take place over time. His new process, however, opens the door to studying the effects of growth and development on neurons, or to monitor how stem cells develop.
Being able to track the electrical pathways in cells also holds practical applications, Cohen said, particularly when it comes to the development of new drugs or other therapies.
"Many, many drugs target ion channels, which are important proteins in governing the activity of the heart and brain," he said. "Right now, if you want to test a compound designed to activate or inactivate a particular ion channel, you have to culture the cell, test it with an electrode, then add the drug and see what happens. This is an extremely slow process – it typically takes an hour or two for each data point.
"Now that we can do it optically in the microscope, we can test the efficacy of a drug on a cell in a few seconds. Instead of testing one compound or ten compounds, we can try to test thousands or even hundreds of thousands. We can test different conditions, different mixtures – it will increase the throughput for testing new drugs."
The process may even open new research avenues for those studying genetic conditions ranging from depression to heart disease.
Using stem cells, researchers can culture cells in the lab that are genetically identical to a patient known to carry a genetic predisposition to a particular condition, then study how signals move through those cells.
Provided by Harvard University
"Researcher creates neurons that light up as they fire." November 29th, 2011.
Posted by
Robert Karl Stonjek


Note the Sinhalese version on the "bill board" for McCallums 
So many memories of the good old days!  Enjoy!  





















Gray matter in brain's control center linked to ability to process reward

brainBrain diagram. Credit: The more gray matter you have in the decision-making, thought-processing part of your brain, the better your ability to evaluate rewards and consequences. That may seem like an obvious conclusion, but a new study conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory is the first to show this link between structure and function in healthy people — and the impairment of both structure and function in people addicted to cocaine. The study appears in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.
"This study documents for the first time the importance to reward processing of gray matter structural integrity in the parts of the brain's prefrontal cortex that are involved in higher-order executive function, including self-control and decision-making," said Muhammad Parvaz, a post-doctoral fellow at Brookhaven Lab and a co-lead author on the paper.
"Previous studies conducted at Brookhaven and elsewhere have explored the structural integrity of the prefrontal cortex in drug addiction and the functional components of reward processing, but these studies were conducted separately," Parvaz said. "We wanted to know whether the specific function of reward processing could be 'mapped' onto the underlying brain structure — whether and how these two are related," he added.
Differences in gray matter volume — the amount of brain matter made up of nerve cell bodies, as opposed to the "white matter" axons that form the connections between cells — have been observed in a range of neuropsychiatric diseases when compared with healthy states, explained Anna Konova, the other co-lead author on the paper. "We wanted to know more about what these differences mean functionally in healthy individuals and in drug-addicted individuals," she said.
To explore this structure-function relationship, the scientists performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans to measure brain volume in 17 healthy people and 22 cocaine users. The scans collect structural measurements for the entire brain, and can be analyzed voxel-by-voxel — the equivalent of three-dimensional pixels — to get detailed measurements for individual brain regions.
Within a short period of the MRI scans, the scientists also used electrodes placed on the research subjects' scalps to measure a particular electrical signal known as the P300 (an event-related potential derived from an ongoing electroencephalogram, or EEG, that is time-locked to a particular event). This specific measure can index brain activity related to reward processing. During these electrical recordings, the subjects performed a timed psychological task (pressing buttons according to a specific set of rules) with the prospect of earning varying levels of monetary reward, from no money up to 45 cents for each correct response with a total potential reward of $50.
Previous studies by the research team have shown that, in healthy subjects, the P300 signal increases in magnitude with the amount of monetary reward offered. Cocaine-addicted individuals, however, do not exhibit this differential response in the P300 measure of brain activity, even though they, like the healthy subjects, rate the task as more interesting and exciting when the potential reward is greater.
The current study extended these results by linking them for the first time with the structural measurements.
The scientists used statistical methods to look for correlations between the difference in brain activity observed in the high-reward and no-reward conditions — how much the brain's P300 response changed with increasing reward — and the gray matter volume in various parts of the brain as measured voxel-by-voxel in the MRI scans.
In the healthy subjects, the magnitude of change in the P300 signal with increasing reward was most strongly correlated with the volume of gray matter in three regions of the prefrontal cortex.
"The higher the gray matter volume in those particular regions, the more brain activity increased for the highest monetary reward as compared to the non-reward condition," Konova said.
The cocaine-addicted individuals had reduced gray matter volume in these regions compared with the healthy subjects, and no detectable differences between the reward conditions in the P300 measure of brain activity. There were also no significant correlations between the former and latter — structure and function measures — in the cocaine-addicted subjects.
"These findings suggest that impaired reward processing may be attributed to deficits in the structural integrity of the brain, particularly in prefrontal cortical regions implicated in higher order cognitive and emotional function," Parvaz said. "This study therefore validates the use of the structural measures obtained by MRI as indicative of functional deficits."
The implications are important for understanding the potential loss of control and disadvantageous decision-making that can occur in people suffering from drug addiction, Konova explained: "These structure-function deficits may translate into dysfunctional behaviors in the real world. Specifically, impaired ability to compare rewards, and reduced gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, may culminate in the compromised ability to experience pleasure and to control behavior, especially in high-risk situations — for example, when craving or under stress — leading individuals to use drugs despite catastrophic consequences."
The authors acknowledge that there are still questions about whether these changes in brain structure and function are a cause or a consequence of addiction. But the use of multimodal imaging techniques, as illustrated by this study, may open new ways to address these and other questions relevant to understanding human motivation in both health and disease states, with particular relevance to treating drug addiction.
More information: Structural Integrity of the Prefrontal Cortex Modulates Electrocortical Sensitivity to Reward: http://www.mitpres … jocn_a_00166
Provided by Brookhaven National Laboratory
"Gray matter in brain's control center linked to ability to process reward." November 29th, 2011.
Posted by
Robert Karl Stonjek

