Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Weblinks 9/6/06

Everybody else is doing it, so I might as well too. Starting today, I'm going to start posting short summaries and excerpts of writings on the Web that I find especially interesting along with links to them. I probably won't do it every day or even most days, and I probably won't have nearly as many links as Bill at Integral Options Cafe or Tom at Blogmandu. But I'll do what I can when I can.

Will Buckingham at has More on Life Without Free Will. His money quote:

"Free will, on the other hand, is a theory about how choice happens, about what is involved in making the choice. And this is a very different kind of thing. I think we can straightforwardly acknowledge the phenomenon of choice whilst calling into question the coherence or the usefulness of the theory of free will that lies behind that phenomenon."

Will proceeds to dismiss the idea that free will means random occurrence or "planted in our mind by some God." He believes that free will doesn't "account for experience when you pay close enough attention, for example in meditation." He goes on to explain that he isn't interested in "deriving a theory of choice or consciousness" as much as "unpicking the tangle of stories around the subject of free will, both by asking of these stories but is it really like that? and by paying closer attention to what is actually happening." His goal is to see if understanding the true nature of will can lead to "ataraxia – freedom from disturbance, amid the hubbub of the world." I agree with those who believe that it can.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill recently passed by the California legislature here in Sacramento that would have provided healthcare coverage to all Californians under a single-payer system administered by a new agency called the California Health Insurance Agency. He argues that the bill would have "cost the state billions and lead to significant new taxes on individuals and businesses, without solving the critical issue of affordability." But Sheila Kuehl, the Democratic state senator from Santa Monica who sponsored the bill, replied that the bill would actually save the state money in health care costs. "Where there are no cost controls at all now, and enormous administrative overhead and profit for insurance companies, there would have been a transparent system that actually would succeed in making health care coverage affordable in California," she explained. For the record, Schwarzenegger's Democratic opponent Phil Angelides also opposed the measure, although, interestingly enough, he supported it in his campaign against his Democratic opponent Steve Westly in the state primary. I believe in a single-payer or some kind of system that provides readily affordable healthcare to everyone, and I believe that we can find a way to do it if we want to badly enough.

Colmar3000 believes that the kind of angry, doctrinaire criticism of America and Israel that we attribute to political and economic "liberalism" is a version of blue-memed fundamentalism derived from the secular religion of Marxism. He quotes these words from a conservative website:

The decline of religion does not mean that the "need" for religion disappears. Most of us still crave a meaningful picture of the world and our place in it, an identification of the good and the evil, and an assurance that in the end the good (i.e. people like ourselves) will triumph.For years Communism was the opiate of the secular materialists, an apocalyptic creed which filled the chosen with assurance of their righteousness and election.

So too with anti-Americanism, a sect of that old-time Marxist religion. This doctrine knows the font of evil in the world — the West and especially America — whose deadly sins of "imperialism" and "colonialism" and "racism" have created a fallen world of suffering and exploitation, a world whose redemption depends on battling the power and influence of the wicked militarists and global capitalists. Or as one sign from last week's "anti-war" rally in New York succinctly put it, "Bush is a Devil."

America is guilty and must atone for its sins by abandoning its power and pouring vast sums of money into its Third World victims, for only then will the golden age of peace, equality, and universal tolerance come about."

As much as I hate to admit it, I think there may be some truth in these words. I say I "hate to admit it," because I don't want to encourage Colmar to continue with his totally one-sided bashing of liberals. He argues that he criticizes liberalism and not conservativism not because conservatism has nothing to criticize, but because he's trying to persuade his predominately liberal readers to open their minds to the shortcomings of their own beliefs and behaviors rather than his merely "preaching to the choir." But I say that if he keeps going the way he is, he'll either have no readers to speak of, or he'll be preaching to an overwhelmingly conservative choir. Nevertheless, I think his posts yesterday as well as most days are worth reading.

Matt Furey tells of taking a "Zen walk" along the beach with his inquisitve young son:

"Daddy, why do you want to clear your mind?"

"I want to clear my mind because during the day I think about
many things. But when I walk I either focus on them at a higher
level - or I let them go."

"Why do you want to let go of certain things?"

"Because sometimes we try to force things. We try to use our
mind too push through. And oftentimes it is when we relax and
let go that the breakthrough happens."

"How long are we going to walk?" asked Frank.

"2000 steps," I said.

"Why 2000?"

"Because it's the number I've chosen."

"Why you don't choose 1000 or 5000 or 10,000?"

"Because 2000 takes a half hour and I want the meditation
to take a half-hour."

"What if I get tired."

"You won't get tired if you count and focus on your breathing," I said.

"But why count and focus on my breathing?"

"So you don't think about dumb things like getting tired."

"Why if I think about getting tired I'll get tired?"

"Because energy goes where you put it. Focus on being tired
and you'll get tired. Focus on breathing and counting and there's
no room in your mind for tired thoughts."


"Because your mind is designed to focus on one thing at a time?"


"So you don't go crazy."

"Are people who focus on more than one thing at a time crazy?"

"If they're not yet, they will be soon," I said.

Finally, I don't know how much we can believe this study, given its less than optimal design, but it just may show that alcohol abuse not only causes neurocognitive deficits, but also that stopping drinking can undo virtually all of them except those involving spatial processing. However, this study should also give me some pause before enjoying more drunken pleasures. For it suggests that abusing alcohol may not only cause permanent brain damage in the way of neurocognitive deficits, but that the kind of deficit that seems to plague me the worst is the one most likely to be irreversible. There's no doubt that I "abused" alcohol last Saturday. And even though that level of abuse is exceedingly rare with me and any abuse whatsoever is quite infrequent, who's to say that it might not be frequent enough to cause me lasting problems I don't need?

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