Sunday, November 25, 2012

Everything Under Attack

Pop neuroscience is under attack, so says the NY Times.

Meet the “neuro doubters.” The neuro doubter may like neuroscience but does not like what he or she considers its bastardization by glib, sometimes ill-informed, popularizers.
A gaggle of energetic and amusing, mostly anonymous, neuroscience bloggers — including Neurocritic, Neuroskeptic, Neurobonkers and Mind Hacks — now regularly point out the lapses and folly contained in mainstream neuroscientific discourse. This group, for example, slammed a recent Newsweek article in which a neurosurgeon claimed to have discovered that “heaven is real” after his cortex “shut down.” Such journalism, these critics contend, is “shoddy,” nothing more than “simplified pop.” Additionally, publications from The Guardian to the New Statesman have published pieces blasting popular neuroscience-dependent writers like Jonah Lehrer and Malcolm Gladwell. The Oxford neuropsychologist Dorothy Bishop’s scolding lecture on the science of bad neuroscience was an online sensation last summer.
As a journalist and cultural critic, I applaud the backlash against what is sometimes called brain porn, which raises important questions about this reductionist, sloppy thinking and our willingness to accept seemingly neuroscientific explanations for, well, nearly everything.
Voting Republican? Oh, that’s brain chemistry. Success on the job? Fortuitous neurochemistry! Neuroscience has joined company with other totalizing worldviews — Marxism, Freudianism, critical theory — that have been victim to overuse and misapplication.
A team of British scientists recently analyzed nearly 3,000 neuroscientific articles published in the British press between 2000 and 2010 and found that the media regularly distorts and embellishes the findings of scientific studies. Writing in the journal Neuron, the researchers concluded that “logically irrelevant neuroscience information imbues an argument with authoritative, scientific credibility.” Another way of saying this is that bogus science gives vague, undisciplined thinking the look of seriousness and truth.

Well. There is a more than a bit of silliness in much of the pop-whatever these days: "Wisdom of the crowds" (Walmart Black Friday stampedes anyone?) and "Blink" come immediately to mind.   As well as anything David Brooks has ever written, if that qualifies.

Still...Brain's neuronal connections being plastic and all seems intuitively obvious that some people with rigid thinking - yeah, some extreme right wingers - well, their brains do seem to work differently.

And as regular readers to this site know, the author is no fan of "spiritual" "mind" "technology."  Gladwell was right about a few things, most interestingly the need to practice a lot. So yeah, be skeptical a bit. 

But then again everything is "under attack."  Dosho Port seems to be going in the direction of saying Zen is "under attack" because, hey, it seems Sasaki Roshi couldn't keep his hands to himself, and... he's still going strong at 105.

Sooner or later everything ought to be questioned,  especially Zen.   There's a crack in everything, Leonard Cohen said - it's how the light gets in.  

But keep going. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

And a brief word to Adam Tebbe...

...based on what I read here.   Ultimately, any "teacher" whose misbehaved in the course of his teaching will have to deal with the fallout of that, as will the objects of that "teacher's" misbehavior.

But there's no point in trotting near paranoia and conspiracy theories.

But...let me just say this:

The  rumored or reputed misbehavior of "teachers'" is not the Way,   but so it is also for scandal blogging for the sake of scandal blogging.

Point is this: Even Genpo and Eido Shimano and  George W. Bush are worthy of compassion.

Difficult, ain't it? Genpo may be a phony (Brad Warner's very legit beef with him), but that guy too is worthy of compassion.

Ain't gonna be happy all the time, and most certainly shouldn't

That's what came to me as I read this.   Stress has a purpose, just as relaxation and being care-free does.   No doubt you can have apps that improve your life, and more will come, apps that observe you.  But happiness won't come without unhappiness.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Zen Scandals

Oddly enough it seems when holiday season comes around, it's time for another scandal at a Zen center somewhere or other.  

I am beginning to have  mixed feelings about all these "Zen Center Scandals."  Yeah, don't sexually harass folks, Zen teachers.  No sh!t, Sherlock, at this point, right?  But some of this stuff, especially the Mt. Baldy stuff, does not start to make sense to me at all.  I was going to write a lot more about this, but I would just like to take one example for now, that featured prominently Sweeping Zen.