Circus Comes to Town

Lord Chaitanya“Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was God Himself according to the indication of the revealed scriptures, but He played the part of a devotee. People who knew Him to be God addressed Him as God, but He used to block His ears with His hands and chant the name of Lord Vishnu. He strongly protested against being called God, although undoubtedly He was God Himself. The Lord behaves so to warn us against unscrupulous men who take pleasure in being addressed as God.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.16 Purport)
Circus rolls into town, bringing its many attractions. You have the acrobats, lion-tamers, and entertainers with freakish strength. Then there is the lead clown, the head of the show, who can do things more amazing than anyone else. Now just imagine if such a person were to claim to be God in the flesh. “I am an incarnation of the Supreme Lord. My purpose is such and such. As proof of my divinity watch me do things that are amazing.” The innocent members of society sucked into this racket will be damaged severely, for the recommendations on how to live life handed down by the leaders are what actually count. Every single one of us is God in the sense that we are pure spirit and in minute control over our future fortunes, but since when did being tiny gods equate to being the Supreme Lord Himself? A little show of magic does not one God make, for the breadth and scope of the creation, with its intricacies and innumerable functions carried out at the largest magnitude, remind us that a little advancement in mysticism doesn’t compare to the supreme powers of the greatest mystic, Yogeshvara. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, an authentic version of God appearing on earth, stood out from the pack of charlatans by never claiming to be God. He utterly refused to be treated as such, for His message was more important than His standing.
Lord ChaitanyaAnd what was that message? In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Lord is described by thousands of names, which each reference a specific transcendental activity or feature. The term “God” is too vague to give any pleasure to the worshiper, who is inherently searching after ananda, or bliss. As variety is the mother of enjoyment, the less abstract the vision we have of something, the more enjoyable the potential interaction. The dharma of the spirit soul, which is the essence of identity, is to serve, for this provides the individual the most lasting satisfaction. The service propensity is seen in every type of activity, even those driven by ignorance. If we have a lamp burning inside of the home, even if we put a shade on top, the light emitted is still seen to some degree. With the spirit soul, even the complete inverse of the loving service propensity, anger and rage, at least indicate that the soul’s dharma is present. As light can be reflected in any direction, based on the bodily makeup and the inherent qualities it brings, the living entity can exhibit their service propensity in a variety of ways.
Ideal enjoyment comes from interaction. Spiritual life follows the same pattern; it is not meant to create any artificial desire within the living being. Rather, the same propensities that already exist are purified through identifying the proper beneficiary. In a discipline driven by sentiment, dedication to the particular spiritual figure may be present, but unless there is some philosophy attached, the discipline will not be attractive to a large mass of people. Even if many people do claim to follow the identified personality, their allegiance will be in name only, for the majority of the activities followed will be dedicated to someone or something else.
To address these deficiencies, the Vedas provide the highest philosophy on life, as much information as can be consumed by the sober mind. Right away we see that there is a requirement before spiritual understanding can be awakened. The person intoxicated by excessive drinking or the burning rage of the fever of material existence will not have the patience or wherewithal to understand even the first rule of spiritual life, that we are not our bodies. “I am not my body? Then what the heck am I?” The bewildered spirit soul sees differences amongst species based on outward features and resulting behaviors. How can a cow and a pig be the same, for they follow completely different models of action? How is a human being the same as a dog? Moreover, how can the wise human being who is inclined towards piety ever be compared to the low-life who lives perpetually in sin?
“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.20)
KrishnaAccepting the angle of vision based on intelligence requires sobriety from the start, for without a clear head, how can we understand anything? Can we perform well on exams if we are tired or focused on something completely different? Can we operate a motor vehicle well while intoxicated? These are areas where the need for sobriety is readily acknowledged, but somehow with spiritual life the requirement that one be free of anxieties and attachments borne of bodily relations is a little difficult to accept. The reward for avoiding the most harmful sinful activities, such as intoxication and meat eating, is that one can study the patterns of behavior of the different species and have a better chance of realizing that all life forms are equal.
At the heart of the living being is the spirit soul, which is so tiny in size that it is impossible to measure its dimensions. We cannot even directly perceive its presence. The soul can only be noticed by the outward symptoms of a living being. Just the fact that there is a difference between a living being and a dead one underscores the importance of the soul. Death is the exiting of the soul from the body and birth is the entry into a new form. The soul is thereby the essence of life, the spark of action, for every species. If the soul has the same importance in whichever form it occupies, it means that there is no difference from one soul to another.
These cogent facts are revealed in the Vedas, whose most concise and complete treatise is the Bhagavad-gita. One who studies this work, learning it under the verbal or written direction of a spiritual master who understands the meanings to the different verses, will be able to see that all life forms are equal, that spirit has natural tendencies that are acted upon across all body types. From the understanding of spirit, from familiarity with the philosophy of the Vedic teachings, one is better situated to take up devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The abstract picture of God is made clearer through both the study and practice of devotional principles. The preliminary understanding that life forms are equal gives one the vision of Brahman, or the all-pervading light of the Absolute Truth. Knowing Brahman is similar to knowing the sunshine and how it dissipates heat and light everywhere. Through further study the same Brahman is understood to be localized in the form of the Supersoul, which resides in the heart of the living being adjacent to the individual soul, or atma.
Bhagavan paints the whole picture. Bhagavan is the most complete understanding of God, as it is inclusive of both Brahman and the Supersoul. It is not that one spiritual tradition worships a specific God who is different from the God of another tradition. Those who think this way are immature in their understanding of the science of self-realization. Yes, spirituality is a science, for it has law codes that are impossible to violate. Just as when you drop an object from the hand, it will fall to the ground because of the laws of gravity, the laws of spirituality apply to every instance, regardless of whether the particular actors are aware that they are being guided by a higher force.
Lord KrishnaBhagavan has spiritual attributes, with beauty, knowledge, wealth, strength, fame and renunciation seen to the fullest degree. Since these features are supremely wonderful, Bhagavan is known as Krishna, the all-attractive youth holding a flute in His hands and wearing a peacock feather in His hair. Lord Krishna is the complete representation of Godhead; therefore every other form or expansion comes from Him. The identical forms are referred to as avataras, or those who descend. Even Krishna is sometimes referred to as an avatara, for He comes to earth every now and then from the spiritual world to give people a glimpse of His transcendental features.
The ability of God to incarnate has created a slight problem in the present age of darkness known as the Kali Yuga. Though the specific incarnations and their features are described in the shastras, or scriptures, still many people in the past thousand years or so have claimed to be incarnations of God. Lord Krishna’s most famous avatara is Lord Rama, the handsome warrior prince of the Treta Yuga who defeated the Rakshasa Ravana in a fight using bows and arrows. In many Vedic traditions just Rama is worshiped along with His wife Sita Devi, younger brother Lakshmana and dedicated and courageous servant Hanuman. Bhagavan is wonderful in this way, as He allows devotees to follow their favored mood of devotion to taste the fruit of existence. It is not that one must worship Krishna and no one else. Bhagavan has different manifestations to provide varieties of transcendental pleasure.
Even the atheists worship God in some way, though their interaction is not direct. With indirect worship come inferior results. The consequence of worshiping matter is that you remain tied to something nonpermanent. If I love my high school so much that I decide I never want to graduate, obviously the decision is not very intelligent. The school has a purpose to fulfill, namely that of providing an education. Once that education is received, the student moves past the class and onto their next venture. If the class is enjoyed so much that one avoids their occupational duties in favor of following their allegiance to something that is constitutionally temporary, they will not be making the best use of their intelligence.
The same principle applies to the largest scale that is the material creation; so any allegiance offered to objects of earth, water, fire, air and ether will bring bitter disappointment in the end, for nothing in the material creation remains manifest forever, not even the sun. The taste relished through such interaction is automatically checked. This also explains why the bogus avataras can never be taken seriously, for their chicanery is exposed through the magic they show which aims to manipulate the material nature in favor of providing temporary enjoyment. The real avataras show people how to worship God perpetually, even into the afterlife. In addition, the transcendental features are not checked in the real incarnations of Godhead. Lord Rama defeated 14,000 attacking Rakshasas all by Himself, and He had a bridge built to Lanka that was made of floating stones. Lord Krishna lifted a massive hill and held it up over His head for seven consecutive days to save the wonderful people of Vrindavana from a massive flood instigated by Lord Indra.