Myoan Grace Shireson, you almost write were groped on the grounds of a Zen temple. I believe you. But when you say "Not only was there a culture barrier, but we had been instructed to be friendly to lay people..."  Culture barrier? Culture barrier?  Are you kidding me???? I have no idea how old you are, but I guarantee you  that when you were in Japan there was a name for such people: 痴漢, ちかん which translates as "pervert."  Yes, they have issues like this on trains in Japan (and a reverse problem where many men are afraid to sit near a woman on a train for fear of  being falsely accused).   But in no way is this an accepted part of the culture.   There are different sexual morés in Japan, to be sure and yes, they have had more than their share of issues with gender equality to put it mildly.   But in Japan, the guy who groped you was a 痴漢,   such people are not tolerated and haven't been for years, and what you experienced wasn't a culture barrier but instead an ignorance of their culture.

I also don't know how long you've been in Japan or how many times you've visited there, but if you've been there frequently, and if you have a reasonable knowledge of the language and culture today, there simply is no reason for you to have phrased your experience there this way - you'd have known what the culture is in this regard; all you have to do is know people and ride a train in a major city, for example.

I might add the rest of your post there is similarly culturally uninformed and hardly inclusive in language, presupposing that the only form of harassment that can take place is a male in a position of power abusing a female with less power.  Police and authority figures in government are indifferent to everyone; I'm sure it's worse with women, but c'mon, been through airport security lately?

The best way for Zen centers, frankly, to deal with this problem might not be to register as religious institutions, but as corporations subject to corporate law on harassment, etc.   The law is an imperfect tool, but it does at least provide redress and remedy when harm is done.

One other point I want to make about this, as a guy who's been studying Zen for a number of years. It's why I'm increasingly ambivalent about this whole Zen scandals everywhere thing.  When you've studied with a teacher for a number of years, they don't really seem as gods, but they seem every atom a human being.  I don't care what the teacher is teaching, but every good teacher, if you are with them long enough, you will see they're slobs just like you, though with more knowledge and skill.

I'm reading about the Mt. Baldy scandal, and I just can't square "sexual scandal" with "the teacher is a slob just like you."  That is to say, - and I direct this to commenters who are citing POWER POWER POWER as a reason for "why" these scandals happen - when you've trained for a period of years, it is simply inconceivable if you're training with any halfway competent teacher that you will see any kind of "power" differential at all, because why the teacher may be older, more knowledgeable and more skilled, after a certain point it gets to the point where it becomes kind of obvious that you're capable of getting there without that particular teacher, because whatever's getting you there isn't him, isn't really you, but it's in the nature of - or lack thereof - in the 5 aggregates so to speak. It just is.  And so your teacher isn't a god, but a guy helping you along, even if you're never actually given adulation and praise for a snappy koan answer.  You've come to expect that bell to ring telling you sorry bud, sanzen's over for today, better luck next time, and it's not so important that you have to invest ego, time, worry, self-image, etc. etc. over it.  It's important, but not important to use a logic by which Leonard Cohen described Joshu Sasaki roshi.

That's what I find hard to square with this sexual harassment.  Plus the guy's over 100 years old.  But mostly the former. Sasaki roshi was evidently, at least echoing what was an effective teaching at least for some people.  And maybe he was a 痴漢.   Maybe he's been both of them.    But it reeks of Orientalism to say that such things as gropings are tolerated in Japan, and yeah,  what Stuart Lachs has said elsewhere.   These people aren't gods and aren't viewed as such in their own societies.  They may be rare in this country or the world, but isn't everyone?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A couple of brief thoughts about the importance of the Great Matter in "Western" Buddhism

Does anyone really care about the hippies anymore?   Does it really matter one whit if the importance of the Great Matter is emphasized or not in "Western" Centers?


Everyone has been given the death penalty. It's a consequence of being born.  The resolution of the  Great Matter is our resolution of the cold, hard fact that this is the case for those between birth and death.

And any substitution of the deep knowledge and action on our 死刑 with "pragmatic psychology which is meant to address universal human ethical concerns"  really pretty much is bullshit.  Human ethical concerns are only realized with the deep knowledge and action on our 死刑.