Lord RamaWhat’s ironic is that even after exhibiting such unmatched feats of strength, Krishna and Rama never openly claimed to be God. People who knew them intimately understood their divine nature, but the Supreme Lord will never pound His chest and demand that others worship Him. The highest interaction possible for any living being is a rasa, or transcendental mellow, which operates on love. For there to be love, the interaction between the participants must be voluntary. Forcing someone to worship God, scaring them with a threat of eternal damnation in a lake of fire or killing them if they don’t show allegiance, doesn’t represent godly activity whatsoever. The material creation exists to house those souls who are not desirous of transcendental association, so there is full freedom in the exercise of activity.
Lord Chaitanya was Krishna Himself appearing on earth some five hundred years ago to teach the highest truths of spiritual life in the easiest possible way to understand. In days past, the intelligent class of men sought the shelter of the pristine wilderness, for the surroundings were more conducive to tapasya and yajna, or penance and sacrifice. Through penance one becomes detached from the senses and through sacrifice one remains connected to God. Therefore these two practices were an integral part of the sincere spiritualist’s regimen. In the modern age, however, such practices are almost impossible to adhere to. As evidence of this fact, just try to tell someone that drinking alcohol and eating meat are harmful. They will look at you like you’re crazy. Yet in times past, those who did indulge in these behaviors were considered the strange ones.
Just because sinful behavior is more rampant at any given time doesn’t mean that Krishna’s mercy is somehow made more difficult to acquire. As the circumstances become less favorable for transcendental enlightenment, the Supreme Lord redoubles His efforts towards reclaiming His lost sons and daughters. Lord Chaitanya preached the science of self-realization, the ultimate philosophy of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, openly in public. Krishna and Rama are the holy names, and Hare is the energy of God. “O my dearest Supreme Lord who is known as both Krishna and Rama. O the energy of the Lord. Allow me to be forever engaged in the Lord’s service without any motive for personal sense gratification. Allow me to continually love God without fail.”
Lord ChaitanyaThis was the mantra propagated by Lord Chaitanya, who wasn’t met with universal adulation right away. The mantra He revealed was known in the scriptures, but many were hesitant to share it with others so openly. The maha-mantra’s unique message is precisely what makes it so appealing and effective, for it reveals God’s names to everyone in a way that doesn’t violate the rules of spiritual life. With most mantras, expert recitation is required to receive the full benefit. The mantras also aren’t passed on to just anyone. The spiritual master is charged with the safekeeping, holding onto the sound vibrations and waiting to share them with someone who is sincere in their desire to learn about God.
Lord Chaitanya became the spiritual master of the world by kindly offering Krishna-prema, or love of God, to anyone who was willing to accept it. Even if they weren’t, they at least got to hear the holy names vibrated through Lord Chaitanya’s chanting or the preaching efforts of His many associates. Intimate friends knew Lord Chaitanya to be Krishna Himself, but whenever anyone who would worship Him in this way, the Lord would cover His ears. He did not like to be called God by anyone, for that was not the purpose of His mission. His behavior stands in stark contrast to the pretender incarnations who show off some mystic ability and then claim to be God in front of as many people as are gullible enough to believe them.
The message broadcast by the spiritual personality is what matters. Even Lord Krishna hid His divine nature from the residents of Vrindavana, who are considered the greatest lovers of God. The dedication to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the desired result, and not a blind allegiance to a particular personality. The shastras tell us who the incarnations are, so we needn’t be puzzled over the issue. Lord Chaitanya was so kind that He didn’t even care if you worshiped Him or not. Worshiping Him, however, is supremely auspicious, because He and His spiritual brother Nityananda Prabhu remove offenses in the chanting of the holy name. They give love for Godhead even if we are unwilling to accept it. Those who regularly hear of the activities of Lord Chaitanya, the dearest son of Shachimata and Jagannatha Mishra, can’t help but be won over by His divine grace. Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the ocean of mercy, and His transcendental features can only be found in Krishna Himself, who is the reservoir of pleasure.
In Closing:
When addressed as the Supreme Lord ears would He close,
To others divinity not liking to disclose.
Worship Krishna with love was His message,
But addressed Him as God some took the privilege.
Lord Chaitanya was an incarnation that was real,
The divine presence in His activities you could feel.
Study the message of preacher, that’s what really counts,
See if guidance removes mind’s pain that steadily mounts.
Remember Nitai-Gaura and have offenses removed,
From resulting love for Krishna their divinity proved.

Is there a central brain area for hearing melodies and speech cues? Still an open question

Previous studies have suggested a particular hotspot in the brain might be responsible for perceiving pitch, but auditory neuroscientists are still debating whether this "pitch center" actually exists. A review article discusses a recent study claiming that this pitch center may not exist after all, or may not be located where previous research has suggested.
The perceptual feature of sound known as pitch is fundamental to human hearing, allowing us to enjoy the melodies and harmonies of music and recognize the inflection of speech. Previous studies have suggested that a particular hotspot in the brain might be responsible for perceiving pitch. However, auditory neuroscientists are still hotly debating whether this "pitch center" actually exists. In a new review article, Daniel Bendor, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discusses a recent study claiming that this pitch center may not exist after all, or alternatively, may not be located where previous research has suggested. The article is entitled "Does a Pitch Center Exist in Auditory Cortex?"and appears in the Articles in PresS section of the Journal of Neurophysiology, published by the American Physiological Society.
Dr. Bendor writes a brief review outlining previous research that found a pitch processing center in a region of human auditory cortex located in lateral Heschl's gyrus, as well as other more recent studies that report data that contradict these earlier findings.
The review points out decades-old research suggesting that the auditory cortex plays a pivotal role in pitch perception. Researchers originally obtained this finding by training cats to distinguish pitch, then removing the auditory cortex on both sides of the brain—rendering the animals unable to distinguish pitch, but still able to discriminate other aspects of sound, such as frequency. Studies using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), a technique that examines brain activity while subjects are actively performing tasks in an MRI scanner, suggested that the lateral Heschl's gyrus is the main player in pitch perception. Several fMRI studies have scanned subjects' brains while listening to noise, then compared the brain activity to when subjects listen to a sound called iterated ripple noise (IRN), similar to noise but with a pitch component. However, recent studies that compare IRN and an IRN stimulus modified to have no pitch found that both sounds seem to activate the same region of the brain, suggesting that this area may not be involved in pitch perception after all. Bendor points out that it is too soon to dismiss the existence of a pitch center, however additional studies are needed to confirm its existence given these new results. He adds, although auditory cortex overlaps Heschl's gyrus, the exact placement can vary between subjects. Intersubject variability presents a significant problem when averaging data across multiple subjects, and could be one reason why an fMRI study fails to replicate a result.
Bendor notes that other research suggests that a different area of the brain behind the lateral Heschl's gyrus, called the anterior planum temporale, may play a role in perceiving pitch—a topic that needs further investigation.
Importance of the Findings
The reviewed studies suggest that the existence of a pitch center, especially one located in the lateral Heschl's gyrus, is still an open question.
"Although there is general agreement that the auditory cortex is essential for pitch perception, whether pitch processing is localized within a single functionally-specific region within the auditory cortex remains a controversial issue among auditory neuroscientists," Bendor says. Dr. Bendor is affiliated with the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, Department of Brain and Cognitive Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
More information: The article, "Does a Pitch Center Exist in Auditory Cortex?" is available online.
Provided by American Physiological Society
"Is there a central brain area for hearing melodies and speech cues? Still an open question." November 29th, 2011.
Posted by
Robert Karl Stonjek

Italy: 3 brothers suffer heart attacks on same day

Three Sicilian brothers had heart attacks on the same day which killed two of them, while the third was saved because was visiting his mother in hospital, the Corriere della Sera daily said Tuesday.
Guido and Alberto Garofalo were in the middle of a family picnic on Sunday in a pine forest on the slopes of Sicily's Mount Etna volcano when Guido, who was 45, suffered a heart attack and dropped dead on the spot.
His brother Alberto, 54, rushed to his brother's side but was overcome with emotion and his heart also gave way, the paper said.
The third brother, Salvatore, was visiting their elderly mother in hospital in the Sicilian city of Catania at the time and did not know what had happened to Guido and Alberto when he too suffered a heart attack.
He was immediately taken to the emergency room where doctors were able to stabilise his condition, it said.
(c) 2011 AFP
"Italy: 3 brothers suffer heart attacks on same day." November 29th, 2011.
Posted by
Robert Karl Stonjek

History Mystery a history teacher explain this----- if they can.

Abraham  Lincoln
   was  elected to Congress in 1846.
John F.  Kennedy
   was  elected to Congress in 1946.

Abraham  Lincoln
  was  elected President in 1860.
John F. Kennedy  was elected President in 1960.

Both were  particularly concerned with civil  rights.
Both wives lost their children while  living in the
  White  House.

Both Presidents were shot on a  Friday.
Both Presidents were shot in the  head

Now it gets really  weird.

Lincoln 's secretary was named  Kennedy.
Kennedy's Secretary was named   Lincoln .

Both were assassinated by  Southerners.
Both were succeeded by  Southerners named Johnson.

Andrew  Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in  1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy,  was born in 1908.
John  Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born  in 1839.
    Lee  Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy, was  born    in  1939.

Both  assassins were known by their three  names.
Both names are composed of fifteen  letters.

Now hang on to your  seat.

Lincoln was shot at the theater  named 'Ford'.
Kennedy was shot in a car  called ' Lincoln ' made by  'Ford'.

Lincoln was shot in a theater and  his assassin ran and hid in a  warehouse.
Kennedy was shot from a warehouse  and his assassin ran and hid in a  theater.

Booth and Oswald were  assassinated before their trials.


1)  Fold a
   NEW    $20  bill in half...

2)  Fold again, taking care to fold it exactly as  below

3)  Fold the other end, exactly as  before

4)  Now, simply turn it  over...

What  a coincidence! A simple geometric fold creates a  catastrophic premonition printed on all $20  bills!!!


As  if that wasn't enough...
Here  is what you've seen...

   The  Pentagon on  fire...

   The  Twin Towers.
...And  now .. look at this!

Disaster  (Pentagon)
Disaster  ( Twin Towers )
Disaster  (Osama)???

It  gets even better ... 9 + 11 = ($)20!

Creepy  huh? Send this to as many people as you can,  because:
Hey,  this is one history lesson most people probably  will
not  mind  reading!


Quality Assurance,
Brakes India Ltd,
Brake Division,
Phone - 04172 307705

"Execution Excellence for Zero Defect"
"Systems as the way we work"
Quality Month - November 2011

Sai Baba Bhajan